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zen habits: How I save money

Monday, December 4, 2006

How I save money

I think I'm a fairly frugal person. I haven't always been this way, and it's taken years of simplifying and cutting back on little things, one at a time. And while there are definitely many more things I can scrimp and save on, I'm proud of how far I've come already. Here's how I save money:

1) I cut my own hair. I bought a $20 buzzer, and it lasts about a year. I used to get a haircut every month, at a cost of $20 (including tip, not including gas money to get there and valuable time spent there). So I save the cost of about 11 haircuts a year. I do the same for my three sons, saving another 36 haircuts (at $10 each). Annual savings: $580.

2) No Cable TV. We watch DVDs, or read. I don't spend much on DVDs either (probably less than most people, per month). Cable costs about $65/month. Annual savings: $780.

3) Became vegan. I eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, which are expensive, sure, but you are supposed to eat those whether you're vegan, vegetarian or a carnivore, so I don't count those as extra expenses. The real comparison is between meat, and the protein substitutes I use. Most of my protein comes from tofu, although I do eat beans and soy protein such as fake ground beef or soy burgers. Overall I believe I save about $2-3 per day not eating meat. Annual savings: $900.

4) Don't use the gym. I used to be a member of a gym. Didn't use it much, and still got charged for a full year. Now I get a lot of exercise, but I do it at home and on the road. I do strength exercises in my living room and jog (and will soon start cycling and swimming). Annual savings: $420.

5) Rarely go to the movies. I used to go out to the movies at least once a week, and sometimes more. I slowly made it every other week, and now I don't even go once a month. Now we take the kids to the park or out to do something more fun and creative. I figger this saves me at least $15 per week, although it's probably more when you factor in the cost of my kids' tickets, and concessions. Annual savings: $780.

6) Quit smoking. I quit over a year ago. I smoked a pack a day, plus a soda or tea or coffee to go with the cigarettes, at a cost of about $5 per day. Annual savings: $1,825.

7) Don't drink much. I never did, really, except maybe in college. But for some people, drinking is a major expense. A beer or two a day can add up, and for the sake of these calculations, I'll count it. Annual savings: $800.

8) Never go out. I don't go to clubs, or the theater, or ballet, or opera. I guess I'm just not that type of person. Annual savings: maybe $500.

9) Stay healthy. As mentioned above, I'm a vegan, a runner, and I don't drink or smoke anymore. I never go to the doctor, and if I keep up this lifestyle, my likelihood of getting the most common diseases are greatly lowered. Annual savings: probably $1,200.

10) Don't go shopping. We used to hang out at the mall a lot. It was convenient, and had a lot of great stuff to look at, and a food court. The food court alone costs $30 for us, and if we bought stuff that would be another $25-75. Cha-ching. Now I rarely ever, ever, ever go to the mall. I hate it anyway. I only go to the mall or Kmart if I need something, and even then I try my best to avoid it. Annual savings: probably $2,600.

11) Have only one car. We are a married couple with six kids, soccer practice, choir, school functions, many many family gatherings, running events, martial arts, and much more. But we get by on one car. We are looking to get a used van with better fuel economy, and I am going to start commuting at least a few times a week by bike. Annual savings: unknown, but perhaps $5,000.

12) Bring my own lunch. My co-workers eat out every day, at a cost of $8-20 per lunch. I bring leftovers or a sandwich and fruits and pretzels and stuff. At a cost of probably less than $5. Annual savings: $1,800.

13) No magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I used to have the paper delivered. Now I read it online or at work. I used to subscribe to 1-2 magazines. Now I read the Internet. Annual savings: $360.

14) Rarely buy new clothes. I use my clothes and shoes until they are threadbare. Really. Ask my wife and kids. Annual savings: maybe $400.

15) Never travel. I would like to travel. When I am out of debt and my savings accounts are nice and healthy, I will travel. But for now, I skip it. Others I know take at least a trip per year. Annual savings: $1,500.

