Can We Kick Up Our Savings?

Spending cuts, isolatedBack in 2009, when we got serious about getting rid of our debt, I became hooked on personal finance (PF) blogs as well as blogs on frugal living and/or what is called “simple living.” These blogs were loaded with ideas, and provided quite a bit of motivation as we took our own journey to becoming debt free. As our debt decreased and then disappeared though so did my interest in the PF blogs and others’ attempts, successful and otherwise, to pay off their debts. I still read them, but not as actively as I did before.

My interest in frugal living blogs, on the other hand, has remained steady. As we revamped how we lived and how we spent, I became more interested in the ways others practice frugality and how they save. Some of what I read was a bit too much for me (i.e. downsizing to just 100 things, or extreme couponing), and some blogs had a holier-than-though attitude, but most offered useful tips not only on how to save and live more simply, but also how to adopt a more frugal mindset and enjoy living a more frugal life.

Becoming even more frugal helped us get out of debt, made it possible to retire and move to Kaua’i, and now allows us to live in a high-cost area and still save and dream about future travel. But, as we currently have given ourselves a big savings goal for future travel, I’d like to crank our frugal ways up a bit if we can to help us save. The question we are mulling over now is: What can we or do we want to change or do better so we can save more?

These days though I find fewer and fewer, if any, tips or ideas on the frugality blogs I read. We’re already doing most of the things that are recommended or have already removed non-frugal things from our budget. Currently the only obvious thing we can find to cut is our basic cable TV. Cable is necessary here if you want to watch any broadcast TV, but we’ve discovered over the past year that we really don’t watch any except for a couple of shows on PBS. So, after the end of the final season of Downton Abbey next year (which I still want to see on the “big screen”), we’ve decided our small cable bill will go away and we’ll only watch what we can stream from Netflix and Amazon. We currently have a very affordable pre-paid family phone plan through T-Mobile, and haven’t found anything better that gives us the texting, data, etc. that gets regularly used by all of us. Also, by keeping our current plan we can help our daughters keep their expenses down while they attend college. Meiling is already paying us each month for her portion of the bill ($20), and WenYu and YaYu will do the same when they head off to college ($10 each).

We’ve cut back our monthly food budget by nearly $350/month since we arrived last year, but are still limited by what’s available here on the island and the fact that the girls still at home are BIG eaters. Neither Brett nor I have any interest in researching and chasing down food deals on the island, so Costco remains the best choice for reasonably priced food, supplemented with produce from the farmers’ market and speciality items from either Amazon or local stores. We still make a list when we shop, and stick to it. We rarely eat out either, just for very special occasions only. Any items from Amazon are paid for with gift cards earned through Swagbucks.

I’m not sure what’s left for us to do or even if we can cut back any more. We can’t lower our rent unless we move, and what we pay here is actually very reasonable for the area and includes all our utilities. Our car and rental insurance are already very, very low, and our gasoline expenses have been less than a third of what we budgeted. We use the library, and the activities we enjoy here (i.e., hiking or going to the beach) are free. Health insurance is thankfully not an issue as we are retired military and Brett is now on Medicare with Tricare providing no-cost supplemental insurance. We rarely buy new clothing, and we’re already way under our budgeted amount for that and other expenses.

We’re definitely not perfect and certainly far from experts on frugal living, but I feel there are still changes we can make. I’m stumped though as to what those might be or whether they’re ones we’d even want to make at this stage. Brett thinks we’ve hit the sweet spot and just need to go with what we have and enjoy it.

Can we get more frugal and still live a quality life in Hawai’i? I honestly don’t know right now. We’re in what feels like a good place, but I’d still like to do a little bit better.

26 thoughts on “Can We Kick Up Our Savings?

    • Laura says:

      Earning extra income is an issue for us now because we’re also in a “sweet spot” financially for the girls to receive maximum financial aid for college. I’d love to be earning a bit of extra, but don’t want to risk changing the girls’ financial aid status.

