When I went back to grad school in the fall of 2010, I knew I was taking on a huge chunk of debt. I decided I needed to cut back on things that I enjoyed in order to minimize the eventual cost (in the form of outrageous interest) over the long-term. I’ve never been a materialistic person, but there are still things I enjoy having. This has been a process, and I will say that I didn’t get really serious about cutting out most frivolous spending until January 2012, when I had to start repaying some of my student loan debt. Here is a list of things I’ve given up to achieve financial freedom, why I have given them up, and how I feel about it.
What I've Given Up
1) Cable TV: This one was so easy. I have enough movies to keep me entertained (probably too many movies...on my path to minimalism I really need to go through them and decide what I will re-watch and what I won’t). And with Hulu and streaming showings on network websites, who really needs cable? The only time I miss it is when I want to sit down and have a Law & Order or CSI marathon on TNT or Spike :) I don't have Netflix either.
2) Riding the Metro to Work: Another easy fix. The bus is half the price of a metro fare during rush hour, and I’m lucky enough to have an express bus that stops a block away from my apartment and drops me off a block away from work.
3) Driving: The decision not to bring my car to DC was the best decision I could have made! Sure, sometimes I get annoyed when I want to go to H Street and it takes forever to get there via public transportation. I also really want to explore the beautiful nature in Virginia and I can’t...so it is for these reasons that giving up a car has been hard. BUT - I don’t have to pay for gas, I don’t have to pay for parking, and I don’t have to pay for insurance. And most of all, I don’t have to sit in traffic! When I used to drive home from work in Chicago during rush hour, I would arrive just as stressed out as when I left work. Now, I use the time on the bus to read and decompress from the day. It is wonderful. For those times that I do need a car I just use Zipcar. But because Zipcar has an annual fee, I’m thinking of switching to Car2Go when my Zipcar is up for renewal. With Car2Go you pay for how long you drive and there is no annual fee. Pretty cool!
4) Expensive Alcohol: Since I’m not much of a drinker, this isn’t hard. But, when I do choose to buy alcohol, I by the 3-buck-chuck wine at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I don’t by liquor or beer unless I am going to a potluck and I’ve been asked to bring it. When I go out for happy hour, I have the cheapest thing on offer. Spending on alcohol is such a waste of money that sometimes I wonder why I haven’t completely cut it out of my life. I’m going to think more about this one and possibly give it up altogether.
5) Buying Books: This one hurts. I adore books. My best friend can remember the time I famously said “I like having books just to have them.” That’s the truth. But books cost money, and why buy one when you can check one out at the library for free? Books are also heavy, so when I move I am always annoyed by the amount of books I have. I don’t buy books anymore, but I do ask for them for Christmas or my birthday when people ask me what I want. I’m never going to refuse a book :)
6) Gym Membership/Exercise Classes: Giving up the gym membership wasn’t hard since I hate treadmills, but giving up exercise classes (yoga!) was really hard. But I found a few really simple ways to keep me in shape, and I’m happy to say that I’ve maintained my lowest weight for a full year! I walk everywhere or take public transportation, which means I get in exercise every day. There are also some great trails near my apartment and I go for walks there on weekends. To get my yoga fix, I have downloaded free podcasts via iTunes from Yoga Download. These 20-30 minute sessions are perfect for me. I also play softball in the summer on a slow-pitch league, which is free. Sure, it isn’t the best workout, but at least I run around and throw a softball instead of eat ice cream while watching TV on the sofa.
7) Weekends: That’s right, I work seven days a week. In addition to my regular 9-5 job, I work as a hostess at a restaurant three times a week and two of those shifts are on weekends. This brings in an extra $400 a month and I put all of it towards paying off my debt. My weekend consists of Saturday 5pm - Sunday 3 pm. What do I do during that time? I might have dinner with a friend on Saturday night, or I’ll read or watch a movie by myself. On Sunday I’ll go to church and/or the farmer’s market. I've become quite used to this limited weekend. When the day finally comes that I won’t have to work an extra job, I’m not sure what I will do to fill my time!