There are so many websites and blog posts detailing new and creative ways to cut expenses and save money by switching to a certain product or downloading some app, etc., but they often have the same fundamental flaw: they don’t challenge our culture of wasteful consumerism. Instead I’ve found myself reading through pages of pseudo-solutions that don’t really tackle the root of our money woes. We need to change our mindsets, not just our spending habits! That’s what this plan is about, not just cutting out unnecessary spending, but also being more conscious of the external influences on my attitudes toward money and material things. It’s about getting really serious about what I can do without. I’m not just tightening the belt, I’m putting on a mutha-freakin corset.
1. Cancel your Netflix subscription
Yes, you read that right. Cancel your Netflix, your Hulu, your Spotify, your whatever. If you’re really struggling financially, it’s not necessary! We have these magical little things called Public Libraries that, while slightly less convenient than Netflix, are free! Many of them carry DVDs, CDs, even video games and other media that are more than enough to keep you entertained. My local library even has a service called Hoopla that allows you to digitally stream up to 5 titles a month for free straight from your computer. You can also borrow movies from friends, or peruse Youtube for original content; you’d be amazing what you can find.
I cancelled my Netflix subscription about a month ago now, and although it’s been an adjustment, it will be for the best in the long run. Not only will I be saving about $15 dollars a month, I’ll also be saving a lot of time. Binge-watching may be fun, but how many half-finished creative projects do I have lying around that I could have finished? How many books could I have read? Or perhaps I could have been working toward some long-term goals that have been placed on hold. Television was becoming too much of an unhealthy form of escapism, and was only exacerbating my procrastinating tendencies. I enjoy TV and movies– I love stories– but right now I just don’t need it.
2. Simplify your beauty routine
Makeup: I have my “everyday” look that almost never changes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. I don’t need to use a brow pencil everyday, I can save that for special occasions. I can switch from liquid eyeliner to pencil eyeliner (which is like half the price), or I can eliminate eyeliner all together most days. The goal is to wear less of it. But mascara stays; mascara is forever. Also try switching the brand; you really don’t need Sephora when the drugstore brands work just as well most of the time. I’ve started using E.L.F. for a lot of products, especially things like eyeshadow or lipstick that I don’t wear very often. I know it can be hard to change a makeup routine, especially when we use it to cover up perceived flaws and feel more confident wearing it (I used to wear heavy foundation in high school to cover up acne), but it’s a change that can be done gradually, and it can be so freeing. My skin is markedly better without all the makeup (in contrast to how crappy it gets when I’m in a play and have to wear stage makeup! Ugh!) It also doesn’t take anywhere near as long as it used to getting ready in the morning, which is partly because I also simplified….
Hair: I know I’ve saved a crap ton over the last couple years by not dying my hair. I know covering up grey hair is a different story, but for most millenials, cutting this expense out is totally doable. A haircut may be necessary, but expensive highlights and crazy colours are not. I’m desperately bored and want so badly to dye my hair right now, but I just cannot justify the expense. Save on shampoo and conditioner by only washing your hair every 2-3 days instead of everyday; prolong the time between trims by not using a blow dryer or flat iron everyday. My mom and I even trim each others hair sometimes when we just need the split ends gone; ain’t nobody got time for a $40 trim! Find a simple, low-maintenance look that can be replicated daily and is kind to your wallet. (Note: I’m speaking from the experience of a person with caucasian hair; I’d love to hear what tips women of color have to save on hair expenses; drop a comment below!)
Skincare and other Toiletries: I can almost guarantee there are a few products in your bathroom cabinet you could save money on by switching to a different brand or eliminating it all together! Soap is just soap; you don’t need to spend $10 on a fancy smelly-good brand when the $2 store brand will get you just as clean. I’ve found that, with a few exceptions, the store brand is just as good as the others. Even store brand medicine is literally the same as the name brands– don’t believe me? Check the back of the box. Some things can even be watered down; I split my makeup remover between two bottles, then fill the rest up with water and it works just as well. Other things can just be eliminated; I love trying new skincare products and facemasks, but I just don’t need them. Changing my diet and exercise habits will benefit my face more than any new skincare craze; I really just need to keep it clean, not irritate the skin, and practice healthier habits.
3. No Thrift Shopping
I really enjoy thrift shopping. It’s kinda like treasure hunting. But I end up spending more than I ought to because everything is “such a good deal” and I can’t pass it up. So not going thrift shopping at all is the safest bet for me right now. I do have one planned Salvation Army trip coming up, but I’m taking someone with me who can keep me focused on what I’m actually looking for!
4. No Shopping for Clothes, Books, Craft Supplies, etc.
The thing is, I really have plenty of clothes. They may not all be on-trend by the end of the year (or even by the end of this month), but if they are doing their job of clothing me, that’s what counts. I bought a lot of clothes last spring when I was feeling discontent with a lot of things in my life, but they didn’t make me feel any better; they just cluttered up my closet. So this year, unless there is something specific that I need or some item has to be replaced, I am not going to buy unnecessary clothes. I have plenty to wear as is, or that I can alter/upcycle, and I even have some fabric that I may try to make some of my own clothes from.
