YNAB BLOG

Which of your budget categories would you “sell” for $2 Million?

magnifying glassHere we have “Carrie.”

Carrie’s in her 20′s, recently graduated from college and working in tech marketing in San Francisco.

She bought YNAB during the still-running Black Friday sale and quickly figured out we like to review budgets around here.

Her preface, followed by her budget:

“I’m 24 years old, currently making $64,500 as a marketing coordinator for a tech company. My take-home pay is $1,662 on a biweekly basis.

These are my financial goals:

1. Increase savings to $10k to cover 3 months of expenses. Savings account currently has a buffer of $3,000 and I automatically transfer $200 a month.

2. Upgrade my car. I’m driving a 1998 Ford Mustang with 155,000 miles and I’d like to buy a newer used car within the next year. Right now my parents are paying my car insurance, but I’ll take on that expense with the new car.

3. Pay off my student loan, which was originally $8,113 and is now around $5,500 after a year of making double the minimum payments and applying $1,000 from my tax refund.

4. Increase retirement savings, which is currently 4% of my pay with a company match up to 15%.

5. Start investing in the mutual fund my parents started for me. Balance is about $1,800 and minimum investment is $100/month.

I don’t know how I’m going to be able to afford paying a car loan, car insurance, my student loan, and still having enough for savings and investing! Help!”

The Budget

Debt
Credit Card Debt $0 $0
Student Loans $200 $5,500 at 6%. $200 Original was $8,113, started payment Jan 2013, doubling the minimum.
Monthly Bills
Rent $1720 1 bd. apt. in the CA bay area. An astronomical cost but I’m not interested in moving or roommates.
Utilities $50 Includes water, trash, sewage
PG&E $30
Cable/internet $100 Currently doesn’t include HBO, but will probably renew for “Game of Thrones”
Cell Phone $30 Still on parents’ plan
Everyday Expenses
Groceries $100
Restaurants $100
Gas $200 Usually drive 300 miles round-trip once a month to visit family
Health/fitness $100 Pharmacy, fitness classes
Shopping $200 Mostly clothing, some household items
Personal Care $50 Beauty, nails, massage, dry cleaning, etc.
Entertainment $50 Music, movies, magazines, etc.
Gifts $50
Extra spending $100 Had a “cash” category in Mint, but now I’m planning on better monitoring this spending
Insurance
Health $0 Free through employer plan
Car $0 Only expense parents still paying, but will stop when I buy a new car
AAA $10 $10
Renter’s $20
Savings
Savings $200 Current balance is $3,000
TOTAL $3,310 $3310

Carrie, welcome to YNAB. You’re in the right place.

Congratulations on:

  • Finishing school without excessive debt.
  • Having no credit card debt (or other consumer debt).
  • Doubling up on your student loan payments.
  • Having helpful parents (credit where it’s due, right?).

The best I can hope to accomplish with one blog post is to give you some serious food for thought.

You are the rarest of breeds in the United States: very young, very little debt, excellent earnings. If you’ll forgive the analogy: you’re a small car with a big engine.

Check out this math:

Monthly Retirement Contribution Return 30 Year Value 40 Year Value
$500 7% $609,993.61 $1,312,423.01
$500 9% $915,386.47 $2,340,696.25

I don’t give you that table just to prove how skilled I am in the copying and pasting of data from online savings calculators.

I just wanted to show you that you’re in the position to make the most important financial decision of your life without any of the baggage most of us carry.

You can flip one switch (deciding to set aside $500 per month) and be done with the biggest question burdening earners the world over: how will I be able to retire?

Rather than beat up on your individual categories, I’ll ask you to see which of these statements feels most comfortable to you:

I don’t know how I’m going to retire, but thank goodness I didn’t have any roommates in my early 20s.

I don’t know how I’m going to retire, but Game of Thrones was worth every penny.

I don’t know how I’m going to retire, but thank goodness I financed that new car 30 years ago when I already had one that worked.

