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?

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

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

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.

 

Frugal Challenge: Avoid Shopping for Clothes for an Entire Year & Reap the Benefits

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

I love promoting clothing brands that embrace slow fashion, which is to say that they make an effort to create products via ethical ways and/or with sustainable resources. Despite that fact, my closet is actually pretty sparse, according to some people’s standards. That wasn’t always the case. My closet used to be a monstrous mess. So much so, in fact, that there were clothes that I wouldn’t see for months, tucked away under piles of even more clothes, most of which I hardly wore. It took over a year of constant de-cluttering and re-assessing and letting go and organizing before I was able to get to a point of peaceful reconciliation with my never-ending closet. And still, I feel I have too much.

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In the early stages of creating a curated closet, what I found most difficult was that for every hour it took me to de-clutter would be a two minute moment where I would feel the urge to buy something new and add it to the collection. At some point, I realized that this habit of shopping “just because I felt like it” was not only counter-productive, but also extremely wasteful and unnecessary. So along with my purging of excess clothing came this challenge for myself to nix the act of shopping all-together.

In all honesty, it began as a frugal challenged fired by the awareness of how much clothing is being deposited at our landfills. I figured that the benefits of abstaining from the addictive act of buying more clothing are multi-fold. Firstly, I save money. I used to work at a retail store in my late teens and early twenties and I distinctly remember walking out with a handful of clothes every week. I’d consider it good if I was able to limit myself to one item per week, a thought that makes me woozy now. Secondly, I am no longer fueling the industry of fast fashion. And lastly, I am ending the ridiculous cycle of buying and de-cluttering. Eventually, I pared down my closet in such a way that de-cluttering does not have to take up my free time every weekend.

This year alone, I have only made two purchases: A pair of sneakers and overalls, both from Eileen Fisher, both made on the same day. Prior to those purchases, I have not allowed myself an article of clothing for 8 months. Just recently (during Fashion Revolution Week 2018, in fact!), I have made the decision to not shop again for an entire year, in an attempt to model the curbing of the excessive demand for more clothing to be produced. Also, it will continue to help us in our efforts to do just as well this year with student debt as last year. The funny thing is, the more I challenge myself to not buy clothes, the easier it becomes to not buy other things too. The habit has spread to other aspects, and it really teaches one to make do without, and to be completely satisfied and proud of that decision. Plus, the results are undeniable. Next month is my birthday and two weeks after will be Mike’s birthday. Sometime in between, we will exit the $500,000s and enter the $400,000s with the student debt! I definitely wouldn’t trade this feeling for a trendy wardrobe.

 

Frugal Challenge: Become Vegetarian One Week, Every Month!

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I’ve attempted a lot of frugal life hacks in the past year, all with the goal of paying down my student debt of over $550,000 in less than ten years. These include co-housing to reduce rent, travel hacking to jet set around the world for free, and more. It seems I am very much up for these challenges, so I figure, why not start a series detailing some of the frugal hacks we come up with!

This month, we decided to start a new challenge. Become vegetarian for one week, every month. Seems arbitrary, but you can’t really deny that meat and fish are very expensive to buy. Even more so, when you have a determination to never come home from the grocery store with anything packaged in plastic. Because of that, we cannot buy meats and delis from large discount stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. We also cannot buy them from cheaper sources such as Albertson’s and Ralphs. Pretty much, we have only been buying meats and fish and deli and cheese from Whole Foods, which sells them wrapped in paper. With the change of going zero plastic last year, we have watched with heavy hearts as our grocery bill went up and up and up. The fact that I gave up beef and alcohol more than a year ago hasn’t helped. So we decided that it’s time we wrangle in the grocery expenses, without going back to plastic.

We were talking to our friends about the meat dilemma when we were visiting San Francisco. It’s amazing what everyone else is thinking but not saying. Once the topic was brought up, it seems that we’ve all struggled with the concept of pricey meats at one point or another. One of our friends said that he knew someone who split an entire cow among him and his guy friends to reduce the cost. It requires contacting the farm and ordering the cow at a discounted rate, but, split an entire cow?! That’s SO much meat going into the freezer. It’s a great idea, but I am not sure it’s one I am ready for, especially since I gave up beef and Mikey will have to finish all of that. Also, the minimalist in me shudders at the thought of so much excess in the house. So Mike and I kept on thinking…

Our solution? Vegetarian for one week per month, to test two things. Firstly, if we can get better about eating more greens, and secondly, if it helps the financial aspect. This was week one. The verdict: Our grocery bill was LESS THAN $25! For two people who bring lunches into work every day and dine at home every dinner, that is spectacular!

How did we do it?

We meal planned our way to a lower amount. Mostly, all we bought this week was produce. I cut down the costs as well by baking my own bread, as well as preparing pizza dough from scratch and freezing them, so that they were readily available for the weeknights. Before we even stepped foot into the market, we took inventory of things we had at hand. For example, olive oil allowed for homemade pesto sauce that required just a handful of pine nuts and basil. Since pizza requires just a smear of the stuff, we now have pesto for weeks of pizza, readily available! Additional toppings for a pesto pizza included two mushrooms, one red onion, pepperoncini, and a can of olives. Since we were already getting basil, why not add margherita pizza to the list? This would only require us to buy two more ingredients: tomato sauce ($0.89 per can) and a single tomato ($0.99 per pound). The tomato sauce will also last for weeks upon weeks, or could be used for pasta at a future date. The total cost for 8 pizzas (with extra sauces for the future) was less than $6. Granted, home-made sourdough took half of Saturday to do, but I enjoy the task and it was so worth it.

Our meals this week consist of:

– Egg sandwiches using homemade bread with homemade tomato soup or pasta salad for lunch, a couple days of the week.

– Vegetable pizzas – I prepped enough dough for 8 personal pizzas. To be honest, neither of us can finish one personal pizza per meal. At most, maybe 3/4 of a pizza is eaten, therefore leaving 3/4 of a pizza (each) for lunch the next day given that I cook 3 personal pizzas in the evening. Which is what we do!

– Fried Rice – The most basic of fried rice was taught to me by my dad. It used to be a staple at our house when we were growing up, because it feeds many mouths and costs very little. I carry that tradition, today.

– Vegetable Stir Fry – It was the simplest and easiest thing I could think of, after the fried rice. Plus, more veggies!

– Vegetable laden omelettes. Breakfast for dinner, anyone?

We did cheat a little… but only because there was left-over ramen from last week, which also meant left-over pork belly slices. Mike was happy we were able to eat meat for a day. But no meats were purchased this week, thus resulting in a total of $25 in groceries. So that’s fine by us. Final ruling: roll-over meat from previous weeks does not count. Additionally, no intentional cheating allowed (a.k.a. purposefully buying extra meat the week prior!). We make the rules up as we go.

Let’s see what we come up with next month!

How about you guys? Willing to try going vegetarian for one week? How do you go about cutting the grocery bill, without purchasing plastic?