If you type in financial independence or early retirement in google, you will come across a multitude of hard core bad ass folks saving aggressively for financial freedom. By aggressively, I mean they are spending $20K a year on total living expenses and are saving 50%, sometimes up to 80% of their income.
When I see stories and spending habits like that, I am both inspired and intimidated at the same time. My first thoughts are, “There is no way I could live like that”, “I live in a HCOL area, and I have no intentions to move, so that’s not happening” , “I have too many financial responsibilities and bills”, etc.
This is the way of thinking turns most people off from starting on the journey to saving/investing which is the ultimate path to real wealth. It’s this perception that is has to be an all or nothing approach that scares many people away from even starting on their journey of financial freedom. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, it doesn’t have to be so radical, and the changes don’t have to happen overnight. There is the internal struggle for many people who like the idea of planning for the future but who want to live in the moment.
I get it.
Every once in a while, there is a nagging part of me that wonders, if I die before I meet my financial independence goal, would all of the “sacrifices” I made have been worth it? But are they really sacrifices? Using the word sacrifice implies that the actions I am taking to reach my financial goals are at the expense of something important to me. The word sacrifice has a negative connotation to it. So rather than looking at what I am doing as a sacrifice, I tend to look at it more like a necessary means to an end goal (read about my 2016 savings goals here).
If you can learn to be truly happy with cutting back in certain categories, then saving towards financial freedom won’t feel like a sacrifice, in fact it will feel like liberation. Make the changes gradual so they won’t feel like such a shock. Instead of making radical changes that can be traumatic to your psyche start with moderate changes to your personal finances.
CUT THE BILLS
First, before you go off slashing spending in the harder areas that you are more attached to, take a look at those nagging bills/expenses that can be reduced or cut. Start by trimming the areas that you don’t care about.
For example, take a look at your car insurance, home insurance, cell phone bill & cable bill. I can guarantee you that there is probably a $100 worth of savings you can see in reevaluating those categories. Call up your cable service providers to take off features you don’t need, reasonably raise your insurance deductible to reduce the payments, cancel unused gym memberships, etc. Better yet, spend a few minutes a day calling around to other service providers to see what they are offering. By taking the time to do a little research, you can see savings without having to make any cuts to the areas you “care” about.
I reduced my car insurance by $100 a month by simply taking 15 minutes to research other service providers. My next step is to switch my cellphone provider. Currently, I have AT&T but I can save probably $50 a month by switching to Cricket wireless which runs on AT&T’s network. Between making those two changes, I can save up to $150 a month or $1,800 a year! Better yet, if I continue to invest that savings of $1,800 a year (or $150 a month) it will grow to $24K in 10 years or $69K in 20 years (assuming a 6% annual return rate).
FIND THE ROOT OF YOUR SPENDING HAPPINESS
After you make the easy cuts on bills, it’s time to take look at the categories that you are more attached to. Are you spending a lot on going out to eat? Shopping? Starbucks? Challenge yourself to not only find cheaper alternatives to those things but the root to why you love doing those things.
What do you enjoy most, going out to eat or the company of your friends while you eat? Let’s assume it’s the latter, in that case, throw more dinner pot luck parties where everyone brings a dish, or cook together at someone’s house.
Like going out for drinks? Buy your own ingredients of your favorite cocktails, and make them at home and save half the money. Not only will you have fun making your favorite drinks, you will be in the safety of your home if you have one too many of them.
The point is to really look at what you think makes you happy, is it the actual item you are spending the money on, or is it the experience or people that you are spending that money with?
On the weekends my husband and I would spend a lot of money on eating out. On Friday’s we would always buy this expensive pizza ($27 a pie!) at a local pizzeria shop. After realizing, how much we were just spending on Friday nights alone, my husband and I decided that rather than always buying takeout or going out to eat on both Friday’s and Saturday’s, we would eat at home on Friday nights. So now on Fridays, that expensive $27 pizza is replaced by us cooking a meal together. If we are lazy and short on time, we make sure we have Trader Joes frozen meals on hand (our favorite is the Orange Mandarin Chicken!). By altering our eating out habits one day a week, we save almost $108 a month. Occasionally, we will still go out to eat on Friday nights or buy takeout but by no means does this all feel like a sacrifice. In fact, I feel more of a sense of accomplishment when we save money. The enjoyment of spending more quality time with my husband while we cook together brings me more joy than eating that expensive pizza.
BLOW MONEY IS YOUR FRIEND
Last but not least, give yourself a BLOW budget- this allows for you to spend money on yourself without any guilt. This not only allows you to keep track of your fluff spending but gives you the permission to spend it in any way you want.
My husband and I each have a $200 Blow money budgeted each month. We rarely ever use all of the Blow money so the balance usually carries over each month, which eventually will grow into a sizeable stash amount that we each can use on whatever we want. I use my Blow money for going out with friends, buying lunch at work, personal care expenses, etc. Our monthly Blow money amount is considered a lot for some people, and maybe it works out to be less or more for you depending on your wants compared to your budget. The point here is that budgeting and saving doesn’t have to feel like all work and no room for fun spending.
I like to say I am moderately saving/investing for my financial freedom goals. While we are aiming for a high savings rate this year, it could be actually be a lot higher if we reduce some of the fluff (going out to eat, blow money, liquor allowance) categories from our budget. But, I am willing to wait a little longer to reach my financial independence goal because of it and therefore I make room in the budget for it. We also don’t spend unnecessarily on things that don’t matter to us in and make sure our monthly bills are competitive and lean.
There is a way to save and invest for the future while living a happy life now. The key is to figure out what your major goals are and what really makes you happy. The art is finding the balance between the two.