My Super Easy Financial To-Do List for 2018

2018 Super Easy Financial To-Do List

When my husband and I first moved in together, we assigned ourselves roles and responsibilities with corresponding job titles. My husband is the cook in the house, so he became Executive Chef. And me? Naturally, I filled the role of VP of Finances.

I just crunched the numbers, and we saved a decent amount on our New Zealand trip, so I’m now promoting myself to SVP of Finances.

As the new SVP in the house, once the new year rolled around, I couldn’t just rest on my laurels. I had to get to work. When it comes to money, there’s always something to improve. So in a span of a couple hours on New Year’s Day, we knocked out a couple tasks and plans to improve our finances this year. Here’s what we completed or planned:

1. Reviewed 2017’s Spending

Me: “Hey, should we look at how much we spent last year?”
Husband (playing a game on his phone): “N-now?”
Me: “Yeah, now.”
Husband (begrudgingly putting his phone down): “Oh, OK.”

I get it. Looking at how much money you’ve spent is anxiety-inducing. But I also think you need to face some difficult situations if you want to get anywhere in life. I don’t know anyone who’s achieved much by burying their head in the sand. Plus, if you don’t know how much you’re spending, then it’s really hard to find realistic ways to save more money.

So we saw some spending we didn’t like. Some of it you can’t really change, like medical costs. But some of it you totally can, like grocery bills. This is also the perfect time to re-review your budget and make sure your spending is somewhat in line with what you planned. For example, if you got hit with surprise pet bills last year because you never budgeted for it before, now’s the perfect time to add it as a line item.

2. Maxed Out My 401k Contributions

I currently max out my 401k. In 2018, the annual 401k limits increases to $18,500 ($500 more than last year), so I logged into my account to increase my contribution by 1%. I know what you’re thinking: who the heck has an extra $18,500 leftover for savings? You have to remember that I worked up to this level of savings after starting small. If I got hung up on specific numbers when I made an entry-level salary, then I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Focus on the process, which is the principle of making small incremental changes.

Whatever you’re saving or investing, try increasing the amount by 1%. I promise you won’t miss it.

3. Checked My Credit Score and Report

As a Discover credit card holder, I get free access to my credit score. However, I don’t check it often, so today was the perfect day to make sure my score has stayed steady. A few thoughts about credit scores:

I feel like the importance of credit scores is overblown. Countless times I’ve heard that the reason why people don’t want to try travel hacking is because they don’t want to ruin their credit. That’s fair. However, to me, your credit score only matters if you want to rent an apartment, buy a house or car, or any time you need to take out a loan. When you need a loan or mortgage, your credit score affects the interest rate you’ll receive. The lower the interest rate, the better. Your credit score also helps you qualify for those high-end credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which gives you benefits like lounge access and TSA Precheck. Here’s what I think you should know about credit scores:

A perfect credit card score is 850; a good score is 700 and up; a great score is 750 and up. You want to aim for your score to be 700 or above.

Other than that, don’t sweat it.

If you don’t have a credit card that give you your score, you can get it from Credit Karma.

The more important thing to check is your credit report, which details your entire credit history and loan accounts. You’ll want to check that all the accounts are ones you’ve actually opened. Pro-tip: I track exactly when I open and close my credit cards, so the credit report is super handy for grabbing all those dates.

The one legit free way to get your report is through AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to your report once a year through each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Transunion and Equifax. So, you can choose to see all three or once or space them out over the course of a year.

4. Finally Agreed to Cut Cable

Here’s the story about cable:

We are paying over $1,200 to watch sports a few months per year. I’ve brought this up to my husband and gently asked him, “Do you think the cable is worth paying $1,200 per year???” To my disappointment he said yes. This is one of the few “happiness spending” categories that my husband insists on, so I felt like cable was a free pass. Just like he spends more on travel, because that’s important to me. And so the $140 cable bills continued arriving.

Lo and behold, my husband surprised me by saying this year is it. In February, after the Super Bowl is over, he promised me we would cancel cable.

Thinking through your spending, is there one thing you can just eliminate altogether? 

5. Revisited Subscriptions

A while back I was looking at our spending in Mint when I saw a random monthly charge for $14 at iTunes. It turns out we were paying for duplicate Spotify subscriptions because of an account mix up. Anyway, we finally dealt with it, and the duplicate charges should be no more.

The new year is a great time to reassess all the subscriptions you’re currently signed up for, and decide whether or not to keep or cancel them. For example, if you have Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, are you actually using all three?

6. Made a Plan to Reduce ONE Spending Category–Food

Our spending Achilles’ heel: We spend a lot of money on food for 2.5 people. Over $1,100 per month. It also doesn’t help that we use credit cards for everything, so of course it hurts a little less to swipe a card, over paying cash. This is a category that I always felt was ripe for improvement, and inspired by Done by Forty, we’re going to do an experiment:

In February, we’re going on an all-cash diet for food. So, for the entire month, we’ll take out $1,000 in cash, and that’s the only money we can spend on restaurants, takeout and groceries.

