One Weird Trick to Save Money
October 17, 2017 4:42 AM   Subscribe

I've made a fair few lifestyle changes to save money, but I've still got a ways to go before I pay off my debt. What's the one lifestyle change that saved you the most money?

I am an urban single office-working 30-something.

Changes I have made:
(1) Packed lunch to work every day.
(2) I never buy coffees anymore. I make it at home and take it to work in a travel mug.
(3) I never buy books full-price anymore, always second-hand.
(4) I try to keep social engagements after work down to a maximum of 3 times a week
(5) I only order take-out on a Sunday

These are small changes and they have not changed me from my previously impoverished self to someone who is now rolling in the readies. There are other things about my lifestyle I have had less success changing. The single biggest drain on my finances is the amount of international travelling I have to do to see family and friends who live abroad. Other things I end up spending money on are socialising - my friends and I all live quite far from each other so we end up meeting for a quick meal in the city centre than going to each others' houses, something which very quickly adds up - and exercise - I do group exercise classes instead of free stuff like home workouts, walking or running because the group exercise just works best for me and I feel it's ok to prioritise that. Clothes, recently, have also taken up some of my income because I just did a big wardrobe clearout and I'm trying to buy some better quality staples and think about my wardrobe in a holistic way.

Anyway, this question isn't really about how to fix my budgeting problems specifically but just to help me get a sense of how other people save money in an everyday way and see if I can adapt those pointers to my own lifestyle. What are the everyday things you do that save you money?
posted by Ziggy500 to Work & Money (44 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
1. Don't buy ANYTHING new. Clothes from Poshmark, Craigslist and eBay for anything else. Borrow from a friend or neighbor.
2. I understand you want to prioritize group exercise and seeing family but I think sometimes when people want to save money they have a lot of "priorities" that they aren't willing to flex on. At some point you are gonna have to give a little. Maybe one exercise class a week, supplemented by home exercise? Or check out your community center for low cost classes.
3. Unplugging a LOT. I spend less money when I'm taking in less internet candy.
posted by pintapicasso at 4:56 AM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

The single biggest drain on my finances is the amount of international travelling I have to do to see family and friends who live abroad.

I think your most impactful trick will be to realize you don't have to travel to see anybody. Leisure travel is a want, not a need.

The biggest thing that has helped me is Elizabeth Warren's 50/20/30 budget framework. 50% of your after tax income should go to needs - rent / food / health insurance / contractual things like car payments, etc. (A loan or a 2-year cable contract are needs in this system, as they are contractual obligations you need to pay to avoid even bigger issues)

Put 20% of your after tax income in savings. This can be a combo of payroll deduction for 401K and a savings account for short term needs.

Whatever is left is your fun money for wants. The goal is to have at least 30% for wants, because having fun is important and we only have a limited time on the planet, and enjoying is a perfectly legitimate goal. But you may need to work towards 30% if your needs currently eat up too much of your income.
posted by COD at 4:59 AM on October 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

I'm kind of confused by you saying that you're paying off debt but still going out for meals and paying for exercise classes. You literally don't have money to do those things until your debt is paid. Don't buy things you don't have the money for.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:16 AM on October 17, 2017 [17 favorites]

You can save a lot on traveling, if you change your travel habits. I'm assuming you already get free accommodation by staying with your friends and family. (If not, maybe those people are the ones to stop visiting, because it doesn't seem like you are that close, if you can't stay with them).

But even then, a lot of people treat travel like it's a vacation, even when it's more regular. There's no reason you have to do any tourist things if it's a place you are going to visit again (and with socially obligated visits to family and friends, that will be the case). You shouldn't eat out more than usual, just because you are overseas. Offer to take turns cooking at your friends' and family's place - chip in for groceries, etc. Get metro cards or whatever public transport options the locals use, rather than taking taxis. If you have to pay for accommodation sometime (e.g. friends with a new baby and small apartment), do AirBnB or sublease a room from contacts they might have). Basically act like a local in these overseas places as much as possible.

If you do that, you can almost come close to breaking even on some trips, because you won't have your usual home expenses while you are away (e.g. lower power and water bills for that period), and you can enjoy the savings on food that comes from buying bulk items for more people.

