We are a month into “fun-employment” and the question we get asked the most is how we are able to take year off from working. By no means are we financial experts but as a daughter of a Wealth Manager and a husband who is Ebenezer Scrooge I do have some tips and tricks for how we were able to save enough money to take a year off from working and focus on our family.
1. Say NO to credit card debt – It doesn’t feel like “real” money when you swipe that plastic card, right? Be realistic about what you can afford and don’t spend outside of your means. It’s such an easy habit to get into but the more that debt builds the longer you’ll be stuck being a slave to making those monthly payments. Instead, make your credit card work for you. We use ours for rewards. When we were living in California we were flying back East to see family a few times each year. So we opted for Jet Blue’s credit card and were able to use the points we’d racked up from purchases paid off for four round trip cross country flights a year, that’s a $1,600 to $2,000 value. We now have a business credit card and we decided on cash back points for that one as we are unemployed so cash money is the most valuable for us right now. We knew we would be making a lot of big purchases that we had the funds to pay off immediately (car, trailer, camera equipment) so between the opening card bonus and the cash back because we hit a certain charge threshold we’ve made almost $1,000 in cash back.
Each month, sit down and actually read your CC statement. Add up the different categories – how much are you spending on going out to eat, clothes, beauty, fitness, entertainment, etc for that month. When you add it up it’s sobering. Have an honest conversation with yourself, see where you can cut back on. The year before we left our jobs I had to seriously cut back on my starbucks and smoothie/fresh juice/acai bowl purchases, my eyelash extensions and clothing purchases. I had to trade in my three day a week $20 a class workouts for free ones on YouTube – I love the Tone It Up ladies and Sadie Nardine. Or go to the park with a friend!
2. Meal Planning & Eating Out. Every week Tim & I would look at the grocery store mailers and see what was on sale. We planned our weekly meals around that. At the store, Tim would check out the meat that was on sale, we rarely paid full price for meat. We don’t shop at high-end grocery store chains like Whole Foods and when we were super poor in our early 20s we would always go to the 99c store to grocery shop there first and get as much as we could. When you meal plan you set yourself up for success for the week. We almost never order take out or went out to eat. If we did, it was almost always happy hour or less expensive options – we love supporting small family run restaurants over the overpriced “hip” new restaurant with $15 cocktails.
3. Price Comparing – I could write a whole post on this. It is a lot of work but for most things, once you’ve done it once you don’t need to do it again. We price compare EVERYTHING. Is it cheaper per oz at Ralphs, Trader Joes or Costco? From toiletries, to food (banana’s are cheaper at TJs, but Apples are less at Ralph’s), to household items, even monthly medications can be less depending on the pharmacy chain you’re going to! If this seems like a lot (it is) start with the big ticket items – once you’ve gone through your CC statement, see where you could cut back and where price comparing and shopping around for a better deal would make the biggest difference.
4. Set up an automatic monthly savings withdrawal from your paycheck – As soon as we were making enough to pay our bills (as in rent, utilities, food NOT workout classes, take out and beauty luxuries) we decided how much we could afford to put aside to start saving. And every time we got a raise we upped the saving amount. To be transparent, when I started making around 60K a year, I was putting $1,000 a month into savings. In 3 years that was $36,000 – which was the majority of the down payment on our home. That might sound like a lot, but again, if you look through where you’re blowing through your money on the credit card I think most people would be surprised to see that they do have at least $500 am month they could be putting in savings by giving up some luxuries (daily coffee, online purchases, etc). I didn’t upgrade my simple Toyota Corolla once I owned it and we didn’t live in a trendy part of town so our rent was about $800 less a month to what most of our friends were paying.
