Last month I sat down for a couple of hours and pored through my credit card statements for the past few months. I created a chart to show the trends of my spending and, as per a suggestion from Your Money or Your Life, I also charted my earnings. Up until the end of January the two were depressingly close together. I always thought I was doing well – I had automated my savings and I was putting away a decent amount every month. What I didn’t realize was how much was being flushed away on experience-based spending, like restaurants, mini road trips, and coffee(yes, the latte factor), as well as the occasional material goods. I don’t feel shame at purchasing any of these, but I wanted to see if I could do better.
I challenged myself to see if I could keep my credit card bill under $1000 every month in 2021. This does not include rent and utilities, which are paid out of a joint account that we have already funded, and groceries are split 50/50 with my husband, so this is coming from a position of luck and privilege. However, I am not using the advantages I have to financially secure my future, and I need to clean it up and make sure that I am on the right track to financial independence.
In order to help myself stay motivated, I used my little notebook full of graph paper. Each day that I don’t spend money on anything I colour in a square – it becomes so addictive to not break the streak! I allow spending on gas and groceries, because these are necessities (though gas I am actively trying to reduce), but everything else, coffees included, would deny me the opportunity to colour in my little box. This visual is incredibly helpful to me and keeps me going.
This has been a month and a half in, and nearly two credit card cycles. How am I doing? Well, last credit card cycle the total came to $433. This credit card cycle I’m projecting to spend $280. This includes food and phone bills. I have far exceeded my own expectations about how well I could do this.
The real kicker is that this has been very enjoyable. It has been made easier by the fact that we aren’t allowed to socialize with anyone outside of our own household at the moment, but before we were actually using that as an excuse to spend more on restaurants and take out to make ourselves feel better. I have had a lot of fun trying to find non-spending ways to fill our evenings and weekends when we are not at work, and I’m loving watching my credit card statements dwindle into almost nothing. Last post I talked about how I was not buying new clothes for a year, and that has contributed. Not drinking has been a huge factor, but that was something I decided to do for my health back in December. All the circumstances that were driving me to change for my health have been amazing to my bank account as well.
Some things I have been doing to keep the money firmly in my bank and investment accounts (be warned, all of this is the common sense ideas from other articles that I have found work really well for me, aka it’s a really boring yet effective list of strategies):
- Meal planning. This one has been huge because we had noticed our food spending getting a little out of control. Neither my husband nor I particularly enjoy spending time cooking, so we pick meals that are easy to make yet highly nutritious. My husband can’t eat meat, so it’s always vegetable-based with a side of meat for me. We’ve taken to having a rotation of six really tasty meals and that’s been a good money saver as we’re always needing the same ingredients. I still buy high quality meats but I buy the cheaper cuts, and lots of ground beef.
- Only drink coffee from home. This is not a judgement on the latte factor – if you love your coffees from the cafe then I believe you should get them, they will not break the bank. However, for the purpose of my challenge, this has been a big one because I would buy a coffee almost daily, which ended up costing me roughly $60 a month; because I’m trying to keep my spending as low as possible, this is a big chunk of money that is easily saved by bringing coffee in a thermos wherever I’m going.
- Hiking and walking for long stretches. During the day when I’m free or in the evenings I’ve left the wallet at home and just walked. I’ve usually walked for a couple of hours and find that my mind is much clearer for it, and it’s a free activity that helps my health. It also stops me from perusing things online.
- Working out. I already pay for a gym membership, so I may as well spend some serious time there. I aim to go three times a week but may up that to four if my body is happy with that. I only go for about 45 minutes at a time, so it’s not a huge time taker compared to how much screen time I put myself through on a daily basis, and it helps me stay on track with my healthy lifestyle.
- Leaving the wallet at home. For short trips, or even workdays, I take an emergency $20 bill with me and my phone, and that’s it. No wallet to easily pull a credit card out of and tap on the screen. This has been instrumental in keeping the spending super low.
I would highly recommend to anyone with the means to try this challenge. It’s really for people who are financially secure and want to build their savings from money that’s slipping through the cracks. I’m on track to save a huge amount more than I did last year, and it does not feel like I’m giving anything up. I expect my spending to go up a little bit when we are allowed to socialize again, but that doesn’t mean I go back to essentially living paycheque to paycheque. On the contrary it will mean I’ll think about spending on this that actually matter to me.
This was only hard for the first three or four days. After that, it became almost second nature and now it just feels normal and satisfying at the same time. If you can, try it! You have nothing to lose, and a shitload to save.