Buy your airfares for off-peak periods and only book them when there are sales on.
posted by lollusc at 5:18 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

I looked up the property transfer documents and the tax assessment history of the rental property I live in with my county records office to figure out about how much my landlord paid in mortgage a month, did some math, and appealed to him from a sense of reason to lower my rent and argue off yearly increases. It's saved me a few thousand dollars over the last several years.

I also pay my credit cards in full every month, made it an extremely high priority to pay off my student loans (lived reeeal cheap for a while), and haven't since incurred any further debt. Interest is bullshit.

Make sure you're buying all your travel on some kind of rewards card, by the way. Even a cash back card would be working in your favor.
posted by phunniemee at 5:20 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think it's ok to have some fun but your lifestyle does sound quite lavish. It seems like you could save a significant amount by cutting all luxury stuff in half across the board. Half the travel (video skype more instead), half the meals out (socialise at a gallery or museum or go for a walk having eaten something beforehand at your desk), takeaways every second week.

Also get a library card as depending on how much you read even second-hand books add up.
posted by hazyjane at 5:23 AM on October 17, 2017 [14 favorites]

Most of the things you've listed seem like small potatoes compared to the things you're not willing to compromise on. (Even going out 3x a week to socialize seems excessive to me!). I get prioritizing the exercise class, I totally do, exercise is important and if the class is the only way to get you to do it then fine. But look at how much you've saved on the coffees and lunches, add up how much you've saved in a year and compare how much that is to how much you spend on international travel and going out with friends - if you're travelling a lot and going out 3x a week (after cutting back!), your coffees and sandwiches could well be a drop in the ocean.

When you're going out with friends, instead of a meal in the city then back to someone's house - could you skip the going out for a meal part and order take-out or take it in turn to host dinner parties instead?

You say you *have* to do a lot of international travel to see friends and family - why is that? Why do you have *have* to take trips you can't afford? My family aren't even international and we only make 3 trips a year - easter, christmas and birthdays. If they were international, it would be 1 trip - Christmas (substitute with whatever is the most important occasion for your family). I can't think of any reason why you would need to travel internationally to see friends. If you can afford it, sure, its a nice thing to be able to do but sounds very much like you can't actually afford it. If your family or friends are pressuring you to visit frequently, you need to tell them you can't afford it. If your family are so desperate to see you they can pay for your travel, they can be the ones to come to you or they can accept not seeing you so often.
posted by missmagenta at 5:26 AM on October 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

Travel is also the biggest item in our budget. It makes sense to look at the biggest item and try to lower that one.

How many trips do you *really* have to take? I visit my parents in the US at least once a year but I do it off-season, buy tickets in advance, and use cheap carriers like Norwegian. Then as others have said I don't treat it as a holiday. We generally eat at home and hang out with the family.

The month we saved the most money is when our main fun activity that month consisted of doing something that was totally free. We went on long-distance walks. We cooked and packed our lunches, threw on backpacks and went on long hikes. By the end of the month, we realized that we had spent almost no money on going out, eating out, or travelling and had had a great time. And we were in good shape too.

Try getting closer to zero by changing some of your habits just for a month as an experiment or as a challenge. The only way you will truly know if you do need to go out three times a week, or fly to other countries is by giving it up and then see if you miss it.
posted by vacapinta at 5:44 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

The thing that finally moved the needle for us was moving to a place with a lower cost of living and our kids aging out of needing afterschool care, but obviously YMMV. Actually tracking spending helped a lot too. I started using YNAB religiously about 6 months ago, and it's been exciting to see our net worth inch up. Once you have full visibility on your spending, it's easy to see where you're not lining up with your priorities.
posted by libraryhead at 5:48 AM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Installing YNAB on my phone, setting a budget, and tracking my spending. Boring, I know! But just the act of entering my purchases and watching my budgeted allocation dwindle has been very effective in reducing my overall consumption. I can still treat myself; I just know when I’ve treated myself too well that month, and it’s time to rein it in for a finite period of time.
My favorite thing about it is the chart it generates for net worth— over the last 2.5 years, I have watched that line creep up from the red until it’s well in the black. Even when I suffer setbacks, I can see how far I’ve come and I’m always motivated to not break the chain and to try make that line go higher this month than it was last month.
posted by roshy at 5:55 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

