Most of us, when we hear we’re getting a 3, 4, or 5% raise, go out to dinner to celebrate and then, without even realizing it, slightly adjust our spending to the “new” income level.
One of the most powerful tools you have, though, especially if you find it hard to save, is your yearly raise. For the last six years, Mr. ThreeYear and I have used every cent of his annual raise to increase our savings and investing.
Why? Because we live a very good life at our current level of spending, and we don’t need to spend more. If we want to go out and celebrate, take a trip, or spend the money some other way, it will be waiting for us in the savings account. If we didn’t squirrel the money away where we didn’t see it, we’d spend it without even realizing it, and then all the effort behind earning that raise would be for nothing.
We’ve frittered away money over the years in exactly this way, and it always made me feel powerless over our spending. “But where did that raise go? How do we spend more now? Where is that money?” Now, as I watch our savings grow, I realize that we’re the ones in control of the money, and we’re holding on to it until we’re ready to use it in a thoughtful way (or invest it, which is my favorite thing to do with our money besides travel!).
Today I’m taking part in a “traveling book review” written by Rockstar Finance bloggers. Each day, a different blogger will review one chapter of one of the best money books I’ve ever read, Your Money or Your Life. Written by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, Vicki’s original coauthor who’s since died, the updated version contains timeless wisdom and current, practical tips for anyone working to make sense of their finances, their work/life balance, and life in general.
If you’d like to read reviews for each chapter, I recommend reading Rockstar Finance’s introduction post with links to reviews of each chapter.
The American Dream–on a Shoestring
Chapter 6 is perhaps the most relevant chapter to my life of the entire book. “Laurie,” it seemed to be saying to me the whole time, “read these words and internalize this message: if you want to achieve true freedom, you must learn to control your spending.”
A few years ago, I would have scoffed at this notion. “As if,” I can hear old me saying,”I’m going to earn more and buy whatever I want.”
This would be a terrific strategy if it worked–if it allowed me to increase my net worth, say, or even my happiness. Then we could get all the stuff we wanted just by working harder, and that would make us happier, and we’d all live happily ever after. All the millionaires and multi-millionaires would never declare bankruptcy or feel sad. Hollywood stars, paid millions per film, would never divorce or go through public scandals.
Our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food this year so we can reach our goal of location independence by the end of 2019. Last year, I challenged myself to adopt one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about what I called A Year of Good Habits here.
This year, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Last year our family spent over $12,000 in groceries, or $966 per month.
This year, our goal is to spend 20% less on groceries. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s almost $200 per month in food savings. The extra $200 per month is going into a travel savings fund, so we can see the results of our hard work in spending less on food.
We could have adopted a radical goal to keep our spending under $500 or something like that. But we know better. We thought it made much more sense to consistently hit our modest target, month after month, for an entire year, to show ourselves we could do it, than to maybe hit the $500 goal once or twice and then face plant with more $1000+ grocery bills.
And if we consistently hit sub-$772 spending, then perhaps we’ll challenge ourselves next year to shave off more.
For some people, $772 is a huge amount to spend on groceries. Others couldn’t imagine spending so little. The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion says the average that monthly expenditure for a low-cost food plan for a family of four in the US was $731.20. The liberal food plan average expense was $1093. I’ve seen bloggers who spend $60 per month on their food (they garden and eat two meals a day). I know friends who spend $400 a week for their family of five. Food spending really does seem to be all over the place for people.
This experiment is about behavior change for our family, so by teaching ourselves to spend less and not waste food (which we can be pretty bad at) my hope is that at the end of this year, we’ll have developed permanent habits around spending less and eating everything we have in the refrigerator.
So far, it has not been easy to achieve this goal.
Last week, I published a post that talked about the things we do to teach our kids about money. Since it turns out that we actually do quite a lot of things to teach them financial literacy, today is Part 2 of What We Teach Our Kids About Money. If you missed Part 1, read it here!
We Give Them Age-Appropriate Books to Teach Them Financial Literacy
We were given an old kids’ toy book from Chick-Fil-A many moons ago, called The Super Red Racer: Junior Discovers Work. Turns out, it was from a Dave Ramsey series of books for kids that taught about different financial topics like saving, giving, and investing. Junior ThreeYear loved the book so much that we eventually bought him the whole series for Christmas one year.
Happy Valentine’s Day. And Happy Ash Wednesday (aka the first day of Lent). It’s the first time since 1945 that Valentine’s and the start of Lent have fallen on the same day.
So in honor of such an auspicious occasion, I’m taking on a new challenge. While Valentine’s is usually about eating as many chocolates as you can get your hands on, Lent, at least for those in the Christian tradition, is a 40-day time of inner focus, of taking a look at yourself and seeing if there’s anything that you could improve upon. It’s traditionally a time when practitioners make a sacrifice, give up a vice, or adopt a new, perhaps self-sacrificial habit for 40 days.
Life is short. Do not forget about the most important things in our life, living for other people and doing good for them.
Life is short. I was reminded of that yesterday when I heard the news that yet another friend’s sister entered Hospice. I’ll spare you the details, because it’s a heart wrenching story. They all are.
It wasn’t that long ago that I hugged my friend Pam, both of us sobbing, as we absorbed the news that her sister had three days to live.
Life is short. Eff it. Buy the car, I hear people say. Sometimes death feels like it’s all around, especially with the advent of social media. I’ve watched more distant friends, their spouses and children, suffer cancer, car accidents, the loss of babies. I’ve watched the intimate details of people I was sort-of close to once upon a time live unimaginable, heart-wrenching things. It’s gotten so bad at times that I’ve had to step away from social media and shut it all out. The worst part of so much heartache is that it reminds you that it could happen to you, that you or one of your people could get sick, get in an accident. Reminds you that you, too, are vencible, as Junior ThreeYear likes to say (“That should be a word, right, Mom?”).
