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How I Saved $20,000 in 2014 and Used it to Invest in Lifestyle Design

How I Saved $20,000 in 2014 and Used it to Invest in Lifestyle Design

6 min read
Scott Trench

Scott Trench is the CEO and President of BiggerPockets. Scott has dedicated his career to helping ordinary Americans ...

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I’m 24 years old, and I’ll admit that I’m a little immature. I was a Frat Bro and Captain of the Rugby Team in college, and honestly, I probably haven’t changed all that much in a year and a half. I have an expensive social life, and in the last 3 months, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on things like ski passes, a ski-diving session, club sports dues, (unsuccessful) dates, and of course a little booze. I don’t regret that spending. I’d do it again. And I’m going to keep on doing it.

But I also saved $20,000 last year.

To start, let me note that I will end up making somewhere between $45,000 – $50,000 in 2014 pre-tax. That’s a ton of money for a single man.  I also have no student loans. Having disclosed that, I’ll admit that a savings rate of 40% makes me nothing more than an apprentice at personal finance. But I will say that I find it interesting that most of my peers with even higher levels of income were unable to save anything, and some of them started in even better financial situations.

I didn’t save over $20,000 because I was some sort of financial wizard or because I was a cheapskate. I just think that I made a slightly-better-than-average choice in determining the “default option” for the three biggest expenses in a 20-something’s life:

  1. My residence
  2. My transportation
  3. My diet

I design my lifestyle such that these three things, these three necessities, are as close to free as possible and such that I have no ability to change them except with long-term planning. As a result, I don’t have to really think about the financial impact of “fun” and frivolous spending because by default, I spend so little on these three categories that it is almost impossible to spend too much recreationally!

Related: The 5 Steps Necessary to Master Your Personal Finances

I think that these choices are repeatable for most 20-somethings, and I’d love to hear feedback on whether I’m over the top or not — I’ve heard it before.

3 Lifestyle Habits I Use to Better My Financial Situation

Habit #1: By Default, I Live in a Small Space

When I say “small,” I don’t mean that I live in a run-down, decrepit building. Until I moved into my duplex, I lived in a clean, well-maintained facility. It was fine — just not in the greatest location and not very big. And I lived with a roommate. Between these decisions, I spent less than 13% of my income on rent.

As a 24 year old kid, the physical layout, neighborhood, and size of the unit I live in is totally immaterial to my happiness, as is sharing that space with a friend. I wouldn’t want to spend a ton of time in ANY place that I lived in! I’d rather be out playing basketball, going to my club sport practice (still a rugger), biking, and just generally DOING.

In 2015, I plan to continue to live in my newly acquired (also very small — 1,433 sqft in both units combined) duplex, rent one unit out, plus half of the unit that I live in, and live for free. Not accidentally, this property is very close to both my workplace and downtown Denver. I believe that this purchase is the best possible investment in my future happiness and financial situation combined, and I think it is a repeatable strategy for many 20-somethings with similar objectives and a year or two of savings.

Habit #2: By Default, I Don’t Use a Car

I really did a terrible job of commuting for the first half of 2014. I worked at a location that was 10 miles away from my apartment! I don’t know what I was thinking!

But I learned.

I don’t like commuting. I think it’s horrible; I hate traffic, and I don’t understand how we built a society around such a ridiculous concept. After reading this article by one of my favorite bloggers, I realized just how much this cost was kicking my butt. Assuming $0.50 per mile, my commute cost me well over $200 per month!

I had a twelve month lease at my apartment — moving was not an option — so instead, I started looking for jobs closer to home in March. It took me three months of networking and lunch meetings to finally luck into meeting Josh Dorkin and land this job at BiggerPockets (I know — I hit the jackpot). Maybe I got lucky, but BiggerPockets HQ was also 5 miles from my apartment. It wasn’t an accident that I was looking for work in the area.

