- Travel Topics
After a recent article where I revealed what Vicky and I had saved over the course of 2 years of work, I received some positive reactions from a few of my colleagues. In their opinion, Vicky and I had managed to save money… a lot of money. I was always under the impression that we were doing a decent job saving, but I didn’t think it was anything exceptional as compared to people I know, who make the same salary that I do. Moreover, it was particularly intriguing, because the numbers they were referring to don’t actually tell the whole story, for two reasons:
Given this, it was apparent that Vicky and I had actually done a VERY good job saving.
The strange thing was, off the top of my head I couldn’t think of what we had done exceptionally well that may have resulted in these savings. I paced my apartment, thought long and hard about how we save money, and a few things came to me (one of which being our small apartment – it takes me about 5 seconds to pace end to end). Then I realized that this was the beauty of what we had accomplished.
We had saved a considerable amount of money, and I didn’t feel the effects of the cuts we made, so much so that I couldn’t even think of them immediately.
After considerable reflection, I came up with a list. I’m not a fan of lists that showcase 37 different things you can do. I’d rather an extensive list of 5 relevant things where I’m confident that most people can benefit from at least 3 of them. Moreover, while I don’t think any one of these is going to save you $10k in a year, I do think that the combination of them is likely to save you thousands, and, over the course of a lifetime, tens of thousands.
This one actually counts as tip #0, because it’s not really a money saving tip but it’s essential nonetheless. You can’t save money if you don’t know how you’re spending it. Over a year ago when Vicky and I got serious about saving money, we made a simple spreadsheet that broke out our expenses into categories such as food, car, etc and who the spending culprit was. With the amount people use credit cards nowadays tracking your spending habits is easier than ever. If you don’t feel like your last few months of credit card spending is representative of your full spending then try devoting next month to either using only your credit card, or simply writing out your expenses day by day.
We’ve heard it all before, that daily $5 cup of Starbucks amounting to $1500 over the course of the year. However, not all habits are so easily identifiable. After we tracked our expenses there were a few unique habits that stood out among the rest as being unnecessary expenses that we could do without. Here were ours:
Limit your deals to #2. Do you really need that class on underwater basket weaving? Probably not. A quick addendum to #2. It’s not just about only getting deals, which you are going to legitimately use, but also about getting them at the proper frequency. Vicky and I go to the movies, but do we go to the movies every two weeks? No, we don’t, but we saw that we were buying discount movie tickets at that rate, and had enough to last us for about two months. Deals often repeat themselves, just wait.
The point here is not that you are spending a lot on orange juice (though you might be). The point is that unless you track your expenses you’re probably going to have a difficult time noticing these “little habits”. Once you do, however, they’re pretty easy to cut (if you’re willing), and in our case, saved us about $2k per year.
It may seem like Vicky and I go out to eat a lot from our restaurant reviews, but in reality these are limited to special occasions and don’t happen more than once a month. We are lucky enough that Vicky is an exceptional cook and runs her own foodblog. Yes, our grocery bills tend to be high as we like to shop organic when we can, but we save on not going out to eat AND bringing lunch (dinner left overs) to work. To give a rough estimate of the savings:
Assumption #1: Say on average to order in or eat out is about $15 per person, and that instead of doing that weekly we do it monthly:
Savings: 3 times per month * $15 per person * 12 months per year * 2 people = $1080 per year
Quick Math: What if you eat out more often, like 5 times a week, but say for considerably less, like $10. Cut that out and you just saved yourself nearly $5k per year.
Assumption #2: Say on average to buy lunch at a work cafeteria is $6 per day and we never do that:
Savings: 5 times per week * 50 weeks per year * $6 per person * 2 people = $3000 per year
You’re probably wondering what I bring to the table here? Well, I cut my own hair (not Vicky’s, she doesn’t let me go near her with scissors). Yeah, it’s not much, probably about $20 every two months, but I’ll take it.
Wait a minute, didn’t I just write that deals are bad? No, deals can be your friend, we just have to make sure that you are using them properly. That is, only purchase deals for activities that you are going to do anyways. Just because something is a good deal does not mean it’s a good deal for you. Here are a few deals that Vicky and I regularly exploit:
Assumption #1: If we spend $600 a month on groceries then that’s 60 cents off every gallon.
Savings: 60 cents x 15 gallons/month x 12 months = $108
It’s not a ton of money, but it’s money that I would have to spend anyways – I HAVE to fill my car up with gas.
I just want to call out that none of what I mentioned takes more than a few minutes. This isn’t like an hour of cutting coupons, so don’t be shy!
I think in most cases these are going to come from either where you work or where you live. A lot of companies offer benefits to their employees, and this is an area where I know I’ve been very lucky. For example, some of the benefits I’ve receive from work are:
Ever heard the phrase, less is more? If you can settle for less and not having nice things (at least, at certain stages in your life) you’re always going to be spending less. Let me show you a few things:
It’s not pretty, but it gets me from A to B in the same amount of time as someone with a nicer car. A ’97 Honda Accord with 150k miles on her. It’s the first car I ever owned (hand me down from parents) and if I had it my way it would be the last. I know she won’t last forever, but when she finally does kick the bucket, I won’t be lining up to buy the latest BMW and sticking myself with a hefty monthly car payment.
I could replace the cover, but can anyone tell when we talk on the phone that the screen is cracked? The phone functions just fine, and yes, I can search the internet and do all those neat things that iphones do. So what if you can see the microchips, I think it’s cooler that way.
Our Apartment Couches
They’re couches people, when I sit on them I don’t hit the floor – enough said. Vicky originally got them for her college apartment and we’ve been using them ever since. We “splurged” for some couch covers ($80) to neaten them up a bit (Vicky’s suggestion).
Will it ever be the case that I’d like to have some nicer things? Maybe, but certainly not now, especially when we’re planning a two-year trip around the world.
Myth 1: You can’t travel
Wrong. Vicky and I took two vacations last year, one to Greece, and the other to ski in Canada. In fact, Vicky travels monthly either home to Boston or to NYC to visit family/friends. When she does she travels smart, on the mega bus, where you can get round trip tickets for $35. Sometimes, if you buy well in advance, you’ll find these tickets for even cheaper (like, $1). By comparison, a flight from boston to dc one way is $100. When you consider air travel nowadays, how early you have to arrive and how long you have to wait after you land, it really isn’t THAT much quicker for certain trips (e.g. DC to Boston).
Myth 2: You can’t have nice things
Partially Wrong. You can have nice things. Over the last two years a few of the nice things we’ve bought:
But I’d be lying if I said you can have everything you want. As shown above, I don’t have a nice car, furniture, or clothes. You have to make sacrifices where you feel comfortable. We watch a lot of movies/tv, use the computer frequently, and sleep a lot (wow we sound like an exciting couple huh?) so I spend in these areas and cut back in the others.
Myth 3: You can’t go out or have fun
Wrong. Vicky and I live a very active life, but we make “tradeoffs”.
We don’t pay cover charges unless there is live music and we don’t spend a ton at bars. I can do without that orange and coriander infused $13 martini – thank you. We don’t eat out at restaurants unless it’s a special occasion (birthdays, promotions, etc).
We do make use of bar specials and drink at home before we go out. We do go on walks and hikes. We do look for deals.
Two years ago Vicky and I didn’t know we were going to be traveling around the world. We wanted to save money on principle. As I said before, having implemented all of these techniques, I don’t feel like we are living excessively frugal. The choice to save money, however, is yours to make.