Saving money is no easy feat, here in "These United States" or your projected life abroad. But if you want this . . . I mean . . . YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT THIS (in my awe-inspiring Oprah Winfrey voice), then you will want to start [and continue] saving some serious coin-age (and yes, I meant to spell it that way).
Not only are these methods that I have used along my financial journey, there are some here that I find to be interesting as they are practical.
Your financial journey starts with "3", and since we're internet friends, I won't let you tackle math all by your lonesome (and yes, I meant to say it that way).
1. TRACK YOUR EXPENSES
The first one is the hardest one because it's going to look and feel overwhelming. But for-really-real-though (in my Pam from Martin TV Show voice), a lot of you don't want to know how much you spend on . . . your special mocha-toffee-frappe-fluffy coffee . . . your entertainment brought to you by Comcast, AT&T, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Prime, and other subscriptions that I haven't even heard of . . . and even your shopping habits through Amazon, Target, Etsy, Victoria Secret, DSW, and other retail merchants that are beyond my adulting interests.
But not to worry (in my calmingly-zen-therapeutic psychologist voice) . . .
If you are not a fan of writing things down, itemizing the types of things you spend your money on, or even a tiny-bit interested in stock-piling receipts or bank statements, then the best way to do this is with some digital assistance.
If you are privileged enough to have internet access and a computer at home (especially during these financially stressing #COVID times), then you have the freedom to explore budgeting apps that can help you achieve your financial goals. For me, mint.com is my jam, but there are others listed here that may fit your financial fancy.
2. DETERMINE WHAT'S NECESSARY AND WHAT'S ACCESSORIES
Yeah, you're not gonna like this one either, and worse, you can't determine what is a necessary expense and what is an accessory expense if you don't track your expenses in the first place. After 2 to 3 months of tracking your expenses and being honest with just yourself and your financial app of choice, you'll have the tools to create your side-by-side list of what's necessary and what's accessories.
3. MAKE [AND STICK TO] A BUDGET
After 2 to 3 months of tracking your expenses and determining your necessary and accessory expenses, you can now create a budget that is based on your actual habits. What's better is that the same apps that track your expenses can also help you create a budget. For those of you who need "gentle reminders" of getting too close to your budget limit or even going over budget in any category by $1 measly dollar, these apps are a Godsend; but for those of you who hate being reminded about your budget limitations, this feature may annoy you.
If you're easily annoyed, just realize that it may be a pain, but it's for a purpose.
If you're feeling frustrated - GOOD . . . that means (like me) your process to finding financial wellness has begun (in my King Jaffe Joffer from Coming To America voice).
SO . . . NOW WHAT???
Now, you take action!
Once you have done 1, 2, and 3, you now must divide and conquer - literally! I have begun my financial journey for my life abroad by evaluating, organizing, and minimizing services and things that no longer serve me or my wellness journey.
4. FRUGAL + SIMPLE + MINIMAL = THE THINGS I NO LONGER WASTE :: SPACE
According to a UCLA anthropology study of current day Americans, "A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance," they not only explored how much stuff we buy, but how much space we use. Most of my time is spent in the same space as the data points in this image above. I mean, how many of you remember going to relative's or friend's house and you were told that you bet-not (and yes, that's how I meant to spell it) go in that never-seen-anyone-use living room or dining room?
Since I grew up in a low-income household, I didn't "live large," however, as I grew into adulthood, I was socialized to value things . . . and I don't feel bad because many of us were taught this "value" through advertising and our social circles. So when I was financially able, I lived in a 1600 square foot apartment. I furnished it, which costs me money. I heated and cooled it, which cost me money. I cleaned it, which cost me time and money.
And during that time, I really enjoyed it.
But once I grew into the person that I am now, my moral compass changed to value work-life balance and experiences, and not things, their size, their shine, or the amount of them. If you're unsure of what your financial values are, feel free to take the free Smart About Money LifeValues Quiz, and in 20 questions, you can gain a little more insight to what's important to you.
As I began to sell and donate things that no longer served my life's purpose, I made some serious changes.
• I went from a family size of 2 in1600 square feet to 800 square feet in 2016, which changed my rent as a single parent (I wasn't married at this time) from $1,100 to $750.
• I went from a family size of 2 in 800 square feet to 700 square feet in 2018, which change our shared rent as a couple (now married) from $750 to $500 (this is where we paid off our cars and most of our outstanding bills). While we appreciated the rent being so low and somewhat livable, the location, and worse, the neighbors, were not ideal.
• I went from a family size of 2 in 700 square feet to a family size of 3 in 900 square feet in 2020, which changed our shared rent from $500 to $1,087.50 (this is the rent we pay and our adult daughter pays the other $362.50 -- 25% of the rent, because she doesn't make as much as my husband and I do and we want her to save towards her down payment of her own home in the near future). Also, we moved to be closer to our new jobs and to have many more conveniences and amenities, like in-unit washer-dryer, much more modern apartment, walking distance to stores, right outside our door public transportation, being closer to medical providers, walking distance to the lakefront, and a real non-smoking compliant building.
I didn't downsize, I right-sized and I've never felt more fulfilled.
