(Content contained in my post is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or investment advice. I do not claim to be a financial advisor, and any advice I give is for entertainment purposes. Your use of this blog post is at your own risk, and upon clicking my referral links, you release me of responsibility for your financial decisions.)
Drew and I have always been pretty good at saving, and we have always been really good at living within our means. I don’t say that to brag, because honestly we just lucked out and had two really awesome sets of parents that taught us how to handle money well.
Because of it, financial tension has never been an issue in our marriage, and I am SO thankful for that. During the first year that we were married, at ages 20 & 21, we managed to save $10k following the rules that I will outline below. We actually saved quite a bit more than 10k during that first year, because we were both working a TON of overtime. We knew that kind of money wouldn’t be a forever thing, and honestly I would have never wanted it to be, because those were some brutal months. At the peak of our work lives, we likely only saw each other 2-3 hours/day between shifts, if we were both even awake at the same time. Retail jobs are no joke.
But for all intents and purposes, we will set the goal of this post at $10k in one year, meaning that saving approximately $400 into savings per every 2-week paycheck is the ideal amount to hit. This is geared much more to married couples financially, but many of these tips can also work for single-income families. After I chose to not return to work full time after the birth of Henry, we still continued to save with only one paycheck, and the occasional 8-10 hours/week that I picked up.
We by no means have three figure jobs, and we by no means live in a mansion. Actually, we currently drive a van that only starts once out of around 8 times that you crank the engine. But we feel that we are in a good place financially, even after paying $11k out of pocket for Henry’s birth. (Kids are expensive, and our insurance before Drew enlisted used to suck.)
I believe that every marriage deserves to live stress-free in the areas of finance, and I believe that there are ways to do so, no matter how much you make yearly.
So in a nutshell, here are my biggest two rules, followed by the other rules that we have followed for several years.
My two biggest rules for saving:
- Live on one income (or live on less than all of your income if you are a single-income family)
- When there is extra money in your checking account, move it to savings IMMEDIATELY
1. Live on ONE income
This was the single most important thing that we chose to do as newlyweds. Drew and I had recently both stepped into full time positions at our respective jobs, and we were making far more money than we had ever seen during our college years. During this time, we chose to live on ONE income, and simply store away the other paycheck without a second thought.
So often when I tell people this, they immediately counter with “well that’s not possible.”
Trust me, it is.
We even chose the smaller paycheck of our two, and we always made it work. We were frugal, we rarely ate out, and we didn’t even take a honeymoon until the Fall AFTER our wedding (which was in the Spring.) We lived paycheck to paycheck, stashing the other paycheck away, and it wasn’t necessarily always fun.
During the 8-ish months that we were both working full time before I stepped down from my position after my maternity leave, we stored several thousand dollars in savings simply by following this model. When we unexpectedly became pregnant with Henry, it was a LIFESAVER to have that extra cash readily available.
If you have two incomes, cut expenses so that you can make this work. Seriously. DO IT. This is the best way to save and to save FAST, plus it is a great way to be prepared if one income suddenly disappears due to something outside of your control.
2. Reduce any debt that you have
Drew and I were lucky to graduate from college free of loans. Let me preface that statement with this though: We worked our butts off to do so. Drew worked three part-time jobs at one point in order to make payments in full each semester to the college after his scholarships paid for their part. I paid for 80-90% of my schooling with my scholarships, and the rest we paid in full with the money we made at our part-time gigs. We were lucky to not carry student debt into our marriage, but we also have never accumulated credit card debt. Because of this, at age 24, we still have never had a car payment, and have chosen to always pay for our vehicles in full. Avoiding payments of any sort for any reason is a great way to be able to save more easily. We plan to put at least 20-30% down on a home in the future if we return to the states, and hope to pay off a home loan before the set term.
3. That being said, stop buying the newest thing
Drew and I both drove cars from the late 90’s or early 2000’s until we wore those things OUT (or until we needed a bigger/safer car for our babies.) We had the same two couches that we bought on Craigslist until a year ago when we FINALLY bought a new sectional with the money we had saved specifically for it. Check out thrift stores. Check out Ebay. Check out Poshmark (use code JOYFULCREW when signing up.) Always buy used. Seriously, some of my VERY favorite pieces in our home came from the clearance section or from a thrift store, and I will forever be addicted to thrifting.
