The biggest push back I get when I talk about cutting costs and saving money is that it’s difficult. People fear the word ‘budget’ because they associate it with negative implications. As a writer of intentional living, I can tell you that is not true. The point of budgeting is not to deprive yourself of things that make you happy. Rather, it is a curation of activities that you choose to engage with in order to prioritize that which makes you happiest. Because of this, budgeting is a personal task. There are some things that may be easier for you and your family to cut out than others. I recommend you start there! Today, I want to share my top 10 easiest things to cut out of my budget.
Top 10 Easiest Things I’ve Cut Out of My Budget
Shopping for clothes
Personal Maintenance (manis, pedis, haircuts, etc.)
Certain groceries like snacks, bars, soft drinks
Paper towels (went fully green in 2018 and never looking back)
Entertainment (Bowling, Movie Theatres, Theme Parks, etc.)
Buying books (yay for libraries!)
As you can see from my list, I can easily give up food, activities, and goods for myself. I wrote an ever-growing list a long time ago, but these ten were the easiest to let go by far. It’s been a while so I do have a caveat that some of my thoughts on the items on the ever-growing list have changed. But in exchange are other things current me won’t spend money on. Of course, everyone is different. There are things I would not sacrifice, such as good coffee and quality goods. That is totally okay! The point is not to deprive, but to thrive.
With current inflation at a high, I think we all need to practice what I’ve been preaching for the last five years. Which is, to flex our frugal muscles as best we can. We may be in it for the long-haul, but the better we are at managing spending, the more we can shoulder the weight of rising prices. If you’re new to the space, do check out my course, Mastering a Budget. It’s helped a lot of people get started!
Back in 2020, I wrote a post about celebrating our quarantine birthdays by collecting as many birthday freebies as possible. It started off as a request for Mike’s birthday. Since then, it’s definitely become a thing. I made fun of him for it at the time, but I secretly enjoy it. My birthday is in June. Which means, I recently signed up for as many freebies as I want. It took me about fifteen minutes, because I did a majority of the work last year. (Every club membership keeps giving back year after year). You kind of just build onto your repertoire of freebies, y’know?
Birthday freebies are a major giggle. Imagine zooming around town on your birthday month, just picking and choosing from a list of desserts, drinks, and food. I definitely recommend trying it – especially for the little ones!
There are hundreds of birthday freebies to be had out there, including local hidden gems. I only sign up for the ones I want to pick up. I don’t always get around to all of them, but at least the option is there. Had a bad day at work? Grab a freebie! Have a busy week? Pick up a freebie for dinner. Running late and couldn’t pack a lunch… you get the gist. Birthday freebies are a great pick-me-up and add a little extra support to make your birthday month more enjoyable. Here are a list of my favorites across the U.S.
The Best 2022 Birthday Freebies
Denny’s – Free Grand Slam on the birthday month
Chili’s – Free dessert for the birthday week plus free chips and salsa anytime you dine in
Red Robin – Free birthday burger
Sprinkles – Free cupcake, redeemable until the month after your birthday
Auntie Annie’s – Free pretzel, redeemable until two months after your birthday
Wetzel’s Pretzel’s – Free pretzel for downloading the app, and another free pretzel on your birthday
Baja Fresh – Free Burrito (with purchase of beverage) , valid until the month after your birthday
The Habit – Free Charburger, valid for two weeks
Jersey Mike’s – Free Sub and 22 oz. drink
Baskin Robbins – Free ice cream scoop or soft-serve, plus $3 off an ice-cream cake
Ben N Jerry – Free ice cream scoop, plus $3 off an ice-cream cake
Buffalo Wild Wings – Free birthday wings valid until end of the month
BJs – Free Pizookie for signing up for rewards and also for your birthday
Breugger’s Bagels – Free bagel with cream cheese for signing up and also on your birthday
Einstein Bagels – Free bagel egg sandwich with purchase on your birthday – usable for 14 days
Nothing Bundt Cakes – Free Bundtlet valid for one week
Buca Di Beppo – Free pasta after signing up and a $20 birthday gift voucher
Chipotle – Free chips and guacamole with $5 purchase
Cinnabon – Free Iced Coffee on your birthday and free BonBites for signing up (must download app)
Chick Fil A – Free ‘birthday surprise’ when you download the app
Cold Stone Creamery – BOGO coupon for your birthday and for signing-up.
A & W – Free root beer float for your birthday
Acapulco – Free entree on your birthday and free appetizer for signing up with entree purchase.
