So this post may be a bit different from what I normally do. Typically, I share a story and some “Lesson Learned,” or other moral on living the good life. Well, today’s a bit different because I’m sharing a bunch of stories.
Like, ten for the price of one. We are talking about saving money, after all.
I suppose this is a continuation, of sorts, of a previous blog post. In it, I said I’d had enough. I was sick of being decades from my dream of owning my own Walden. I was sick of watching my kids grow wondering whether they’d move out of the house just as I’d finally earned enough cash to invest in my cabin home.
And I made a promise.
I will spend no money except on the essentials. No going out to eat. No play money. No money for the movies. No trips to the fair or the museum.
Don’t think you can do it? Neither did I.
Just try it for one month. Maybe you’ll realize (as we did) that going out to eat kinda sucks. You’re surrounded by loud obnoxious people, you have to wait for your food while sitting in an uncomfortable booth, the lighting is so horrible you can hardly see each other (not it is not romantic), and then you have to pay for that experience? Really?
I’d much rather cook something I know I’m going to like and not have to fork over 15% extra for somebody to do a job they’re paid to do anyway!!!!! (Such an atrocious evil. Don’t get me started!)
But I digress.
So, even with cutting all that, it still wasn’t enough to save me 2500 in two months.
So what did I do?
(1) No eating out. That cuts $100 off our budget. Saweet!
For some of you, this may suck as a suggestion. I understand. But stay with me, until we get to #9.
Total Saved: $100/Month.
(2) Efficient use of leftovers. Here’s another thing I noticed. We were throwing away about 15% of our food because it was going bad.
Well that’s just stupid.
If we could find a way to actually eat those leftovers, presumably, we’d save $135 a month, right? (.15 * 900).
So, we had the (mis)fortune of having our refrigerator go out on us. We subsequently had to toss everything. With an empty fridge, it’s much easier to see what leftovers are left.
Easy peasy, right?
But there’s something else. I used to try meal-planning, but that never worked. Too much effort. Too much planning. I’m not the planning sort.
Well, with an empty fridge, I can actually see what leftovers are in the fridge and chose the day’s meal based on that.
Example: Monday, we buy a rotisserie chicken at Walmart (since they’re actually cheaper than buying a whole raw chicken anyway). We usually polish that off, then use the bones to make broth. So the next day, we make a soup with said broth, but we only used half the spinach. So, day three (Wednesday), we make a salad using the leftover spinach and add some shrimp. Well darn, we only used half the shrimp and the rest of the shrimp is in the fridge. Let’s make fetuccini alfredo with shrimp on Thursday. And friday? Well, there’s no leftovers, so I get to make whatever I want. Oh, wait, I remember we bought some t-bones on sale two months ago. So….
Get the idea? Just look in your fridge, see what’s about to go bad, use a bit of creativity, and make a meal.
Total Saved: $235/Month.
(3) Know how much a meal costs you. Ya’ll know I’m a numbers guy, right? And a bit OCD. Well, a few months back (after my Walden manifesto), I decided to calculate how much every meal costs.
Check out my meal cost calculator. Feel free to use it.
We learned, much to our dismay, that smoked ribs cost $18.90 for one meal! I’m almost better off going to a restaurant. Spaghetti, on the other hand, only cost $4.46 to feed the entire family!
This helped us decide that it’s okay to get a Papa Murphy’s pizza because it costs about the same to feed us as Tortellini soup. Oh, and that $50 brisket that is sooo stinkin’ expensive to buy? Well, since that will last many meals, it’s almost as cheap as doing regular ol’ hamburger meat.
With that, we cut our grocery bill down to $600.
Total Saved: $400/Month.
(Now, this grocery budget will likely go down during the summer since we hope to have an abundant garden providing a chunk of our produce).
(4) Lower your insurance bills. We’ve been with State Farm for 8 years now. Why? Because we like them and we’re too lazy to change things. Well, after 10 minutes of research, we discovered that esurance can cut our car insurance cost in half and our homeowner’s insurance by $65/month. (Totally not a sponsor, by the way. Though if they wanted to give me money, I’d take it ;))
That loyalty was expensive!
We immediately changed our service.
But here’s another thing: we realized that our deductible for our insurance was like $100. Well, that’s kinda dumb. We don’t expect to get into an accident and if we did, we already have an emergency fund designed to pay that deductible. We don’t need such a low deductible, especially since it costs us $20/month more.
Why would I bet $20 a month that I’m going to get into an accident?
Total Saved So Far: $550/Month.
(5) Lower internet/cell phone bill. This is a trick I learned from Ramit Sethi. Most internet (and cell phone) companies have the discretion to give their customers a discount. All I did was call them and say, “Hey, I’m trying to save money. Any way you can lower my bill?”
“Sure,” he said. “How’s ten bucks?”
“Good. Can you do any more than that?”
“Hmmm…let me see if I can get your Internet and phone bill lumped into one.”
After a ten minute phone call, I learned that a new plan had recently been offered that included more data for $20 less. And I was paying taxes I shouldn’t have been paying. So, not only did they reimburse me for the taxes paid ($300 total), but they also cut my bill by $20.
Total Saved: $580/Month + $300 one-time savings.
(6) Cancel unused memberships. I have a membership at the YMCA but I go there about once a year. I kept procrastinating the cancellation because I wasn’t sure if I was going to have an exercise epiphany. Well, I already have a membership at my work that’s only $10, so I don’t need two. So I canceled it, saving us $8. Yeah, not much, but every little bit helps, and that’s a savings that will happen every month!
