Making A Budget: Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyles can and will be redirected in the name of finances.

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Lifestyles Uprooted

In this post, I will write about further changes in your lifestyle that can improve your budget. These changes can be moderate to impacting changes which have potential to uproot your lifestyle. If you are new, I highly recommend you check my previous post where I mention some changes which are not as severe. However, many of these costly lifestyles can and should be avoided as they are money trap pits. Even if you have a very good budget and plenty of money for emergencies, the advice given here will make sure that not only do you keep that money, but that you make more.


Residence

As expected, rent and mortgage are one of, if not the largest expense for most people. The US Census Bureau claimed that the recommended fraction of income that should be spend on the residence (alone utilities not in cost) is <30%. The idea of this percent is to minimize the possibilities of having problems paying for other bills or saving money. You know, the things you are trying to avoid. Anyone who pays more that 30% on their residence is considered “cost-burdened.”

Granted this may be very hard in some cities, notoriously San Francisco. Unfortunately, the number of people “cost-burdened” by their residence is growing. This is evidenced by the viral scathing letter an employee wrote to her employer. She had to pay 80% of her income on her apartment. Avoid this lifestyle at all costs.

Find A Cheap Place, Get Roommates

The easiest way to minimize the impact of you residence lifestyle is to go as cheap as possible. This includes finding the cheapest place possible, settling, and maybe even getting roommates. This will be hard, and will require a massive change in your lifestyle.

My Own Story

I will tell my own story to illustrate this point. I am currently a PhD student so I do not make a lot of money currently. And I made even less when I started so I had to establish an inexpensive lifestyle. I am going to school in Philadelphia, while it is not San Francisco, it is far from the cheapest place to live.

The first place I looked for an apartment was apartment.com. Do not expect much less than $600/month in the Philadelphia area when you use this site, and they usually do not include utilities. For me utilities were a must. One of my old friend’s brother told horror stories of his place in Philadelphia. It was not a decent place, fairly expensive and the utilities were not provided. This would not have been a big deal, except his place had insulation that was more backwards than what people were using in the dark ages. His heating bill during winter was $500/month. This was not a lifestyle I desired.

My First Apartment

I eventually had to settle on Craigslist (watch out for scams though, never pay for an apartment you never visited). I found an apartment for $450/month and provided utilities. This was <30% of my income, even at the start and with utilities provided. I had a private room on the first floor of a house with a kitchen and bathroom that I shared with two roommates. While my landlord was nice and one of my roommates was a good roommate, my private room was a broom closet. I could hardly fit a twin bed in it. Also the place had a mouse problem. I lived there for a year, and there is no one I hate enough in this world to recommend this apartment to.

Even though I no longer live in that broom closet, the point of this story is that if you must live in a certain area and have a fairly low income, be set to sacrifice. I would not have been able to pay for the wedding without living at my first apartment. Eventually I got a better apartment, (much larger, and no mouse problem) with a good roommate, my wife.

The Family You Did Not Choose


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For this part I will be talking about your immediate family: father(s), mother(s), brother(s), sister(s), the one you cannot choose. Sometimes family can make you feel like you must spend money around them. This could include reunions, visitations and travelling. If these costs are too high, you should talk with your family and try to set up boundaries. However, they are your family and I trust they love you, try your best to avoid this. One of the reasons you want to have more money is to spend your life how you want with the people you love.

I am assuming that this is a loving family though. Some family ties can be very costly. For instance, there is a story of a man whose parents took student loans out on him for their own “needs.” He served in the military to try to obtain financial security, but his parents took all of his money. If you have this toxic of a family, cut all ties from them completely.

The Family You Choose

While you have the family who housed you while you were a child, you may have another family in your adult life. This is the family you marry into and the children you have. I was blessed with a wife who is very content in life and hardly has desires for possessions. Unfortunately, with many stories I hear, I fear we are the exception not the rule. It’s been found the 89% of people spend much more while in a relationship.

If you want to get married, expect quite a bill. The average price for an engagement ring is $3,000. And the average wedding costs over $25,000. This does not include the honeymoon, if you have one. There are many ways to lower the cost of these, but I will mention them in another post. The point is, if you do not have your finances in order, you should not be paying for expensive dates, much less a wedding.

Keeping Up With The Joneses Kids

Children can be unexpected, and costly. Many have heard that raising a child to 18 in a middle-income family costs $233,610. This does not include college. I am hoping everyone reading intends to at least lessen the cost of college for their child. I recommend holding off having children until you are more financially sound. For some people that is too late. However, do not worry about that too much, no one feel’s like they are ready for a child, especially financially. However, there are many things you should have in order before having a child, including a financial security net. Otherwise, you can reduce the costs of having a child fairly easily.

