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When I graduated from college, got my first full-time job and made my first big-kid budget (I’ve always been a nerd, for sure), I assumed I’d spend $200 every month on groceries.

I had no context for what it’d cost me to live — let alone feed myself. 

“Help me, I don’t know how to adult.”

Six years later, and I have a more refined approach to budgeting for food. And I spend nowhere near $200 each month on groceries.

Spoiler: I don’t use coupons. And I don’t plan my grocery shopping trips based on weekly ads or sales.

These little money-saving hacks could make a big difference if you’re shopping for a whole family or you’re really watching every penny, but I just have myself to feed each week.

I’ve been able to save hundreds on food over the last six years by creating some solid shopping and dining habits, which allow me to take great care of my health, have a social life to be able to eat out with friends for up to $60 each month, as well as live within a reasonable grocery budget of $100-$135 each month.

Overall:

  • I learned to cook at home.
  • I eat out at restaurants only a handful of times each month.
  • I plan ahead, using simple meal planning.
  • I know what I have, buy what I need and sometimes treat myself.
  • I shop smart.

Now first, back to what I don’t do to save money on food.

I don’t use coupons for food, because coupons often lead you to spend money on food or items that weren’t on your shopping list — so that’s a waste of money, since you didn’t need that food or item to begin with.

Also, I don’t plan my grocery shopping trips based on weekly ads or sales. Instead, when I make my weekly shopping trip, I go to the same few grocery stores — usually no-frills stores. However, I know that when I step into HyVee or Trader Joe’s, I’m paying a little bit more, since they provide a more premium experience (*hearty laugh* I don’t go to Whole Foods ever). So when I don’t have time to run to my usual no-frills places, I consider the cost difference of running into these stores as the price of convenience — or going out of my way to get my favorite Trader Joe’s coffee, of course.

Related: Find the Balance: Pay Down Your Debt & Still Have a Life

Save Money By Cooking at Home

The game changer for me was when I did the Whole30 Challenge in the spring of 2013. Since then, I’ve become significantly more purposeful with my time and money regarding food. Whole30 is a paleo diet: no breads, no artificial sugars, no dairy, yada yada yada. I did it to see if I could handle that kind of self-control — turns out, I can survive without ice cream for 30 days!

I walked away with a ton of benefits from my Whole30 experience. Following strict dietary limitations requires you be very proactive with meal planning and cooking your own meals. (Some people have to do this anyway, because of food allergies — bless them!)

It’s a three-way tie between what what most beneficial from my Whole30 experience:

  • Learning to cook
  • Learning to plan ahead
  • Eating delicious, healthy home-cooked meals

I've curated a way of going about things involving food that look significantly different than pre-Whole30-Allea. It has evolved over time, but I'm happy to share the many ways I save on food! Once you start implementing some of these things, you'll feel even more in control of your budget (and perhaps your health as well).

Let's get started, shall we? First up...

01 | Learn to Cook

Learning to cook was a game-changer. At the ripe age of 22, I had no idea how to fry an egg or make a pancake. I actually called my dad, all, “What the crap, Dad, why didn’t you teach me this?” And — mimicking my sass — he replied kindly, “You just weren’t paying attention, Allison.”

Fair. 

Touché, Dad.

But as I learned to cook, I figured out what kinds of spices exist, what kinds of dishes I like, how to simplify my shopping list and which ingredients to keep in my pantry at all times. 

It took practice: trying new recipes, YouTube-ing things and calling my mom and dad when I didn’t know when something meant (it takes a village, even when your kid is an adult...).

02 | Plan Your Meals Each Week

I plan one or two meals each week. That’s it. 

Then again, I’m a single gal who also considers cereal a meal when she’s too lazy to make anything on a Thursday night.

I pick one or two meals, take a look at what I already have in my cabinets and then make a list of the ingredients I need to buy in an app (I use Wunderlist because it syncs from my desktop to my phone), then I run to the grocery store.

Getting Started with Meal Planning - YouTube

It’s super important to check your pantry and fridge before you go shopping. One way to save a ton on food is by not wasting or forgetting about the food you already have.

As a rule, when I first started meal planning (heck, I do this now), I only pick recipes that have at most two ingredients I’ve never heard of. I was that girl googling “shallots” while at the store to know what they even look like. So hear me: That’s normal! No one knows what a shallot is unless someone tells them.

Extra frugal tip: Skip buying any ingredients or toppings suggested by a recipe, if you think you can do without. (Uh, I never buy cilantro. *gasp*)

03 | Eat or Freeze Leftovers

The upside of meal planning is that you know you’ll be having home-cooked meals throughout the week, because a whole recipe will last you multiple meals. You have to be cool with leftovers for this to work. Being okay with leftovers will save you so much money, so I encourage getting on board.

For instance, I know that a half-batch of enchiladas will last me four meals: Monday lunch, Tuesday dinner, Wednesday lunch, Wednesday dinner. 

That’s right, I eat enchiladas for three days in a row. But they’re delicious, easy to heat up in the microwave and I’m all about that.

When I make enchiladas, I make two batches of 5 enchiladas each, instead of one big 10-enchilada batch. Why? Because SIX days of enchiladas is too much for anyone, even me. So I prep two smaller casserole dishes of enchiladas and bake one in the oven, while I freeze the other one to defrost and bake at a later time.

04 | Get a CrockPot

The slow cooker is my favorite tool in the kitchen, by far.

I like soups. Most recipes are very healthy, many freeze well — and let’s be honest, winter lasts pretty much six months in Nebraska, so warm soup is always a good idea.

A 6-quart slow cooker will be plenty big enough for most of what you’ll use it for. You place the ingredients in the base and let it cook for anywhere from 3-8 hours. It’s great to use for overnight cooking, while you’re at work, cleaning the house or running errands. 

Pro tip: Even the night before you want to cook things up, put all the ingredients into the crock pot and store it in the fridge. That way, the next morning, it’s already assembled and good to go. You can set the crock pot full of ingredients in the slow cooker base and turn it on — voilà!

If you don’t already have a slow cooker, this is the one I have and I highly recommend* it:

Crock-Pot SCCPVL600S Cook' N Carry 6-Quart Oval Manual Portable Slow Cooker

*This an affiliate link, so I would get a small commission if you purchase using one of these links. Since I don’t advertise on my site, this is a way for me to fund the expenses to run Ask Allea. More on that here.

05 | Keep Quick Meals on Hand

Know what saves me between my carefully-planned meals? Keeping old favorites on hand.

So if you need something quick, or you’re maxed out on your grocery budget for the month, or you don’t have time to run to the store, I recommend having a few classics in your pantry that are ready-to-go at any time.

My go-to pantry meals:

  • Canned soup: tomato, vegetable, chicken noodle
  • Tuna with mayo (and chunks of pickle, if you’re into that) with crackers
  • Quesadillas: white tortillas, black beans and shredded cheese
  • Eggs & toast
  • Ramen (I’m still a 20-something after all)
  • Kraft mac & cheese (I’m also a 5-year-old)
  • Chicken alfredo: canned alfredo sauce, pasta (even better if you get this yummy veggie pasta from Target)

I don’t rely heavily on these go-to meals, since they aren’t necessarily the healthiest — usually high in sodium — but they’re good to have on hand because they’re easy to whip up. So when you’re avoiding the McDonalds drive-thru, you can substitute that greasy McChicken with something at least slightly healthier that you already have at home.

06 | Pack Your Lunch for Work

I’m that girl, friends. I pack my lunch for work every day, unless I’ve made plans to go out for lunch with someone.

I work where there’s a fridge and a microwave, so I can bring with me just about anything: soup, leftovers, cold cut sandwiches, fruit and veggies and whatnot.

By packing my meals, even if a five-serving enchilada dish cost me $8 to make at home, plus any sides of fruit and veggies to round it out, that’s comes out to $2 per meal. What restaurant will serve you a healthy, warm, delicious meal for $2 total?



