Frugal Challenge: No-Dining-Out November

We started our journey to getting our finances in order by reeling in on the spending. There was no other way we would have paid $84,000 in our first year without YNAB! To this day, budgeting continues to be a top priority and really keeps our finances in check. To help with that, we have made being frugal a bit more fun, by creating challenges for ourselves once in a while. In this way, we’ve made saving money into a bit of a game. I am excited to announce this month’s frugal challenge: No-Dining-Out November.

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If you are already on an extreme path to FI, you may already be doing this. Unfortunately, we aren’t as strict about the dining out thing as some. Reason being, we still want to enjoy our younger years, and not sacrifice our freedom now for freedom later. But this month, we will save a couple extra dollars by trying our best not to go out for food.

Typically, we cook about 90% of our meals for the week at home. We will go out about once a week, and most times, it is in celebration of someone’s birthday, or to meet up with families or friends to reconnect over a meal. Before you go running for the hills after my suggestion of giving up dining out completely, let me explain why November is the perfect month to do so.

The explanation goes as follows: Thanksgiving occurs in November. That’s it. Our one saving grace. If you’re like us, this time of year involves gatherings with friends and family aplenty. For example, we have a Friendsgiving event with our closest friends every year hosted at our house. I typically cook and serve a home-made 5 course meal (stay-tuned for what we’ve got up our sleeves this year), and everyone chips in monetarily by paying a small fee ($10-15 per person). On top of that, we have separate Thanksgiving celebrations with my parents, Mr. Debtist’s dad’s side, and Mr. Debtist’s mom’s side. Additionally, I have a Thanksgiving potluck at work. As you can see, November is the perfect opportunity for us to skip on the dining-out while still feasting on amazing food! It gives us opportunities to still meet up with family and friends, and it also has opportunities where we can eat without having to cook the meal ourselves. Plus, Thanksgiving isn’t as hectic as the Christmas season, so with enough planning, it is completely doable to balance work, life, and food.

Helpful Tips:

In moments of true weakness, here are some tips on how to go completely without dining out for a month.

  • First off, decide what constitutes as eating out. For us, even getting coffee or ice cream counts!
  • Get a really devoted, reliable friend to join you on this venture. If you ever feel like dining out, let them know so that they can keep you in line. Maybe take turns cooking for each other. I thankfully have Mr. Debtist for that.
  • Pre-cook some meals and freeze them early on in the month, while your motivations still run high.
  • Every time you feel like dining out and resist, write down the amount of money you saved. When you need a little inspiration, take a look at that piece of paper and count your savings!
  • Avoid the social pressures of dining out. Maybe avoid scrolling through Instagram or swiping through Instastories, to prevent yourself from being tempted by photos that your friends post. It may be that your super expensive dining out habit has more social motives rather than gastronomical.
  • Pack your lunch, but still “go out” with friends. Mr Debtist always packs lunch for work. But that doesn’t mean he sits at his desk by his lonesome when his co-workers go out to eat. He goes with them, packed lunch included! Now, he’s got our roommate doing the same thing! Don’t feel intimidated or embarrassed if you want to eat a packed lunch. You go out with your co-workers to mingle and to relate, not to outperform each other in food spending.
  • Make cooking at home fun! Instead of cooking the same meals that you usually cycle through, take time to try a new recipe together once a week. Leave room for experimentation. Cooking does not always have to be buy the book. Or better yet, simply swing by the farmer’s market and pick up a few items. Challenge each other to make a new recipe using your most recent market finds. Whatever it is that will motivate you to cook at home is good by me.
  • Lastly, just eat! The hungrier you get, the more tempting it will be to get food in the easiest way possible (aka buying it already made for you!). Eating little snacks throughout the day keeps me satiated enough that my tummy isn’t always asking for more. Some voice in your head may be saying that the left-over no longer looks as appetizing as it once did, but once it’s in your stomach, that voice goes away. Remember that we eat to give us energy, to sustain us for what we need to do. We don’t always need to eat to please our egos. Some people eat just to make themselves “feel good”. That kind of thinking won’t get you through this frugal challenge. And I can guarantee you that making yourself your own meal can feel great, too!

A Frugal Approach to Halloween to Make the Holiday A Bit Less Scary

Halloween marks the start of the holidays for us. That’s about the only celebratory sentiment I have towards this holiday. I don’t typically celebrate Halloween at all, except to rejoice that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are just around the corner. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I avoid anything that could even remotely resembles scary. I go so far as to avoid YouTube in October, just in case I see one of those ads for an upcoming horror movies. To be honest, I was not introduced to the concept of Halloween until I moved to the United States at 8 years old, an age nearing when it was time to outgrow playing dress up. Additionally, I’m a DENTIST. So I have never passed out candy in my life, and likely never will. It has helped that we live in a live/work loft, since no children walk along the streets of downtown knocking on the doors of businesses already closed for the evening.

Despite my Grinch-like approach to All Hallows Eve, I understand that there are others who choose to celebrate the holiday. And I’d hate to send the wrong message here, because frugal living does NOT equate to deprivation. There IS a way to enjoy your favorite holiday, whatever it may be, without excess consumption. Hence, a brief guide to a more frugal approach.

