If I can teach you anything, it’s “start saving before you know what to do with it”.
The hardest position someone can experience is one of desire, or unhappiness, without the means to act. Oftentimes, we’ll create roadblocks on why we can’t save. When in reality, it’s not the “saving” that’s the problem; it’s starting too late, or not using all your resources to do so. Having lived eight years in two of the most expensive cities in the country (New York City and San Francisco), I can tell you, it’s possible!
It was October 2014 when I realized my lifestyle wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t know what I would do or when; but I felt the itch, and started saving anyway. A year later, I decided I’d put it toward travel. And ultimately funded 2-years of international fare with just 18-months savings. Here’s exactly how I did it.
Cut Superfluous Spending
Let’s get the hard part out of the way! What expenses are absolutely required to live? Make a list of your reoccurring payments and evaluate their value toward your ultimate goal. Here are some you may consider removing from the list:
- Subscriptions: Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or Spotify are luxuries. Time to rip off the bandaid.
- Cable TV: Cable prices are atrocious these days with more people cutting them altogether. If you NEED your media fix, settle for a single streaming service which is still less expensive than a cable bill.
- Gym Memberships: There are numerous alternatives to your gym membership including: free facilities, shared equipment, and exercising at home (use YouTube as your trainer). The gym doesn’t define how fit someone is; the person does.
- Ride-share: I will never understand how people spend so much money on services like Uber, Lyft, or taxis (as much as I love them myself). Public transportation is cheap and could mean a difference of just 10-20 minutes. If you can’t cut this entirely, try taking public transportation TO your destination, and ride-sharing home.
- Restaurants: Limit yourself to 1-2 nights out a week. Pack your lunch for work, and cook your dinners. There’s no one who saves who eats out every day.
- Bars: We all need to unwind, so consider pre-gaming! You’ll cut your bar bills in half.
- Activities and Entertainment: There’s a wealth of free activities out there, so get creative! Here are some ideas to get you started: 10 (Almost) Free Activities You Can Do (Almost) Anywhere
- Car Payments: This will apply to some people more than others depending on their location and living arrangements. Here, decide if your car aligns with your long-term objective. Do you need your car? Do you need both your cars? Can public transportation serve as a replacement? Between car payments and insurance, this could drastically cut your monthly expenses (and maybe make you some money).
- Crap you don’t need: Seriously. That new television, designer bag, $6 frappuccino? One word: STOP!
Set an Allowance
Now, let’s determine what you’re working with. Use this formula to determine how much you take home (measured monthly):
(Net Income – Fixed Expenses) = Take-home Income
Here, Net Income is what remains after taxes, employer-provided benefits, and other costs are deducted from your payroll.
Fixed Expenses are essential costs like your phone bill, utilities, or insurance/loan payoffs. Reoccurring payments from above should also be included, though minimal.
Next, assign your monthly allowance: how much do you actually need to live (I’ll give you a clue: not much!). This includes things like grocery shopping, household supplies, and the occasional entertainment. Here’s where the magic comes in: say you’ve allotted $50/week allowance. Take that number, deduct it from your take-home income, and put everything else in savings – EVERY time, NO excuses. You’ll be shocked how quickly you’ll save when you’re forced to live within a budget.
Change Your Buying Habits
This is arguably the most important point here: learning to shop smart. These skills last a lifetime and will help you save today and every day after. Here are the main things to look for:
- Promotions: I take this to a new level and (almost) won’t buy anything unless I’m getting a deal. That includes groceries, gear, and everything in between. Research your options, seek out discounts, and know when things go on sale. The savings add up fast.
- House Brands: House brands are also a goldmine. Take groceries, for example; store brands have come a long way in quality and are often the better option against brand names. You can usually find larger volumes also, and can literally “bulk” up your savings.
- Multipurpose: Another good grocery technique is multipurpose products. Food, specifically, can be very versatile. Rice or pasta can be used in many recipes, and fresh vegetables can kick up almost any dish. Avoid recipes that require “1 teaspoon of $13.99 sesame oil” and stick to the basics. This can also apply to cleaners, gear, clothing, and other purchases.
- Location: Oftentimes, the stores located in your city center are not the best value. They cater to convenience shoppers, and those shoppers are paying for it. Look for stores outside your center or (my favorite!), the internet where discount codes are plentiful.
- Limits: I know you’re hungry, but do not – I repeat, do not! – purchase 25 chicken wings. Shop for things when you’re not influenced by other factors such as mood, impulsiveness, or hunger. We’re all guilty of purchasing things we’ll never use, including food that ends up in the garbage can. Remember: you can always come back if you NEED it.
Sell, Sell, Sell!
When I moved from New York City to San Francisco, I remember opening boxes of sh*t I just didn’t want anymore. I promised myself I’d never pay for a cross-country move again. And was faced with a big question when leaving the country, “Keep everything, or get rid of everything?” I chose the latter, shipping a couple boxes back home and profiting from the rest.
This extreme isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for every situation. But we all have things we don’t need – or don’t want anymore – and just need a trigger to take action. Here are a few tips for personal selling:
- Platform: I sold most of my items on Craiglist, but know its popularity varies by city. Layer other sites like Facebook sales groups, eBay, Amazon, LetGo or Swappa to get the most reach. You could even host an old fashioned garage sale in your community!
- Timing: Start early! Giving yourself time allows you the luxury to say “no” to low offers. This way, you can get the most for your items, particularly large-ticket items that take time to sell.
- Responsiveness: One of the easiest things you have control over is your responsiveness. People bid/inquire when they’re most interested. That interest fades as time progresses, so do what you need to close the deal quickly.
You won’t sell everything, and you shouldn’t. Donations play a large role in clearing your unused goods while also helping the community. Things like clothes, household items, kitchenware and books are good candidates (along with anything not sold above). Now here’s the secret…
As you’re compiling your goods, make a list of everything you’re donating. Most facilities offer a charitable receipt which you can deduct during tax season. This can easily save you a few hundred bucks – or more! It’s a win-win for everyone.