I work near our downtown in Lincoln, Nebraska, and when one of my best friends worked downtown as well, we’d both pack our lunch and often eat in the outdoor area at our local library or on the grounds of the local art museum. Another friend and I would go to a nearby park and picnic on nice days!

If we were going out to a restaurant each eat time we wanted to meet up, that would have really put a toll on our wallets. Instead, by packing our lunches, we got met up sometimes more than once a week and saved money in the long run! 

Related: 5 Promising Ways To Lose Your Mind During Debt Repayment

By packing your lunch during the work week, you can avoid waiting in lines at restaurants, tipping a waiter or spending hundreds of dollars each month on eating out. Yes, it requires a bit of prep work and remembering to pack your lunch bag before you head out of the door — but if you’re planning your meals in advance each week, you’re on your way.

I have a lunch bag that I love. (The cute blue one above totally got stolen out of my car the very.next.day. Day ruiner.). The one I have is no longer available, but it's proof that lunch bags don't have to be ugly :)

My new lunch bag fits wide tupperware containers that I use for salads, while it’s also tall enough to hold a water bottle. Plus it has a zipper across the top and pockets on the sides.

If you're looking for a lunch bag, here are a few not-so-lunch-bag-looking options:

Mcool Unisex Reusable Thermal Foldable Lunch Bag Cooler Bag Insulated Lunch Box

Fit & Fresh Day Trip Insulated Soft Cooler Bag with Leakproof Foil Liner, Multi-Layer Insulation and Radiant Heat Barrier, 12-Can Capacity

Srise Lunch Box Insulated Lunch Bag For Men &Women Meal Prep Lunch Tote Boxes For Kids & Adults

DALIX 25" Large Cooler Tote Bag w/ Zipper Insulated in Gray

My Favorite Recipes

I rotate the same recipes over and over, just to make it easier for me to meal plan (aka, avoiding decision fatigue). Plus they are delicious, healthy and I don't mind that I've eaten the same kale & quinoa soup for the last three or four winters. It's so good!

(And praise the Lord for food bloggers, right?! Praise.)

These are some of my favorite go-to recipes.

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Soup — 100% amazing fresh or after it's frozen.

Slow Cooker Quinoa, Chicken and Kale Soup — 100% amazing fresh or after it's frozen.

White Chicken Chili — This is my friend Olivia's site! Very food-allergy-friendly.

Easy Oven Fajitas — These I don't freeze — probably wouldn't turn out great.

Maple Sweet Potato Hash — Kristin essentially taught me how to cook. She was the food blogger who was there for me when I got started.

Superfood Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette — A great summer dish that requires no reheating, so great for picnics!

For more links to helpful articles and ways to save money, you can follow me on Pinterest.

07 | Save Money By Not Eating Out (as Much)

I don’t get to be the cool kid by telling you that eating out is probably ruining your budget. I get no fun from that. But is it true for you?

Even better if you show up to lunch in matching outfits

Ever since I did the Whole30 Challenge in 2013, I really only eat out with people now. It’s a little rule I created to limit myself from running through the drive through on my way home. I realized that I only have to feed myself — no kids, no husband — so even if I only have soup and crackers at home, that’s a fine supper for me. I can save money and eat healthier by going home instead.

By making a little adjustment to when you “allow” yourself to eat out, this could not only help your budget, create healthier habits. (I’ve maybe eaten at Taco Bell three times in my life? I’m not even sure. Runza, on the other hand…)

But I do eat out! I make lunch dates, go out with my friend group for sushi after church, the works. And when I do eat out, I’ve created some habits there too:

  • I might just get the sandwich and not the whole meal.
  • I always order water instead of a pop. And rarely I order a beer.
  • I go to certain places only during happy hours (um, sushi is otherwise crazy expensive).

In many cases, fancy-pants restaurants have much more cost-effective lunch menus. This is a great way to get the experience of "going out" but saving on the premium price tag that comes with the evening restaurant-going crowd.

The experience of time with friends is when I consider it very worth spending that $12 to get slow time with them, eat a delicious burger and let someone else do the dishes :)

Frugal Grocery Shopping08 | Know Your Money-Saving Stores

It took me years to realize that it’s not cost-effective to shop for groceries at Target. They up-charge fruits and veggies, when you really could get them next door or down the street at an actual grocery store for way less.

Target is great for grabbing one or two things while you’re there, if you’d like to save some time (and energy, let’s be honest), but I’d be wary of making Target your go-to grocery source.

I’ve gotten used to shopping at “no-frills” grocery stories like SuperSaver and ALDI. Both feel a little like warehouses, but that’s where you’re saving your money. I prefer to shop at ALDI first, because it’s quick, cheap and there aren’t too many options to overwhelm me. Then I’ll stop at SuperSaver if I need any ethnic foods — they have so many hard-to-find ingredients — and usually because ALDI doesn’t always have what I need, since their inventory rotates occasionally.

I recently heard ALDI referred to as “Costco for single people” and I’ve never heard anything more true in my life.

I can get a bundle of six onions at ALDI and that’s perfect for me; it’s more cost-effective than buying one onion at a time for my meals, but not too many that they’ll go bad before I can use them all.

Also, I can be in and out of ALDI in 25 minutes. (I timed it today when I went, actually.)

09 | Go Store Brand

Store brand items are often times the same quality and taste as name-brand foods, so you can save a lot by going with the off-brand option. (I draw the line with certain foods though, like coffee and tomato soup.)

Did you know that most people buy name brand cereal at $3+ per box? At the rate that I eat cereal, that’s not a good option for me at all!

So I’ve been buying the same off-brand cereal for at least the last three years. I usually got it at SuperSaver, but I’ve recently tried the off-brand version at ALDI and..

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I just did it. In the last two weeks, I paid off my final bit of debt — the remainder of my student loans. Holla at ya girl.

   

But it wasn’t easy. Between my student loans and a car loan (which I paid off in 10 months, instead of 5 years), I acquired approximately $34,708 of debt.*

*When I returned from study abroad my senior year, I immediately paid back the remaining $4,276 that I didn’t use from the $7600 private loan I took out for a semester in London (talk about self-control for a 22-year-old!).

Taking that early student loan payment into account, my total student loan and car loan debt adds up to be more like $30,432 total.

My debt payments added up to over $35,000 with all of the interest.

In all, I paid an average of $485/month toward my debt for 6 years.

How did I do it?

Choices. I made choices based on my priorities.

Goals. I set goals and wrote them down.

Diligence and patience. I stuck to a long-term plan, even if the results seemed slow-moving. 

Habits. I adjusted my lifestyle expectations straight out of college.

Saved. I made big-savings decisions. I made small-savings decisions.

Let’s expand on these biggies, shall we?

Make Choices Based on Your Priorities

If it's the end of the month and I'm nearing the max on my restaurant budget, I will say “no” to a meal out with my usual friend group. But if my friend Lexi comes to town, you can bet I’ll make an exception (even if I only order soup).

Related: Money, Friendships and Going Over Budget

Maybe your priorities are eating fancy foods or doing house projects. For me, I will throw my money at Needtobreathe for any/all concerts within a four-hour driving distance. I’ll swap used clothes with my girlfriends, but I also like going out for ice cream and trips to New York City.

Related: How to Host (and Rock!) Your First Clothing Swap
Related: Visiting New York City When You Have No Idea What It Will Cost

My point: Everyone’s priorities are different. 

The hard part: Not everything can be a priority. (Eek, there it is.)

What gets people into financial trouble is when they think they:

Need it all, and that they need it now.

There’s a huge difference between what we want and what we need.

Want = fun, enjoyable.
Need = necessary for survival.

In most of my experiences (as a young professional in the US), I’m usually picking one want versus another. Neither are usually needs. And that’s okay!

Related: The Truth About What You Want vs. What You Can Afford

To keep a good handle on your finances, let's prioritize needs over wants, then wants you really want over the wants you really don’t want all that much

My priorities:

Get Used to Saying No

I’m so not the fun friend. I mean, I am, but I’m not super spontaneous and I have a pretty hard “no” factor when it comes to spending money when I don’t have it (Needtobreathe concert tickets being my only exception for going wildly over budget. #rollover).