To Minimize The Cost Of A Child

  1. Do not bother with a first birthday. Your child will not remember it.
  2. You can also receive hand-me-down books, toys, and clothes for the child.
  3. See if your family can help out with the child.
  4. If your partner is not around to provide do note your child has the right to child support.
  5. Only consider your child’s needs, not their wants. Everyone has heard of “keeping up with the Joneses.” a phrase in which people use to talk about keeping up with their neighbors. I have heard stories of how after having kids, parents spend more money to keep their own children’s possessions up with their neighbors kids. Worse yet, most of the time they increase spending to obtain more possessions than their neighbors. A good question to ask in moments like that is which do you want more: your children’s financial security, to feel less inadequate momentarily, or material possessions? Whatever your preference is, answering this question honestly will bring you peace. However, note that choosing financial security now could lead to everything else later, and I believe you want everything you ever desired.

Car

Transportation is a basic need. You have to get to work, you have to go shop where food is (probably not too close), you want to spend time with the people you love. The problem is, people go to extremes to obtain this basic right. Usually this extreme is a new car. Now people may say “oh but I need reliable transportation, and it’s not like my car is a fancy sports car.” If you pull out a loan for a car, that car may as well cost the same as a sports car. The average new car loan is over $30,000 with the average monthly payment being $515. This is more than one third of the average rent in America.

In high school I have heard many stories about people buying new cars or even having new cars as gifts. The latter of these people may be considered “lucky.” Every single one of them realized shortly after the joy of receiving that car that car insurance is a thing. The average cost of insurance is over $1000 dollars annually so they had to break their backs just to find jobs to cover those costs. Just a reminder, this time was 2009 and 2010, this was not a happy time for our economy. Also these new cars require higher premiums than their used counter parts. Do you even want me to get started on fuel prices and maintenance?

I once heard a personal finance expert say that the biggest wealth killer in America are new cars. They tend to drain your accounts quickly off just using them. If you obtained a new car loan there is much more that will come out of your pocket.

Do Not Go New

The most basic advice I can give is to avoid getting a new car. Keep in mind this is not a very big sacrifice. Even several years after its release, the neatest car on the block will not really loose its features, but it will loose its value. With in five years, the average car looses over 50% of its value. So buy used cars.

My family always gave me that advice, and sold me my first car, a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am. I sure was getting ladies with it (extreme sarcasm notice [although the car was not always at fault for this]). But guess what, at the time I bought it, its was valued at about $300 dollars. Since I drove it during high school and college I sent it to maintenance. I knew the body of the car is in tip top shape, it still has several years on it. On top of avoiding an auto loan, the insurance premiums on the car were reasonable. If I got any newer of a car I would have a large leak in my bank accounts.

Mine and my wife’s car is an old car. It’s not too flashy (if even), but it is still a good car and it gets us around.

Other Options


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For many people purchasing a personal vehicle is not an option, but it can also be a very wise choice in your money decisions. Sometimes, a bicycle is an adequate form of transportation, and comes at a modest price, next to only the initial cost of the bicycle. Not to mention, having to bicycle would provide exercise in which you no longer need to pay a gym membership for.

If you must travel longer distances, public transportation is another option. Your town or city should have information of public transportation and how much it will cost. For example, I live in the city of Philadelphia, which has a surprisingly good public transportation system under Septa. You can go almost anywhere in the metropolitan area for $2.50/trip.

Pets

“No! Please don’t say it’s so. Sure, I may have to pay for pet food, but they love me!” Yes I know, I had a dog when I was in my teens and my wife had a cat through her childhood. They are both adorable and loving creatures. However, the average dog or cat can cost hundreds annually, and over a thousand for the first year.

While this may be small compared to other ways to save money, even small changes, it is worth mentioning many rentals charge people for holding a pet and some even forbid it. I have noticed these rentals tend to be more expensive.

While I can see the benefits of having a pet there are alternatives. One is to find alternative pets such as fish or turtles, usually real estate agents allow people to have these pets. Another alternative is some breathing pet plush linked below. They helped transition my wife to live without her cat.

What If You Cannot Cut Back?

If you say that you cannot cut back, honestly I believe you. Although people can always minimize what they spend, I cannot see how people who make say <$10,000 a year can have much money to spare. The sad reality is that if you are in this position you will need to find another form of income. There are many ways to make more money including finding a better job, gaining new valuable skills, a side gig, or a part-time job. However, if this is supposed to be taken up, make sure not a single new penny goes into any spending, and only to secure your finances.

Conclusion


There are many ways to cut on how much you spend. That provides plenty of flexibility in your budget. When your financial security starts to become well established, you will be surprised to find that what you no longer spend on has become a habit. It will be harder for the feeling of impulse buying to creep into your head. Inevitably, you should make more money, and the additional money you make will more likely stay in your pocket.

However, there will come a time when you realize that too much money in the pocket, will not make you rich alone. Once you have more of a disposable income, and a good financial security net, the disposable income can and should be used to make you more money. In a future post I will explain how your money can be your best resource and how you can use it to forge your wealth.

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