If you’ve ever asked yourself:
- what’s the best way to save money?
- how can I afford the things I want and still pay my bills?
- is it possible to stop living paycheck to paycheck?
You are not alone. Money remains a taboo subject, even amongst the best of friends, while simultaneously existing as the subtle requirement for the vast majority of social events, outdoor activities, travel dreams … not to mention the vital role that money plays in paying for a roof over our head, food on our plates, and clothing. Unless you were born into wealth (or a farm that produces food for the four seasons), it’s likely that money is something you spend a considerable amount of time — every day — wondering & worrying about. I’m offering an alternative approach to money — one that will grant you lifelong happiness, a sense of empowerment, and clear goals to raise you up out of debt (and / or ignorance). Let’s begin!
The Simple Secret To Saving Money
You don’t need fancy spreadsheets (though I’ve made those) or a top-dollar salary (which I’ve never made) in order to save money. Beneath all the mountains of financial advice and dollar-siphoning services (at least one of which I would still recommend if you are looking for more structure when it comes to helping you save 1) lies just one crucial piece of advice:
Spend less than you make
The simplest way to save money is to understand how much money you’re bringing in on a monthly or weekly basis, versus the amount of money you spend. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that. Of course, if you want to save a lot of money, you shouldn’t just be stashing wads of unspent cash under your mattress, but spending less than you make is absolutely the first and foremost secret in saving money. If you want to wring every last cent out of each dollar you make, there are so many different & clever ways to increase the effectiveness of your take-home pay, but it really all boils down to spending less. For me, that meant:
- cooking my own meals
- declining social obligations that involved eating out
- never going to bars
- buying any clothing that I deemed necessary to present myself professionally strictly from thrift stores
Your own approach could be wildly different, as long as the core tenet of spending less than you make is still observed. Once you’ve started saving money, the next step is to invest.
A Beginner’s Guide to Investing
Stop working to make money — start making your money work for you!
When it comes to investing, there are only three things that you need to know:
- 99% of people don’t have the stomach for or knowledge necessary to afford being able to actively invest their money. That includes me.
- Having money in a “Savings Account” is a trap. Unless your savings is earning interest upwards of 4%, keeping any excess money in a bank account is a bad practice if you hope to retire at any point in the foreseeable future
- Warren Buffett, one of the most successful active investors of all time, won a $1 million bet with a hedge-fund manager by placing all of his money in an index fund
Index funds, quite simply, track the stock movement of the entire economy. More importantly, they allow you to enroll in a DRIP — or Dividend Re-Investment Program. Dividends — or the money issued by companies to their investors (believe it or not, many publicly traded companies issue their excess profits back to shareholders in the form of dividends) — form the backbone of passive investment strategies, and DRIP programs allow you to do something that would otherwise be impossible — purchase fractions of shares in companies. Traditionally, in order to buy stock, you have to buy at least one share at a time, but DRIP programs put all of your money back into the index funds you have, even when the issued dividends don’t add up to a full share of the stock.
This form of passive investment allows you to ride out stock market fluctuations by growing your principal, or the base amount of your investment, over time. And, thanks to the power of compound interest, your reinvested dividends start growing your wealth at a rate much faster than you could earn than by simply saving money alone.
If your eyes just crossed reading the last two paragraphs, that’s OK. Again, there’s only two investing tips you need to do in order to start making your money work for you:
- Sign up for a Vanguard account
- Start plowing any extra money you earn into VTI, Vanguard’s whole market index fund
The rest will take care of itself. Passive investing is best done with as little checking into the market as you can reasonably stomach. I try to only log into my Vanguard account when depositing money and, after the funds have cleared Vanguard’s internal system, when purchasing stock. Continue to grow your principal by putting away everything you don’t spend, and let the DRIP drops start to add up! Knowing that you’re on the road to financial freedom will help you stop worrying about money. 2
How I Saved Money On A Small Salary
I’d been talking about writing on the subject of personal finance since we first founded the blog, and this is our second post on the subject. If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend checking out Sheila’s post on personal finance — Saving for Travel & Making It Fun!
I hesitated to write this section — money’s already about as personal as it gets — but I thought it might be helpful to include an anecdote about why I feel qualified to talk about personal finance. Upon graduating from Boston University, I found myself with a diploma and over $50,000 in student loans to pay off. It took three years, during which time I never made more, annually, than the amount of debt I’d originally fallen into. But I did it by applying the entirety of my concentration to my simple secret for saving money — by spending less than I made.
When I first got out of debt, I spent three months living it up (by my extremely limited standards — I think I bought my first six-pack of craft beer, and I also bought a few pieces of climbing equipment that I hadn’t been able to previously afford). Having never had discretionary income before, I was unsure what to do with it. By month four, unspent money was starting to pile up, and my checking account — which had never gone above $2500 before — started to approach the $10,000 mark. It sat there, unsatisfyingly.
My first thought was that perhaps I should start buying even better beer 😮 . I was fresh out of a relationship that would continue to hurt for years after the fact, and the temptation was strong to buy my way out of sadness. I was conflicted between spending the money I had in a satisfying (and extremely harmful) way, or figuring out how to invest it into something that could fund my future health & financial freedom. Fortunately, the latter won. A friend of mine had sent over some reading material on the subject of saving, and I binge-read everything I could. I settled on the strategy outlined in my beginner’s guide to investing above. It worked.
In the end, it’s never comes down to how much you have. Sheila & I want to buy a house; to live in a place that we love; to have excellent access to the outdoors, our friends, farmers’ markets, and more. The money that we’ve both been able to save towards those ends enabled us to travel when we wanted to, and will continue to work for us in the years ahead as we forge new roots in the place of our choice.
How you use the money you save is up to you — Sheila & I talk all the time about how we wouldn’t recommend traveling to everyone, nor are we trying to convert people into quitting their day jobs to do what we did. What we would recommend? Finding out what makes you happy, and using your newfound financial freedom to go out there and get it.
Yours in saving,
I have never used You Need a Budget, but I absolutely stand by their product and their offering. Out of all of the budgeting software / services that I have seen, theirs is the only one that seems to appropriately blend advice with a high-quality app and mission statement. At the end of the day, they are a company, and companies exist to make money ... but they are also the only service that I can confidently recommend, as I have seen and heard many success stories from people using their services to educate themselves on how to properly make the most of their money.↩ back to post!
Nobody’s perfect, and you shouldn’t be a perfect miser. Saving your money intelligently, by investing, also should allow you to occasionally do things like taking your friends & family out to dinner, splurging on a three day weekend, buying yourself a fancy coffee, etc …↩ back to post!