Del Taco – Free regular size premium shake
Dunkin Donuts – free beverage on your birthday
Edible Arrangements – Free 12-count chocolate dipped fruit box during birthday month as long as you’ve spent $29 in the past calendar year as a member
Godiva – free birthday chocolate
Hooters – 10 free boneless birthday wings
Ihop – Free shortstack pancakes on your birthday
Krispy Kreme – Free doughnut
Marie Calendar’s – ‘exclusive offer’ for your birthday and wedding anniversary – slice of pie and $5 off your check
Olive Garden – complimentary dessert on your birthday – no sign-up needed
On the Border – “special surprise” on your birthday plus free dessert with purchase of an entree
Pinkberry – Free yogurt if you download the app
Starbucks – Free beverage or food item as a member of Starbucks Rewards
PF Changs – Free dessert or appetizer on your birthday month
Applebees – Free dessert on your birthday when you dine-in, plus if you sign up for their EClub, you receive a coupon for a free entree
Benihana – Free $30 gift certificate redeemable any time during your birthday month
Corner Bakery Cafe – free baked good
El Pollo Loco – Free 2 piece chicken meal or a free chicken tostada salad
Yogurtland – free 3 oz yogurt if you sign up for their rewards
El Torito Grill – Free entree for your birthday plus a free appetizer when you sign-up for their EClub
Jamba Juice – Free smoothie
Johnny Rockets – Free hamburger when you purchase an entree and a drink
Panera Bread – Free pastry
I randomized it so that they aren’t presented in any particular order. To be honest, we usually pick places that are closest to us to save on gas money. I would not recommend driving far just to get a $5 freebie, especially considering the gas prices. You can make it more efficient by going on one endeavor and mapping out the best route to take in order to hit the most number of stops. I prefer to spread them out throughout the month. The best part is that Mike and I are two weeks apart, but our birthdays are in different months. So for some rewards, we overlap and we both get free food. For others, we do a back-to-back trip and split the treat.
When it comes to keeping a low budget, one of the first questions I get asked is how I am able to do so and still eat healthy. Let’s face it. Healthier foods tend to be more expensive. Or at least, that’s how it appears. However, I have proven over the past five years that healthy eating can be achieved with a very low budget! Here I will share my secrets on how to eat healthy on a budget.
But first, have you created your budget? Do you struggle sticking to it? Check out my FREE course on how to create a budgeting tool that works for you and your family.
Healthy Foods Are Expensive is a Myth
Firstly, I would like to debunk the myth that healthy foods cost more money. There is a discerning factor that makes it so, and that is the availability of the foods you are buying. It is more accurate to say that convenient healthy foods are more expensive. Convenient foods include pre-made, pre-packaged, frozen, or bottled foods at the grocery store. It also includes foods that you buy when dining out or at a farmer’s market. Since healthy foods are increasingly popular, the companies that make them can charge more because there is a perceived value associated with them.
However, REAL healthy foods need only take up more time, not more money. The truth is, pre-packaged foods are less healthy than if you made them from scratch. Take any product in the grocery store and look at the ingredient label. If there are big, scientific words on there that you have trouble pronouncing, then I would wager it is less healthy than if you made that same product in your home kitchen.
The first time I noticed this was when I was making my own sourdough bread. Sourdough bread has three ingredients. Flour, Water, Salt. Even the starter that makes it rise is made of flour and water. Yet every ‘healthy’ sourdough bread at my grocery store had complicated, unpronounceable words on their labels that made me wary to eat it.
The second time I noticed this was when we nixed plastic from our home. We wanted to create less waste so we experimented with avoiding buying anything packaged in plastic when we went to the grocery store. If you’ve ever tried this yourself, you would know that the grocery store is an unfriendly place. By doing this we had to make our foods from scratch. We could not buy a majority of snacks (yay for healthy!), frozen foods (yay again!), most dairy products and pre-made sauces. Instead, we had to buy produce and make our own sauces from scratch.
Once we started doing this, I learned how few ingredients it really takes to make a product. I learned that 75% of the ingredients listed on a product label are unnecessary, which begs the question, ‘why do we ingest it?’ I learned the importance of sourcing good ingredients to create the foundation for healthy food. And most importantly, I learned that healthy food is not expensive. Only pre-made industrialized food is.
Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget
With that myth debunked, here are more than ten ways to eat healthy on a budget.
Avoid dining out.
This is our number one way to stay on a budget. A co-worker once told me that him and his wife spent $800 a month dining out. If you are shocked at that number, then you would be devastated to hear that some millennials I know spend over $1000 a month on dining out. If you want to be frugal, limit dining out to a minimum. The shocking truth is that making your own food from whole, simple ingredients is healthier than some ‘healthy’ restaurant items out there. And it will be a much cheaper, too!
Avoid pre-packaged foods.
Pre-packaged foods include chips, snacks, granola bars, frozen foods, sauces and dips, and anything already cooked and prepared. All of these foods will be priced higher. Think of it as a convenience fee. These foods will also have unnecessary ingredients that our bodies do not need. Have you ever eaten these things and not felt satiated? A lot of these foods contain empty carbs or are heavy in salt, both of which makes us want to eat more and buy more. And even though they are deemed healthy, if the ingredient label is complicated, I would just skip it. I prefer to control what I ingest anyway.
Avoid buying packaged snacks.
Have you noticed that the foods that call out to you at a grocery store are generally unhealthy snack items? When I was in college, I ingrained it into my mind that snacks are unnecessary. I did this to cut my spending to $25 a week. I convinced myself that snacks are a waste of money, because they are empty carbs that do not nourish my body. They taste good, sure. But instead of helping support me, it actually is bad for my health.
