Around the last week of January, after returning from the Women’s March, we embarked on another journey. This one was more of a metaphysical journey and it revolved around our spending. Specifically, curbing our spending. We sat down and took a look at our finances (while we are not compensated to promote them in any way, Mint both the mobile app and the website are great, free ways to do this, we highly recommend it) and looked at the unavoidable costs- these include rent (our utilities are included), student loans and car insurance (the car is not an unavoidable cost, but currently we do still have the car) and gas. We knew that we wanted to save at least $15,000 dollars this year, which meant cutting down significantly on our other expenses. Looking at what we had leftover, we decided to aim for the aggressive goal of $100 a week as our spending money.
This money covers everything excluding: rent, gas, healthcare expenses / doctor’s copay (preventative care is a worthy expense and I knew I’d skip the doctor’s office to go see a movie instead if it came out of our budget), $14 a month for our very paired down phone plan (the subject for another blog post), student loans and internet when we had it- we’ve since cut the cord. It also doesn’t cover my reimbursable work expenses- I pay for those with a credit card. Since the money is then returned right to the account, it doesn’t feel like a necessary part of the budget plan.
We do have one “exception” clause which is the arts. We both work in the arts and are big art supporters. We are unwilling to entirely give up live theatre and arts events- this would make us very unhappy. As such, in the spirit of childhood compromises when money negotiating with parents- we cover half from our “allowance” and the other half from our regular accounts. So far we’ve only enacted this for our community choir fees, and we probably won’t enact it again for a while.
So then what does the $100 a week cover? Essentially, all of our food, entertainment and household needs. Depending on your own spending this may seem like luxury or pauper-hood (not a word. I don’t care.), but after 6 weeks, it seems to be working fairly well for us, and February proved that it’s working very effectively for us as well. In a typical month we put away around $500. Once our student loan deferment expired, this became closer to ~$100. In February, our first full month on “the plan”, we managed to squirrel away… are you ready for it… $2200. Now again, we typically save $300-500, and Mrs. SS got a $200 reimbursement for money I spent in January. But that still puts us at $1500 ahead. This is very exciting news.
“They must eat rice and beans and never get out of the house”- says imaginary bystander. Not so, IB, not so. We have dramatically overhauled our lifestyle, and for the past two weeks (week 5 and 6 of the process) it has felt 100% manageable, fun, and dare I say- luxurious. That is not to say that the process isn’t challenging. Spending money mindlessly is a habit and like any habit, it is hard to kick. However, here’s what we would consider the basic recipe for success.
1) Get your money in cash.
Yes, credit cards can give you awesome rewards and Mr. SS has earned us almost $1,000 in the last year through reward programs (stay tuned for the future post), but guess what? The money you don’t spend on Credit Cards is investable and can get you… interest. Nothing makes you consider every dollar you spend like actually holding…every dollar you spend. Cash is very effective in curbing your spending. Lucky for us, we shop mostly at Aldi’s which will give you any amount of cash-back you request. Since they have the best prices, Mr. Sweetspot starts his shopping there and gets the difference between what he spends on a credit card and our $100 “allowance” in cash. We then use the cash around town fro the rest of the week. Trust us, when you’re down to your last $3.46 you start to think about every penny you have.
2) Delay the marshmallow
We wrote about this theory in “Why We Cut the Cord”. Here are some examples of how this works in savings. I ran out of deodorant. Rather than run to the store to immediately replace it, I used a trail size deodorant I had on the shelf which I received in a free promotion. Not my favorite scent, but effective at fighting sweat. Mr. Sweetspot needed a haircut. He delayed it by two weeks, until we hit a week where we were comfortable spending the $20. He also cut it a little shorter than he typically does, in the hopes that it would last longer.
3) Try new things
I have a preference in coffee and apples that prior to now I considered my guideline for buying these products. With the limited budget, I decided to try dollar tree coffee and see what that was like. First off, the bags are about half of the size of a typical bag of coffee. Secondly- it’s not excellent. However, if you add cinnamon to it as it brews, it is an ok flavored coffee. I did drink all of it, but returned to my Aldi brand (at $4 it’s twice as expensive, but totally worth it). With apples, Mr. Sweetspot keeps buying me whichever big bag of apples is cheapest on a given week. Some are a hit, some a miss… but it turns out I care a lot less about apples than I thought I did. As I eat these at my desk while working, I honestly don’t pay that much attention. As a result, any apple provides me vitamins and fiber, and since I’m not eating it mindfully it’s not worth a higher price tag.
4) Be Flexible
One of our constant issues in this plan is booze. While it is possible to drink on a budget, it is easier to get affordable wine options then beer… unless you’re willing to drink “Nati Light”, but that is not an option we really consider. Since buying a decent 6 pack would run us 10% of our weekly budget, we’ve adapted to two things. The first, our convenience store sells beer by the can, including Blue Moon and various ciders we like. This beer is cheaper by the ounce then the 6 pack equivalent (yes, we did the math- 12.5 cents an ounce vs. 14 cents an ounce) and allows us to only buy 2 cans at a time. Perfect! Also, our local beer store, which carries a lot of various options has discounts on beers leftover as odd lots or out of season, again allowing for the purchase of one bottle at a time, right around the $2 range. They also had heavily discounted boozy sodas ($2.99 for a 4 pack), so we bought a few to try them out. I bought 1 pack for girls night because we’re flexible and there’s no rule that says we have to drink wine ;).
5) Take the puppy store approach
Every pet stores salesperson knows the tried and true tactic: “Just try it out for a little while, you can always bring him back…” they will let you take the puppy home for the weekend and return it if things don’t work out. Only, turns out, most people will keep the puppy because they become invested. If you are willing to try this out, do, and chances are you’ll get addicted to the benefits.
After grocery shopping this week we had $30 leftover, which felt like so much! More than the $1,000-$1,500 we frivolously spent before. We bought wine, beer and we are going to go to the movies! It takes approximately 6 weeks to get here, but it is an advisable journey, and being more mindful of your spending will have a huge impact on your future savings. Now, what to do with all that money you’re saving? Well, that’s the topic for a future post.
Let us know if you join the journey- or if you know of a place we can get some cheap beer ;-).