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I thought long and hard about what I could change in my life to bring down my current living costs. After all, I’m already a pretty frugal person, so I thought it might be difficult to find a missing puzzle piece that could net me an extra couple hundred dollars per month.
Sure, every once in a while I liked to splurge, maybe go to a bar with friends, or buy that chocolate bar in the checkout lane at the grocery store. Yet it wasn’t until I started changing some negative aspects in my life that I unconsciously started spending less and saving more.
To my surprise, I tried to focus more on my well-being rather than my budget, and my costs started to naturally and gradually decrease. Here are the 7 unorthodox but necessary steps I took that brought down my budget to just $700 per month.
1. Be More Disciplined
And I’m not talking about being more disciplined with your finances. While this does help, being disciplined pulls your focus away from the need to spend and starts putting your attention on the things that matter.
Ever since coming back to the US from living abroad for nearly 2 years, it’s been difficult facing the facts of reality. Finding a job, yet again looking for a place to live, and adjusting to the social norms of another culture can all take their toll. In a sense, I was a wandering mess trying to find some direction.
After a few months of lazying around trying to figure out what to do with my life, I stopped thinking and started taking action. This included writing in my blog more, reading more books, and learning new things. After a while, I didn’t really see a need to spend more money to make me happy.
I was doing what I loved to do every day, and spending an extra few dollars on that chocolate bar in the checkout line was no longer necessary. In fact, I didn’t even want that chocolate bar because I knew it would slow me down.
In order to be able keep my focus and be disciplined on the things that I wanted, I knew that I would have to maintain optimal mental performance at all times. This included not continuously drinking and not eating processed foods.
I started researching more about nutrition and the effects on the body. I got into bulletproof coffee (a weird mixture of butter, oil and coffee) to see the effects it had on my focus, health, and overall well-being.
Of course, I relapsed. Every once in a while I would eat some junk food or go out drinking with a few friends. The next day or even just a few hours later I would feel tired, worthless, and without any motivation to do any work.
Yet after getting into the habit of eating healthy for weeks and then suddenly eating a bag of potato chips, you quickly notice what it’s doing to your body since you’re not used to it. I knew that I couldn’t keep on like this.
This is the time in my life that I needed to focus on my work and getting ahead. I would only be able to do this by ensuring that my attention was maintained on the task at hand while still being able to do things that I enjoyed.
Yet the most important thing that this has done is take up my time. We all need something to do, otherwise you’ll get bored rather quickly. I would no longer spontaneously spend cash on the things I needed in order to feel satisfaction in my life.
2. Changing Environments
After coming back from living abroad I needed a place to sleep. The only natural thing to do was stay at my parents. And it was great, at least for a while. I had free rent, free food, and they even paid me a bit of cash to help fix up some of their home due to unexpected flooding damage.
I didn’t realize that I was setting myself for a trap, continuously becoming more and more comfortable in a toxic environment. While my parents are nice people, the fact that the environment is so comfortable makes it a double-edged sword: you don’t have to worry about your finances, so therefore you don’t have to worry about work.
No matter how good things seemed, I knew that this wasn’t an option that I could hold onto forever. I was getting sick of my parents, they were probably getting sick of me, and I wasn’t making much progress in any areas of my life.
For some, staying with their parents can be a productive endeavor, but this wasn’t the case for me. It got to the point where I felt as if I could spend any amount of money I needed. No matter what happened, I’d have a bad and food on the table the next day.
It was time to move out, and I immediately started looking about my income and living expenses. To my surprise, I didn’t realize where all the money had gone during the time I had lived with my parents. You’d think that after all of these years of hard work I would’ve learned, but apparently I still had some self-teaching to do.
I saw an opportunity to live with my friend for free in exchange for an hour’s worth of work each day taking care of plants. I was quick to accept the offer as I thought it would put me on the right track.
The living situation wasn’t ideal, but I thought it would help me put me back on my feet. While it did at first, I didn’t realize how array things could’ve gone given my living situation. I lived about 40 minutes from town, didn’t have a washer, and cooking was extremely difficult as all that we had was a barbecue.
This only caused me to buy pre-made meals almost every day instead of cooking at home. I had to spend more in order to get the proper nutrition, and the things that I could find weren’t even all that nutritious or feeling, yet it was the best I could do.
I was sleep deprived because I ended up living in an uncomfortable bed surrounding by loud noises throughout the night. I saw the solution to my unhappiness as a need to be more social and spend more money. Sleep could wait.
After a few months of living there, I finally moved out to where I am now. I have my own space, a nice kitchen in which I can cook anything I want to, and I even have a washer and dryer. There wasn’t any need to drive an extra 15 minutes just to get my clothes washed.
Cooking the foods that I wanted to cook brought down my food expenses easily by a few hundred dollars. Not having to drive 40 minutes into town every day and then driving back to sleep easily saved me an extra $250 per month.
In fact, I’m actually saving more now that I’m paying for rent. Not only that, I’m not continually exhausted from all of the driving and poor sleep that I was receiving. I’m healthier and happier more than ever, and my wallet thanks me for it.
3. Getting Involved
You might expect this one to actually cost you more money, but the path that I took actually ended up saving me a few extra dollars. I wanted to be involved, be social, but not have to spend a large amount of money.
So I ended up spending $600 to take a 5-credit course at a community college. Not only would it further my education, but also give me extra time to meet new people and socialize for a couple of extra hours during the day.
Going out to eat quickly turned into drinking coffee and studying. Hanging out at a bar morphed into going out for a run to relieve the stress of studying for an exam. Socializing through an activity that I enjoyed along with my classmates helped ease the need for expensive social activities.
While I’m still debating whether I’m going to save any money at the end of the semester due to tuition costs, it does help me break into better habits in the long-term. I’m finally focusing on what I wanted to do with my life rather than simply trying to have the most fun.
Sometimes we don’t realize it, but making progress and accomplishing personal goals are what brings true joy to life. Just getting back into school helped me keep on track with what I need to do as well as consider other options for my future.
Even though I’m still uncertain, I believe that in the long-run it’s going to keep my finances in order. It’s a surprise what taking small but simple steps can do in your life.
I didn’t focus on my finances in order to bring my budget down, but rather on my well-being and what was important to me in my life. And that has made all the difference.
If you find yourself struggling in one area or another, step back and take a good look at how it’s effecting your life. After all, while money is important, it can’t always buy happiness, and there are certain things that’s it’s unable to replace.
For my particular circumstance, that was my discipline, happiness, and well-being. While money can help with these things, it’s only up to us about how we go about using money to for priorities that we really need to focus on. Thanks for reading.