I know $1,000 sounds crazy high to some of you still, but I’m decreasing the budget by a small amount, so we don’t epically fail. Then, we can slowly decrease it little by little as the months go by.

NYC people: Anyone want to pipe up with how much you’re spending on food?

If you’re not happy with your spending, instead of trying to spend less in all categories (too much thinking and discipline required here), try keeping it simple: choose just one category to focus on. Then, when you’ve successfully implemented those changes, move onto another category.

7. Figured Out Our Emergency Fund Number

I have a really chill attitude when it comes to money. Having low balances in my accounts has never freaked me out. So, I’ve never had a specific amount I set aside for an emergency fund. There’s always been some money in savings, but it’s never been like, “I need $5,000 in the account or I can’t sleep at night.” This is where I say, “Don’t try this at home,” because I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the same method for anyone else. Because you might not have the same relationship to money as me. I don’t have a house, car or kids, so find your own emergency fund threshold by looking at your own lifestyle. Many experts recommend 3-6 months of living expenses. That’s not realistic for many folks, so if you’re starting from scratch, aim for $1,000 at first.

For us, we settled on $10,000, which is a little less than two months of expenses. Then whatever money we have leftover is going to investments. We want our money to grow, not collect dust in a savings account.

Figure out an emergency fund number that helps you sleep at night. Whether that’s $1,000 or a year of living expenses, it’s up to you.

8. Got Psyched for New Personal Finance Books

With the new year came new money books! There’s nothing like reading an inspirational book in the new year that makes you want to go out there and get things done. There are three new releases that I’m super excited about. *Note: Affiliate links below.

If the idea of dealing with money seems like the worst, then a super dry personal finance book probably won’t cut it. Try The Financial Diet. I read the website a lot, so I can bet the book will be just as witty and engaging.

If spending is your kryptonite, then you might be intrigued by The Year of Less, where Cait Flanders details her one-year shopping ban.

If you want to get inspired by financial independence (retiring way early) and the super frugal life, no one’s more of an expert than the Frugalwoods. Mrs. Frugalwoods has written a book called, Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living.

But you know I mostly don’t ever buy books, so I went on a reserving spree on the Brooklyn Public Library’s website. I can’t ever remember my 16-digit library card number to log in, so when I reserve books I tend to do them all at once. So now I just wait to get the email notifications when the books are ready to be picked up.

Summary

In just 20 minutes of talking, and a few hours of work, we’ve made some concrete plans, not resolutions, to improve our finances. Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to make some changes in your own money life.

What about you? What’s on your list for improving your finances this year? Do you think our food spending is crazy? And what’s your emergency fund number? I want to compare!

Image: The Luxe Strategist

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  • My savings account has more than enough for 6 months of expenses for me currently and so does my husbands. Advice on where we should be investing the excess funds? I should note that we max out our 401Ks as well.Thank you!

    • Hey! A few other places where you can invest post-401k:
      1. Roth IRA OR Traditional IRA (it has to be one of the other)
      2. You can invest after-tax monies in a brokerage account

      You can open all three types of accounts at Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, etc. Check out this post for a map of how I do it:
      http://www.theluxestrategist.com/financial-map-exactly-manage-money/

      I have most types of investment accounts because I like to diversify 🙂 If you make a low salary and want to pay taxes on the money now, then a Roth IRA is a good bet. Usually it’s recommended for young people at the start of their careers. If you and your husband make more than $101k combined, then an after-tax brokerage account is a good bet. If you make more than that you will more be eligible for a traditional IRA and reap the tax benefits.

  • Reforming spendthrift

    Love this approach of doing little things that add up over time. I don’t live in NYC and I don’t spend as much money on food as you do (because I don’t count eating in a social setting as part of the same category) but I do spend far too much on dating, socialising and non-grocery food expenses. I have decided that this is a key area for me to tackle this year as if I can get into the habit of eating mostly homemade meals and making frugal choices such as drinking only water, I should get an overall decrease. Each month I’ll pick an approach towards reducing this spending. My January challenge is Drynuary.

    • Drynuary, I love it! I like the idea of focusing on just on thing each month. Seems easier to manage than juggling multiple goals over a longer period of time.

      If I’m going out to eat as socializing, then I do count it as eating out. But if we go out to a bar I could it as ‘alcohol and bars’. It’s so interesting how folks categorize things!

  • GYM

    I don’t know what my credit score is- does your credit score lower if you check it?

    Cutting the cable- this is huge for Teddy Luxeband to do! Maybe you guys can go to the bar to watch sports instead?