My friend Jen explains in her book The No-Spend Challenge Guide: How to Stop Spending Money Impulsively, Pay off Debt Fast, & Make Your Finances Fit Your Dreams, it’s easier to say no to everything from the get-go when trying to save money. When you start saying yes to things, it can be hard to know where the line is.

I’ve only done a couple no-spend months. The rest of the time, I have to know my own limits. I’ve developed a habit of saying no to things I didn’t know existed 30 minutes ago (looking at you, HomeGoods) or avoiding those stores altogether. I say yes to lunch, but no to sushi unless it’s happy hour. I say yes to a car, but I say no to a brand new one.

I’m okay with not having everything I think I want. And if I do want it, I’ll wait until my budget allows for it (also known as “delayed gratification.”).

Track Your Expenses and Make a Budget (aka, a Spending Plan)

My mother has always written down our family’s finances. Like, on paper. With a pencil. This always made money more real for me — there are limits to live within. You can only spend so much.

That’s why I use Mint to track each and every transaction I make (more on that here).

When I graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I had student loan debt. I also needed to pay rent, buy groceries and get a new wardrobe for my first full-time job.

Life costs money. It's best to know where it's going. Having a budget and tracking your spending will allow you to spend and save within your means.

Pay Off Your Credit Cards

Instructions from my mother at a young age: Always pay off your credit card in full. In fact, she calls the credit card company scheme “Modern-day cops and robbers.” 

Neither of us are anti-credit card. We like the rewards and the safety from fraudulent activity stealing all of the funds from our checking account.

However, Credit card companies thrive because of folks who don’t pay their balance in full. Each month. They rack up interest payments and you have more to pay each month to cover unpaid expenses from the month before.

It’s a terrible cycle. 

I want your money to be your own. I want you to take initiative and tell your money where it’s going, not some credit card company that has enough money without taking yours.

I have three credit cards:

  • A Citi DoubleCash that I use for everything
  • A Target Card that I use only for Target and Target.com purchases
  • A GapCard that I got when I worked for Old Navy in college. I only use it for Gap-store purchases (so, rarely). It doesn’t sync with Mint, so that’s why I really don’t use it — not even for the rewards. When I make a purchase with my GapCard, I use my bank app to send a Bill Pay for the amount immediately, so it shows up in my Mint and I can account for it in my budget.

I pay off each one of my credit cards every month. Because I have a budget, I know exactly how much is on each card and that I have the money in my checking account to pay each of the balances.

Set Financial Goals and Write Them Down

When you have a big picture goal — like saving up for a down payment on a car or house, paying off your credit card debt, budgeting for grad school or moving cross-country — it’s important to set goals.

When setting financial goals:

  • Know how much you’ll need.
  • Determine how long it’ll take to get there.
  • Figure out how much you’ll need to save or earn each month.
  • Then write it down.

Get my Understanding Me + Money Workbook here.

I have this super non-sexy record of my student loan debt-payoff goal. It’s in my Gmail. I would update it almost monthly for the longest time — seeing if I was on track, if my goal was any closer because of a bigger payment that month, etc.

I also kept a running tab in my Notes app on my computer too:

(These goals and results have totally changed by the way — but it was super fun to dig them up!)

When you write down your goals, it puts everything else into perspective.

That $8 t-shirt from Target may not be so worth it if you’d rather ______. Just when you think you may want to live alone, looking at the actual numbers might pull you into reality — perhaps it’s better to live with roommates a while longer while you save up for ______. 

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Diligence, friends. 

Diligence is, “having or showing care and conscientiousness in one's work or duties” (source). It takes an incredible amount of care to make decisions that affect you — decisions only you can make. Whether big or small, when you’re reaching for big financial goals, every decision matters.

I don’t go hang out at the mall anymore. 
I buy black coffee 95% of the time. I get a vanilla latte as a treat.
I lived with 14 roommates over the course of 6 years.

Decisions, both big and small, affect your goals. This goes back to setting priorities. When you can’t have it all, decide what you want most. But with that, stay the course.

You’re the only one who can reach your goal. No one else is going to do it for you (if you find that person, lemme knowwww). Stay focused, and know that you’re not the ONLY one saying “no” or weighing the options. We’re all making choices, but when your choices are directly tied to reaching your goals, it’s easier to say “no” or “not yet.”

As little as you may be seeing progress, stay the course.

Of course, it’s worth weighing your options and revisiting your goals to see where else you can save, but a large part of it is sticking around for the long haul. Saving up $15,000 in an Emergency Fund will take a while. Paying off $135,000 in student loans won’t happen overnight.

Stay the course, friend. You’re not alone.

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We need money to do the things we want. We also need money to pay for things we don’t want to spend money on (renter's insurance, anyone?).

As much as I’m a Frugal Fannie — grocery shopping at ALDI, packing my lunches and sharing a Netflix log-in with my sister — I still like to spend money.

Sure, I don’t want to be rich, but I don’t hate money either.

I actually care about money. (If you’re new here, you’re actually on a money blog. Hi!)

Financial SecurityThe Emergency Fund

Things will go wrong. It will cost money.

I’m storing up funds in a savings account — what's called an Emergency Fund — for when the inevitable happens. This is money I don't touch unless something major goes wrong.

Regular expenses like oil changes, registration and insurance for my car all come out of my monthly budget — so my Emergency Fund would be dipped into for things like my car's insurance deductible.

Insurance

The day I saw that FIVE of my budget items were a form of “insurance,” I almost cried. Because apparently that makes me an adult now. (Can I be 12 again, please?)

But insurance is there to protect us.

I’m only in the beginning stages of understanding insurance: medical coverage, health savings accounts, car insurance, umbrella liability, renter’s, disability...the list, man. And that’s not all of them.

Related: Get the Real Life Money Guide for more on adulting lingo

Having funds to protect yourself in case of an accident, that’s a huge security. Not just for now — because, no, right now it doesn’t feel great putting money toward insurance when you don’t see a “need” for — but because it’s in case you’ll need it. It’s not fun being a worst-case-scenario kind of person, but worst-case-scenarios could actually happen. That’s why we have insurance.

Retirement

The long-view on retirement is a foggy one, right? Most of us don’t plan to retire for another 30-40 years, so it’s hard to see how putting $100 into a Roth IRA could be helpful some day. But it will be. You’ll be glad you have it.

It's no coincidence that Retirement is at the bottom of the list of "securities." It's more important to have an Emergency Fund and insurance in place before you worry about saving up for retirement. If you can do all three at the same time, even better!

An Emergency Fund and sufficient insurance coverage will give you the most freedom to live your life and cover your assets in case of a worst-case scenario.

StewardshipGlorifying God

You may not be a religious person — and you're in good company, because I don't consider myself a "religious" person either. My faith is more than following a rule book.

Just like everyone else, I'm able to spend my money however I want. But as a Christian, I have the opportunity for my money to be a reflection of God's grace and generosity toward me. Through his sovereign grace, I've been given money, a place to live, a car to drive and many other things that I'm responsible for. I don't take this lightly — with my money and my belongings, I can choose to be gracious and generous with what I have!

Generosity and Hospitality

Along those same lines, I get to give away lots of what I earn.

I get to give to mission trips, support friends who work in ministry both here in the US and overseas, as well as help pay toward the operation of my local church. I get to open up my home to wanderers and visitors, neighbors and new friends. I get to joyfully give out of the good things I've been given.

Taking Care of My Things

My car is a gift to be taken care of, and though I can't do more to than check my oil and refill my windshield wiper fluid, I want to be a good steward of this property I own. I take it to a mechanic, I save up for expenses and I pay to wash it a few times a year. It's not pristine, but it's under my care.

As a principle, I want to take care of things so they don't break or go to ruin before they have to. I repair a hole in my leggings with a needle & thread. I buy cleaning supplies so my apartment isn't super gross.

It costs money to keep things moving smoothly (something we often overlook), but I consider it worth it.