Pay yourself first. That means pay down debt or save with the first money from your paycheck, rather than what's leftover at the end of the month.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:05 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

- I recently took a look at some of the little miscellaneous recurring costs in my life. I eliminated my hulu subscription ($10 a month), switched internet providers ($20 a month saved), set up a recurring small deposit to my checking account to eliminate the monthly fee ($10 a month saved) and changed some of my habits and settings on my phone so I used less data ($0-$10 saved, depending on the month). I did this after starting to use YNAB, which was helpful in showing me where I was wasting money needlessly. It feels great to make these painless little changes and know that they'll add up to over $500 this year.

-I run most of my large expenses ( including rent when I can) through credit cards with point sign up bonuses so that I don't pay for flights. If you have any trouble at all resisting temptation to overuse credit this isn't a good option but if you're good on that front, take a look into the cards that give back big travel sign up bonuses.

-I buy 75% of the non consumable "stuff" I need used in stores or online. Clothing, kitchen stuff, gear for hobbies, whatever. Someone somewhere probably is trying to get rid of what you need.

-- I do most of my grocery shopping at a cheaper store with just-the-basics ( think Aldi's but a local chain with a great produce department) and supplement with visits to a different store every few weeks for the other stuff I need.

In general, nthing the recommendation for YNAB. I tried it just for the free trial and haven't decided if I'll continue it, but just using it for two months has helped me get a better sense of where my money is going and what my priorities are. Look around and you can find links for a 64- day free trial rather than the standard 34.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:11 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the biggest thing that got me into budgeting was having incremental goals that included a splurge. Every achievement includes getting something I put off to get the achievement.

The notion of saving endlessly for the rest of one's life is akin to trying to eat perfectly healthy all the time - it takes an enormous amount of willpower and preparedness and when you fail, even short term, it's easy to get discouraged. Instead, I focused on "save my first $1000", "build emergency savings to $5000", "maximize retirement contributions this year which is $6,000" and the like. This made running short term decisions easier to defer or cancel because they seemed so readily tied to an incremental goal, and the stuff I really needed I could set as a goal reward.

On travel - I don't know if you do this now, but there is a ton of opportunity to save money there. Seat sales, loyalty programs, credit cards with travel bonuses and the like. We have a Cashback credit card which we use for all our day-to-day expenses (and dedicate the cash to travel) and use Expedia to the point of being at their highest level and between the two we cut our travel budget by $1,500 a year at least. There are forums where people ladder perks and discounts on top of each other - I don't know them well, but know a couple of people who rarely pay much if anything to fly anymore. The cost is time and effort which I don't have but if your goal is really ramping up savings, it may be very worthwhile.

Finally - old fashioned couponing. Lots of apps these days. My wife is not a "visit 3 stores" kind of couponer but even a few looks around the internet/the flyers saves us $10-$15 every time we go to the grocery store. That adds up.
posted by notorious medium at 6:11 AM on October 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

The biggest single thing that allowed me to pay off my mortgage early was not having a car.
posted by metasarah at 6:12 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

This may sound flip, but: I wasn't really able to make much progress on saving/paying down debt until I earned more money. Initially I did that with a 2nd job, eventually by moving into a better-paying career track. People love to give advice about skipping lattes and such, and there are places you can cut, but honestly creating a surplus was, for me, the much faster and more productive way to go.
posted by Miko at 6:23 AM on October 17, 2017 [33 favorites]

Can I just say that I'm astounded by fellow Mefites who think that the OP has a lavish lifestyle? Especially re: socializing, traveling and takeouts.

(I may have to rethink my own lifestyle now, too. Maybe.)

Personally, I like spending, so instead of saving, I just do odd jobs (freelance work, temporary projects, etc.) to bring in my "fun" money. Not sure if that helps, since this doesn't directly answer your question about saving money, but my opinion is that if I'm gonna spend AND save, then I'm gonna bring in the dosh for both. In the past, I've tried changing my lifestyle to save money (e.g. not going to a cafe every day, not buying a "fun" thing every week), but I just ended up compensating with something else (like watching TV at home, because hey! it's almost free!), and usually it's brain-degenerating and boring.

