How to reduce your spending from eight personal finance experts

Route to FIRE – Reduce Your Spending Roundup

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Reducing spending is a wise financial choice regardless of your current situation. Maybe you are paying off debt, saving to start a family, striving towards financial independence, or planning a gap year. Spending less money every year adds options.

After discovering financial independence/early retirement I knew it was for me. The path seams perfect, save money so you don’t have to rely on a greedy corporation for a salary that you will then spend buying products from said corporation. I want to get to the RE side of FIRE a quickly as possible.

There are two main paths to reaching financial independence faster: increasing your income and cutting your expenses. In order to cut your expenses, it helps to track your spending and net worth. We use Personal Capital, and I highly recommend it!

I prefer the cutting your expenses route since it:

  • Is in your control
  • Doesn’t add an additional time burden to your day, and actually can save you time since you will no longer be busy buying things.

The goal of FIRE is to have more time to do the things you love, so adding a side hustle can take away from living your dream now. Our household has cut our expenses to reduce our required nest egg by almost $400,000.

I surveyed a swath of personal finance bloggers to glean from them the secrets to reducing spending and the easiest ways to do so.

How to Reduce Spending

Social engineering makes it easy today to spend your money. Most of us spend all day connected to either a computer or a smart phone bored at work. Shopping portals make it easy to provide that dopamine burst while trapped away in cubicle-world.

reduce spending with bikes
Biking can help reduce spending, but not when they are arranged like this…

To reduce your spending you’ll first want to review how much money you actually spend! Bust out your spreadsheet, Mint, Personal Capital, credit card/bank statements and get tracking! If you are not already tracking your spending or budgeting in some manner, today is a good day to start.

I group my spending into a few (too many) categories – pick that works for you. Some have a category “food” and include restaurants and groceries. I keep those separate, but my household spending falls in with my groceries since I buy that stuff from the same stores.

Where do you spend the most money? The usual suspects:

  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Loans (non-mortgage)
  • Food
  • Travel

The loans may be harder to control, but you could try refinancing to a lower interest rate to pay less money in the long run. Hopefully, loans will not be in your life for forever, so eventually you’ll be able to eliminate that category.

Now comes the fun part: question everything!

Don’t necessarily change everything! But go through the exercise to see what speaks to you. Then you can get your spending more aligned with your values.

Housing

Even if you have three kids, so moving would be a royal pain, what would moving do to your budget? Could you greatly lower that cost and stay in the same area? Do you really want to live somewhere else when you retire early? What’s holding you back from moving there now?

We live in a house that is much to large for us now. But once we add some kids to the mix I think it will be just right. We could buy a house for $40,000 a couple of blocks from our current job, but we wouldn’t want to stay there long-term. Our house had a large yard which our dogs love and enables us to grow a frugal garden.

Transportation

Are most of your costs due to gas, financing, insurance, public transit, uber rides, or maintenance? Do you need to drive/take public transit this much? Have you shopped around for insurance lately? Could you get by with a less expensive/smaller vehicle?

Calling around or applying online for a few extra insurance quotes can save you big money with minimal effort! And always ask for the pay in full discount! Sometimes you can walk the extra block and save a couple bucks.

We shop for insurance every year since most companies offer a new member discount. We also have reduced our short trips around town. I’ve already talked about the fact that we own two cars, but typically only use one.

Food

I talk about food way too much! But “society” has quite the opinion about how to eat healthy today, even though the obesity runs rampant.

Taco Night
One of the meals we made in August using produce from our garden!

Are you eating healthy? Which mantra to do follow: eat to live or live to eat? How much food do you eat at home versus out? Could you pack your lunch one more day per week? Could you make coffee at home? Are you gorging yourself on avocado toast, so you will inevitably die a sad death, having never been a homeowner?

Okay, yeah, society is quite judgy about food. But try to silence those avocado toast hating folks, and evaluate how you would most like to eat.

I’ve talked about how we reduced food spending by eating the food in our pantry, conquering any fear of the kitchen, and saving money at the grocery store with coupon cutting optional. We also rarely go out to restaurants on dates (unless we are traveling) and reserve restaurant meals for times with friends and family.

Travel

Are these long (international) trips or short weekends away? Are you paying mostly for flights, hotels, food, experiences, conveniences, rental cars, or souvenirs? Would you be happy to have more weekends at home pursuing your hobbies? Do you want to continue traveling this much?

