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.

Beach, Please.

My friend invited me and a few of his friends to go surfings three weekends ago on the Oregon Coast. Oregon is not known for its warm beaches and is not people’s first choice for surfing. While there definitely are surfers in Oregon, they are not like the kind featured in my favorite teen surfer movie Blue Crush- with board shorts and tribal tattoos. In fact, when Oregonians brave the waters they wear 3mm thick wetsuits, masks, hoods, booties, and gloves. That is because Oregon coast waters are polar and the beaches are rainy with winds blasting sand so hard in your face it feels like being stabbed with needles. I am not being overly dramatic, honestly.

The weekend turned out to be unseasonably warm- as if God purposely wanted a clear view to watch me drown as I attempted to surf. I pulled on my wetsuit (which smelled like old urine) and it squealed in protest as I tried to pull it up my thighs. We all made our way down the narrow steps to the beach and that is when I saw what I thought was piles of multicolored pebbles washed up on shore. As we got closer, I realized it was not pebbles, it was plastic. Little pieces of blue, red, black, yellow, and white plastic. There were chunks of styrofoam, shreds of bottles, and even plastic bands of watches littering the whole entire beach. The photo above is just a section of what the whole beach looked like.

Oregon is my home. Arguably, one of the most beautiful states in U.S. with mountains dusted with snow, evergreens sprinkling the whole state, and of course, the frigid but beautiful beaches. Almost everywhere you drive looks like a postcard. It is the perfect place to raise kids, or in my case, my 95 pound puppy. One can only imagine how it felt seeing my Oregon beaches resembling a dumpster.

I am one (fairly average and insignificant) person. I claim to “care” about the environment, but let’s be honest, I do do more harm than good. As a human I create waste; we all do it. By just being born we impact the environment. If you were born in a hospital just think of all the disposable medical equipment (gloves, for example) it took to deliver you safely (and hygienically) into this world.

As the wise Helen Keller once stated, ““I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everythingbut still I can do somethingand because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” Here is what I can do: I can mindfully choose more environmentally friendly options when going about my life. There are people more dedicated to an environmental friendly lifestyle (looking at you people who use “washable toilet paper”. Yes it is real, you can buy it on Etsy or make your own……). I am not quite there as far as dedication. I am going the route of baby steps, per my usual M.O. I meet goals one wobbly step at a time. Once I meet one small one I titrate up to more. For the next 30 days, I am going to do five things to reduce my waste:

  1. Less disposable coffee cups. According to Earrthday.org 16 billion disposable coffee cups are used each year. These are coated with plastic to laminate the inside of the cup and then there are the plastic lids on top, so they are non recyclable nor compostable. I have a great coffee Hydro Flask (not sponsored, I wish..) and I will be using that anytime I get coffee to go. A lot of coffee shops give a discount if you bring in your own cup. This includes Starbucks, which gives 10 cents off in America.
  2. Less plastic grocery bags. According to Earth Policy Institute,  a trillion (!!!!) single-use plastic bags are used each year, which is nearly 2 million each minute. Plastic bags are one of the top polluters of our oceans. I do not know about you, but I have reusable bags coming out my eyeballs from events and God-only-knows where, so I will be using those not just to grocery shop but for any type of in-store purchases. I even got a bag that folds up tiny and can fit in my purse for emergency shopping trips.
  3. Less Styrofoam. Styrofoam is basically “the devil” (as Bobby Boucher’s mom from The Waterboy would say….) There was tons of it on the Oregon coast and it definitely does not biodegrade. According to Green Dining Alliance, the world produces more than 14 million US tons of polystyrene (plastic foam) each year. It also notes that just Americans alone throw away around 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year. The culprit for me is takeout containers. I love leftovers, but I notice that when I ask for a box I am usually brought a styrofoam one. For this, I intend to bring my own container for leftovers and leave one in my car and if need be, put it in my purse. This way I can say “boy, bye” to styrofoam hopefully forever.
  4. Less food waste. Guilty. The biggest thing for me to work on will be wasting less food. I have a habit of buying or making things and then forgetting about them in the black hole that is the back of my fridge and leaving them to rot. Just the other day I bought a yellow squash and forgot about it and then found it too late. According to the USDA, in the United States, food waste is estimated between 30-40 percent of the food supply. This corresponded to approximately 133 billion pounds of food and $161 billion worth of food in 2010. Fuuuuuck! There are people starving all over the world and here we are wasting 133 billion pounds of food. I am sure the number has only gone up since 2010….
  5. Less new clothes. According to PBS, Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles — about 85 percent of their clothes — each year, accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste. Not only do we throw away clothes which creates waste, but then our clothes come in non recyclable packaging. According to Sciencemag.org over half of the world’s plastic thrown out in 2015 was plastic packaging. That’s over 141 million metric tons! I know packaging also includes food and other packaging, but still. Let us also not get into the unfair labor and fossil fuels it takes to make our clothes…. With websites like Poshmark and Ebay where you can buy and sell gently used clothing online and of course, brick and mortar thrift stores, there is no need for me to buy new clothes for the next 30 days. Not to mention it is better for my budget to buy used than new.

I know there are way more ways to improve the planet and maybe even better ones, but these are the ones I believe I can attain for the next 30 days and then hopefully I can add more and work my way up to living in my own self-sustaining treehouse community. Still not going to do the “family roll” (the formal name for reusable toilet paper) thing, though. Sorry, not sorry.