I also have a habit of buying books and art/craft supplies that I don’t get around to using until months, if not years, later. I need to read the books I have or go to the library, and I need to use up the art supplies I already have.
5. No Online Shopping (unless necessary)
Sometimes shopping online is the best way to find a specific thing that you may need, but I sometimes find myself overtaken by the convenience of the whole thing and end up buying stuff I most likely never needed.
6. No Purchasing Alcohol to Take Home
Notice I said purchasing, not consuming. Having a glass of wine with dinner or purchasing one Angry Orchard while out with my friends (I’m a lightweight, so stopping at one isn’t a problem) is acceptable, but I don’t need to be taking trips to the liquor store or consuming more than one drink in an evening. I don’t do either very often anyhow, but I don’t think it hurts to add this to the list, just to make sure my rules for myself are clear. Besides, has anyone woken up after an evening of drinking and thought “Gee, I feel fantastic!”? I doubt it. This one is both for my wallet and my liver.
7. Pack More Meals/ No Wawa
I may or may not be addicted to Wawa’s mac n’ cheese… but I definitely need to stop getting food there so often. I just need to get into the habit of packing meals again because it really does add up. There will be times when I do have to get food on the go, but this will either be coming from my food budget or my “fun” budget. The thing I have to remember about food is this: it doesn’t have to taste amazing, it just has to nourish you.
8. Limit Going to the Movies, Eating Out, etc.
I have a very limited amount set aside in my budget for “fun/going out,” but the less I do these things, the more I’ll have at the end of the month to throw at my student debt. So if I can find a cheaper alternative to any out-and-about activities, that’s what I’m going to do. Go to the movies? How about we borrow a movie from the library and watch it at home because I don’t need strangers loudly munching popcorn all around me anyhow. Order takeout? Or we could get microwave dinners from the grocery store, or see what we can make from leftovers in the fridge. Go bowling? Okay, I might actually take you up on that one… but just one game.
9. Unfollow and Unsubscribe
I don’t think I need to tell you how much of a time-suck social media can be; but have you ever considered how it shapes your spending habits?
And I don’t just mean the advertisements that inundate our home feeds, either. I’m talking about that sneaky little brain-bug called Comparison that likes to tell us that other people have nicer clothes, nicer homes, nicer things, and suddenly a routine scroll through Instagram leaves you itching to hit the mall. I noticed this most from Pinterest– as soon as they started putting “picked for you” pins in my home feed, rather than only people I chose to follow, I would find myself wishing I had clothes like what they were showing me, or bedroom decor that was “pinterest worthy.” I’ve noticed this with almost any social media site that relies on the visual, and even sometimes with the TV shows I watched on Netflix (like if I fancied a character’s style, suddenly I’d want to shop for similar clothes).
So what do you do? First, change the advertisement settings on your social media accounts. Sometimes it can be hard to find, but sometimes there are ways to minimize the number of ads you’ll see, or you can block ads from specific companies. Next, unfollow or unsubscribe from any users that wake up that little Comparison bug. Sometimes this means unfollowing perfectly nice, normal people who don’t post anything wrong, but for some reason seeing their content makes you unhappy with your own life. I’ve unfollowed a handful of internet personalities on Instagram, unfollowed (without unfriending) a few people on Facebook, and turned off suggested pins on Pinterest. Additionally, just spending less time on social media helps a lot too! Lastly, do some soul work, whatever that looks like for you. This is the hard part, but materialistic comparison often stems from personal feelings of inadequacy, and although our culture preys upon those feelings and is often responsible for prolonging them, you are responsible for saying “enough.” Maybe volunteer for people who actually have less, spend time with people who value you for more than your trendy clothes, make an itemized list of everything you own (I’ve done this with my clothes, and it was shocking!), or get into the Word and spend some time in prayer or meditation. You have so much worth that no Snapchat filter will every truly capture.
I know this list includes a lot of “no’s,” and “don’ts,” but the gist of what I’m trying to do is simplify; spend as little as possible and eliminate distractions. There are so many things demanding not only our money, but also our time and attention, and most of them just aren’t needed. I want to be comfortable with silence, with unplanned downtime. I want to think differently about material things and how much importance I give them. I want to be happy with what I already have, knowing that my actual needs are met and that I’m working toward more important things than just having the best Instagram feed. We need so much less than we think we do.
So this is my challenge to myself, and I’d love for you to join me. I’ll be posting updates every now and again to hold myself accountable to this plan. It’s not going to be easy (because Wawa mac n’ cheese is a very real temptation), but I think it will be worth both the financial savings and whatever I may learn along the way.