16) No more lattes. I used to get a latte every day. At a cost of about $4 per latte. Sometimes I'd get two. Now I make my own coffee. Annual savings: about $1,000.

There are more little ways that I've learned to save, like getting my books at a used book store, cooking most of my meals (aside from the above-mentioned lunches), power-saving measures, no long distance calls. There are also ways I can still save, including eating out less (we eat out 1-3 times per week, mostly fast food like pizza or Taco Bell or Wendy's, all of which I can do without).

Estimated total savings: $20,445.

Now, I'm not sure if most people spend the full amounts listed above, or if I ever did. But at some point, I did come close, and I think many people do as well. But however you look at it, I'm proud of how far I've come. Does this all go into savings? Of course not. Other expenses have gone up, because I now have six kids, and our income has temporarily gone down. Also, we're now putting money into debt, and once that is freed up, more will go into savings.

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Anonymous said...

> Never go out. I don't go to clubs, or the theater, or ballet, or opera.

Is this post a joke? Here's another way to save money - lock yourself in a box until you slowly die of starvation and/or boredom.

Leo said...

Well, that's one way to look at it, undoubtedly.

However, I don't feel deprived by not going out, if that's what you mean. I enjoy spending time with my family, and we do lots of free or cheap stuff that is tons of fun. It's a matter of adjusting your priorities and finding other means of entertainment.

Sure, if your idea of fun is to go out to clubs, or opera, or whatever, my lifestyle wouldn't be for you. You would probably be willing to spend more, and thus work more, to support your types of entertainment, but that's your choice. There's nothing wrong with it.

But neither is there anything wrong with saving my money for the future or my children instead, or living frugally so my wife can stay home with the babies. It's fulfilling to me, and that's ultimately what matters, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

of course you are right - I was just being trollish. You can live your life however you want and I admire your strong will - it just seems a little extreme...

Leo said...

no worries ... feel free to be trollish. i like the discourse!

as for being extreme, i admit that the way i presented it does sound extreme. that's because i didn't present the fun side of what i do. i often treat myself, and especially the kids, to movies, dvds, restaurants, ice cream, water parks, and more. we just don't do it all the time. i also buy myself books and gadgets on occasion, but i've been cutting back on these things slowly, over time.

it doesn't have to be extreme ... i agree with you. it should be done in moderation, and you should be able to enjoy life while living frugally.

i think a good post would be frugal ways to have fun and enjoy life.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding New-Agey, the best way to save money is to like yourself and feel loved. Most of the unnecessary stuff we buy--especially women (like me)--is to make us feel pretty, loved, sexy, important, worthy, whatever. I don't buy haircuts, new clothes or shoes, makeup, shampoo that costs more than a dollar, jewelry, etc., etc.--Because I like myself, I have a partner who loves me and thinks I'm beautiful, and I have supportive friends and family, so I don't need any of that stuff. I think this is a HUGE money issue for women in particular, although men are feeling it more these days too.

Leo said...

Good comment, and no, I don't think that's too New Agey. You're getting at the actual source of the problem, which is of course the wisest thing to do.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the same wavelength and, no, I'm not suffering. Have seen about 30 free movie screenings this year alone. While we may have to line up well before the movie time, we have these amazing line parties (like tailgate parties) with our homemade suppers, snacks, games, books or just fascinating conversations with new friends we've made of the screening "regulars." Same thing goes for theater, sports events, etc. There are unbelievable free opportunities out there and finding a deal becomes part of the fun.

Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Leo said...

Hi Jan ... great comment! Thanks for sharing your frugal ways of having fun. I have only had the chance to go to a couple free screenings, and there were no line parties. I did have a great time waiting in line overnight for Star Wars Episode 1 (yes, I'm a geek and ashamed of it).

Thanks for commenting and keep coming back!

David said...

How funny, i just saw that you linked to my other blog a while back. Thanks!

Leo said...

David ... I didn't realize that was also your blog ... I really admire the Good Human. You're 2-for-2 with me! I had actually forgotten about it ... going over now to subscribe.

David said...

Thanks Leo, appreciate it!

