While there are aspects of a budget that are static (such as base rent, recurring bills, essential insurance, and the like), a budget is also dynamic. After we subtract our bare necessities, we find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with which we can enjoy life. I call it, the wiggle room. It is in this wiggle room where we learn the difference between wants and needs. Here you can experiment with cutting the excess to progress toward our financial goals. In my wiggle room, I identified the items I could live without, which honestly accelerated my path toward debt freedom.
I’m not a figurine girl or drawn to random statues, but I love boxes. Yes, boxes and anything that facilitates organization. This means calendars, planners, notebooks, and…. literal boxes and organizer caddies. At one point I convinced myself that this helped create order, but I eventually realized having them tempted me to buy things to fill them up (because what’s the sense of having empty caddies). Once I discovered this gate-way knick-knack addiction, I discovered a whole new realm of flexibility in my budget.
Hair care products
I went through my first hair care journey when I was 22 years old, and I’m pretty sure I bought over $1000 worth of products, most of which went to waste. By the time 2016 rolled around I had a pretty good idea of what worked for my hair and no longer needed to experiment with random products – it was only my itch for “something-new” that got me to splurge $40-50 here and there. Bottomline, I realized I was not seeing $40-50 of improvement to my hair “here and there” and decided that my money could be put to better use elsewhere in my budget.
Many would disagree, but I am a redbox/Netflix convert. There is a streaming service somewhere that will eventually have the box-office movie you want to see within a reasonable amount of time. As an example, my husband and I bit the bullet and saw Black Panther in theaters for $26 when it was released. It was later available in redbox less than 3 months later for $1.50. While this is only one movie, multiply that by every movie you want to see in theaters in one month and that’s a pretty good chunk of cash. Bottomline, there is a lot of savings available when you practice delayed gratification.
Keeping surplus of cash in my checking account
This is less about how I spend my money and more about how I managed my money. I did an experiment for 5 months where I only left $200 in my checking account to spend over 2 weeks. Every extra penny of my “wiggle room” I threw into savings. The trick was I never reached back into savings, rather I allowed myself to overdraft if my spending got out of control (which honestly was always reversed because I’m a good banking customer). After awhile over-drafting never became a problem and I learned that $200 was plenty for my wants in two-weeks time. Basically, I had adopted a lifestyle where I only reached for the credit card in emergencies and used cash for my non-budgeted items (like eating out, random hygiene needs, etc.). Knowing I had a very limited amount of cash available prevented me from feeling comfortable enough in the wiggle room to spent without thinking.
Restricted buying clothes to 3x a year
I’m still learning how to dress myself and have a nasty habit of buying cheap off-the-rack clothing which, despite how well I treat it, falls apart within weeks. This reality meant I would often grab clothes randomly on the way home from work or go on amazon.com when I found strings unraveling on my favorite pieces. Those $50 here and there do add up, because let’s face it, cheap clothes are still at least $10 a pop. I one day decided I would only buy clothes out of season, 3 times a year. I would buy my winter cloths at the end of winter, summer at the beginning of spring, and fall clothes in January. This forced me to buy clothes that would last. Eventually I realized investing $600 in new clothes three times a year, saved me more money than buying clothes ad-hoc based on a perceived need throughout the year.
Special occasion dresses
I think with Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other social media outlets, it has become normal for us to have cameras on us, every-freaking-where. With that comes the fear that our favorite sweater will become that “tired” sweater that shows up in every picture, and your favorite dress recognized in your posts, your friend’s posts, your parents’ posts, that random-stranger-who-tags-you posts. That’s where special occasion outfits come into the picture—as solutions to these inevitable social embarrassments. But honestly, we can make an “event” out of just about anything and soon this social tradition can spiral out of control, where we find ourselves buying a new dress or hat for the most objectively normal or insignificant occasion like walking the dog or dinner on a Tuesday. This can lead to hundreds of wasted dollars on random accessories or outfits that you L-I-T-E-R-A-L-L-Y have only worn a handful of times. What did I do? I gave up this habit and bought 6 “special occasion dresses” – all black with varying levels of flare to add diversity. And yes, my special occasion uniforms have saved me hundreds of dollars, and still get compliments 😊.