Note: This is a post from Adam Baker, founder of Man Vs. Debt.
The more you simplify your financial life, the easier it is to dominate it.
I’ve made this concept one of the pillars of my financial life in the last couple of years. I must warn you, though, this stuff is addicting. The more I explore this subtle art, the deeper the rabbit hole seems to go.
For me, simplicity isn’t always taking the most convenient option. Simplicity doesn’t mean pursuing automation at all costs or always choosing the option that saves the most time. Rather, simplicity is ruthlessly cutting out anything in your life that stands between you and your passions. It’s a journey to increase intimacy.
The heart of simplicity is in exploring, finding what works for you, and purging the rest. With that in mind, here are 42 ideas to help push you down the rabbit hole:
- Focus on one financial goal at a time. The average person seems to always be juggling paying down debt, building an emergency fund, saving for retirement, coming up with a down-payment, college, weddings, kids… ugh. Instead, try passionate focusing your intensity on one goal at a time. If you’re attacking debt, attack debt. If you’re saving for a down-payment, start stockpiling. Simplify, focus, and prioritize. Build on your momentum. Once you knock out one, plow through the next.
- Consolidate accounts. I seriously doubt you need 2 savings, 4 checking, and 3 separate retirement accounts. It’s no wonder people get lost tracking their finances. Shoot for 1 of each. Unfortunately, we’re forced to have two checking accounts, one for NZ and one for U.S. Close enough, I guess.
- Combine finances if married. This battle has already been publicly fought here and on other blogs. My preference is clear. Invest the time upfront to create 1 account of each type, 1 set of goals, and 1 financial life.
- Cancel your credit cards. Yeah, I said cancel. While you’re at it burn the evidence (in the most environmentally friendly way, of course). Lower risk of identity theft, less financial accounts, less miscellaneous and erroneous fees, and cleaner reviews of credit reports makes Baker a happy boy. By the way, it’s been a year and my credit score is perfectly fine.
- Freeze your credit reports. For those committed to a life without credit (or those who won’t need it for awhile), freezing your credit report can save a lot of headaches. A freeze limits access to your report, making it much more difficult for anyone to compromise your identity. Most states charge a fee, although a couple offer it for free. You can even do it all online. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
- Budget using pen & paper. I’ve recently adopted this practice and I absolutely love it. My new theory is if you can’t generate a simple budget with pen & paper… your budget is too complex. This forces you to use broad categories and encourages you to lower your spending/monthly commitments. Also, physically writing out your budget is a much better demonstration of comprehension than staring at fancy computer software.
- Budget using last month’s income. This popular budgeting hack is effective for three reasons. First, it implies that you’re a month ahead of you bills, meaning you have a least a small cushion. Secondly, it solves the problem of budgeting for irregular income. Third, because it can’t change, it lends itself easily to zero-sum budgeting or the process of allocating each dollar to a specific category at the beginning of the month.
- Use cash. Try adopting cash for your discretionary spending. The key to cash is to make the process as intimate as possible. Using physical envelopes that represent your spending categories is a fantastic way to make your budget tangible. It doesn’t get more simple than looking down to find $4 left in the “Entertainment” envelope. Don’t mistake convenience for simplicity. They aren’t always the same thing.
- Batch bill paying. The goal of this idea is to pay all the scheduled bills for the month on the same day. I do this with our student loans. It can be hard to do with some bills as due dates can be spread out. However, the far majority of vendors are more than happy to take your payment a couple weeks early. This is especially easy if you are budgeting based on last month’s income.
- Leverage calenders. If batching your bills doesn’t work well for you, set up a bill calender for a simple visualization of the month. Most calenders can send auto-reminders to ensure you don’t miss a regular payment.
- Track your spending at the point-of-sale. Carry a notebook. Tap it into your iPhone. Use whatever strategy you want, but do it at the point-of-sale. There’s a big difference between auto-syncing your spending into budgeting software and physically logging your spending. Tracking in this way enforces your positive spending patterns and causes you to think twice about your impulses. With limited practice this habit becomes second nature.
- Experiment with spending hacks. Implement “No Spend” days. Try fasting from different common purchases (no television for a month, no daily Starbucks for a week, etc…). Give yourself time to adjust and test whether those reoccurring expenses are really worth it. Add any of your “must-have-it-now” purchases to a 30-day list. Only purchase those that are still “must-have” after a month.
- Stop thinking monthly. When purchasing big ticket items, stop thinking about the monthly payment. Think, negotiate, and buy based on total or lifetime cost. This goes for contracts as well. What’s the total price? Once again this will lead to less impulse spending, less useless clutter, and, of course, less monthly payments.
- Automate the flow. Take advantage of online bill paying services. Direct deposit your paycheck. Ensure your accounts are properly linked. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of automatically paying your bills. Streamline it so you can pay with the click of a button, but I choose to maintain control of authorizing the payments each month. This allows me to scrutinize bills and notice erroneous fees or changes in service. There is such a thing as too much automation.
