Yesterday, I was asked by a colleague for some financial advice. The conversation began with a request for a referral to our financial advisor, whom we actually no longer have. While the perks of having a CFP are many, our particular one had decided to pursue other professional endeavors earlier this year and Mike and I had decided to go without. For my colleague, I listed off a number of references that I have found most helpful to our financial journey, including Travis Hornsby (affiliate link) who saved us thousands of dollars in student loan debt, but my colleague wasn’t interested in student loan advice at this time. He was interested in honing in on his budget. In which case, I thought I would help.
His concern is one I often hear: “My fixed expenses are way too high. There is no way I can make ends meet with my income and my expense.” We then did a deep dive into some of his monthly expenses, and it appears that the most expensive recurring payments entail a car payment for a brand new Tesla, an apartment in a complex that offers all the amenities situated in a very popular city in Orange County, CA, and insurance payments. “Surely, none of those we can change.”
Somewhere in the distance, a buzzer goes off.
Maybe not right away. You can’t up and move apartments tomorrow, sure, but these are actually things we can change, if we wished. I suggested he sell their brand new Tesla, get rid of the monthly payment, and buy an old, used vehicle for a couple grand. I suggested he move away from large complexes where they charge up the wazoo for the gym and pool access, and instead opt for a co-housing situation, or at least a cheaper apartment. I also inquired about the possibility of geo-arbitrage. I suggested researching insurances further, to see if there are any options that will save them some money.
And then I saw it. The slight shake of the head, the glazing of the eyes as his focus started to turn somewhere internal. I knew I was losing him.
Talking about finances can be difficult. Hearing the steps you need to take in order to get from point A to point B can be quite daunting. It can make any person shy away, make them believe that frugality is for superheroes, that financial freedom is not in the cards.
I guess I should start with the following: It’s going to be slow. It requires a mindset shift, after all. A lifestyle needs to be upturned, and that is never an easy thing to do. To bridge the gap between the impossible and something more attainable, start with a conversation.
For example, right now, it may seem impossible to just get up in the middle of the night and move to a cheaper place. Plus, the decision to unroof an entire family isn’t up to you. Everyone gets a say, too. But speak up about the possibility. Look ahead to when the lease ends, what options lie ahead. Brainstorm, to get your brain on the same wavelength.
Then, start with one change. Maybe it will take a few months to find a used car to replace the current one. Focus on what you can do now. If you aren’t ready to trade your car back in, then call insurances. That let’s you tackle one thing. You probably won’t switch to a new one this week, but you’ll get a few quotes to pocket for next.
For some, even this may be a bit too much. Big things can be intimidating. Calling insurances requires a lot of research, and right now, there isn’t the time. If this is the case, then let’s drop the big things all together, for now. Refocus, and start small.
So we backtracked. He initiated a new tactic, and I followed suit, not pushing the bigger budget cuts. For now, that leap may have been too great.
He asked about grocery budgets. He shared a number around $800 for a family of four, which isn’t the worst. I’ve heard of more. I shared our goal of $300 for two adults, which also not the most frugal. Then he asked me about dining out. I shared that we have a target of $100 for the both of us per month. His eyes grew wide.
“Where do you eat, In N Out?!?!”
He said $100 could not even cover a night of sushi.
And he would be right.
His family spends closer to $800-900 a month in dining out. There. A place where we can work. Further discussion reveals that they dine out 3-4 times a week, versus Mike and I’s once a week. Changing dining out habits, even by simply limiting them, is a much more doable thing than relocating an entire family to a cheaper state. Here, we can begin. And slowly we work our way up.
“How about shopping?”, he asked.
I don’t shop.
“You need to talk to my wife.”
I think she would hate me.
Because here’s another thing. Going up to a significant other who enjoys shopping and telling them that they have to not shop the entire year can be perceived as quite near impossible, let alone unsustainable. If any success is to lie ahead in your future, we need a tactic that helps others slowly transition. Perhaps, we cut back on spending this month. Then, we cut back on the number of items next month. Afterwards, we may narrow it down to one. Lastly, we tackle the time. No shopping for “x” number of months. The turtle wins the race.
I think what people need to hear most is how slow the process actually is. There’s no way around it. It won’t be tomorrow that you suddenly quit every pull you feel towards spending. You can’t drop all the bad habits in one go. You’ll make mistakes and buy that dress. You’ll start looking at cars you wish you had. We both did. You’ll want to kick yourself for the slip ups. You’ll feel hopeless when you take a step backwards. You’ll be embarrassed when people hear. But don’t give up then, because that’s the point where your mindset shifts. Even if you can’t see it.