Costumes

Create Your Costume

Remember in college, there were Halloween parties to go to, but most of us were broke? I think being poor really does require one to tap into our most creative selves. If my memory serves me, almost every costume at a college Halloween party was home-made. Why not have some fun and re-create those days? I remember one year, I had a witch’s hat and a name tag sticker that said “Hi! My name is Sam!” and I went as a Sam-witch. Another favorite was a classmate carrying around a cereal box and a knife, calling himself a “serial killer“. Cheesy?  Yes. Punny? Absolutely! A conversation starter, at the very least. If you’re interested, here is a list of clever, last minute Halloween costumes.

Borrow A Costume

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As a zero waste advocate, I am all for borrowing! Not only costumes, but everything else, too,  from vacuum cleaners to clothes steamers. Since this is a Halloween post though, let’s talk about borrowing a costume. I may not like Halloween, but there are people who live for this holiday! I have a dental assistant who loves it so much that she goes to multiple parties and wears different costumes to each one. I happened to mention to this particular assistant that I did not have a costume to wear to work, since we were required to dress up for the kids. I inquired if there was a costume I could borrow. She immediately listed off a number of costumes that she had on hand, and we decided that I would go as a pizza slice this year, because I like pizza. It’s that easy. Another assistant of mine mentioned that they were doing the same as I, borrowing their sister’s costume from a previous year. Props for those friend circles who create a chain of borrowed costumes. Gather a group of people and trade amongst each other, to have “new” costumers for multiple years without spending a dime!

Wear a Hand-Me-Down

In line with the previous thought, there are many people who refuse to wear the same costume twice. Offer to take their hand-me-down costume for the following year. If you create a loop with such a friend, you may get a “new” costume from her every Halloween, and she has a way to de-clutter her costumes without throwing them directly to the trash. I would consider that a win-win.

Re-Use the Same Costume Every Year

This is the one advice that I get the most push back on, but I think it’s worth considering. For four years, I wore the same teddy bear costume. For three years prior to that, you could rely on me showing up as Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Part of the reason definitely had to do with the fact that I did not put much thought into Halloween and ended up having to make do with what I already had whenever I would get <s> invitied </s> dragged to a Halloween party. The other part? It saves money!

Decorations

I cringe whenever I walk by houses decorated with all sorts of fake cobwebs and plastic spiders and inflatable black cats and flying witches. Cringe because, firstly, they DO give me the creeps, and secondly, because I think of all that plastic waste. I can guarantee that very few people re-use cobwebs that have been sitting in their bushes for a month. In fact, those fake cobwebs may be intermingled with entirely real cobwebs. Here are a few thoughts I have on decorations.

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Pumpkin on the Porch

I’d like to pose one simple question. Will lack of decoration stop children from trick or treating at your house? I don’t know about you guys, but as a child, even if no decorations were up, I still walked right up to the door with my siblings and tried my best to solicit candy. Call it hopefulness, or ignorance, but children will still want to TRY. So a lack of decoration will not deter a child, unless mom or dad is with them and is telling them to respect the privacy of that one particular home owner. Therefore, the simplest way to decorate your home and signal to little beings that you’ve got candy in store is a single pumpkin on the porch. Okay, or maybe a few pumpkins on the porch, and some in the windowsill. Carved pumpkins optional, the use of its insides non-optional. (Who doesn’t love pumpkin cake?) In fact, when I was young, this was how most houses were decorated. There was no excess consumption of plastic skeletons, and scary moving ghouls. No myriad of plastic webs on the front yard. Plus, kids who trick or treat are only thinking about one thing: The treat! They aren’t judging who’s got the best house on the block. I’m just saying.

YouTube Videos

If a pumpkin on the porch just doesn’t cut it, or if you are looking to be a bit cooler than that, try adding effects using a projector. We happen to have a projector at home, in lieu of a TV, so we could easily point the projector towards the front of our house and play music or an image that we film on repeat. Try projecting Singing Pumpkins or a Zombie Invasion.

Use Yourself as Decoration

Is projected imagery still not enough? Want your house to be really scary? How about using yourself as decoration? This isn’t to comment on your physical appearance, but rather, at your ability to disguise yourself. I remember the days of walking by a porch with a lone monster or ghoulish figure sitting on a wooden stool or chair. Those were the houses that I knew were the scariest, because you never know when the monster would come to life and get you. The bowl of candy is by his feet, or worse, in his lap, and the sugary sweets are calling to your sweet tooth. But is it worth the venture onto that porch? If you are looking to scare little kids with decoration, why not use yourself, dressed up in the scariest possible way? Or get a group of friends and create a themed look.

Au Natural

Lastly, have you noticed that fall decor consists mostly of dead things? How appropriate for Halloween! In addition to pumpkins on the porch, why not gather organic elements and create a house worth visiting? Grab some fallen pine cones on your nightly walking path. We’ve got tons at the park, so you may too. Display them amongst the pumpkins. Gather a bunch of broken twigs and sticks, and tie them together with twine to make witches brooms. Collect some “poisonous” apples and throw into a cauldron or basket. Or better yet, bend the thinner twigs into a wreath, and collect autumn colored leaves to make a fiery statement on your front door. Got paper? Cut out spider webs and bats to hang from the ceiling and walls. A combination of all these natural, bio-degradable, and sustainable elements is enough to make any person want to swing by! Hey, if you have a black cat, maybe he’d like to perch on the window sill all night, too. Who knows?