    $10k for 2 months of expenses- NYC must be a very expensive place to live- is your rent very high?

    • Not sure how credit scores differ in Canada, but no, it doesn’t get lowered if you check it yourself. I used to always want to be in the 800 credit score club, but then I realized it was a vanity metric and most likely wouldn’t really give me any tangible benefits. If your credit is 790 or 800, you’re still probably going to get the same interest rate, you know?

      Cable–I know. I feel a little guilty about it. He did go to a bar a couple times to watch the game, but I think he poo-poo’ed it, because he doesn’t like being around other fans, haha.

      Haha, NYC is expensive if you live in a “nice” neighborhood. I mentioned it in another post but our rent is a little less than $2,600, and that is a very good deal. I go to open houses sometimes and comparable places in the same neighborhood cost about $3,300 and up!

  • buckwheat

    Love the all female finance author list! Also, note the small typo in Frugalwoods title – independence not dependence!

    • Yes, females are killing it lately in the personal finance world! Oh, and oops, that typo really changed the entire meaning of the book title. Thanks for the heads-up! Imagine a counter book about the path to ‘Financial Dependence’. It would involve YOLO lifestyles and more!

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  • Alice Gao

    oh dear, I think my food spending in NYC is better left unsaid (though I also haven’t had cooking gas in over 4 months! so it’s been hard), but I think $1000 for 2.5 people is beyond reasonable. one way I could easily cut down is not to have so much wine, but it’s such an enjoyable part of my life that it’s not quite worth the savings to me.

    • Ha, OK, so I’ll take your unsaid food spending as “a lot.” Although I can see how lack of cooking gas totally contributes to that. I think I would attack my landlord if that happened. Anyway, it’s just hard to gauge sometimes what’s average where we live (since this is a bubble and all). We went to Whole Foods yesterday and spent $45 on a few days worth of food, but I definitely was side-eyeing it the entire time. We also don’t go to Costco. We tried once, and the amount of time to get there just didn’t seem worth it to me. May be worth another look, though!

      We started buying wine because my husband likes to treat me with it sometimes, and I’m not going to turn it down 🙂 But if you enjoy wine, then yeah, I don’t see a reason to cut it out, but reducing the consumption is a nice compromise.

      Thanks for stopping by, Alice!

  • Lady Dividend

    I just ordered those books from the library!!!

    The idea of taking small bites and focusing on one thing at a time, in this case your food costs, makes sense, because you’re setting yourself up for success. Let us know how it goes!

    • Oh, that’s so cool! Hopefully your library is less competitive than mine. I’ve got a bit of a wait, although I got in fast so it’s not too bad this time. Sometimes you’re like the 20th person in line!

      Agree that smaller, more concrete goals are better than vague, bigger ones. Yes, I’ll def let you all know how it goes! I’m excited in particular to tackle that food bill!

  • I need to start reserving books in the library too. I need to remember that I can actually pick up a book and read. It’s been embarrassingly long!

    We are also planning to cut off Football related tv packages post season. Sunday Ticket is $200 bucks a year…still cheaper than watching every Pats game in a bar…I guess-that’s how Vadim breaks down the logic anyway. We have cable but only a super basic package, I don’t think I can part with all the shows on Bravo haha.

    For food, we usually spend about $800 a month but that doesn’t count the weekly takeout and eating out which will probably run us up to $1000 a month or more. I can’t wait to see how using cash only will make spending different.

    Hmm on my list, probably figuring our my priorities, where to spend and where to spend less. I was just thinking about my trip to Italy earlier and felt the urge to start making a wishlist of things I wanted to buy and then I stopped myself. I asked, what would make the biggest impact versus what would just be something I want because it’s “new”.

    I’m starting to think like a luxe strategist 😉

    • Yeah, girl, we’ve got one of the best library systems in the country! I’ve been reading less, too. Part of it is because I devote so many hours to the blog, but that’s no excuse. I just need to budget my time better for reading. I’ve been trying to use my commuting time for reading, so that’s one way to use that wasted time, anyway.

      Oh noes, how will our husbands stay on top of Julian Edelman without the cable??? I’ve looked into Sunday Ticket, and even though I’m a college graduate, I can’t seem to figure out what it means, how to get it, and how much it costs. My husband seems to think we can’t get it because it’s a satellite dish that’s not allowed in NYC apartments. I don’t know! I need someone with a master’s degree in cable packages to explain it to me. Anyway, I told him that Sunday Ticket seemed cheaper, and he tried to tell me it would be more expensive than regular cable (the $1,200 per month). And I was like, dude, explain your logic! Like, what, the dish could cost $800???

      Thanks for chiming in on the food. Teddy insists that the spending is average, but I think I still have ‘single person’ brainwash in terms of expenses. I used to have cute little expenses! But yeah, guys eat soooo much more food, and in some ways, I just have to accept it. Plus, he won’t eat rice and beans 🙂

      I’m so sorry that my frugality has started to rub off on you. JK!