We realized that we were not deriving much joy from jet setting (in a car typically, vroom vroom) most weekends of the year. We still fly once or twice a year to visit far off friends and family, but we are intentional about it. Mr. Kiwi does not enjoy planning trips or airports, so this has reduced our household stress greatly!

The Experts Weigh In on Reducing Spending

I reached out to the awesome Rockstar Finance Forum community to see how other, more successful, personal finance bloggers have reduced spending in their household.

Ms. 99 to 1 Percent pointed out a few things, including a seasonally appropriate one:

Hosting: We have a family member who likes to host all the holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, NYE, Easter, Labor day…If he’s not hosting, he gets moody and pouty and ruins the party. It used to cause some tensions and fights because we wanted to host too, but now we don’t bother anymore. We are happy with them hosting ALL the time. All we bring with us is some homemade wine, and that’s all and it has saved us thousands a year. And most importantly, everyone is happy.

Going out/Fine dining: We used go out or fine dine at least every weekend, and when we were dating, we were doing that almost everyday. But now we eat out only on special occasions or when we are invited by friends. This has saved thousands a month. We now cook on the weekend for the whole week.

Cars: We are driving our cars till they die. They are now 13 and 11 years old.

Personal Finance Experts weigh in on reducing spending
Cutting spending is different for everyone

FI Journeyman also plans to stay in his starter home:

Housing: We have not upgraded from our starter house. There are only two of us and a small dog. Our 1700 sq foot house is more than we need. Our current house is worth $226K and we only owe about $30K on it. We will live in this house instead of upgrading to a $400K plus house.

  1. Cars: We buy new or certified used. We buy high quality, reliable, and fuel efficient models. We keep them for 10-12 years and put about 200K miles on them. I use mine for work and get reimbursed for mileage. I get reimbursed between $400-$500 per month. I just put that money into savings and will use it to buy a new car in a few years.
  2. Going out to eat: We bring our lunch to work. We also eat dinner at home during the week. We do go out on the weekend, but never for fine dining. We will go out for pizza, Thai, Mexican, or for Chinese. We almost never spend more than $30 for the two of us.

The Military Dollar uses their budget better:

I stopped over-budgeting in several categories. I used to budget more than I really needed because I never wanted to end up short. But what happened was I’d end up spending money I didn’t really need to spend, because “it’s in the budget.”

I ended up lowering my clothing spending by 75% (I don’t care much about fancy clothes), food by 20%, cable/internet by 30% (why did I budget more than the bill?? Mystery), my “other” category entirely (money for unexpected expenses), etc etc. I have plenty of money in my budget as it is now, and in a truly unexpected event, well…that’s what an emergency fund is for. I ended up saving nearly another $1000/month, just based off over-budgeted categories.

A Journey to FI has conquered credit card efficiency

  1. Cars: we buy certified pre-owned vehicles. Currently, have a 2012 VW Passat and 2013 GMC Acadia.
  2. Dining out: not as much as we used to before.
  3. Credit cards: not necessarily something we cut but now are more efficient in terms of using them for fixed expenses and maximizing value of rewards. Personal Finance Experts Weigh in on How to Reduce Your Spending

Slow Dad recognized that time is a limiting factor and focused on things that had the biggest payoff with the least amount of time investment:

Spending time on things that weren’t going to get me there.

  1. I worked out how much time I was willing to spend working.
  2. Next I calculated how much each of those hours was actually worth… based on quantifiable market rates, not some idealistic imaginary number.
  3. Then I assessed each activity I was investing time on, and either eliminated or outsourced those that cost less than my time value number.
  4. Finally I began investing in myself to maximise the return I could achieve from each of those working hours I was willing to spend.

I worked out early on that ruthlessly budgeting, shaving 10% on each grocery bill, or avoiding having a meal in a restaurant was never going to provide me with a comfortable retirement. It was a lot of work (i.e. poor use of my precious time) for very limited return on that investment of time.

However devoting my time to activities like acquiring well located cash flow positive rental properties, establishing profit making businesses, or investing in diversified low cost index funds would result in significantly larger return on that investment of my time. These investments should continuously generate dividend/interest/rent/royalty income streams, and with a bit of luck may also increase in value over time.

Every dollar/pound/euro an investment threw off was one I didn’t have to earn through expending my own precious time. The more investments I came to own, the more effort free cash flow was generated, and the less time I had to actually spend working.

That in turn increased the market value of my time even further, allowing me to either work less or focus even more on the things that would make a difference.

In other words the investments were buying back the time I would otherwise need to spend working in a job.

Eventually the investment portfolio generated sufficient cash flow to cover all my outgoings, a happy day indeed.

