Things I Stopped Buying to Live Within My Means.

I am sure the words “live within your means” is not an unfamiliar quote to most. However, what does “means” actually mean? Living within ones means is essentially spending less than or at least equal to the amount of money brought in. Simple, right? If you make $3,000 a month then you should not spend more than $3,000 a month. If only it were that easy. Advertisements, influencers, co-workers, friends, “The Joneses”, and social media in general make it difficult to not spend more than we make. Watching others and comparing ourselves to them and what they have makes it difficult to not want more. It has also become the norm to work 80-100 hours a week in order to afford a more “luxurious” lifestyle.

My husband, Paul is currently volunteering to gain medical hours and working less paying hours. So we are bringing in less money than we had been previously. This means we had to sit down and hash out a budget. A budget can feel restricting and to put it bluntly, it sucks sometimes. Watching our friends eat out most nights, buy things without worry, and travel multiple times a year can be hard. However, I have learned over the past few months of budgeting how liberating and powerful budgeting can be.

When I am on a budget I am forced to parse out what is important to me and what is not. I have to choose what things to spend my precious few dollars on versus saying yes to everything. This has helped me learn what I value most. I say yes to yoga classes, friend dates, snowboarding lift tickets, and items that I need. I say no to fast food, going to the movies, and every single item I like that I pass in a store or online. As someone who loves clothes, budgeting has helped me decide what items I really love/need and which ones I can go without. Budgeting reveals what I value. Budgeting also lifts the burden of debt from my shoulders. Paul and I may be making less money, but with a budget we are still able to nearly pay off our car loan and should be done earlier than expected. It is such a relief to pay down debt and a greater high than any shopping experience can bring.

In order to cut costs, I have created a list of (some of the) items I no longer buy in order to save money, stick to my budget, and ultimately live within my means. This list is not a be-all, end-all and is not a one-size-fits-all model. Like I said, everyone values different things and the list does not apply to everyone. This is what works for me.

Things I No Longer Buy to Save Money:

1. Take-out Coffee. 
I love going to coffee shops and I love getting fancy coffee beverages. However, I save it for very rare occasions like a date with a friend. Most people in the office I work with get takeout coffee (ie Starbucks) every single morning. If a person gets a $5 coffee 5x a week, that is $25 a week, $100 a month, and $1,200 a year! Even if you get just plain black coffee 5x a week for $2.50 a cup, that is $600 a year. I started buying bags of coffee for $9.99 (fair-trade and organic, so no skimping on quality) and brewing it at home. A 2 lb bag makes approximately 164, 9 ounce cups of coffee (about 17 cents a cup). I usually drink about 2 cups of coffee, so it ends up costing 34 cents a day. If I drink 2 cups a day, 7 days a week for a month, then the cost is approximately $9.52, and approximately $114.52 a year. This ends up saving $485.48 a year compared to black coffee at a shop.

2. Lunches out. 
Along with getting coffee everyday, a lot of people in the workforce eat lunch out daily. While it is tempting to just go run and grab something to eat instead of packing a lunch it saves money to make your own. Even if you are going the cheap route and eating lunch for $5 a day, it adds up to $100 a month. According to USA Today, the average person in 2017 paid approximately $11 to eat out lunch on working days. This adds up to $220 a month, which is over half as much as my monthly grocery bill feeding me and Paul. Bringing my lunch to work can sometimes be a pain to plan, but the food I am eating is more nutrient dense, makes me feel good, and saves money.

3. Books.
I love reading. I do it every single day, but yet I own very little books. Books are expensive, they take up a lot of space, and most books I only read once (Harry Potter excluded). This is why I go to the library and checkout books for free. I have found that I actually read more when I do not buy the books. When books have a due date, I am forced to read them instead of just leaving them to sit on my bookshelf collecting dust.

4. Manicures/pedicures. 
I love nothing more than a good spa day, however nail maintenance is a luxury I save for special occasions. The average cost in my area for a manicure and a spa pedicure is about $65 which if done monthly, adds up to $780 a year. There are other things I would rather spend my money on then something of little importance to me. A good clip and clear polish works well for me. Having nail care be a treat makes it even more special, especially with friends.

