Many people know they should be saving for a rainy day or retirement, but can’t because they have no money left over at the end of the month. If they only earned a few hundred dollars more each month, they would be able to put some aside. The sad truth is, most people’s lifestyle is almost exactly equal to (or greater than) their income. Living below one’s means seems too hard or old fashioned.
Our family went down to one income years ago when we had our first child. Since that time, we have made budgeting and stewardship a priority. Even with a household income well below the median income in the United States, we are able to give, save, and enjoy plenty of great memories together as a family. One element to this equation is what we don’t spend money on. Here are a few examples of items that cost us $0 each month.
Cable or Satellite TV. Living without television may sound strange, but it certainly has some benefits. For most of human history, families figured out how to get by without one! We own some popular children’s shows and may periodically rent a movie. However, not having television gives us more time for reading, games, walks, and engaging in conversation. It is also easier to be content without the newest products when you don’t see hours of advertising each week.
Car Payments. The average new car payment in the United States just surpassed $500 a month. This is an incredible amount of money that many people are spending on a depreciating asset. Some car owners made this payment for months on end, only to find that they still owe more on their loan than their car is worth! My current car is a 1999 Camry with well over 200,000 miles. Our Honda Odyssey that we purchased on Craigslist is somewhat newer, but neither car has ever had a loan.
Cigarettes and Alcohol. Drinking, smoking and gambling are expensive vices. They not only cost a good deal of money, but generally decrease your quality of life. I am thankful I have never had to “kick a habit” in these areas, but most people need to choose between achieving financial independence and continuing to indulge these expenses.
Interest. The only interest we ever pay is on our home mortgage. We have no college debt, car payments, credit card balances, or loans of any kind. Interest is a powerful force that pushes you away from zero. Debt compounds and creates huge financial headwinds, while savings and investments compound and push your net worth higher. It is always better to earn interest than to pay interest.
Internet. Both the cost and the speed of broadband internet continues to increase. We need some internet connection, but refuse to pay the large amount demanded by our local providers. To get around this, we rely on my wife’s prepaid cell phone plan which includes unlimited internet and hotspot. For a very reasonable amount, we get 8 gigs of 4G LTE data, which is plenty fast enough to watch videos and more than we typically use in a month. My prepaid plan gives me unlimited talk and text, but no data. That was a tradeoff I was willing to make to pay only $10 a month for a smartphone plan.
Lawncare. While I mention lawncare, there are many things people spend money on that can be done quicker and for less money. Mowing the lawn, changing the oil in your cars, haircuts (especially for the boys), and washing the car are a few examples. The result of doing these reoccurring tasks yourself is that you’ll have more time and money at the end of the month.
PMI. Buying a home in a depressed market was one of the best financial decisions that we have made. One of the reasons we could buy our home at such an affordable price is we simply refused to buy more house than we could afford. We were perfectly content to rent for a very long time, which gave us the patience to keep out of the market when it was high. By the time we could actually afford a house, we were able to pay a full down payment and avoid the additional cost of Principle Mortgage Insurance.
Soda. This is another item that stands for a whole category of purchases. While we may not be as disciplined as we should be about our diet, there are some common foods that we simply avoid. For many people, drinking large amounts of soda adds to their waistline and detracts from their bank account every month. Soda is almost always a bad buy, whether at a restaurant or grocery store.
Starbucks. This was a little harder for me. As a kid, drinking coffee and driving a car were two privileges that I looked forward to doing when I became an adult. Now, I enjoy both activities immensely! However, my coffee house visits have become very rare. The financial impact of buying a daily coffee or specialty drink is hard to overstate. It is easy to spend well over a hundred dollars a month on this habit. My secret was learning how to prepare amazing coffee at home. It is important to buy quality, whole bean coffee. I get most of mine from Costco. Once ground, I may choose to use a French press, Bialetti, or simple drip brew. The end result costs me less time and money than a visit to Starbucks, and tastes even better.
Subscription Services. It is very easy to accumulate monthly payments for multiple memberships and services. While we are members of Costco, we don’t give money every month to other common memberships like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or the local gym. (Running, biking, and owning some simple exercise equipment works better for us). Many people also pay too much for extra insurance. Everyone should have home, car, health, and term life insurance. There is no need to insure your refrigerator, cell phone, or child’s bicycle.
Don’t get me wrong. We have many nice things and enjoy plenty of luxuries that we could do without. However, being careful about what we spend allows us to give and save each month. How about you? Feel free to share some insights below on how you spend intentionally and save regularly.