When I talk about the life my husband and I have created for ourselves– one where we are retired in our early thirties, traveling as much as we’d like, and able to raise two radically unschooled life-learners– people regularly respond as though it would be impossible for them to do so as well. People who make significantly more money than my husband or I ever did. People who live in houses that cost quadruple or more what mine did. People who have two brand new cars.
See where I am going with this?
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but most people in my socioeconomic level regularly make choices that lock them into their work-40-years-and-maybe-retire life. They live above their means when they earn an income that would be a life-altering dream-come-true to someone in poverty. It really doesn’t have to be that way.
Well, how can I change when I’m not even sure what the problem is?
1. Cultivate a mindset of abundance:
Most people have a mental image of how wealthy people live that mostly involves a lot of stuff. Big houses, new cars, etc. I have to tell you a secret, though:
You can’t afford to live that way, and probably never will.
I can’t afford to live that way. I live in a little brick midcentury modern ranch a five minute drive from significantly wealthier areas of Charlotte. I could sell my entire real estate portfolio and not be able to afford even a modest house in these areas, and it’s okay,
because I’m 33 and retired, bitches.
I get to enjoy the benefits of the infrastructure and amenities that have risen up around these areas (parks, shopping centers, museums) without the cost. We mindfully chose a modest home and car. That freed up so much of our monthly income and kept us from continually playing catch-up with our finances. If you feel judged because of your modest car or house,
You need new friends.
(No really, they suck.)
Stop spending so much money and take a fucking walk or something. Your kids don’t need all those shitty plastic toys. You don’t need all those shitty plastic summer dishes from Target. In fact, y’all will all be better off if you just calm the fuck down and go the park or something.
2. Develop a make-do mentality:
No, dear, you don’t need a new bag/phone/car, you want one. Hear me out: what if you made do for awhile? Of course if something is truly broken, replace it, but:
I would rather work less than buy more.
Of course this sounds easy in theory and is difficult in practice because it requires a paradigm shift. We live in a throwaway consumer culture that makes it difficult to live differently.
Figure it the fuck out.
If you aren’t happy with what you are spending, stop buying so much.
- Stop eating out and cook your own damn food.
- Learn how to do some things for yourself (dye your own hair, mow your own grass, paint your own house, fix your own whatever)
- Shop around for a new cell carrier, internet provider, and insurance company
- Cancel your cable and landline, Grandma
- Stop going to Target
There, I fixed it for you.
3. Pay set bills, then any debt:
When I pay bills, I start with set items like our mortgage and car payment, then utilities, then any credit card balances. If I have zero left over after all of that or I can’t pay all of the previous month’s credit card balance, then it is a signal that we are overspending and I need to compensate by adjusting the next month’s spending. This doesn’t work if you keep spending more than you make. So don’t do that.
4. Use credit cards:
This one might sound weird, but hear me out. I buy pretty much everything (groceries, gas, etc) each month with a credit card, then pay it off at the end of the month. I do this for a few reasons. One, You are earning points that you can use toward travel (We have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card). Two, it gives a cushion when your expenses are occasionally higher than your income so you don’t overdraw your account. Three, using a credit card offers protection from fraud. Four, it turns all your expenses into one bill at the end of the month so you can see how all the little things add up and adjust accordingly.
Just make sure you pay off your balance every month.
That won’t be possible when you have extraordinary expenses (like exploding water heaters or whatever), but as you are able to save for emergencies that will be less of an issue.
5. Stop escalating your spending:
When most idiots start making more money, they start spending more money. (“Look, baby, I got a raise! Let’s go spend it!”) What if– and I’m just throwing this out there– you maybe didn’t do that?
The more money you make, the less you should spend.
When you have more disposable income, you stop needing to pay finance charges because you can pay balances immediately. You can buy things in bulk so you can get the best price per unit. You can buy quality items that last rather than cheap items that need to be replaced repeatedly.
Stop spending like a poor person’s idea of a rich person.
I know you want all the things, but could I recommend buying just some of them? If you have to finance a car, honey, you can’t afford a luxury vehicle. If your phone is on payment plan, get the cheapest one. Just because some idiot lets you borrow money for something doesn’t mean you should take it. Use your noggin.
I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you what works for me and my family. The most important thing that has allowed me to create this life is learning how to say:
“No, I don’t need that.”
I’ve got better things to do than work all the time.