(Okay, that TV thing wasn't a real example — at least, I didn't try it for longer than a few days. A real, most recent example was forgoing my daily trips to the cafe and working from home instead, with my own teabags and coffee and whatnot. Bah, hated it).
posted by Spiderwoman at 6:34 AM on October 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

I hope you don't let the more severe folks in here get you down. I'm super proud of you for finding something that works for you to chip away at this while allowing yourself to prioritize things that make you happy.

My biggest trick was to take my discretionary budget as cash on payday. Friends want to go out? Peeks in wallet and sees $10. Nope, can't, but I could do coffee...

After a while, I started trying to cut that budget by trying to end the week with $20 left over (which I'd hide in another part of my wallet so I didn't calculate it in.)
posted by advicepig at 6:35 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

Plan cheap events for your socializing nights. A potluck where everyone BYOBs, for example, will be cheaper than going to a bar.

Nthing tracking everything using Mint or YNAB. Just knowing what you spend money on will subtly change what you do. For instance, a few years ago I spent a few months tracking just my grocery spending. Even though we didn't buy alcohol that frequently, it was so much more expensive than food that it ended up being a third of our food budget. We stopped keeping beer around the house and saved a huge amount.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:44 AM on October 17, 2017

If you have consumer debt, you do need to prioritize cutting that back, so good on you for taking small steps. However, it is FINE to prioritize travel or exercise over other living expenses, but you do need to prioritize. I used to make time for travel for skiing while living below the poverty line. I literally didn't buy new clothing, walked to work (6 miles each way) and lived on ramen, Chinatown veggies and worked 2 jobs for a year. It sucked in the day to day, but those moments skiing were 100% worth it to me. (people thought I was nuts, in retrospect I might have been slightly nuts, but I managed it)

For current tips:
- For clothing: I buy new, I buy high end (in such a manner that would make people in this forum have a fit), but I buy thoughtfully. I don't get to buy anything for my wardrobe unless it has at least 2 things it matches exactly, and it replaces something in that closet that I am no longer wearing. I keep tags on clothes, and receipt pinned to those clothes until I actually wear it for the first time. Twice a year I purge my closet of clothes I don't wear often, and donate or consign them; I can then take the estimated donation value and spend it on a new fun clothes that don't have to meet the above criteria.
- Social: I meet up for coffee rather than a full meal, in winter, I suggest meeting in galleries or museums while in summer we do a lot of picnics. I also volunteer, and encourage friends to join me for volunteer events where we just need extra hands to stuff envelopes or categorize things (volunteering to walk dogs is a major win)
- Food: in Winter I nest. I bribe my friends to come over on a Saturday in their sweats with a home cooked meal (usually soup and crusty bread) and a binge session of a Netflix show. You'd be surprised how many people are amenable to this. have them bring their devices. It's totally fine for both of you to read books while running tv in the background.
posted by larthegreat at 6:52 AM on October 17, 2017 [20 favorites]

Automated transfers out of my bank account, on a WEEKLY basis.

The weekly-basis bit REALLY helped. It spreads the size of your payments out over smaller chunks, so it psychologically feels small; it can be hard for me to come up with $200 in a lump sum sometimes for a monthly payment to my credit card, but weekly $50 payments feels like no problem at all. In fact, that weekly charge is actually larger than I originally budgeted for, for precisely that reason - I initially arbitrarily picked $150 as "how much I want to pay monthly", and then divided it by four to find out "how much would my weekly payment be". And when I saw that the weekly payment would only be about $35, I looked at that and thought, "hell, I can afford more than that each week," and bumped it up to $50 weekly - which ultimately means I make a bigger monthly payment to my credit card. And honestly, I don't notice it's even gone.

It worked so well that I started even more automated weekly transfers into some savings accounts - one of which I started exclusively for travel. I set up an automated $30 transfer into that savings account, and within less than a year I'd built up enough to entirely cover the flight and lodging costs for a trip I'm taking in two weeks. (It feels REALLY good that that's all been paid for free and clear, and none of it is on my credit card.)

Also, automating them takes it out of my hands so it happens no matter what. I no longer have an excuse to "forget" to make a payment, I no longer can cheat by delaying a transfer or skipping one altogether. Every Friday, that money comes out of my checking account and is automatically transferred to my credit card no matter what.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on October 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

I once went a year without buying any clothes. Sometimes challenges like that can be useful.