Frugal Challenge: Don’t Buy Snacks

I am going to be the first to say that I am the least opposed to having a mid-afternoon treat. A firm believer that chocolate fixes all things, you won’t see me denying a cupcake when it’s sitting on the kitchen counter for the taking. My family knows that once you set out the dessert at a holiday gathering, I’m going to be first in line holding an empty plate.

That’s just the problem. It’s difficult to say no to something when it’s taunting you from right underneath your nose. However, it is very easy to pass up on something that you never knew was there. So here is my next, and long-awaited, frugal challenge for the month of October. Stop buying snacks!

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This challenge is not a practice that just recently came about in our household. In fact, it is a habit that we are quite accustomed to. The origin story goes way back to the moment I was diagnosed at age 22 as pre-diabetic, despite the fact that I weighed 100 pounds. You’ve oft heard the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”? Well, it’s true. A skinny, young girl can be diabetic. At 22, my body was doing a great job at metabolizing all the sugars that I was consuming, but it was also already starting to fail. Without getting too extremely technical, having a normal blood sugar level does not mean that your body is not suffering. Your body can be fighting to keep itself healthy by pumping out a TON of insulin to get rid of those sugars, but eventually, your handy dandy pancreas will not be able to keep up with the work load, and it will start to fail. By the time you notice a high blood sugar level, it is already too late. Your body has had enough.

So when I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I knew something had to change. Having been trained to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (yes, I have done that all in the same day… quite frequently), and growing up in a household where snacks can be found in the pantry every single day, I knew that it was my diet that was causing my body to suffer. I was taught that soda was exchangeable with water, and that juice was “healthy”. Every day after school, my mom would require us to eat merienda, which translates to a snack in Tagalog. Unfortunately, the snack list included chips, cookies, cereal, ramen, mac-and-cheese, and more thoroughly processed goods.

I was in my first year of dental school when I cut out sugar from the grocery bill. In doing so, I nixed mostly every snack possible. I not only said goodbye to my beloved cartons of ice cream, but also the chocolate bars and the cookies and the juice. I even cut out most cereals, with the exception of Cheerios (and not the Honey Nut kind). It was here that I first learned that the most efficient way to cut down the grocery bill is to get rid of junk food. I was grocery shopping for Mike and I, swimming in student debt, and I proposed that we limit our combined grocery bill to $50 a week, a rule which we still stick to to this day. $50 covered at least six days worth of breakfast, lunch, AND dinner for two. That’s how I got through dental school. But that means our limitations couldn’t stop at sugar. We also cut out chips, frozen fries, pizza pockets … even cheese and crackers.

Once we did that, we realized that $50 a week was completely doable. And I am not talking about eating spam or peanut butter sandwiches every day. I am referring to decent, home-cooked meals that taste better than going out to eat! Off course, there are many more perks to cutting out snacks than simply hitting a grocery budget. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should cut out snacks, in general.

TOP 5 REASONS TO CUT OUT SNACKS

  1. Decrease spending. Have you noticed that snacks cost so much for what you get? A protein bar for a few dollars?! A box of fruit roll ups for $5?! You’re practically paying top dollar for useless carbs that will shorten your life span or increase the chances of you needing to pay for medical bills to treat underlying conditions because of unhealthy food choices during your hay day. When you put it that way, all of this pointless eating costs more than the food itself. You may want to cut out snacks to decrease overall spending, for now and for the future.
  2. Cut down on sugar. In case you haven’t heard, all processed foods contain tons of added sugar. It doesn’t matter if they sell it in the form of “agave sugar“, it is still processed sugar that is unnecessary. Cutting down sugar was my number one reason to cut down on snacks. But there may be other reasons as well..
  3. Cut down on cholesterol. My extended family has a history of high cholesterol. When I think about how much salt lies in my once most favorite snacks (ie: Cheetos, Ruffles, French Fries, Ramen, etc), I can feel my arteries clogging up. Decreasing snacks can really do a body good.
  4. Become more productive. Let’s face it. A majority of us use snacks as a means to distract us from work. I remember the days when I needed to study for a test, and suddenly, my mind focuses on food when it should be focusing on the textbooks in front of me. How often do people at work take “snack-breaks”? Work-at-home-bloggers, you know what I am talking about. When I cut out snacks, I find that I eat more regularly. Three meals a day at approximately the same time. I stop “craving” a lot of things, which allow me to focus on my work, whether that’s dentistry or blogging.
  5. Help planet Earth. A majority of snacks are packaged in plastic. When we cut out plastic from our grocery list, we were already primed for success, because we have been cutting out snacks for a few years. Think about it. Individually packaged candies, bags of chips and cookies, even popcorn is in a paper bag wrapped in a plastic bag! We cut out frozen foods completely, as well as jugs of orange juice and bottles of soda. We aren’t only helping our bodies, but we are also helping the planet too.

Off course, there are many more reasons not to eat snacks. But these, for me, are my top five. So try it out for the month of October! Extend it past your grocery list and avoid buying snacks at all times. Do you need that mid-day coffee from Starbucks, or that extra bag of chips from the gas station to satisfy you during the commute home? If you do go out for dinner, is it necessary to get the appetizer and the dessert? Or a cup of soda, even though it’s unlimited re-fill? I know that at first, habits like these are hard to ditch. But try it for a month, and see how much you actually save. You may be extremely surprised, in a good way.

