I’ve had a plan for my perfect living room since I was a little girl. I wanted it to look just like the big open one I knew from my grandmother’s beach house. Every year, for a week, we lived temporarily below its honey-colored exposed pine beams, playing gin rummy at the wide teak-and-glass table, and relaxing on the oxblood sofa that was so 70s it was basically time travel.
Of course, adult life doesn’t always work out exactly the way you expect.
Naturally, when I grew up and found a home, it looked nothing like that. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to recreate that vacation haven from my youth, but it would be complicated. How do you add exposed pine beams to a home with traditional popcorn ceilings? The answer? Lots and lots of money.
But I’m not one to be deterred by finances, so I set about a focused savings plan to make my dream living room a reality. Here’s what I did to get there:
Get A Side Job
One thing’s for certain—saving money was a lot easier when I had more of it coming in. I was lucky enough to be able to pick up a part-time job at a hardware store that helped pad my pockets a little bit.
It wasn’t the most glamorous work, but it let me spend plenty of time lusting after different fixtures and features I wanted in my new room. And being around all that home decor certainly kept my eyes on the prize. The employee discount didn’t hurt, either! A job running errands, walking dogs, or driving people around are other, more flexible options. Or you can look for side work online—earn money as a transcriptionist, or by taking marketing surveys.
Having a singular focus made it easy to push through the extra hours.
Get Close(r) To Your Money
One of the mistakes I made initially with my savings plan was jumping right into saving without having a look at where the money was actually going. Once you have a big goal, it’s easier to make choices with your money.
I knew what was most important to me, and it wasn’t lunches out, coffee, or multiple video subscriptions. I canceled my HBO Now subscription and just stuck to the free videos on Amazon Prime. And as hard as it was, I gave up Chipotle and settled in every afternoon with a homemade salad—which was probably a lot healthier, too, to be honest.
It was pretty easy for me to identify those superfluous expenses just by taking the time to respect every dollar. A budgeting app, like YNAB, makes it easy to categorize every dollar and decide where your money is going and where it should be going. It will also illuminate where you’re straight up spending too much.
Weekly trips to Whole Foods? Yeah, not necessary, so local grocery store here I come! Get creative with your cost-cutting—there’s probably hundreds of dollars you can remove from your budget.
Use Psychology to Your Benefit
Money brings up complicated emotions that can trigger our self-worth, and cause guilt and frustration. Many of us use impulsive spending as a self-soothing behavior when we’re stressed or feeling bad. However, you can trick your brain into spending less. One thing experts advise is to make spur-of-the-moment purchases harder. If you have a budget and decide what your dollars need to do before you spend a dime, it makes spending decisions much easier. Commit to tracking every expense immediately afterward or pay with cash instead of credit cards, and it will become harder and harder to justify those split-second decisions.
Even when you are saving for something big, remember that being smart with your money is a life-long pursuit. You don’t want to burn out or go off the rails once you reach your goal. Budget for little indulgences, give yourself some fun money because you are creating a financially responsible lifestyle that is sustainable.
Just like with dieting, saving money works better when you replace vices with healthy choices. So don’t try to cut out coffee entirely—make your own fancy drinks at home to bring to work with you. Don’t go without movie night. Instead, rent a new flick at home and make some popcorn.
If you want to really gain some insight into the emotional patterns driving your spending, try taking some of the financial quizzes over at Beyond the Purchase. This site looks at finances as a part of your psychological makeup, rather than just a practical matter. If you get smart about the way you spend, you’ll have that new remodel in no time.
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener, and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize.com, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.