      • I know I used to be obsessed with the library growing up and would borrow waaaay too many books. I was also within walking distance to one back in the day so that made it easier. I also have to read physical books because I love how the pages smell…weird, I know. Now I’m inspired me to go reserve a bunch of books that I’m way behind on.

        Haha I can offer insight! We have the Sunday ticket digital package so Vadim actually watches it on our iPad while he does things around the house like wash the dishes 😉 no satellite dish required! You can also watch it via fire stick or Roku if you have either of those things. Vadim also reads Profootballtalk a million times a day so his Julian Edelman news is always updated haha

        Haha Vadim eats a lot and I snack a lot so I guess it balances out…

        Frugality is something I hope to be level expert in 😉

        • Awesome! I think we might consider it for next fall. So helpful! I hear you on the food. Just last night I ate half the snacks in the house, so I’m definitely to blame, too.

  • I am so excited for all of those books. I even pre-ordered the Frugalwoods book, and I don’t buy new books often at all.

    We have 15k in our emergency fund. We DO have a mortgage, kids, and the same employer, but we live in a low col area. That is 5-6 months of expenses for us.

    • You know, I decided to not enable you before, because that Kiehl’s Disney mask set went on sale. I chose not to tell you about it! See how I’m a good friend???

      Yeah, I can’t wait for the books! I feel like it’s been so long since books by real people, and not ‘personal finance experts’ came out. Just goes to show that money conversation is becoming the norm, and that’s a great thing.

      So I’m sort of drooling over your LCOL expenses. Maybe one day that will be me!

  • Considering the fact that I managed to spend almost $1000 for food for one person back in August, your number doesn’t seem egregious. Could it be lower? Yeah. How do you do on food waste? That was killing me and when I got that down my food spending followed. I live in Chicago, but I’ve been in NYC since a week before Christmas. I’ve probably spent about $210 on food in 17 days. If we multiply that by 2.5 we get $525 spent with 54.8387% of the month elapsed. Extrapolate that out to a full 31 days and we’re talking $957.35/month in total food spending. Given those numbers I’d say getting yourselves down to $1000/month should be doable.

    • When I was by myself I use to spend $400 on food total, so I was hoping for some cost efficiencies in shacking up (which everybody tells you happens, but is NOT the case for me). Food waste really bugs me, too, and I think I’m pretty diligent about it. I’ll always eat leftovers because I don’t want it to go to waste. I think we can get it down to $1000, too. Hopefully, more!

  • I like the idea of cutting out one spending category instead of multiple ones. I just started using Mint (after reading another one of your posts), and quickly realized that we overspend on alcohol and restaurants. I already knew that, but seeing it in black and white gave me the extra push to do something about it. I really, really love wine, so I don’t see myself cutting back on that anytime soon, so I think we’ll just focus on not as much eating out. The most we do is about $200-$300 a month, which still feels like a lot for our budget.

    As for emergency funds, my ideal number is $1000. I still have student loans to pay, so 1k seems like enough of a cushion to keep us afloat in case anything serious comes up. Once the loans are paid off, I’d like to start working towards 3-6 months of expenses. Great post!

    • Yeah, if you have too many goals, you can only pay attention to so many before it becomes kind of ineffective. So awesome you signed up for Mint and could confirm your spending habits!

      With wine, are there discounts if you buy it in bulk? We’ve done that a couple times. I also checked if the wine we liked was cheaper online versus from the corner store.

      Eating out less is a goal many of us have. I think one thing that helps is stocking up the fridge/freezer with ready-made meals for when you’re feeling tired and lazy. I know I go into the takeout trap when I don’t feel like cooking and there’s no food in the house.

      Sounds like you have a solid plan for your EF!

      • There may be discounts for buying in bulk, I’ll have to check into it. I’m sure that will be much cheaper than getting a bottle or two every week.

        My husband is picky about buying “pre-made” meals because he thinks they’re not as healthy. I get where he’s coming from, but there are days where neither of us feel like cooking. I’ll be looking for healthy ready-made meals to help cut down on going out to eat.

        • Oh, trust me, my husband is picky about food, as well. I sent him a link to Budget Bytes once and he said the recipes were “depressing.” I think for him, good food and the football games are his luxuries!

  • Mr. Groovy

    Hey, Luxe. Congratulations on gently getting hubby to forego cable. Mrs. Groovy and I cut the cord over a year ago and we don’t miss it at all. I’ve only watched one football game in two years now. At first it hurt, but I eventually got over it. There are plenty of things to do rather than watch armor-clad behemoths run into each other at great speed. And I hear you about the cost of food in NYC. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law live and Manhattan and I shudder when I hear what they pay for basic stables, never mind something exotic like ocean-caught salmon. Scary.

