Tim and I got married in our 20’s and since then we haven’t stopped saving money for our future. As long as we’re able to save each month—and by definition we think of saving as earning more than what we spend—no matter the amount, we consider it a win.
However, there are months where we weren’t able to save anything at all, particularly because of big expenses. But we don’t let that derail us from our saving goals; if we’re not able to save for one month, we put in extra effort to get back to saving the next month.
We find that even with a small income, as long as you’re consistent with saving, it gives you a peace of mind because you know you have a resource to get funds from when the big expenses come, and boy oh boy, they’re gonna come. It’s just a part of life.
Unfortunate things happen to all of us. Even the luckiest person alive is one day going to die.
But before that happens, we need money to live comfortably. That’s why we save, so that for times when our expenses will be more than what we earn, we could still sleep in peace knowing that we’ll have enough food, a shelter over our heads, and the lights—or, God forbid, the internet—won’t be cut off.
So what are the basic habits we formed that helped us save enough money to:
- have a one-year emergency fund
- have a 20% downpayment for our house
- have extra funds to invest in the stock market?
1. We lived below our means
We were lucky enough to have incomes over the years that helped us pay for our basic needs and more. But some months, it’s just enough to pay the rent, bills, and get groceries for planned meals. Even during times when we weren’t earning as much, like in the beginning of our marriage when we only have one income, we make a very conscious effort to live not just within, but below our means if possible.
2. We lived off of one income
When we started bringing in more money from having two or more incomes, we made a decision early on that we’re only going to live off of one income, the smaller one if possible, and avoid lifestyle creep at all costs. Even if we don’t hit this goal every month, trying to do so consistently allowed us to save most of the net earnings coming from one income, and thus, it became the biggest contributor to increasing our savings.
3. We rarely, if at all, eat out or get take outs
Eating out is fun, until you receive the bill—it doesn’t help that, at least here in the US, you have to do math to come up with the tip. Even for just two people, eating out could cost us about $25 to $30, and that’s a conservative estimate AND not including tips. It’s basically spending on one meal what could pay for several days’ worth of groceries. That just doesn’t sound very practical to us, so we reserve eating out when there are special occasions or if we’re traveling and it’s not easy, if at all possible, to make our own food.
4. We don’t have cable (or a TV)
Just the idea of getting cable, for hundreds of dollars each month, is enough to make our skin crawl. And we haven’t owned a TV since we lived together. Granted, a TV might cost you only a couple hundred bucks (unless you opt for the ultra-wide, ultra-HD ones), but we find it unnecessary to buy something when we get the same use—watching media—from our phones and laptops. Those couple hundreds would be better off in a low-, or better yet, no-cost index fund!
5. We share streaming accounts with family
Some advantages in life just come from luck and the generosity of other people—in our case, Tim’s big sister. She’s been kind enough to share her Netflix and Amazon streaming accounts to us, and between those two, you should have enough movies and shows to watch for several lifetimes! If in the future, for some reason, we’d lose access to her accounts, we agreed to only get one streaming subscription at a time. It’s not just money-wise but it makes the most sense to us: we just don’t have enough time to watch shows from more than one platform to justify the cost of those subscriptions.
6. We bought only one car—a reasonable and used one
We didn’t own a car for most of our first year of marriage. We lived in a highly pedestrian-friendly town with easy access to public transportation so there’s really no need for one. But when the time came to consider moving and getting a job at a place that’s not easily accessible with public transportation, it was time to get a car.
Thanks to consistent saving, we had enough put away to get a reliable used car without the need to finance it or get a loan. It never crossed our minds to get a brand-new car either, which we’d definitely have to finance then, for it to start depreciating in value the moment we drive it from the dealership. To us, it just doesn’t make sense!
To this day we still have our five-year-old car (five-year-old to us—it’s supposed to be brand new in 2012) and it’s the only one we have. For an introverted couple who work from home, one reliable, second-hand car is enough.
