Living below your means so that you can free up cash to get out of debt, save, and give generously is something you can do IF you have a written plan and follow it. You have probably heard your mom or dad say this old and extremely irritating cliché phrase a thousand times: “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I don’t know about you, but as a teenager, the eye-rolling and audible sighing commenced as soon as I heard those nine words come out of my mother’s mouth. At the time I lacked life experience, so I had no idea how hard it really is to pay your bills, get out of debt, and save money at the same time. Society has conditioned us to believe that credit cards are normal, so most people don’t question having one (or five) in their wallet. This thinking stunts our growth because we never have to learn how to become our own financiers.
When it comes to your personal finances, a budget – a written plan that tells your money how to behave – is required if you want to “win” with money. In this post I want to share some tips for how to live below your means. Living below your means is how you get out of debt, build wealth, and give generously. The media portrays millionaires as celebrity jet setters who are decked out in Saint Laurent and who live in multi-million dollar mansions. According to the research of Dr. Thomas J. Stanley who authored The Millionaire Next Door (an excellent read), the typical millionaire in America drives an older Toyota Camry and lives in a modest, paid-for home. On The Dave Ramsey Show during his “Millionaire Theme Hour,” Dave interviews real millionaires in America and asks them a series of questions, one of which is “what is the most you have ever spent on a pair of jeans?” To which many of them respond “Twenty dollars.”
In my last post, I mentioned EveryDollar, which is a free budgeting app available in Google Play and the App Store. If you aren’t currently using a budgeting app, I highly recommend EveryDollar. It is intuitive and therefore super easy to use. It even auto-populates your income and expenses to the next month’s budget, which means you won’t have to start from scratch every month.
Here are 10 tips for living below your means. If you enjoy a challenge, this is going to be a lot of fun for you!
1. Plan your meals for the week ahead. To avoid ending up in the drive-thru lane on a Wednesday night, you need to plan what you are going to eat for the week and shop for the ingredients over the weekend. Waiting until you are flat exhausted after a long day at the office and realizing you don’t have any food in the house will lead to you spending money you hadn’t planned on spending.
2. Utilize your slow-cooker while you are slogging away at work. I don’t know about you, but THE LAST THING I want to do after a long day at work is to spend an hour in the kitchen whipping up a meal – then an additional 30 minutes cleaning up and washing dishes. This requires that I take even more time away from my baby or relaxing activities like Netflix or crochet after I’ve had to work all day. If you don’t already own a slow-cooker you MUST invest in one if you want to live below your means. You can get a really nice one at Walmart for around $20.
3. Shop at multiple grocery stores, not just one. I used to only shop at Kroger, but now I shop at ALDI, then I go to either Kroger or Walmart (depending on how much of a hurry I am in) for select items. I always buy our produce, canned goods, cheese, almond milk, Greek yogurt, and eggs from ALDI. For items like meat, coffee creamer, orange juice, paper products, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and other random household items, I shop at either Kroger or Walmart. I also buy Chef Boyardee pizza kits from Walmart. They make THE BEST homemade pizzas you have ever had, and one kit makes two whole pies! But you need to make sure you follow the instructions at the end of this post, instead of what the box says. If you don’t, the dough will end up being halfway raw. My mom taught me how to make them just right! She still makes these for me on my birthday every year. Anyways, shopping at more than one grocery store helps “stretch” our food dollar tremendously. It also helps save us money that I cook 98% of our meals from scratch (a lot of times using the slow-cooker to save me time and effort). Cooking your meals from scratch helps you avoid spending a lot of money on pre-packaged, processed foods, which are not only expensive, but unhealthy too.
4. Stop buying soft drinks and Starbucks. Not only are soft drinks and “fru fru” coffee drinks loaded with refined sugar, they are expensive as hell. And the sugar-free versions of these beverages are no better for you; they contain what I like to call a “chemical shit storm.” Not only are these drinks costly, and the calories they supply empty, (meaning they will not sustain your energy for very long), but they also harm the environment. Make the switch to drinking water. You already pay the water company for water and, if you live in Louisville, we have some of the best tap water in the world. If you think drinking water is boring, drink iced tea and sweeten it with Stevia, which is a naturally occurring sweetener.
5. Use the envelope system of budgeting. My family practices the envelope system of budgeting, which is where you go to the bank and withdraw a wad of cash every time you get paid and stuff individual envelopes with cash. Examples of envelopes are Groceries, Lunch Out, Starbucks, Toiletries, Pet Care, and Hair (you ladies know how expensive salon hair costs!). When your envelopes are empty, you don’t get to spend any more money on those categories of expenses until the next budget month begins. While this method is primitive, it is highly effective. Research has shown that paying for items with cash hurts more (psychologically) than paying with plastic because you actually see the money leaving your hands, which makes you think harder about your purchases. I find myself having to choose between things I want when I pay cash for them. Or, if I’m treating myself to coffee out, I find myself ordering the Tall size Vanilla Flat White at Starbucks instead of the Grande size because I know I only have so much cash in my Starbucks envelope, and I want to make that cash last as long as possible. It is also good for your waistline to order the smaller size!