Also, in the midst of this, our debit card expired–the one that we used for our monthly Netflix withdrawal. When it expired, I said to the misses, “Wanna try life without Netflix?”
“Why not?” She said.
And we did. Not only have we survived, but we’ve thrived.
(And besides, Netflix has become kinda dumb lately anyway. At least when they cancelled Mountain Men.)
Total Saved: $595/Month + $300 one-time savings.
(7) Don’t let them screw you. We’re in the process of moving. At the suggestion of a mortgage broker, we did a “soft” credit check to resolve things before we start house-hunting (it turns out that wasn’t necessary, but whatev). To do the credit check, I had to pay like $30 or something. Little did I know, there was a hidden clause in their sneaky terms of services that says I sign up for a monthly credit check service for $19.99.
I noticed the transaction the day it happened.
So I politely called (that’s important) and asked them to cancel my membership and refund the charge.
“I’d be happy to cancel your membership, Mr. Fife,” the representative said. “But I cannot refund the money.”
“I’m sorry, but I’d like a refund.”
“We cannot issue a refund because we’ve already paid the other three credit bureaus for their services.”
“That’s unfortunate for you. I’m really sorry you have to forfeit that cost. When will the refund show up on my card?”
“We cannot issue a refund, sir.”
“I’m sorry, can I speak to your manager.” (Again, being excessively polite here).
“I am the manager,” he said.
“Great! Then surely you can authorize a refund for me. I would very much appreciate it.”
“Give me just a second.”
(Cue elevator music.)
“Yes, Mr Fife,” he said. “I was able to make a one-time exception and issue you a refund.”
“Thank you very much!”
I assume most of these companies have policies to never issue a refund unless the customer asks xxx number of times because they know only a very small percentage of customers would persist.
Well I don’t mind being that small percentage 🙂
Total Saved: $595/Month + $320 one-time savings.
(8) Eliminate the “fun” stuff. This is probably the hardest part. Like I said, we eliminated our movies budget (used to be $50, including Netflix, for going out to the movies once a month), our personal spending budgets ($100, or $50 for the misses and the me), our date budget ($50), and mostly cut our home improvement budget ($200; though we had to use some to prep our house to sell). I’m not sure how sustainable this is, but so far we’re doing excellent. (Mostly because of #9).
Total Saved: $937/Month + $320 one-time savings.
(9) Bring back the “fun” stuff by building a business. Very shortly after I wrote my manifesto, I had a moment of, “Oh dear. What have I done?”
See, I love having my play money. I love buying new tools and gadgets and gizmos.
Did I have to give up what I love?
Cuz here’s the thing–if saving money requires you to give up what you love, it ain’t gonna last long.
You just have to find other ways of doing what you love.
So here’s what I did: I had a stack of walnut lumber in my garage I bought 3 years ago that I’ve never used. I bought it at a screaming deal, but I consider it too sacred to use it for anything (because it’s such beautiful wood). I was waiting for the perfect project.
But it hasn’t come. It probably never will.
It was time to sell it.
So, within a week of putting it on Craigslist, I sold it for $150.
Now I had spending money. Here’s the problem: that wouldn’t last long. Maybe I could use that $150 to make $150 more?
So I started brainstorming and came up with a brilliant business idea: I would find people who were clearing land and offer to cut down their trees and haul them off. Then I’d take said trees to a local sawmill and use my $150 to have them cut the logs into usable lumber. Then I’d sell said lumber on Craigslist.
And that’s what I did. $150 turned into $300, which turned into $300 more. (You see how setting these constraints on yourself forces you to be creative in ways you wouldn’t otherwise be).
I now had the spending money I couldn’t live without.
But, let’s not lose focus on why I was doing that in the first place. Remember, my dream is to have my Walden. So, what did I do? I put half of what I earned into the cabin fund. Amber did likewise, donating chunks of money from her photography business. Between the two, we were able to put away over a thousand a month.
So, within 2 months, we had over $5k saved.
Some concluding thoughts.
As I was doing research on how to save money before, during, and after my manifesto, I was quite annoyed. I thought the suggestions were pretty dumb.
Reuse your zip-lock bags!
Really? See that doesn’t work for me because (A) that’s annoying, and (B) that would save me like 50 cents a month. If I lived to be 1,000, that might result in a substantial savings. But the inconvenience is hardly worth the price.
The beautiful thing about the suggestions I mention above is that the savings happen every month, and many of them happen with very little effort. One ten minute call? I can do that. One daily glance at my refrigerator’s leftovers? Simple! One hour-long session of typing recipes into the computer sucks, but then I don’t ever have to do it again.
These one-time activities then, in a way, become a passive stream of income.
Speaking of which…
A penny saved is a penny earned? It’s a lie!
You ever thought about that phrase? I’d heard it many times before, but never thought of it. What Ben Franklin was saying was whether you save a penny or earn a penny more, you’re a penny richer.
But is that true?
Nope. Say I make $50K and get a $5K raise. I’m $5K richer, right?
Nope. Because you have to pay taxes on that extra $5K. Maybe that even pushes you into a higher tax bracket and now you make less than you did before.
But, if instead of getting a $5K raise, you saved $5K a year. What now?
All of that money is now tax-free added wealth.
In a world obsessed with getting ahead, getting rich, getting more more more, isn’t it ironic that the easiest way to get more is to spend less?
Maybe not ironic. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.