Besides my work managers and HR representatives, not a single person knows how much money I make at my job. You know why? Because I fucking hate money. I hate talking about money. I hate obsessing over it. I hate how much of an impact is has on establishing a human connection. In our current Tom Ford, $1,000 Beyoncé concert ticket, and Tesla-obsessed culture, it is almost impossible to forget about money and live a humble life of frugality. Anyone with nothing wants something, and everyone (myself included) with something wants more ― a lot more. Americans continue to spend more money than they save or, even worse, spend money they don’t even have. What do we do?
When I moved to Chicago in November of 2011, I had just finished a four-year Bachelor’s program at Indiana University. My only major assets were a four-year old MacBook and a 1995 Ford Taurus. That’s it – my life “savings”. My physically-disabled mother, whose primary source of income was a meager monthly stipend from the government, supported me financially throughout my childhood and provided all of life’s essentials (food, clothing, a place to live, and love.) As soon as it was legal for me to acquire a job at the age of 16, I started working at Taco Bell after school and during weekends. It was tough to sacrifice my free time and neglect friends and loved ones in order to buy and pay for auxiliary items and non-essentials like my first car and insurance, a cell phone and its resulting monthly bill, clothes, and other items my friends’ parents bought for them (some of them still do!) Saving money was nowhere on my to-do list. With whatever money I had leftover, I became more of a social butterfly ― going out to eat and to the movies more often, buying gifts, taking road trips, and experiencing a life I was finally able to afford.
When I got to college, the concept of saving money became even more difficult. My admirable academic standing alongside my family’s financial situation (or lack thereof) prompted a nice surprise from my school councilors: a connection to a non-profit organization that would pay my entire tuition at any four-year university in Indiana. “Holy shit, thank the stars.” I did, however, still have to pay for other essentials like textbooks, rent, and utilities, as well as my cell phone bill, car insurance, and gas, whose costs seemed to rise and rise as time went on. This was also the time I received my first, second, third, fourth, and fifth credit cards, which quickly racked up a considerable amount of debt those first three years. As a full time student who also worked at least 30 hours a week to make ends meet, I started realizing how scary and stressful debt can be ― I also started thinking about my family’s finances and how a lack of a financial cushion really put stress and worry on my mother all those years. We rarely went out to eat as a family. We had never taken a family vacation. Hell, I didn’t fly on a plane until I was 23 ― we just couldn’t afford it. One day, while sitting at a computer configuring new cars and pricing out tentative trips on the web I knew I could never afford to take, I decided to make a change. I told myself, “You will NEVER wonder where your money is coming from or worry about buying things you want or need. Pay off your debt and save, NOW. It’s time to start building your future.”
So, I did. Since I always paid my credit card bills on time, my credit worthiness began to rise ― quickly. It was rather intriguing to build financial savvy as I opened-up new credit accounts while transferring my existing, interest-accruing debt to new accounts which enticed me with their “zero-interest for a year” promotions. As I moved my debt around and maintained my credit worthiness by paying the monthly-minimums (doing this does not negatively impact your credit score), I simultaneously opened and supplemented a savings account. Despite knowing my net worth (ASSETS minus DEBT) would have remained the same if I had simply paid off my credit cards first, seeing a tangible and growing amount of cash I could touch and spend only encouraged me to pay off my debts faster. By the time I graduated and moved to Chicago a year-and-a-half later, I had considerably less credit card debt and my first ever savings account, which contained $3,200.
Exactly one year later near the end of 2012, two months of which were spent without a job, my savings account had surpassed $5,000 and my remaining $3,500 of credit card debt had dropped to $0. I know I know ― as we read through magazines advertising seven-figure homes or discussing multi-billion dollar company acquisitions, those numbers may not seem like a lot. For some perspective, I lived on no more than $150 a month for almost a year in order to pay off my debts and build my savings. Although Chicago is not the most expensive city by any means, it’s mind boggling to think about it today, as it is sometimes difficult now to get through a week without spending $150. But, it was what I needed. I needed to be debt free. With three years of spending and saving in the Windy City under my thrifted belt, I am still an avid saver ― but I found a much healthier and more satisfying balance between what I now consider hoarding my money and thoughtlessly buying things I do not need. In addition to my high-yield savings account (which, due to a recent vacation to San Francisco, is quite thirsty), I also have health and dental insurance, a 401K, and I recently invested five-figures in the stock market.