I always bring it back to health because, as a medical professional, I know how expensive medical treatments are. Eating unhealthy snacks today not only makes me spend money now, but also in the future when an unhealthy body may lead to more health problems, which require treatment. Even the snacks that claim they are healthy contain a long ingredient list with words I can’t pronounce.
As always, go back to the ingredient label. If there’s anything unnatural sounding on there, I would question how healthy the food really is. When it comes to snacking, I opt for whole foods such as nuts, fruits, or veggies with a home-made hummus dip.
On the heels of the previous two sections, I just want to drive the moral of the story home. Avoid pre-packaged stuff. One of the ways to do that is to avoid buying any plastic when grocery shopping. It will cut out a lot of options. But it will also point you towards the more healthy food choices.
Mike and I get asked a lot how we are able to maintain our weights. This was back in our late twenties when we did not work out. We joked and said we followed a simple diet plan – it was called the ZERO-PLASTIC diet. Do you know that 80% of your physique is based on what you eat, and only 20% is based on your physical activities? We stayed skinny because we were avoiding plastic waste. Which meant we were forced to make our foods from scratch, without preservatives, high amounts of sugar or much salt!. Since my thirties, I have started to work out too, but I don’t really attribute my skinniness to that. It’s what we eat that counts!
We grew up consuming a lot of dairy. Our parents told us to drink milk for good bone health and growth. We ate cereal and grilled cheese, had milk with our cookies, and watched as our favorite celebrity doused their upper lip in ‘Got Milk?’ ads. However, we now know that dairy isn’t exactly good for our gut health. We are the only species that drinks another species’ milk. Our guts are not evolutionarily developed to process cow’s milk and it wasn’t until the Industrialized Revolution that we started to drink a lot of it. This explains why many of us feel discomfort, bloated, or gassy after having dairy. Some of us are lactose-intolerant altogether. Avoiding dairy is good news for your wallet as it is one of the most costly items you can buy at the market and it doesn’t even have a long shelf-life.
Less red meat, same protein.
Some red meats are more difficult for our guts to digest than others. I started to eat less meat in my 30’s after learning that red meat tends to stick around (up to 48 hours) after ingestion. I felt more energetic, lighter, and comfortable when I significantly reduced my meat diet.
However, meat has it’s important qualities too so we shouldn’t get rid of it all. The protein structure of meats provide necessary collagen which our bodies significantly make less of as we age. If you don’t want to eat meat, I would still suggest making broths from meat bones and carcass to drink. You’re skin will really thank you! Meat is also touted for being high in protein. Even if you eat less meat, I recommend eating the same amount of protein. Substitutes to red meat include fish, beans, legumes, tofu and eggs.
Personally, once I switched to these substitutes, I really did not crave much meat anymore. I found meat to be less flavorful than these other options. But also, these alternatives are way kinder to my bank account. Fish might be more expensive than meat, but I eat way less of it. Alternating with beans, legumes and tofu makes it worth it.
Opt for whole ingredients.
The more whole an ingredient is, the cheaper it will be. I learned this when I started baking bread and bought a mill for my bakery. The mill turns grain into flour. While I always thought flour was cheap, I realized how much cheaper it was to buy grain! Now, not everyone has a mill, but let’s take the example of tomatoes. Whole tomatoes are cheaper than canned tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, or tomato sauce. Whole heads of lettuce are cheaper than the pre-washed, pre-cut, pre-packaged tub. Dried beans are cheaper than canned beans. Well, you get the picture. In general, buying whole ingredients are cheaper, because you are not paying for the convenience of having it partly prepared.
Make foods from scratch.
Making foods from scratch can save you a lot of money. Once again, it’s that convenience fee you are paying for. I can make a loaf of gut-friendly, amazing sourdough bread for $1. This same loaf sells at a farmer’s market for $10! We can also make a tub of guacamole for $2.50, but a small serving of guac and chips at a restaurant costs $5-$8. Even spaghetti sauce is pricey! A jar of tomato sauce now runs for $5-$8. But for the same price, Mike and I can batch produce 8 jars of tomato sauce.
My favorite savings is on broth. We used to pay $5 for boxed broth, but now we just throw left over veggies, meats, and bones into water in our crockpot and let it simmer for 8 hours to get the most delicious and healthy broths!
Our plight to reduce plastic waste led us to the realization that the convenience really does comes at a premium. To our delight, we found that we have been eating better tasting and healthier foods simply by making foods from scratch!
Cook simple meals.
This one is for all the people out there looking to experiment and make fancy meals at home. While that is super fun (we love doing that too!), it is not necessarily sustainable. When I go online and look for recipes, I see a plethora of complicated, difficult, but pretty posts. I think that Instagram has changed the way we consume food, in that the image of food has taken center-stage.
Unfortunately, these same recipes require one-off ingredients, fancy garnishes, and a bit of decor. When did food get so… fashionable? Granted, we do make fancy meals on special occasions. But after doing this for a long time (I have been eating with a budget since my early 20’s!), my one advice is to keep it simple.