That may have come across sarcastic or judgmental. It wasn’t. I’m just trying to put words to the harsh, relentless cost of not saving.

I recently had to evaluate a similar statement:

“I don’t know how I’m going to retire, but thank goodness I can do heavy squats in my garage.”

I couldn’t stomach that statement, so the cash I was going to spend on gym equipment went to pay off debt.

So, Carrie, my only advice to you is to walk through your budget and with each category, say, “I’d rather have this thing than $2 million.”

I hope you’ll be smarter than the rest of us. I hope you’ll decide to put a big, fat monthly 401k contribution on auto-pilot and build the rest of your life around your expectation of a comfortable, worry-free retirement.

Which reminds me – my calculations don’t even account for your employer match. For however long you’re with that particular employer – or one similarly generous – $500 is actually $1,000.

Forgive me for mostly ignoring your questions (and categories) to focus on your retirement math.

If you force big retirement savings into your life, then (as Metallica so eloquently put it) nothing else matters.

51 Responses to “Which of your budget categories would you “sell” for $2 Million?”

  1. allabee

    I live in Washington DC, which has an absurdly expensive housing market, so I sympathize to an extent. However, downgrading to even a studio (which to my mind is still quite luxurious by city living standards) would save a ton of money while sacrificing quite little.

    Reply
  2. Leo

    That was a great way to look at that Mark. I am 25 and I am asking myself very similar questions.

    Reply
  3. Chasen

    Carrie could also save a bit by getting Game of Thrones on iTunes Season Pass for about $30. She will get the episode the next day and not have to pay HBO prices for only 1 show. She could also take that $100 in the first month and get a workout program like Insanity by Beachbody (which requires no additional equipment) and workout with that for a whole year if she really wanted to.

    Reply
    • Carrie

      Thanks for the suggestion! I’d hate to renew HBO for only one show! I’ll look into it!

      Reply
    • Jody Benedict

      Good tip on Game of Thrones! Thanks. I end up paying for premium channels because there are some shows that I just don’t want to wait 6 months for but 98% of the time I’m watching netflix instead.

      Reply
    • Jane

      iTunes does not offer Game of Thrones the day after it airs. You might possibly be able to pay for it that way months later, but the only way to get GoT right away is to pay for HBO. There is no other (at least no other legal) way to get it right away.

      Reply
  4. Mandy

    I’d comment that the clothing budget seems a bit high! I spend that much per year on my family of four (two of them kids who need entirely new (used) wardrobes each year). If you can try shopping consignment or online consignment (like poshmark), you might get that number way down.

    Reply
    • Carrie

      Yes, I’d like to get that budget down too! I’ve also been employing the cash envelope system for the past couple months to really monitor what I spend. Retirement should definitely be more important than a new pair of shoes!

      Reply
  5. Christina Eftekhar

    Mark, you make some poignant statements about stuff now versus retirement later. However, I would add one rebuttal: investing in gym equipment is not just about being able to do heavy squats. It’s about preventing disease through exercise (and proper nutrition) to ensure you are healthy enough to actually enjoy the retirement you so painfully saved for.

    Reply
    • mark

      Absolutely – the trick is in not confusing the means with the end. The “end” is health. The means is exercise. Exercise doesn’t require the expensive gym equipment I want.

      Reply
      • Mariana

        Amen! You can perform killer exercise with absolutely no equipment in the smallest of spaces, and maintain your health. Also, the “eating healthily is expensive” philosophy is entirely a myth, if you take the time to make most things from scratch (which if you plan well, actually doesn’t take that much time at all).

        Reply
    • Carrie

      Hi Jody, good question! I normally spend more, but the past couple months I have been traveling for work a lot, so my meals are reimbursed.

      Reply
  6. Joy Ceilidh Dunlap

    You know what? This actually made me feel better about being 38 with debt, no retirement savings, and little current income. Because when I say to myself:

    “I don’t know how I’m going to retire, but I met my children’s emotional, educational, and physical needs.”

    I feel pretty damn good about the choice I made.