 

Dear College Kid: Graduate from Undergrad in Three Years and Save $$$

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Are you in an undergraduate program trying to plan what classes to take? Or better yet, are you a high-schooler, looking far ahead into your future, trying to figure ways to save? Here’s some advice:

Try to graduate in three years or less, and save $$$!

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The first step: Stop the Negativity!

You may be saying to yourself some of the following negative self-talk, but I want to address them now and talk you out of that nonsense. Nip it in the bud, so to speak.

Avoid the following negative thoughts:

  • “Graduating in three years requires a special program, which my school does not have.” Not true at all! I myself graduated from a four year undergraduate college, in a three year span of time. All you need to do is hit your particular program’s requirements, and that’s it! Just make sure to plan ahead.
  • “Only Einsteins and nerds finish early because you need to be very smart in order to graduate in three years or less.”  You need to be very organized to finish early, not necessarily smart. It may require a bit more effort, but it does not mean that some people are born with the ability to do this and others are not. Everyone should at least try. If you don’t end up finishing in three years, you should be just as proud to finish in three years and one quarter. Every little bit that you shave off of your schooling counts!
  • “Graduating early means I won’t have my FULL college experience! I will miss out on some of the fun my friends are having.” Actually, quite the opposite! Finishing school in three years freed up that last year when all my other friends were still in school. It gave me the chance to work three jobs, and I had a more flexible schedule than my friends who were still in college! While they had to plan for tests and study for exams, I was able to move my work schedules around to make time for lunch dates, or hang out nights. If anything, I was able to experience MORE than they did!
  • “What difference does an extra year make? Shouldn’t I just take classes that I am interested in or that I enjoy FOR FUN while I’m at it? What’s another couple of thousands of dollars?” If I could kick my young self for having this kind of mentality, I would. Back then, I did not understand the value of compounding interest. I did not have a sense of the value of time. I did not realize that something so small now, can make such a big difference later. The money you save from finishing undergrad early can be invested into something that will give you a higher return over time, rather than be taken out as a loan that will be charged interest over time. Instead of losing money, you could be earning money. Time is on your side, and investing early is the way to go!

Ways To Graduate Early

There were many things that I did to allow me to graduate one year early. If I had a do-over, I would do even MORE, to try to shave off a little bit more time. Here are some tips!

  • Take as many AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Bachelaureate) courses in high school as you can. I did the work in high – school. I took 11 AP courses in high-school. The great thing about these is that some colleges accept certain AP classes as credit towards general education college courses! I entered my first year of college as a “sophomore” and had first choice in which courses I wanted to take, which made it even easier to plan ahead!
  • Plan your course of action. When I entered college, I was given a list of classes that I was required to take in order to graduate early. I kept that list throughout my whole college career and when it came time to choose classes, I would simply go through the list and find classes that I wanted to take but were also required. It wasn’t until my final trimester (we were on the trimester system) that I took a class that was not a requirement, for fun. Why did I do that? Because it gave me the units I needed to be considered a full-time student, which had a flat rate and which actually made the tuition cheaper than if I paid per unit to be a part-time student. Go figure!
  • Take as many units as you can handle. The minimum units you need to be considered a full time student was 12 units. You can likely graduate in four years taking 12-15 units a trimester. But I had other plans. I was taking 16-20 units a trimester, and one particular trimester, I believe I took 22 units. The exception was my final trimester, where I took only 12 units, the minimum to be a full -time student.
  • Stay focused. You are here for SCHOOL. The biggest excuse I heard recited to not take more than 12 units at a time was that early twenty-somethings want to enjoy life. They don’t want to be focused on JUST school work. They want to have time to go to parties, hang out with their friends, make new experiences. But you are at college for school. Focusing on that doesn’t mean you won’t get those new experiences, or have a good time.
  • Don’t listen to the naysayers. When I told others that I was going to finish college early, there was a lot of pushback. In the early stages, I had a lot of people telling me it would be difficult to do, that I would stress myself out too much and hate college all-together. When that didn’t happen, they said that I was missing out. As it got closer towards the end of my college career, I started having people trying to convince me to stay. “Just take classes for fun!” To which I replied, “I’d rather live life, for fun.” Don’t listen to the naysayers who think you can’t do it. Don’t listen to people trying to convince you you’re missing out. And definitely don’t listen to those who try to convince you to stay even longer, and spend more money or take additional loans. The person you should be living life for is yourself, and your future self will thank you.

If you need further convincing, maybe math will do the trick.

Tuition Costs Saved by Graduating in 3 Years: $8,000

Additional Money Earned by Working 3 Jobs in the Final Year: $18,000

The Difference: $26,000, which I funneled into student loans and credit card debt. 

Hope this helps kick ya in the rear and get you faster towards getting out!

Sincerely,

TheDebtist

 

 

Frugal Challenge: Get Rid of as Many Subscriptions as Possible + Exciting News!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Subscriptions are the bane of my frugal existence. Monthly recurring fees for a product is a consistent way to continue throwing money out the door. I dislike them so much because you aren’t just spending money once or twice, but rather, multiple times at a set rate. It’s like signing up for a definite way to lose more money. As you can probably tell, I stray away from subscriptions if I can.

