How can we maximize savings when living in an expensive area? How can we cut back when there’s nothing much to cut? How do we allocate what goes into two important savings accounts and continue to put away money each month for our child’s college education? These are some of the questions Brett and I have been pondering these past couple of weeks as we think about increasing the amount we save each month.
What was somewhat easier for us to do in the past is not so easy these days as we have nothing to sell, nothing much to cut back on, and completely different commitments. Our streaming services are all free or in the case of Amazon Prime, one we’re not willing to cut because we (maybe unfortunately) need Amazon here. Our insurance, phone, and Internet services are already as low as we can get them, and all utilities are included in our rent. We don’t have cable. We drive an older car with great mileage, so our gasoline expenses are already low, less than $50/month, even with the higher prices here. Maintenance expenditures loom though. We have nothing to sell – we did that before we left in 2018 and everything we have accumulated since we returned needed and used – there’s nothing “extra.” During more normal times I suppose we could find jobs, but there are currently none of those on Kaua’i, and if there were others that have been out of work for months on end need them more than we do.
While we continue to save for YaYu’s college expenses we also want to save for a future downpayment and for future travel, which remains very important to us (especially as we have family living overseas). This past week Brett and I combed over our budget and figured out the maximum we can put away each month from each of our income streams. The money we put away for YaYu is already set, but we found some other $$$ to put into other accounts although how much goes into each one may shift as we figure out the best ways to allot that amount.
However, besides paying our savings accounts, what else can we do to save? How can we increase the amount we put away when we’re already living very, very small.
With some thought, there are a few things we can do, as it turns out:
- Continue making a budget each month and sticking to it. Put the money into savings first, then spend. And, always, always try to spend less than what’s budgeted.
- Food: We already have a fairly tight food budget, but I believe we can cut it back a little bit more. One way is to follow Coco Chanel’s maxim for accessories: Before you go out, look in the mirror and take off one thing. We can do the same with our grocery list – before we shop, go through the list and remove at least one thing (if not more). Also, we need to be even more mindful of needs versus wants. We have lowered our farmers’ market budget from $20/week to $15, and still are able to get a lot of good produce with that and I’m sure we can do the same with our regular grocery lists. Also, we need to be sure there is no impulse shopping or stopping at the store for one or two things “we forgot.” We need to get what we need for the coming week(s) when we do our regular shopping. There will always be exceptions to this (like finding ground pork at Costco), but we can keep this to a minimum.
- Change/$1 bills: Continue to challenge ourselves to always have something left over any time we shop and put that change aside each time. It really does add up.
- Cut back on driving: We take one day off a week from walking, so that gives us one no-drive day a week. Brett has figured out though that six loops of our dead-end street equals three miles, so we can do a couple of days a week here and keep the car at home. Less driving means less gas and more saving. We can also strive to be more mindful of combining errands and keeping our gasoline purchases at two a month.
- Use what we have on hand: I need to be better about always, always, always checking the pantry, fridge, and freezer before making a menu or putting something on our shopping list. Same for buying toiletries and other household items. I haven’t been as good about this lately as I have been in the past, but it makes a big difference in our spending. This is not just for food though – both of us have plenty of clothing, and other than a new pair of walking shoes, have everything else we need. Necessary items like new shoes can be added to the budget ahead of time.
- No more purchasing books. I bought several books last year, especially when it was a book that had a long waiting list at the library, or something we both wanted to read. This year we’ll wait for the book to become available, however long that takes, and Brett has already started going through my Kindle library and reading things we already own.
These are a few of the small changes we can make, but generally, by being more mindful and careful about these sorts of thing we know we can make a real difference in the amount we are able to save.
Brett has also signed up and is earning Swagbucks again in order to pad our Christmas budget this year. He’s not as gung-ho as I am about it, but what he earns will make a difference and allow us to keep more in our savings accounts.
Finally, I’ve also decided I want to begin making kimekomi temari again to sell on Etsy, and possibly at some local shops. I checked some kimekome sites on Etsy and they do well, but my temari have a very different (i.e. more Western) aesthetic and have sold well in the past. I have supplies on hand now to make only two of them, but have found online sources for more supplies, including the ball cores and new fabrics. However, package service between Japan and the U.S. is still restricted, expensive, and takes a l-o-n-g time (the package our son sent took over four months to get here), so I am going to wait to order until those restrictions are lifted. If this endeavor goes well, I can also purchase more supplies next time we’re in Japan.
This is our last year of helping with YaYu’s education costs, so that will help next year, and I’m sure other things will come up along the way that allow us to save even more. We can do this!