How to Lower the Electricity Bill

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

Lighting

  • 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.

Temperature

  • 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.

Water

  • 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.
  • Avoid baths.
  • Turn off the water when shaving, brushing your teeth, or lathering with soap in the shower.
  • Fix any leaky faucets.

Electronics

  • 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.

Cooking

  • 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!

Washers

  • 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.

Other

  • 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.
  • Participate in OhmConnect.
  • Opt for a tiny home!

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!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.

Frugal Challenge: Getting Rid of a Daily Commute

I cannot believe that I can finally say this, but I have now created a lifestyle where I have gotten rid of a need to commute! Two years ago, I heard about this concept of creating a lifestyle where there is no need for a car, which is unheard of for most Americans, let alone those who live in California. The average commute for an American is 16 minutes, but for those who live in California, it is not uncommon for the commute to be thirty minutes or more. At first I thought to myself, “How impossible!” I mean, if you Google “How to Get Rid of Your Commute”, most sites don’t actually tell you HOW. Rather, they tell you that even though commutes are “unavoidable”, there are better ways to cope with it. I initially thought the same thing. My whole life, I’ve driven to places regularly, such as work, the groceries, and the bank. Yet over time, as I transitioned into more like who I am today, the concept of driving places really started to bother me. The depreciating cost of a car, the cost of maintenance and repair, the cost of insurance, the rising price of gas, the hours wasted getting from place to place, the health repercussions of a static posture, and the environmental impact… all of which emptied our bank accounts, risked our health, and slowly killed the Earth. And for what? Convenience.

Ahh, that word convenience. Everything that slow processes fight. Okay. I’m not anti-convenience. But I AM against unnecessary conveniences when the costs are too great. When the balance becomes off kilter, for the sake of speed. And as time passed, the thought of driving my lazy self from place to far-away place bothered me more and more. Why am I living this way? Is there something we can do better?

Off course there is. And there are limitations to those things, too. But I find that, in life, if you want something bad enough, it will eventually come. Not because there’s a magic genie somewhere answering your three wishes. Rather, it’s because you are living with your eyes open. A sense of awareness keeps you poised to strike when an opportunity presents itself, and usually, those that have their eyes open and searching are the first to take advantage.

So no. Maybe today is not the day that you implement the no-car-frugal-life-hack. It took me TWO YEARS to finally get it down. But I just kept moving towards a direction, you know?

What we haven’t touched on yet but what I want this post to mention was the amount of savings we make by getting rid of my commute. We are all about pinching pennies and redirecting them to something more meaningful (aka: this debt). I mean, if you think about it, I used to need 1.5 tanks of gas per week to get my normal activities done. 1.5 tanks cost me around $55 in a Scion XB. Which meant that each week, I spent $55 to live. This equates to $2,860 per year, without including all the driving I do for FUN. I understand it’s California, but MAN! I just couldn’t stomach that! Can you? Now that I’ve found a way to get rid of it, I never want to go back!

So how did I do it? I presume actionable tips are what you’re searching for.

Live in a central location.

Well, for starters, we bought a house. Some might not even consider it a house. In fact, we bought a live-work loft situated in the heart of downtown. The house has many benefits, one of which is its location. While a few may look down on the transient dwellers and the busy streets, the loud music from the clubs next door and the occasional trash after a staged concert in the parking lot across the way, there are many perks that living downtown presents. For example, we have FOUR stellar third-wave coffee shops within a two block radius from us. Not that we buy coffee everyday since we prefer to make them, but we do love a weekly coffee ‘splurge’. We have dining options galore, and a few microbreweries and pubs. We don’t go out to drink on weeknights but there ARE free trivia nights and stand up comedies at these locations. Come one, come all! We have clubs, one of which is not more than 500 feet away from our front door. Not that we go clubbing. We’ve got groceries down the block and we can see the city hall and government buildings from our second floor bedroom window. We can walk ten minutes to get to where we got our marriage license, and also where I got my citizenship approved. We are situated across from the Yost Theatre, and are a short walk from the post office and the library. Events plague our calendar, and I have watched concerts for FREE from my bed. Social gatherings are easy to come by as we invite friends to talk over coffee, attend the free Trivia night, join pinball tournaments, and more.

All of this to say that by moving into the heart of downtown, we have surrounded ourselves with all essentials. That was the first step.

Make work close to home.

