Call me what you like – minimalist, anti-consumerist, cheap-ass motherfucker – but I have ruthlessly cut expenses in my life to the point that I’m saving 50-70% of my net income. I do this by living at home, refusing to buy crap I don’t need, and letting the girls I date pay their own way through life.
My friends all think I’m nuts. So how do I do it?
As a young, healthy man with no dependents and a good job, I earn way more than I need. Think about it: If men twice my age can support their 6-person families with my income, I have no problem supporting myself with less than half of it. And one day, when (if?) I do have a family, I’ll have enough saved up to provide my kids with a high quality of life.
Saving is good for emergency preparedness, too. You never know when shit will hit the fan: Houses burn down, illnesses manifest, family members need help, tsunamis hit, midget race wars break out – how are you going to feel when your comfortable life is shattered by events beyond your control and you chose to spend $500 a month on fancy shampoo, designer t-shirts and fair-trade lattes?
Finally, abstaining from the consumption merry-go-round of contemporary western culture is an important step toward freeing yourself from our unhealthy culture. For a guy in my position, the conventional life path we’re taught is:
1) Calculate an overly optimistic projected future income stream.
2) Buy a house, car, and all the rest under that constraint, with an even more optimistically low estimate of how much our expenses will be
3) Live the next 40 years as walking cortisol factories, working our souls raw to keep the raises coming.
That said, intelligent budgeting doesn’t mean eliminating every possible expense from my life. Frugality is a virtue, but it’s one among many. Here’s a list of 5 items that you should guiltlessly indulge in, regardless of the financial cost:
The answer is: I don’t. I buy organic produce and nuts whenever possible, grass-fed beef, prime cuts of meat and fish, and I do a lot of expensive substituting when I eat out to keep my meals relatively Paleolithic. I save a bit by eating a lot at home and at girls’ places, but I still spend about twice as much on food as I could get away with if I ate a conventional diet. I also spend liberally on supplements and vitamins.
As a large and active man, this adds up to thousands of dollars a year.
Well, so what? It sounds cheesy, but your health is your most important asset, and there are very few opportunities out there with a higher ROI than putting time and money into your body. Health directly translates into energy, drive and focus, which means a few thousands of dollars spent today will probably be earned back when you’re old and rich because you had the mojo to hustle throughout your life, rather than decay into a fat, alcoholic 40 year old corporate drone with the blood-testosterone levels of a pre-teen girl.
I play on two hockey teams, two ultimate frisbee teams, beach volleyball, yoga, and dodgeball (don’t laugh – that shit is serious business). I also pay for my brother to play hockey because he’s a broke-ass student. Adding up team fees and equipment, it all comes to well over $3000 per year.
I would be willing to pay twice that if I needed to. Sure, I could replace it all by doing wind sprints in a parking lot four nights a week and still have the same fitness level, but fuck that. A man needs competition like he needs air and water.
3) Location, Location, Location
Not everyone has the option of living at home. For those who don’t, I recommend skimping on your lodging in all but one criteria: Location.
Buy the smallest place you can fit into, but make sure it’s close to both work and play.
Living close to work means you waste fewer of your precious hours commuting, and chances are you’ll save having to own a car and transit pass in addition to rent. Being close to the nightlife is a no-brainer: It’s a lot easier to say, “Let’s get out of here, I live across the street” than it is to convince a girl to take a ½ hour bus ride to your tract house.
4) Work clothes, and one good weekend outfit
My friends make fun of me because I wear the same shirt every time we go anywhere to meet girls. Fuck ’em. I only go out once a week, at most. Why do I need multiple bar shirts to pick from?
As for work clothes, the optimal amount to spend will vary by your career. In some professions, $5,000 on suits is the bare necessity, and $10,000 is not out of the question. If you think spending a shit-ton of money on clothes will pay off in the long run, go for it. Ideally though, go on a long vacation to Southeast Asia and find a good tailor to hook you up for 1/5th of first world prices. Or just quit your job, take your 10k and stay there for a few years.
I buy a ton of books. Many don’t get finished. Some don’t even get started. In my pre-Kindle days, I would put in a ~$200 Amazon order about once a month, but the E-reader has brought that number down significantly.
Fortunately though for the budget-conscious Infovore, a sad consequence of western civilization’s autumn period is that very little of worth has been written in the years that copyright applies to. If you’re interested in history and politics, most of what’s worth reading can be downloaded for free in a variety of formats.
The early 21st century also has some interesting and eloquent dissidents, but most of their work is available for free online, in what are known as “blogs.”
Still, there are enough interesting contemporary authors demanding (or requesting) payment for their work to put a dent in my budget. Whenever I come across a book I might be interested in, I immediately send an email to myself with a link to it and the subject line “Read.” Every week or so, I go through the emails and buy almost every one. It’s not pretty when credit card statement time comes.
Reflecting on that list, I think it’s possible to break smart, non-essential purchases into three categories:
– Investments in yourself and your career (Books, food, suits)
– Spending money to increase your free time (central apartment, but also things like a cleaning lady and eating out when it’s convenient)
– Purchases that aren’t about self-improvement, but rather just about enjoying your life by spending money on what you’re passionate about.
Budgeting isn’t about being cheap. It’s about taking stock of which purchases actually contribute to your happiness and success in life, splurging on those, then skimping on the rest.