Food should be nourishing. It should energize us and help our bodies thrive during the day. It can taste good, sure, but it doesn’t have to be Michelin Star status. Foods are made to look good online because looking good sells people on making that particular recipe or dining at that restaurant. But in the home kitchen, it doesn’t really have to look that good.
I watch the way my mom prepares meals. This year, in fact, I have made it a point to learn one traditional Filipina recipe from my mom every month. Her recipes are memorized, and she does not look at cookbooks. The reason is because the ingredients are simple and few. The rightness of the recipe comes from taste. ‘Timpla‘ is a tagalog word that means ‘mixture’. She just bases the doneness of her cooking based on the taste of the ‘timpla‘. It’s such a common expression in cooking that she uses it as a verb sometimes too.
So you see, cooking simple meals not only limits the number of ingredients you have to buy, but also the stress involved with cooking. My favorite things to cook are meals that don’t need much editing of natural ingredients. I also like to toss together things (quite literally) in a bowl or pot. I like stews left on to simmer, or veggies that I throw into the ovens for long periods of time. It lets me get other things done while dinner cooks.
Volunteer at a farm or subscribe to a farm.
I have the privilege of living in a community with a few community farms. The residents can volunteer to work at the farms as often as they want (up to four days a week!) and each time they do, they can opt to harvest food. I try to volunteer once a week and gather the seasonal produce from there in order to cut our grocery bill. Each week, I harvest about 10 pounds of produce. I know this is not available to everyone but there are farms all around. Prior to working at our community farm, we were subscribed to receiving a farm box for $25 a week. We received local seasonal fruits and veggies and used that instead to cook with. There have been some weeks where all we needed to buy was the protein.
Create a list before going to the grocery store.
Have you ever gone to the groceries to buy a handful of things only to walk out with a full cart? This is most likely because you did not have a dedicated list. The grocery store is like any other store. Sometimes, it gets you to shop. I like to go in with a list so that I remain focused during my shopping. I know exactly what I need and go directly to the aisles that contain those needs. This way, I avoid meandering down rows that contain foods I might also want. My trick to avoiding extra is to get the shopping done, and then get out of there.
Never shop hungry.
My final advice is my most important. Never shop hungry. If I shop hungry, I spend more and will usually gravitate towards the salty, sugary, ‘yummy’ addictive foods. It’s amazing how much hunger can trigger our survival mode in our brains. This is a part of our evolution and is difficult to overcome. If you think about it, food has only been readily available in large quantities to our species for maybe 100 years. Our parents and grandparents still went through times of not having enough food for the family. Evolutionarily speaking, we still have a strong instinct to grab the saltiest, sugariest foods when we feel hungry. So eat something before doing your groceries.
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Prior to the pandemic, I had made student loans my identity, hence the name of this blog. That is the reason why I initially started to live a frugal life. I figured, accepting my surmounting student debt, face-on instead of running away from it, would make it easier. I was commended many times over for being courageous and sharing my story. The truth of the matter was, I was just hoping I could reign it in and control it before it did me.
Sometimes though, when you take a part of your life and make it the definition of yourself, it could make you forget the other bits of you. I was fiery, yes, but so was it. I was fighting fire with fire, and I can’t be sure who was winning.
That’s what the pandemic gifted me. It deferred student loan repayment (it’s been almost a two year stint now) and thereby took away the identity that was eating me alive from the inside. These past two years have been a blessing. I’ve not only rediscovered the “old me” but I also was able to shed negative bits of the “new me”. It gave me the space to be able to step back (from everything) and to re-evaluate which parts I wanted to keep. It gave me options.
But the student loans gave me good things, too. And those, I chose to keep. It taught me how to live a frugal life. There are things a frugal life affords you that rich people will never find.
“Some day in the future the West will undoubtedly welcome this magnificent gift. Muji can alternatively be called simplicity. In religious terms it might be liked to the virtue of honest poverty, a poverty that is replete with riches. The beatuy of muji is the beauty of poverty. Roughness and quiet appreciation characterize this beauty.”
I discovered the art of mindful living and the perks of simplicity. I learned the skill of decluttering and giving gratitude. These parts of frugal living I did not abandon.
So one of the negative things about the student loan deferral is this stagnant limbo I’ve been in these past two years. With the space I have now, it’s quite easy to forgo frugality. The pressure to pinch pennies has slackened. The success rate isn’t as high. But that’s the thing about frugal living. It has room for grace.
Frugal living does not mean deprivation. Neither is it black or white. It is a practice in reigning in it, just a bit, to make room for what matters more. Frugal living is another aspect of mindfulness, intentionality, simplicity, and minimalism. Those things go hand-in-hand and compliment one another, without the need to be extreme.
For those who are on the fence about trying it, why not take a it a step at a time? I find that Marie Kondo was on to something. The easiest thing to start with is clothes. Try to declutter your entire clothing closet, then set a challenge to not add anything back for 6 months. Trust me, after all that hard work, you won’t want to anyway! It’s a great place to start, because we all have too much clothes. It’s not something you would miss. Then challenge yourself little by little, day by day. Frugal living actually ends up being fun.