When we were first organizing our budget, we saw that we were doing a lot of wasteful spending. We wanted to trim that down, and the easiest way to do that was to go through our monthly subscriptions and cut as much of them out as possible. We were already really good about not having subscriptions to things such as cable (we don’t even have a TV in our house!), but there were so many other things that we were not very good about (gym memberships, for example).

These days, there are so many monthly subscriptions one can sign up for. It makes sense why companies are creating more and more membership programs. It’s a way to reel consumers in and commit them to their product long term. It’s a way for companies to get your money without having to do any further selling. I would recommend you don’t get into that habit. It may be more convenient, but it’s also dangerous because the recurring payments are pulled silently. Therefore, a once-conscious decision to buy a product becomes increasingly unconscious. When you are unconscious about where you’re money goes, then you have no control. Getting rid of subscriptions is a way to get better control over your finances.

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A List of Subscriptions You May Want to Cancel

There are many monthly subscriptions that you can consider getting rid of in the name of saving money. I know some of these may seem impossible to let go, but I challenge you to flex those frugal muscles!

  • Cable
  • Internet
  • Spotify or Other Music subscriptions
  • Netflix or HBO
  • Costco Membership (also, Sam’s Club and others)
  • Magazine Subscriptions such as Texture
  • Make up Subscriptions such as Itsy
  • Grooming Subscription Boxes such as Dollar Shave Club
  • Clothing Subscriptions such as Stitch Fix
  • Meal Prep Deliveries such as Blue Apron or Freshly
  • Amazon Prime
  • Gym Subscriptions/Memberships
  • Movie Passes
  • Kindle Unlimited
  • Barkbox or other pet subscriptions
  • Wine Club
  • Coffee Subscriptions such as Beanbox
  • Disneyland Passes or other theme park passes
  • Music lessons, Pottery Classes, and other hobbies

Which Subscriptions We Currently Keep

While I would love to say that we have gotten rid of all of those things, we are also human and we have kept a few subscriptions for ourselves. Below is a list of monthly recurring payments we currently keep:

  • Seamless FP – This monthly fee is a fee for our financial planner. I have spoken extensively about his value and the amount we receive from having him versus not having him is huge. I still, to this day, attribute the fact that we have paid $97,000 towards my student loans to him (see wonderful news below!). If we never had his help, I don’t think this blog would even exist, nor do I think that we would be as frugally weird as we are now. Thanks Andrew!
  • Yearly fee for blog – It earns me some income as a side hustle and is something I use every day. The income from the blog offsets the yearly fee for all blog expenses, which include WordPress, PicMonkey, and ConvertKit.
  • Internet – I have actually suggested to my husband that we nix our internet, you know, as a social experiment. I have even created a plan to write blog posts on Word and email them to myself and upload via my cell phone which already has a plan under my parent’s family plan. But as a frequent video-gamer and constant reddit user, he values the internet way too much. So we have kept the internet. That I understand, because I can see the value in it.

The True Cost of Subscriptions

Right now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, what’s $10 a month? That’s $120 a year! Let’s take the example of the Movie Pass which is $9.95 a month. The movie pass gets you unlimited movie screening for that month, up to one free movie a day. Did I watch $120 worth of movies in one year? No! The reason? Because not having a pass does not push us to want to see movies. Sure, it’s considered a “value deal“, if you use your movie pass everyday to see a different movie. But, if you did not have that deal, would you spend $120 at the movies? Do you really like movies that much? We spent $20 in the last year at the movie theatres. Plus, you have to calculate your time too. A movie is 2-3 hours long. If you spend 2-3 hours everyday watching a movie so that you can get the most “value” out of this deal, then I suggest you also enter into your calculation the value of your time. What is your hourly work rate? What is your worth? Multiply that by the number of hours you were sitting in the theatres. Can you use that time to work more in order to get an even better value? The answer is probably yes. Personally, I have priorities higher than watching movies. Such as financial freedom. Would you rather watch movies everyday and work until your sixty five? Not me. Like I said, I don’t like movies that much.

The Impact of Getting Rid of Our Subscriptions

Getting rid of as many subscriptions as possible really got us closer towards our goal of paying down loans. It was a practice that significantly trimmed down our monthly budget. What we found was that the subscriptions are what kept us coming back for more. Once we got rid of them, the products were hardly missed. We only took what we needed, which ended up saving us money. 

Plus, have you ever signed up for a subscription “just to try it”. Maybe you were offered a really good initial deal. Your intention may have been to cancel it before it renews. But life gets in the way and makes you forget. Or it adds stress, trying to keep track of which subscription ends when, and trying to time your cancellations appropriately. I know I’ve been there, balancing getting the most out of the subscription and avoiding another month of the same stuff. I elected for a simpler life, devoid of all that stress. I wouldn’t trade it for what used to be.

The Good News

We are out of the $500,000’s and are in the $400,000s! We started with $574,034.50 worth of student debt. I am so happy to say that as of the beginning of July, we have escaped the $500,000s and entered the $400,000s! This isn’t to say that we owe it all to subscription cancellations. But subscription cancellations are a good place to start. Why? Because it forces you to flex your frugal muscles. Getting rid of things that you have been repeatedly dependent on is not an easy task. Some part of you is going to want to go back to the gym, believing that free exercises at home are not enough. I admit, unless you have the equipment at home, it’s not going to give you the Arnold Schwarzenegger body that someone may have sold to you as ideal. But it’s enough to keep you healthy and fit. Off course, everyone has their own set of “needs”. I simply recommend evaluating those needs, and assessing them for their true value. How do those “needs” get you closer to becoming the person you wish to be, or living the life that you wish to live?