I've saved a lot of money since going vegan. Not saying you should do that, but a few vegan meals a week might help - as long as you don't buy the fake processed foods - those can be pricey and there's no need for them. Beans, rice, and potatoes are a lot cheaper than meat and cheese. Another weird reason going vegan has saved me money is that since so many restaurants have such lousy vegan selections, I enjoy the food I can make at home much more than what I can eat out - so I don't eat out for fun anymore.

Nthing the library. There are almost no books that I actually need to own.
posted by FencingGal at 7:25 AM on October 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've still got a ways to go before I pay off my debt. What's the one lifestyle change that saved you the most money?

My opinion on your lifestyle doesn't matter. But it sounds like having a goal like "I will pay down this debt in X years" is going to help you figure out how much of what you spend money on is "extravagant" to what your other goals are or not.

So if I were you, I'd look at your debt, look at your income (Miko had good advice, sometimes it's easier to get more money coming in) and make some plans that help you pay down $X towards your debt regularly and adjust your spending more downward as a result.

Places to find savings

- cell and cable bills
- utilities
- library instead of bookstore
- any other loan you have (car?)
- secondhand instead of new clothes (even if you're looking for good stuff, you can do this)

And yeah as people said, travel is really going to be the big one. If your debt payment is only looking like a year or two, put off these trips by a year or two. Tell people to visit YOU. So look at your timeframe. Could you not buy any new clothes or books for a year or two? Could you knock socializing down to twice a week and put that $20-40 into a "pay down debt account" ONLY until you've hit your goal? Obviously this is a different thing if you're talking about 5K as opposed to 50K but ultimately it's about prioritizing debt over other things you care about and adjusting the knobs til you've found a level that's suitable for you. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 AM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Call your internet provider, tell them you can get a lower rate from the competition and are thinking about switching. They will eventually offer to match the rate or beat it. It'll take under an hour and save you a couple hundred bucks a year, minimum. You can do the same thing with a lot of your other bills.
posted by Slinga at 8:05 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the great advice - and I include the sterner ones and the non-best-answered advice in that - it is really helpful to me to get an idea of different viewpoints. I best-answered the posts which included steps that I can take right now, or work towards taking in the case of Miko's advice. But all your posts were useful to me.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:17 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm about to do something I hate, and extrapolate some stuff based on people I've known, so please please ignore me if this isn't the case. I could be way off base and I know that.

But did you throw away your clothes and are now having to spend money to replace them with better and probably more expensive stuff?

That kind of thing can be good, buying good quality things that will last a long time, but that's a pretty counterproductive way to go about it. Don't throw away things you use or need, even if you're not using them right this minute. There's a kind of "lifestyle minimalism" that's pretty popular in the media that's really little more than an excuse for people to feel good about spending money, and that little bit kind of reminds me of it.

I'd also want to ask if you do a lot of these big life change things, with enterprises of great pitch and moment like clearing out your wardrobe or making big sweeping changes to your spending habits. Because if that is the case--and again, ignore me if it's not--that kind of impulsiveness can really work against you. Tone things down, take them slowly, give new things some time to become your new normal.

One thing I did a while back was that I got annoyed one day, went through my RSS feed, and unsubscribed to shopping blogs. I wasn't specifically subscribed to blogs about shopping, but for example, over half of the "tech blogs" I was reading regularly were mostly just new product announcements and stuff--so, effectively, shopping. "Lifestyle" type media is probably even worse. Limit your exposure to media that makes you want to buy new things. You'll know when you need go shopping without them.

Track your expenses, in detail. It's easy to get nickel and dimed without realizing it. And really analyze your usage. Are you using what you're paying for? If you have broadband and an unlimited data plan, for example, do you need them both? Could you tether and cancel broadband, or switch to a metered data plan and use wifi when it's available? What media subscriptions do you have, and are you using them enough to justify the costs? What other things do you use that make it a little too easy to buy things, or that convince you you need to buy stuff? Amazon Prime is a major offender on that count.

