One of the great mysteries of life is why is it so easy to spend money, but so hard to save it? Saving money is really challenging if you are just starting the frugal way of doing things to maximize savings and reduce the yearly cost of living.
I grew up in a house where money was honestly never a problem as a lot of things lined up for my mother. This turned out very bad because when I was thrust out in the world with no support and not enough income to cover my untrained spending habits, I was just broke. Sometimes I’d even be sitting there with a $20 monthly food budget wondering how that happened.
I didn’t really have a very frugal way of going about things until I was thrust out in college and suddenly I had to support myself. I had a lot of drama go down with my core family, so they didn’t help me with college as well as forbid me from being able to see my younger brother until he was old enough to tell them both to get out of his affairs.
I mostly had no contact with them at all during this time. I had no support other than a tiny bit from my wonderful grandmother. She didn’t have much and I never asked for anything, though she always did her best to try to help me.
The thing was my mother was not a frugal person. She didn’t teach me ANYTHING to do with money health or how to manage it and back then there were not any good finance blogs or reliable sites to refer to. Youtube didn’t even exist yet. I just saw my money coming in and I paid all my normal expenses, then I had no money. I knew right away that my situation was not going to work so I started to solve my problem.
This was when I understood the importance of prioritizing saving money.
Why Save Money?
Why is it so important to save money anyways?
A lot of people have goals in life and many of those goals require money. You want to travel? You will need money. You want to marry, buy a house, have children? All of it requires money. All this while the cost of the wedding and those student loans circle around you.
Even if you don’t have such goals and you are doing good just living life and not much else, eventually some emergency will come up. For most people, it is a health emergency, as a health change can be financially absurd in the US.
Why Can’t I Save?
Because nobody bothered to teach you and you weren’t originally aware that was a problem.
School doesn’t teach you a lot of the stuff crucial to actually living life. It is assumed that kids will pick up such lessons from parents. Though often parents were never taught this sort of stuff in the first place as it is information you often have to hunt down and figure out.
If nobody in your family teaches you how money works, then you need to get it from some other source. A lot of people float through their 20’s with no intense interest in personal finance as the idea is to extend youth and have fun. Then one day it hits you that you are getting older, want a house, have debt, and you realize what a monster money can become when ignored.
The nice thing is, you can learn.
Living expenses are getting super high year by year.
A sad part of reality is a lot of living expenses are going up and rental especially is becoming rather predatory, illegal, or just insane. The owning your own home thing has been a problem for a long time for a lot of people. It takes a steady decently paying job, credit, and savings. Credit takes time to build and savings is pretty hard since your only other options are renting away a majority of potential savings or living with your mom and dad.
I’ve been following a lot of what is in the news particularly around housing so if you feel like it is a bit crazy, let me assure you that it is crazy. Some locations aren’t so bad though they are in areas you probably don’t want to live anyway.
Another thing is a lot of required expenses that are unavoidable are going up in cost. Everything from food, housing, education, utilities, all seem to be creeping up at a pretty impressive rate. Even with a clean and efficient spending profile and good budget, you may be noticing you have less leftover.
Because we aren’t good at delaying gratification
When I think of the Marshmallow test it always reminds me of the importance of not being too impatient. Many people will want what they want, and they will want it right at that moment. It’s hard to wait they might say, and they will wonder why they can’t just enjoy things right then.
Because you need to have the savings built up to support the impulse moments. If you spent everything in your bank for some decent vacation with good food and booze, you might return home and misfortune strikes.
Suddenly your car has an issue and needs repairing, you have a medical bill you forgot about hit you, you need to take your dog to the vet because it is suddenly sick. My favorite was when I had a septic tank literally collapse in my yard and had to cough up around 5k to get a new one.
And this is exactly why we need to save money.
Our income needs to be higher
In a world with rising inflation and inflated cost of living, if you are still working the low wage job you picked up to survive and stayed there many years with little increase to wages, then you should probably look around and figure out your next step.
As a younger person you should always be looking for the best job positioning you can as you can lose years of better earning which delays all goals. As an older person, you should already be in a decent job and have some degree of job security. Though the pandemic has taught us a thing or two about job security.
A lot of people find it hard to make enough at their core job so often have a second job and a side gig. You basically do what you have to do, though do take rest sometimes as this needing to work 3 jobs thing just to survive can get exhausting.
Steps to Saving Money
Learn to budget.
Budgeting is the first step to conserving your money. A lot of people haven’t been taught how to budget and they grew up under parents who would spend frivolously on anything their heart desired. The cool thing is the internet is now full of personal finance blogs and every single blog mentions something about budgeting. The idea is that you have more money left over because you don’t do all those random impulse buys when you are bored. You buy for quality not out of boredom.
Cut expenses as best as you can.
Some people budget their general spending and then look at their required expenses and may discover those expenses are too high as well. For most this is housing and with out-of-control rent, the issue will probably worsen in the future. You may opt to find a roommate so your rent or housing expenses are cut in half, or you may opt to move back in with the parents to avoid that expense entirely so you can save better to position for house buying.
There have been more and more articles lately about the struggles of Millenials and how so many are moving back home with their parents because of the obvious perks of the arrangement. Done well it can be a great help to both the parents and their children. I was in a living arrangement with my grandmother for a while as it allowed me to save 80% of my income. This was the only reason I was able to get a house at 23 even with lower-tier jobs that didn’t pay over $15.
Is this ideal? Not always. Many people would prefer their own home and many people have families that are not very good and toxic, like I could never rely on my parents for any sort of help due to a stepdad who has been trying to keep me away for years.
The other option here is downsizing. Is it possible you can find a housing situation you like for a cheaper price? Maybe you can move somewhere that the prices are better?
After housing, you should look at what you are paying for utilities, your internet bill, your phone bill, your car insurance, your health insurance and everything else to see if you can shave the costs.
Learn to stop buying on a whim
When you go to the store, everything in there is intended to get you to buy. You have to train your mind the opposite way where you keep assessing why you are putting something in your cart. Do you actually need it, want it, is it key to your long happiness?
Most of the time, all those little purchases are fluff. My big weakness for reasons unknown, is teapots. I’ve even told my partner if I get sucked into the tractor beam of a pretty teapot just pull me away or he will wakeup in a house with nothing but teapots.
In the past I settled this all by getting the ONE teapot, it was cast iron so well-tended it would last forever and it became the only teapot I would ever need. I could use it at home, I could take it camping, it could be heated a variety of ways. It was truly the one teapot to end the need for all teapots. This helped curb me from buying all the ones I saw as I didn’t really need them.
When they are big purchases, I tend to wait a week to see if I still want the item. I also avoid putting everything on a credit card unless I have the money already sitting in the bank to cover it. You don’t charge things to credit that you can’t afford, this is how you end up in trouble. Used well credit cards can give you a lot back with perks and are a very useful tool.
Start those emergency funds.
A big help in life is being a friend to your future self. You know somewhere in the future you will need car repair money, so many have a fund specifically for that purpose. You know something crazy might happen where you will need money, so do a general emergency fund. Or if you know of some big expense coming up, build a fund for that.
You start with small baby steps where you might add $10 a week or whatever your budget can allow. Just as all those small expenses can start to add up, your small savings can start to add up. Every little bit in those funds will still make it that much easier to correct your future issues.
When you start investing later in the journey, this sort of approach works too. I grew my first investment account with small deposits, though that was back when I still had to pay for the trades so I had to wait until I had a sufficient amount and plan my trades. These days most places have no brokerage fees as well as fractional shares so it is possible to get going buying small amounts for no fees.