4. Do not spend your tax return
Can I scream this from the rooftops? DO NOT SPEND YOUR TAX RETURN. Don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t use it for vacation. Don’t use it for new furniture. Don’t buy a new wardrobe. Save. That. Money. (Or pay off debt!)
Unless you have a legitimate emergency around tax season, I seriously recommend saving it if at all possible. The only time Drew and I have spent our tax return was to avoid debt or avoid a necessary dipping into savings. (I.e. if we were purchasing something large, like a vehicle, that was 100% needed.) If you have debt, pay that off with your return!
Actually, there are even better ways that you can use the tax system to your advantage, dependent on how good you are with handling your extra money- but we still choose to receive a decent tax return by claiming the way we do. I won’t give tax advice, but do look into different ways of withholding online. Some prefer to keep more of the money that is usually taken out of their checks for taxes, and they store that away in savings throughout the year instead of receiving it in a return when they have overpaid.
We choose to overpay, mostly because I am self-employed and like to keep that extra in the tax system throughout the year to cover what I owe from my businesses. But when our return is direct deposited, we choose to have it placed directly into savings, and do not touch it after that. We have spent one return in the 7 or 8 years we have been filing separate from our parents, and that was simply because we bought vehicles in full with the money.
5. Budget for big expenses (& have an emergency fund)
I’ll be honest, Drew and I really have never worked with a strict budget for monthly bills. I get irritated easily with budgets, because gas prices change, electricity is never the same price, and we never use the same amount of water each month. I obsess over having a strict budget if I try, and it frustrates me when the electricity bill is $20 over what it was last month.
Those small fluctuations always made it almost impossible for me to make consistent categories I liked- so I never really did budget for regular monthly expenses. Instead, we used an “allowance” system for things outside of bills, and I always budgeted for big expenses. We considered this “big expenses” savings our emergency fund, which is something that everybody should have. Work on saving a decent sized emergency fund first, then work on your regular savings. For us, it works well to store both together in the same savings account- but some prefer to have separate savings accounts for these.
6. Call companies and ask them to lower your bills
Does that sound strange to you? It is, because so many people don’t do it. If you are buying things such as cable, internet, or cell phone service- especially if you have been with the company for a while, call them! Ask them if there is any way that they could lower your monthly rate, or ask them if they can give you better pricing options/better products for the price that you pay. Often prices are dropped for new customers, but since you were locked in at a higher rate, you are paying more than you need to be. If you see a new offer on TV, call and ask if they will match the rate that you saw.
We did this every 6 months or so with our internet, and ended up with internet that was $40 cheaper and 3x faster by the end of it. The worst thing that a customer service representative can do is tell you no, and if they do, call back to see if you can get another rep, just for kicks. Often what one representative can’t do, another can.
Sometimes customer service employees will throw bill credits at you simply for calling and asking. If they do offer you a credit, keep budgeting like your bills are the exact same, and take that saved money from your checking account straight to your savings! That’s an additional lump sum that you just saved monthly- and an amount that you won’t even miss.
7. Stop eating out
I am all for treating yourself on occasion, and Drew and I still take the kids to eat out a couple times a month. We don’t say no to eating out on trips, and we don’t say no to going out with friends occasionally.
It’s no secret that eating out can be EXPENSIVE. Not to mention, it is a fantastic way to put on extra weight with so little healthy options available usually. Let’s put it this way:
I’ll figure this up for a family of only 2. At the VERY least, you will be paying $12/meal if you order even just inexpensive $6 combos each. If you eat out for one meal 5x during a work week, that’s an additional $60/week that you didn’t need to spend- or $240 a month.
We found ourselves spending well over $200 if we regularly went to sit-down restaurants. With children added in, eating out can be EXPENSIVE. Any time we eat at a restaurant now, our meal will be at least $20-$30 including our kids.
Instead, a massive $12 bag of chicken and $3 worth of frozen veggies lasts us a solid week cooked different ways each night- and we have saved so many calories by eating at home. Meal prepping on weekends is wonderful for saving money during the work week, and only takes a couple hours to do.
8. Practice the art of saying “no”
I am so guilty of NOT doing this. I mean, $4 coffee bought at Starbucks just tastes so much better than the coffee you have at home, am I right? (Which isn’t true, but somehow the branding on that cup they hand you REALLY does make it feel that way.)
