Good evening, friends! I have found that I absolutely love the scheduling feature on the Word Press site. I can write a post whenever the inspiration strikes and/or when I have free time, and schedule it for a later date. I am currently on an emergency management deployment to North Carolina to assist with Hurricane Florence recovery. There have been some long days (usually 13-14 hour shifts) but overall, I can’t complain. I am working from the State Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, which was not hard-hit by Florence like southeastern North Carolina. As such, I am indoors in air conditioning for my shift rather than toiling away in the southern heat and humidity. We have food catered in here and I have a hotel room to sleep in. I truly feel for the people who have lost loved ones and property in this storm. Working as part of a team to provide them the resources they need to recover has been rewarding. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have time (or energy, quite frankly) to write a post while I was here, but fortunately I did. Writing about something I’m passionate about is great for unwinding at the end of a long day.
In my financial independence journey, I have had to make many adjustments and small sacrifices to change my habits. In my last post, I talked about the power of habit in personal finance. It is important to be honest with yourself and take a look at what you are spending money, because this shows you what you are prioritizing, possibly unintentionally. For example, let’s say you have a goal to max out your Roth IRA contributions this year. When you track every dollar you’re spending for at least one month (which is something I HIGHLY recommend – see this post for more of my recommendations), it gives you a good picture of where your money is going. If your one month of spending felt like an abnormal month, track it again for another month or two to give you a balanced snapshot of your income v. expenditures. While reviewing your monthly input/output, perhaps you notice that you and your spouse spend around $100 every Saturday night going out for dinner and drinks (which is quite realistic if you both order a $25 entree, two drinks each at $7/person, plus tax and a 20% tip). That’s $400/month, or $4,800 per year, which is awfully close to the $5,500 maximum annual contribution to a Roth IRA. Now, if this is a routine that truly brings you joy and altering it by ordering takeout and grabbing a six-pack of beer from the liquor store would just not be the same, then by all means, you do you. If not, it may show you that you are unintentionally prioritizing spending hard-earned money too often at restaurants, bars, coffee shops, convenience stores, etc. I think in many situations this is the case and you can really have a positive impact on your budget by identifying ways to cut back.
If you find these areas of excess fat in your expenditures, it’s time to brainstorm how you can still treat yo’ self but in a more affordable way. Here’s a few areas I’ve personally made adjustments to in my life:
- Spending time with friends: This always seems to be an area where you can reduce your expenses. Getting together with friends doesn’t always need to revolve around a restaurant or bar. Meet up for a walk in your neighborhood or in an area with pretty scenery, or take turns hosting dinner and drinks at each other’s home instead of spending $40 a pop at a bar or restaurant. If you do go out to a restaurant, you can order less expensive items without that feeling of FOMO. For example, my favorite alcoholic drinks are margaritas, sangria, and Captain Morgan with Diet Coke. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I do enjoy your standard domestics like Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, and Bud Light. Margaritas in particular are often expensive at restaurants so if I drink when I go out to a restaurant, I will always order a tap beer and save at least $3 per drink than if I were to order a cocktail (it also takes me longer to drink a beer than a cocktail, which helps save on costs as well). Other options are ordering a large appetizer for your meal rather than an entree (at the restaurant I waitress at, a sandwich and fries costs $14, while a huge appetizer of loaded fries or nachos is $11), ordering a soft drink with free refills instead of alcohol, or just drinking water.
- Books: I’m a major bookworm and I’ve told myself time and time again that I really need to get realistic with myself about actually reading the books I own and not dropping $25 every time I see a book I want to read in a bookstore (fellow book lovers, I know you can relate to this struggle). My local library has been a great help. The physical library itself is rather small, but through it I have access to a statewide e-library where I can check out books on my Kindle. I always carry my Kindle in my purse and try to read a few pages if I’m stuck waiting somewhere rather than mindlessly scroll through Facebook, which has also helped me exceed my goal of reading 50 books in 2018. For the books I own, I add them to a tote in my basement for my next garage sale once I am finished reading them. There are a few exceptions I put back on the shelf that I will likely read again (like thrillers, which are my favorite genre) or books I may reference again in the future (like travel guides), but most I am fine reading once, parting with them, and passing them along to another reader. I actually made quite a nice profit at my last garage sale by pricing my books at 50 cents for paperbacks and $1 for hardcovers.