This is the second biggest hurdle, and probably the most difficult to accomplish. Most people cannot work just anywhere. I was actually very fortunate in that I have been working with the same dental practice for almost three years and have known my boss for almost ten years. There are two offices, we bought our home 0.6 miles away from one office. The other office resides at a location 26 miles away from our home, but less than a mile away from my parent’s house. So either way, I have what I would consider home within 1 mile from both offices that I worked at. For the last two years, I’ve split my time between the two, but when an opportunity arose to become full-time at the one closer to my house, I decided to take it. It came with a price cut, that’s for sure. I will no longer get to take my lunch break with my parents three days a week. And the production will be much less. But it was more in line with the community I wanted to serve, the one that I really belonged to. It also aligned with my dream to nix my commute.

So I made work close enough to home that I could walk. It takes me 12 minutes to walk to work on a regular day, and ten minutes when I am running late, which I often am.

Make work AT home.

This was the next step. As you know, dentistry is not my only job. I also am a baker and a dog-sitter. However, you likely also already know that I try to structure my life in the most ideal way possible. I used to work my midnight shifts at a bakery that I loved, but I recently got rid of it for multiple reasons, health being the most prominent but the commute not much farther behind. At the time, it was the only other thing that prevented me from claiming my zero-commute life. It was a nice cherry on top to say that I now own my own bakery and do ALL of my baking in my own home. Any pastries I sell are either within the local community and delivered by walking or are scheduled for pick-up. On top of the bakery, I am a dog-sitter on Rover.com. There are many services that one can offer on the site, including dog-walking, house-sitting, and checking in on a pet. However, those all require you to go to someone else’s house. I only offer one service, and that is dog-sitting at my own home. Pet owners must come to my home to drop off their pets and they must swing by after their vacations to pick them back up.

What about all else?

Now I know what you may be thinking. Commuting encompasses everything, including vacations and going to social events, et cetera. There is no absolute way that all those things could occur in the vicinity of your home. But what I said at the very beginning of the post was that I have gotten rid of the need to commute. As in, if I got rid of my car, I would still survive, make money, have a place to eat, and ways to entertain. I did not say that I have gotten rid of the want to commute. But! I generally never want to commute anymore these days. When we DO drive, we try to rope together errands with pleasure. It helps that we typically have only one day off together (Sundays), so we do our weekly trip to Neat Coffee to get our free drink, our Whole Foods or Farmer’s Market run, our PetSmart run (across from Whole Foods), and any trips to the beach or to our parents’ house all-together. This entire route consists of a loop that passes by each of these locations. Yes, occasionally we will drive out of town to visit a friend. But in all honesty, we are kind of a pair of home bodies. We aren’t going to be driving around town in search of brunch or in hopes of experiencing a new restaurant or bar. No. Our form of entertainment involves board game nights, or movie nights, or reading on the bed. He likes to dabble in video games and guitar, I like to spill out and consume words. It seems like all the things we’ve been building in this intentional life just happen to connect with nixing a commute. It might be too soon to tell, but I don’t think I’ll miss it.

How about you?

Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

In this space, I try to address ways in which we can rethink a lifestyle in hopes of saving a couple of bucks. Sometimes, the advice borders insensitive, especially when it doesn’t apply to a particular person or group. Today’s post definitely pushes the bar, since it is glaringly obvious to me that not every household has the luxury of having more than one income. But speaking about finance itself makes us all very privileged. To have the ability to access a computer, to have the time to sit down and read, to have control of where our money goes, to have money worth talking about, these are all very stark privileges as compared to people whose conversations surround how to get food on the table, how to keep their kids safe. May I be the first to say that privilege seeps from my life since the moment I was born, and I am hyper aware of it. That being said, I think it’s important to point the privileged towards a direction, so that we may use money (specifically) to push the needle towards a better tomorrow, rather than spend our excesses flippantly over trivial things for today. Conclusively, it’s important to limit the spending of our earnings on only the things that bring joys that have permanence, and one such way to do that is to dedicate only one income to lifestyle spending in the cases where there are two (or more).

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When I think back to my grandparent’s time or farther, I see a period when the traditional family dynamic of a stay-at-home mom and a working dad existed. Raising 8 children in a third world country off of one income could not have been easy. But they made ends meet. Even Mike’s grandparents grew up on a farm, with his great-grandpa owning a diner that sold burgers for $0.10 each. His grandma talks of wearing the same few shirts a week, and keeping her old furniture because it still functions. My grandma takes paper towels at family gatherings, washes them, and hangs them to dry over the sink for re-use later. These little indications serve as reminders that they don’t do it to be frugal, but rather, because that’s how they’ve always done it. It’s a lifestyle born out of a necessity.