Upon starting here in July, I bought a bike, pannier, helmet, gloves, and some lights to begin biking to work. I’ve biked almost every day since. I immediately noticed an improvement in my health, happiness, and productivity. And I’ve noticed the savings. I went from driving close to 750 miles per month (I’m appalled that I was driving that much and had no idea until I wrote this article and did the math — 9,000 miles over 12 months comes to 750 miles per month!) to less than 75 miles per month.

I can definitely do better. Because I’ve bought a duplex and now live close to work and the area I like to hang out in, I’m in the process of selling my car. I know that seems crazy, but I really don’t think it is. See, truly bad weather and long trips occur at most twice per month on average for me. On the rare occasions that I do need to travel long distances or through unreasonable weather conditions, I’ll take a cab.

My ability to sell my car is a direct result of planning my living situation around where I work and the things I enjoy doing. I simply don’t need to go very far for anything!  I’ve yet to meet an unmarried 20-something who doesn’t have the ability to easily move within a few miles of his workplace or move his workplace closer to home. This is not something that happened overnight for me, but over the course of 6 months to a year, I think it is repeatable for most.

Related: 6 Lessons My Work Life Has Taught Me About Managing Finances

Habit #3: By Default, I Plan or Cook All of My Meals With Reasonable Purchases From Reasonable Grocery Stores

I think I must have been very young when I realized a hard truth: I have no option; I have to eat everyday. But it wasn’t until earlier this year, when I began truly planning my lifestyle, that I realized another problem with food. Unlike living for free and commuting for free, growing my own food and eating for free is not really a reasonable option. Compounding those two problems is the fact that I really enjoy good, healthy food, and a LOT of it (biking everywhere = lots of food consumption).

Enter cooking.

I don’t eat ramen noodles, I don’t eat freezer meals, and I don’t have PB&J for lunch everyday. I actually think I eat like a king! And I do it extremely cheaply.

I do this by shopping at the grocery store (Safeway), and when possible, Costco. I buy a lot of food, make it all in advance (usually in the crockpot — here are some delicious recipes) and eat my meals throughout the week. This has been extremely powerful for me in three ways:

  1. It ensures that the most accessible food in my day is healthy and (usually) delicious
  2. It ensures that the default option is to eat a meal I’ve prepared cheaply
  3. It forces me to plan any restaurant trips ahead of time

When the opportunity to go to lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant with friends comes up, I don’t say no — I go, and I have a great time. But by making cooking the default option, I avoid fast food, unnecessary purchases and ensure healthy habits on average.

Conclusion

I’m not some well-behaved financial wizard over here. I’m actually a pretty rough-around-the-edges kid who has no idea what he’s doing. But in spite of my shenanigans and childish spending habits (just ask Brandon Turner about my “legendary” antics on his recent visit to downtown Denver), I think I’ve put my financial house in pretty good order — and I think I did it without too much work or sacrifice.

For me, strong personal finance is not about discipline, self-control, or the “Latte Factor” (“If you cut back on your daily latte, you’ll save thousands!”). Nope, for me, Personal Finance is all about doing the big things right. Life, on the other hand, is about the little things. I won’t cut back on Life now, but I also refuse to spend the bulk of Life in some cube. I’ll have my cake, eat it now, and keep chowing for as long as I live. Life is just too damn short.

Looking to set yourself up for life as early as possible and enjoy time on your terms? Scott Trench’s new book Set for Life, slated for release April 23, 2017, is now available for pre-sale! Whether you’d like to “retire” from wage-paying work, become less dependent on your demanding nine-to-five, or simply spend time doing what you love, Set for Life will give you a plan to get there. This isn’t about saving up a nest egg. It’s not about setting aside money for a “rainy day.” Set for Life is an actionable guide that helps readers build the accessible wealth they need to achieve early financial freedom.

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What do you think? Am I over the top? Do you agree with my philosophy? How would you design your lifestyle differently?

Leave me a comment below, and let’s discuss!