As any dedicated Target shopper, I like to make it to their store every couple weeks. Sometimes to actually buy things-other times just to look and wow my soul. The other day I was at Target with my husband. I found the cutest industrial glass string lights that I wanted to string across the kitchen to make it look like a cute little French cafe (I can hear the soft accordion music now!) Set on the $30 lights, I picked up the box and continued to walk around the store picking up other little things we needed like shampoo and cleaner. As we were about to walk to the check out line, Jacob looked at me and said “do you really need those lights?” Of course I want them. They’re going to look great in the kitchen! But, honestly, was this something I needed? As much as my soul hurt putting those glamorous lights back on the shelf, I was thankful that Jacob kept me accountable. It’s hard to remind yourself in the middle of a Target trip that you should be buying things you NEED. Not just things you want.
Living in a consumer culture, you are tempted to buy something everywhere you turn. From billboards, commercials, and shopping “deals” (yeah, buy 5 get 1 free is a little outrageous) we are enticed by stores to buy a bunch of stuff we really don’t need. Buying things you want isn’t bad when you have the disposable income. But if you’re still paying off debts, or trying to save a large sum of money, you’re going to want to stick to buying things that fit the four basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, and transportation.
Have you ever kept track of all the money you spend on food? It might be more than you think. I never realized how expensive eating out was until Jacob and I got married. We cook basically all our meals at home and if we ever went out when we had a gift card, we’d gasp at how much it costs to have one meal. At a sit down restaurant for two people with a soda and tip, you’re looking at around $40. We try and spend no more than $250 a month on food. One meal out a month even is a huge dent in our budget.
Jacob and I are planning a vacation in the fall of 2018 to celebrate after we pay off our loans in the summer of 2018. As I was figuring the cost of the trip, I calculated out what we would spend on eating out once a week for the first 3.5 years of marriage (which is what many people do regularly). Considering it to be about $40 each week, that totals to $7,280. This doesn’t even take into account the high cost of alcohol. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather go on a trip to Europe than eat out once a week. About once every 2 months we’ll go out to eat, but usually a less costly place like MOD pizza or something. Yum!
Another thing you’re probably spending too much on is your coffee habit. Some people get a coffee (maybe with a croissant) every morning before work/church. Considering you get a specialty drink for about $4.00, that drink alone every day is costing you $1,460.00 in a year. Brew your own coffee at home and enjoy those savings!
When it comes to food, cut back on “luxury” food items; mainly eating out and coffee. It will feel great to put those extra savings to paying off your debts or saving for your dream vacation!
A good rule of thumb when it comes to rent/mortgage payment is to spend no more than 25% of your income. Right now we spend about 25% of our combined take home income on rent, but rent is also about to go up… The joys of Portland living. We have a small one bedroom apartment, but it’s all we need right now. Yes, it would be nice to have an additional bedroom for extra space, but we don’t need to pay extra for something we don’t need.
Find something that comes close to following that 25% rule. The truth is, your apartment doesn’t need granite counter tops, hard wood floors and stainless steel appliances. Do I want those in my house one day? Absolutely! But I don’t need to pay extra to have it in a temporary apartment.
But DON’T compromise safety. The most important thing for me when we were looking for an apartment was that it was a place where I felt safe. Our apartment is in a good neighborhood so it costs just a little bit more, but that was by far worth it to me. Our apartment isn’t a dump. It isn’t fancy either. It suits our needs well.
Other costs related to shelter and housing include utilities, Internet, phones, and cable. Yes, heat is a good thing. Use a reasonable amount in the winter to not freeze yourself in an ice box. But utilize blankets as well. 🙂 Internet, phone and cable are all luxuries. While today it may seem that Internet and phones are a necessity, if you remember that every time you use yours that it’s a luxury, you’ll be more grateful. We have Internet and cell phones as our luxuries, but we decided that we really didn’t need cable and it’s so expensive.
Clothing means that you have shoes on your feet and clothes on your body. This doesn’t mean going on a Nordstom shopping trip because “clothing is a need.” A couple months ago we went and got Jacob a new hoodie because he wore holes in the elbows of all his other hoodies. That, my friends, is a clothing need. I love shopping and getting new and cute clothes as much as the next girl, but I know I already have clothes to wear that don’t have holes. When we are debt free, I’ll probably allow myself a clothing budget, but right now it’s not a need.
I am thankful for the fact that I was able to buy my own first car when I was almost 18. I worked at a frozen yogurt shop and saved all my money to buy a 1998 Toyota Camry. It felt so accomplishing to have my own car and buy it myself. That car got me through college and has been awesome for commuting. It may be old and not the nicest, but it gets me from point A to point B. Would I love a newer car? Absolutely! But what I have works for now. Driving your old car from high school is totally fine if it’s saving you money right now. Buy that newer car in a few years!
Jacob and I both work downtown and part of our employee benefits is that we get a monthly Trimet pass. Believe me, I hate taking the MAX every day. It’s stinky, crowded, and you meet very interesting people, but it’s FREE. We drive a mile to the MAX station and then ride it into downtown for 45 mins. Therefore, we don’t put much wear and tear on our cars, don’t have to pay for parking, and spend usually less than $50 a month on gas between our two cars. See what you can do to cut on transportation costs. Maybe your company also does some sort of transportation benefit program. Can you ride a bike to work? Join a carpool? It may not be ideal, but you’re saving money. This is what I have to remind myself every day on the afternoon commute.
The Fun Budget
The truth is, buying only what you need is great, but you should also be able to splurge on things you want. To reward ourselves, Jacob and I set aside $100 a month for “fun” money. I get $25, Jacob gets $25, and we put $50 to a together/vacation fund. It’s not much, but we can decide if we want to spend it or save it up each month for something big. We make all our financial decisions together, so this is the little bit that we each get and don’t need to ask each other about before spending. During the Blazers playoffs round 1 games, we decided it would be fun to go. In the spur of the moment, we bought tickets to the game because we had money in our vacation fund. You will be able to do more “spontaneous” fun things when you already have the money saved.
All in all, when you’re paying things down or trying to save money, do your best to buy things you NEED. Not things you want. When out shopping, just think to yourself, “do I need this?” If not, put it down. When you’re debt free, those items that you want will be more within reach. Also, don’t forget to enjoy life with little treats. Setting aside a little bit of money every month will allow you to do those fun things, or get a Starbucks once a week. Getting out of debt is important, but we’ve also learned that it’s important to enjoy life!