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  1. Denise O'Wesney says:

    Re: cable – if the only reason you are keeping it is to watch Downton Abbey, get a Roku. One of the ‘apps’ you can add (for free) is the PBS app and they place their D.A. episodes on that, albeit I think the shows are placed on the app either a day or a week after they air (I forget which – sorry). You can also watch Netflix, Amazon prime, and Hulu Plus through the Roku so you can see all your favorite shows on the ‘big screen.’

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    • Laura says:

      We’ve thought about Roku but . . . we have a smart TV, and I think the girls can figure out how to connect to the PBS website – I can watch the shows for free the next day that way! We really don’t watch all that much TV – just a couple at a time that we stream through Netflix or Amazon.

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    • Laura says:

      We had a dog sitting job back in Portland and loved it – we were just talking the other day that we wished we could find another one. I would love to have a job cleaning/stocking a vacation rental. I am going to start asking around and see if I can find something like that! It would be perfect!

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  2. Jen says:

    I think you have hit the Sweet Spot, too. Your grocery bill is amazingly low. You guys are doing great. The only thing I could see is your picking up a little supplementary income. Lorraine’s ideas for dog sitting, cleaning vacation rentals, and Brett leading tours are the same that I could come up with. Another is a service you could provide, but this would take time to build up clientele, but people coming to their vacation homes could pay you to stock their refrigerators for their upcoming visits. Also, you could always do a little ESL tutoring? With all of these ideas, you wouldn’t be tied down to a job, but could pick up a little extra cash now and then.

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    • Laura says:

      I’ve thought about doing some ESL tutoring (although I really don’t enjoy it all that much these days) – the community college does get some foreign students and I might be able to pick up a little extra that way. Ideas, ideas . . . !

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  3. Jen says:

    Also, I don’t know about your other readers, but you could add some advertising to your blog? All of the other blogs I read have advertising. The pop-ups are annoying but the price we pay for reading free blogs!

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    • Laura says:

      Unfortunately WordPress.com does not allow any advertising (I can’t even put up a link to Pinterest!), and after my last experience I’m not in a big hurry to go back to self hosting. I think Blogspot allows advertising, but I really prefer working with WordPress.

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  4. Moonwaves says:

    I obviously don’t really know the American mobile providers but I do know from the Mr. Money Mustache forums that Ting and Republic (maybe Wireless Republic?) are often referred to. There are also dozens of case studies or you can post your own and get feedback from a not-your-usual crowd. MMM isn’t to everyone’s taste but I find him mostly just amusing and very informative and the forums can be great. Well worth a visit if you’re not already familiar with it.
    Otherwise, yep, there is a point at which you cannot cut expenses any further so that if you want to make the gap between your income and expenses wider you need to look at ways to increase income. So perhaps you really have just hit that sweet spot. But always a good idea to question and make sure every so often that you’re on the path you want to be on.

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    • Laura says:

      Because we live on an island out in the middle of the ocean, the mobile services available to us are very limited. I think the “big four” – Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are available, but that’s it. We don’t even have a T-Mobile office on Kaua’i, although we do get good service here. I have read about Ting and other less expensive mobile services with great envy, but they’re just not going to happen here, unfortunately.

      So income increasing it may have to be, but it’s going to have to be something very low-key – we don’t want to upset our current financial aid sweet spot!

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  5. thriftyatsixty says:

    Eventually Laura, you come to the end of the road. You’ve (and I mean that plural not singular, as in ‘we all’) reach a point that we are either not willing to cut, reduce or do without and concentrate on just remaining the same. You can increase your income, as some suggest but as you get older that’s fewer and farther between. You may come to realize that sometimes goals can be too lofty and need to be cut back. I’ll take myself as an example: I wanted, planned and prepared to spend 6 months in Florida a year, but now that reality has set in and my refusal to lower my standard of living (I’m not giving up anymore of my cable, food, cell yada, yada, yada) thanks to inflation, and price increases, I’m cutting back on my goal length. I’m still going to Florida for the winter but do I have to spend so much time there? I’m staying 3 months instead of 6 and that cut my vacation expense in half. It actually turned out to be a big sigh of relief.
    The reason why you can’t find any more frugal examples is because most of us are living on the bone and we’re not cutting back anymore! I think most of us have done all that we can. Now we need to survive and coast and hold onto whatever it is we have left.
    Good luck!