5. Excess bath-care products.
I think most of us have been guilty of buying too much make-up, shower gel, colognes, shampoos, lotions, and potions. Ads sell us items to make us look younger, tanner, sexier, thinner. Do we really need an elixir for our left elbow? At 30 years old I know what items work for me and which do not. I have a skincare routine that includes soap, witch hazel and argan oil- that’s it! I also use coconut oil to remove my eye make-up. I use my make-up until it is gone and then if I want something new, like a new color of lipstick, I research it and get something else and use it until it is gone. I do not feel the need to spend money on duplicate items and I try to stay away from marketed items that make users feel they are not enough in order to sell the product.

6. Gym membership. 
If you use the gym regularly and love it that is fantastic! I however, do not. I do yoga via classes or videos online and do my own at-home workouts or run outside. When I had a gym membership it was overall a waste for me. Doing workouts at home for free has been more beneficial for me and a great way to save money.

7. Subscription boxes. 
If you listen to a Podcast or click on any website you will likely see ads for subscription boxes. Boxes for skincare and make-up products, boxes for clothes, boxes for your beard, and even boxes for your dog. For example, FabFitFun costs $49.99 for a one-time subscription or $179.99 for an annual membership. So for $50 you are advertised to get a bunch of high-end products (which you do get) but most of the items are not needed or wanted. People I know who have done subscription boxes end up giving most of the stuff away or attempting to resell some of the items. Poshmark and Facebook Marketplace is full of items from subscription boxes.

8. Home decor. 
I am not going to lie, I enjoy wandering the home decor aisles at any store. I love nothing more than throw pillows and fuzzy blankets. I could spend hours sniffing candles and pretend redecorating my home. The problem is most of the items in the home decor section are not needed and honestly are overpriced. I have plenty of throw pillows, blankets, and candles. More than enough. While it can be tempting to want to make my home look like a Pinterest one, I keep away from the decor aisles in order to keep from mindlessly spending money on mass produced junk I do not need.

9. Fast fashion. 
This may be the hardest one for me. I have always and still love clothes. I love looking at people’s clothes, putting outfits together and when I was little my favorite thing to do was to put on fashion shows with my Barbies. The best way for me to save money is to not shop for clothes, especially new clothes or clothes made cheaply. I have started being really selective about when and where I buy clothes. When I do need something I try thrift it or shop Poshmark. I no longer buy clothing because it is on sale which saves money too. I am also in the process of creating a capsule wardrobe, which means I only shop for specific items I need. I have finally figured out my style and what works for me and what does not. I am able to appreciate trendy outfits without having to buy them for myself.

10. Alcohol. 
Brunch is one of my favorite outings, especially if mimosas are involved. I also enjoy grabbing a drink with a friend after work. The problem with mimosas and drinks after work (even if it is “happy hour”) is they start to add up. According to the Huffington Post, if someone only drinks on weekends, two drinks per day, it ends up costing about $2,500 a year. This does not include tips, Uber/Lyfts, or the 2 AM Taco Bell runs. You can also visit the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website to see just how much alcohol is not only costing you, but the economy too. I stick with my soda water or once in awhile I have a Kombucha, saving the alcohol for very special occasions. This not only saves my wallet, but my health too.

11. Movie tickets. 
The last time I went to the movies was with my niece to see Frozen II as part of her Christmas gift, otherwise I rarely go. Movies in my area cost $10-$13 and that is not including the $10 for popcorn. I honestly prefer to be able to watch movies in my own home and pause it so I can get up to pee or grab more snacks. I can get a couple months of unlimited Netflix shows and movies for the cost of me and Paul to go to one movie at the theater together.

12. Fast food. 
Like I said in the Alcohol summary, those Taco Bell runs add up. The last time I had fast food, the items were a McFlurry and he got a Big Mac with the total being $13. For $13 we could have bought a gallon of ice cream and most of the fixings for a burger (depending on the quality…). I do believe there can be a time and a place for fast food, but it should be far and few between. When I eat at home I save money and I feel so much better health-wise (aka: not feeling like I swallowed a brick).

