Take a look at your wallet. Is it packed full of cash, credit cards, business cards, I.D. cards, pictures and more? Do you have a dozen or more items on your key chain? Are your pockets stuffed when you head out for the day?
I cannot stand the feeling of reaching into my pockets and not being able to pull something out with ease. It’s cumbersome, and it makes me feel like I’m lugging around much more than I need to. Because of this, a few years back, I went through everything I was carrying with me on a daily basis and really thought about if I actually needed it, or if it had just found a home in the stuff that I throw in my pockets each morning. Eventually my wallet went from a tri-fold to a bi-fold to a sleeve, and my keychain went from fourteen items to a mere five, of which I’m currently considering dropping down to two. …
When I first started diving deep into the personal finance community, the first tenant of Personal Finance 101 that stuck with me was the importance of a budget. There’s no way to know where your money goes without keeping track of it. It’s the same as monitoring your data usage. When you get an alert that you’re about to go over your data for the month, you start hunting down all the Wi-Fi hotspots within a three mile radius so you can stay under the limit. Budgets mean nothing if you don’t keep track of your spending.
Unfortunately, my idea of budgeting was to spend whatever I wanted and hope that it stayed within my budget. Most months this strategy was a complete fail. I logged into Mint every day to check up on my progress, but as the month continued and my budgets teetered on going over I ignored the spending alerts in my inbox and carried on my merry way. Then I’d go over my budget by $100-$200 and wonder what went wrong. Mint told me that I’d gone over on groceries, shopping, and the illusive “Everything Else”, but it offered no advice on how to change my habits. Even worse, I told myself I would do better next month to make up for it, but I didn’t identify where I’d slipped up and what adjustments I should make.
Okay, time to fess up. During our Frugal August Challenge, we brainstormed ways to travel and spend time outdoors that didn’t cost too much money. We agreed that the best way to get our nature fix is to go camping. What better way to see the country and hike our favorite trails? This would unlock so many doors to adventure, and it was frugal to boot!
We live on the top floor of our apartment building. The roof has a cooling unit for the building’s A/C that makes a constant whining sound. Imagine someone blowing a vuvuzela into your living room 24/7. The offending noise lasts from April through November, and despite repeated attempts to get the issue fixed, we still suffer through it year after year. We told ourselves we didn’t mind it. Temporary discomfort isn’t a big deal. Every apartment has its quirks, right? But even as we try to ignore it, the noise has been slowly breaking down our sanity.
We didn’t realize how bad it was until recently. One Sunday morning we woke up, lazed around in bed, and noticed it was quiet. Unsettlingly quiet. It took a moment for us to notice the buzzing sound had stopped. A weight lifted off our shoulders. This is what silence feels like! We could open our windows without the droning noise assaulting our ears. Music didn’t have buzzing mingling with the bass line. Our moods dramatically improved. For two blissful hours, we saw what it’s like to not have that noise disrupt our lives. We experienced what it would be like to improve our surroundings. And most importantly, we learned it was worth it. That weekend kicked off the hunt for our new apartment. Without it, we may have continued to live in discomfort even though we deserve better.
After we started our first jobs out of college, we fell victim to some serious lifestyle inflation. We were living large by traveling several times per year, buying clothes and electronics just for fun, and eating out almost every day. Of course we budgeted for these expenses, but we didn’t realize we were left with little leftover at the end of the month and living paycheck-to-paycheck. We just wondered where all of our money went!
Despite all of this, we thought we were smart with our money. We paid off our credit cards every month. We never bought anything we couldn’t afford, although there’s been some close calls! No matter what we always stashed away an emergency fund. Aside from those Personal Finance 101 principles, we thought we were free to spend the rest of our money. There’s no harm in living a little in your twenties! That’s what social media and advertisements told us. Have as much fun as you can before you hit thirty and have to start worrying about kids and mortgage payments.
At some point, we looked at our paltry savings accounts and wondered if we were going overboard. We thought about our future goals and how much money it would take to get there. Things like our cabin in the woods, early retirement, and side projects we’ve considered but never pursued. How can we possibly save for these goals if we fritter away our hard-earned money? We found examples of people who have created the life we envision without going broke, like Frugalwoods and Our Next Life. We were inspired to get our act together and start saving as much as we can.
I have a confession: I’m a carrier jumper. I have commitment issues when it comes to cell phone plans. It pains me to pay more than necessary because I use my cell phone sparingly throughout the day. I thought I had it good with AT&T. My plan had 3GB of data and unlimited calling and text messages with no contract. But when I looked at my monthly usage, I realized AT&T was practically stealing my money. I used only a fraction of my data, but I was paying full price! Surely there was a way to get the same coverage for half the cost? Thus began my search for the ultimate budget carrier.
There are now hundreds of low-cost carriers that offer a variety of plans to fit any budget. The two companies I’ve tried are Ting and Project Fi. They have their own pros and cons, so I’ve broken down my experience with both carriers to help anyone looking to save money on their cell phone plans.
The enigmatic “morning routine.” I am a firm believer that what you do in the morning sets the stage for the rest of the day. At that, I believe in the old mantra of “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” It may be more or less disproven as a scientific thing, but psychologically, I think it gives me the boost I need to take on the day.
I used to think I was a so-called “night owl,” because that seemed to be what all the cool people were doing. The people I talked to online would be up into the wee hours of the night, so I figured I should be one of those people too. I ignored the fact that I felt awful every morning, shrugging it off as a part of the night owl complex. As it turns out, I was so miserable in the morning because I was a closet morning person.
Over Labor Day weekend we trekked 480 miles for a family wedding. We could have easily taken a short flight or train ride to our destination, but the cost was unbelievable. $200 per person roundtrip on Amtrak. That’s not even for business class! Instead of shelling out several Benjamins on this trip, we turned our weekend getaway into a good old-fashioned highway adventure – and we saved serious money!
As summer winds down and everyone packs up their beach towels and bathing suits, we are digging out hiking gear from our closet. Since our region is horrendously swampy in the summer, we prefer to do our hiking in the fall. No one wants to sweat through 90% humidity for 8 hours!
Last year we dipped our toes into this hiking business. We were hiking newbies (and out-of-shape newbies, at that) who were intimidated by the more challenging trails. We stuck to some local trails near our home that seemed interesting, but nothing too advanced. Naturally, we instantly caught hiking fever. We discovered that breathing some fresh air and working up a sweat is our favorite way to spend the day. It didn’t matter that we were only 20 minutes outside the city. We were surrounded by trees! Deer were just chilling a few yards away! There’s a whole natural world outside our doorstep! Just imagine what’s 100 miles away? 1,000 miles away?
Our Frugal August Challenge just wrapped up. For the month of August we pledged to ban eating out, reduce our grocery spending, and cook every meal at home. Let me tell you, it was way easier than we expected! We thought this challenge would be difficult, and we feared losing steam halfway through the month. But we ate tasty meals, hosted friends and family, and saved tons of money without feeling deprived or bored. If you don’t believe us, take a look at our spending breakdown for the past 90 days.
We knew we had saved money, but we didn’t expect saving this much money! That’s hundreds of dollars saved! It goes to show how easy it can be to overspend without realizing it. The changes we made didn’t feel too significant, but they made a huge difference.