TL;DR - every good habit requires discipline and focus. Any of these tips have exceptions but we find they work best for us.
If status quo is what keeps you where you are, we definitely leaned into being weirdos and going above and beyond what's normal and acceptable as we see it. We wanted to share some of the most effective money hacks we found on our FI journey that we want to crank into next gear throughout this year. Let's all level up together!
#1 - Stay Out Of Stores - Shop Online
After about a year of trying to cut down our grocery shopping bills we’ve found that the absolute best deals for us revolve around being able to order online and having free delivery (not Instacart). Our family’s shopping bills are typically quite high. Between the facts that we love to eat good, healthy, organic food and lots of it and the concept that we enjoy trying new things, we always wind up leaving the grocery stores with far more than we planned to and hence, a much higher bill. This is just the scenario when we both go in together and hold each other accountable for our choices as well.
We’ve done a lot of research on what the best cost per unit food items we could buy are and even evaluated some of the $2 per serving per person meals on ChooseFI, however for the way that we like to eat, which is balanced but definitely doesn’t skip on protein, we are just never able to quite get what we need for the price we want when we go to any of the local grocery retailers nearby. This includes your run of the mill big corporate grocery chains like Big Y, Price Chopper, Shaws, bulk shopping options like BJ’s (New England’s version of Costco or Sam’s Club) and including farmers markets and mom and pop grocers.
If we are disciplined about not buying one-off items, we can get our grocery bill to a reasonable level consistently week to week and we don’t blow several hours of our precious time going to the store. As for the ease of ordering online and the tendency to impulse buy, that’s certainly a topic, but with a bit of discipline before hitting any “buy” button and safeguards in place for spending amounts that we agree on, we find online shopping and home delivery, especially with groceries, to be a huge money saver.
Right now our best and most consistent grocery delivery experiences come with Whole Foods who currently deliver for free (not including tip) if you have Amazon Prime.
One Person’s Unused Bread Machine Is Another Person’s Treasure
Think of a gift that people get during the holidays that they wind up never using? Besides an ugly sweater from grandma, which might actually fetch some decent money at the thrift store due to today’s fashion trends, what else comes to mind? I always thought of bread makers like this. I never actually got a bread maker for myself because they looked bulky and useless and I figured that bread isn’t that expensive anyway. But recently, as we’ve been shopping in a more focused manner, we realized that the kinds of healthy breads we like from the store are quite hard to make and that we would likely save a bit of money if we just did it ourselves.
Plus when we visited another couple who is also into FI and they made us delicious home-made pizza, we were shocked to find out that the pizza dough was made in the bread maker as well! We were instantly curious. I of course thought, let’s see how much they are on Amazon, but Misses Cat was like “heck no, we’re buying off of Facebook Marketplace.” Sure enough, we spent $20 on a barely used bread machine that easily could have cost us 5x more if bought new. It works like a charm and we’ve been experimenting making all kinds of delicious breads and pizzas since.
This point really isn’t just about bread makers though, it’s that second hand markets for goods like this really are strong and you can drive a good bargain for just about anything if you know how/where to look and are willing to be patient.
Interest Is Stupid
How else can we express that paying interest under any circumstance where it’s not necessary is just dumb? If you’re running towards being debt free and eventually financially independent, it’s like trying to sprint with a big old parachute attached to you. I mean, I did not really internalize this until last year, however it’s just so clear to me now. The benefits of compounding interest work in reverse in a negative way too. It has been astounding at how much faster we can save money when we’re not throwing thousands of dollars of interest away per year on things we don’t really need.
Sure, you need to pay interest to borrow money in most cases, but choosing to just not buy most things on borrowed money has been a game changer for our family. Also, it was a motivator for us to pay down things that we did want to hold on to as fast as possible so we eliminated the interest associated with the payment asap. How did we come to this conclusion and put it into action while also diving head first into effectively travel hacking with credit cards? Well we just pay our credit carb bills in full every single month and resolve to never ever carry a balance. This, among other tricks, allows you to borrow money cheaply and not pay interest and even net out some sweet rewards. I personally recommend Joshua Sheat’s course on this, if you’re interested to go deeper on the topic.
Frugality Wins Over Cheapness
Sometimes we conflate not spending any money at all as being frugal, but when you can eventually save much more money over the long term by making an intentional buying decision you’re making it possible for your good decisions to compound. A perfect example of this was when Misses Cat and I paid to have our house insulated. We’ll write a longer post about this some other time, but long story short, we tried to have our house insulated under a Mass Save initiative after we bought it because we heard the subsidy paid for most of the work. However upon inspection it turned out that our electrical system was not modernized as advertised when we bought the house and our inspector missed it. After a frigid winter last year with heating bills reaching the $600 mark, we felt pretty helpless in a drafty old house that we couldn’t update under current conditions. The only way to move forward and get sign off was to have the entire second floor re-wired correctly, which ran us almost up to $5,000. Fortunately we found an amazing electrician willing to do the work for a fair price and we passed inspection and then got our entire house insulated and updated for energy efficiency for a bit less than $2,000. Now, if the math is correct, we spent almost $7000 to do this work, which kicked our savings right in the butt. However, at this point, even if we don’t live there very long, the improvements greatly increased the value of our home and currently are saving us over $300 each month on the gas heating bill compared to the last season. The improvements would pay for themselves at this rate in just a few years and we’re much more comfortable in a warm house in these New England winters.
One Car Beats Two
This is a controversial topic because I still miss having a pickup truck and our station wagon together in the driveway making us look like the American Dream couple we never wanted to be, but in terms of money savings making a decision to downgrade to one car (and make that one car a cheaper used vehicle) has easily saved us thousands of dollars already and will save us many more thousands of dollars going forward in car payments and insurance. Having one car adds some inconvenience, which unsurprisingly creates necessity for creativity.
As Mr. Bear works in Boston a few days a week and Misses Cat works from home every day and needs to get the little dude to and from daycare, Mr. Bear needs to actually figure out a way to get around town without a car. Fortunate for us, we live on a bus route that goes directly to the commuter rail that operates (fairly) regularly. With this option available to use and a tax deductible commuter benefit through work, Mr. Bear is able to get to and from the office when he goes to Boston without needing to drive saving money, time and a whole lot of stress from avoiding other Massachusetts drivers on their commute. While Mr. Bear still daydreams about his Cybertruck being in the driveway someday, he’ll have to entertain that fantasy while riding the bus, adding up all the money we’re saving having just one car.