Ariane Benefit said...

What a neat blog! Love the whole concept of Zen Habits! Can't wait to take some time and look around more. Till then, thanks for linking to my post on ways I save money!

p.s. I don't think you are extreme at all...it's refreshing to "meet" someone whose values and priorities are clear!

Leo said...

Hi Ariane ... thanks for the encouraging comments ... I hope you like the other stuff on this site. Check out the essential posts on the left. There's several new posts every day, so subscribing isn't a bad idea. :)

Pizza Ace said...

For extra cash we garage sale a lot and resell on e-bay. With 5 kids and wife it has turned into comptition as to how much $ the kids make. Each weekend we give each child $10 and we hit the garage sales. My daughter found an old barbie for $5 and resold it on e-bay $150. Wife found some old Fenton glass for $2 and sold it on e-bay for $100. All the kids have made over $500 each spring and summer doing this. After they sell there finds they have to put 75% into there savings account and 25% crazy cash to spend as they like. My older one used the money to buy more finds and make more money. My oldest daughter just but a car at a garage sale with cash from the money she made with hers. It is amazing how fast they learn to spot a bargin. Online auctions for charities are great to. Made over $1000 buying clothing gift certificates for 20 cents on the dollar and then buying clothes and selling on e-bay. The extra bonus to this is the family time togather on Sat hitting all the garage sales. Still hoping to find that million dollar painting for a buck--;-}

Leo said...

Hi Pizza Ace ... I love that idea. Yo combine family time with making money and lessons on savings and more. I'm glad it's working out for you. The garage sales in my area are not very high quality, so I'm not sure we could make the same kind of money as you, but it sounds like it's worth a shot. Thanks for the great tips.

Finance Guru said...


I think your whole blog, kids, ideas everything is a complete inspiration! Well Done. I have added you to my technocrati favourites

I'm just starting to build my own study skills mentoring blog, website and maybe even business. Thanks again for your inspiration.
And lots more success!

study skills guru

Finance Guru said...

sorry made a mistake should be thestudyskillsmentor.blogspot.com

I'll get the basics right, eventually!!

Leo said...

Hi Guru, thanks for the nice comments and for adding me to your favorites. I'm glad you're enjoying the site. Good luck with your blog!

Anonymous said...


great post and great blog!!


Anonymous said...

Meal planning is number one in saving money.

Anonymous said...

Oh and I forgot, along with the meal planning, STICK to your shopping list, and ONLY shop for EVERYTHING once a week.

Anonymous said...

"2) No Cable TV. We watch DVDs, or read. I don't spend much on DVDs either (probably less than most people, per month). Cable costs about $65/month. Annual savings: $780."
Giving up TV would be hard for some people. You don't have to give up TV all together, though. With a modest investment you could switch to an antenna and possibly even a satellite dish.
I was able to make an antenna like this out of stuff in ones garage and some dollar store items. 40 channels on my $250 sdtv (wallmart). Not bad. A FTA satellite system could be as cheap as $75. Maybe even cheaper on craiglist.
So for $325 and some leg work I have a decent television setup (with a new tv I might add.) Which is more than half the price of cable for a year.
And if we really wanted to through down the gauntlet, I could make this even cheaper. Voom used to sell digital receivers. The are now on ebay for $50 bucks. Hook it up to the current house tv (you should only have one), and you can get that digital programming as well.
Total cost $150, and I have network TV, some cable channels. 24 hour news stations, etc. It's not cable but for 1/5 the price it's pretty darned close.
Sorry I can't leave well enough alone. Ebay for DVD's and older VCR movies. See anything you've ever missed. $1 a movie.
And finally on that idea of buying stuff at garage sales. Craigslist is pretty awesome.

Leo said...

Great tips! Not everyone will want to give up cable tv (I haven't given up DVDs, only cable), but for me, I came to a realization that most of the shows on cable are crap, and that I was wasting countless hours watching so many channels. In truth, there are only a few shows I really enjoy, and I can get those on dvd. The rest are filler. Thanks for the frugality tips!