Frugal Challenge: Don’t Buy Technology Brand New

I have never personally bought a piece of technology brand new. I recognize that the reasoning behind it is due to having the privilege of knowing people who have hand-me-down technology to give. A quickly advancing field, it doesn’t take long before a newer-“more improved” version is released. My advice: Don’t buy into it (literally!). Many other people will, and that’s the whole point. When people around you are buying newer versions of stuff, the older versions will be left lying around. It is quite difficult to properly dispose of tech stuff. You can’t just throw it in the trash. This is where you swoop! Ask around for any older gadgets that they are no longer using, when you are ready for your own upgrade.

My history with Cellular Phones

I got my first cell phone as a hand-me down from my parents when I was 18 years old. I was starting college, and my 17 year old sister and I shared the cell phone. I remember it was an older version than what my friends were carrying. A flip phone with a keyboard. It could not receive texts, nor could it access the internet. So I am not sure what the point of the keyboard was. This was in 2007 when classmates were already checking their emails on their iPhones. But I was so excited, and it serviced me fine.

I remember that in my 3rd year of college, I went abroad to study in Santiago, Chile. I did not have an international cell phone plan, so all of my communication was through this really old computer in the lobby of the hotel we were living in. There were two old computers that gave me an hour of access to the WiFi per day. When I came home that summer, I was shocked to learn that my parents had FINALLY added texting to our plan. This was in 2010, and I had just started to use texting.

Eventually, that phone died, and I needed a new one. Luckily, my then boyfriend and now husband, was very big on keeping up with the iPhone releases. That summer, a new iPhone was released and he gave me his old iPhone. Two years later, we would do the same. When the iPhone 7 got released, he gave me his iPhone 5. They were the best upgrades ever. Ever since then, I am happy to report that my habit of never upgrading just because there are new releases rubbed off on him. He still has that iPhone 7, complete with a broken screen which occurred more than a year ago, due to the unfortunate event of dropping it down two flights of stairs.

One summer, “my” iPhone 5 refused to turn on. It was charging one minute, then frozen the next. Taking that baby to the iPhone store and learning that I will never see that small screen light up ever again was heart-breaking. But I was not ready to buy a new phone. So I went and talked to my dad.

Since I hadn’t upgraded my phone with AT&T since 2008, I was actually able to get a “free upgrade”. He was able to maneuver a deal for me to get a free iPhone6. Currently, I still carry around that iPhone 6 and will continue to do so until it decides to die on me. Since my husband himself has graduated from the habit of continually upgrading, our “newest” phone is a bashed up iPhone7 with a cracked screen.

My history with laptops

I got my first laptop as a hand-me-down when I was 17 years old. It was my dad’s very old office laptop, the kind that takes fifteen minutes to start up. It was a chunky piece of tech, one that I couldn’t carry to class at high school or college. It sat in the same corner of my parents bedroom, and I would have to deal with sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor in order to use it, because it had to stay connected to that small blue box that wired it to the internet. Yes, our house did not have WiFi at the time.

When I graduated college at 21 years old, my parents gifted me a laptop that cost less than $500. This was a pretty expensive graduation gift! But they knew that I was pursuing dentistry and that I would need a laptop in dental school. The plan was for this to get me through the next four years. That laptop survived five whole years. It had scratches, the corner of it was taped together, and it was slow, like an aged man. I held onto it for dear life. Close to my graduating dental school, my laptop started to give out. I was so bummed, but my now husband, once again, came to my rescue. He had a $400 laptop himself that has seen three years of service. He saw my frustrations with my slow computer, and decided to lend his laptop to me. Eventually, I took over and he had his desktop for his own computer needs.

How I Just Recently Scored on Getting a Free Laptop

Just last month, this super old laptop that has survived six years started to slow. In fact, it started to throw tantrums. After an hour of being on, it would suddenly freeze up. There was no way around it but to turn it off, and lose everything I was currently working on. I worried for my blog’s existence, and started conjuring up solutions.

“I have always wanted an Macbook”, a voice in my head said. It’s true. Since I have never bought a laptop of my own, I have had to make do with whatever brand I was given. But I have always wanted the sleek look of Macbooks. Then the cost dawns on me. Over a grand for a brand new one, almost a grand for a refurbished one. I started to make calculations in my head. I couldn’t embrace that idea, so my husband suggested I spend a few hundred dollars to buy a laptop to tide me over until I could save for a pretty, silver apple. From a valuist viewpoint, I couldn’t get behind that idea either. To buy something I don’t actually want, that is subpar from my expectations just to be cheap is just not my style. So what did I do?

I started to tell people about my woes. How I was in search of a laptop, but I was not ready to buy one per say. Lo and behold, my family had something tucked away in the master bedroom. An unused Microsoft Surface Pro II. This used to be my dad’s work laptop provided by his office. As a person who works from home, his company provides him with the laptop needed in order to do his work. He just recently upgraded to the Macbooks that I myself was yearning for, which meant that his old laptop was no longer being used. This is the laptop I am typing this article on now.