Managing Debt

I don't sing the "Debt is the worst thing ever in the world" chant like many others, but I do think we need to get our debt under control. High-interest debt, like credit cards or private loans, are something to be taken seriously, so they don't take over our lives.

Related: Find the Balance: Pay Down Your Debt & Still Have a Life

Even with student loans, we can make slight adjustments to pay less interest, become debt-free a little bit sooner and have the freedom to spend our money in other ways (I mean, unless you looove paying other people each month? haha).

via GIPHY

Freedom in the Now

I want to live my best life now.

As YOLO as that sounds, it's pretty counter-money-culture when we focus too much on debt repayment. I'm not sorry for saying it: I'm in my twenties, and I want to enjoy being in my twenties. Yes, I also want to pay my bills and save up for emergencies, but I also want to spend my money on fun stuff.

Part of living in the freedom of having money is knowing that you've taken care of (or are taking care of) the big things. And hopefully you've also made room to enjoy the fruit of your labors.

So why do I care about money? Because money allows me...

  • To pursue hobbies: guitar lessons, playing in a softball league, starting a blog
  • To take care of my health: eating good food, going to the gym and taking care of my body, buying (and enjoying!) fun snacks from Trader Joe’s
  • To buy things that make me happy: clothes (i.e. dresses with pockets), ankle boots, local artwork for decorating my apartment
  • To enjoy new experiences: traveling, concerts, meals with friends

These are such good things. Money allows me to do these things.

Margin

By managing my money well, I can sleep at night and know that I can pay my bills. Sure, it's not the end-all of financial security, but the cushion that an Emergency Fund provides certainly provides emotional and mental margin.

Knowing I have a plan to tackle my debt also gives me margin too, right? By having a plan in place, I can stick to that while also enjoying the freedom of living my life in the here-and-now (see previous point).

And my allowing myself the margin to save up for future expenses and experiences, I have things I can look forward to, like a trip or a different car in a few years.

Margin may not be quantifiable, but it's certainly beneficial.

Opportunity

Having an Emergency Fund allows me to take risks. At the beginning of 2018, I became self-employed. That's a pretty big risk! And if I'm totally honest, I probably should have saved up more before leaving my full-time position (but some of that falls under this category).

If not for having some money in savings, I may have likely stayed where I was and let the opportunity for a new adventure pass me by.

Validation of Good Work

I'm from small-town Nebraska, and hard work is in our blood. It's something we see our parents and grandparents do — we work hard and, in some cases, we actually see fruit come from our efforts.

For me, earning money is an indicator of a job well done. Earning money isn't something to be ashamed of! In fact, I think there's something validating about earning money from using our talents and skills well.

As a freelancer (mostly here), I'm able to use what I know about marketing to help others —  it's fun to get paid for doing what you love!

I’m not opposed to making money. If anything, getting paid for my work further boosts my confidence and validates the skills I’ve worked so hard to earn!


In short, I care about money because:
  • It provides a financial cushion for when things hit the fan.
  • I’ve been generously given money and good things, and I have the opportunity to steward them well.
  • It allows me to live my best life now.
  • It can be an indicator of a job well done.
Why do you care about money? (aka, Why are you hanging out on a money blog?)
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I grew up a thousand miles from the Corporate Ladder.

Living in the same house since I was born, my hometown has a population of 118 people in rural Nebraska.

We shopped at garage sales, frequented second-hand stores, rarely ate out. We were a family of 7 (that’s so many). When we vacationed, we went to Kansas, Colorado or Missouri.

While some kids grew up going on vacations to the beach, getting new cars when they turned 16 or shopping at Gap, I was not that kid.

And I’m okay with that.

Vacations aren’t cheap. Feeding five kids isn’t easy. Pretty sure my mom heartily laughed in the face of the Joneses.

I grew up on clearance shoes and simple contentment.

So yeah, I don’t care that much about money.

Wait, aren’t you a personal finance blogger? Like, money is what you write about?

I knew you’d ask that :)

via GIPHY

Yes, I am! Money is great for so many things, but I don’t attach that much importance to it

And I’m not just saying that. I concern myself with earning/spending/saving money, but I don’t think money is an end-all-be-all. I certainly don’t have a long-term view of gaining extravagant wealth.

I am very much middle-class. Take that for what it is. On the world’s standards, I’m already rich — and that perspective influcences the value I put on money.

That being said, there are many reasons why I don’t want to be [more] rich. 

Money is a False Security

Regardless of how much you make, we culturally put a lot of weight into what money can do for us.

Yes, money pays our bills.
Yes, saving for retirement is smart.
Yes, having a larger down payment will get you a more reasonable mortgage.

But how often do we make decisions about money based on fear? Fear that if, without it, things will be less okay?

When I debated on leaving my full-time job to become self-employed, there was a glaring light of how much I wanted to stay for the money: a regular paycheck, vacation benefits, stability. The fear of losing that dependable income almost kept me from taking a worthwhile risk.

I wasn’t risky for no reason. I have real skills and a real plan for marketing those skills. But the grasp of money — not knowing where it would come from — was too real. When I realized that, I actually became more scared of the hold money had on my life than the risk of losing it.

When money gets to too prominent or carries too much value in our lives, it tricks us into thinking that it’s the answer to our problems. But money is not security. It can’t withstand all the changes that life holds — money is not guaranteed.

So many other things are more reliable than money.

I’d Spend it All

I budget because I have limits.

With my current income, I have to prioritize my purchases or experiences, which means I don’t get everything I want (sometimes ever) or everything I want all at once. Delayed gratification is the name of my game.

If I was super-rich, I’d have no real consequences for not abiding by those same limits. 

Dude, I’d spend it all. I’d be traveling to Spain, the Inca Trail, Nepal and Australia. Like, in a heartbeat. Also, all the dresses with pockets. I want them all.

via GIPHY

Honestly, I got good at budgeting because I have to, so it’d be hard to know where to set reasonable limits when there’s significantly more money involved.

Enter: lifestyle inflation. It’d be rough fighting lifestyle inflation — the idea that when you make more, you spend more. I’d want more than I truly need — that newer car, another pair of slightly-different black boots, an apartment with a pool — and it’d be that much easier to get it.

Those things are not bad. Don’t hear me saying that. I think that I’m so used to saying “no,” that getting to say “yes” would likely get out of control for me. I know myself that well.

Related: The Truth About What You Want vs. What You Can Afford

In case I do become rich someday, my resistance to lifestyle inflation would be to follow [I believe it was] Tim Keller's suggestion: Set a limit on your lifestyle, regardless of how much more you may earn in the future, and be generous in giving away the rest.

Hold me to that.

Hiding from the Reality of Others’ Situations

I fear that if I got used to making more and more money (and if I succumbed to a whole new level of lifestyle inflation), the places I’d choose to live or the neighborhoods I’d frequent could very-well distance me from the hardships and realities that others face.

There are neighborhoods I could live where I would be physically distanced from people who are different from me, who have needs and hardships unlike my own.

I don’t want to hide myself from the needs of others in my city. Money could make it easy to fall into that.

Too Much Work to Get There

Let’s be real here — to be moderately rich, you probably have to work super hard at a super professional job. And you know what I don’t care about enough to work 60+ hours a week doing a job I’d probably hate (read: being a lawyer or accountant or something) for a big paycheck? More money.

Nope. I’m good without.

If I can make a reasonable income while working regular business hours in the creative industry, I’d rather do that. I want to be professionally nimble, being able to switch directions and pursue something new if I want to. I don’t want the expectations of a professional degree (at least not at this point in my life) for the sake of job security.

Related: Choose Your Own Adulthood

While some people love Corporate America, it’s not my thing. And the chase of getting “more" sounds exhausting.

When you chase money, it demands more of you. You become competitive with the stories and ideals you create in your own head. What you have, what you don’t have, what you want, what others have that you want.

 

Money is a Tool

Money is a tool. It’s not the answer to all of our problems, but it does requires us to concern ourselves with it — to an extent. We have to pay our bills. But we want to do more than work for paying bills, too.

