I am not a financial expert and I have zero training in this area, but I did have parents who talked openly about money, taught me and my brother how to be entrepreneurs, and gave us books on financial literacy when we were barely old enough to read. I’ll put it this way – my brother bought himself a boat when he was 12 years old because of the money he made from his PAPER ROUTE. We were kids who, for better or worse, knew how to save.
I think people tend to underestimate the positive impact of earning a little extra money, and the negative impact of spending little amounts “here and there.” If you earn an extra $100/week, it is $400/month, and $4,800/year. And similarly with spending, we tend to think “What’s $20 here, or $20 there?” But in both cases, a little can easily add up to A LOT.
- Read books about personal money management like Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki (find it here).
- Make 90% of your meals at home. Healthy groceries can be pricey, so it is important to be mindful of what you are buying and plan properly so you use it all. I think people end up throwing out a lot of food, and this is like money going into the trash can.
- Think about the big picture. When I first moved to Toronto, most people I worked with bought coffee each day. This seemed so fancy and metropolitan, but then I did the math to see how much that would cost over the course of a year ($4/day, $20/week, $1000+/year… yikes!). This “math” approach is also what kept me from skipping classes in university (divide your tuition by the number of classes you have total to figure out the cost per class…whoa mama!).
- Even if you are a grown-up with a decent salary, you can find ways to bring in extra cash to offset luxuries you may enjoy. For example, I LOVE exercise classes and spend approximately $50/week going to them. To offset this, I teach one private piano lesson per week.
- Create an automatic savings account. Once I started working full-time, I had the bank immediately transfer a portion of my earnings (on each pay day) into my savings account. This way, I tricked my brain into living with whatever amount was leftover. I would look at the remainder and think, “Ok, I guess this is what I have to work with!” Out of sight, out of mind.
- Know where your money is going. I use a free program called Buxfer so I am really aware of my spending habits. It prevents me from avoiding responsibility, and it helps ensure I am prepared for unexpected expenses (i.e. emergency trips, vehicle repairs, dental work, etc.). You can’t live within your means unless you know what your means are. Be militant in understanding your income vs. expenses. What is your real and honest financial picture?
- Have ONE credit card and be able to pay it off right away. When I first got a credit card, the lady at the bank noticed that after I made a purchase, I would go home and immediately pay it off… and apparently my brother was doing the same thing! Our parents had put the fear of God in us about the evils of credit cards. This is a touch on the extreme side, but the idea is to avoid buying things on credit. Don’t buy what you can’t afford – period.
- Set a savings goal. People are more motivated to save when they are working towards something. Do you want to buy a car? Go on a trip? Have an emergency fund? Figure out how much you can realistically save each month, multiply it by 12, subtract a couple of hundred dollars for the unexpected, and then you will have your goal for the year. If you are a visual learner, you could make a chart to track your progress. If you need to put the money in a separate account to keep yourself from accessing it, then go visit your bank and make it happen.
- Invest in quality not quantity. I am convinced that it is more expensive to buy lots of crappy things (i.e. heaps of cheap clothing from Urban Outfitters and Forever 21) than to carefully curate a wardrobe of more expensive, higher-quality items. This has been my experience anyway, and my bank account was significantly impacted when I made this shift.
- Learn to say no. People in your social network may want to go out for lunch, grab coffee, or do other low-cost activities that really add up over time. I think it is important to treat yourself, but if these things are happening on a daily basis, you may want to figure out how to be involved socially, without feeling the cost financially. Maybe try going with them as they buy coffee or lunch, but bring your coffee from home and/or your packed lunch. Find a bench or a park nearby to eat, or go for a walk around the block. (It’s about short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. They will be the ones with FOMO when you are exploring Europe!)
I hope these tips are helpful and echo others’ experiences. What practices do you use to save money?