Have you looked into free services? You can, of course, borrow books from the library instead of buying, but you can also rent audio books and movies, both physical and streaming at a lot of libraries too.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:45 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Insofar as a life worth living is a life full of experiences and relationships, I disagree that you need to cut out travel. What do we know? I assume the travel is a "need" because it sounds like you're in a phase of life where people are getting married and having babies. In which case, yes, go and be with them for these big times!!

I'm following this thread with interest as I eat a cookie that cost almost $5 and have another browser tab open for a $60 face cream I want to buy. These are some obvious places where spending could decrease.

Apart from that, I'd nth this suggestion to set up recurring transfers in small amounts. IME, anything that's psychologically difficult is better done in small increments. I move $15 into my savings account every Monday, and $35 into it every Friday, and it's a fairly painless way to save $200 every month. I buy groceries and things on a cash-back rewards card, then immediately pay it back on the mobile app. I round up to the nearest dollar or five or ten, depending on how flush I'm feeling, so I don't accumulate interest on what balance there is. Also, save your pocket change and dump it all into a sorter at your bank when it reaches critical mass. For the jar I keep, it adds up to around $40. Little things like that can go a long way.
posted by witchen at 8:54 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

You need to earn more money. Contrary to what the moralists will tell you, there's only so far you can move the needle merely on cutting back on expenditures. And contrary to the second wave of "side hustle" moralists, this is not necessarily an easy thing to do. But you can't be rolling in something that never comes in the door in the first place.

That said...dropping cable (and using my own cable modem/router rather than renting them for ongoing Internet service) must save me ~$55/mo. I do occasionally, when I want to watch something, get one of the OTT services, but it's a deliberate and one-time decision, not an automatic account-drainer, and they're still cheaper. (Yet annoying enough in their limitations that I don't feel inclined to auto-renew!) Basically, review all your recurring monthly charges and make sure you're actually getting value out of them commensurate to their cost, on a regular basis, not just once in a while.

In terms of going out, drinks tend to be the real killer. Two cocktails = $30; two soft drinks = $7, max. Pregame (on days off, at least) if you want to carry a little buzz.
posted by praemunire at 10:02 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, yes, as a general tactic: put friction between you and purchases. Set iTunes so you have to log in every time you make a purchase. Disable the one-click button on Amazon (ideally, drop Prime, but sometimes the math is in its favor). Don't set up accounts at online stores--check out as a guest every time. Basically, anywhere technology is trying to make the actual process of purchasing easy and mindless, decline the option. The more time you have to spend digging out your credit card and typing in those numbers, the more time you have to reconsider an impulse purchase.
posted by praemunire at 10:05 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am of two minds on this because yes, travel and seeing your family is very worthwhile but at the same time we all know that packing lunches is not enough to offset several expensive tickets. If you prioritize that international travel, that's fine, but that probably does mean cutting down to once-a-week socializing or a cheaper way to exercise or finding ways to cut your grocery bill. You seem like someone who's already pared down what you can and you're aware of the things that are your drains. Sadly, at least one of the drains probably has to be compromised on.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:19 AM on October 17, 2017

Just on the off-chance you have a landline, there used to be this charge for US landlines that was about $5-10 a month for something like "interior maintenance." It was nothing but a garbage charge and was not legally required or necessary, and you could get it dropped just by calling your phone company. I did this and they said "what if something goes wrong with your phone line [which has never happened in my history of phones ever] and I said I assumed I'd call a repair person. Charge dropped, saved about $120/year from that.
posted by Miko at 10:57 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

The single biggest drain on my finances is the amount of international travelling

A lot of people are reading this as "my single biggest line item on my finances is international travel," but I'm not sure if that's what you meant. For most people, the biggest budget line item is housing. You don't suggest this as something you have cut back, and consider whether you can make up any ground here. You're single; are you in a studio? If not, downsizing could make a huge difference in your monthly and yearly expenses.