It’s time for another net worth update! Are you in the midst of winter, or is it warm and deliciously summery where you live? The ThreeYears are smack dab in the middle of the coldest and snowiest parts of winter, but we made it through January and we’re raring to go for February (Little ThreeYear can hardly wait for Valentine’s Day and all that chocolate he thinks he’ll get from his classmates!).
This is the first report from 2018, and boy is it a good one. Subsequent reports may not be as juicy, given that the stock market may have more “small or significant corrections” coming up, so I’m focusing on January while I can!
If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending (gulp!). Last year, we increased our net worth by 32% over the year before! This year, we’re trying to increase it by more than 65%! from where we started in December 2016. Given the wild ride the market’s likely to take us on this year, I’m not sure it’s doable. But we’re going to try!
We started the month of January off in warm Santiago. We took a three week trip to visit my in-laws, and had an amazing time.
I was very excited to see how our spending would look in January as compared to spending in 2017, given we have now eliminated the mortgage in Chile and our car payment. We’re also working to keep our food spending lower than last year.
It is time to report on our first month’s progress in the A Year of Good Food Challenge.
This year, our family is challenging ourselves to spend less on food, so we can reach our goal of location independence in two more years. Last year, I challenged myself to adopt one habit a month that would translate into better money moves for our family. You can read all about what I called A Year of Good Habits here.
Year Two’s Challenge is called A Year of Good Food. This year, we are challenging ourselves to do better at our food spending. Our family spent an average of $966 US per month on groceries in 2017 for our family of four. That’s almost $12,000 in just groceries last year.
This year, we’ve adopted the (what we hope is attainable!) goal of shaving 20% off that number, each and every month. That means we would spend no more than $772 in groceries in any month of the year.
With the extra money we’re saving, we’ve created a travel fund, so we can pay for a ticket to Chile for Mr. ThreeYear, or some other travel adventure. The point of spending less on groceries isn’t just that we’ll have saved more money. It’s that we’ll develop the habit and hopefully carry it with us in future years, so we’ll spend less and waste less. Continue reading “A Year of Good Food: Shop with a List”
Frugality is such an important cornerstone to financial independence. Even if people disdain the word, the concept of spending less than you earn is essential to financial independence. After all, if Nicholas Cage can blow through $150 Million, there’s really little hope for the rest of us, unless we can mind the gap and stretch the space between what we spend and what we earn.
Since my family has a pressing reason to save a bunch of money–our dream of location independence–we are actively working to get better in this area.
I am mediocre at frugality. I didn’t grow up in a particularly frugal household (my parents having eschewed the Ziploc-reusing antics of their Depression-era parents) and although we did control our spending by wearing hand-me-downs and driving our cars to the ground (my dad drove one car he had for 17 years and then gave it to Mr. ThreeYear and me after we moved back to the States), we did not practice those everyday habits of frugal living that come so naturally to some. Continue reading “5 Frugal Lessons I’ve Learned From My In-Laws”
What would your life look like with no more payments? No more car payments. No more credit card payments. No more student loan payments. How much extra money would that give you? Imagine the freedom to travel, to build your dream house, to finally retire. It’s a new year. And a chance to finally, once and for all, get out of debt. But what if you’ve tried before, and nothing’s worked? Or you’ve gotten out of debt only to get back into debt?
If you’re reading this, you may have an overwhelming amount of debt to tackle. Or you may be a personal finance guru, and need this advice like you need an extra helping of pasta with dinner.
Never fear! This guide is designed to help you get out of debt, but much of this advice will also work for other large, looming goals you’ve set for the year.
But why, you may be asking yourself, should I listen to this random voice on the internet? What does she know about how to get out of debt or how to accomplish my goals?
I have written every detail of how Mr. ThreeYear and I managed to get out of debt in this post and this follow up post, but in case you’re new, here’s a recap.
When Mr. ThreeYear and I got married, we were both debt free. This is something of a miracle when most college graduates finish college with debt. According to Tica, The Insitute for College Access and Success, 76% of graduates from New Hampshire, where we live, have college debt upon graduating as undergraduates, and the average debt burden is $33,410. That’s for undergraduate education!
I was fortunate to have scholarships to college and parents who paid the rest. Mr. ThreeYear was fortunate to live in a country where undergraduate education is more reasonably priced: Chile. When we met (in said country), neither of us had any debt. We spent a few years living like the DINKS we were, but Mr. ThreeYear’s way: we bought everything in cash. If we couldn’t afford to buy it with cash, we couldn’t afford it. I scoffed at Mr. ThreeYear as he saved up to buy a car, in cash. “Why don’t you just take out a car loan?” He looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t want to take out a car loan! I’ll just wait and buy it when I have enough money.”
Two years later, we moved to the States. We moved to the fast and furious city of Atlanta, where Mr. ThreeYear, and then I, found jobs, and slowly, every-so-slowly, we began to adopt the Atlanta way of life. First, we bought a house. We had been renting a very nice, 1100-square-foot apartment that was 15 minutes away from Mr. ThreeYear’s job (it was literally two miles away from us, but you know, Atlanta traffic). It had tennis courts and a pool, and a low rent (we paid around $850 a month for a two-bedroom in the heart of the city), but we decided we should buy a house, instead. Continue reading “The Average Joe’s Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of Debt”