At our household, we are always looking for ways to save money. One of the things we do is lower the electricity bill. There are many ways to cut down on the electricity bill without having to sacrifice comfort. It just takes a little planning, a little compromise, and a little mindfulness. Simple changes in daily habits really make a big difference, so never assume that one action makes too small a difference. Per usual, I would recommend setting this one up as a month-long frugal challenge. Try to adopt as many of these tips and see how low you can get your electricity bill!
Ways to Lower the Electricity Bill
Turn off unnecessary lights.
When the house has holiday lights on, we keep the rest of the lights off. The soft glow of the Christmas tree is enough to read a book by.
Use natural light whenever possible. I throw open the blinds the minute I wake up to allow natural light in. During the day, all doors are kept open to dissipate light into areas of the home with less windows.
Use task lighting as much as possible. Task lights use up less electricity than turning on the ceiling lights in a room. (This one is a favorite). I also really love under-counter lights in the kitchen. You can rig a set easily under your kitchen cupboards.
Install dimmers on your lights. We have a dimmer on all the important lights, including the bedroom, living room, and guest room.
Opt for better bulbs. LED is great!
Use candles. I love writing and reading by candlelight. One birthday, Mike gifted me a handful of candlesticks. I love using them with this Notary Ceramics candle holder.
Invest in good insulation in the doorways and windows.
Turn off AC/the heater when not at home.
Use a fan instead of an AC.
Layer up instead of turning on the heat.
Lower the thermostat. Lowering the thermostat by 2 degrees Fahrenheit can lower the electricity bill by 5%!
Allow daylight to warm up the house during the day. We see a difference in temperature as big as 10 degrees Fahrenheit! This is especially useful in the winter.
Close the drapes and blinds to prevent heat from escaping in the evenings. This will keep the house warmer during the day.
Keep up with replacing air filters for AC.
Use a programmable thermostat.
Take a quick shower. If possible, take a shower in cold water. We have an electric water heater so any hot water uses up electricity.
Turn off the water when shaving, brushing your teeth, or lathering with soap in the shower.
Fix any leaky faucets.
Unplug unused electronics. Use a power strip to plug in all electronics in the same area. Turn off the power strip when they are not in use. For example, we have a power strip in our media console, as well as in Mike’s office. This one is pretty AND affordable!
Don’t run the TV in the background. Some people love background noise. Luckily, I absolutely abhor it. I find it too distracting. While I can’t speak for the value of having a TV on in the background (some swear by it!), I can definitely say you’ll save more money if you turn the TV off.
The same tip goes for keeping the TV on for aesthetics. We own Samsung’s 65″ Frame TV and I love that it looks like a picture frame when you keep a still image on it. But we do NOT leave it on ALL day long. In fact, our Frame TV automatically turns off within a few minutes of not sensing movement in the room. I will turn it on to photograph the space, but even with guests around, most of the time the TV is actually off!
Opt for doing analog activities over digital ones. Save electricity by playing outside instead of playing video games, reading a book instead of reading on the laptop, or playing a boardgame instead of watching TV.
Reduce heat in the kitchen in the summer months by grilling outdoors. This will reduce your need to use AC. Mike gifted me an Ooni Koda 16 Pizza Oven for Christmas. I will be using it on our balcony for more than just pizza all summer long. It can grill meats and veggies on a cast iron, as well as bake sourdough bread. We chose the Koda 16 because it is gas powered and for its larger size. The Koda 12 can do the same thing for cheaper, as well as take up less real estate, but the pizzas are tiny!
When heating up food on the stove, add a lid which will help heat it up faster.
Keep the oven doors closed until the last minute.
Avoid broiling food. Broiling is the most energy inefficient cooking method. If there is an alternative, do that instead.
Use the toaster oven instead of the oven. My Balmuda toaster oven pretty does everything my oven could. Since it is a smaller space, there is no need to waste time pre-heating. I use it to make individual servings of garlic bread, when I bake cookies, small servings of casserole, and more. This toaster is seriously amazing! My review on why I love the Balmuda toaster can be read here.
Declutter the fridge. This might sound like an odd one, but the efficiency of your fridge depends on the ability of the air inside to circulate. It may be impeded when the fridge is very full!
Meal prep and cook all the meals in one day. By doing so, you will have to preheat appliances less. It also makes the week way easier!
Wash laundry with cold water. It will be just as clean, promise!
Hang dry the laundry. We first came across this on our trip to New Zealand, and then again in Australia, Spain, and Mexico. The rest of the world does it, why don’t we? By the way, the California Energy Commission says that a dryer uses up 6% of a home’s electricity bill. WOW!
Wash full loads of laundry. I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t? Do the same with the dishwasher.
Skip the heat dry function on the dishwasher. I just run ours on wash, and then open the door afterward to allow the dishes to air dry.
Install solar panels. We just moved into our new home in November and thankfully own our own roof! We are installing Tesla panels early 2021 to reduce our electricity bill as well as become more environmentally friendly.
