Money. What more is there ever to say? It’s hard to argue against the idea that it makes the world turn and pokes its nose into every corner of our lives, but I’m sure I’m not alone in a reluctance to admit just how strong its vice-like hold is. Where travel is concerned, that grip is steely. The numbers are king and dictate the whens, wheres, and hows of life on the road. A few extra bucks here and there could make a world of difference in some locations, and with that little notion in the back of my mind, it’s a lot easier to pinch pennies and say no to all the little things that I want but don’t necessarily need. Skipping that second pint of beer here and now could mean saying yes to another beer in Australia next year.
Some people might argue that this type of twisted logic is merely postponing life, and we should always make the most of the time we have while we have it, but I don’t see it as “hermiting” away from the present moment. Not at all. I get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that by saving a few dollars now I’ll have a few dollars more to spend on the road, where they might just help make some life-long, or even life-changing, memories. Because, as Kerouac said…
While I’ve always been good at saving money (or rather, good at simply not spending it), I’ve never been successful when it comes to budgets. In my current quest to save, I’ve written up a number of budget plans. Excel spreadsheets, estimated costs, monthly payments due. I wrote them out, added them up, nodded my head in satisfaction… and then I never looked at them again. I’m awful at budgeting. So I’ve scrapped the whole concept and focused my saving efforts on what I am good at. Instead of changing my spending habits, I’m changing my lifestyle habits. Perhaps they’re the same thing, but slapping a different title on it (lifestyle, not spending) shifts my focus from the money to the actions, which helps me stay on track with my overall expenses. So, without further adieu…
7 Lifestyle Tweaks That will save you money
Harness Your Inner Emeril.
Seriously, my addiction to herb and garlic cream cheese is a problem. There was a time when I ate-out for every single one of my meals, and yes, that included a bagel for breakfast every morning at the coffee shop downstairs at work. Pros? It’s convenient and delicious. Cons? The costs add up to an insane amount, even when it’s just a bagel, just a sub sandwich, or just food court Pad Thai. Upon realization that I could save over $500 per year just by forgoing a bagel in the morning and grabbing a piece of fruit from home instead, I changed my habits and started looking for other culinary ways to cut the excess. Along with being a late-night muncher (guilty!), I also attempt to eat healthy — two habits that can be rough on the bank account — but by limiting my restaurant/bar/takeout activity to once per week, and saving a buck on groceries by shifting my diet to include more dried goods, bought in bulk and frozen (shout out to beans and rice!), I’m coming out way ahead where my food bills are concerned.
Shop for price, not convenience.
Sometimes this means schlepping it to three or four different stores in order to get the best deals. It might be convenient to buy all of my groceries at the nearby Sobeys, an expensive chain that I only compromise shopping at because I can simultaneously collect Aeroplan points, but by comparing flyers and collecting coupons from a variety of stores within and outside of my neighbourhood, I can save a lot on my grocery bill. Plan your meals around the fliers. It’s a lot more work — those coupons aren’t going to cut themselves! — but remember: it’s going to be worth it. This goes for retail of all kinds. Don’t forget about sites like Groupon! By spending a little bit of time studying the market, you can really learn when and where to find the best prices, and won’t it be satisfying to know that you got such a sweet deal on those jeans?
Pay for everything using a credit card.
It’s a points game. I’ve spent the better portion of my life vowing to avoid the precipice of debt and, aside from my student loans, I’ve done a very good job of living within my means. I used to believe that a complete avoidance of credit cards was the first solid step in ensuring I remained debt-free, and only reluctantly kept a Visa for the odd occasion like renting a car or purchasing concert tickets online. Then, I was introduced to the points game. It’s a bit addicting, and sometimes confusing, but the eventual payout can mean the difference between spending half your travel fund on flights or flying for free with air miles. The trick is to get into the habit of paying off your account as often as you use your card. Level up by working bonus-point promotions into your strategic shopping circuit from #2!
Side note: did anybody else notice that Tiny Fey swipes her card backwards in the gif above? What silliness is Amex playing at?
Make your money difficult to get to.
Because if you can’t access it, you can’t spend it. Even those of us with the strongest willpower have trouble saying no sometimes, but staying on budget without using an actual budget is made easier by separating your funds. When I decided to get serious about saving, I put a portion of my savings into an investment account that has been slowly growing over time. That’s money that I can’t access without having to jump through some hoops, and therefore grows untouched. A more tangible example of this is to keep a piggy bank. Throw all of your spare change into it every night, and you might be surprised by what you end up with. You won’t be tempted to spend it, because the thought of having to sift through hundreds of nickels and dimes to find anything worthwhile will keep you far away.
Befriend the library.
As any 90s kid and Arthur fan should be able to tell you, having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card! I’m a huge fan of books, and there’s nothing I love more than to collect them. Unfortunately this costs money, and even more unfortunately, books are expensive. The good news? There’s this place where you can borrow books for free. Imagine that. I can’t believe the amount of hardcore readers I know that don’t use the library. It just doesn’t make sense. Check with your local branch to see what other services they offer. Here in Toronto, the library even lets you borrow passes to Toronto museums and other attractions for free! There are a lot of services similar to the library that offer things we often pay for, for free or a small fee. Taking advantage of services like Netflix or Skype to replace your cable and phone bill can go a long way.
Downgrade the phone plan.
I don’t know about you, but I’m seriously disturbed by the cost of mobile phone services. I used to have an iPhone, and I loved it because it was trendy and had that sleek iOS interface, but I was paying almost $70 every month for the luxury of having it. Then one day my iPhone took a swim in the iToilet. It was a blessing in disguise even though I was still under contract with one of the major Canadian telecom companies. After paying the penalty to break my contract, I bought a phone to suit my future travel needs and chose a lower-tier plan with a subsidiary provider. The outcome? I’ve slashed my phone bill by more than 50%.
This is also the result of opting for an extremely limited data plan. I sometimes miss being able to scroll Twitter or Google-fact check random debates among friends, but I survive without it. I also spend a lot more time appreciating the people and spaces around me, rather than keeping my head bowed toward a screen.
Find a penny to save in every dollar you spend.
This final point might sound like a cop out, suggesting you try to save money in every other aspect of your life not listed above, but it’s about getting into the habit of finding a cent in every dollar, a pence in every pound, or a céntimo in every colón. Public transit is a perfect example. In Toronto, a monthly Metropass costs $133.75. The TTC, however, offers a discount for transit-riders who commit to an entire year. Each monthly pass then works out to $122.50 — essentially one month free per year. Finding an extra buck here and there can add up to a lot in the long run, and if it doesn’t, it at least adds up to more than you had before. I’ve found most of my “extra dollars” through signing up for freebies and entering various contests. I won free internet service for an entire year just because I took a chance and signed up for a contest. Your luck may not be the same, but you’ll never come in first if you don’t enter the race.
The best part about making these changes and turning them into habits, is that the mindset doesn’t leave you once you reach your goal, and it’s all the more easy to transition to life on the road, where your dollars dictate the miles you can travel. A win-win-win-win situation? I’m not in the business of telling anyone what may or may not work best for them, but it sure does make a lot of sense to me.
Do you have a top saving tip to live by ? Please share in the comments below!