13. Expensive/excessive gifts.
For Christmas, my family did a game exchange each person brought a board game and we did a “white elephant” game. All of us enjoy hosting game nights so a board game exchange ended up being perfect. As for my four year old niece and nephews, their favorite gift was a “toilet light” that lights up the toilet bowl different colors so you can see it at night. They saw the one at my house and loved it. My friends and I did not buy each other Christmas gifts (we never do) and neither did my husband and I. My husband and I prefer to put money we would usually spend on gifts towards a trip. Have you ever received gifts you did not want? I can guarantee you have. According to Fastcompany.com approximately $100 billion worth of products are expected to be returned from Thanksgiving through the New Year and an estimated 5 billion tons of returns end up annually in landfills. Buying (and receiving) gifts not wanted or needed is bad for the wallet and the planet.

14. Single use items.
This is items like paper towels, plastic bottles and paper napkins as well as kitchen gadgets that only serve one function. The only exception is my garlic press as 90% of my recipes call for minced garlic and it is a nightmare to have to do. As for single use items, I try to use reusable rags instead of paper towels and a reusable water bottle instead of plastic ones, etc. It not only saves money, but it helps our earth mother as well.

15. Media.
Media for me means Blu-Rays, CDs, Magazines, in app purchases, speakers, tech gadgets, or unneeded smartphone upgrades. I prefer to use Netflix (and steal my sister’s Hulu account) and Spotify for television and music. I personally do not need the latest and greatest gadgets, even though I love my Google home mini (which I got for free). I upgrade my phone when it has reached its functional limit. Magazines I can also borrow from the library or read when I do got to the spa. I am still using my Macbook Pro from college, 7 years ago and it is holding up just fine.

16. “Just in case items.” 
These are items that are bought for a non-specific reason or date and may or may not ever be used. My mother-in-law comes to mind when I think of “just-in-case” items. She has an extra coffee maker and an extra Keurig “just in case” the two she has break. Not to mention she is a single woman and is the only user of both coffee machines. However, I think most of us can relate to “just-in-case” items. These items can be furniture for a house we may someday move into or clothes we buy in case we lose the weight we have been wanting to lose or buying a guitar in case when we retire we will want to play it.
The only just-in-case items I think are worth collecting is an emergency kit in case of a natural disaster. Apparently Oregon is well overdue for a massive earthquake, so having a “just in case” emergency kit is really a “just for when” kit.

17. Experiences I do not want to do.
When I turned 30 I told myself I was no longer go to do things I did not want to do. Now I know there will always be things I do not want to do like *cough* work *cough* cough* or doing the dishes. What I mean is I am a very agreeable person, to a fault. I will compromise a lot of the time and spend my precious extra time (and money) doing experiences I do not want to do just because I do not want to “let anyone down”. For example, a few friends invited me to see a play and I really was not that into it. I knew I would have a good time just because my friends were there, but I honestly did not feel like spending the money seeing a play I was not into. Not to mention I had plans to spend the weekend with my friends the next week. So instead of just forking over the money and seeing the play I declined the invitation. And you know what? The world did not end and my friends still like me. I also saved some money so I can enjoy a better experience with them at another time.

18. Individually packaged items. 
I have started buying the majority of my foods in bulk, which has saved me a lot of money. I get that a lot of states and towns do not offer bulk sections, which means this may not apply to everyone. Oregon has a lot of Farmer’s Markets and most grocery stores have bulk selections, which is really fortunate. Individually packaged or even precut items tend to cost way more than items bought in bulk or uncut fruits/veggies. Sometimes it is a pain to shop bulk or to chop items myself, but overall it saves money (and the oceans) and I get an excuse to watch The Golden Girls on Hulu while chopping.

