“This one was the biggest ‘aha’ moment of the year for me,” writes Matt of “Distilled Dollar,” a Chicago-based CPA who saves 60 percent of his income with his fiancee and plans to be financially independent by age 35.
Matt estimates that they save about $5,000 a year by going out less. “Not only did we start to cook more, but we found creative ways to save money at the grocery store,” he says. “Plus, we are eating much healthier now, too.”
Check out more tips on how to trim your grocery bill.
Focus on cutting the “big three expenses”
Keep the “big three expenses” — housing, transportation and food — as low as possible, says early retiree Justin McCurry. “Look at those top expenses and see if there’s any negotiating room.” Doing so helped him and his wife save up to 70% of their income and build a $1 million portfolio in a decade.
They stayed in the starter home they bought out of grad school and paid off their mortgage in 2015, meaning that, on a monthly basis, they only cover utilities and maintenance. In terms of transportation, “we kept the cars that we bought brand-new in college for 16 years and just replaced them last year,” says Justin.
And they only budget $500 a month for groceries. You can read more about how they feed a family of five for $500 a month on their blog, “Root of Good.”
One way to cut transportation costs is to go car free. Of course, this may be more feasible for some than others, but if possible, trade in your car for public transportation, a bike or your own two feet.
By moving to a place within walking distance to work, Matt estimates that he and his fiancee save nearly $9,000 a year. “This single decision has made me healthier, happier and wealthier over the past year than nearly any other decision,” he writes.
Keep fixed costs low
“It means becoming aware of the things that you own, becoming aware of the burden ‘stuff’ can create, and carefully scrutinizing items before bringing them into your life.”
Living minimally has allowed him to keep his expenses at bay. “If you look at my spending compared to most people, the two main areas I save the most on are rent and car payments,” says Sean, who keeps his monthly fixed costs between $900 and $1,000. “I drive a 13-year-old truck that’s completely paid off and I split rent with my girlfriend in Minneapolis.”
A simple way to lower your fixed costs is to “live big in a tiny home,” recommends Matt. “We live in a neighborhood where most of our neighbors are paying a higher percentage of their income towards rent. Of course, we could pay the same percentage and upgrade to a nice two-bed/two-bath, but we’re more than happy with where we live today.”
He and his fiancee pay less than 15% of their income for their 700-square-foot condo in Chicago. They estimate that they save about $12,000 a year, “seeing as how we could easily afford paying an extra $1,000 a month,” says Matt.
Bank your raises
Start thinking of money as something to invest rather than something to spend, says Justin. Anytime he or his wife earned a raise, the extra money went straight to their accounts.
You can apply the same strategy to a bonus, birthday check or small windfall. Instead of planning trips or grabbing gadgets, consider directing at least some of it towards lingering debt, a retirement savings account or an emergency fund.
To resist the temptation to spend any surplus money that comes your way, send it directly to savings. That way you’ll hardly even register that it’s there.
Distinguish “wants” from “needs” by tracking expenses
Matt and his fiancee easily saved a couple thousand dollars by cutting back on things like dry cleaning, massages, Starbucks and going to the movies, he says.
To cut back on “wants,” start by evaluating exactly where you spend your money. Try recording each and every purchase you make for a couple of months, whether that means writing expenses down in a notebook or using an app that will track your spending, such as Mint, Personal Capital or Level Money.
After all, you can’t save until you know where your cash is going.
Resist the temptation to keep up with the Joneses
“Question the things you’re spending your money on,” says Sean. Thinking through your purchases will keep your spending in check and help you refrain from shelling out more than you should to “keep up with the Joneses.”
“Just because your friends enjoy spending lavishly on clothes, doesn’t mean that’s for you,” Sean writes on his blog. “Don’t waste money on things that aren’t important to you.”