I’m not saying that this way of living no longer exists, because it still largely does. But it is becoming less and less common. Today, it is becoming more frequent that households are dual-income, so before we get too carried away rejoicing at the larger sums of money we are taking home, may I suggest we act as if none of it has ever changed? By assuming that we still need to live as if we make only one income, we too can live this lifestyle. I’m not talking about washing your paper towels and hanging them to dry (since nixing paper towels all-together is really the lifestyle I’m trying to advocate). I’m only saying, be less wasteful, of money and other things. But especially, of money.


My biggest gripe with people telling me that I could not tackle my $575,000 of student debt was their assumption that with a bigger paycheck comes a richer lifestyle. “Let the loans grow, and just wait 25 years to pay it all off! I mean, surely you’ll need to worry about buying a grand house, a new car, a dental practice. Forget that the student loans will be over a million dollars of debt by the time your 50 years old, you can worry about all that later.” I see this all the time. People who have double the income are more comfortable with going out to dinner every night, buying new cars, purchasing homes, shopping every few weeks, racking up consumer debt. The people who have to worry about money, somehow, are more capable of getting by without having any debt. Better equipped, I would say.

Mr. Debtist and I both grew up in families with a single income. We had everything we needed to live happy lives and become decent people, even though our families were not exactly the richest family on the block. With this realization, we decided, well, how bad would it be if we lived off of one income? Dentistry comes with great pay, but we will need 100% of that pay for the next 10 years in order to pay down the loans. What if I worked for free for ten years, served my time, and we act as if it was a single income household like it was during our up-bringing? It would hardly be restrained living. We don’t have any kids to worry about if the cat doesn’t count, and Mr. Debtist makes enough money to support two people comfortably despite living in Orange County, California. Plus, we are very simple people.

It was this realization that allowed us to tackle the debt. As you may already know, the naysayers had me on the 25 year loan forgiveness plan for the first 8 months after graduation. It was in this time span that we tested out our theory: Living off of one income will allow us to pay back a debt that no one else believed we could. It only took a few months to prove to ourselves that this will work. The intentionality with money is really what propelled us down this path, and we started to accomplish something people didn’t believe we could. Switching loan forgiveness plans can save you thousands of dollars, but by switching from a 25 year loan repayment to tackling student debt aggressively, it will save us more than $150,000 dollars, and 15 years of our life. Which is why I am willing to risk the flack that I might receive for the insensitivity of this post.

Because nobody told us we could.
There wasn’t ever the suggestion to work for free.
People didn’t think to tell us to act as if we were a single-income household.
It almost felt like we didn’t have a choice.

And that’s a problem.

It’s important to speak about these things, because it’s the only way to empower people. For some, it may be obvious. For others, it may be offensive. But for others, still, it may be the only thing that will free them.

If you’d like to try and see if switching to a single-income household is a good life hack for you, try to start with creating a budgeting tool!

Frugal Challenge: Gather Your Tribe

They say that you’re as good as the five people you spend the most time with. As cliche as that sounds, I can’t deny it’s power, especially when it comes to frugality. The role that being intentional has on your success of accomplishing whatever it is that moves you is huge. And while I joke that Mr. Debtist counts for four of those five people, I can seriously say that I wouldn’t have found as much progress on this journey I call life, if it were not for the humans that I have had the pleasure of interacting with. I would not be able to live my frugal life, if I was always surrounded by spend-thrifts, or worse, the Joneses themselves. Imagine trying to save, but only having friends and family whose idea of hanging out is to check out the latest bar or restaurant… every weekend! It would either be an utter financial failure, or a very isolating life. So for this month’s frugal challenge, I think it’s worth starting with a very important event: Gathering your tribe.

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It may seem extremely unkind to say, but when I started on this path of intentionality, I took a real hard look at my relationships. ALL of my relationships. And while I may not have done it in the most graceful of ways, I pretty much treated relationships as I did things, and I de-cluttered a lot of them in one fell swoop. For those who weren’t very close, I just stopped reaching out, which worked well because they never tried to figure out why we ever stopped talking anyway. But for those who were close, I did have a conversation with them before letting them go. I thanked them for their time and their friendship, and in the same breath said, “It’s not you, it’s me.” It was like breaking up with a loved one, over and over again. I messaged them and told them where I was going and how I could not continue to lead the same lifestyle. I explained what about their lifestyle I didn’t think fit in with mine, and I said farewells with open-ended statements like, “If you ever want to come over and play board games and just hang out instead of getting happy hour every Thursday, my door is open.” For the really toxic ones, filled with hate and stress and just really negative ways of thinking, I explained that I just wanted to detox from negative vibes and am pursuing a path focused on gratefulness and humility.

To which they probably thought, “Bitch.”

