How I save money

By Leo Babauta

I think I’m a fairly frugal person. I haven’t always been this way, and it’s taken years of simplifying and cutting back on little things, one at a time. And while there are definitely many more things I can scrimp and save on, I’m proud of how far I’ve come already. Here’s how I save money:

1) I cut my own hair. I bought a $20 buzzer, and it lasts about a year. I used to get a haircut every month, at a cost of $20 (including tip, not including gas money to get there and valuable time spent there). So I save the cost of about 11 haircuts a year. I do the same for my three sons, saving another 36 haircuts (at $10 each). Annual savings: $580.

2) No Cable TV. We watch DVDs, or read. I don’t spend much on DVDs either (probably less than most people, per month). Cable costs about $65/month. Annual savings: $780.

3) Became vegan. I eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, which are expensive, sure, but you are supposed to eat those whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or a carnivore, so I don’t count those as extra expenses. The real comparison is between meat, and the protein substitutes I use. Most of my protein comes from tofu, although I do eat beans and soy protein such as fake ground beef or soy burgers. Overall I believe I save about $2-3 per day not eating meat. Annual savings: $900.

4) Don’t use the gym. I used to be a member of a gym. Didn’t use it much, and still got charged for a full year. Now I get a lot of exercise, but I do it at home and on the road. I do strength exercises in my living room and jog (and will soon start cycling and swimming). Annual savings: $420.

5) Rarely go to the movies. I used to go out to the movies at least once a week, and sometimes more. I slowly made it every other week, and now I don’t even go once a month. Now we take the kids to the park or out to do something more fun and creative. I figure this saves me at least $15 per week, although it’s probably more when you factor in the cost of my kids’ tickets, and concessions. Annual savings: $780.

6) Quit smoking. I quit over a year ago. I smoked a pack a day, plus a soda or tea or coffee to go with the cigarettes, at a cost of about $5 per day. Annual savings: $1,825.

7) Don’t drink much. I never did, really, except maybe in college. But for some people, drinking is a major expense. A beer or two a day can add up, and for the sake of these calculations, I’ll count it. Annual savings: $800.

8) Never go out. I don’t go to clubs, or the theater, or ballet, or opera. I guess I’m just not that type of person. Annual savings: maybe $500.

9) Stay healthy. As mentioned above, I’m a vegan, a runner, and I don’t drink or smoke anymore. I never go to the doctor, and if I keep up this lifestyle, my likelihood of getting the most common diseases are greatly lowered. Annual savings: probably $1,200.

10) Don’t go shopping. We used to hang out at the mall a lot. It was convenient, and had a lot of great stuff to look at, and a food court. The food court alone costs $30 for us, and if we bought stuff that would be another $25-75. Cha-ching. Now I rarely ever, ever, ever go to the mall. I hate it anyway. I only go to the mall or Kmart if I need something, and even then I try my best to avoid it. Annual savings: probably $2,600.

11) Have only one car. We are a married couple with six kids, soccer practice, choir, school functions, many many family gatherings, running events, martial arts, and much more. But we get by on one car. We are looking to get a used van with better fuel economy, and I am going to start commuting at least a few times a week by bike. Annual savings: unknown, but perhaps $5,000.

12) Bring my own lunch. My co-workers eat out every day, at a cost of $8-20 per lunch. I bring leftovers or a sandwich and fruits and pretzels and stuff. At a cost of probably less than $5. Annual savings: $1,800.

13) No magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I used to have the paper delivered. Now I read it online or at work. I used to subscribe to 1-2 magazines. Now I read the Internet. Annual savings: $360.

14) Rarely buy new clothes. I use my clothes and shoes until they are threadbare. Really. Ask my wife and kids. Annual savings: maybe $400.

15) Never travel. I would like to travel. When I am out of debt and my savings accounts are nice and healthy, I will travel. But for now, I skip it. Others I know take at least a trip per year. Annual savings: $1,500.

16) No more lattes. I used to get a latte every day. At a cost of about $4 per latte. Sometimes I’d get two. Now I make my own coffee. Annual savings: about $1,000.

There are more little ways that I’ve learned to save, like getting my books at a used book store, cooking most of my meals (aside from the above-mentioned lunches), power-saving measures, no long distance calls. There are also ways I can still save, including eating out less (we eat out 1-3 times per week, mostly fast food like pizza or Taco Bell or Wendy’s, all of which I can do without).

Estimated total savings: $20,445.

Now, I’m not sure if most people spend the full amounts listed above, or if I ever did. But at some point, I did come close, and I think many people do as well. But however you look at it, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Does this all go into savings? Of course not. Other expenses have gone up, because I now have six kids, and our income has temporarily gone down. Also, we’re now putting money into debt, and once that is freed up, more will go into savings.

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