This Money Makeover Saves Me $1,056 Each Month
I was living paycheck to paycheck. Now, I’m conserving enough cash to erase debt, manage emergencies and potentially amass six figures over 10 years.
As I prepared for Thanksgiving last fall, my money mindset began to radically shift. I hurriedly rushed from the supermarket to the butcher, spending way too much along the way. Why do we do this to ourselves?, I thought, reflecting on how my husband and I overextend ourselves for this holiday. The next Monday, there wasn’t enough cash to cover those bills. I felt caught in a vicious cycle, and I was over it.
Like many sisters, I am smart, educated and hardworking. Plus, because I write about money, I know a thing or two about dollars and sense. Then why in the world was I living check to check? After collecting a year’s worth of bank statements, I would discover my money thieves: Fast food, random debit card purchases, no budget and did I mention Inever checked my account balances?
Blame the stress of the daily grind. When we have full schedules and even fuller plates in terms of commitments and obligations, there’s little time to think strategically about spending. Other times, emotional spending is like a warm blanket on a cool night. It can shield us from feeling overwhelmed or anxious. When my husband was relocated for five months last year while continuing his education, our household routines changed. I focused on what I had to do to ensure our 15-year-old daughter was dressed, fed and on that bus at the crack of dawn. Buh-bye meal prepping. Our takeout bill ballooned. That was cool until our money dwindled, which meant paying some bills late or not at all. That created so much financial anxiety I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had to do something.
My money situ was not unique. A 2017 CareerBuilder report cited that as much as 78 percent of America’s full-time workers are living check to check.
To regain control, I took a good, hard look at our monthly expenses and then lowered, replaced or eliminated all unnecessary bills. Now, our bank account is slowly increasing as we divide the savings between paying off debts, building a sizeable emergency fund and contributing to our retirement savings. If I can slay my money monster, so can you. Here’s how I did it:
I make dinner, not a fast-food run. Monthly savings: $250.Our family of four typically ate out every few days, costing us about $400 a month. I’ve reduced that to four times a month, costing us $150. It’s a preplanned treat rather than an impulsive act of desperation to tame growling stomachs.
I cut the cable, not our fave shows. Monthly savings: $203. Our bill had ballooned from $129 to $283 a month. Now we are using HDMI cords to connect our laptops to the TVs, streaming Netflix online and employing Amazon Fire Sticks (about $50 each) to watch movies, sports and shows. For free live TV, we can go to Streema.com. We only pay 60 bucks a month for the internet, plus $20 a month for a VPN (virtual private network) to keep Wi-Fi secure.
I kept the bank accounts but avoided the fees. Monthly savings: $100.Every year for the past five years, I have racked up $1,200 or more in overdraft fees. Now, I check my account balances daily and use apps like EveryDollar for budgeting and mint.com to manage cash flow.
I chose an insurer based on a low rate, not a lengthy relationship. Monthly savings: $100. We’d kept the same auto insurance carrier for 20 years. After comparing quotes from six companies using insurify.com and einsurance.com, we ended up bundling our auto loan with our existing homeowner’s policy through a different underwriter. The monthly premium fell from $225 to $125 a month.
I updated our homeowners insurance. Monthly savings: $50.While reviewing that policy, I learned that we were still paying for an oil tank that had been removed years prior. Correcting this lowered our premium.
I freed up funds so we could have some fun. Monthly savings: $40. We were paying for Microsoft, Amazon Prime and a web hosting service, but not using them. After cancelling nearly $50 a month for the three digital subscriptions, we deposit the savings directly into a vacation club account.
I raked in the cash. Seasonal savings: $160. Every fall, our lawn guy raked the leaves. I was stunned to get the first $80 bill in the mail. For leaves??? My family got out there and did it ourselves after that. Sharing the labor, it took just two hours.
I automated payments to avoid late fees. Monthly savings: $20.My habit of casually paying my cellphone bill late cost us $20 each time. I signed up for auto pay and am now saving $240 a year.
I hired a talented teen instead of a pricy professional. Monthly savings: $280. Our daughter was struggling in math, so we had hired a high school honors math teacher. At $75 per hour for two hours a week, the $600 we paid him monthly could have gone toward extra groceries. I replaced him with a 16-year-old honors student who charges $80 for two, two-hour sessions each week, or $320 a month. And guess what? Our daughter is killing it in math! Depending on the task, hiring an amateur for a basic service can yield similar savings.
All told, we are saving an average of $1,056 a month by consciously cutting our costs and being intentional with our spending and savings. As I said, we choose to funnel it toward debt reduction and emergency savings, as well as retirement. Once those first two goals are met, we can put away more for our golden years. Investing each month’s savings of $1,056, or $12,672 a year, could yield $183,729 after 10 years. (This calculation assumes an annual rate of return of 7 percent and that all annual investments are made at the beginning of the year. This estimate doesn’t account for inflation.)
In the meantime, our biggest payoff is emotional. I feel confident and free knowing that my family can cover our expenses and meet our money goals. I can breathe again.