- Extracurriculars: The main way I made friends after moving back to South Dakota was through joining a local dart league. It may sound a little strange, but a coworker recommended it to me because it was a casual, popular, fairly low-skill activity that many people around town participated in at the local bars once or twice per week. I ended up joining a team that became my core group of friends. After about two years of being a dart league member, I decided to quit because it just wasn’t all that enjoyable for me any longer. My work schedule had picked up and I began classes for my Master’s degree, so my free time was limited. I lost interest to the point where dart league felt like another obligation I had to go to, which was when I knew it was time to quit. A hobby or extracurricular activity should almost always be something that is enjoyable to attend. If it’s not, I would rather spend my free time relaxing at home! This helped financially because the dart matches themselves would cost about $10 per person per night, plus we inevitably would order food and drinks while playing, so these Tuesday night soirées could easily run at least $30. At the beginning of each season (there were two seasons per year I participated in), we would also have to pay our “dues” to be sanctioned league players, which was about $10 per season. Spending $120/month on a single activity that wasn’t all that important to me seemed like a lot of money that could be going to something that would bring me closer to my financial independence goals. Two years later, I’ve never once regretted quitting, and my friends and I made time to see each other through other avenues!
- The gym: I used to go to the gym a LOT. When I first moved back to South Dakota, I didn’t know anyone besides my coworkers, so I had a lot of free time on my hands. Meal prepping, being away from the college environment of partying a few times every week, and going to the gym as a hobby were critical to my success of losing 65 pounds in about a year and a half. I was a member at the YMCA where I took advantage of their walking track, treadmills/ellipticals/bikes, weight room, and occasionally the indoor pool. I also regularly attended their weekly Zumba class, which was free to members. As I inched closer to my goal weight, I think I became overly confident that I had the ability to continue to lose weight without the assistance of any special programs or support (I was a Weight Watchers member at the time). Slowly, this caught up to me and I ended up regaining about half of what I had lost. My gym attendance plummeted. While I miss that version of me, where I prioritized going to the gym and taking advantage of any opportunity to be healthier, I also needed to be realistic and recognize that this was another item that wasn’t important enough to me to warrant spending $300/year on. I know $300/year (after the student discount I qualified for at the time) for a gym membership is a drop in the bucket compared to what some people pay, $300 for access to a facility I am not using is wasteful. Through my work, I have access to the gym at the law enforcement training building, so when I am feeling motivated, I can use that facility for free. I hope to someday get back to my previous levels of health and physical fitness but in the meantime, the free gym will work just fine.
- Iced coffee addiction: I don’t drink hot coffee and am rather picky about my iced coffee, so I rarely order it from a coffee shop (I use a light roast, a tablespoon of half and half or heavy cream, one packet of Truvia, and about half a cup of chocolate protein shake – tastes like chocolate milk and is a nice morning pick-me-up). Previously, I would buy the 48 oz. Starbucks unsweetened blonde roast refrigerated bottles, which are about $5 at Walmart. These bottles would last me maybe 3 or 4 days, so I was spending at least $25 a month just on the coffee itself, plus the cost of the cream, sweetener, and protein shakes. I decided to invest $15 in a Primula cold brew coffee maker from Macy’s (it was on sale plus I had an extra discount code), and it has been a game changer! It is so easy to make my own cold brew at home, so now I am spending only $8 on a bag of Starbucks Veranda Blend ground coffee every two months!
Most of these changes in my life were relatively small dollar amounts, but that’s exactly the point. These little changes that did not have much of a negative impact on how I felt or on my daily routine really added up when considered together. Between cutting back on buying drinks when out to eat with friends (saving an estimated $20/month for a total of $240/year), checking out books from the library instead of buying them at the bookstore (saving an estimated $25/month for a total of $300/year), quitting the dart league ($120/month), canceling my unused gym membership (saving $25/month), and making my own cold brew coffee at home (saving $20/month), I am saving a total of roughly $2,520 per year! Again, every little bit saved helps! What are some small changes you have implemented or could implement in your life to save a little extra cash?