Know your electric company’s Residential T.O.U. (Time of Use). Our electric company is SDG&E. They have different TOUs and charge different rates for each time period. The cheapest rate per kWh is between 12pm to 6am, when electricity use is “Super-Off Peak”. The most expensive rates occur between 4pm and 9pm, when electricity usage is “On-Peak”. Lastly, the middle ground, or “Off-Peak” Hours are from 6am to 4pm, and from 9pm to 12pm. This means that we are better off running the heat at night between 12pm and 6pm. We do our laundry and take showers during the day, between 6am and 4pm. We cook meals and meal prep before 4pm if possible. And we run the dishwasher after 9pm.
This barely grazes the surface but I hope you find ideas in this post. I hope it helps you in your frugal challenge to reduce your energy bill. If you have other ideas, please share with the community!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
It has been 2.5 years since we moved into our home and we’ve finally got ourselves a closet! You read that right. There are no doors inside our home (not even to the bedroom or the bathroom) and the only closet we own lies on the first floor (which we rent out), tucked underneath a stairwell. Home projects, like all other things in my life, take time. Especially when we insist on doing upgrades ourselves. They also imbue more meaning. I remember the day we bought this space and Mike helped my cousin patch walls and remove wood flooring. I remember my 31st birthday which was spent painting our bathroom an egret white with my parents. I remember that Spring day that Mike and I laid down plastic tiles and fake grass on our balcony, not knowing how long we would be kept indoors … not knowing it would be a year later, and we’d still be wondering. All these things are not only labors of love, but considered essential work for a life of practicality, frugality, and intentionality.
I am a firm believer in the importance of going through the slog, so that we might grow. And rather than paying someone to inlay an undoubtedly beautiful custom wardrobe, we prefer to pinch our pennies and make wishes with our eyes shut tight – so as to be free from the 9-5 grind that most people call life. I mean, decisions such as these are the reasons why I was able to quit a job that I disliked without any future job in place during a pandemic, or why I can afford to work two days a week in my profession in order to pursue other interests such as baking, dog-sitting, and writing.
Despite my exuberance around its inception, it is, after all, just a closet.
All of this to say that the pride I feel from finally having a closet comes from the very days in which I held out “just a little longer” to find the solution that sat well with my values – a solution that was frugal, environmental, practical, and simple. One could never know the would-have-been but I would wager that if I hired a contractor to build me a more beautiful wardrobe inlaid into that tiny crevice behind the showerhead, I might have felt a hint of anti-climactic disappointment or regret at our hard-earned dollars being spent.
When you wait for 2.5 years for the solution that you feel is right in your heart, there is no space left for “what-ifs”. You’ve already imagined and therefore lived out in your mind the alternatives. The right things come to you at the right time. I am a believer in that, too.
This project cost me $149 – which was the cost of the Tarva dresser from Ikea. The labor was donated by me and Mike. We took out the existing built-in cabinet using hammer, screw-driver, and little force. The wall behind it was rough, and the floor was disgusting, a collection of dead bugs, cat litter, and dust bunnies. None of them were a match for my favorite cleaning tool – this vacuum, which is the most expensive and worthy appliance I have ever purchased. Now that the dresser is in place elevated by some legs, I live in peace knowing that I can vacuum the floor underneath it. Mike sanded the walls and added plaster before repainting it our beloved egret white. We had to remove a bit of baseboard, but other than that, the process was easy going and took perhaps 5 hours, including building the dresser from scratch.
In the meantime, these were some of the swoon-worthy dressers I dreamt of, but none of them ended up being the one.
I find that financial literacy is quite low for people in their early 20’s and 30’s. This is not a fault of their own but rather, a cultural failure that presents us all with opportunity for improvement. As a society, we do not openly embrace talk about money. In our educational institutions, we do not teach young children about finance. Within our media channels, we promote a consumerist lifestyle. Culturally speaking, we value hard work, status symbols and the physical earning of money over the actual growth of financial wealth.
I was once young too. I was financially illiterate. I obliterated my savings, worked multiple jobs, and took out more than half a million dollars in debt trying to chase the American dream. Only now, in my early thirties, am I realizing that the short-comings of my financial education is the cause of my financial mistakes. We learn these things later than we should.
The success of young people greatly depend on our ability to talk about money. So I am now talking about it.
In order to combat this information gap, I wanted to share five finance tips with our young population.
Top 5 Things Young People Should Do To Get Ahead in Finance
Master Budgeting Skills. It doesn’t matter how much money you make if you don’t know how to budget. You could make a million dollars but if you spend a million dollars, you aren’t any richer. In my opinion, knowing how to control the outflow of money is more important than increasing income. Mastering a budget is the first step to financial independence because you learn how to manage your cash flow. Without this control, everything else is irrelevant. Budgeting requires an awareness of your spending. It’s like losing weight. The first step to being healthier is knowing how many calories are being eaten and burned. Without monitoring what goes in and out, there is no chance for improvement. Mastering a budget is mastering your self-discipline around spending. But it takes a lot of practice and work. So start early and make the habit stick! I wrote an entire course on how to build a budgeting tool that works and published it for FREE to help others get started.