It’s so funny because this is the nicest laptop I have ever owned. I am so excited about its ability to turn into a tablet, the fact that it’s touchscreen, and the pen that I can draw/write with directly on the screen. I texted my friend and told him that I got a new laptop, and his response was, “Hah! That thing is so old.” In my head, I was thinking, “Yes, but it’s free.” I do this all the time, and am extremely proud of it. You can call me a leech, but honestly, I am simply putting to good use discarded and forgotten gadgets that function completely fine.

If you’d like to do the same, here are some actionable tips.

How to Save Money on Technological Gadgets

  • Never buy technology brand new.
  • Ask around for unused or unwanted gadgets.
  • Hang on to your devices until they die out on you.
  • Share devices with people you live with.
  • Challenge yourself to go without, for a while.

If you really want to buy a gadget, but have the flexibility to wait a little longer, try putting a search in camelcamelcamel.com. You can have a notification sent directly to you when something does go on sale below the price point that you are willing to pay. I am sure more techy people can find ways to save. To help the community, feel free to share your own actionable tips in the comments!

Frugal Challenge: Give Up Alcohol

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I gave up alcohol in June of 2017 and it has been one year since I have participated in what many people refer to as social drinking. There were many reasons why I gave it up, but the reason that I was least willing to reveal  was because I thought that social drinking was a drain at the bottom of my wallet. I wasn’t a crazy party goer or alcohol dependent by any means. I was an occasional drinker, perhaps drinking once every week or two. If it was an especially crazy or celebratory week, I would drink two times in the same week, 1-2 drinks at a time. But still, there was something about the habit that made me really unhappy. I challenged myself to stop drinking alcohol, mostly to see if I could do it, and I told everyone about it so that I would be held accountable. When people asked why I gave up drinking, I gave them the partial truth, which was that after every time I drank, I developed a minor skin rash. While health reasons were definitely a motivator, my biggest motivator was the realization that a beer at a bar costs anywhere from $5-8, and that every time I wanted to splurge on a cocktail, it would cost on average $15 for me to drink what was essentially spiked juice. Mimosa brunches were $30, for OJ and a splash of champagne! And don’t even get me started on paying for a 2 oz. shot.

I also realized that every party we threw involved alcohol for the guests, which increased our grocery bills like crazy. Plus, I really didn’t like the feeling of socializing while drinking. Usually, I felt a disconnect in conversations, a discomfort from the possibility that the conversation is simply the alcohol doing the talking and us humans acting as its platform. I didn’t like that drinking was considered a social event, and I had this feeling that relationships built on “going out to drink” and “happy hour date nights” were very superficial. What I found after I accepted the challenge was that I was not too far from the truth. What started out as a frugal challenge ended up being a decision that has stuck with me, for reasons other than monetary.

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Some of you are probably upset at hearing my suggestion of giving up alcohol. You probably are not liking these frugal challenges that I create. They are challenges because they are difficult. Most of them will be ideas shunned by society. But this DOES save you money. Assuming two drinks once a week, an average order of $20, multiplied by fifty-two weeks, the cutting of the habit saves me over $1000 a year. This is with the assumption that I am ordering one cocktail at the most for my 1-2 drinks per occasion, and beers half the time. Also, the calculation does not yet count the bottles of wine I would buy from the grocery store for my “wine nights” or the alcohol we would have purchased for the parties that we threw for our friends and family. I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be closer to $2000 a year. But let’s be conservative and call it $1000 per year, which I can then use for other things that I value more.

The health benefits of giving up alcohol included the avoidance of a minor skin rash as well as that groggy after-party feeling. Entering my early twenties resulted in longer recovery times, and I disliked the feeling of non-productivity that usually followed these “social events”.

The most surprising consequence of quitting alcohol, however, was the revealing qualities of my relationships. It helped me determine which relationships I wanted to keep, and which I did not. Going out to the bars and getting happy hour are activities so ingrained in the millennial culture, that it has essentially replaced ACTUAL hanging out. When I gave up alcohol, I found which friends I was not able to hold relationships with when alcohol was removed from the equation. I found out which friends were interested in still hanging out with us sober, which had similar values, and which ones can carry a decent conversation. I became more conscious of those who lived their lives based solely on comparisons, those who spoke badly of others when they weren’t present, and those who were vastly invested in appearances. I also became aware of the way I had been acting, trying to fit in and to get along with groups of people that I did not really value. I became more selective, because hanging out with unkind people is ten times more unbearable when you are a hundred percent sober. I started turning down invitations to hang out with people at events that are centered around drinking. Interestingly, that got rid of 80% of the events I had been going to. By saying no to these events, I had more time to build stronger relationships with those who were willing to come over for board game nights, or to kick a soccer ball at the park. I became much closer to my family as well. I started seeing family members once a week, which I hadn’t done since I moved out for dental school. Slowly, I was able to create a social circle that was more close knit and in-line with my values. There were no more situations where I felt pressured to go out, even though I did not want to. I started to understand who I was, by deciding who I wanted to be around. Interestingly, the people I used to drink with, I hardly see anymore.

For me, giving up alcohol was VERY easy when I put it from a frugalist’s standpoint. I was vested in funneling as much money as I can into my loans. All I had to do when I was tempted to order “just one” cocktail, was to think about the number of years I have to continue making these payments. That made the decision-making a no brainer. After a few months, it became a habit, and the feeling of wanting to “socialize” by drinking went away.

