Back in 2013, I was working for an advertising agency earning 45K yearly as an art director. However, I wasn’t really doing a good job at optimizing my money. I spent recklessly, mainly due to the stresses of being overworked. I would often tell myself, “Hey I’ve been through hell this week, I deserve an extra slice of overpriced flourless chocolate cake.” I regretfully shelled out hundreds weekly at the Whole Foods food bar. I swear I could smell their scrumptious gourmet offerings from across the street where my office was so inconveniently located. If it’s not clear enough now, food is one of my very few vices. The one expense that trumped my food spending was how much I spent on gas. I was driving 90 miles and 4 hours in traffic a day. I had to fill up my tank twice a week. I may have spent roughly $400-$800 a month. My relatively well paying job wasn’t affording me a financially stable life due to its demands and the cost of the many stresses tied to it.
Back then I had multiple bank accounts, spread out among a myriad of institutions paying .01% in interest. I let $5K sit in a mutual fund that was charging me way too much in fees. This costly investment was a byproduct of having a chat with a “free” financial advisor that my bank offered to its customers. My net worth at that time was 10K which I have to admit wasn’t exactly dire, but I had no investments or retirement account to speak of at 32. I am fully aware that others have been in much worse economic situations, like those whose retirement accounts were completely wiped out by the recession, or those owing $300,000 in student loan debt.
The purpose of this article is not to wow you with dramatic results similar to the effect of watching a guy in an infomercial chop ten onion heads in 4.5 seconds. The purpose of this article is to share the insights I have gained and the methods that I have found to be the most effective in optimizing every penny earned. Five years later, I am currently at a 96K net worth. I found a part-time job that pays me roughly 28K a year. I live five miles from that job which allowed me to happily give up my former 90 miles a day commute from my previous advertising job. I now contribute to a Roth 401K with a company match. My company also offers a very generous stock purchase plan. I work four days a week which has vastly improved my quality of life and allowed me to live a much healthier and stress-free lifestyle. Now living contently and comfortably, I thought I’d share my list of 17 things that got me to where I am now.
1. I consolidated all my accounts into one online banking account which now earns me a little under 2% interest (roughly $114 a month, 1,000-1,300 a year).
2. I redirected the money from my overpriced mutual fund to my Roth 401k which is invested in index funds at a .05% expense ratio.
3. I shop at a local grocery only when they have their intermittent 25% or 35% sale on various product categories.
4. I swapped chemical and carcinogen-laden products for clean alternatives (some of which are homemade) which are often 70% cheaper. This has also helped clear out my many skin issues and sensitivities.
5. I pack a homemade lunch and snack to work 4 days a week.
6. I shop for clothes maybe once every five years or more. This is easy for me since clothing and fashion is not a weakness of mine.
7. For Christmas and my birthday, I ask for gift cards for places I can’t afford (this takes care of my urge to eat at pricier places like Whole Foods or any other restaurant. I highly recommend slaying your vices by funding them with gifts.
8. I lowered my expenses yearly down to 5-10K which allows me to save about 20K a year.
9. My lower income bracket has afforded me free health insurance and lower health expenses.
10. I share the cost of car insurance with family to lower the price drastically.
11. I spend most of my time reading. I use a free public library app called Libby which gives me access to over 10,000 books, including The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money.
12. I share the cost of Netflix and HBO Go with family.
14. I am temporarily sharing housing costs with family which has helped a lot as well.
15. I redirect any company grants and raises to my savings or retirement before I even think about visiting a Michelin-starred restaurant.
16. I meditate and do yoga daily instead of spending on a gym membership or therapy.
17. I set up automatic payments to my monthly bills which prevents incurring late fees and has drastically improved my credit score.
18. I listen to finance podcasts to keep me on my toes in terms of money management and keeping track of the stock market.
I could probably list many more tips and tricks but I find that these 17 were the most effective in getting me to where I am. One of the most valuable lessons I learned is that more income doesn’t always equate to more happiness. I get paid less now but I am more financially stable and I’m living a much more stress-free life. At a second glance, Goldilocks may have had a point, finding something that fits you just right is better than shooting for the biggest or hottest bowl of porridge. This doesn’t mean I condone eating someone else’s lunch, by the way.
Lee V. is a former Advertising Art Director who now happily works at a retail store. She loves food and has learned quite a lot about money management since her days of spending $500 a month on flourless chocolate cake. Yup, all that money, just on cake.
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