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Learn how to flex those frugal muscles. Being financially savvy requires the same diligence and work as being physically strong. Just like real muscles, frugal muscles can grow – with practice. Learn how to be frugal. Realize that not everything needs to be bought. There are many alternatives to spending! For example, try skipping the spin or yoga class and run outdoors or go on a hike. Instead of dining out, try cooking a new recipe. Want to read a book? Look for it at the library. Be creative in finding ways to get what you want for free. Try making things instead of buying them. Learn the art of the trade. And when all else fails, find the beauty in living without. Remember, everything you think you need you were once without, and you were just fine. It all comes down to understanding that every clutter you own used to be money and every dollar you spend used to be free time. Here are a few frugal challenges to get the ball rolling.
Choose a social circle that will uplift you financially. Sometimes, when we tell others that we want to opt out of brunch or happy hour because we are trying to save money, we get a negative reaction. People can get defensive when you turn them down in favor of saving yourself a couple bucks. Trust me, I have been there. However, there is a saying that I love to preach. You are only as good as the five people that you spend the most time with. You will have an easier time on your financial journey if you have like-minded people around you to celebrate your wins. These are people who will motivate you to save, as well as support you when times get tough. If you have difficulty setting boundaries, perhaps this is a good place to start.
Invest in yourself before anything else. I am not entirely against spending. I believe that spending on things that add value to your life is important. However, you want to make sure you invest in yourself before anything else. When I refer to investments, I am not referring to a car or a home. I am referring to investing in things such as continuing education, management skills, mental health, physical health, relationships and personal time. After you’ve invested in yourself, you may see that informational wealth and good health can lead to financial growth. And THEN you can think about investing in other things.
Start planning for retirement now. It is best to start planning for retirement as soon as possible. Due to the exponential potential of retirement funds, early starters will have an advantage over those who wait until they are in their 30’s or 40’s. If possible, maximize your 401k and get your company match. If you have extra money, I would recommend funding a ROTH IRA on top of that. If you have additional income, you can invest it in the market, get into real estate, or for the most conservative, keep it in a high yield savings account to earn interest. Make money work for you, instead of working for your money. Those who act now will go through the difficult parts in their youth but will have an easier time as they age. And vice versa. The unwillingness to act could lead to a very difficult financial future. If you are in your 30’s or 40’s, there is no use crying over spilled milk and lost time. It is not too late for you, but start TODAY.
These are just the basics but all of these things will help create a strong foundation for the decades to come. Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask, be willing to listen, keep an open mind, and constantly seek information. That, in itself, is another level of wealth.
My experience in avid de-cluttering has led me to a solution that deals with the stockpile of items that no longer add value to my life, while making money from them. HOW?I now re-sell everything I de-clutter so that instead of feeling a sense of loss, I make a financial profit. It is seriously a great motivator to get rid of stuff and allows you to say goodbye to things with a positive note. Additionally, it prolongs the life of your used and unwanted goods, keeping them out of landfills for a while longer. Lastly, I am sure that others who buy your gently used goods at a discount appreciate the financial help you provide them. With all of the good the act of re-selling does to both you, your environment, and others, I wanted to share how I guarantee a successful sale on one of my favorite platforms – Craigslist – in the hopes that some people may begin to do the same!
Where I Started
Initially, when I started the de-cluttering process, the amount of stuff that I decided I didn’t need was over-whelming. It was SO MUCH STUFF that even hauling it to the Goodwill Store was a hassle. When I realized that Goodwill wasn’t exactly making good use of my things, I started to bring it to my parent’s house so that they may be shipped to my home country. However, a few months later, I visited my parents only to find my stuff still sitting in the garage for “just-in-case”. So then there was the debacle between my parents and I and the dilemma I faced about burdening them with even more things.
Where I Am At Now
Thankfully, I eventually reached a point where I simply didn’t own much. My de-cluttering feats now result in only a handful of items at a time, which make them much easier to find homes for. These days, everything I de-clutter, I sell, sometimes on Poshmark and OfferUp, but mostly on Craigslist. I have yet to have an item that I cannot successfully sell. Over the past year, we made over $1,500 selling our stuff on Craigslist. Usually, we use that money to buy our next item, thereby essentially creating a cycle wherein we adopt new things without spending more money.
It isn’t rocket science, and I can assume most people have dealt with Craigslist by now, but here are a few of my own tips on how to have great success with this platform!
Start with things that hold value. We are minimalists. Which means what we buy holds value, and in my recent years, I have made an effort to buy things that retain their value, too. There are certain brands that people want. Brands such as Restoration Hardware are coveted and people are willing to pay good money for them. I once sold a broken lamp from Restoration Hardware at 50% of the buying price, which was amazing because I had originally bought it at 50% OFF whilst using a gift card someone had given us for our wedding. So in that scenario, we made money. Another example was Mike’s desk, which was also Restoration Hardware. We resold it at $1k, and used it to pay for a Herman Miller Sit-Stand Nevi Desk when it was on sale at DesignWithinReach for under $1k. We made money with that, too. Our East Fork Pottery which I rave about constantly is a product that actually gains value. Try googling East Fork on Ebay or Poshmark and see how much they sell. I bet you’d be surprised. Each item resells around $65-85! Likewise, Elizabeth Suzann clothing is ethical clothing that gains value and most people pay more for these them used than new. Both of these brands resell well because they are made in limited quantities. Both are decent buys under my book, if you really do need pottery or clothes. If you start with a good buy, you’ll end with a good sale. Regardless…
Clean all items you wish to sell. Making the item appear as clean and new as possible will really help your chances of selling the item. People want things that are in good condition and working order. If someone comes across two identical products, they will 100% choose the newer-looking one, not necessarily the newer one. So do take time to polish and shine, no matter how old your item is.