    Reply
    • mark

      Hi Joy –

      Maybe you do know how you’re going to retire: having taken such good care of your children, they’re not likely to let you starve or become homeless in your old age.

      Reply
      • Joy Ceilidh Dunlap

        I hope you’re right about that. I’m actually thinking that in a few years they’ll be off on their own and I’ll have another workaholic stint like I did before they came along. If I don’t change my standard of living and stay nice and healthy, hopefully I’ll be able to make up for lost time.

        Reply
    • beth

      You made me cry a bit there. I would be so much better off if I worked more hours, but I find it hard enough to leave my little boy as much as I do (I work 20 hours a week). Thanks for helping me remember what’s important.

      Reply
      • Joy Ceilidh Dunlap

        <3 Beth! "Better off" can have lots of meanings.

        I do want to be financially stable for my kids as well as my own security, and fortunately we are able to meet all our basic needs with the income we now have.

        But there are some things that are worth WAY more than money. We may not be able to have it all at once, but we can make the most what we do have when we have it.

        I wouldn't "sell" my "time with kids" category for any amount of money, not even 2 million :)

        Reply
  7. Tom

    The employer match is a critical thing. When you aren’t taking complete advantage of that, you should look at everything in your budget (and every individual purchase), and think, “Would I rather buy this for $x, or put twice that amount of money in my 401k?”. Mark’s point is a further extension of that (“would I rather budget $x every month for this, or have 2000 times that much in 30 years?”), but something has to be really important to leave that immediate 100% return untouched.

    Reply
  8. Jon

    I wouldn’t put a penny in the mutual fund until you are taking full advantage of the 15% match with your employer. Even if that investment is losing a bit it is still likely a better return than just about anything else because the baseline is 50% vs. 0%. I am not an investment expert and probably closer to an investment idiot, but one is pretty obvious in my opinion. I would even consider closong the mutual fund if It requires a monthly minimum. That $100 automatically becomes $200 with your other option.

    Reply
    • Carrie

      Hi Jon, yes the mutual fund is a lower priority of mine, so I’m letting it sit for now. Don’t worry, I’m not paying anything toward it, but if I do, then the minimum is $100/month. Instead, I’ll cut my expenses and boost my retirement/savings.

      Reply
  9. mary m

    I would make a budget that has the full match at 15% included, then fill in the blanks around it. You basically have $500 of “extra” spending a month… (most of the categories after gas). Not saying those aren’t needed, but maybe not to that extent.

    Reply
  10. Dennis

    I disagree with the logic here. If you ask “Would i rather have this or $2 million” about every purchase, you will never spend any money on anything. When does it stop? Will you wind up deliberately homeless, eating out a dumpster and wearing clothes you find? That may sound ridiculous, but how do you draw a line? When do you stop asking that question? How do you justify any spending? Why live an un-enjoyable life now just to have lots of money someday if / when you retire? You have to find a balance that allows you do do things you enjoy now. I think Joy Ceilidh Dunlap (above) is on the right track.

    I still have $4000 left to pay off on an initial debt of over $48,000. I could have paid it off sooner if I was more aggressive and eliminated every entertainment expense. But I realized that my kids would grow up knowing nothing but doing without to pay off debt. I opted to use some money along the way to have fun with my kids, and I don’t regret it.

    Reply
    • 123

      Is it your belief that spending is what makes life enjoyable? There are many things that contribute to happiness and fulfillment; most of them are not material possessions.

      The post didn’t advocate anything extreme, just suggested finding a way to contribute $500/month to retirement by managing money efficiently. Seems reasonable to me (and unlikely to reduce quality of life–quite the opposite, actually)

      Reply
      • Joy Ceilidh Dunlap

        The case study isn’t in the situation of having kids, and is doing a lot of discretionary spending. I agree the suggestions weren’t extreme and made sense.

        But I didn’t get the idea that Dennis was saying spending is what makes life enjoyable. More that you need to figure out where to draw the line for yourself. That’s the general question that applies to everyone. I found that I could be ok with the sacrifice of future savings when I looked at what I’m buying with my spending and opportunity cost.