As much as we could be torn between “I ignore my money and hope it’ll all work out” and “Give me all the money, I want to be a millionaire right now,” it’s important to have balance.

I do care about money, but I don’t think it’s the best of all things in this world.

What do you think? What are your feelings about money? How do you strike a balance?

 

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I'm shouldering some changes I didn't see coming.

Good changes, I promise: I'll be living on my own soon.

I'll be the occupant of a one bedroom apartment with secondhand furniture, a fridge to myself, a shower I don’t have to share, a dozen fake plants...and the rent check to prove it. Bye, bye, cheap rent in your 20's.

As I transition to living on my own, y goals and expectations have shifted....or the goals shifted and the living-alone thing became a very clear next step. Chicken or the egg? I dunno.

What I do know is that my needs have changed, so my financial goals will too.

Plans ChangePlan A
  • Live with a friend and pay $350 each month in rent.
  • Put $500-550 toward student loans each month.
  • Be debt free in 12 months.
Plan B
  • Friend sells her house to move back to the East Coast.
  • It’s time to try something new. I’m ready to live on my own.
  • Apartments in Lincoln aren’t cheap. Expect to pay $650 minimum.

A big rent check means I'll be adjusting my financial goals. As much as I had hoped to, I will not be paying off my debt in the next year.

"Oh hey there, unexpected change..."

The plans that changed were entirely out of my control, but I’ve taken the opportunity to strive into something new — even if it scares me, even if it delays being debt-free.

Related: How I Paid Off Over $12,800 in Loan Debt in One Year (Both Car + Student Loans!)
Related: Find the Balance: Pay Down Your Debt & Still Have a Life

Financial Goals Can Change

As much as I want to live alone, there’s still a very real thing about how much money you have to spend.

In the past six years, I’ve rarely paid more than $400 in rent and utilities in a month.

Some folks can afford $800 rent, plus utilities, each month. That ain’t me.

I had to take a good, hard look at my budget and make some choices. I didn’t want to spend more than $650 in rent and utilities each month.

I decided to take my extra student loan payments and put them toward housing instead.

SCREECH. HALT. I know.

Looking at the Numbers

When I look at my actual numbers and compare the options, I’m okay with making the choice to shift my financial goals, to make room for my new priorities.

I have $4560 remaining in student loans. That’s not a whole lot, especially compared to some folks’ debt. However, these are my real numbers — down from $21,265 in student and car loans less than two years ago.

So my new debt repayment plan came down to these options:

Option 1

Keep living in cheap housing situations to allow for an extra $300-$350 student loan payment each month.

But what if another roommate decides I need to move out? What if I want to live alone and have a shower to m’self? I want freedom.

Option 2

Pay off the entire loan using money from savings.

That would leave very very little in my savings. No bueno. I like my Emergency Fund, thank you.

Option 3

Pay the minimum student loan payment of $170 and be paid off in the next two years, while accruing less than $200 in interest over that time.

That seems reasonable enough. And it would free up those extra $300-$350 payments that I could put toward housing instead. I like it.

Related: Find Out Where Your Money Is Going
Related: Perks of Paying Off Debt Fast

Money is Personal

In all of the “debt must die” chanting that happens in the personal finance world, we forget that money is personal. I’m willing to sacrifice paying off my debt in the next year, but I’m doing it so I can have the lifestyle I’ve been so desperately wanting.

When I moved in with my friend a few months ago, I had a gut feeling that I should have moved into an apartment by myself. I love my friend, so that’s not the question! It was a matter of being 28, needing to have space to myself, and more importantly being able to leave my coffee cup on whatever table/counter/sink I wanted without worrying it’d be in someone else’s way.

Truth is: I’m not in a place where I want to sacrifice my living situation to save money right now.

Living alone will allow me to relax that part of my brain — the part that is always consumed with making sure my roommate is happy, my clothes are picked up and the music isn’t too loud (I’m so done with all of that).


As much as I hoped to live with my friend for a year, be debt free, and then move to a place by myself, the shift in her plans forced me to take the leap.

There's a laundry list of reasons why this move is such a good one (I've never lived alone, but it’ll be so great!) and also why it scares the hell out of me (ugh, what if Netflix can't suppress my loneliness?). 

But I’m doing it. Even if it means shifting my financial goals to make it happen.

When has there been a time you've had to shift your money goals because #life happened?

Related: Find the Balance: Pay Down Your Debt & Still Have a Life
Related: Choose Your Own Adulthood

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There was a time when I paid off my debt too fast. 
    “‘Too fast,’ she says?”
    “Yes. Too fast.”

For four months, I changed my lifestyle to accommodate my debt repayment goals. I wanted to pay off my car ASAP, so I could start putting more money toward my debt each month, so...

I cut back on spending.
I went cash only.
I picked up a side hustle.

Then I almost lost my mind. Almost.

My plan was great in theory, but it all went haywire with my personality. And the fact that it was winter (um, seasonal depression anyone?) and that I wasn’t taking care of myself certainly didn’t help.

Don’t let the same to happen to you.

Related: How I Paid Off Over $12,800 in Loan Debt in One Year (Both Car + Student Loans!)

 

5 Promising Ways To Lose Your Mind During Debt RepaymentDon’t Take Care of Yourself

If you want to be on the fast-track to a mental health breakdown? Avoid taking care of You.

But actually, don’t take that fast-track. That’s an awful place to go.

I <3 cabin life.

Instead, take care of yourself first. Take strides to nurture your physical body and your mind:

  • Get outside. Get some sunshine.
  • Exercise. Lift weights. Go for walks.
  • Eat well. Don’t skimp on the fruits & veggies. Plan your meals and keep things simple.
  • Rest. Get sleep. Get time to piddle around the house and do your laundry.

Your body needs to be in tip-top shape. Your mind needs to be sharp too.

Isolate Yourself

During most of my debt repayment, I just paid more toward my debt from within my normal salary. But during my four-month, super-intense debt repayment, I took $100 out of my regular budget to put toward my car loan. When I did that, I gave myself far less freedom to go out with friends.

I took what small expenses I was used to spending — maybe $10 at the bar with friends once a week — and cut them out of my budget. Fewer dinners with friends, drinks at The Tavern, time in coffee shops.

This was detrimental to my social health. As an extrovert, it made life pretty awful.

This doesn’t have to be the case! You can take time during debt repayment to be intentional with your friends. I was so run down from working two jobs that I didn’t have the energy most of the time. But, there are ways to be social that don’t cost much.

Related: Money, Friendships and Going Over Budget

Make time to be social and to get time with friends. You don’t have to go out to dinner, a show or take a big trip — find other creative ways to spend time together that don’t cost a fortune!

Slow time is the best time.

  • Have “slow time” — mingle and sit on porches or play cards.
  • Host a meal (something cheap, like soup).
  • Gather a group for sand volleyball or a run or a bike ride or basketball.

Almost two years ago, I started a brunch group. We would host brunch at one another's’ homes, each bringing something to share. It started in my house, then others took turns hosting. It has been very fulfilling for my extroverted soul.

Missing out on your social life while paying down debt may be feasible for a short while, but if it’s going to last longer than a couple of months, your mojo may start dwindling.

Abandon Entertainment

Just because you’re not spending much on entertainment doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat yourself! There are many ways to be entertained that don’t cost much (or anything!).

Some ideas for cheap entertainment:

  • Go to the library — they have books, audiobooks, magazines and even movies!
  • Play board games.
  • Go to the local farmer’s market and just browse. (In fact, my weekly tradition is to buy a $2 black coffee and sit on The Mill patio to people watch for hours.)
  • Visit bookstores and make a wish list of what you’d like to read next.
  • Go to coffee shop open-mic nights.

And you know what may help even more with the whole “not losing your mind” thing? Paying for entertainment. If a $12 concert ticket to see Penny & Sparrow will be a game changer for your mental health, then do it (they put on an amazing show!). For me, I never hesitate to pay $60 for a Needtobreathe show, because I know it’s worth it.

Oh hey, New York City.