    • Hey Mr. Groovy,

      Yeah, the cable conversation was definitely a hot topic in the house. I think we may compromise in the fall and get the Sunday Ticket pass. Lots cheaper than monthly cable bills, and he still gets to watch his football. Win-win. It’s nice to get some firsthand experience on what it’s like to cut the cord–so thank you for that! And I’m glad to hear it ended up being not such a big deal.

      Oohfff, we just ate salmon the other day…

      • Andy Klase

        I’ve been using Youtube TV and SlingTV for live sports to great success. Youtube tv has CBS, FOX, ESPN and the local sports channel. Sling is a bit more limited but has packages that include NFL channels. For $35 per month I’ll take it as I NEED my Warriors and Raiders games.

        • Hey Andy,

          Thanks for chiming in! Question: can you watch out of market games on Youtube and SlingTV? That’s what I’m struggling to find out!

  • Congrats on cutting the cable. I sat down with my mom and we’ve agreed to do the same once our promotional contract is up. I have netflix, prime and my cousin’s hulu. A tv junkie like me will be satisfied. I’m working to diversify my income so I can max out my Roth IRA and build up my travel fund.

    Like you, I rarely buy books. I have a library card in 3 different cities and two different states. It’s pretty easy to find what I’m looking to read for free .99. It also saved me literal thousands in college. Why rent/buy a book when my tax payer dollars have already paid for it.

    • Congrats to you, too! Yes, you look hooked up with those three options. I’m a little jealous because my friends told me that show ‘Younger’ is really funny, but I don’t have Hulu.

      A Roth IRA and a travel fund are great goals!

      And word to the library sentiments. The only time I do buy books is when I want to specifically support the writer. If I truly love their stuff and want to tell them that with my dollars.

  • Bethany

    I’m a new blog reader/follower – but wanted to jump in here! After all the Equifax hack nonsense, someone told me that Credit Karma and the free credit score updates that so many credit cards are offering are NOT as “legit” as the free government/credit bureau agency provided credit reports… so if you’re only going to do an annual thorough review of all of it, I’d suggest requesting them the official way! I forget who told me and what the context was in, but I’d at least do some Google-ing to see if that’s the case. All that being said, better to check ANYTHING than nothing, but if you’re gonna only check one thing… 🙂

    And I love your book recs! Unfortunately our library system doesn’t have any of them (yet) so will have to wait it out… I also recommend Suze Orman’s “Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke” a lot 🙂

    • Hey Bethany,

      I’m happy you’re here!

      Totally understand the concerns re: credit scores, so wanted to clarify a few things from the post. Your credit score and your credit report are actually two separate entities and you get them from different places.

      1. Credit score – This site lists all the ways you can get your score:
      https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/where-can-i-get-my-credit-score-en-316/

      Credit cards is the top source on the list, and the credit score services there as well. I’m not sure how the Equifax hack makes these less legit?

      2. Credit report – the only official place (gov-sanctioned) to get it is annualcreditreport.com

      But yes, you should never have to pay for either. Lots of websites will give you your credit score, but will only sign you up for some subscription that you have to cancel. Scammy.

      And I would hope all my fellow PF bloggers would totally jump in and tell me if something I wrote was off. I think I’m good!

      In terms of security and identity theft, I actually think it’s more dangerous to include your birthday on your open social media accounts, but no one ever mentions that…

      Bummer your library doesn’t have the books! If not, I’m sure you can probably find a deal on them at some point. I haven’t read that Suze Orman book, but I used to watch her show a lot. I loved that segment–“Can I afford it?” Usually, they couldn’t!

      • Bethany

        Ah yes, I should have been more clear! Yes — the report you can/should get from the government/free one, and credit cards/Credit Karma are good ways to get credit *scores* like you said – thank you for clarifying!

        (And totally agree on social media… too many horror stories of identity theft, or peoples’ homes getting broken into because they are live tweeting from their vacation -_-)

        And yes! I’ll wait it out on the books – have to be patient to save a little bit of $… though money books are the ones I tend to refer back to the most too! That Suze Orman book someone handed to me when I turned 18 I think (or maybe I went out and got it myself? IDK) and funny enough, in college there was a 2-unit personal finance class offered (I went to Berkeley) and that was one of the main texts they taught off of! Solid fundamentals 🙂

        • So interesting your college had a personal finance class! Gives me hope that financial literacy is becoming a “thing.”

          • Bethany

            Right?? And not everyone knew about it either — this was back in ’06? ’07?

    • Angela Howard

      Have you tried paperbackswap.com? You list books that you no longer want & pay to mail them to other users when they request them. In exchange, you get credits you can use to request books from others. It can be a good way to get books that you can’t get from library while getting rid of books that you don’t want to keep.