This list is just some ways in which I save money, but there are many other ways I strive to live within my means. However, I am not perfect and I do not pretend to be. There are times when I buy a candle I don’t need or buy a zucchini wrapped in plastic from Trader Joe’s. I am called “the bad minimalist” after all. I still go and get my hair cut and colored by a professional because I am not ready for the grays to stay and I suck at doing my own hair. I am trying my best and I hope this post will inspire you to try yours. What items do you skip buying in order to save a few bucks? I would love more ideas and tips.

$how Me The Money.

Budgeting sucks. If only we could all live like multibillionaires and fling our money away on every desire and whim and never have to stress about making ends meet. If money only grew on trees as the saying goes. That would be the life. Sadly, most of us are not billionaires and money does not grow on trees. My fiddle fig leaf is just a regular tree, so I have to prioritize what I spend. This means a budget. If I choose not to budget and spend more than I make then it means: debt.

Debt is nearly synonymous with the “American Dream”. The mentality of “you can have it all”. Just open a credit card (or a few) and you can “afford” the dream car, dream house, dream gadgets, dream wardrobe, and also get yourself some Starbucks every single day. You can also take out $100,000 of school loans for a degree in dance and make it all back and more once you graduate…. or so it is portrayed. One does not even need to sign up to get credit card offers in the mail. They come pouring in like Harry’s Hogwarts letters at the Dursley’s (anything I can do to include a HP reference). It is so easy to go into debt and this is why we do. The media drowns us with ads screaming: “you deserve it!” and “treat yo self!” and it is hard not to listen.

Our friends and neighbors are able to have new cars, well-curated homes, wear the latest trends, go on vacation multiple times a year, and eat out every night so why can’t we? But, if we take a deeper look into people’s lives and budgets we may notice not all of them can actually afford their lifestyles. According to TheBalance.com, the average credit card debt in a United States household was $8,339 as of April 2019. That is just credit card debt, so no car payments, student loans, or mortgages included. I am incredibly lucky to have managed to pay off my school loans and to not have credit card debt, but Paul and I still have car payments, a mortgage, and other financial struggles. We are currently trying to pay for him to do post Bachelor classes so he can be accepted into a Physician Assistant program. This means he is working less and we are paying for courses therefore, we have less disposable income.

This is why we decided to come up with a budget. Each month we set aside money for the essentials: food, mortgage, bills, charity, etc. Then with the leftovers, we decide on how much “fun money” we are going to allow ourselves to have. The “fun money” is for us to do with what we want without the other having a say. This includes clothing, eating/drinking out, gadgets, movies, concerts, classes, etc. For us, we decided on $150 each. This amount may seem exorbitant to some and minuscule to others. It sounded doable to me at first until I realized my bad habits and just how much money I spend a month. Last month Paul and I started our budget and also went 30 days without buying unnecessary items and we ended up saving $800. EIGHT-HUNDRED DOLLARS! That is an insane amount of money for this middle class chick. Think of all the things someone could do with that amount of money. Think of all the dogs I could adopt with that money…

Love him or hate him, the hair sniffing Joe Biden said it right when he stated “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” I cannot even name the amount of times I have tried to tell myself I want to go on a trip because travel is what I value, but then end up ordering junk off Amazon instead. This seems to be a common theme. I overhear coworkers complain about being “broke” and how they want to have money to do something and then watch them go get coffee every morning and then go out to lunch every work day afternoon. As a collective society we kind of suck at budgeting and living within our means. I am speaking from the middle class. I realize there are a lot of people who are lower income and/or people who do live within their means and still do not have enough. It feels we get swept up in the advertisements and competition with one another that we forget what we actually value and want for ourselves.

Like I said, budgeting sucks and I am not very good at it. I am learning and failing and then learning some more. All I can say is I am better today than I was before. The budget has been a tough adjustment, but my eyes are now finally open to the amount of money I waste and now I have learned to prioritize. The American money guru Dave Ramsey, says “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Instead of spending my money on things I do not need, I am now spending it on what I value like saving for an upcoming trip with my friend or experiences with people I love. Budgeting can sometimes feel like a punishment, but with it is reward. A reward of delayed gratification, future possibilities, and overall financial peace. It sucks in the meantime, but is worth it in the end.