In fact, while in debt, I've traveled to Michigan (twice), Seattle, London and New York City. All of it was worth it, even though that money wasn't going toward my debt instead.

Sometimes your debt can wait. If you’re paying it off extra-fast because you want to, then that gives you some flexibility. If you’re paying off large sums and have less flexibility, that may be a different ball game.

Paying for entertainment has its benefits. But it also has its limits (and limits are healthy).

Skip Seeing the Big Picture

Remember why you’re paying off your debt in the first place.

Don’t waste away your time paying off debt (and worrying about it) and forget to live your life. 

Hours are passing. What are you doing to dig deep into Today?

Take a look at the pace you’re going to pay off your debt. Is it too grueling? Would pushing back your timeline by a few months or years help make things more sustainable for you?

I realized after four months of intense debt repayment — remember: I worked two jobs, cut back on spending money and overworked myself — that life would have been a lot sweeter if I had said, “You know, Allea, how about you take your time and pay these loans off in 6 months instead of 4?”

Life would have been much better for me. 

There was no need for me to push so hard other than the “debt must die” mantra that rings so loud. Yes, debt is not fun, it screws up your monthly cash flow and you might as well take care of it sooner than later, but there are limits to what one person can handle.

Find your balance. Pick your poison. Pay off your debt responsibly. Find solutions that are sustainable. But most importantly, don’t lose your mind over it.

Related: Find the Balance: Pay Down Your Debt & Still Have a Life
Related: Perks of Paying Off Debt Fast

Remain Stagnant

homemade deliciousness

Don’t put everything on hold while you pay off debt. Sure, there are some things you might need to wait on, but don’t hold off on growing and developing yourself.

Challenge yourself to do something new. For me, it was guitar lessons. I paid $15 per lesson, twice a month. For $30 each month, I was growing, developing and made myself pretty darn proud.

You could pick up baking, running, knitting or memorizing every line from Pride & Prejudice. Make a list of 50 books you want to read and get started. (Or do all of that. I’m not here to stop you.)

As much as we might be exhausting ourselves with our jobs and side hustles, it’s important to find things that make us tick, get us excited and remind us that we are living, growing human beings who can rise to a challenge.

(Plus, it’s super cool when you learn to play Wide Open Spaces on guitar. It’s a coming-full-circle-from-your-childhood phenomena.)

Evaluate Your Game Plan

I pulled in the reins too tightly. I gave myself less money for fun, less time to be with friends, less time for myself. When my coping mechanism is to become over-involved, I become the Queen of Overcommitment and run myself into the ground. (Not a good cycle to be on, guys.)

I learned the hard way what imbalance with debt repayment feels like.

What's the point of paying off your debt if you can’t balance it with some me-time, a social life, a healthy body and a sharp mind to enjoy each day?

Related: Understanding Me + Money: Getting Clarity and Direction to Move Forward
Related: Setting Financial Goals That Make Sense for You
Related: Ask Allea Coaching Sessions

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I went on vacation to New York City for the very first time.

The land of Hamilton, Annie, HIMYM and Friends — I tell ya, dreams do come true!

   

My only expectations were to see great architecture and eat great food — and a bonus if I got to see a Broadway musical too.

Traveling has its unexpected costs. And when you’re traveling to a more expensive part of the country or world than you’re used to, it’s hard to estimate how much your trip will cost you.

Truth be told: You can only account for so much. You may have no clue about what a trip to New York City or Los Angeles might cost, but there are ways you can keep expenses low while still crossing a big trip off of your bucket list!

To be prepared:

  • Save up what you can before the trip
  • Watch your spending carefully during the trip

As with anything, be sure your spending aligns with what you value most (we call this Mindful Spending in the Real Life Money Guide).

Related: Choose Your Own Adulthood

The Low-Down

Since I have some real-life experiences to share with you, and everyone’s experiences are different, here’s the low-down from my trip:

  • I traveled with a friend from Nebraska, so we got to split a lot of expenses.
  • We stayed with a friend in Manhattan (for free!). 
  • I saved money on certain things (re: black coffee).
  • I totally splurged on other things (re: $150 Lion King on Broadway).

We had ourselves a grand ‘ol time.

Oh hello, Bryant Park.

Saving Up for Vacation

I had some savings from a windfall earlier this year (a “windfall” is unexpected income), so I decided that a trip to NYC with one of my very best friends was worth spending that money on.

I was going to use the windfall savings to pay for:

  • My flight
  • Any expenses more than what I could save up for in the two months leading up to the trip

I didn’t want the whole trip to come from my savings. I knew I could save up a little cash beforehand, so that way I could take less from my windfall and keep that cash in my savings account.

In May, I purchased my flight for $371 for the trip in July.
In June, I budgeted $60 for travel.
In July, I saved $130 for travel.

In total, I saved $190 in spending money before leaving for New York City. I decided that anything spent more than $190 would come from my windfall savings.

This means:

  • I had realistic expectations that NYC would cost me more than $190 for four days.
  • I had a plan for where the money would come from when I spent more than $190.

I honestly wasn’t sure how much the trip would cost me, but I went anyway.

Note: No expenses go on my credit card that I wouldn’t be able to pay for immediately. If the money isn’t in my possession (whether in checking or savings), then that expense does not go on a credit card. There are fewer ways to lose the money game than using credit cards absentmindedly.

   

Traveling is its own sort of inflated expense, right? Vacations are when you want to treat yo’self. Much of our travel expenses are based on preferences, like which restaurants we go to, whether we get appetizers, how many drinks we get at the bar, what percentage we choose to tip for service.

That being said, I knew that my naturally-frugal lifestyle would come in handy to keep costs low. 

Related: The Truth About What You Want vs. What You Can Afford

What I Learned When Traveling to New York City (But It Also Applies to Any Trip) It helps if you plan your itinerary beforehand.

There’s no need to go crazy and map out every minute, but having an idea of what you’ll be doing each day helps set reasonable expectations for spending, what to pack for the day and where you’ll be eating and drinking.

Avoid the “I’m on vacation so I can do what I want” mentality.

Meals weren’t that much more expensive than home, but it’s easy to go for the more expensive thing because “you’re on vacation.” For me, eating out in New York at all is great; I don’t need to spend $45 on an entree to enjoy my time on vacation.

Also, things add up simple because eating out is more frequent. You’re not at home and can pack a sack lunch like you’re used to, so expect to spend an average of $15-20 per meal.

You’re on vacation for an experience, not for what stuff you can bring home with you.

So, I’m a minimalist. I’d rather own a few nice things than a house full of kitschy New York City souvenirs (except I would have totally been down for a tie-dye I <3 NYC shirt — because that’s my love language).

Really weigh if buying souvenirs for others back home is important to you — some people really love giving gifts! But if you’re buying souvenirs because others are expecting them, perhaps it’s worth reevaluating your obligatory spending.

I bought souvenirs for myself, my boyfriend, a gift for our hostess and a t-shirt for my sister’s birthday in August.

But really, they’ll want you to spend money on anything. You’re a tourist, remember?

Buying a $150 ticket to see Lion King is one thing, but the venue selling a $16 slushie at the concessions is just downright outrageous. You can go to the show and buy nothing else — that’s an option too.

You still need to tip.

It’s America and people depend on those tips, so now’s not the time to skimp on that expense just because you're watching your spending.

Tip your waitress, tip the bartender, tip the cab driver.

There’s no need to tip 25%, if 15% will do — as long as you don’t skimp completely.

However, if there’s no one serving you food and you’re just going to pick it up at the counter when it’s done, I don’t tip. They literally did nothing more than when I go to McDonalds, so that’s where I draw the line.

Travel Expenses When Visiting New York CityLodging in Manhattan
  • Staying with a friend: Free *praise hands*

Amusement
  • Broadway tickets: $150
  • Sightseeing: $54
Travel
  • Flight: $371
  • Cabs/Uber/Lyft/Gett: $85
  • Metro: $11
  • Parking: $32
  • Dramamine: $9 (motion sickness makes this purchase inevitable. ugh.)
Restaurants
  • Food, Drink, Coffee: $138
Gifts/Souvenirs
  • For others: $80
  • For myself: $85
Total Expenses: $1016The Final Tally

I kept a pretty frugal cap on things during the trip, since we really didn’t know how things would add up — it was better to be on the safe side.

