Living on less: You don’t need as much as you think

Earlier today, I was reading this fascinating thread on Reddit about living in NYC on 35K (or less) a year. Some Redditors explained how they could live on this amount and still save a significant amount of money. While I do have the luxury of a job that pays me much more than that, my aggressive savings goals mean that I will be attempting to live on less than half of what I typically make in a year, which is going to come in at a little below 35K, if I manage to stick to all my plans.

The biggest thing I have going for me is that I don’t live in Manhattan, and I share rent with my significant other at a rate that is essentially impossible to find because our landlord(s) happen to be his parents. It’s not a realistic amount to pay for the space that I live in for even the most frugal of renters, but it allows me to indulge in an otherwise too expensive hobby, dance. Keeping up with this hobby is extremely important to me, so I like to think of it as an inflexible category like rent. The only problem is that my instructors are constantly trying to get me to come more frequently, which I should do to get better but would double my monthly costs, which I just can’t afford right now.

With the rest of my budget, I’m trying to keep things as frugal as possible. Public transit is a fee I’m forced to pay; I try to walk as much as possible between places, and I’ve found that it’s more cost effective to do a discounted per-trip card (adding additional value in chunks) rather than invest in a monthly unlimited.

What’s left to tackle is food and everything else, my miscellaneous category that includes shopping, tickets for events, and unforeseen expenses. When doing a cash fast, this is always where the focus will be. While food doesn’t have to be expensive in a place like NYC (there’s cheap food everywhere), eating out is a huge part of socializing. It’s been tough to keep it low, although I’ve managed in the last few months to stay below $500, even though my goal is even lower. All the spillover from food and dining I borrow from my shopping budget, where I need to spend essentially $0 to stay on track. The moment I slip, it tends to come crashing down, because I love shopping. Some bloggers are doing a no-spend challenge this year, and I am extremely impressed by that. However, it’s not a realistic challenge for me.

My point is, if you take a look at everything you’re currently paying money for, chances are, there’s something you could cut. If you make more than the median cost of living in your area, I strongly believe that you could easily save 10K a year, if not more. (This does assume that “you” are someone without dependents, disabilities, or have major financial burdens. By “save”, I’m also including retirement savings.)

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Here are some ways to reduce spending in areas where many of my friends way their money just tends to “disappear”:

  • Drinking. Pregame at home, find a cool dive bar, and limit yourself on overpriced drinks at restaurants, especially if you plan on doing a night out on the town. If you have a high tolerance, invest in a handy dandy flask. If going out regularly is a thing for you, there are a ton of ways to reduce the costs associated with it.
  • Books. As a rule, I don’t buy books until I’ve read them a few times and I still find the book enjoyable and worth having. For everything else, use a library. Yes, they still exist.
  • Restaurants. Figure out what a comfortable cost per meal is for you when it comes to dining out, and stay below it. For sit down places, do you really need to order an appetizer, wine, and dessert? Chances are, you could stick to just the entree and be full. Want to ball out? Split an appetizer, maybe dessert as well. Dining out should be able the experience you’re having, not about a full stomach.
  • Groceries. PEOPLE. Price. Check. Your. Groceries. Even if you’re opting out of your local whole foods in favor of a cheaper grocery story, that’s not enough. If you know that your favorite brand of yogurt go on sale every month or so, don’t buy it at it’s “regular” price for 50 cents extra. Wait until it goes on sale, then stock up. This absolutely applies to pantry goods with a longer shelf life. Vegetables, too. Craving avocados? If they’re over $2 each (my everyday life now, what happened to $1 avocados?), skip them. You may only be saving a dollar or two each trip, but trust me, that adds up. Be price conscious.
  • Rent. This is a tough one, as there are a lot of factors. Sometimes, the cheapest option isn’t always the best. For example, if option A is $1200 a month with a 10 min commute and option B is $1000 a month with a 50 min commute, I would choose option A, hands down. Decide how much different factors (commute time, car needs, neighborhood, access to groceries) are worth to you. Otherwise, focus on ways to reduce rent costs by getting a roommate or finding a smaller place in the same area.

Re-evaluate your spending, and live on less; your future self will thank you for it.