5. Own your cars – When I moved to LA 9 years ago I bought a Toyota Corolla. I could barely afford the $250 a month payments. In 3 years I had it paid off but I kept taking that $250 and instead put it into savings. After four years of doing that, we had enough to buy a nicer car in cash. No payments, no interest. We bought the new car, Tim sold his car which had also been paid off for years and was worse off and took the Corolla. We are able to take a year off because we don’t have large bills, like car payments. We also look at cars as investments that we will own for at least 8-10 years. So buy a trustworthy car, pay it off as soon as possible, and then keep saving those monthly payments towards the next car to buy outright, or towards something else – like quitting your job to travel!
6. Renegotiate your monthly bills – Annoying and time consuming but it can make a HUGE different. Car insurance, renters insurance, internet. Easily over $1,000 a year in savings.
7. Cancel your cable bill– between Hulu, Netflix & Amazon Prime, you don’t need it. Plus, we have my parents log in for cable 😉
8. Don’t buy decor – From someone who had to sell all her possessions and be publicly shamed by the amount of decor pumpkins, candles, wreaths and wicker baskets that were on her front lawn for a yard sale I have learned this lesson the hard way. I’ve been trying to live minimally for the past year and a half, it’s been a hard process but one of the things I did was stop buying house and holiday decor a year ago. When we moved we had five MASSIVE bins of Christmas Decor alone – probably $1,000 worth easily that I’d accrued over the last 9 years. Years ago, when we were super tight for money, I used to buy a few small decor items from the 99c store. They actually have a good selection. Moving forward, I plan to decorate with what I have but if I did want a few things because I’m hosting or something like that I’m just going to get it at the 99c store, not pay over $10, and then just donate to Goodwill at the end of the season.
9. Don’t pay full price for clothes and start your capsule wardrobe – In college I worked at a high end clothing boutique and that’s when I first became aware of the crazy retail markups. Their basic heavyweight cotton shirt sold for $100 but it cost them $18 market price. After that, I always try to wait for sales. I’ll keep a list on my phone of what I actually NEED and then when a holiday weekend sale hits I’ll only allow myself to purchase what’s on that list. I’ve also been working really hard on having a capsule wardrobe – for so many reasons. 1) you end up saving money but 2) I used to spend so much time trying on clothes to find something that fit me right that I liked. Now I just have my go-tos. I had already purged a ton but moving cross country forced me to purge even more. Now living in a trailer I’ve seriously slimed down and two weeks in I’ve noticed I could slim down my wardrobe even more! Also, seeing how much money in perfectly good clothes ended up going to Goodwill when you move cross country is sobering. My new outlook when I buy anything is, if I have to get rid of this in a year, am I OK with how much I’m spending on it?
When I purged I sold my clothes on the Poshmark app. And then I used the money in there to buy other clothing items that I needed. It worked out really well for me and i’d recommend it!
For baby clothes, I’ve started hustling for hand-me-downs, shopping at consignment stores and online consignment stores like Kidzen. I just purchased Evelyn’s first pair of walking shoes- Keen Sandals, that go for $55 new for $20 off Kidzen.
10. Don’t Give In To Peer Pressure – A lot of bad purchases I feel like can come from feeling embarrassed to be honest with friends about your financial boundaries. It might feel embarrassing to tell a friend you can’t afford certain things anymore but for a real friend, that shouldn’t matter. Don’t put yourself into debt for a superficial friendship. Whenever we’ve told friends what our financial boundaries were, they’ve always been understanding. And we’ve found ways to still do things, you don’t have to always just say no and miss out, look into an option where you can still participate like – “That hotel in Laguna looks great but it’s pretty pricey for us, but we found this awesome AirBnB that we could all go in on instead!”
I hope this helps some of you get back to having financial freedom! In writing this post, I realized this list is a lot of what NOT to do but there’s also a lot of tips I have and actual steps we took on what you SHOULD do (like opening up an IRA, having a savings account CD, Mutual Funds, 401K matching from your employer, etc). So I’m going to do another post on that so once you’ve applied the steps here you can start on building your financial portfolio!
Because you know what’s even better than a year of fun-employment??? Retiring in your 50s bishesssss!!!! Yasssss.