        As for your statement “many things that contribute to happiness and fulfillment; most of them are not material possessions.”

        Well, yes. But most of those things cost lots of money. I’ve had to give up jobs that paid well and had great potential in order to raise my kids the way I feel I need to.

        When you have a couple kids and are close to the bone, that spending vs savings can make a HUGE difference to quality of life, and I’m not talking about buying stuff, I don’t think Dennis was, either.

        For instance, we are living in a very small home, and have had to choose between our 13 year old boy and 14 year old girl sharing a 10×10 bedroom and us having an office/sewing room (we do much of our work from home, and sew to save money). We went with the kids having their own bedrooms, and so all our files are really hard to get to, and all working, sewing, personal finance, etc has to be done in our common living space, which is a major hassle.

        If we had a bit more money, we could have gotten a slightly bigger home to live in that would have actually met all our needs. Or, we could have built the add-on that would dramatically improve our daily quality of life (as well as making it possible for us to host a friend’s visit). Instead we are saving money. But when their dad had them nearly half the time, he actually lived in a ONE bedroom they all shared in order to save more for retirement. That seems like an extreme trade off to me.

        We’ve also opted to take an annual trip to visit family. It’s a 6-8 hour drive. That gas plus packing all of our food costs a lot of money (to us). Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to fly, eat out, and stay in a hotel for those visits? We save by not doing that, but we still spend money that “should” be going to our debt. We’ve decided that this spending is worth it because the kids knowing their grandparents and cousins is important to us.

        Even upping our gas budget so the kids could decorate the Christmas tree with their more local grandmother last weekend was a cost that had to come from somewhere and reduced what we had to send to our debt.

        This kind of spending does really make a huge difference to quality of life and is the kind of stuff people who have more to spare think of as “free.” But really, it is not.

        Reply
    • Jesse

      “When does it stop?” Is a great question, and one that’s only individually answerable. It doesn’t ever stop, really, because every purchase has opportunity cost attached to it. However, asking ourselves that question, as it relates to our spending behavior, can provide a short-term perspective shift that may change our spending behavior over time.

      It never stops though :)

      Reply
  11. tmb2

    Carrie, be sure when looking at this you’re also taking into account what your food bill normally is when it’s not a business expense, or when you finally pick up your phone and insurance costs (Mark can tell you all about phones). Also, is there anything wrong with your current car? Ensure it is being maintained (create a budget category) and hold off on buying another car unless this one is really about to die. Also, you specifically said you were concerned about affording a car loan – so don’t get one. Keep building your savings so that you can pay cash for that next used car instead of creating more debt. At the rate you’re going you should have your student loans paid off in about 2 years (good idea with the tax refund). When you’re done fold that payment right into your 401K so you get used to not missing that money. Everything you listed from fitness to extra spending should be scrutinized. Take a close look to see if those are needs, wants, or straight up luxuries. Nothing is off the table and every dollar matters. Last month I found $10 to cut from my car insurance. That’s $120 a year that could be earning interest. $240 for you if you throw it into your 401K. Nearly all of my “extra shopping” money has specific goals listed so I’m not setting aside $100 when I only need $50. If my specified goals are being met, then anything extra is rolled into investments.

    Reply
  12. Bean52

    If Carrie is reading this, I have one further point to add to Mark’s Monthly Retirement Contribution table:

    You can see from Mark’s table that if Carrie starts putting aside $500 every month now, she’d retire 40 years later at 65 years old with $1.3million in the bank (assuming a conservative 7% return). That’s $52,000 per year income for the rest of her life, no matter how long she lives, using Mr Money Mustache’s 4% safe withdrawal rate (google it).

    But what happens if she decides to put off focusing on retirement for 10 years? If she thinks that she needs that $500 for other things now (new used car, etc), and that she’ll start worrying about retirement when she’s 34 years old – she’d still have 30 years left till retirement at that time. Plenty of time to get it under control right?