As I mentioned previously, I hate speaking of money. Frankly, it is no one’s business, and people who openly discuss their finances are typically arrogant, rich assholes who use money to supplement a lack of feelings, emotions, and relationships. But, I truly care about your financial independence, and the aforementioned data from my past helps build a picture about what is truly possible. Even if your employer doesn’t provide financial benefits or incentives, don’t fret! You work hard for your money, and only you can decide and control how to grow or deplete your funds. Here are seven additional ideologies that will minimize your debt, maximize your savings, and make you feel fucking fabulous:
Eating out is eating your money. Fast.
I’ll admit it: I am guilty of being a slave to Starbucks’ sugary crack-drinks, made and handled with love by their friendly Baristas. Additionally, After a solid two years of bringing my lunch to work every single day, I have since stopped, as the convenience of ordering pad-see-ewe from the Thai restaurant next door has rendered the grocery store useless. Totaling around $14/day, five days a week, that equates to $280 a month spent on food and coffee. This, of course, doesn’t account for my days off, which could easily be another $15/day (at least) spent going out to eat. This brings my monthly total to roughly $415 a month.
Now, consider the alternative: Spending $50 on groceries can easily last more than a week, sometimes two, as long as your portions are under control and you are buying the right items at the right time (for example, try not to buy a ton of parishable items that will spoil before having a chance to eat them). Getting into this routine saves $130 a month, or over $1,500 a year.
Brick-and-mortar banks are so 20th century.
Going to the bank is and always has been annoying as all fuck. I usually have to stand in line for what feels like hours, the hidden fees pop-up unexpectedly (I believe banks charge you each time you take a Dum Dum from the bowl at the counter), and the Representatives try to “upsell” you, offering credit card and other promotions which, despite not needing, you signed up (and are now paying) for. In 2012, I registered for Simple™, an online-only bank with no branch locations whatsoever. Their app, which I access on my iPhone, has built-in money management tools that are easy to use. Additional features include quick feedback to and from customer support via messaging in the app, thousands of conveniently-located ATMs throughout the United States, and the ability to transfer money to/from external accounts in a timely manner. Because they have no brick-and-mortar stores to maintain, they offer their services free of charge.
I am in the process of transfering my Chase™ savings account to an online savings account with Discover™. Since Discover also does not have any branches, they are able to offer this account free of charge while offering a significantly higher interest rate than Chase (.85% vs .01%). Although this option eliminates the idea of accessing quick cash in the moment, you are able to transfer money out of the account six times a month without incurring a charge. Paired with Simple’s in-app budgeting tools, it’s easy to setup a makeshift “rainy-day fund” within your Simple account if you’re ever in a pickle.
Being chauffeured is glamorous ― and cheap.
I love cars. I have loved them since I was a teenager. Coming from humble beginnings and always driving around ten-year-old shit-beaters, my goal throughout high school and college was to one day buy a brand new car that no one else has used. However, the cost of ownership, especially in a city like Chicago (time wasted in gridlock traffic, parking tickets, more maintenance caused my dings and dents, the pay-to-park requirement almost everywhere — in addition to gas and insurance), can easily account for thousands of dollars spent per year. The alternative, taking public transportation and taxi services such as Lyft, eliminates the hidden-costs associated with having a car, as well as reduces the stress and anxiety of owning and maintaining a vehicle. I still hope to one day own a car that is mine, but I will buy one pre-owned that came off someone else’s lease, as they are typically better maintained, have lower-mileage, and are significantly more affordable than a brand new one.
College is a career path, NOT a post-high-school path.