6. Invest in a large water cup or bottle, and a travel coffee mug. Nothing grinds my gears more than having to spend my money on bottled water. I take my water cup with me everywhere I go because staying hydrated helps me feel my best, and it saves me loads of money. If I know I will be away from home running errands for a few hours, I will pack an extra bottle of water and place it in my thermal lunch tote with an ice pack so I won’t have to spend $2.00 on bottled water from the store. Investing in a reusable water cup or bottle and a to-go coffee travel mug also helps the environment because you aren’t throwing anything away.
7. Shop at thrift stores. Paying retail for clothes is insane when there are so many good thrift stores in Louisville. My favorite Goodwill stores in Louisville are the Middletown and Brownsboro Road locations. There is also a St. Vincent De Paul thrift store on Shelbyville Road near Dorsey Lane that is awesome. The thrill of the hunt is part of the fun of going thrift-store shopping, too. Also, you can take pride in the fact that you won’t be wearing the same clothes as everyone else – not to mention you will have more money in the bank! To be “normal” in America is to be broke. Don’t make yourself broke by paying retail for clothes.
8. Start your holiday shopping early. Don’t wait until November to start budgeting or shopping for Christmas or Hanukkah gifts. Last year I started shopping for Christmas gifts in July, which sounds like something a crazy person would do, but it allowed me to really think about what I wanted to buy the people on my list, and shop around for the best deals on things. Last year I gave everyone a basket full of goodies including a cozy, handmade finger-knit scarf, a candle, a framed picture of my baby, an ornament, some bubble bath, and a travel-sized hand lotion. You don’t have to spend a fortune to give someone a lovely, personalized gift, but you do have to think about it well in advance, and build that cost into your budget. If you wait until the last minute, you will always pay more and you might end up getting someone a gift card, which is the biggest waste of money because a lot of people end up never using their gift cards.
9. Buy used cars. There is this amazing website called Craig’s List where you can buy and sell things, even vehicles! If you have a car payment then you should consider selling your car and then save up the cash to buy a used one. By not having a car payment you can free up more cash to pay down debt, save, and give.
10. Sell stuff you don’t use. Have a yard sale or sell your unused, unwanted items on Facebook Marketplace, Craig’s List, eBay, or Mama Swap/virtual yard sale Facebook pages. Having less stuff means you have less to organize, store, and clean. Many people have recently embraced the Minimalist lifestyle. If you haven’t already seen it, check out the Netflix documentary Minimalism, or read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
There are a couple of things about being completely debt-free that gets me extremely excited. First of all, my family will get to keep more of our income after Uncle Sam takes his cut. Secondly, we will get to be outrageously generous with our money. I don’t believe it is just the Government’s job to help people. It is also OUR jobs as individuals (who have the financial means) to help our fellow neighbor. While we are no longer an interdependent society, wouldn’t it be cool if we had the cash to help someone in need? Pay our family member’s mortgage for a month or two so they could get caught up on their bills after a medical emergency? Leave a $50 tip for your server whom you know is a struggling single mother? Buy your aging parent a car with cash when her Social Security check barely covers the cost of her bills? There are countless ways we can give back to our society, which has given us so much. To me, becoming debt-free is one really powerful way I can make a difference in our world.
Chef Boyardee Pizza Maker Kit
1 Chef Boyardee Pizza Kit (includes the dry dough mix, sauce, and parmesan cheese)
1 lb. block Mozzarella cheese (shredding the cheese yourself makes pizzas moist)
1 pkg. Pepperonis (optional)
Crisco or Coconut oil
Little bit of flour
Makes two, 12” pizzas
Combine the 2 packages of dry dough mix in a bowl with very hot tap water (see the back of the pizza kit box for the exact amount of water you will need). Using a fork, moisten the mix until thoroughly wet. Next, wet your hands with some vegetable oil and pour about a ½ Tbsp. of oil onto the dough ball and flip it over in the bowl. Immerse the bowl into the kitchen sink (you want to fill the sink about halfway full with very hot water). Now, go ahead and preheat the oven to 425. Let the dough rise in the sink for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, drizzle some vegetable oil onto your hands and scoop out dough and work it with your hands. Pat a little flour onto the dough, plop it onto a dinner plate and slice it in half with a butter knife. Grease 2 pizza pans using Crisco or coconut oil. Place dough halves onto the prepared pans and knead dough to corners of pans. Next, pour ½ the sauce (from the pizza kit) onto each dough and spread evenly with a spoon. Pop pans into the oven on the two lower racks and bake them for 10 minutes at 425 degrees.
After 10 minutes, switch the pans on the racks and bake for another 3 minutes. Remove the pans (remembering which pan was on which rack, because you will need to put them back into the oven the same way they came out), and add ½ the cheese to each pizza, then the pepperoni, then ½ the package of the parmesan cheese. Put the pans back into the oven the same way they came out, and bake for 10 more minutes. Allow pizzas to cool for 5-8 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!