    If she were to start saving for retirement at age 34, she would have to put aside $1100 MONTHLY to get the SAME $1.3million retirement nest egg by age 65. That’s more than twice what she’d have to put aside monthly if she starts NOW. It’s the power of compounding. The earlier you start, the less you have to put away monthly.

    And if it feels hard to find $500 monthly in the budget now, it’s only going to be twice as hard to squeeze $1100 monthly out of the budget later on, when you’ve got maybe kids, a mortgage, aging/ill parents and other financial commitments to worry about then.

    So Carrie, if you’re reading this, don’t dismiss the importance of starting as early as you can to save for retirement. I’m not saying you have to sacrifice everything else and live like a scrooge until you’re 65, but crunch the numbers, figure out how much you need (or want) for retirement and what you’re willing to trade off right now, and get started NOW.

    Speaking as someone who’s not quite 30 years old but who has already faffed away the first 10 years of my working years – now I am having to boost retirement contribution to the max (about 24% of gross income) to get where I want to be when I’m 65. Would’ve been much easier if I’d started 10 years ago!!!

    Reply
    • Jessica

      THIS!! So much, this. My husband and I are 34 and I so wish that we would not have been so stupid with our money when we were younger and thought that we had ‘forever’ to do whatever we wanted.

      Good for you, Carrie, for getting started on the right track so young. I wish you the best!

      Reply
    • Carrie

      You make a great point! I’m lucky enough to have time on my side, and you all have motivated me to devote more to my retirement fund! Thanks!

      Reply
  13. Ali

    For some reason this post has stuck in my head since I read it earlier today. I’m not much older than you, but I was also fortunate for my parents to help me get off to a good start which is why I feel the need to chime in. Hopefully I’ll help you avoid some of the traps I got into.

    I drove a horrendously crappy car my parents had bought me my junior year of college. It was old and something always broke every 3-4 months (I budgeted for it!). I was told by my mechanic to just get a new car so I did because I hated it and all my friends had bought new cars as soon as we got our degrees. I was petrified of a payment, so I got the cheapest car that looked ok. That stupid thing broke down all the time too! So I had repair costs on top of a monthly payment. I didn’t budget for repair costs (hello, doesn’t new mean no repairs? No. No, it does not) and I’m still paying off those repairs I had to put on credit. Oh and if you’re financing that new car, be prepared for full coverage insurance to be written into the financing contract. It isn’t cheap.

    My advice would be to pay off that student loan ASAP. Look at how much it will cost to pay it off over the time they allow and it will make you sick. It looks like you’re making huge progress already but if you could put an extra $50 on top of the double payments you’re making, you will be doing yourself a huge favor.

    I’m in the fashion industry so I COMPLETELY understand the clothing budget. Do you sell your trendy clothes to consignment shops? I’ve been doing that for years and it helps me see that I really don’t wear trendy pieces as often as I thought which helps me lower my clothing budget overall. You could even host clothing swaps if you have friends that wear the same size.

    Take advantage of that company match! I’m just now getting set up with that and am kicking myself in the face for not starting sooner.

    Is there any way you could do some consulting work on the side? You could take that money and put it directly into savings. Then once you have the 3month buffer you could put it in a new car fund.

    Reply
    • Carrie

      Thanks for the advice! I’d like to put off buying another car for longer, but I’m not sure how long it’s going to last. But I agree that I want to be rid of my (relatively small) student loan!

      And it’s so funny that you mentioned clothing swaps–I’m hosting one this weekend. It will be a great way to get new clothes without spending money!

      Reply
      • Tim

        If you do go for a car, which you will need to do one day (they all die eventually), you might consider a newer used one. It’s hard to tell the difference, and you’ll save thousands between the new car price and insurance premiums. Pay it off ahead to save on interest and build credit to save money later.

        Reply
  14. k-ro

    This is good feedback here, Carrie; I hope you are able to hear the advice you have asked for. It’s easy when we are young and just beginning to learn about what we value to make silly (in retrospect) stands. But you are wise enough to ask for advice, so please be wise enough to re-examine some of your beliefs.

