I both have and have not been good at managing money in the past. I’m about 12 years past the point at which I wish I’d started saving something, anything, for retirement. There’s also one really, really big expense I wish I’d cut: I wish I’d accepted the necessity of a cheap apartment a few years longer. I lived in my very very expensive grad school city for that entire twelve years out of college, and for the first eight of them I lived within my means. I cycled up and down through credit card debt when I was freelancing, but never carried a balance longer than a few months at a time, as I prioritized paying it off when I had a work project going. (This left me with amazing credit, by the way.) I lived with roommates and/or in dirt-cheap parts of the city (sometimes both) and took on second jobs while in grad school.
But during the last four years, I had had enough of living in a part of the city that was incredibly inconvenient for my social life. It took me nearly 2 hours to travel from the neighborhood where I lived to the neighborhood where most of my friends lived, and as a result I rarely saw them. So I moved, and then I moved again to a different place in the same neighborhood. My social life *definitely* improved, but all my expenses went up — rent, food, transportation, everything. This is where the majority of my $19K student loan went.
So ANYWAY, I regret not working harder at finding a much more affordable living situation in New Neighborhood (I don’t really regret moving in the first place — maybe a little, but not much.)
But really — all things considered — I have lived a damn cheap life, which is why I’m not in much worse financial shape after all that grad school time. Here are things I don’t do:
(1) have cable
(2) have a smartphone
(3) drink (mostly; I’ll have a glass of wine every now and then)
(4) “shop” — not that I never spend money on books, clothes, or music, but going out looking to buy stuff isn’t a hobby. Good thing too since I move so much.
(5) wear makeup or engage in a lot of beauty routine stuff — I get my hair cut, which is probably my biggest personal care expense. (For several years I did it myself, too.)
(6) go to a lot of concerts or other non-free entertainment
(7) drive a car that is even new-ish
There are other things I spend money on that do feel like necessities:
(1) some clothing
(2) therapy, at the moment
(3) cell phone
(4) travel. I don’t live in the same place as any of my friends/family. Plane tickets and gas add up.
This leaves things I probably could stand to cut back on:
(1) food — sigh. Yeah. I spend a lot of money on food. I do bring lunch a lot, but not every single day. When I’m at work, I generally buy a cup of coffee in the afternoon, which runs around $2. I buy nice produce. I buy in cash at the farmer’s market a lot so I honestly don’t have a great sense of what I spend even with using mint, but I wouldn’t be surprised if food added up to $300 a month or more. For one person. Ouch.
(2) …internet? I guess?
And it also leaves things I *could* cut back on but just *really don’t want to*. Things like the occasional movie/CD/book, or nice shampoo, or buying a new kitchen item.
So, with the big pay cut arriving in July (to go along with my loans being paid off, so things will more or less even out), I agreed to move in with a friend in New City. New City is already extremely cheap even without sharing space, and monthly rent/utilities expenses should drop to $350-400 depending on time of year — which is to say, literally in half from what they are now. All of that cash is going STRAIGHT into my IRA.
I’m not sure how long this will last — probably a minimum of 6 months, but maybe not more than that. We’re just going to see how we do with each other, and maybe I’ll end up in more expensive housing afterwards. But that’ll be an extra $2000 or so to add to the world’s tiniest retirement fund, and I guess every little bit helps.
(Also, sigh, I need to get serious about controlling the food budget.)