Cutting down on reoccurring expenses, big or small, can make huge differences over time. For many people, the list includes vehicles (payments, insurance, upkeep; no car can save lots of money); housing; phones (if you're paying more than $30/mo. for a basic cell phone plan you're probably paying too much); cable; internet. Utilities are in there too, but are often harder to scrimp on (unless you downsize your living space, which pays dividends in that realm as well).
posted by craven_morhead at 11:24 AM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't carry your credit or bank cards around with you; instead, carry an amount of cash set weekly/monthly/whatever. If you don't have the funds on hand to buy something, you simply can't buy it. Cuts down a lot on impulse purchases.
posted by windykites at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Cutting down the after-work socializing would be a big step, because it's a recurring expense that isn't a necessity. If you go out three times a week, fifty weeks a year, that's 150 times whatever you spend in an average evening ($30 or £30 or the local equivalent?), making a big total over a year.

If you group recurring expenses into their annual total (e.g., 12 months of cable+Internet, 12 months of phone service, 12 months of evenings out, a year's trips to see family), and then compare those "buckets" of money with their relative importance to you, you might have insights about whether they're really worth it.

*shrug* It's your call. When my wife & I were dating steadily, we went out less. When we got married, we basically stopped going out -- and anyway a baby followed, and we moved away from friends. That money went toward priorities (house, baby) that had replaced old priorities (cabs, drinks, football tickets).
posted by wenestvedt at 12:14 PM on October 17, 2017

Credit card interest can bankrupt you. Student loan interest, too.

Don't buy what you couldn't pay for in cash, and settle your credit card bill every month.

In fact, seek out anywhere that charges you interest, and try to eliminate the fees.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:16 PM on October 17, 2017

(By the way, you're getting lots of advice that may sound like scolding, but I bet everyone who has commented here approves of your effort to spend more responsibly. You're on the right track!)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:17 PM on October 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

One simple trick: Never impulse buy. If you go to a store to get something, only leave with that thing. If you see something else you think you need, add it to a list and wait 48 hours. Then go back and buy it if you think you need it.

Do a closet purge. Take everything out of your closet, and then put items back in in an organized way. You'll see things you have forgotten about, and put them back in your rotation. You'll find a few things you don't wear anymore that you might consign. You'll see things you bought, but shouldn't have. It'll help you assess whether you need to make changes.

The international travel stuff above looks mostly like a derail to me. The purpose of your money is to facilitate you doing and having things that are important to you. Travel is great, it's important to you and your relationships with people you love. So keep doing it, within reason.

If you're cash flow positive, that is, paying down debt each month, don't worry too much about socializing. Once again, it's money spent to do things and see people that are important to you. See if there are cheaper things on the menu to get. If you're going out in the evening, maybe bring a bigger lunch or a late afternoon meal so you're not tempted to buy something big at the restaurant.
posted by thenormshow at 12:19 PM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

My special lady friend has a separate checking account at credit union that she has a set amount of money go into every month. She pretends it doesn't exist most of the time and when there is a need for some extra money, she goes to it. Works for her.
posted by zzazazz at 1:10 PM on October 17, 2017

I think Jessamyn has a great approach with making a goal. I did this after graduating college- I gave myself X amount of time to pay back my student loans and it really worked. I scrimped and saved and cut my budget back in a lot of the ways folks describe above and when I met my goal it felt amazing. I think this approach only works for certain personalities though so you'll have to figure out what's right for you. Good luck.
posted by FireFountain at 1:43 PM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of the small changes I made was combining exercise and catchups with friends. Sometimes we walk or run, sometimes we do up a bit of a plan (mostly grabbed from the internet) and sometimes we just have a simple session (like push ups every 5 mins of the walk or something). It saves money, I still get the encouragement to exercise and I get to see my friends.
posted by daffodil at 3:48 PM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

I did a "no spend" month with a bunch of Mefites in January. I stopped buying takeaway, ate up the weird stuff in my pantry, bought petrol for my car, paid my bills, and spent essentially no other money (I did go out a couple of times with friends, but I tried to suggest free stuff where appropriate). I kept all my receipts, and tracked all my spending (which was easy for the first time ever, because I didn't spend any money on any thing). I saved more that month than I ever had. Over half my pay. It was completely inspiring, and made me realise just how much money I was frittering away on things that didn't bring me any long term pleasure. Since then, I've trimmed my fixed expenses down to the point where I save that much regularly (I do still have an active social life, but that's because I've chosen to make it a priority).
posted by kjs4 at 5:08 AM on October 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went back and looked at your list of "what I'm doing to cut back", and the "3 social engagements per week" jumped out at me; I think I only have 3 such hangouts with friends per season of the year. However, part of that is me and my friends all being exhausted, so we may just be opposite ends of a scale...