    Personally, I think the $1720 nonnegotiable rent is the biggest area of question — I lived in the Washington, D.C. area and understand what expensive is. While living there I roomed with 2 sisters. There were some highs and lows, but I learned valuable lessons even while negotiating some of the less positive experiences.

    Remember, life is about trade-offs!

    Another way of looking at it is the economic concept of “opportunity cost” – what we spend on one thing means less to spend on another. For every dollar we spent one place is less we have to invest elsewhere — what would $880 get you if invested for growth instead of rent for the next 30 years?

    Reply
  15. Adrienne

    Awesome review, Mark!

    Carrie, I’ve been using YNAB since I was a single college student. I’m now the mom of a 2-year-old and I bring in the sole income for our family while my boyfriend is in school full-time. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s really easy to see your current budget categories as fixed. If you can’t imagine how you could possibly lower the amount you budget for something, you’ll have a hard time figuring out how to get more money for some new or growing category. I’d recommend challenging yourself on every single category. Take nothing for granted – do research and calculations to back up your thoughts. Could you move to a cheaper neighborhood and get an awesome apartment for less? Could you take public transportation to visit family (would that be cheaper or not?) or to commute? Could you live within walking distance of work? Would you be interested in becoming certified in your group fitness program of choice and getting paid to work out as an instructor? Or can you find a gym/yoga studio/whatever to volunteer at in exchange for free or reduced cost classes? How can you slash your spending in those discretionary categories (cable, restaurants, and everything from shopping through extra spending)… and do it creatively so you actually enhance your quality of life? (Hint: Read Mr. Money Mustache!)

    Going through this exercise doesn’t mean you have to commit to any and all of the possibilities you identify, but more than likely you’ll turn up a few things that are worth making changes for. And keep doing it periodically – don’t get complacent! For example, my boyfriend and I challenged ourselves to take our restaurant category from $100/month to $20/month. It turns out that $30/month is probably more realistic, but we wouldn’t have recovered that $70/month without questioning the $100.

    You have a golden opportunity right now. You’re young, healthy, single, and living well within your means. I’m only 3 years older than you but I’m supporting 3 people on half of what you make and counting myself lucky to be squeezing out $85/month for my Roth IRA and saving over $300/month toward a new car. I share that in hopes of showing you how much freedom and flexibility you really do have. Good luck! I have a feeling you’re going to rock 2014!

    Reply
    • Carrie

      Thanks for the support; those are good suggestions! I will definitely be re-evaluating my budget. I think taking steps to reduce my extra spending to boost my savings and eliminating my debt is a good start. Excited for what 2014 has in store!

      Reply
  16. Cheryl

    I agree with Mark. Retirement savings are the way to go! Even if your employer doesn’t match, you save on taxes and put that savings on auto-pilot. You can adjust all your other expenses a million different ways for the rest of your career (and beyond), but starting your retirement savings early and making it automatic is truly PRICELESS. I wish I could show you my Dad’s graph of his 401(k) plan over the years. He started early, and that made all the difference. Good luck!

    Reply
  17. kaustubh

    Carrie,

    Call your cable company and just say you want to cancel. they will throw in HBO for free. I pay $55 for HBO +internet. They will put you on hold for 40-45 minutes before they give you the deal but its worth it.

    Reply
  18. Alex

    Hi,

    Looking at your budget i think you need to consider a cheaper place to live. It is killing you getting ahead. You are spending $1900 a month on just your living expenses. That is over 50% of your income.

    I was not sure if you drove your car during the week or just for your trips home. If you only drive it occasionally would hiring and car or joining a car share deal work? This could allow you to focus on paying off your debt and then saving up without having to get a car loan.

    I would reorder your dot points as below. But you really need to cut down your expenses so that you can do it.

    1. Pay off my student loan, which was originally $8,113 and is now around $5,500 after a year of making double the minimum payments and applying $1,000 from my tax refund.

    Pay if off as quickly as possible. Before putting any money elsewhere.