I did the victory dance, semi-retired, and faced the really big question… if I don’t have to work for a living, what do I do with all that free time?! But that is a topic for another day 🙂

Reduce spending by moving from a consumer city
Sometimes moving will help you achieve dramatic savings

Stasher made a giant leap, moved across Canada, and eliminated a very expensive hobby!

At first it was just little things like stopping the stupid consumer spending and then slowly canceled the land phone and cable tv. Like Slow Dad said those were little things though.

The huge change came when we decided that we needed to move out of our city to escape the consumer culture and keeping up with the Joneses that was so pervasive in the micro culture.

We moved across the country to a place that was much more reserved and people didn’t care what you had. Here we were able to shed the majority of our belongings and make the big changes and aggressively ram every dime into savings.

That of course has us now with zero consumer debt, a controlled grocery and household bills, paid of used cars and less stuff.

In that path the biggest spending we did was massive. As a family we didn’t really go anywhere but we raced Motocross pretty seriously. Like so much that we had a big Class C Motorhome that pulled 16’ cargo trailer to races every weekend and we had four race bikes. I would think each race weekend I spend $500 on fees, food, fuel and parts. When we made the big move I dumped everything which was hard for us but we knew we needed to. I think I netted $25,000 from selling everything which was a fraction of what I paid but it serves me better in my RRSP now.

The next big thing was selling our spendypants brand new loaded to the teeth Dodge ram, this one had $900/month auto payments… and damn we had car payments for 21 years leap frogging to new car and next new car and next new car. It felt awesome getting a 2010 compact SUV with tiny payments instead. That car is now paid off, we still have it planning to drive for at least another 75,000 km (I hope as it has 205,000K) That probably felt the best not having that monthly payment and I look back at all the money I wasted on cars in my lifetime to this point.

Emily at John and Jane Doe presented some approachable options:

We cut way back on eating out, groceries (which had gotten pretty ridiculous for 3 people), telephones (went from unlimited Verizon to a prepaid Cricket plan), and cable. Vacations moved to off-peak times (fortunately, our daughter is in a year-round school.) Shopping stopped being entertainment.

(Of course, we also added rental properties. That helped a lot.)

Reducing Spending is Different for Everyone TL;DR

Even the experts have approached reducing spending from different angles. Some you could implement now:

  • Car insurance quotes
  • Spend less on groceries/food
  • Resisting the urge to swipe your card
  • Choosing to not host a holiday, and instead just bring a dish to share
  • Drive the same car for many years
  • Stay in your starter home

Or take time and plan out crushing some of those larger expenses:

  • Sell the car with the high monthly payment
  • Downsize your home
  • Move to your dream lower cost of living city
  • Replace an expensive hobby

 

12 comments on “Route to FIRE – Reduce Your Spending Roundup”

  1. I always love reading these type of roundups. Personal finance is personal for a reason. What works for one person is not an option for others. These type of lists always get my creative juices flowing and allow me to think outside the box to see what others are doing. Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Reply

      Thanks! Yes, it is so inspiring to see what has actually worked for others!

  2. Reply

    Thanks for including my input. This roundup has many great suggestions on smart spending. I am sure to apply some of the other tips that were provided. Great post!

    1. Reply

      Thanks and thank you for your help!

  3. Reply

    Such a great post and thanks for including my input.

    Interesting that you have been able to slash your required FIRE amount by $400K! What’s the new FIRE amount and age?

    1. Reply

      We are 2 years 9 months away (but who is counting 😉 ). I’ll be 32 then! But we are scheming and planning (hoping for) some changes that I’ll announce soon that will change all that. We’re aiming for $750k minimum in index funds.

  4. Awesome tips on FIRE spending reductions! It always amazes me how much room we can find in our expenses when we get really into it and commit 🙂

    1. Reply

      Thanks! Yes, there are a lot of options!

  5. Great summary of some of the solid basics needed to make a difference on your financial journey. The only thing I can add to it is I wish I found blogs like this one and all the others that helped me on my path much earlier in my life. Keep up the great blogging and helping others to make better personal finance decisions.

    1. Reply

      Thank you! I was so lucky to have a friend point me down this path while I was in my mid-twenties. I hope I can help others, and I love how having the blog has connected me to other like-minded people.

  6. All great methods/ideas. When you starting looking at each individual expense, it is crazy how many things you realize you can actually cut or reduce drastically. It just takes the will power and sometimes making a difficult decision. But usually once you make that decision, you are happy and are never going to look back.

    Bert

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