There are two main ways to improve one’s financial situation: 1) spend less, and 2) earn more. Dave Ramsey recommends doing both, aggressively, until debt is paid off. I am beginning my debt payoff journey by figuring out where/how I can spend less.
Postponing large purchases
Before beginning this debt payoff effort, I had some plans that now seem pretty grand and borderline delusional. After being a broke grad student from 2014-2017, I thought once I had a full-time job again, I would be able to afford to spend more money. Now I’m realizing, nope! Not a good idea. So, I’m going to postpone the following things I’d been planning on buying, by at least a year:
- getting braces
- getting trigger point massage therapy monthly
- buying a new bed frame and mattress
- traveling to attend the AWP conference in Portland
- buying a car
- buying a laptop
- starting a record collection
Deciding to postpone these things is difficult because I see value in them. Both braces and trigger point massage therapy have been recommended to me by medical professionals, and would likely help reduce my headaches, muscle tension, and pain. My bed frame is broken and the mattress is uncomfortable–replacing those would surely improve my sleep and possibly reduce pain. Attending AWP could benefit my career. Owning a car would help me feel less isolated and alone, improve my social and romantic lives, and maybe even increase my earning potential. My laptop is showing signs of being on its way out, and I’d prefer to get a new one before it completely crashes. I used to have a record collection, but at one point got rid of it because my record player broke and it was a drag moving the heavy records every year. I know I would enjoy having a record collection again, and in some weird way, I feel less “myself” not having one.
Still. All of these things are big-ticket items that would cost hundreds (or thousands) either upfront or over time. They all will still be available in one year. I’ll revisit my financial situation then, analyze these potential purchases one-by-one, and either decide to move forward, or postpone them for another year.
Cutting regular costs
At first I thought there was very little I could cut, since I’m not a compulsive spender, I don’t go out much, and I feel like I don’t usually buy frivolous things. Then, I looked over past credit and debit card statements, looked around my apartment, thought more deeply about it, and found the following areas in which I can cut costs:
- makeup and personal items
I looked through my past Amazon orders and found that in 2018, I placed 97 of them. I should say, 97 so far–I will surely place a few more in the coming weeks. Wow!
Since I stopped owning a car about a year and a half ago, I’ve come to rely on Amazon. Most of my orders were for arguably practical items–dog food, moisturizer, hemp seeds, peanut butter, toilet paper, wart remover, deodorant, books, pens, cleaning supplies, clothes hangers, paper towels. Still, I am sure I buy more of these items more often than if I were to, say, have to write them on a list and wait a few days to purchase them at a store.
I also realized I had no idea how much Amazon Prime costs, which is sad, since I pay for it yearly. It is $119/year. I went through the (very scary!) multiple screens required to tell them I want to end my membership and not be charged again. I look forward to saving the $119, plus however much else I save by not having that convenient free shipping at my fingertips.
Honestly, I’m a bit ashamed to face how much I’ve been using Amazon. I consider myself an environmentalist, yet I was having cardboard boxes sent to me unnecessarily about twice a week! Plus, I know Amazon’s labor practices are likely not in line with my values (I’ve seen the headlines and avoided clicking). So taking a year off of Amazon (or, maybe quitting it forever?) is a good choice for me for many reasons, not just financial.
Oof. I cannot deny that food is likely the number one source of overspending in my life. I have mixed feelings about this, and will probably write more about it later, in a separate post. It’s a difficult category to face, because it’s a necessity. I’m also trying to be health-conscious, and sometimes that means buying more expensive food items. At times that I’ve had severe fatigue, buying fast food on lunch breaks instead of bringing a packed lunch, or ordering delivery instead of making dinner, has felt more like a necessity than a luxury, so I don’t want to shame myself or feel guilt over choices I made in the name of health and survival rather than laziness or selfishness. Still, I do not clip coupons, watch sales, seek out generic brands, or even try to pretend I have a food budget. That has to change.
I love giving gifts! It’s so fun. I like trying to find something thoughtful that a person will be surprised by and really enjoy, rather than something generic. As I scrolled through recent Amazon purchases, I saw that at least one order each month in July, August, September, October, and November was a gift. Some months, I placed two gift orders. I didn’t scroll past July, but I wouldn’t be surprise if I’ve ordered at least one gift a month all year. These gifts are usually $20 or more.
This Christmas, and for all of 2019, I’ve decided I will only give gifts to my parents and my brother. That is my immediate family, and it wouldn’t feel right to not give them gifts. But as far as friends (and their children) are concerned, I’m taking at least a year off of gifts. I have a wonderfully kind and thoughtful social circle, so I’m sure they’ll understand. Plus I have a ton of cards, and I will still celebrate and show affection that way. I bet this change will save me hundreds of dollars.
Last year I donated to the ACLU, PEN America, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and maybe more. I honestly forget. I also donated to some GoFundMe campaigns, and other smaller funds I came across online. I care about social justice and want to contribute in any way I can. In a sense, I feel like donating is my duty. No more! I am reminding myself of the airplane oxygen mask analogy–I should help myself before I help others. I’m being charged a couple hundred a month in interest fees, likely by people who contribute to the problems I donate in hopes of alleviating. It doesn’t make sense to keep donating while I’m giving so much money to creditors. I know I will donate again some day, but for now, I will be saying no when asked or, more likely, clicking away.
Oops. I have 6 magazine subscriptions. (For those who are curious: Yes! Magazine, The Sun, Bust, Bitch, Ms., and Oprah). I won’t be renewing any of them. I love these subscriptions, but honestly, I think 6 is too many. I feel compelled to read every magazine that comes to me (and it’s really hard for me not to read every article), so sometimes they pile up and begin to feel like work waiting for me. I think whenever I eventually begin subscribing to magazines again, I’ll limit myself to 2 or 3, so they don’t become overwhelming.
Amazon makes it really easy to buy books. I counted and I have 53 unread books on my shelves. Hmm…sounds like I shouldn’t buy any books in 2019, but should instead try to read one a week of those I already own. I love supporting authors, but I shouldn’t buy new books when it’s hurting me and keeping me in debt.
I’ve been working on having a more intentional wardrobe (post or essay coming soon), and have a list of items I want to buy to make my wardrobe complete. I’ve been shopping with the long-term in mind, and trying to only purchase things that I expect to last me at least 5-10 years. I’ve also been trying to avoid items made in sweatshops. That means, the clothes I buy are more expensive than clothes I used to buy. Anyway, all of this is to say that it’s time for me to make due with what I have for a while, and come back to completing my wardrobe when I’m not paying so much in interest every month.
Makeup and Personal Items
Before taking this financial inventory, I had a list of makeup and toiletries I wanted to try out soon–natural foundation, natural blush, natural mascaras, natural moisturizers for sensitive skin. I looked through all of my makeup and decided that while I don’t absolutely love many of the products I have–the mascaras seem to get all over too easily, the two face products I own are one shade too light and one shade too dark for my skin, and the only blush I have is a red lip color that claims it can be used for both–they are good enough. I can make due with them for at least 6 months, if not a year. Moving forward, I’m not going to buy a makeup item of any type unless I am fully 100% out of that makeup. Time to use up the messy mascara! & I apologize in advance if I look slightly tanner or paler than I actually am.
I’m glad I went through this process. It’s so easy to spend without being fully aware of how much I’m spending and what I’m spending it on. I remember at one point, over ten years ago, I wrote down every single thing I bought for a year and published it on my blog. While I’m not going to go to that extreme in 2019, I do plan on giving updates on my budget, where my money goes, and how well I am able to stick to spending in the way I want to spend.