I’m currently saving money to buy an apartment in Spain. In cash. That’s why, several months ago, I decided to cut my living expenses by 10-20 percent, so I can sock away more money and buy that apartment faster. Easy to do? Absolutely. Plus, if I can do it – Miss I Must Buy Every Cute Thing I See – anyone can.
If you’d love to cut your living expenses by 10-20 percent in only a month, here are some of the things I changed in my life so my total living costs are now far below normal. None of them took any time to implement, and some took advantage of things I already had lying around the house.
1. Stop buying things you don’t need – As ridiculously simple as this sounds, it’s difficult to do for most. A latte every day. A book. A computer game. A cute t shirt. While we all justify our purchases with “It was only $10” or “It was on sale”, the truth is, unless you don’t have any coffee at all at home, or the only clothing you have is the shirt on your back, none of these purchases are things you need. Yet they add up to thousands of dollars a year.
With 1,000 DVDs I’ve never watched, 300 books I haven’t read and 250 computer games I haven’t played, plus the 50 outfits in my wardrobe I rarely wear, my chances of ever ‘needing’ to make certain purchases for the next 5-10 years are slim to none. Yet I was spending 20 percent of my monthly income every month to buy more. Until I stopped. Assess what you already own and don’t use, and you can as well.
2. Eat the food you have – Every time I used to go to the grocery store, I bought cans and packets of things I wasn’t likely to eat for months. Why? Well…..I might need it, it was on sale, or it looked delicious. When I decided to cut my living expenses by 10-20 percent a month, however, I stopped. Instead, I ate the food I already had – food I’d bought six months previously and never eaten.
That alone saved me over $75 in grocery bills the first month I did it. Several months later, and it’s still saving me $10-$20 a month.
3. Stop throwing food away – The average American and Brit throws away up to 25 percent of the food they buy, amounting to thousands of dollars (or pounds) a year. Money they could have spent on other things – or saved. Eat the food you have, and cook the food that’s getting close to its ‘eat by date’. That way, you won’t find yourself throwing away chicken or fish that was perfectly edible yesterday.
I went one step further and started to cook food I always threw away. Namely the vegetable stems my rabbits don’t like.
Instead of refrigerating the leaves and heads and throwing away the stems, I started to put the stems in a separate plastic box in the refrigerator. Sauteed in olive oil with half a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, then marinated in chicken stock and they became an amazingly delicious meal served on a bed of rice. Free too, when you factor in they would normally have ended up in the garbage can.
4. Shower the Asian way – Cutting your water and electricity bills is a great way to save 10-20 percent on your living expenses every month. One way I do this is to ‘shower the Asian way’, (well…I do live in Thailand!)
What that means is you turn the shower on and wet your hair and body. Then, turn the shower off, and shampoo your hair and soap your body. Turn the shower back on for rinsing. Surprisingly, small things like this can save you hundreds of dollars a year, as you use a tenth of the water you would normally use, and save the electricity it takes to heat and re-heat water. The same thing goes for continually running the water while you’re cleaning your teeth. Don’t.
5. Stop air-conditioning rooms you’re not in – With central air, many Americans will simply air-condition their entire house. Something few other nationalities will ever do. Why? Because it can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year to do so, is a waste of electricity, and terrible for the environment.
I live in Bangkok, officially the world’s hottest city, with temperatures regularly over 100 degrees. Yet I only air-condition the room of my apartment that I’m physically sitting in, so my utility bills every month are low.
If you’re not in a room, close the air-conditioning vents and shut the door. There’s no reason to air-condition rooms you’re not in. Plus, if you want to make sure rooms remain ‘aired out’ and don’t get that musty smell, simply air condition them a couple of times a week, and you’ll have no problems. The result? A saving of 10-40 percent on your utility bills every month, and at no discomfort to yourself.
6. Walk – Stop talking the car for five minute trips to the grocery store, the bank or even to your job. Walk instead, and save the money you spend on gas or maintenance on your car.
Up until a few months ago, I used to take motor cycle taxis everywhere in Bangkok. They’re cheap (less than $1 a trip) and they make getting to the store or mall a breeze. But…..even that small $1 a trip adds up when you’re doing it 20 times a week.
When I decided to cut my living expenses by 10-20 percent a month, I calculated I was spending more than $80 each month on short motor cycle taxi trips. Distances I could cover on foot myself in just a few minutes and with no more inconvenience than getting a little bit hot.
Now, I only take motor cycle taxis if I’m loaded down with shopping bags and they’re too heavy to carry. Otherwise, I walk. It’s 100 degrees in Bangkok many days of the year. If I can do it, you definitely can.
Simplify, simplify, simplify
Look at your life and be honest with yourself. What things do you really not need to buy? What things do you already own but never use? How much food are you wasting? Do you really need cable TV? (I ditched mine three years ago and, with millions of hours of YouTube videos available to watch for free, I haven’t missed it for a second). Can you walk to the place you would normally drive to? (and yes, you’ll lose weight as well if you do).
Change just 10-20 percent of the way you normally spend money and, voila, you’ve cut 10-20 percent of your living expenses every month. Soon, you could be buying an apartment in Spain – in cash – just like me.