I’ll be honest. Between the continually rising cost of living, college tuition, and an increasingly competitive job market, having debt is something many of us can’t fully avoid. However, there are many ways we can reduce our spending and decrease our debt!
Here are 10 life-hacks I’ve used to help me drastically decrease my spending and stay debt-free.
Simple Life-Hack #1:
Buy Your Car at the END of the Month
The saying is correct: timing is everything. If it’s been a bad sales month, car dealerships will lower their prices to meet monthly quotas. You can easily save a couple thousand dollars with this strategic timing. Or even better, go the used route from a single-owner seller. Find a reliable car with a clean title and a history of timely repairs. I paid $2k cash for a 99’ Camry with 80,000 miles and it’s still running smoothly after three years! Fun fact: on top of our savings, us old car owners continue to rule the road. Scratches? Dents? None of it makes a difference. I have no monthly car payment and my insurance is WAY cheaper than your BMW.
Simple Life-Hack #2:
Treat Yourself, but Groupon Everything
You shouldn’t feel bad about occasionally treating yourself. We all deserve it! Although a 2016 study found that as millennials, we spend around 44% of our food dollars on eating out… yikes! Knowing I am definitely a part of this trend, I began splurging on food items in the grocery store which has saved me quite a bit over time. If I know I have desired items in my refrigerator, I’m much less likely to eat out. On the special occasions that a friend and I plan a dinner date, I browse Groupon for restaurant deals and I easily save 50%. Local businesses often take losses in order to build a long-term customer base. This allows you the opportunity to try new things while also saving money!
Simple Life-Hack #3:
Drink More Water
Did you know that approximately 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated? Me neither. Apparently, dehydration can trick our body into thinking we’re hungry when we’re not. This causes us to consume more food than we usually would, therefore wasting money and adding calories we didn’t need. So how do you drink more water? One of the tricks I learned as a bartender is to ALWAYS put a straw in a drink because with a straw we take larger sips. I spent $5 on a reusable cup with a straw and I have easily drunk 3x as much water as I used to and I’ve noticed I’m hungry a lot less.
Simple Life-Hack #4:
Eliminate Food Waste
Another (not so fun) fact: Americans throw out about a third of what we eat. Leading the world in food waste, about 1 pound of food per American is thrown out each day; and those of us who consume a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, like myself, are leading the pack in most food wasted. This translates to about a third of the money we spend on food also going to waste! I have begun to pre-plan recipes with similar ingredients so I can have a lot of healthy variety, while still only purchasing a few items. Make sure you make a grocery list and stick to it.
Simple Life-Hack #5:
I love farmers markets, but they can be pricey. For a long time I avoided their fresh produce because I thought I was saving money, but at the same time, I was throwing away a lot of my fresh fruits and vegetables from the supermarket. I found out that fresh local produce is not only significantly more nutritious, it also lasts a lot longer than store-bought produce. Why? Supermarket produce is picked early and then has to travel a long way before it reaches your cart. I immediately began saving money and eating more nutritious food while supporting my local farmers!
Simple Life-Hack #6:
I’m putting such a large emphasis on food because it is a necessary expense and how we choose to treat our bodies has a HUGE impact on our lives, and thus our wallets. By avoiding unprocessed food and buying mostly organic produce to reduce my pesticide intake, I have found that I maybe get sick once or twice a year with very minor colds. And it’s easy to do the math. Less sick days off of work, fewer doctor visits, fewer medications, all of it means more money in our pockets and a better overall quality of life as healthy individuals!
Simple Life-Hack #7:
That Coconut Milk Matcha Latte is Destroying Your Savings
I’m not a coffee drinker but I’m admittedly sitting here in an expensive Los Angeles café with $6 less in my pocket because I spent it on a simple ginger coconut green tea (it’s awesome). However, I looked on Amazon and found this tea for under $10 with 30 tea bags. That’s $0.33 a cup compared to $6. While today I have an excuse as the pest control guys are spraying my house, overall I have significantly decreased my tea budget by staying at home.
I found a quiet spot in my room to put a desk, then hung some string lights, bought a couple candles, and hung some art on my wall to replicate the aesthetic of my favorite coffee shop. Then, I began buying my favorite tea and making my own tea lattes at home. While I used to average around $80 a month on coffee shops, now I only average about $12, and I spend around $15 on tea and milk per month. Saving about $50 a month translates to $600 a year!
Simple Life-Hack #8:
My Slow Fashion Closet
Every two weeks fast fashion brands like Topshop, Zara, and H&M, change up their styles. Instead of four seasons a year, they average 24 seasons. This causes us to continually buy clothes in order to keep up with constantly changing fashion trends. Additionally, the clothes are cheaply made. My ex-boyfriend bought a $65 vest that he wore all of twice just going into his accounting firm before the zipper completely broke.
Fast fashion is not only an environmental disaster, it’s a huge spending disaster! For the last few years, I’ve stayed away from popular styles and focused on well-made clothes that fit my body like they’re made for me. Now I have a much smaller closet with only items I absolutely love and look great in. Slow fashion focuses on timeless styles. Even better? Many of these brands are ethical, fair trade, and use organic cotton instead of environmentally devastating polyester blends.
Simple Life-Hack #9:
Don’t Accumulate Credit Card Debt
Okay, student loans are sometimes inevitable. As an aspiring human rights journalist, a master’s at Berkeley is my dream but putting myself $50k in debt is something I’m still struggling with. However, in all other parts of my life, I avoid spending more money than I have in my bank account. My FICO score is high, my savings account is still happy, and I just got back from a 2-month backpacking trip.
My trick? I’ve never lived beyond my means, always kept enough in savings for any emergency or unexpected costs, and thus I’ve never had any credit card debt. I’ve noticed that many people will spend more money than they have on items that are on sale, but then they accumulate interest on their credit card debt and end up spending more than they would have if they’d bought the item full price. Don’t make purchases you can avoid, even if they’re on sale.
Simple Life-Hack #10:
It’s been scientifically proven over and over again that things don’t make us happy. I can truly attest to that as some of the happiest people I’ve met in my life have grown up in the world’s third largest slum known as Kibera, outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and they have almost nothing to their name. In fact, many people who live in the slum have more than enough money to live outside of it as they are lawyers, doctors, engineers, among other professionals.
They’re happy where they are. Our consumer culture has instilled in us that buying more and more makes us happy when it’s actually been proven to make us less happy. The vast majority of the time if I don’t absolutely need something, I won’t buy it. This has allowed me to travel to over a dozen countries while still in my early 20s and overall focus my spending on experiences over physical items that always ended up cluttering my life anyways.
All in all, go ahead and treat yourself. Just be strategic, and keep it to a minimum when you can. Focus your spending on making memories with the people you love or the new people you meet while traveling. Indulge your local farmers market and treat your body with love and respect; your wallet will thank you. Oh, and proudly drive around in your 99’ Camry because life is better when you’re as debt-free as you can possibly be.