A few years ago, my coworkers and I got a fat bonus. Unexpected, and unusually high. We all clinked our glasses of champagne, musing about what we were going to do with the money.
One coworker was a Lord of the Rings fan and wanted to book a trip to New Zealand.
“I’m thinking of buying a Celine purse,” another girl said.
“What are you gonna do?” she asked me.
I didn’t have to think twice. “Invest it.”
Then the girl looked down and noticed I was carrying a Proenza Schouler bag. “Fake?” she asked.
The next day I was sitting at my cube when she and another coworker cornered me. They demanded to know, “How do you afford that kind of stuff?”
So I told them a version of the below. They seemed disappointed. That I didn’t have any credit card debt. Or a sugar daddy. Or rich parents.
This post isn’t meant to be some kind of humblebrag, but to show that with strategic choices, it’s totally possible to live well in an expensive city, and save money at the same time. And I’m not an outlier. I’ve included some habits that I’ve observed about my friends, as well.
With a few tips and tricks, here’s how we live our own version of a luxurious life.
1. We pay ourselves first.
Experts tell you to save 20% of your salary. To us, that’s not enough. Without debt, we save at least 30%. Right now, I’m saving a little over 60%. Every time we get a paycheck, a portion of it automatically gets moved to savings accounts. If we don’t see the money, it doesn’t get spent. With the automatic transfers we’re able to accumulate huge amounts of money with barely any effort. Less friction = more savings.
2. We don’t buy clothes full price.
Just because a jacket retails for $700 doesn’t mean you pay that price. Paying retail prices is for the impatient. The rest of us stalk the items we want, then wait patiently for 40% sales, shop secondhand, or try our luck at sample sale events. Crazy deal example: My friend was shopping at a Proenza Schouler sample sale and bought me the tie-dye T-shirt I wanted for $31.50. The retail price was something silly like $280.
Side note: The true test of friendship is whether or not your friends shop for you at sample sales.
3. We negotiate our salaries.
Each and every time. My friends are the most soft spoken, introverted people ever. I’m talking INFP-status, which according to this Bitches Get Riches post, is the personality type that gets the shaft in terms of salary. And yet, just a few months ago, one of my friends put my negotiating skills to shame. She had the audacity to drag a negotiation out until she got exactly what she wanted. All while not having a current job, with seemingly no leverage. When it comes to salaries, we don’t mess around.
4. We believe in less, but better.
You’ve heard of ‘less is more’. We take it a step further:
Less, but better.
Do you ever go to the mall and see people coming out of stores with two or three bags in hand, filled to the brim? Well, that’s never us. It’s hard enough to find even ONE thing to buy, because we want to spend our money on the things that are exactly right. My friends are extremely prudent with their shopping. Example: once, we spent like, an hour at a skincare counter at Barneys, testing out different creams. Then, at the very end, my friends didn’t even buy anything! But they did ask the lady for a sample to take home, because they still weren’t convinced this cream deserved their money. If we’re going to spend money on a fancy cream, you best believe that purchase will be well considered.
5. We maximize our work benefits.
The first thing we do when we get a new job? Comb through that benefits manual from cover to cover. We can unlock benefits our peers don’t simply because we take an hour out of our day to ensure we’re getting what’s ours. Example benefits: half-price movie tickets, hundreds of dollars in fitness reimbursements, passes to world-class museums, free access to lawyers, and even cash bonuses of up to $300 for just answering a couple health-related questions.
6. We buy our household supplies online.
If every purchase was a luxury then we’d be broke fast. For the things we don’t care about, we buy based on the cheapest price. A few weeks ago, my landlord saw me dragging two 40-pound bags of cat litter from Amazon into the apartment. He said, “You know we have a pet store around the corner, right?” Silly landlord, of course I know that. But the cat litter around the corner costs the same price as what I pay for HALF the size. When my uncle came to visit me once, he marveled at all the stores in my neighborhood. “You don’t even have to leave. You have everything here,” he said. While the mom and pop shops are cute, they aren’t the best places to shop if you’re looking to save money.
7. We use credit cards as tools.
If credit cards were employees, then we’re the bosses. And we work those employees to the bone. Paying off our statements in full and on time is a non-negotiable. That way the credit card companies don’t make a cent off of us in interest. And by paying cash we’d miss out on earning points for experiences we don’t want to pay retail for, so we swipe our credit cards for everything we can. It’s not too uncommon to be out at a restaurant with my friends and we all pull out the SAME EXACT card. Like when the four of us were at River Styx and at that time, the Chase Freedom card was offering 5 points per dollar on restaurants. Then this happened:
8. We travel for less.
Speaking of points, redeeming them for travel has saved us THOUSANDS of dollars for trips we were going to take anyway. My friends recently went to Spain. I went to Hawaii. And later this year I’ll be zeroing in on a trip to New Zealand. Instead of scrimping and saving $3000 per trip, by using our points to cover airfare we only have to save a fraction of that amount.
9. We find reasonably priced apartments…and then we stay there.
The first rule of living in a city is this: if you find an apartment that’s a good price and has a landlord who rarely raises the rent on you, you stay in that apartment…forever. You do not move, ever. If I were to move right now to a similar apartment, due to market demand, I’d have to pay at least $300 more per month. Just for the pleasure of moving to a new apartment with hardly any upgrades in amenities. No thanks.
10. We don’t settle for less than brand-name furniture.
That’s because our furniture comes from Craigslist. We take advantage of rich people’s castoffs and focus on acquiring slightly-used pieces from brands like West Elm, Crate and Barrel and Ikea. Why? Because those are brands that are in demand. We buy the furniture from Craigslist, make sure to take care of said items, then when we’re done we throw the items back onto Craigslist. A few years ago I bought a Room & Board chaise for $200 from Craigslist. So when I move, I plan on re-listing it on Craigslist and recouping my money. Using this strategy, it’s like getting a free loan on nice furniture.
11. We splurge…occasionally.
A few months ago I spent $16 on a cocktail. It was the best cocktail I’ve ever had. At first, I felt a little guilty about the price. But then I realized, 95% of the time we take advantage of happy hour deals, so a splurge here and there isn’t really going to hurt. Part of being good with money is striking a balance between saving and spending that works for you and your values. To keep myself in check, splurges are OK every now and then, but not all the time.
Here’s the thing my coworkers didn’t get: You don’t need to rely on windfalls to get the things you want. By applying everyday strategic decisions, I was already affording dream trips and fancy bags. And then when that bonus came along, I could put that money to work, by investing it and making even more money.
The next time you see someone who vacations a few times a year or has an expensive bag, instead of assuming they have a lot of credit debt, or they’re a trust fund kid, you might want to entertain this thought instead: wow, they must be good with money.