    2. Increase retirement savings, which is currently 4% of my pay with a company match up to 15%.

    Get this up to 15% and your retirement will look much better. Focus on this until it is up to 15%

    3. Increase savings to $10k to cover 3 months of expenses. Savings account currently has a buffer of $3,000 and I automatically transfer $200 a month.

    The move onto putting anything else that you can find into your emergency fund. If you do need a car then you can dip into your emergency fund to pay for it.

    4. Upgrade my car. I’m driving a 1998 Ford Mustang with 155,000 miles and I’d like to buy a newer used car within the next year. Right now my parents are paying my car insurance, but I’ll take on that expense with the new car.

    Wait until your car breaks down or you can sell it and have the difference saved up to buy a new old car. DO NOT GET A CAR LOAN. just get something that you can afford and start saving money so you can upgrade.

    5. Start investing in the mutual fund my parents started for me. Balance is about $1,800 and minimum investment is $100/month.

    Once 1-4 are sorted start saving for a home loan/ investments and such.

    Reply
  19. David

    How do you spend so little on groceries/restaurants? Are you eating mostly packaged foods? We spend $400-500/mo on groceries (very few packaged foods) alone for 2 people. Maybe another $100/mo on restaurants.

    Reply
    • Carrie

      Hi David, you aren’t the only one with this question. I should have included my groceries budget on a normal month, not recently when many of my meals were reimbursed for business travel. Typically, my groceries budget is $200.

      Reply
      • Ruth Martin

        While my grocery budget is normally about 150/month, I have lived off of $100/month before, and that is with allergies requiring a special diet. The way to do so is to look for inexpensive breakfasts (oatmeal and yogurt are my usual go-to options: one container of oats lasts about a month. Gluten free oats run about $6 per container, so I pay 20 cents per breakfast. Yogurt is more expensive at about 50 cents, but worth it for variety’s sake. Then an occasional piece of fruit rounds it out). Then, I take leftovers for lunch.

        Dinners are the most difficult, but menu-planning and not buying anything perishable that I won’t use within a week helps–you waste less food that way (the average American household throws away 30% of their food budget due to spoilage!). In addition, I love casseroles, soups, and crock-pot meals because they are easy to cook and they tend to stretch the amount of meat used (arguably the most expensive item in a food budget). If you want to be even more frugal, the trick is to make your meal plan based on the weekly ads from the grocery stores. I like to look for the “loss leaders”–those items that are being sold at a loss in order to get you into the store.

        Lastly, I do my darnedest to stick with my list. Impulse buys are the killer of your food budget, and grocery stores are designed to get you to do just that. I ALWAYS spend less when I go to the store with a specific plan.

        It probably also helps that I’m willing to experiment, so I sometimes have interesting combinations with mixed results (beets in scrambled eggs is not a good combination aesthetically, but tastes ok). http://www.supercook.com/ is a great resource as well, because it helps you to find recipes that use the items you have on hand.

        Reply
  20. Tim

    -> I’m lucky enough to have time on my side.

    Oh, the time. And the money! First off, you should be proud for looking for the responsible approach.

    But when I read this I wanted to reach through the computer and throttle you. (Mark offered much more tact.) I’m sure I’m not alone in my envy of your position: young, high income, and nearly debt free.

    $64K is a lot of money for a single person, even in San Fran- that is until you get used to having it. At 24 years old, if you could keep living like a college student for a while, you could pay off that loan in the first year, grab that match, and still put away $100s per month. If that sounds crazy, consider the many recent grads that live on just $35K and have a load more debt.

    In a few years you’ll have your retirement jump started and have a jump on a down payment on a house. After that, you can start stuffing the Game of Thrones into a diversified portfolio.

    You’ll be able to edit Joy’s statement to “I DO know how I’m going to retire, AND I met my children’s emotional, educational, and physical needs.” And you can still have a lot of fun along the way.

    Be spartan! Live simple while there is still some pleasure in it, because life will catch up with you quickly.

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