7. We share a phone plan with family—the least expensive, grandfathered one
Loyalty doesn’t always pay off, but when it comes to phone plans, we found that staying with one provider pays off handsomely in the long run. We’re still in the same plan that Tim’s dad got for decades now, and at least for now, we’re planning on staying until they kick us out. We get unlimited data for the same cost as the “most affordable” current plans these days, and they offer the least amount of benefits.
If you have a family member, or any person you trust, that has one of these grandfathered plans with good benefits (e.g. unlimited data + reliability) see if they’re willing to add you as another line—but do the math first. See if it’s even worth it: is it cheaper and better than the plan you have now or any of the shiny new ones from other providers? The hassle of switching might not always be worth your while, but in our case, it definitely was—we’re paying less but getting more benefits. What’s not to love?
8. We plan our meals and meal-prep
I cannot remember a time in our marriage when we weren’t planning our meals—I can’t even remember how we decided that it’s a reasonable thing to do. Perhaps instinct? However we came up with the decision, this is something that we practice to this day and, most likely, for our entire lives. By planning and preparing our meals once or twice a week, it frees up a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be spent on cooking and unnecessary decision-making.
We can’t be the only ones who hate getting an “I don’t know” when asking somebody where or what we’re gonna eat. (One of the reasons we avoid socializing at all costs—hahaha, just kidding…or am I?) Planning our meals allows us to be aware of how much we’re spending on food too, which is something we pay attention to since it’s a category that we can control whenever we need to cut back on expenses.
9. We use things to their full potential
It’s hard for us to buy a version of a thing that we already have when what we have still works or serves its purpose. The first example that comes to mind are phones; buying the latest release every year just doesn’t make sense to our frugal minds. Sure, we can use some of the money we saved up to afford a nicer, newer thing, but it’s incredibly hard to make the purchase—to literally click the “Place Order” button—when we still have a thing that’s still functioning and serving its purpose well.
One thing that always helps me when it comes to making intentional purchases is asking myself “Do I really need this?” or “Will this give me a genuinely joyful or richer experience?”, then if it’s a yes to either of those questions, let it simmer in the cart for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, and come back to it with a more truthful perspective.
Time, I find, works really well for that.
10. We don’t get memberships/subscriptions that we absolutely don’t need or use frequently enough.
One thing we really dislike about how today’s companies do business is the subscription model. Why can’t I just make a one-time payment to enjoy a service for as long as I want, like in the good-old-days of 2012? But seriously, don’t we have just way too many services that require a subscription now? If you’re not careful, they could pile up way too easily and before you know it you’ll have a lifestyle that you either can’t afford or is just not very practical. It might be worth sitting down, listing all your subscriptions, and see what you absolutely need or love, then decide on what you can keep without breaking the bank.
11. We plan and set specific goals
If we could boil all our money-saving habits down to only two it would be the first one of living below our means and this, planning and setting specific goals. We knew the goals that we wanted to achieve, we were aware and honest of where we were in life, and we sat down and planned what we needed to do to achieve our goals from our current standpoint.
Yep, we didn’t just sit there, planned our entire lives out, and got everything right in one sitting—if it were, we’d be rich and retired by now. The truth is that money and financial discussions are just part of life, even more so if you’re married and planning a life with another person.
We made our own share of mistakes, we didn’t always agree on little things, and there were times that I got mad with Tim because he was against the idea of getting powdered peanut butter, chocolate almonds, and a nicer set of pans, all of which are stuff we regularly get, use, and BOTH enjoy these days.
As long as one or both are willing to compromise on the little things, and you both agree and are willing to work for the big things, then you’re already in a good place.
Life is already hard and unpredictable, so we take precautions whenever we can and plan ahead. Because we know that rain is coming. We’re just trying to build the best umbrella while not forgetting to enjoy the sun.
P.S. We also religiously track our expenses, check out more details in this video:
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The book that convinced us to start investing and being more proactive with our money and lives: The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias
The gear we use to make our YouTube videos at the Practically Humans YouTube Channel
• Sony ZVE10 Camera
• Sony Retractable Zoom Lens
• MOVO Shotgun Microphone
• Audio Cable
• Memory Card
• RGB Lights
• Studio Light
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