      • Hi Angela,

        I’ve never heard of that website, but it definitely looks like a more fun version of the library–you get to send books to people who actually want them. Pretty cool!

        Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Hey, I’m glad you found me 🙂 And what an ingenious tip! I was too lazy to create a username, but a bookmark with the barcode number is super smart. Thank you!

  • My food spending isn’t that high but probably because it’s also padded by dinners paid for by work. I get how it quickly can add up when using credit, though I still prefer using it for the points. It’s a balancing act!

    Being debt-free for the first time ever means I’m now shopping for a good place to put my money. Especially as most good alternatives I hear about aren’t available in my home country. I have my emergency fund at a so-so interest rate – better than savings at least! – but I’m seeing what my options are this year. I’m also bulking up retirement savings, and getting a thrill out of shopping with money I actually have lol.

    • Yeah, I think the cash thing is a good exercise to see if spending that way makes you think about the purchase a little more. But at the end of the day, I think our problem is a lack of planning. When you do things on the fly, things just cost more. Case in point: I wanted to make cookies, so I had to go out and buy butter. It cost $5.99 at our closest store. However, if I had bought it when I was at Trader Joe’s during the week, it would have been cheaper for sure. So I think I need to do better inventory on staples every time I’m planning on going to a cheaper grocery store.

      It must be hard for you and other non-Americans to find money solutions! Everything online I see is so US-centric. I wish I could recommend certain things for non-US folks but I have no experience with that stuff. Anyway, I’m very excited that you have all these options for your money now that you’re debt free. It’s a good problem to have!

      • Thank you – I have to keep in mind that it IS a good problem! Yes, I’m finding there are lots of options for non-US folks but they’re not reviewed as much online. So finding out how awesome each one is compared to others is a bit tricky.

        And so true about planning! I find I buy more takeout when I haven’t stocked up my fridge ahead of time lol.

  • I’m another NYC-dweller that’s too embarrassed to actually report their monthly food spending number, but can also say that $1000 for 2.5 people is excellent. Through work, I’ve sometimes gotten a sense of how much some young ibankers spend when they’re starting out (and probably almost never cook), and I’d seen a number as high as $1200/month for one person.

    • OK, well all these comments are definitely making me feel a little better about the food spending! I see lots of my coworkers going to get lunch at Dig Inn, which isn’t cheap, so I can definitely see how people’s food bills are higher than the norm. For me, since I talk to lots of other PF bloggers around the world, it’s easy for me to fall into the comparison trap with people who are lower cost of living places. But I do have to think they have fewer options/temptations. I always felt like if I lived in a rural area I’d be saving like, 90% of my income!

  • I just reviewed my food spending for the month and realized I spend about $600 by myself per month. I’m also trying to cut back a little this year so it looks like meal planning may become more of a thing. Changing jobs actually increased some of my expenses because I don’t work near that half off deli anymore!

    • When I was single I was spending like, $400, so I guess if I multiply by 2.5, then the math checks out. I just thought there would be cost efficiencies by moving in with someone. I did some meal planning last night, and I was reminded how it’s unfun sometimes! I spent several hours making food that will last for only two days…Well, hopefully the new job resulted in a pay increase, so at least the expenses are offset that way.

  • For 2.5 people in NYC, anything around $1000 isn’t bad. It depends on how well you guys want to eat too. Our food spending is $300-$400 for 2.5 (hubby eats at work on week days) but we eat like bored monks.

    I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me to reserve those books in the library!!! Ahhh got to do that! The library is all online now
    😃.

    Our emergency number is $20K. I would like it if all of them were in I-bonds or treasury bonds (to pace inflation) so we’re moving $5K a year into it slowly.

    • I remember reading about your food costs and how your dad cooks many of the meals. If it were my mom cooking, our bills would be like $100 per month! But then again, like you, it’d basically be the same stuff every day (meat with some light veggies). But yeah, my husband loves variety in food, so our bills will continue to be higher than the norm.

      Yes, the library is amazing! Sometimes I just love going to hang out there in the comfy couches and just read magazines. I’ve gotten ton of movies from there, too.

  • The Dollar Build

    I recently discovered the benefits of having a library card. While my small town library can’t compete with the aesthetics of the NYC Public Library or Brooklyn’s, it probably can compete with their FREE online content!!! I used to be one of those people who would proudly display their large collection of books on bookshelves throughout the house. I’m not usually one to get attached with possessions, but I’ve always had a different type of relationship with my books so it pained me a little bit to get rid of them. But with free audiobooks, e-books and paper books at the library it’s silly to buy books these. I’ve finally whittled away at my stash and haven’t had nightmares about selling them or giving them away 🙂 So much other good stuff here too but I can’t comment on all of it or it’d be a 1,500-word essay! Anyway, you’ve quickly become one of my favorite blogs to follow – keep up the good work 🙂

    • Hey Cato,

      Awww, I can’t believe I’m becoming one of your favorite blogs–there are so many awesome ones out there! But this makes my Monday 🙂

      Your library can absolutely compete with mine! One thing you probably don’t have to deal with is the ridiculously long waits for things. Along with the free online content, also remember you can check out passes to local museums and things, too. I also forget that I can download the library apps and read magazines that way, too. Could be a nice option for when you’re travelling, instead of buying a magazine in the airport.

