Looking ahead can be really inspiring when you look at what a small increase in your % of savings adjusts your timeline to financial independence. Per MrMoneyMustache, increasing your savings rate from 20% to 30% drops total years worked from 37 to 28. 9 years knocked off for a ten percent savings rate increase is pretty staggering, and pretty darn good incentive for looking to places to cut from your budget. While my goal of FIRE (financial independence/retire early) by 45 isn’t the super short time frame like some who have hit that goal by 30 or 40, it’s still two decades ahead of what is considered typical retirement age. Hence why now at 29 I’m feeling the pressure to make the best decisions I can to get us there.
I’ve gotten a lot more focused on our recurring expenses in our budget these days, and I find I’ve gotten a good handle on the day to day mindless spending – no more $5 latte here, $10 scarf there. Saying no to buying clothes, shoes, and accessories over the last six months has saved a few hundred dollars since I’ve never a big spender there anyway. Coffee shops and work lunches are a much bigger weakness of mine and used to rack up a couple hundred dollars a month until I set myself a $150/month limit back in December and have gotten this number to a much more reasonable $50/month. Weekend breakfasts are now mostly spent at home instead of out at restaurants and (again, my weakness) coffee shops. If I’m not careful, I would probably live off coffee and pastries.
Otherwise, I drive as little as possible, am very mindful of our water and energy use, and we have no consumer debt. Our lifestyle has very little of the typical consumer budget fat. We have one tv (given to us for free), don’t pay for cable, and don’t upgrade our phones until they are well past the need to keep up on work.
Food has always been our biggest monthly expenditure after our mortgage and childcare, but we’ve recently started to get that back in check with the typical solutions of eating at home and buying in bulk. The recent changes are really just corrections back to the way we lived when we were first married and broke. After the intense focus of buying our house and paying off my student loans, we relaxed and allowed some of the typical lifestyle creep, though we always kept it in check compared to our friends.
We generally put money into savings every month and are hurriedly paying off our small real estate investment. However, by reigning in the mindless spending and excessive eating (and drinking) out, we’ve had a couple of really great months for savings of an extra $500-$700 over what we’ve been used to seeing, which has felt fantastic. The sneaky $5, $10, $20 purchases over a course of a month really do add up. I’m definitely kicking myself for allowing so much money drain through our fingers through the years, but there isn’t anything to do but look forward and do better from here on out.
So in terms of cutting expenditures and living frugally and mindfully, we have done really well recently and have seen some decent savings bumps because of it. Unfortunately, we also have some large projects around our home this summer. Now that we’ve been in our home over six years, we’re starting to look at some typical home maintenance/repairs. Thankfully we bought a one story starter home so it’s manageable for us to do all the work ourselves. Unfortunately, big house projects still aren’t cheap if you do them yourselves.
- Paint exterior of the house. Just the paint and painting supplies alone cost $750, and that was with a discount and already owning some of the supplies. In comparison, though, the cost to hire this out would cost upwards of $6000-$10,000 in our high cost area. 90% DIY discount is well worth it, even contending with a toddler who likes to paint himself instead of the walls.
- Fence replacement. While we don’t live on a “big” lot by county standards, we do have a 1/4 acre, which is large for our area, and we love it. However, this also means we have a very long area of fence along our backyard, which backs up to a wooded park. This gives us a completely private backyard and the feeling that our property is much larger than it is. There are trails through the woods, so it’s important to have a solid cedar fence to preserve that privacy, but that fence is now old and falling apart in places. Since we have two large dogs, our backyard needs to be securely fenced in and this isn’t something we can put off one more year. It’s actually something that should have happened a year or two ago, but life got overwhelming with a new baby and the fence hasn’t been replaced yet. Almost the entire fence (back and two sides of our yard) will need to be replaced sooner than later, but we’ll do sections at a time to keep it from being overwhelming. The total cost of this project will probably be about $5,000 to do it right so it lasts a good 30 years. I haven’t calculated what this would cost to contact out, but likely 2-5X the cost.
- I haven’t had to do ANY repairs/maintenance on my car since I bought it two and a half years ago beyond oil changes, so it needed a little love. Last week I paid for new brakes, tires, an oil change, and a few small incidentals, which cost be $900. The tires were the priciest bit, but I definitely could have saved some money if I had done the rest myself (I have changed my own oil in the past and my husband has done brakes). That being said, we are in the middle of a number of other DIY tasks, including the ones listed above, and I decided my time and effort was best spent focusing on getting those completed before the end of summer, so I spent the money on a mechanic. They are a fair, local shop and I’m well taken care of there, so I’m happy enough to take my car there. If I worked fewer hours and had more time in my week, I might make a different choice, but for now, it’s money well spent.
When I started writing this post, I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the fact that we’ve been doing great at reducing small expenditures but the big ones seem to keep multiplying. We had one really great month followed by a really expensive one. It feels like we’re focusing on stopping drops of water and then getting inundated by the garden hose on full blast. By writing the list down, though, I’m realizing that all the big expenditures are house and car maintenance or upgrades (we are also expanding our back patio – pouring the concrete ourselves) and they’re part of ownership, plus we are saving a ton of money by doing all of the work on our house and yard ourselves. I’ve been frustrated by spending (and planning to spend) a few thousand dollars without really doing the math to realize how much it all would cost to contract out. Almost all of it is required maintenance for a home, and if we want it to continue being a lovely place to live, we have to put the money and effort into it. Too many homes fall into disrepair and cost a LOT more money to fix later on. We’re putting the time and money into it now so that we don’t pay for it later. And we aren’t taking out a loan to pay a contractor to do all the work for us; we’re paying for it all in cash – and credit card reward gift cards to Home Depot. Now if only our credit card rewards included the auto shop 🙂