America’s education system is built upon a foundation which requires scholarship recipients and expects all other students to to immediately attend a university upon high school graduation. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what the fuck I wanted to do when I finished high school. And I’m not alone. It’s no surprise that in 2012, job-placement firm Adecco found that over sixty percent of U.S. college graduates were working in a job outside their “chosen” profession. Some people argue that the jobs just weren’t there, but that’s hogwash. It is impractical to expect an eighteen year old high school senior with no true experience in the real world to know exactly what he or she really enjoys doing, or how to utilize those passions in order to be successful. Instead of our leaders and mentors encouraging teenagers to gain real-world experience through internships or real work, society pushes them into tens-of-thousands of dollars of college loans and debt, offering empty promises of “unparalleled experiences” or a “successful life” after college. Those sixty percent of graduates working outside their field are doing so because they were pushed on a path, realized it wasn’t right, then settled into whatever job was available so they could reestablish what they want and defer their loans as long as possible. I am not working in my “field” ― however, my two-and-a-half years at my current job has offered more insight, business acumen, and deep human connections than the four years I spent in college. If you or someone you know didn’t attend college or dropped-out, don’t be discouraged. Spend time out of your comfort zone and determine what you love ― your passions will bring you more happiness and success than a $50,000 college bill will.
Frappa-latte-cinno? How about a simple coffee.
To reference my first point, eating out is costly. Every time I order a Grande-Mocha from Starbucks and see my total ($4,59), a part of me wants to beat the shit out of myself for falling victim to the cult of high-priced coffee beverages. for those of us who drink coffee daily, we can save $90 a month by purchasing a standard coffee instead of a froo-froo-frap or specialty drink. Additionally, so many coffee-houses offer loyalty reward programs that offer free drinks on certain days, or after you spend a certain amount of money. Do yourself and your wallet a favor and save the fancy drinks for those “free” days.
It’s okay to say “no” to your friends.
Being a social butterfly is great and all, but it is important to know when your body and budget need a break. I was recently out at a cocktail lounge with a few friends for my birthday. One of them, who tends to get drunk, forgetful, and way too generous too quickly, spent about $100 on drinks that night, then went home around 4AM and spent her night over the toilet. We’ve all been there, yes, but the idea of spending that much on something that not only do we forget, but ends up making us feel like shit is a little ridiculous. Nightlife is expensive. Of course, you don’t want to be a recluse ― alone in your apartment on a Friday night (unless you’re a Cancer =D) ― but spending $100 a week on alcohol will soon put you in a shared living space at the YMCA or, more realistically, in an awkward relationship with your housemates, because you can’t afford your rent. Your friends will still love you if you take a night off from partying, your liver will leave a chocolate on your pillow the next morning, and you’ll smile when you look at your bank statement and realize no money was spent between Saturday and Monday.
Put the Michael Kors back on the hook, breathe, and think.
As a Jew, I thank the lord regularly for making me a cheap bastard. As a fashionista, it is difficult for me to “window-shop”, as there is always some deal flashing in my face. Inversely, buying a $250 purse certainly turns my shitty day into a fantastic one (until the jew-guilt kicks in). When I’m in a store and find something I like, I’ll walk around with it for awhile to seek out something similar that is more affordable, both in the store, and using my phone to browse Amazon, Zappos, etc. During my walk of guilt, I also think backward and forward in time, asking myself, “When was the last time you bought an item like this?” and, “If you buy this now, will you be able to afford groceries or that trip to Six Flags in two weeks?” 95% of the time, the purse or the pair of shoes I’m holding ends up back on the shelf. There are, of course, occasions for which I have saved and planned ahead; still, I almost never pay full-price. People’s jaws drop to the floor when they see my outfit and learn I only paid $40 for the entire ensemble. Thrift stores can seem overwhelming, I know, but spending an hour rummaging through all the unique pieces versus ten minutes in a department store can easily save you hundreds of dollars per visit. It’s okay to treat yourself once in awhile, but spend five extra minutes researching prices, and hell, use the money your thrifty ass just saved to buy a matching accessory.