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5 Ways To Save Money

 

5 ways to  save money

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:

  1. Vicky and I live debt free and have paid off over $25k in student loans on top of these savings.
  2. We contribute the maximum to our 401ks (I think for me this is something like 6.5%).

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.

5  ways to save money

Track Your Expenses

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.

Drop “Bad” Habits

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:

  • Orange Juice – I don’t like coffee but I love orange juice. I was going through about two bottles of Tropicana a week. I never thought anything of it. It’s something we bought at the grocery store and doesn’t stand out like the $5 cup of coffee I mentioned earlier. Guess what? At $5 a bottle that’s $500 a year. Instead we got ourselves a juicer and I make orange juice on occasion. It’s healthier, tastes better, and limits my intake. I drink water otherwise (using a Brita filter, so no bottled there either).
  • Parking Tickets – Parking in DC is incredibly frustrating. I find the signs to be really confusing and the rules somewhat sporadic/arbitrary. I park a lot since I rely on street parking (no apartment parking spot). I won’t go on a long rant here, but I was averaging about $100 in parking tickets per month. It was still cheaper than a parking spot at our apartment, but an unnecessary expense nonetheless. I now only park when I’m sure I’m allowed (as sure as I can be, in DC). Is it an inconvenience to drive away from an uncertain parking spot? Yes. Is it as inconvenient as paying $1200 a year? No. Since I made this decision my parking ticket expenses have dropped by about 90%.
  • Daily Deals– Vicky has a sweet tooth for daily deals; Groupon, Living Social, those sort of things. I actually think deals have a lot of potential, and I’m going to write more about them below, but you have to play your cards right. Understand the economics of deals:
        1. Companies make money when they convince you to splurge for something you wouldn’t otherwise.
        2. You “make money” when you get a deal for something you were going to do anyways.

    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.

Learn A Skill, Like Cooking

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.

Note: Yes, there is a grocery bill that is higher, but really, it isn’t nearly as much as you think.

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

TIP: Think about other ways you could make this work. Going to the movies? Get your candy at CVS and fill up water bottles from home.  Long car ride coming up? Whenever Vicky and I go to the beach or to NYC we ALWAYS pack a cooler. Again, it’s healthier than fast food and cheaper, but I’ll spare you the math.

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.

Deals, Deals, Deals

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:

  • Points For Purchases – Yes, everyone knows about rewards programs from credit card companies etc, but what about other companies? Our local grocery store (giant) offers 10 cents off a gallon of gas at shell for every $100 that you spend per month.

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.

  • Coupons – When Vicky and I eat out we ONLY eat out at restaurants where we have a coupon. There are numerous sites for this; restaurant.com, Groupon, living social. Aside from just restaurants you can also include coupons in your daily purchases.
  • Promotional Codes – Ever gone to a website to buy something and noticed there is a space to fill in a promotional code? Don’t have one, why not spend a few minutes searching online to see if anything comes up? Numerous times I’ve found promo codes “on the fly” online. It’s barely a time commitment and you’re ensuring that it was for something you were going to do anyways. Vicky and I have gotten deals on amusement park tickets, restaurants, and other purchases just from this. Now you’re getting deals on your deals!
  • Corporate Giveaways – A lot of companies have websites and if you sign up for the newsletter they send you free stuff for holidays and birthdays. Vicky and I have gone to Dave and Busters a half a dozen times and it’s always for free. We’ve had similar success at places like Chilis and Baskin Robbins.

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!

Take Advantage of Benefits

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:

  • Company phone as personal phone – If you travel for work you might be given a phone. Is there anything wrong with using this as your personal phone (check this, obviously)? I know some people like the idea of having their personal and business lives separate, but I also know some people, such as myself, who like the idea of an extra $500 a year from not having to pay a phone bill.
  • Gyms in apartment/work – If you go to a gym you’re probably paying at least $30/month. Do you have a gym at work, or in your apartment that you can use? In all likelihood, if you do, it’s adequate for what you need. You can get by without that bowflex, in fact, with a set of dumbbells and your own body weight you can pretty much do whatever you want. By using the gym at my work ($15/month) I save at least $180 per year.

Be a Minimalist

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:

My Car

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.

My Phone

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 couches before our couches after

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.

A Few Myths About Money Saving

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:

  • 42 inch flat screen TV
  • King Size Bed
  • Desktop Computer

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.

The Choice Is Yours

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.

We want to know – how do you save money?

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23 Responses to 5 Ways To Save Money

  1. These are great tips! Eliminating bad spending habits is one of the best things anyone can do to save for travel. Those little expenses each day add up to a huge sum if carried out over a year.

    Nomadic Samuel July 2, 2012 at 12:50 AM Reply
    • Thanks, it certainly worked for us and the math is undeniable!

      BTW – we really appreciate the retweet!

      Dave and Vicky July 2, 2012 at 1:25 AM Reply
  2. Awesome blog – I’m looking forward to following your travel stories and experiences over the next 2 years!