      Oh trust me, it’s not like we don’t have any books in our house. My husband is very attached to his books, as well, so we have the heaviest bookshelf known to man in our living room. Anyway, it’s so awesome that you gave yours away and don’t regret it. There’s always that fear of “the one that got away,” but thankfully if that happens you can just buy a new copy, I guess. Now, if only I could get rid of my CD collection…

      • Melissa

        I ripped my CD collection into iTunes, and backed it up to 2 other places, and said goodbye to them!

        • Oh, good idea! I just used to admire the artwork of the CD inserts, even though I’ve never looked at them. Silly, emotional brain!

  • I would never dare judge someone’s food spending when they live where you do!

    Here’s my confession: I don’t track our food spending anymore. I get overzealous and used to cut out eating to save money. It worked but I don’t want to go back to that life. Instead I focus on keeping our general spending under key numbers, buying healthy foods to cook, not wasting any by failing to use it in time, and not eating out too frequently.

    On the travel card thing, I forgot to ask you – do you have a preferred airline and are you focusing on cutting airfare or hotel or both costs for FinCon?

    • But everyone loves to judge people who live in New York 🙂

      Yeah, I think I need to be a little more lax about the food. I mean, it is related to our health and all. I also tried to be super frugal last night and then I realized I spent hours cooking (instead of ordering takeout), and I honestly wished I’d spent that time doing something else. I like the idea of of reducing the eating out and cooking more gourmet meals at home!

      For FinCon I’m good with flights, but looking for ways to cut the hotel (and Disney) costs. The only thing I’ve found is the Bank of America travel cash back card. I could use my Chase points as a purchase eraser, but I think they’re too valuable for that.

  • DD

    I’m also in NYC, and our food cost for the two of us were around $1200 a month, which feels totally embarrassing. It’s about half grocery (beer accounts for a big portion of this) and half eating out.

    We are trying to eat more at home for both budget and health reasons this year. We did a trial run in December, and it did have a big impact on our food cost, about 30% lower than usual, although a part of it was because I was trying to eat through our pantry and freezer. I’d be curious to see how the all-cash method works out for you!

    • Hi DD,

      Sorry if this made you feel bad in anyway. Other New Yorkers in the comments seem to think that’s pretty average.

      A 30% decrease is awesome! I’ll be happy if we reduce ours by 10%, and just keep tweaking from there. I’ll def write another update after the experiment!

      • DD

        Oh no, I didn’t mean that your post made me feel embarrassed about our food costs—not at all! I do feel inadequate when I see many personal finance bloggers pulling off $300, $400 or $500/month food budget for a whole family, though. We love food, so it is our priority; and we have the “NYC excuse,” lol. Good luck with your experiment!

        • Oh, ok, good! The thing with PF bloggers is that they’re kind of in their own bubble, and are way above average with their finance, just like NY-ers are in a bubble (ahem, excuse), too!

  • TBG

    I am about to pay off $155,000 in undergrad and law school loans in 12 years never having made a six figure income, and I have never and will never give up cable. It’s just one of those things I enjoy too much. (I cut out literally everything else and I’m not into traveling.) We all have to figure out what we value. I don’t watch trash, but I do watch a lot of quality TV and movies – it’s my preferred method of relaxation. My internet/phone is tax deductible as a business expense, and the bundled package through Comcast is not much more than I would pay for all of the individual subscriptions I would pay for if I didn’t have cable (HBO, Showtime, etc.) xoxo, Team Cable Forever

    • Good for you for understanding what makes you happy, and for making the trade-offs that make sense for you 🙂 It’s kind of like how I made $12 an hour and still found a way to buy $300 shoes. Cable has been frustrating for me because we hardly watch it, and we have Amazon Prime and Netflix. So for me, if we’re not actively watching it, then it means it doesn’t matter much to us.

      Good luck with those student loans!

  • nyc1985

    I just looked at the last 6 months and can see I spend anywhere from $250 – $400 a month on food. I live in Queens. I couldn’t believe that some months I’m spending over $200 alone at the grocery store. I realize this is low compared to you, but I do tend to be frugal and make food stretch. It’s the dinners with friends that accounts for months I spend more than I’d like. Other than that, I’m the type to survive off apples and carrots and hummus and veggie burgers when they go on sale. I don’t eat meat so that probably saves a lot. But anyway, this is certainly interesting to know! Now I want to be competitive with myself and see if I can consistently keep it under $300/month for 2018.

