This post is part of 30 Ways in 30 days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. This series seeks to give you the practical, real world steps you need to take to get from wherever you are, to exactly where you want to be– traveling the world and living the lifestyle you want.
Some people have no problem saving for long term travel or a round-the-world trip. This post isn’t for you.
Every year, millions of people set out to save money and fail. In recent years, Americans saved in the negative numbers– meaning they not only didn’t save a penny, but they came out more in debt.
The Saving Myth
The way we think of saving is misleading. It’s like losing weight, you don’t just lose weight, you eat less or exercise more, but there is no specific action called losing weight. It’s an expression that describes the end result, not the process. For saving it’s the same way, it’s not what you do as much as what you don’t do. Saving is actually inaction, we’re stopping ourselves from spending.
Like losing weight, saving is hard. You don’t just eat less once, you have to make the decision dozens of times a day. Same with saving– if you save $5 by not buying a magazine, that money sits in your pocket for the next temptation. All it takes is one digression. At the time you might say, “it’s worth it” or “I need it” but even if you had said no 100 times, if you say yes once and spend that $5 it’s still spent.
Changing the game
We all know this, and yet at the end of the month you might be wondering where it all went. Spreadsheets and money management software might reveal to you that you spend $200 in this category or $1000 in that– but it doesn’t change the behavior. Does knowing that you didn’t lose any weight last week make it suddenly easier to exercise every morning? You may be more motivated, but the challenge is the same.
What if we changed the game? What if instead of trying to not-do-something, you just eliminate that choice. Think of it this way… most people manage to spend about what they make. If they make $30,000 one year, it’s spent. If they get a raise to $50,000, suddenly spent. They get the big promotion to $100,000 and still, they live paycheck to paycheck. You swear it won’t happen to you. You imagine how much money you’ll have if you just made X amount. And then you get there and your expenses magically expand to fit your new salary.
Flipping the problem
Instead of trying to save, which doesn’t seem to work for most people, what if you just made less money? What if your paycheck when down by 25% tomorrow? You’d cut back, right? When your checking got down to $100 you’d skip eating out and figure out what to do with with the 5 lbs of lentils you have sitting in your pantry.
To me, this is the easiest way to save. Not having money reduces all kinds of temptations and you can continue to live and spend like you normally do– not really thinking about it, keeping an eye on your total in the bank and cutting back only when it gets too low.
How to give yourself a pay cut
Most banks let you link a checking and savings account and schedule automatic transfers online (if not, you’ll want to switch now, because this feature is important when you’re on the road). You’ll want to figure out your pain point, the least amount of money you can live on. For instance, add together your fixed, unavoidable expenses like rent/mortgage, utilities, car payments, gas, food and student loans. Gym membership is not an unavoidable expense. Neither is Netflix, magazine subscriptions, clothing, going out, or beer money. Next find your salary deduction amount:
Total salary – unavoidable expenses = salary deduction amount (i.e. savings)
Set a transfer that is scheduled for the day after you get paid for that exact amount. It moves the money into savings before you ever have a chance to spend it.
Does this work?
I used this for about a year before quitting my job. My husband and I put away my entire paycheck. Yes, we had to majorly cut back. We moved into a smaller apartment, we didn’t pay for internet or cable, we didn’t use the heat (in Boston) until December 1st, I got really creative with whole foods like rice, beans, lentils, homemade bread and so on. But we made it work. Since we’ve been traveling, I still put away everything I make, and we live on 25% as much as we did two years ago. These days, it’s easy. We’re not saving, we rarely even think of money. We’ve just been able to reset our spending so it allows us the freedoms to work less, travel more and live anywhere.
Why it’s worth it
After a few weeks, you find something amazing happening… you’re living on less than you thought possible. You might have more free time because you shop less (seriously). You’ll begin looking at everything with a critical eye. Is it worth it? Can I do with out it? Is there something cheaper I can get? When you reach this point, congratulations, you’ve broken the cycle. Welcome to Saving.
1. Find your pain point– the amount you need to cover the bare minimum expenses.
2. Transfer all of your salary (minus your expenses from #1) to savings immediately after getting paid.
3. Bask in the warm glow of having less money (i.e. don’t panic).