I went into it knowing I wasn’t going to spend more than I would normally spend on meals and drinks. Just because I’m on vacation doesn’t mean I need to throw my money at bartenders.

So in total, the whole trip cost me $1016. I had budgeted for $190 leading up to the trip, so $826 actually came from my windfall savings.

Yikes! That’s a pretty penny. Like, $1016 dollars.

When you’re not used to spending money on vacations, anything can seem like a large sum. However, many people have told me that around $1000 for a trip to New York City is really a great accomplishment!

Even though we didn’t pay for a hotel while staying in Manhattan, the baseline expenses can all really add up! Now I know what to expect when visiting New York City, even if I’m not buying worthless souvenirs or partying all night.

YOLO

Was it worth it? Yes.

  • I went to New York because childhood dreams for big city lights are real.
  • I got to go to New York with my best friend and now we have memories (and photos!) to carry with us.
  • I ate all the food I could have hoped to, getting a full palette of what makes New York so amazing.
  • I paid $150 for tickets to see Lion King on Broadway, because YOLO.

Sometimes you’ve got to live your best life.

What would you prioritize during a trip to New York City?

P.S. I’m very aware that no one says YOLO anymore. Sue me.

 

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Paying down debt doesn’t mean you have to give up all of life’s luxuries. But it might mean postponing them.

There’s the lifestyle you want, the lifestyle you can afford and the lifestyle you’re choosing to afford.

The Lifestyle You Want

I want to be debt free. But honestly, I also look forward to the day when I can be a little less frugal.

I grew up frugal. I’m good at it. And it’s way easier to say “no” to almost everything, spending little or nothing, so at least I know I’m not going over budget or need to pull money from another budget to fund my HomeGoods “browsing.”

I’m 28 now. I’ve been living with roommates for the last 6 years, since graduating from college. What I really want (what I really really want) is to get an apartment by myself.

Related: Cheap Rent in Your 20’s: Holding On For All It's Worth

To have the freedom to come and go...
To have people over whenever I want...
To watch When Calls the Heart alone at 3am... (#hearties)

via GIPHY

And I look forward to the day when I have a space to decorate. Like, to actually spend some money, time and intentionality decorating a space of my own.

Can I be Joanna Gaines, pretty please?

via GIPHY

Sure, I could find the money in my budget to do some decorating now, but it’s not the same. I’m still living in somebody else’s house. I’ll hold out until I have a place of my own.

The Lifestyle You Can Afford

There’s wiggle room on how much I put toward my debt each month, since I’m actually paying way more than the minimum requirement (to get those bad boys taken care of!). So technically, I could afford to get an apartment by myself.

Related: Perks of Paying Off Debt Fast

I could pull $200 from my debt repayment budget each month and make it happen. But with only $6100 left in student loan debt, I have a goal to be completely debt free in 12 months. It’s possible, as long as I keep putting $500-550 toward my loans each month (gulp, that’s so much money).

When I look at my financial goals, I get antsy. I want my student loans paid off. Not because I want to save on interest (because the difference between paying them off in 12 months or 18 months is only $63 in interest), but because I want to have it off of my plate.

It’ll be easier — both mentally and financially — to afford an apartment on my own once I don’t have my student loans demanding my money and attention. #freedom

Related: Setting Financial Goals That Make Sense for You

The Lifestyle You're Choosing to Afford

I’m keeping things scrappy. With a 12-month student loan payoff goal in sight, I’m going to keep things frugal.

When I’m debt free, maybe I’ll buy more vanilla lattes. In the meantime, I’ll stick with my $1.75 black coffee.

When I’m debt free, maybe I’ll buy more fancy snacks from Trader Joe’s. In the meantime, I’ll buy their $3 fancy cheese every few trips to the store to hold me over.

When I’m debt free, maybe I’ll dye my hair more than once every three years.

When I’m debt free, I’ll reassess the housing situation. In the meantime, I’ll get creative and live with my friend who has too much house for one person. We get to keep each other company, yet have our own spaces. And I get to keep my housing expenses low, so I can pay off my debt “on schedule.”

Sure, I could technically afford to live a lifestyle I want, but I’m putting my financial goals first. I’m choosing to live below my “means,” so I can accelerate my debt repayment.

Once I pay off my debt, then I’ll know that each dollar I save (‘cuz let’s be honest, I’ll still be a Frugal Fannie) will be in my pocket. My money can be stay with me — my savings, in my Trader Joe’s shopping cart or busy fulfilling my Amazon wish list.

The end is near. My debt is only 12 months from being paid off, and I’m looking forward to dipping into a few more of life’s luxuries (at least, more often) when that time comes.

What are some luxuries you’re holding out to buy or experience, once your debt is paid off?

P.S. You know I’m not about being frugal 100% of the time, right? I’m all about paying down debt and still having a life. I just prefer having marginally “less of a life” while I get there ;)

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For five years, I lived in a house with three other women, paying $262.50 each month in rent.

As a recent college grad, it was the holy grail of cute-house-sweet-neighborhood-cheap-rent situations. Though the basement left muuuuch to be desired, it was a nice place. 

We called it the Beach House. Not because it’s near a beach (um, Nebraska), but because it looks like it should be.

 

Four women, one shower. Nothing glamorous.

And by the time I moved out in 2016, I had lived with 10 different women in this house.

Avoiding Lifestyle Inflation

I had many opportunities to move out, but every option would undoubtedly cost me more than $350 a month in rent and utilities.

The idea of a two-bedroom apartment with one friend was only mildly tempting. I wasn't going to give up a huge money-saving opportunity when it was already in my hands.

Why?

Because core expenses are where you have the greatest opportunity to save.

When you're aware of your big expenses — like housing, car payments, groceries — and do your best to keep them low, you have more control over your budget.

Once those expenses go up, it’s hard to get that margin back in your budget. (And that's called "Lifestyle inflation." It's a real thing.)

Make a Decision

I knew this: If I wanted to pay down my student loans, eat something more substantial than Ramen and/or have a social life where I can go to concerts and travel, I couldn’t go upping the one core expense that was the easiest to keep low.

“Don’t make me leave this house and pay more somewhere else. Please. Pleeeeease...”

I chose to keep my living standards as they were: four women, one shower, one fridge, no dishwasher, a glitchy oven, snowy street parking and a history of pests in the basement (pretty sketch, actually).

Sure, it wasn’t always ideal, but I learned a ton having roommates — and killer dance parties in the kitchen added to the charm.

Cheap rent was a bonus.

The Long-Term Goal

One of these days I’d like to get a quaint house, pay someone else to mow the yard (cuz that’s why we have budget, right?!), have an old dog who is as lazy as I am and likes to cuddle, while hosting friends and strangers over for brunch.

I’m shooting for these things within the lens of financial freedom, though. I don’t need that now, not yet. Even though I could buy a home, I really don’t the burden of homeownership and a level of responsibility that makes me cringe with anxiety. Oy.

I want to ease my way into Future Allea’s little-house and old-dog lifestyle. I don’t want those responsibilities and expenses overnight, anyway. I’ve got time, goals and patience.

Related: Setting Financial Goals That Make Sense for You

In the meantime, I’m living with roommates, paying inexpensive rent and enjoying my tiny bedroom and proximity to friends.

If you’re debating whether you’re crazy for being in your late 20’s and living with roommates, just know that you’re not alone. I’m doing it, and it’s fun. It’s also fiscally responsible :)

What You’ll Save

I compared my rent at the Beach House to a typical apartment rate of $600 a month in Lincoln.

In 5 years of paying $262.50 per month, I paid $15,750 in rent.
In 5 years of paying $600 per month, I would have paid $36,000 in rent.

So, based on an average expense of living by yourself in Lincoln, I’ve saved $20,250 over the course of five years.