However, you still could cut that back to maybe just once a week, or at least cut that back to only once a week that you pay for it. Case in point: when I was a kid, we seemed to hang out with this one family with some frequency; my parents and their parents were friends, the other was my godmother, and their two boys were about the same age as me and my brother. So the families would hang out every few weeks or so and I never thought anything of it; we'd go to their house or they'd come to ours, we kids would go to the back yard or the basement rec room and play scrabble or whatever, and that was just what we did.

It wasn't until I was grown that my mother finally said something in passing about why we were always going over to each other's houses - that was how my parents and that family conducted their social life. My parents and their parents were both too broke to be hanging out at a bar or a restaurant or going to a movie together every time they saw each other, so they agreed that instead, they would just each visit each others' houses and play cards or something. And bringing the kids just meant they saved money on a babysitter.

So maybe that's a tactic to take - a three-times-a-week social calendar doesn't necessarily mean you have to go out to be social. Take turns going to each others' houses for Cards Against Humanity games and everyone chips in for pizza or something, and that'll be just as fun and way less expensive.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:33 AM on October 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

So, I have two financial hacks that tie to this.

1. If you're not quite making enough, and you're working a job where you're ever going to do any better, figure out how to move to a job - even a worse one - that has an avenue for advancement. And yeah, I know that's often hard. (I've moved cross country four or five times, which hasn't been fun.)

2. When you advance at work, take half of the now-extra money in your paycheck, and put it into long-term savings the day you're paid. When you get a raise, you get to live on more, and you get to save more; since you're never living on less/tightening, it's psychologically way easier.
posted by talldean at 1:52 PM on October 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

My family has been in a debt management program for the past three years, and in another 10 months or so will have paid off something like $55k in debt over the past four years. When you're in a debt management program, you can't have open credit cards or lines of credit, and one of the things this teaches you, unpleasant as it is, is that if you can't afford something, you can't afford something. It's not pretty--after three years in the program, we have a backlog of wants and needs, and have hit something of a bottleneck in terms of deferred maintenance on the house and cars. But seriously: when you have no access to credit, if you can't afford to pay cash for a trip, you don't take the trip. If you can't afford a bunch of new clothes, you don't get a bunch of new clothes. If you don't have cash to pay for takeout, you scrounge around in the kitchen even though you're sick to death of everything you know how to cook. If you want to go out with friends but can't afford appetizers, drinks, and dessert, you don't get appetizers, drinks, and dessert (or you ask your friends if you can bring takeout to one of your houses instead of going to a sit-down restaurant). If you can't afford a plane ticket, you don't fly.

Being honest about the money we had and didn't have actually sort of cost me a relationship--I had a long-distance girlfriend and after about 18 months, we had a conversation in which we were honest about the fact that we'd both been spending money we didn't have in order to see each other. We're still very close friends and chat online practically every day, but being honest about the financial strain our relationship was putting on both of us, and deciding not to keep doing that, contributed to the lover/girlfriend part of our relationship dying a natural death when we weren't able to see each other so often.

I'm no smug aren't-I-great money manager. My partner and I still have certain challenges when it comes to managing our cash flow. But, seriously, learning to admit that we simply can't afford certain things was the key to finally putting an end to carrying/adding to our debt.
posted by Orlop at 1:49 AM on October 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Use the budgeting tools recommended. YNAB, Mint, Excel spreadsheet, whatever works to track income and all expenditures. The standard advice is Pay yourself 1st. and it's good advice. Put some amount in to savings for emergencies like car repair. When you do your budget, you'll pay the minimum due on debt, of course, and 10% or more, ideally a lot more than the minimum payment. Then when you look at the rest of your spending, you can see how much is left for travel. If you have been in the habit of visiting family twice a year, reduce it to once a year, if you've visited once a year, reduce it to every 18 months.

Reddit has /r/frugal and probably other pages for how to live cheaply. And any time your income increases, you you dedicate the increase to debt reduction and savings and live on the old amount.

My parents taught me to be very debt-averse and it's been helpful.
posted by theora55 at 3:03 PM on October 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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