I’m a grad student who works full time in a library. As you can imagine, I’m not exactly pulling in a lot of money over here, so this is how I make what I have work for me. Anyone arriving late to this party might want to check out my former debt blog.
1. I have very few bills. My only monthly bills are rent (includes all utilities), cell phone, and car insurance. This is something I wrote a lot about on my debt blog and once someone said to me, “must be nice,” as if it just happens that I have so few bills and is not a result of decisions I’ve made. I don’t have the expense of living in a house, because I live in a studio apartment. I don’t have a car payment, because I own a car that has been on the road since 1997 (and I’m trying to get rid of that too). I no longer belong to a gym. I have made a point of having few bills because it allows me so much flexibility. My paychecks aren’t already spent before I even get them.
2. I don’t subscribe to any monthly services except for Netflix. I mean, I’m only human, I need my Netflix and I absolutely get my money’s worth by using it every day. But, otherwise, nothing is deducted automatically from my accounts and I am unwilling to make the commitment to spend $5-12 a month for anything. That money adds up quickly, no subscription service is worth it to me, and I think it’s easy to lose track of those purchases when they are automatically deducted.
3. I do not belong to any deals sites. No Groupon or Fab or HauteLook. I try not to buy anything on sale that I wouldn’t pay full price for. If I decide that I want something and find that it’s on sale, then I’m overjoyed. But I don’t look at sales and then decide that I want something. I’m not saving money by getting a discounted price on something I don’t really want and may not use.
4. I unsubscribe from all emails that come from stores and I don’t look at shopping blogs. This helps me avoid the temptation of coupons. If I’m going to buy anything online, then I’ll usually just do a quick search for discount codes and the same deals will come up. As for avoiding blogs, that’s also about temptation. I was looking at nail polish blogs when every new collection was released (so, constantly) and I would see things and think “must. have. now.” I stopped paying attention to that stuff and my quality of life was not affected at all.
5. I don’t go shopping unless I’m looking for something specific. You may be noticing a theme here: I do not put myself in the path of temptation. I have no idea what I’m missing. It’s wonderful.
6. I tend toward minimalism. My rule of thumb is just don’t buy stuff. You have to pass a pretty serious test to get a spot in my small apartment. I think about whether I’m really going to use you. I think about whether you’re going to add anything to my life. I think about whether I would take you with me if I moved tomorrow. I think about how easy it would be to put you down and walk out of the store empty handed. This is something that just gets easier. I’ve gone from needing to talk myself out of purchases to needing to talk myself into purchases.
7. I eat (and drink) at home. So I don’t really cook, but I still do most of my eating at home. It is just so much cheaper, and I try to stick to a lifestyle that means not eating out a lot. This is something I would likely do differently if I wasn’t sticking to a budget, but food falls too low on my list of priorities to spend money eating out all the time. I also try to shop smartly at the grocery store, so that eating at home isn’t such a sacrifice and I don’t buy food that goes to waste.
8. I mostly travel to places where I can stay with a friend and don’t need a hotel. Okay, so now we’re getting into an area where I actually do spend money. The reason I don’t buy stuff and I don’t eat out a lot is because my money goes to plane tickets. Travel is (obviously) so much more affordable when you don’t have to pay for a hotel, and staying with someone also means you probably won’t be eating all of your meals in restaurants. Plus, I mean, staying with friends is usually fun.
9. I try to pay attention to the kind of spending that makes me happy and the kind that doesn’t. Stuff does not make me happy, and that is a lesson I learned when I spent 14 months not buying stuff and found my quality of life was unaffected. I know that nothing I buy is going to change my life completely or make me a different person. But, music makes me happy and I insist on paying for it, so that’s something I spend money on. I love live music too, so concerts are worth it to me. And, books! Movies and TV on DVD, though, I almost never buy because I found I was collecting that stuff more than I was watching it. I have learned these things by trying and failing and reevaluating. I continue to do that, and I find that I get it wrong less and less all the time. You have to sort out your financial priorities for yourself and you’re probably not going to get it right immediately.
10. I know I have to make sacrifices. When I was adding to my debt, I had a very Liz Lemon, “I can have it all!” attitude. I didn’t want to say no to things, I didn’t want to make money an issue, and I didn’t want to settle. Now I am better at setting priorities. I’m okay living in a small apartment that’s undecorated, so it looks a lot like a dorm room. I don’t need a new car. I can say, “sorry, I’d love to go, but I can’t afford it.” It’s not easy, and I struggle with different parts of it (especially saying no to trips), but there is a satisfaction that comes with being smart with your money. Plus, way less stress.