    • Oh, poo. I could have sworn I responded to this yesterday. Anyway, you inspired me to check my spending back when I was little singleton, and I was spending about $400 total (groceries, eating out, takeout, work lunches, etc.) per month on average. I thought that was good! Compared to the average New Yorker, I think you’re doing amazing. But I understand everyone’s got personal standards.

      Some things I’m looking into to reduce our food spending is looking into getting staples from online (Fresh Direct, Google Express), and also Costco now has online delivery, which is a game changer. I just need to see if they have food products that are things we’d actually buy.

  • Erin @ Reaching for FI

    Libraries, yessssssssssss. Sorry, where was I?

    Oh yes. Thank you for reminding me I need to go do some math on my 401(k)! I’ve upped the percentage 1% each year so far, but now that I have a second job, it might be time to contribute more significantly to cut down on my taxable income.

    • Yessssss, up that 401k, girl! You won’t regret it. Right now one of my books is almost ready for pickup–I’m next in line and can’t wait!

  • Done by Forty

    First, thanks so much for the mention. Very humbling!

    We’re liking the cash diet so far and food is definitely the place we’re seeing the best results. The pain of handing over cash seems to be the thing that makes the system work, at least in our case.

    With stuff like utilities, rent/mortgage, etc. I’m not sure that payment method will matter much. With discretionary expenses….

    Best of luck with your list in 2018! I have a feeling you’re going to crush this year.

    • Oh, of course! Hope you got a couple clicks from over here.

      Yeah, I know what you mean about rent and utilities not being best for the cash method. Food was just a natural fit. We’re starting ours in February and I’m excited to track our progress!

      Oh, and…congratulations 🙂

      • Done by Forty

        Thank you!!!

        Let’s chat in February or March on cash systems. Want to join a PF chat on cash and credit?

        • Sure I can join. Or I’ll send my husband since he loves to give his opinions 🙂

  • Dividend Diplomats

    This is a great idea. A short, simple, and yes, fun discussion about your finances. Most people are simply afraid to have the talk because it usually brings you difficult discussions. Of course your husband didn’t want to have to address the topic of cutting able,but you two were able to work out a deal in this exercise. Look how much better off you are leaving this conversation? My wife and I have smaller conversations like this every once and a while and some great financial decisions usually ensue. thanks for sharing your success story.

    Bert

    • Like you, I’ve found casual, smaller conversations about money is a lot easier for the both of us. I mostly present a task or specific issue, and then it becomes something we can problem solve together, instead of like, “Ohh, can we have a big talk about money?” which seems way scarier! I’m glad that a similar method works for you as well!

  • Frugal Asian Finance

    Great plans! I want to lower our monthly grocery bills to less than $500. We currently spend $750 or so. It’s been more challenging than I thought @_@

    • I have to say, knowing that the frugality queen has trouble with grocery costs makes me a feel a little better! Although, I’m sure the fact that you live in a high-cost city has something to do with it, as well. And you have three adults to feed instead of just two. I’m excited to try the cash experiment. I think that, plus planning better (like, lol, there is no planning), will help us a lot.

  • Let me just add this tid bit: often times people do have some control over medical bill costs. If you get hit with a large medical bill that you cannot afford, contact the hospital billing department right away, explain to them that you cannot pay it because you don’t make enough money. They will often work with you to reduce the cost. If you are “uninsured” you might want to tell them this so you are not labelled “self pay” vs “uninsured”. Some hospitals will cover all your costs if you are uninsured.. but if you are self pay, then you pay the bill. Be persistent and time matters. The sooner you address it the more likely they will erase some of the cost. I had a friend erase a bill for an MRI that would have put him tens of thousands of dollars in debt when he was unemployed and uninsured.

    • Hey Michelle,

      I read it over again, and what I wrote was kinda poorly worded. What I meant is that you can’t control when and if something happens to you health-wise. So, in my instance, I broke my finger and had to go to the doctor a bunch to get that fixed. Not sure if it’s clear, but my husband and I both have good jobs with above-average insurance, so we’re not exactly in the position to haggle for discounts. Although there was one point when I had little health coverage and didn’t like the price of a prescription ($700). I called the prescription company and they gave me a coupon that brought the price down drastically. And when I moved to NYC with no job and no insurance, I found plenty of clinics where I could get free checkups, etc. Anyway, your advice is sound for those who aren’t insured–like the ‘self pay’ versus ‘uninsured’ part. I’m so glad that your friend was able to negotiate that MRI bill, because too many times medical costs are the thing that get people into debt. Thank you for sharing and for stopping by!