I’ve spent the last several weeks shaking my head over the negotiations going on in Congress regarding raising the debt ceiling. In many respects it’s sad to see the partisan bickering and school-yard bantering going on. I thought we had elected grown-ups but current actions are proving me wrong.
But the whole debacle should provoke average Americans to think about their own finances. One of the most common questions I get asked is “How can you afford to take a 1 year sabbatical?” Many people think it takes a large bank roll to live overseas and while it does take some money you can get by on much less than you probably think thanks to a lower cost of living.
But I think the issue is more than just money, it’s about how we place a greater value on stuff over experiences. Let’s face it, we live in an age where we are marketed to on an almost 24/7 basis. We are led to believe that we need the latest gadget, a new car, a bigger house or a Snugee made out of ShamWow. We’re working long hours at the office just to afford the payments on all this junk. The truth is that experiences are worth more than gadgets so ask yourself where do you really want to spend your money; that new iPhone or two months on the beaches of Thailand?
Most of us are probably not in a financial position to travel long term and that is mainly because we’ve placed our priorities on “stuff” rather than on “experiences”. We’ve succumbed to the marketing attacks. So how can we turn this around?
Get Out of Debt
The first big step is to get out of debt by whatever means necessary. We’re now only $2K away from being completely out of debt. I can’t tell you how good that feels knowing we won’t be indebted to anyone. But that doesn’t mean we have a fat bank account itching to be spent in some foreign and exotic land either. To get that you can do one of two things: earn more money or spend less money. Doing both is an even quicker path to that fat bank roll.
Ways to Spend Less Money
Let’s start with spending less because there are several ways that one can do this immediately. Here are some things that we’ve done to shrink our cash outlay:
- Skip that morning coffee and Danish at Starbucks (this place should really be called Five Bucks). Instead bring your own coffee and danish from home or just get off the caffeine highway for good.
- Bring your lunch to work instead of eating out.
- Speaking of eating out, don’t frequent restaurants. We had a period of time where we were eating out a lot. It’s easy, and frankly the food somehow tastes better. But it’s expensive and often not all that healthy. For the price of a nice restaurant meal in the US you could eat for a week in SE Asia.
- Cut the cable. Consider cutting back on the cable bill. You’re paying mainly for stations you don’t watch anyway (Home Shopping Network). Get a Netflix streaming account if you want to watch movies or use Redbox. Seriously, would you rather watch someone else on TV having a great life or be out there experiencing that life for yourself?
- Stop watering your grass and hang dry your clothes. It might not seem like much but every little bit helps boost that savings account. Sure, during the summer your yard might look like crap but you’re saving money and not wasting water. Same goes for hang drying your clothes. Let Mother Nature do the work rather than your gas/electric dryer that you’re paying for. And on this same idea turn your water heater down to 115-120F. Your water will still be hot but you’ll be saving energy.
- Don’t run a balance on your credit cards. If you have a balance on your cards that you are not paying off at the end of the month then you are losing money by paying interest. Pay it off as quickly as you can and stop giving your hard earned money away.
- Walk, Ride or Mass Transit. If you live 2 blocks from the grocery store there is no need to drive there (unless that store is Costco). Gas isn’t a cheap commodity and anything we can do to not use the car will save money. Drive only when necessary. Consider carpooling to work. Do your body good and walk or ride a bike. You’ll thank yourself for a great looking physique.
- Implement a 30 day hold on all major purchases. Think you need that new 55” TV or a new camera lens for that Canon 5DII? Take 30 days to think it over before handing over that credit card. Chances are after 30 days the allure of that purchase will be waning.
Obviously there are lots of ways that we can spend less. I’d love to hear some of your suggestions. Feel free to add a comment below with your tips and advice.
Ways to Make More Money
OK, so now we’re saving money on a daily basis by adjusting our lifestyle a bit. Remember, we’ve got dreams to turn into reality here. So, how about some ways that we can bring in more money? Chances are your employer isn’t going to give you a significant raise (or maybe they will if you ask nicely) so here are some ways that you can make a little extra cash on the side.
- Sell your crap. If you are like us you probably have a lot of stuff sitting around just taking up space. If you haven’t used it in the past year or even the last 6 months chances are you won’t ever use it. Sell it and sock that money away into your travel account. If you want the definitive guide on selling your crap check out Adam Bakers excellent step by step guide.
- Turn a hobby into a side biz. Love taking photos? Sell some prints or schedule some portrait shoots. Start shooting the local school sports and market images to parents (they can’t resist buying a photo of their kid scoring a goal). Turn your passion into money whether it’s photography or needlepoint.
- This one may not be too popular but consider taking a second job for a while. It doesn’t have to be a traditional job in an office setting or one pumping gas. Instead consider online jobs you can do from home like affiliate marketing or SEO writing. The Internet has opened up an infinite array of possibilities for making money.
- Enslave your kids in a street-side lemonade stand. Who can resist a cute kid selling lemonade? OK, this one is a bit of humor but why not enlist the whole family to earn money?
There are an infinite number of ways to pad your bank account by either spending less or earning more if one is willing to work hard and think in non-conventional ways. What it really comes down to is what do you really want in your life; more stuff or more experiences?
Do you have some awesome tips you’d love to share on making more or spending less? Share them in the comments below.
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