Giving up that coffee every day for me honestly did save us a solid $60/month. I’m a coffee snob, and MUST have mine every day, so it took a bit to break my habit and make my own at home. Now I actually prefer my vitamin B coffee over the espresso drinks that I used to consume.
If there is something you see yourself purchasing habitually that you KNOW you can make cheaper for yourself- Pinterest search for the recipe, and make that stuff for WAY cheaper.
Saying no to things, or waiting until they are genuinely within your budget is one of the best things that you can do to help you save.
9. Prioritize spending (emergency savings, debt reduction, savings)
Personally, I would recommend this order of saving:
First, create an emergency fund
Second, pay off any debt that you have as fast as you safely can
Third, begin to store money in a savings account regularly
We choose to pay all of our bills up front each month, and then take the excess and store it directly in savings. By cutting our bills as much as possible, we were able to have that “excess” be an entire paycheck.
Some do it differently in regards to how they prioritize the use of money, and many will swear by their method. Find out what best works for your family, but DO always have an emergency fund. That is pretty crucial, because life definitely happens, and your car ONLY breaks when you have no money set aside to fix it. Fact.
10. Take advantage of cash back credit cards (if you are good with credit)
I have a YouTube video on this from a year or so ago. If you are interested, you can watch it by clicking that link.
This is where Dave Ramsey and I definitely disagree. Personally, our family does incredibly well with credit cards, and we make a lot of money off of the credit card companies because of it. In order to make money with cash back credit cards, you have to follow one rule religiously, though:
PAY. THEM. OFF. IN. FULL. EVERY. MONTH.
We treat our cards like debit cards. There is NEVER a balance carried over to another month. If we don’t have the money in our checking account to buy what we are looking at, it will not go on our credit card. Because we pay them off each month, we do not pay a dime in interest, and we reap 1-10% cash back consistently. We place absolutely everything that we purchase on these cards, and I usually pay on them twice a month (paying off the full balance any time that I pay.)
I then take the accumulated cash back and store it directly in savings. We paid for our honeymoon in full from about a year and a half of those cash back savings, and I usually save the cash back for fun things such as vacations.
Listed below are my favorite two cash back cards that I have and use regularly. (If you sign up through my link, you may receive a cash back bonus. Incentives listed are current as of Feb. 2019.)
Discover It– 5% categories that rotate quarterly ($50 sign up bonus potential)
Great for a first credit card. This card carries high approval rates for those with little or lower credit, from what I have seen. We both got this card as our first credit card during college.
Chase Freedom Unlimited– 1.5% cash back on all purchases ($150 sign up bonus potential)
This card requires a bit higher credit in order to be approved, but this is the card that we place almost everything on. Chase has awesome customer service.
11. Place your money in a high APY savings account (and find an account SEPARATE from your checking)
We keep our savings account totally separate from our checking, that way it is NOT easy to dip into our savings account. One of my preferred savings accounts is from Discover Bank, currently (as of February 2019) yielding over a 2% APY. (Which is unheard of right now- most banks give far less than 0.5%.)
I get nothing for recommending this savings account to you and it’s not a referral link- I just sincerely think it’s the best savings account out there. No monthly fees, no minimum requirements on balances, great interest, and EASY to access/transfer money to and from.
12. Pay yourself allowance each month
This works so well for Drew and I. Every paycheck, we each get a lump sum that is our “allowance.” This lets us strictly save, but not absolutely hate our lives while doing it. It allows for some “fun” money.
We always get the same amount, and we never question each other on what we choose to spend this on. We may choose to spend that money on whatever we want, or save it over the months for a bigger purchase. We actually have totally separate checking accounts that this money goes into, and our debit cards are each hooked up to those accounts- that way when the money in that account is gone, it is gone, and purchases are denied if we try to overspend.
Drew bought his beer brewing supplies by saving his monthly allowance, and I bought my camera equipment. Even if he wanted to spend his lump sum each month on video games right down to the last penny, I will not question it, because that is HIS allowance. This is one of the best things we did marriage-wise in regards to money, and it has eliminated so many potential fights.
I hope these tips can help you begin down a road to saving. Above all else, I believe that you have to give it time to figure out what is best for YOU. Not all families will function the same financially, and not all families have the same financial needs. It is absolutely possible to begin evaluating where your money is going, and to carefully begin cutting away expenses and stashing away a savings. It takes time and effort, but it is SO worth it in the long run.
Best of luck, and happy saving!