Take good photos. I know this sounds silly, but a picture is worth a thousand words and I cannot tell you how many times I quickly dismiss an item because it isn’t photographed esthetically. You may call me vain but if I am doing it, then other people are too. All the things I post are photographed in good natural lighting with a camera (not a phone). Most of the time, they are staged. I can attest to the fact that the best photographed sell the fastest. Take the time to create good photos that will sell your stuff for you. At the same time, be honest with your photography. Acknowledging the flaws of your piece will save you time (and time IS money!) because you will only attract buyers who knowingly wants your item, flaws and all. If an item has scuff marks or an article of clothing has pilling, I take photos of the defects with a note to the buyer.
Determine Pricing. This is the hardest part. I have discovered that most owners, myself included, tend to over-value their stuff. They remember its original cost and don’t want to be at a loss. Unfortunately, the hard truth of the matter is that once an item is used, it depreciates in value significantly. If you wish to sell on Craigslist, you need to keep an open mind on the price. A way you can combat this is to decide on a price that you wish to sell at. Then list the item at an even higher-price to increase the perceived value of the item to potential buyers. Most Craigslist buyers will haggle, so this will account for that. Do not be afraid to haggle back. Explain to them why your item is worth more. Be a salesperson and try to show them how worthy your piece is. And if all else fails…
Be open to reducing the price. Typically, I will hold out for at least a month before entertaining a price that is below my asking. For those who make offers below, I tell them that I will reach back out to them in the future if it doesn’t sell at my asking price. Most times, one of them will still be interested after a month. Being open to reducing the price allows you to still make the sale, which is better than holding on to something you don’t plan on using again anyway. One way I make peace with reducing the price is by using logical reasoning. Currently, my item isn’t being used and I am not making money from it. A little bit of money now is better than nothing, especially since I can invest that money in something and watch it grow. An item sitting in the back of my closet could never make money for me. Plus, I like to think that I am helping someone else by giving them the discount they are seeking. If they reached out to me, then it’s obvious they want my stuff more than I do. What’s the point of being selfish? It would just be a lose-lose scenario.
Categorize the item properly. The category you choose is important because it draws the correct audience. I have found that some categories sell better than others. For example, furniture and home goods sell really well on Craigslist. For clothing, I tend to sell at Poshmark instead, which is also a great resource for home accessories. Either way, if you fail to categorize correctly, you will miss out on potential buyers.
Use text that will attract the correct people. I always add the following in my text: the brand, the name of the product, the original price, the current price, the size (if applicable) and a description. I also write what I like about the product and why we are selling. I note its condition as honestly as possible and lastly, I use SEO words such as “vintage”, “industrial”, and “mid-century modern” to hone in on the audience that I want. The text really makes a difference. Lazy one-liner descriptions will not do well.
Repost, repost, repost. When you post your item, Craigslist will send an email with a link that allows you to edit or delete your posting. When you click on this link, there will be another option to repost. I repost once a week, which continually puts my listing at the top. Also, for the best results, repost on a Thursday night or Friday morning. This is when shoppers lurk Craigslist for a weekend pick-up. Time and time again, I will get a few offers after a reposting on a Friday. After the sale, make sure to delete your posting to avoid additional buyers contacting you, thus saving you from wasted time with these unwanted emails (did I mention time is money?)
Make the Sale. Most people are afraid to use Craigslist because of the meeting up part. I am a petite gal and I have never had trouble making a sale. A few things that help. I always tell someone when I am meeting a random stranger to sell something. If I am able to bring someone along, I will. Lastly, I make sure to only accept cash or Venmo payments, never checks. When I do get cash, I use my skills from cashiering in retail to quickly check if the bill is fake or not. Hold the bill up to the light, and look for an invisible face on the bottom left corner that is the same as the face on the bill. I have never had an issue with counterfeit money, or with anyone paying for that matter.
While this all sounds elementary at best, I hope it has provided at least one insight. As more people accumulate more things, the need to be skillful in marketing and re-selling your stuff increases. I am all for “trading-up”. Lastly, I will leave you with the following thoughts:
Newly bought things depreciate in value INSTANTLY.
All the clutter around you used to be MONEY.
The TIME you spend de-cluttering is more valuable than money.
It helps me to think about that the next time I wish to spend money on things. And finally, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. Use this to your advantage two ways.
Sell your trash to buy your treasure, which could be another man’s trash, preventing you from wasting time and money.