I have a friend who orders one thing or the other every week from one of the many online stores. To be true we buy online as well and not just that we have an affiliate id (we would appreciate you use it, if you do buy something) but I digress. This friend of mine likes new clothes and headphones so he ends up buying one or another every month! At month end suddenly there is no money left and he is guessing where all his money went.
We were in the same boat; though we were not buying clothes and frippery we were still spending 25-30K per month on our day to day expenses without rent or travel. We knew it was high but in six months we had tried to reduce it, nothing happened. We were doing what most people around us were doing, though on a lower scale. We were spending less than our friends but it was still too much. If we would talk to others they would say life is more expensive now compared to even last year. We were sure we will end up spending this amount or more till the end of time till last few months happened.
The reason behind our efforts: from 25-15K a month
Shifting to a new city which is insanely expensive compared to any other city we have lived in really lit fires below our asses. If we would not save more, we were sure we would never be able to equate our loan let alone create a net worth which was even remotely enough. So in February as I was researching on the internet (where else huh!), came across Mr. Money Mustache, and then FrugalWoods and my life took a u turn. Well not exactly so, but now I had proof that people were saving crap loads of money by reducing their expense (I promise I am bright in most other cases) and that expenses can be cut. So we decided to keep our expenses to 19K and see how things would work. Well they did work though not exactly how we would like it.
Since we were setting up house we incurred a few incidental expenses but we managed to be around our budget and netted ~20K. This showed us it could be done and I believe we were still buying a lot more than we needed. Next few months ended being cheaper than we could have thought with our expenses below 19K and 15K for March and April. But it did not count since we had been travelling and we don’t include travel in our daily expenses. So May was the month to actually start counting our expenses or so we thought. May ended on a great note and we are hopeful the expenses will be going down as we go ahead.
How to reduce buying- Our rotten food
We were able to reduce the expenses by understanding a simple concept- you need to buy less than you think you need. This is not just true in terms of clothes but as we found out it is true in terms of daily groceries as well. If you want to eat mangoes you might first want to finish off all the other fruits you bought earlier and then go buy some more fruit. Otherwise you end up with a mushy rotten pantry full of fruit you forgot to eat. This was one of the problems we faced every week but we could not seem to find the problem leading to it. First we thought it was our lack of home cooking, which did contribute to the amount of fresh food we threw out every day. Eventually we set ourselves in a routine and we cooked more. Only now I had two kinds of wastes- cooked and uncooked. I am sure you will agree with me that nothing makes you feel worse than throwing out food because you did not consume it.
Then there is a big truth which most of us ignore when we are being seduced by aisles of supermarkets or beautiful baskets of local vendors- you can only eat so much. Most of the canning, freezing and preserving projects, we think of when justifying purchases rarely happen.
Now we are operating on a simple principle- finish what you have first and don’t go out buying anything till you can’t do without it. The result is we have not had to buy even fresh vegetables for two weeks since we have a good reserve of staples and a windfall of food from office party. When I walked out to the nearby local market there were a lot of things I would have normally bought but today it was just fruits which we had finished of a few days ago.
With weekly expenses under 500/- (a lot of which is just milk) we have been trying to not go to the supermarket nearby more than once a week. It is now a place to buy bulk quantities of stuff we know we will need regularly and not all the shiny things they have on display.
The Freedom of it all
It is eerily freeing to know that you are not doing something wrong if you don’t buy that new thing which is a must have or have fridge full of fresh produce just in case you or someone else needs it. We have much less stuff than most people and we are not just happy without it we count it as our blessing. Less stuff means we don’t have to worry about a lot of things in case we have to move to a better place or a better opportunity.
If you have ever had to worry about where you will keep your stuff when you move out of the country or shift to a new job which does not pay upfront for moving costs you know what I mean. Last month we were considering one such opportunity and we came very close to moving. With the amount of stuff we already own it was something which made me anxious.
We don’t have a TV or some snazzy home theater, we love sleeping on mattresses laid on the floor and still over the years we have accumulated enough stuff to last us and a few other families a lifetime. Before we decided against taking the job, I was lining people who would want to buy our stuff in case we moved. It is not easy and believe me very few people are interested in buying that shiny bauble you spent 500/- on.
Right now I am satisfied with what I own, and to be fair there are times when I feel we should get a bed at least. Browsing through the mall I pick up a lot of things off the shelves, the important thing is I keep them back after really thinking if we need it.
We still buy what we NEED
Last week we bought a bath caddy to let us keep soap and shampoo respectably in our bath, we also bought a study table which we are using in our kitchen to house microwave, toaster and other things we did not have any space for. Did we really need these, yes and no. Yes because they make our life easy and we are no more looking at soapy basin or piled up cardboard box and kitchen counter with too much stuff. No because we could have easily survived without either one of these and had been doing it for past 5 months. We thought and analysed our wants and made sure we needed these.
Making things last
Thankfully we have a good history of long lasting appliances and furniture. Most of what we own in our kitchen is from our marriage years ago including our fridge, gas burner, food processor and microwave. They were bought on a deal or were gifts from relatives. They have had a few problems along the way but work great to this day with minor repairs. Same for our mattresses, couch and the bed we sold off before our last move; each one very usable and still going as strong as the day we got them home the first time.
Our dining table was bought second hand last year and we know it will last us 5+ years unless something really bad happens. Our recliners were bought for 50% off and are the first thing anyone is ready to buy whenever we think of putting them up for sale.
Giving away and taking back space
We gave away more than 50% of clothes to family and others in last few months. That has made me as happy as giving away can. I have space to breathe now, for some reason when we had more stuff even if it was packed in the wardrobe it felt like it was piling around me. With the smallest house we have lived in ever we had to downsize and now I am as thankful as I can be. I have more space in the tiny 500 sqft apartment than people have in places twice the size.
We are still not done though, there are too many clothes and other tiny things that we own but never use. Right now I am planning to either start a Buy Nothing group in my locality or find another exchange group that already exists. This post form Frugalwoods made me really think how awesome sharing can be and seriously I wouldn’t mind using stuff that my friends or acquaintances have used earlier. I have a few things that I would want to give away as well. These are definitely our wider goals than being FI. Another blog which I really recommend and have been following for years is An uncluttered Life (Marriage with Luggage).
I had never expected, not buying and giving away can ever make you feel free. I always thought that it was in possession of things that you find freedom, I am happy to know I was wrong.