Go ahead and do the math for yourself and compare the costs before making a move, since that new rent expense will be a fairly permanent part of your budget.

Your clothing budget can change from month-to-month, but your rent will stay the same.

When Your Rent Gets Cheaper

If you’re looking at moving somewhere with cheaper rent, determine what you’ll do with the difference in rent prices when you move.

(This is a very proactive move, and Future You will appreciate it.)

If you’re currently paying $600 a month, but you’re planning to move in with a roommate for only $400 a month, what will you do with that $200 difference?

Make a plan for it:

That’s up to you! By downsizing (or down-pricing), you’re at a great advantage. You weren’t used to that $200 in your budget before, so how can you maximize it now?

Related: Find Out Where Your Money Is Going

There’s this weird thing in my head about what it means like to look like an “adult.” For some reason those thoughts include things like houses and dogs and cars that don’t break down — but there’s something to be said for the waiting, the meantime. That's where I am.

You can save a lot — now, and in the long-run — by keeping core expenses low.

What is one expense you’re holding on to, in order to keep the cost from increasing just yet?
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Clothing swaps are my favorite way to "shop."

In short, a clothing swap is just that — people swapping clothes.
 
A handful of friends gather, bringing clothes they don’t wear anymore, then they swap them for new clothes from other friends.

Swap, swap and you’ve got yourself a refreshed wardrobe. For free.

Perks of a Clothing Swap
  • You get to clean out your closet, getting rid of clothes you never wear.
  • You get to swap old clothes for different clothes — for free. 
  • You don’t have to go to the mall (or risk it with online shopping).
  • Your old clothes get a new home.
  • You get unhurried time with friends — old, new or friends of friends. 


Related: Find the Balance: Pay Down Your Debt & Still Have a Life

I absolutely love taking my unused, sitting-in-my-closet clothes to a swap and then seeing my friends wear those same pieces out and about. My clothes find new life, a new home. In fact, I’m sure my friend Joanna loves my old light pink cardigan more than I ever did.
 
As for myself, I once walked away from a clothing swap with two pairs of Gap jeans that fit perfectly. True story.
 
My favorite green jacket came from my friend Liz. For months, she’d see me and say, “I’m so glad you wear that jacket. It was just hanging in my closet before you got it!” In fact, I wore it so much I put a hole (like, a big one) in the elbow.

This jacket has even been to England.

Such love, such loss.

Coming to terms that it may never be the same again.

RIP green jacket. Looking a little shabby now.
 
With the perks of cleaning out your closet and getting some new pieces, a clothing swap is also a great way to get some slow time with friends — both old and new.

If you're interested in hosting (and rocking!) your first clothing swap, take a few notes from a gal who's done this a few times and try it yourself!

Clothing Swap How-ToA pre-swap purge.

When planning your swap, allow people anywhere from 4-7 days to prep for the swap. This will be the time they’ll gather up whatever it is they’re ready to purge from their closet.

Great swapping items:

  • Tops
  • Jeans
  • Dresses
  • Skirts
  • Coats or jackets
  • Swimsuits
  • Shoes
  • Belts
  • Hats
  • Scarves
  • Purses or bags
  • Jewelry
Gather.

Clothing swap groups aren’t some formalized group. They ebb and flow, with new people attending each time, even while some swap veterans may not be able to make it. It’s a luck of the draw on who will come and what they’ll bring.

Pick a date, a time and place. Set the duration for 1.5 hours, with people being able to come and go, if they need to. My favorite is to meet in people’s homes, preferably late mornings on a Saturday [because sleeping in + coffee + friends = the best combo].
 
Then invite, invite, invite! Use the clothing swap as an excuse to invite new friends, welcome a stranger or introduce different friend groups to each other. As a host, you get to bring people into a small, makeshift community for a couple hours. Relish in that.

You can make a Facebook event or text everyone you know. Make the circle as wide as you’d like. The more people invited = the more people will come. My typical clothing swaps are around 8-10 women each time — it’s enough people to bring a variety of clothing sizes and styles, but not too large to be overwhelming.

Invite everyone of all shapes and sizes. What works for someone else may not work for you, but you all benefit in the end! 

Set the mood.

This is the hostess in me. If you can create a comfortable and welcoming environment, everyone will love you for it.

You’re not rushing through the mall. There are no races to the Clearance rack. And you don’t have to worry about whether the clothes you take home will shrink after one wash. Nope, none of that.

Your clothing swap doesn’t need any of that stress. Nothankyou.

Instead, keep the mood light and stress-free.
 
Allow time to mingle, provide food or drinks to share and play some tunes to set the mood. (As for me and my gals, we vote for some Gregory Alan Isakov on vinyl. Highly recommend.)

It doesn’t have to be fancy. I’m all about keeping it simple: brew coffee, make coffee cake, serve coffee-flavored ice cream. Whatever floats your boat.

Circle up.

This is where things get exciting — the action is about to happen!
 
Bring your bags of clothes that you’re swapping and meet up in a common or living room.
 
Typically, we sit in a circle. Whether on couches or on the floor, it provides the best view for everyone to see everyone else. This is very important for the next step.

Swap!

Each person takes their turn to hold up each piece of clothing, one by one. Give a brief description, size included, and pretend you’re Vanna White. Show it off, girl!

If anyone’s interested, they have to speak up! You can raise your hand, yell “Mine!” or a subtle, “Ooo, that’s cuuuute” will suffice. When you hear someone’s interested, toss them the shirt/pants/hat/shoes and move on to the next piece.

If an item doesn’t get claimed, it goes in the middle of the circle. Anything in the middle pile is fair game. Perhaps you changed your mind about a piece? Better grab it!

Know that not everyone will love what you have to contribute. You won’t know until you make it available. Sometimes there’s an awkward silence when no one’s interested. Don’t take it personal! Hold it up, see if you’ve got any takers, then toss it to someone or in the middle of the circle. Keep the ball rolling.

 Pro Tip

Keep your expectations low. Just because you bring three bags of clothes doesn’t mean you’ll return home with just as much. If you’re interested in a piece, make it known, but also avoid hogging the attention and taking every piece.
 
Remember, it’s also fun to encourage one another to try something on, even if you’d be interested in the same piece. Who knows, perhaps that shirt won’t fit your friend and she’ll pass it on to you?

 Try it on.

Once everyone has had their turn and each piece of clothing has been shared with the group, it’s time to try them on!
 
Sure, you could just take your chances on what you have and take them all home with you, but this gives you a chance to re-contribute to the group any pieces that don’t work for you. If a shirt doesn’t fit the way you had hoped, or the style won’t fit well into your current wardrobe, offer it back up to the group and see if there are any takers (there’s usually at least one).

Divide and conquer. We call it a “self-esteem exercise” and just start trying stuff on in the same few rooms until everyone gets through their goods. Like the locker rooms in high school, it builds character and a new level of friendship ;)

Plus, we get to ask each other’s opinions as we each model our new outfits:

via GIPHY

Many potential pieces of clothing get tossed back into the no-go pile after trying them on. That’s even less for someone to haul home.

Share the love.

Once everyone is happy with what they’ve got, designate someone to take the unclaimed clothes to a local shelter or Goodwill. We have a huge refugee population in Lincoln, so sometimes our clothes go to new families in town.

The clothes that you weren’t wearing anymore will now be enjoyed by someone who will!

When to Swap

It’s a great opportunity to freshen up your wardrobe at the start of a new season. With the change in weather — and everyone opening up their totes of last year’s winter clothes from months and months ago — it’s a great time to purge what clothes don’t suit your fancy anymore.
 
Try hosting a swap before going on any shopping trips. This allows the opportunity to find pieces you’ll love (for free, remember!) before going to the mall to fill in any gaps in that remain in your wardrobe.

Get in the habit of purging your closet often. If there are clothes you’re no longer interested in, put them in a bag and hold onto them for when it’s time for a clothing swap. Once that bag gets full, maybe it’s a good time to host a swap yourself — at least you know you’ll be ready with clothes to contribute!

What do you think? Will you be hosting a casual clothing swap anytime soon?
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