5. FRUGAL + SIMPLE + MINIMAL = THE THINGS I NO LONGER WASTE :: HOME GOODS
How many of you have gone to the store to buy that thing you thought that you were out of and then when you did a "spring cleaning", you found that you had 8 of that thing? I would spend money on things that I already had but they were hiding behind this thing or that thing. This was particularly a problem for me in my kitchen cabinets. But once I took tiny bits of time to minimize and organize, I buy less than I have before.
According to our mint.com we spent $726.41 in March of 2020 for groceries (yeah, that COVID-19 shutdown had us trippin' . . . in my Martin from Martin voice), but after much minimization and organization, as of August of 2020, our grocery expense is now down to $492.08. That's $234.33 worth of savings!
6. FRUGAL + SIMPLE + MINIMAL = THE THINGS I NO LONGER WASTE :: PRODUCTS
How many of you have personal care products that you throw away knowing there is still product left inside its container?
Me too . . . or at least, I used to.
Consider buying products that will allow you to open the container fully in order to get every last drop of the product inside. I have been using #BathandBodyWorks for over 20 years, and it's more expensive than a brand that you can find in a big box retail store. Because it's not cheap, I only buy this product in containers that allow me to not waste any of the product itself. Using scissors to cut open the bottle usually gives me 2 to 3 days of product usage.
Seriously . . . I am not ashamed (in my President Nixon voice).
Side Note: Bath & Body Works has global locations! Yes Y'all (in my "Hey Gurl" vernacular), you too can live abroad and still smell like juices and berries . . . just like me!
FRUGAL + SIMPLE + MINIMAL = OTHER THINGS I NO LONGER BUY
7. HAND SOAP (I USE MY BODYWASH IN THE HAND SOAP DESPENSER)
8. HAIR DRYER/STRAIGHTNER/CURLER (I'VE GONE ALL NAT-CHUR-AL)
9. FOR SALE ITEMS JUST BECAUSE THEY'RE ON SALE
10. FANCY OR SINGLE FUNCTION KITCHEN ITEMS
11. COSTUME OR NOT REAL METAL JEWELRY
12. MULTIPLES OF NON-FUNCTIONAL ITEMS
13. SHAMPOO (I USE ONLY CONDITIONER)
14. BULK FOOD OR HOUSEHOLD ITEMS
15. NON-FUNCTIONING HOME DECOR
16. MEAT (I'M EXPLORING VEGANISM)
17. FABRIC SOFTNER/DRYER SHEETS
19. TAMPONS/MAXI PADS/DOUCHE
20. SPECIAL EVENTS CLOTHING
21. EXCESS SCHOOL SUPPLIES
22. UNCOMFORTABLE SHOES
23. EXPENSIVE GYM SHOES
24. BOTTLED WATER
25. SHAVING GEL
26. CABLE TV
FRUGAL + SIMPLE + MINIMAL = LOWER THE COST OF NECESSARY EXPENSES
28. LOWER YOUR CELL PHONE BILL
Consider looking into a cheaper cell phone plan. I had a cell phone plan for 2 phone lines with unlimited services for $60 per month, but a new phone company called Mint Mobile, is where I got the exact same service on the same network for 2 lines for $40 per month -- EACH LINE FOR $20 PER MONTH!!!
Research shows that most cell phone users only use 6 gigs of data per month as you'll see here. The $20 per month is an 10GB data cell phone plan, which many of can use in a matter of days, but I found that (1) I can download my Pandora music playlists (while on wi-fi at home) and can listen to my music in my car in "offline mode", (2) I use my home's or a cafe's wi-fi (pre-COVID19) for my phone services, (3) I am privileged enough to have and use my car's GPS navigation system so I don't have to use Google Maps, (4) I deleted apps that I really don't use, and (5) I make sure to have the apps I do use closed so that they don't run in the background, costing me precious data. Phone calls and text messages are still unlimited and are not affected by the data usage.
In order to get this deal, you have to have unlocked phones (which you can find information about here and here) and you have to be willing to pay annually in order to get the rate of $20 per month, which is $240 paid up front. Taxes and fees are not included (in my sad face emoji voice) so my total for my cell phone usage from December 2020 to December 2021 is $263.29, a cost of $21.94 per month per line.
Additional note -- I have learned that Mint Mobile (and likely all other cell phone providers) have a limit on their "unlimited" phone call and text services, referred to as the "Acceptable Use Policy". To avoid going over phone or text usage with Mint Mobile, you must click this link to activate it on the Mint Mobile website and then you can activate it on your cell phone device. Again, I want to be sure that you're aware of how to keep your expenses as low as possible, especially if you use your cell phone for work or just extensively. Before, I was spending $720 per year for unlimited data service (2 lines at $30 each = $60 x 12 months = $720). Now, we spend $526.58 per year for 2 lines of 10GB of data and unlimited talk and text, which is a savings of $193.58 over one year!
Only paying for the service I use is noy-ice (in my southern-Cali-forn-i-yah-in-the valley voice).