This isn’t to say I haven’t made any exceptions. I have made a limited few, mostly when it is a special occasion or once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity. For example, I had one beer when we went to Oktoberfest in Germany. As in, THE Oktoberfest. I also had one cocktail when we dined at our first Top 50 Restaurant in the world in Mexico City. Lastly, when we were in Oregon, I made an exception for the Multnomah Whiskey Library. That last one was a “just because”. These are the exceptions I have made since I quit. I am not completely anti-alcohol or anything puritan like that. I just simply recognize that choosing to drink is keeping me from financial freedom that much longer. Now that one year is up, I wouldn’t want to go back to being a social drinker. Especially after creating the social circle that I have now. My life is so much more valuable surrounded by true relationships, that I am not hankering to go back and add a boozy filter to that part of my life once again.

My advice?

+ You don’t have to go ham all at once like I did. Give yourself a trial run – say one month at a time.

+ If  you slip up, no big deal. Forgive, forget, move on and try again.

+ Have a “why”! A motivator is what will get you there. I just have to think about the years I have to keep paying down debt, and that’s all it takes for me to not feel like drinking anymore.

 

Frugality: Co-housing, An Update

It has been six months since Mike and I decided to take on a roommate and give co-housing a try. The verdict? It has been such an awesome and wonderful experience! We could not have been happier with our decision, and today, I wanted to share an update, for those who may be considering it themselves, or for those who have never thought about the possibility but are looking for options.

All too often, when we tell people that we have a roommate living with us, we get these incredulous stares or looks of confusion. They ask questions like, “But you’re married, right?” or “Isn’t that weird?” Which implies that there is this societal expectation that explicitly states in a rule book somewhere that a newly wedded couple should be living on their own. I don’t know if the concept is tied to the idea that a couple should be independent, or if it’s a sign of being able to provide for yourselves and therefore is more so tied to responsibility. Whatever it is, I think this expectation is just as detrimental as the idea that once you are married, you are “ONE”.

I believe that it is important to retain your individuality while married. It’s important to discern the difference between finding someone who adds to your life, and finding someone who completes your life. I do not believe in the latter. I do not believe in molding into one, but rather, in retaining our individual two-ness and working together, contributing equally, in our own unique ways. When we see ourselves as a single entity, it is easier to shut the rest of the world out with this “Us VS Them” mentality. When you consider yourselves as individuals, then it is easy to open up your life (and space) to other individuals as well. And maybe this is where our thinking differs from the rest.

Either way, the benefits of having a roommate are multi-fold, and I would like to address the ways in which it has enriched our lives.Obviously, having an additional roommate really helps with the finances. Before we welcomed K into the downstairs floor, we were looking for ways to decrease the monthly recurring rent payment,  which in Orange County, CA is not the easiest thing to do. We were looking at 450 sq. foot apartments that would decrease our rent to, well, what we have now. Adding a roommate allowed us to stay in the 1600 sq. foot space that we love, that was ideally located for both of our jobs, and that had a two car garage. Numerically, the savings have been over $4,000 in the course of 6 months! And it isn’t just on our end. I am not sure I ever mentioned this on here, but K is my younger brother’s girlfriend. She found a job nearby so she was looking for a space and we offered her her own floor downstairs at a much much cheaper price than if she rented a space on her own. It saves her money too! Everyone wins. But there is more to the story than just the finances…

On top of adding an additional person to talk to in the evenings, I actually get to see a lot more of my younger sibling too, which is awesome! I have really enjoyed the Sunday coffee dates we host at home, or random weeknight dinners, or occasional boardgame nights. I think for Mike and I as well, it has been such a difference having a third person to talk to. When it was just us two for the first year of our marriage, there came a point where we had squeezed out every last little story we had to tell. When you add a third person to the mix, the stories abound anew. There are so many fun discussions to be had, different perspectives to be told, and always, a mediator between two people. It’s a reminder that we as humans really do benefit from social interaction. Mike and I learn new lingo from the younger crowd, K teaches us about finance through her her business and accounting background, while we share with her our financial experiences and mistakes, and Mike and I share a lot about bread and coffee (although I am not sure that’s such a fair trade-off). But really, we have so much to share with each other and I just feel like Mike and I have grown so much more by adding someone back into our home.

Also, there is the perk of always having someone to house sit! Mike and I are constantly traveling, and I guess so is K. We usually have someone watching over the loft every time one of us is away, which is a perk I actually never thought about before. When we went Hawaii last year, we returned to a sprinkler flood on the first floor that was occurring for who knows how long. When we returned from Germany, we came back to the annoying, high pitched beeping of a fire-alarm battery dying. We hoped that was not going on for the whole week that we were away! Having someone watching the house allows all of us to go on vacation, worry-free.

We have enjoyed co-housing so much that we decided to renew our six month lease again, with all three of us on board! Which means another $4000 in savings, another 6 months of after-work stories and long chats and weekend adventures. I first learned of co-housing from a documentary about Denmark, one of the happiest countries in the world. I am surprised it is not more popular here. I think a lot of our stress comes from our isolation from others and co-housing is a way to decrease some of that unhappiness. I say try it! It’s not much different from living with roommates in our college days. Weren’t those the best days of our lives?