2015 was another year in which I tried to do way more than I had the money to actually afford.
I attempted to fix a decade’s worth of dental neglect, invested in education, started an online business, all while trying to run and grow my opera career.
Generally when you’re spending a ton, and not making a ton, it’s not a formula that leads to happiness… unless you love to be in debt. But I’ve managed to end another year without any debt on the books (by the hair of my teeth… thanks, surprise root canal).
So, how’d I do it? Well, I shaved off money where ever I could, and put it where it would do the most good (or at least where I hoped it would do the most good).. and I want to share 6 of my favourites with you (aren’t you lucky?).
A lot of these might not be perfect fits for your life, and that’s fine. When it comes to saving money or cutting expenses you’ve got to find the areas you don’t mind cutting in, and that’s going to be different for everyone.
What I will say is that in most of these cases I found that the benefits of cutting back weren’t just in saving money, and that’s probably why I stuck to them throughout the year.. because it doesn’t matter how good the savings idea is… you actually have to do it.
These are the ones that worked for me!
Roommates, roommates, and more roommates.
When my girlfriend and I were looking for a place late 2014 I had high hopes for the economics of splitting a well priced one bedroom. Two people living in one room = CHA CHING.
A few weeks of scouring Craigslist ads proved what everyone else probably already knew, rent in Toronto is insane, and what you get for your money isn’t great. With the extra challenge of having ‘musician’ as your employment … the search wasn’t going well.
It was my girlfriend who had the great idea of expanding the search parameters, and she started to look at bigger places, places we couldn’t afford on our own, but would have potential with an extra roommate. To make a long story short, we found a great (and big) apartment in the neighbourhood we wanted, invited a good friend to move in and lowered our rent payments by a few hundred dollars a month.
I hadn’t lived with roommates for a while, and I was a little wary, but the benefits for me were far more than financial. We’re all working musicians and were constantly moving in and out of the house, we were rarely all there, and even when we were it was great to have other people in the house.
One of the best choices we made for 2015.
Taking the long approach to long distance
If you’ve lived it, you know… long distance is expensive. Not only is long distance expensive, but applying the normal rules of frugality can be dangerous. Saving money by not seeing each other for a few months can seem like a good idea for your bank account, but it can sure put a strain on your relationship.
Sure there were times I saved a few bucks by taking a bus for 18 hours to visit… but generally LDR costs a ton of money.
Solving this problem wasn’t so much about spending less, it was about making sure there was money there.
My girlfriend and I started a joint account, contributed to it every month, and whenever there was a flight, bus, or train that needed to be paid for… it came out of there.
Is it really saving money? Maybe not technically, but it felt like I wasn’t constantly robbing my grocery budget to find the cash to see my girlfriend.
By preparing for the inevitable costs (taking the long view) I saved a ton of stress, and minimized all the shuffling and skimping that it used to take to maintain my relationship across international borders.
I learned to meal plan
Let me be honest. I don’t always meal plan. Lots of weeks I take a looser approach to my food intake.
But when things were tight, when I was struggling to make it through a month, I really used my meal plan to get me through.
I used to watch my mom do it, and it’s kind of an old standby for a ton of people. But I’d never really done it myself.
I’ll just say that it works, and it’s not that hard. Even for a non-planner like me, it only took a half hour on Sunday to put something together for the week. I love that you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the week and, no matter what you end up eating, having a plan when you go into the grocery store WILL end up saving you money.
It’s a simple thing that you can implement in a few minutes.
I didn’t buy clothes
Ya. There are some diminishing returns on this one…. I’ll have to buy clothes eventually (society frowns on the constantly naked), but this year I really didn’t. I had to replace my jeans once, but that remains my only clothing cost for the year.
I say this not to suggest you should do the same, but for me clothes was the easiest thing to put on the chopping block.
I didn’t have enough money to do everything, and for most of the year I didn’t really miss having new clothes.
One suggestion I have is… if you want to try it, just stop going to malls. I didn’t miss having nice new things right up until the moment when I saw all the nice new things at the mall. And all of a sudden your brain goes into overdrive explaining why you really should get a new Harry Rosen suit.
I lived on a fixed income
This year marks the first year that I paid myself a set salary every month.
I’m self-employed, so I’m not getting weekly paycheques from anywhere, but I made up my own system where my business (Christopher Enns – Tenor) pays my personal self (Chris Enns) a monthly salary… every month.
It helped me in two huge ways:
- Managing your money on a fixed salary is just way easier. Even if it’s a lower amount than you’d like (I set my salary pretty low), you can adapt and figure out how to deal with it, because it’s the same every month.
- It left the rest of my income to feed the insatiable beast which is a business. I didn’t have to carefully ration out my business spending. I paid myself, and the rest could all be reinvested in my business.
Living on a fixed income also helped me literally save more money, in the conventional sense. Long term saving was part of my monthly salary. So there was no ‘skimping on savings’ when I had a lean month. There was always money going into my long term savings account… which has the plus side of making me feel like I’m moving forward even when times get tough.
I biked all year (even in winter)
I’m lucky enough to live in a city where it’s possible to bike all winter. I’m not saying that Toronto doesn’t get cold or slushy (so slushy)… but it’s possible.
I love to bike. I don’t have to wait for transit, I don’t have to worry about the costs or logistics of a car, I stay fit and I save a ton of money. I even spent a month this summer biking a traveling opera show around Canada.
Instead of transportation being a major cost, like it is for some people, I only spent 1% of my income getting from place to place. A few services, a few tire tubes, and I was happily biking.
If you’re thinking about doing this the only thing I would suggest is investing in ways to keep your hands and feet nice and toasty. Everything else warms up in a few minutes (almost too warm). Get some great socks, some good boots, and a nice set of gloves.
I realize that there are a lot of people who don’t have this option (or really don’t want to use this option), but it’s been a great source of savings for me this year.
So, that’s how I saved. It’s how I managed to finish three financial courses since January, how I bank rolled 5 root canals and over 20 fillings (my mouth wasn’t in great shape), and managed to have a weekly voice lesson in there to boot.
How about you? What’s your favourite way to save? Simple or innovative, I figure if you actually do it… it’s got a ton of merit. Let’s get sharing, so that we can make 2016 even more incredible!