29. SAY NO TO PUBLIC STORAGE (THERE'S MORE STORAGE FACILITIES THAN MC'Ds, SUBWAY & DUNKIN' DONUTS COMBINED IN THE U.S. -- ONLY IN AMERICA!)
30. USE CREDIT CARDS WITH REWARDS (ONLY IF YOU CAN PAY OFF THE BALANCE IN FULL)
31. GO TO COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOR YOUR FIRST 2-YEARS INSTEAD OF UNIVERSITIES
32. USE THE INTER-LIBRARY LOAN TO BORROW [TEXT]BOOKS INSTEAD OF BUYING
33. RE-EVALUATE [AND IF YOU CAN] LOWER YOUR AUTO & LIFE INSURANCE
34. ASK NON-PROFITS FOR PAYMENT ASSISTANCE IN UTILITIES AND RENT
35. USE A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE AND FILTER YOUR WATER AT HOME
36. USE THE PUBLIC LIBRARY FOR BOOKS, MOVIES & MAGAZINES
37. ASK YOUR HR OR COLLEGE ABOUT DISCOUNTED SERVICES
38. RENT ADDITIONAL ROOMS OR SPACE IN YOUR PLACE
39. SPLIT THE COSTS OF YOUR STREAMING ACCOUNTS
40. LOWER YOUR LIGHT BILL BY TURNING OFF LIGHTS
41. LOWER YOUR LIGHT BILL WITH LED LIGHT BULBS
42. SCHOLARSHIPS FOR EDUCATION
43. COOK A LOT MORE AT HOME
44. EAT OUT A LITTLE LESS
45. USE FOOD PANTRIES
46. BUY GENERIC
47. BUY USED
FRUGAL + SIMPLE + MINIMAL = WAYS TO MAKE MORE & KEEP MORE OF YOUR MONEY
49. USE UNROLL.ME TO UNSUBSCRIBE TO EMAILS THAT ENCOURAGE YOU TO SPEND
50. USE CAREER ADVANCEMENT GRANTS FOR CAREER TRAINING AT NATIONAL ABLE
51. ORGANIZE YOUR SHIT TO KEEP FROM BUYING THINGS YOU ALREADY HAVE
52. INCREASE YOUR COMPUTER & DIGITAL LITERACY SKILLS AT NORTHSTAR
53. SIDE HUSTLES THAT YOU HAVE THE TIME TO DO
54. CANCEL YOUR UNUSED GYM MEMBERSHIP
55. RENT YOUR UNUSED STUFF HERE
56. RENT YOUR PARKING SPOT
FRUGAL + SIMPLE + MINIMAL = THINGS I NEVER BUY
57. MLMs/PYRAMID SCHEMES (TEAS, ESSENTIAL OILS, AND MAKEUP ARE POPULAR)
58. MAKEUP REMOVER & WIPES (I ONLY USE 2 ITEMS OF MAKEUP ANYWAY)
59. SEASONAL DECOR FOR EVERY HOLIDAY (I DO CHRISTMAS ONLY)
60. PROFESSIONAL GROOMING SERVICES (HAIR, NAILS, FACE, ETC.)
61. GAME APPS (I JUST CAN'T LOOK AT THAT TINY TV THAT LONG)
62. SOUVENIRS (PICTURES ARE SO MUCH BETTER)
63. SPECIAL EVENT & HOLIDAY DISHES
64. MAGAZINES & NEWSPAPERS
65. PRE-CUT FRUITS & VEGGIES
66. MULTIPLE PURSES & BAGS
67. PAPER TOWEL HOLDER
68. BRAND NEW PHONES
69. PRE-PREPPED MEALS
70. PLASTIC STRAWS
So, do you need to do all of these steps to build your financial cushion to move abroad? FAWK NOOH! So then, what are your options?
Hire someone to help get you through this (like me . . . hint, hint)?
Immediately start living like a Hermit because socializing costs too much money?
Unsubscribe to Netflix when it's the ONE thing that you look forward to while we're still living that socially distant #COVID life?
So . . . how do you start?
By tracking what you spend.
When I thought about our savings journey, I thought that we didn't have the right to do it because we had amassed mortgage-size student loan debt. But once we began the process, that feeling of unworthiness decreased as our savings increased.
I grew up in an abusive household, became a teen mom at the age of 15, was a high school dropout, and was a part of the hidden homeless. I failed at my first try at college, I have been through unemployment, I have been on public assistance, I have been through an eviction, and I have been through bankruptcy.
My husband grew up in an abusive household, was in the foster care system from the age of 5 until the age of 16, has been through unemployment, has had tax, medical, and utility bill debt, and he did not complete his college degree.
I share our stories to show that while we didn't have the best start, but we learned skills to increase our income, we re-educated ourselves on consumerist culture to decrease our expenses, we followed our financial plan and decreased our debt only to owing student loans, and we grew our very first savings account.
This blog contains a lot of data collection and no advertising, and if you feel that you got something useful from it, consider buying me a Ko-Fi or becoming a Patreon to help keep me sharing this awesomely-time-consuming information. If you are determined to find your financial wellness and you need help to get started, reach out to work with me.
Thank you for taking this journey with me,