But in my head, I was thinking, they deserved an explanation, at least. It wasn’t that they were bad people. They were just in a different place. Maybe I just wasn’t rich enough to keep up. Maybe I didn’t suffer enough to understand. Maybe I was too introverted to socialize, secretly looking for a way out. Perhaps, it REALLY was me, and I was too insensitive to relate. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have cut some of them out completely. I should have probably left more open doors. But I was on a mission, thinking more clearly than I ever thought in my life, and I was determined to move forward.

At first, I thought I made a mistake. Until I realized that I was breathing easier, like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Like I no longer had to hide or pretend who I really was. I thought to myself, “Okay, now people REALLY know me. And either they’ll hate me, or they’ll accept me.” It was scary at first, but de-cluttering relationships was like jumping from one cliff to the next. You know that the only way forward is to jump. It’s just a matter of taking that leap of faith. But when I did, I landed safely on soft sand. All the tension that I had been carrying with me seemed to melt. It’s crazy how much stress I was adding to my life trying to please everyone and make everyone happy. I realized that I was trying to conform myself to groups I really had no business being in.

The funny thing is, when you jump to the other side, you get up and brush off scraped knees, only to turn around and find that some people jumped with you. This is when I first started to see who my real friends are. Interestingly, it was as if I had changed a part of them too, by talking openly about my life. Suddenly, friends that I used to go out with frequently started taking turns with me in hosting weeknight dinners. I’m not talking about elaborate meals. Some days, one of us would order pizza. Or I would serve grilled cheese on fresh bread. Someone would bring a case of beer, or we would pop open a bottle of wine. We would get together straight after work, and whoever didn’t work that day often prepped the meal. We gathered over board games that would take hours to play, and I opened up to video games that I was surprisingly very bad at. We would sit down and just talk, for hours. I became much closer to my family, too. My brother started working with me at the dental office, his girlfriend became our roommate, and we had dinner with our parents an average of once a week (even though I saw my parents three times a week on top of that). Seeing the results, I started to talk about it more, h e r e , in this space.

I turned around to take a step forward in my journey, and that’s when I started to meet new people. Some of you. I was shocked at how many people thought in much the same way. I met people practicing zero waste, people practicing slow living, people protesting against fast fashion, people trying to live frugal lives and reach financial independence, and more. Amongst all those groups, there was an strong unifying similarity. All of these groups experienced serious overlap. I’d like to think of us as The Outsiders. Outcasts and rebels.

The club that no one wants to belong to is incredibly bonding. Perhaps because none of us wanted to join, we cling to one another.

Option B

Slowly, I began to find my tribe. The place where I really belonged. We aren’t magically born into the perfect cohort. Sometimes, it requires some seeking. Other times, a tweaking. And once I started surrounding myself with people whose hearts beat to the same drum, a snowball effect started to take place. I started to learn about ways to become more intentional, I started to make headway with the debt, I started to gain traction with what I was trying to do, and for the first time in my life, I started to know who I was. I became comfortable in my skin. All the extra noise, the insecurities, the vicious whispers, it all fell away. The monkey mind ceased to exist, and I had the mental bandwidth to make changes that I wanted to see for myself, and for future generations. I was making an impact. But what people don’t understand, is that it was because my tribe was making an impact on ME.

So how does this help one to be frugal? (I always seem to be long-winded with these posts, I know.) It’s easier to be frugal when you aren’t trying to keep up with friends. When you don’t need to feel the guilt when saying “no” to mani-pedi dates, bar-hopping nights, or straight-up gorging over pretty food. When your friends can actually connect and converse with you, without paying for a distraction that substitutes for that connection. When socializing does not equate to spending.

It’s easier to be frugal when you are surrounded by people who are trying to do the same. You become exposed to different frugal life hacks and are inspired by the creative ways in which we can cut back, without depriving. You share with people accomplishments, such as setting up your first retirement fund, or hitting all your budgeting goals, and you drive each other to do better next month. You start to network, and meet people who propel you forward, people willing to help you, say in case you are swimming in student debt. You have a posse, and in having one, create change.

“Resilience is not just built in individuals. It is built among individuals – in our neighborhoods, schools, towns and governments. When we build resilience together, we become stronger ourselves and form communities that can overcome obstacles and prevent adversity. “

Option B

I’m happy to be an outsider. I am grateful for my student debt, because it propelled me down a path that I would never have known if I had grown up having it all. I am proud of my story, and what I’ve done to shape it. But more importantly, I am hyperaware of the influences my tribe has made on me, which I value more than any influence I may make on you. I am constantly reminded that it isn’t I, alone, walking down this road. Next to me are people armed and ready to fight the nay-sayers, with four versions of Mr. Debtist, leading the pack. And that gives me strength to take another step forward.

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!

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.

 

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?