Whenever I click on a personal finance article, I wait for the other shoe to drop. And there’s always another shoe.
You’ve seen the headlines: She’s 32 and saved $100,000 for a condo (by living in her grandma’s basement for five years). Pay off your mortgage, live debt free: how one guy did it in 3 years (working three jobs, taking in tenants, being best friends with Kraft Dinner). Extreme saving: setting a retirement goal of age 35 (“Ask yourself if you want steak or if you want ground beef so you can afford to go to a basketball game”). These are admirable feats of sacrifice and determination to meet bold financial goals, but they’re also incredibly depressing. For most people, these lifestyles aren’t feasible (I’d love to live with my grandma, but there isn’t a basement at the cemetery), let alone attractive.
I understand why these stories get ink — moderation isn’t a headline-grabbing accomplishment. However, I’m a proponent of hacks that make everyday life more efficient and pulling away from overspending in certain areas for varying amounts of time. You’re not going to turbo-save hundreds of thousands of dollars with these tips, but you’re also not going to have to cut your own hair or give up eating out at restaurants.
If you’re looking for a more laissez-faire approach to saving, read on.
Automate your savings
“Pay yourself first” is the golden rule of personal finance. By automatically transferring a portion of each paycheque to a high-interest savings account, TFSA, or an RRSP, you’re ensuring you won’t spend it because you never see it. For budgeting, try the 50/30/20 rule: 50% of your income for essentials, 30% for discretionary spending, and 20% for savings. If money’s tight, start by saving 10% of your income and increase contributions over time.
Cook some meals at home
I aspire to reach the level of my colleague Rebecca, a meal prep devotee, but starting off small by cooking one or two dinners a week has been a more realistic way of ensuring I won’t get overwhelmed and give up, I’ll have time to make something delicious, and that groceries won’t go to waste. The aptly named personal finance site The Financial Diet has a great In The Kitchen section with cooking tips and recipes, grocery shopping guides, and articles related to every facet of money and food.
Find the cheapest places to buy lunch near work
For the days when you don’t pack a lunch or eat leftovers, have a rotation of spots in your arsenal where you can grab an inexpensive meal you know you enjoy (“cheap” is relative but should be around $10 or less, according to a very unscientific straw poll of my coworkers). Bonus: your office mates will love you, and might be inspired to create a master list of cheap eats in your area.
Invite friends over instead of going out
It took me 27-ish years realize that getting people to come to you is the greatest way to socialize, probably because it took me that long to have an apartment worth entertaining in. Creating a functional space to show off to friends and family is one of those simple adulting pleasures that also makes the fun parts of socializing (movies, a nice meal, wine) way more affordable. Even if you end up going out later, starting off the night with drinks and snacks at home will save you money.
Delete your Uber account
Out of sight, out of mind. Paying a $4.99 delivery fee for food on a regular basis is ridiculous, especially considering it goes right back to Uber and not to the driver or restaurant (in Toronto, where I live, UberEats drivers and cyclists were hit with a pay cut in November 2016). Even if you try to justify eating “good” food from a cool restaurant, let’s be real: you’re eating it hunched over your coffee table watching Netflix. This is not a culinary experience.
Have a no-spend weekend
No-spend days (also called zero-dollar days) are popular, but trying it on Saturday or Sunday takes it to the next level because weekends are a quagmire of social spending: Shopping, dinners out, drinks, late-night cabs, Sunday brunch. Of course, you shouldn’t financially starve yourself one day only to binge the next. The idea is to practice willpower and be more mindful about how you spend money so you’ll learn to curb impulsivity on the days you do spend money (ie. most days).
Beware of lifestyle inflation
Lifestyle inflation (spending more money as your income goes up) is how people end up earning $200,000 a year and yet complain it’s not enough to live on. The problem isn’t not making enough money to save, but spending too much of it to the point where luxuries become necessities. If you get a raise, avoid the creep of lifestyle inflation by increasing your automated savings while sticking to relatively the same budget for expenses.
Buy household staples on sale and in bulk
For the essentials you can’t cut from your life (toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, toothpaste, trash bags, etc.), buying on sale and in bulk means saving even more money on already lower per-unit prices. It takes a surprisingly minimal amount of organizing to manage your household inventory — once you get a sense of the sales cycle at your local grocery and drugstores, the key is to balance having enough supplies with restocking when things go on sale.
Smart shoppers know to never buy something off the rack for full price. Fashion news site WhoWhatWear has helpful guides on the best times of the year to shop sales, when to buy now or wait for a sale, and insider secrets to scoring seriously discounted clothes. This rule doesn’t just apply to clothing — stock up on cards, gift wrap, and decorations right after a holiday, and you’ll be ready by the time next year’s fete rolls around. One of my favourite blogs to come out of the gate in the last year is The Luxe Strategist (tagline: “personal finance, elevated”), penned by a New Yorker who saves half her income and buys $400 shoes.
Have the best credit card
As I’ve written before, the best credit card for you is one that suits your spending habits and saves you money or creates value through a low interest rate, cash back, travel miles and rewards, or points redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, and experiences. It’s in your best interest to develop a healthy relationship with credit, and using a credit card responsibly helps you build a positive credit score and take advantage of cash back or rewards earned on money you’re spending anyway. Here’s a great article on how to make credit cards your best friend.
Get a side hustle
I have mixed feelings about the side hustle — it’s just a clever rebranding of “getting a second job” and a bandage for actual wage equality. However, more power to you if you can utilize your skills and contacts without working yourself to the bone — especially if you get paid in cash. Some ideas: Gift wrapping, tutoring or teaching (piano, a fitness class), babysitting, getting crafty with an Etsy shop, freelance writing, copyediting, or web design, baking, or dog walking.
Clean out your closet
Get a rebate on your used clothes by selling them to your local consignment store. Visit the store to see what season they’re buying for, what kind of clothing and accessories they take, and how their selling process works. Some take everything (ie. mall brands), while others are pickier and only take designer brands. This isn’t a big moneymaker, or even necessarily a quick cash grab — you’ll only recoup a tiny slice of what you paid (depending on the item and brand), and some stores only pay out when the item sells rather than give you cash on the spot. However, it’s a great way to clean out your closet and make a little bank from clothes you’re ready to toss anyway.
Arthur was right: Having isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card. Besides being a cheap hobby you can pick up practically anywhere, reading is a boon for creativity, language acquisition, learning new skills, and opening yourself up to different stories and viewpoints. Alongside novels, biographies, non-fiction, and journalism, there are dozens of incredibly useful personal finance blogs out there. Check out Ratehub.ca’s list of 15 Canadian personal finance bloggers to follow.
Create a visual reminder of your savings, spending, and debt
Whether it’s an Excel spreadsheet or a bullet journal, you’re much likelier to hold yourself accountable to your goals if you track your progress. Who can deny the psychological satisfaction of crossing an item off your list or shading in a brick on your savings thermometer?
Stop comparing yourself to others
The point of this article isn’t to hate on the super-savers of the world, honest. Money is an emotional issue because net worth is often equated with self-worth, making it way too easy to compare yourself to people who come from a totally different set of circumstances (trust me, I work in personal finance). Sensible dad voice time: It’s ok to still be hacking away at your student debt, to not have six figures saved by the age of 30, or to fall off the budget wagon and dip into your savings — we’re all just trying to do a little bit better.