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When my mom finished her nursing program at a local community college, she went from working full-time at a nail salon to becoming a nurse. Besides it being a major career shift for her, it was her gateway to buying a house. After a few years, the day came when she finally had enough saved for a down payment on a small house in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley.
To cover the mortgage and taking care of my older brother and me, she ended up taking a second full-time job as a nurse. For some reason, there never seemed to be enough for her to save. I remember her feeling stressed out, and saying, “Bills, bills, bills! Always so many bills!”
So at an early age, I made the connection between money, time, and freedom. It seemed that making more money didn’t bring you ease of mind, comfort, or freedom. And working more just meant having less free time. I realized that having manageable expenses was the key.
I’ve applied this lesson in many ways over the years to live comfortably within my means and save plenty for my goals.
I’m very watchful of my spending
From the time I opened my first checking account at a credit union when I was 16, I’ve been pretty vigilant about my spending. I started by balancing a checkbook ledger in high school, then played around with spreadsheets during my college years. Later, I turned to money management apps like Mint.
These days, I automate most of my bills, and the only pool of expenses I really keep watch over is my everyday discretionary spending — groceries, eating out, clothes, concerts and movies, and household supplies. I set a weekly budget, and it resets on Mondays. If I end up going a little under, the “leftover” money goes into my splurge fund or towards some other short-term savings goal.
I find ways to save in all areas of my life
When I got my first place in my early 20s, I penny-pinched and found ways to save on everything from power bills to clothes, entertainment, and food. I turned it into a game. The goal was to try to keep X cost as low as possible while still having fun. The first year I was out on my own, I lived like I was camping out in my apartment to save for an emergency fund. Within a year’s time, I was able to sock away $5,000 while my take-home pay was about $1,800 a month.
I loved talking to fellow “cheapsters” as I liked to call them — folks who viewed being frugal as a path to freedom — to learn their best tricks for saving a buck. They gave me plenty of ideas on how to creatively save money, from finding different uses for the same item to enjoying an inexpensive night out on the town.
I go over my budget regularly
I make a point to go over my living expenses at least once a month. Because I’m self-employed, I maintain a separate business budget, which includes my healthcare, business tools, and internet. If there are any changes to my income, needs, or living situation, I make adjustments to my budget. Doing so helps me live within my means. Plus, I’m able to make steady headway on my savings goals, such as saving $10,000 for a down payment on a car.
To avoid lifestyle inflation, which is when your expenses balloon in step with any increase in income, I keep my expenses relatively the same when I earn more. In the past, when I have taken on additional living expenses, such as moving to a slightly larger apartment, I would see where I could cut back to make up for the added cost. For instance, if I moved and I was paying an extra $200 each month in rent, I looked to see if I could scale back on spending on food, streaming subscriptions, and so forth.
Growing up house poor helped me learn early on that the key to growing your money and having something in the bank was not how much you made, but how much of that money you could hold on to for your savings goals. By carefully tending to my budget, making sure I don’t experience lifestyle inflation, and watching my expenses, I’ve been able to live within my means and save for different goals as they come up.