If Neil and I have learned one thing in our twenties it’s that saving money is a lifestyle. Making sacrifices every day on a greater scale is about making life choices about the things that really matter. In the world of blogs, money swirls everywhere. It’s in the huge amounts of advertising, products, sponsorships and endorsements that pop up in your reader and the millions of pictures that are shared across the net. Lately it’s left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. While it’s exciting to see so many people improving their lives and being able to have great opportunities through blogging, it’s also overwhelming and nearly impossible not to be hard on yourself when you can’t live that way too. That’s why it was a breath of fresh air when I read the latest post on one of our favorite blogs Young House Love doling sage frugal advice, a follow-up to a series on how they are plan and save for their home renovations.
Our living room
If you don’t know us in real life, you’re looking at a picture of our house. Other than a short stint in an apartment, it’s the first home Neil and I have shared together. At just over 1,000 square feet it’s also home to our two cats and dog. It’s also a rental. In it you will find painted thrifted furniture, hand-me-down kitchen supplies and no cable. When we were preparing for our wedding last year, we made a rough plan of where we’d like to be in 5 years. We quickly learned that we had some lofty goals. For me, I wanted to be able to finish grad school debt-free and continue to pay off loans while Neil wanted to save for our first home as well as financially prepare to move out-of-state. To do this required dedication and sacrifices that we’ve chosen to strive for as aggressively as possible without setting ourselves up for failure.
Fortunately, we both come from very frugal and resourceful families. My mom clipped coupons and made our clothes like it was an Olympic event and Neil’s parents probably took the gold in every other category, lol. Their frugal and minimalistic lifestyle made it almost too easy for us to make sacrifices other people might consider over the top. Nothing we’ve done has been groundbreaking or all that complicated. Some changes were easier to adjust to than others. But after living this way for more than a year, most of the changes and sacrifices have become habit and I couldn’t imagine going back. Learning to live with less means living consciously, and everything you choose to pursue has more value because it invariably came at the cost of something else you also wanted. Here are just a few major changes and themes we now live by:
We think, communicate, and keep it simple. Unless something breaks, we don’t run out and buy anything. We always shop around and research our options. Never being impulsive not only saves us a lot of money, but also from the potential heartbreak of an uninformed decision. Is it something we can we can live without or make-do with something we already have? Is it worth it to spend a little more to get something better, or will something cheaper solve the issue?
Our little G20
We use what we have, even if it’s not optimal. Planning, research and patience also come into play with things we do decide are necessary. If it’s not used, on sale, or we don’t have a coupon, we don’t buy it. We also spend a lot of time on Craigslist and Ebay. When Neil and I first met and lived 3 hours a part. He bought a used 1992 Infiniti G20 to make the trip back and forth. It was a peach, …with no radio, working windows or trunk lock. When he relocated, we continued driving that car for 3 more years while we saved and planned our next car purchase. Even with all its quirks we were able to re-sell it for $700 and use the money toward our new used car!
We do it ourselves. And if we don’t know how, we learn or ask for help. One of the best parts of saving money is all the great things you learn how to do. Sure, sometimes you learn from things that go terribly wrong, but often times the education for next time is worth far more than the costly repair of something unexpected. For the most part though, knowing how to do it yourself not only saves you money in labor to pay someone else, but allows you to take advantage of opportunities to save money when they arise. Knowing how to refinish furniture and do your own home/auto maintenance has saved us a bundle.
We share and downsize wherever possible. Because it’s just the two of us, we’ve been able to save money by sharing things we used to buy separately. Soap, shampoo, face wash and our miniscule amount of beauty products are shared. Growing up the way we have, neither of us have ever been slaves to beauty products. I didn’t even own make-up until I was in high school and could buy it for myself. We also get cheap haircuts and I dye my hair from a box. I’m always excited to tell people who ask that my cut and color are less than $20! We’ve also made the move to a shared commute to work and making our own coffee and baked goods. We’re even considering used bikes when Neil’s office transfers on campus this fall.
Neil on our honeymoon last year. The trip cost us less than $500!
We just plain go without. Would I love to shop at Ann Taylor Loft like my friends? Of course. Am I wearing a $7 Target shirt right now? Yup. Every little bit counts. From overcoming your Starbuck’s addiction to skipping the bar tri-weekly with friends, we’ve done it all. Some things are definitely harder than others. We skip out on a lot of the little luxuries not only to save for the future but also vacations, grad school and Neil’s racing, all of which we’re able to pay for out of pocket without touching our savings. So before you think it’s totally impossible to save a few hundred dollars a month consider this: before buying our Jeep, we had been able to create savings out of my entire monthly paycheck! Here are a few of the ways we’ve done that:
- Making healthy, simple meals at home and sack lunches to take to work, all from ingredients we buy on sale or with coupons. We also stopped snacking and buying overpriced pre-packaged foods in place whole unprocessed meals.
- Going to bars with friends on special occasions only, roughly 1-2 times every 3 months, with one of us always being the DD.
- We axed our cable subscription. Saves over $50 a month and thanks to the web, we never miss the shows we really want to see.
- We carpool to work, saving gas and maintenance maintaining to full-time cars.
- Date nights IN. A fun new recipe and computer games go a long way!
I’ve never been a regular viewer of Oprah, but she said something once that has always stuck with me:
“Having the best things is no substitute for having the best life.”
Our simple advice is to never spend beyond your means and take time to save for the goals and projects that are truly important to you. While you might feel the impulse to compete with the spending of others, especially in constant changing environment of the blogosphere, don’t nickel and dime your savings or lose sight of what is really important. It’s far too easy to oversimplify the images people project on their blogs through rose-colored glasses. More often than not, the situation is not all that it seems.
I hope this honest glimpse at how Neil and I live encourages others to do the same. But most of all I hope it serves as reinforcement that the best way to live is by having a long-term plan, savings, and most of all patience. Sometimes you really just have to wait for the things you want. It’s often through waiting you find that things aren’t really what you’re yearning for.