If you’re into early retirement like I am, chances are you’ve started analyzing ways to cut your budget.
For me, a lot of it was taking a look at how much I spent on what each month. I put everything on a credit card because, aside from earning points, it allowed me to separate how much was spent in each category (utilities, restaurants, odds and ends). Analyzing my credit card report showed me I had one glaring issue: I was a champ at impulse buying. Need a wig for Halloween? Amazon. Clothing? Let’s go get it. The first step is to, well, STOP buying. And I mean make that commitment to put off purchases momentarily. It’s hard to cold turkey anything, right? We can slow the process, though.
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Once I stopped impulse buying, I cut how much I bought way down as well. If it wasn’t a necessity, I actually stopped purchasing anything for an entire month. Guess what? Life still went on! I stepped down from buying nicer new clothing to shopping at places like Ross Dress For Less. Then, it almost seemed like I was still paying too much! After that, I almost stopped buying new things entirely. I had a job where I had to wear a uniform every day and switched to a job with more conventional attire. Instead of buying discount professional wear, I went to social media buy/sell groups, Craigslist, etc. and bought my entire professional wardrobe for—anyone want to guess? A hundred dollars. That $100 included the following (I cringe now because even this is too much for my minimalist nature nowadays):
- Four dresses
- Six pairs of professional pants
- Two pairs of professional pants that are more form fitting
- Nine tops
- Three jackets/blazers
- Four sweaters
- Seven pairs of shoes
This still satisfies the “buy” itch but at a much smaller dent to your budget!
The next step is honestly to minimize what you already have. Actively get rid of things you don’t need in your house, and send the message to your brain that you don’t need more of it. I started getting rid of a ton of things I had by asking myself: Do I need this? Can I replace this easily if I ever need it again? Why am I hanging onto this still?
If I knew I needed to get rid of it but just couldn’t for some odd reason, I’d do what I call a soft toss. Items in the soft toss box would be put out of sight for a few weeks, and if I didn’t think about it/miss it during that time, it was sold or donated. You know the funny thing? I haven’t needed or missed a single thing thus far. Our budget and our house inventory are both down 50% since we began this process. It feels amazing.
The other issue was food. Oh my, do we love going out to eat. The first thing we did was put a limit on how many times we could go out to eat. Some people love getting beer when out, so instead of buying a $9 beer, we started buying and stocking it in our fridge. Did we get rid of this “charge” entirely? Nah—but if there’s a beer waiting at home, it’s less of a “go without” situation.
Then we started making our own things. Salad dressing is so much tastier and cheaper when you make it yourself. So is hummus. Bread is the same way, as are homemade cleaning products, etc. That dish you always get at that restaurant can also be prepared at home most likely. We have an incredible Indian dish that is now our go-to for quick meals. My challenge to you as the reader is to make one dish that you frequently order out but have never made at home. See how it goes!
This will be a very controversial stance, but going what we lovingly refer to as “freegan” also helped our grocery bill, as cheese and meat are very expensive. What’s freegan, you ask? We eat about 95% vegan at home and don’t ask for special accommodations at a friend’s house or any events. Now hamburgers and ice cream are even more of a treat any time we go out/to a friend’s house. Do we still order pizza when we want it? Yep! Does that pizza have pepperoni? Yep. But honestly, going freegan has helped not only our wallets, but our bodies. We even find ourselves purposely ordering vegan items off menus on our nights out at times. We also find that our friends really enjoy the vegan meals we prepare when we host, though we don’t always prepare vegan meals when hosting.
Sometimes you may have an over-scheduled month that perhaps demands (I say that word loosely) more meals out. Sure, one can plan to avoid meals, but in some cases, it isn’t so avoidable—such as when friends visit from out of town and are dying to try that awesome restaurant in your city. In this case, we often opt to share meals, as the portion sizes in this country are insane anyway. We get to hit the social scene, try the local fare, and not bend our budget too much.
This is not an inclusive list, but it’s a fantastic start. For us personally, it boiled down to being way more mindful of what we spent our money on. We bought a french press, coffee bean grinder, and an electric kettle to make very fresh coffee each morning, and it beats the crap out of Starbucks any day. The little things that make life more tasty and more enjoyable overall helped us cut spending.
What methods do you use to cut down on your monthly budget without feeling deprived?