    Sian July 2, 2012 at 8:30 AM Reply
  3. Another thing I noticed about your spending — no kids, no pets, no expensive hobbies (golf, sailing, etc.)

    Robert July 12, 2012 at 10:21 PM Reply
  4. Awesome tips to save money! I thought about canceling my cell phone and just use Skype to make calls at home or wherever there is free wifi in Starbucks or McDonalds which are usually easy to find in the U.S. if you live in a big city. That could be an extra $100 per month savings! Also, I only buy a weeks worth of food to make sure I eat everything to make sure I’m not over spending.

    Curious Nomad July 20, 2012 at 3:24 AM Reply
    • That’s very creative about using only skype, never thought of that, certainly would require some adjustments though.

      We do the same with our groceries, works well!

      Dave and Vicky July 20, 2012 at 1:23 PM Reply
  5. Wow, what incredible savers! you’ve managed to save a lot in a short time. Love the tips, especially the one about eating out as that’s always my weakness. I just try to tell myself that I’d rather spend my money overseas somewhere where the currency goes further.

    Izy Berry July 24, 2012 at 2:13 AM Reply
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  10. Hey guys,
    such a ice website i enjoyed it. You’ve managed to have some great savings during this trip. Although for people with less money to spend there’s always a cheaper way. I’m on the road now for almost 11 months and probably for another 60 moths to go in row. I’m walking from Amsterdam to Indonesia over land, and of course only from Malaysia to Sumatra is a boat ride.
    I travel alone with a backpack, pretty big though, but with everything i need to survive. That means in my case having gear to cook, small lightweight tent for the worst climate (that’s heavy snow and rain for a tent), clothes in multiple layers so lightweight and warm, gear to clean water wherever you are and the less important a small solar panel to provide some electricity when necessary. The cost of this all where about 2000 euro’s but so far i’m living for an average of €4,76 per day, just by buy your food in a smart way, take dried food for long distances and don’t eat too much, satisfaction is enough, and make sure you talk to everyone you meet, locals mostly give you the best advise if you ask the right questions. Live sober, enjoy big! Keep traveling, your adventures sound awesome!

    greets Felix
    Amsterdam

    Felix December 23, 2012 at 5:08 PM Reply
    • Do you do mostly CSing or camping? It’s true sometimes we have days that we spend very very little each like $10-$15 so I can imagine with your life style you are making it happen for very cheap. My hats off to you!

      Dave and Vicky December 24, 2012 at 5:59 AM Reply
      • That’s sounds like a great average too though! The main reason i posted this that i saw some averages, for example in Beijing of 77dollars, which is not that bad generally, but for some people’s imagination it might mean they have to save lots of money or just have a good salary to be able to travel for two months or longer. So i wanted to let those people know that it is possible to travel very far with loads of fun and adventure with a very small amount of money. There are no problems, only possibilities!
        Anyway to answer your question, it does mean indeed that i sleep in a tent during my walk to a next city. It gives you lots of freedom but requires some planing and always be aware of your environment, camping is not allowed everywhere. Although, if you don’t leave mess behind and make sure nobody spots you, you can camp everywhere even in big cities without trouble. Be careful in Russia though, the police is not always that friendly.
        Couchsurfing is also a great thing but i rarely use it. In cities i often meet people who are willing to host me. During my walking i speak to almost everyone on the street or people working in their garden for example . If you subtle break the barrier people are very helpful with filling up your water bottles and if the conversation goes well many people offer to host you for the night if you’ve told them you sleep in tent. It can work to your advantage, but of course i understand not everyone wants to travel like this. I can recommend it though, especially when your alone it’s an awesome way of traveling and explore local habits!
        Good luck with all your upcoming travels, i’m looking forward to read about your new adventures.
        You are both a wonderful example how to enjoy life worldwide!

        Kind regards,

        Felix
        Amsterdam

        Felix December 26, 2012 at 12:54 PM Reply
        • Thanks felix – it’s fascinating to read about your travel style as it is so different from ours/most travelers. You don’t happen to have a blog, do you?

          Dave and Vicky December 26, 2012 at 10:07 PM Reply
  11. This was really useful to read! My partner and I are planning 2 month travel backpacking through Switzerland and Austria, its so difficult to save money though sometimes! Especially as our jobs are low-paid. So thanks for the tips 😀

    Lucy January 24, 2013 at 10:49 AM Reply
    • No problem, those are expensive countries, best of luck!

      Dave and Vicky January 25, 2013 at 7:35 AM Reply
  12. Nice post!
    I have read your article (5 ways Save money).
    Amazing Post! and Good information about Coupons websites also.Because People always like
    to use Coupons for Shopping.!
    Ana Jackson

    Moms Couponing April 6, 2013 at 3:36 AM Reply
  13. Great tips! One thing about the cell phone though…fix the screen. Look for a local person to do it. Local small businesses can fix it on the cheap. It’s better to invest a little now to avoid having to replace it later.

    Mel January 20, 2014 at 8:48 PM Reply

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