For most of my twenties, I've been living paycheck to paycheck. While I know this is the reality for many, especially younger generations struggling with student loans, prohibitively expensive medical care, and high housing costs, the mental burden of knowing I'm one or two paychecks away from preventable debt is constantly on my mind. Working on my family's farm and a local restaurant after college, I was actually pretty happy to be making a comparatively lower income than some of my peers, because I enjoyed the work and felt my work made a difference. Plus, between my two food related jobs, I've had access to really wonderful food, which made my low wages worthwhile in my eyes.
Lately, as I become a homeowner with my partner, and manage normal life expenses along with a couple lingering credit card debts (that are thankfully small) plus student loan debt, I've been longing to free up my brain by wiping out the debts, and re-wiring how I approach my person finances. I've spent too many years just getting by, justifying my lack of savings/investments by comparing my relatively modest lifestyle to my peers, and even subconsciously vilifying other people's desire to make 6 figure incomes. Coming to terms with my own financial neuroses is difficult, but I'm excited to take control of my money. A few weeks into my"no spend March", I've noticed my willpower increasing and the usual spending desires and triggers lessening.
It's important to note that any solid financial advice from friends, podcasts, books etc. will be hard to implement in your life, until you have a personal reckoning about your own specific money mentality. Similarly, learning to live more frugally and actually following through with spending/earning/saving/investing goals you set for yourself is only possible if you get specific about your personal desires. I love reading and listening to a wide range of opinions on personal finance, but I'm constantly sifting through advice and piecing together a personal finance plan that works for me. This is blatantly obvious, I know, but something I frequently have to remind myself. Below are some prompts I've used when journaling to figure out my current and future goals around money.
"How does my current financial state make me feel?"
"What is the leading cause of financial stress in my life?"
"Is buying 'x' worth working 'y' hours to afford it?"
"Am I spending money on something to impress anyone else?"
"What areas in my life am I spending money on thoughtlessly?"
"What are the non-negotiables in my life that cost money?"
"What do I enjoy spending time doing that costs little to no money?"
While I've recently started investing through Acorns in a small way, I don't have much to share in that area, but plan to update my blog as I learn more.
Steps I'm currently taking to reduce spending:
1. Initiating a "no spend" month for all of March. A no spend month can vary, but the rules I set for myself are as follows.
No: clothes/accessories, restaurants/coffee shops, home goods, house plants, toiletries/makeup, books/magazines, travel expenses outside of transportation to and from work.
Yes: groceries, gas to and from work, necessary recurring bills i.e. rent/student loans/utilities, necessary plant expenses for spring planting.
2. Staying within a strict $60/week grocery budget between myself and my partner. Eating a mostly plant based diet makes this possible, supplemented with local, organic eggs, raw milk from the farm, and the occasional economical cut of meat like a whole chicken that provides 3+ meals plus homemade chicken stock from the carcass. Buying organic bulk items like coffee, grains, beans, olive oil, flour etc. is extremely helpful in saving money and reduces single use packaging. I buy 25# bags of flour, beans, lentils, and sugar plus 5# bags of coffee and 2L tins of olive oil, as these are my most frequently used kitchen staples. Much of this comes from a regional supplier that provides organic staples for my family's farm, but you can also source bulk items like this from local food co-ops! Small batch bulk purchases from bulk bins are often cheaper than pre-packaged food, but buying an item you use in it's original bulk packaging before it gets emptied into a bulk bin is generally the cheapest- providing you can use it all before it spoils.
3. Setting a month long "mulling over" period for items I want to buy, to avoid impulse purchases. If there's something I truly want, I write it down and re-visit the list in a few weeks. I know it sounds unlikely, but the lure of so many would-be impulse purchases really does fade. If something stays on my mind and I truly feel that it would improve my life, I search for it on craigslist, ebay, estate sales, etc. when possible.
4. As corny as it sounds, focusing on how much I have- a house I adore, work I enjoy, good food, free library books, my sister's netflix account lol, countless plants, good health, and access to animals and nature- is the best antidote for spending money. I tend to spend money on things I don't truly need or want when something in my life is off- and *shocker*, the impulse buys do not fix my problems.
Books I've found helpful:
You are a badass by Jen Sincero- great if you need some help talking yourself out of your own bullshit stories about why you "can't" do things
You are a badass at making money by Jen Sincero- similar to her first book, with more of a focus on money
How to do nothing by Jenny Odell- good for everyone who's over the rat race/constant striving for productivity. Not specifically about money, but it ties in
The simple path to wealth by J.L. Collins- great for learning about investing
Broke Millenial by Erin Lowry- geared towards millennials, but helpful for anyone trying to manage their personal finances
I will teach you to be rich by Ramit Sethi- while the title of the book didn't exactly draw me to reading this one, I really recommend it for some great advice on managing your personal finances, including investing
Clever girls know- saving, investing, paying off debt, personal finance journeys + more
Letters from a hopeful creative- not specific to personal finance, but great for perspective on money, especially from a small/creative business perspective
She makes money moves- specific questions from listeners about their finances
This episode of Time Sensitive- advice from Jesse Kamm on owning your own values in a business and living frugally
Expanded by Lacy Phillips- this podcast covers a wide range of topics, but guests often discuss personal finance and how they overcame limiting beliefs around money, so I recommend it
Mr. Money Mustache -not a book, but a very helpful blog, especially if you need some tough love on reducing spending.
The Frugalwoods- a blog dedicated to living frugally, with great advice on investing, homesteading, saving etc.