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    • Laura says:

      We still have quite a bit of “wiggle room” in our monthly budget but I would just like to save a little more than we do. Not because we have to, but because I want to. I believe we can meet our savings goal on our current income, but it would be nice to be able to add a little more to it each month. And, if we don’t make it we can adjust. I’m to the point though where I’m not willing to give up too much else, nor is Brett. The big thing for us now is supporting our daughters and getting them launched off to college. Although our income will change only slightly, our food and gasoline bills will drop quite a bit once they have left the nest – we just have to get through the next three years.

      I guess I will look for savings where I can. It might be small stuff, but it will add up. Just today I discovered that if we order our toilet paper through the Amazon Prime subscription service versus buying it at Costco we can save nearly $100 per year. Not a lot on its own, but added to not paying for cable ($36/month or $432 year), that’s an extra $500 right there that can be put into savings. And, we’re not missing out on anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Joy says:

    I agree with Brett, the sweet spot has been achieved. I think you enjoy everything you have bought. You love food, that’s the only area that could possibly be cut. But, what’s life, even here in paradise, without the food you enjoy?

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    • Laura says:

      I definitely think we’ve hit the sweet spot with food spending, and we eat very well here. The farmers’ market and the low prices we get there have made a huge difference. When we first arrived we were buying lots of stuff from Costco like frozen or prepared meals, or cookies and such that cost too much, but were “easy” to fix and/or didn’t heat up the kitchen. Once we stopped buying that stuff our food costs dropped a lot. Food spending will drop again next year when WenYu heads off to college. She eats a LOT (but needs it – she is so active).

      I love it here! It is paradise, that’s for sure.

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  7. Vivian says:

    I also agree with Brett, you’ve already achieved the sweet spot. You don’t want to resent your lifestyle in hopes of future travel. You might have to consider Japan every year and two months of other travel every other year. If you don’t allow yourself to enjoy life, what’s the point?

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    • Laura says:

      Oh, I agree with Brett too, and I’m at a place where I don’t want to resent having to minimize our lifestyle further. I just like to save if I can, but think that other than finding small savings, or coming up with a small amount of income, that we are in a sweet spot. Although life is very simple these days, we’re very comfortable and really don’t want for much.

      We decided upfront that if we couldn’t meet our savings goals then adjustments to our travel plans will be made.

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    • Laura says:

      That’s a good idea, although I’m still too much of a malahini (new arrival) here to ask about bartering. The vendors are just starting to recognize us, and chat with us each week so I don’t want to push anything. But still a good idea for the future!

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    • Laura says:

      We will have more income once the girls have left, but that’s also when we’ll start spending our savings. I agree though – I think we are in a very good place and should just enjoy it!

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  8. mtandb says:

    Hi Laura!
    I’m often thinking of ways to try and cut back further, but if I’m honest I/we like our current lifestyle. We’re still frugal in a lot of ways and I think anything further would be a bridge too far, especially for my husband. Having said that though, we have a lot of future travel plans (like you and Brett) and I’m aiming to make these activities as frugal as possible by searching out deals etc.

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    • Laura says:

      Laura! I am SO GLAD you are blogging again – you’ve been missed.

      We’re planning on keeping our future travels frugal as well, but know we’re still going to need a big piece of “upfront money” to kick things off, so I’d like to put away as much as possible now. But, there really isn’t much of anything we can cut these days without, as you say, going too far. I’m going to continue to look for savings wherever I can find them, but otherwise enjoy what we have and where we are.

      Did you ever get to Hawai’i? I think you were looking at visiting Maui, but I’m hoping you will consider Kaua’i. There’s plenty to see and do here, but it’s much more laid back and less hectic than Maui.

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