- Go paperless. Authorize vendors to issue online billing as much as possible. Scan and keep digital copies of any important paperwork. Reduce your junk mail. Good for the environment, even better for your sanity.
- Insure adequately. Invest the time upfront to understand your insurance coverage. Know at least the very basics of your policy and how it works. Stop making excuses and buy health insurance. Life, home, auto, long-term disability, make sure you cover your bases. When the time comes to use it, you’ll life with my 1000 times more simple. By the way, this include having a basic will.
- Package services. Speaking of insurance, package all your insurance needs with one company. This means less contacts, less confusion, and usually will save you money anyway. Look for ways to do this with other services like communication. At the same time, don’t ever get an add-on you don’t explicitly need. Package your needs before you start shopping.
- Pay for regular services in advance. For any service you pay monthly, check to see if you are able to pay in advance. Often times you can pay for 3, 6, or 12 months. This not only is simpler in terms of paying less often, but almost always results in a discount.
- Cancel all subscriptions. Subscriptions, especially the small ones, can really sneak up on you. Rather than pick and choose, cancel any of them you can and start from scratch. Be ruthless. Don’t re-subscribe easily, even if it’s free (unless it’s to Man Vs. Debt).
- Quit signing contracts. Cell phone contracts, gym memberships, and even long term leases are common examples. Stop signing this crap. Negotiate, pay in advance, or explore alternatives. I’ve adapted this principle with great success in the last year. Only sign contracts on the most essential needs in your life. Almost everything else has several other option.
- Fund an emergency fund. This is most important for peace of mind. If you don’t have one of these, you have no idea what sort of stress release it is to have this in your back pocket. It’s changed our complete mental approach to our finances. We treat our fund as another form of insurance. We don’t fret about interest rate or optimization. It’s just there to help spread the risk of something unexpected.
- Become 100% debt-free. Including the mortgage. I can only imagine what it feels like to not owe a single cent to anyone. Must be so liberating. I know how much more simple my financial life is now without my consumer debt and I can’t wait to knock out the rest of the student loans. Can’t. Wait.
- Consolidate high-interest debt. Be careful. Normally, I vehemently oppose consolidation. 9 times out of 10, people use this as an excuse to transfer responsibility. They consolidate and then fall right back into the same trap. However, my friend Matt Jabs recently consolidated his high interest debt using Lending Club. He’s proven there are exceptions to the rule as he’s now more passionate than ever. In his case, he’s simplified it into one source and is saving a lot of interest in the process.
- Create artificial scarcity. This is more commonly referred to as “pay yourself first.” The theory is to automatically transfer a portion of your income to savings and budget on the rest. Basically, it is prioritizing your goals. The theory is great, as long as you actually spend less than your earn. There’s no reason to pay yourself first, if you’re going to overspend and continue to plunge into debt. When done correctly, though, this ensures you’re accomplishing even your “boring” financial goals.
- Simplify your investments. My theory when it comes to investing is that if you can’t provide a quick summary of what your investing in and how it works… you shouldn’t be investing in it. You don’t have to become a financial planner to know the basics of what your money is doing. And, yes, you can simplify, while still maintaining diversification. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
- Buy and hold. Stop trying to time the markets. There are very few exceptions and you aren’t one of them. Neither is your cousin’s new inside “opportunity.” This game is an emotional roller coaster and the stress it causes is the exact opposite of everything that is simple.
- Do it yourself. Simplicity isn’t just doing whatever takes less time. There is simple virtue found in embracing sustainability, creating your own products from scratch, cooking at home, and learning the skills to repair instead of replace. At the same time, don’t be afraid to…
- Outsource tasks. The truth is learning the skills it takes to be self-sufficient takes time and practice. Some people are better off focusing their attention on tasks that offer more value. More importantly, there are some things best left to trained professionals. Outsourcing makes sense when it will increase the quality, while saving time, stress, and money.
- Create a list of everything you own. I’ll be honest. Creating the list, itself, isn’t simple. Actually, it’s pretty hard. But the process of creating this list is sure to stimulate a quest for simplicity. It’ll be a wake-up call to consume less, spend less, and own less.
- Sell half of the list within the next two weeks. Here’s where things get interesting. Making a commitment like this will spark a wave a simplicity in multiple areas of your life. Not only will you generate some cash, but you’ll be saving maintenance, upkeep, and potentially storage costs for all your unused junk. This also increases productivity as it spills into other areas of your life.
- Get rid of 2 items for every 1 you buy. Once you’ve simplified your consumption habits, it’s important to take measures to maintain them. Adopting this policy will help control your spending, encourage you to borrow before you buy, and shift your focus from possessions onto experiences.
- Embrace alternative transportation. Ditch the cars. Research public transportation. Try the buses, trains, or subways. Move closer to work, so you can bike. Walk if at all possible. In addition to the potential health benefits, you get to bypass car payments, repairs, registration, plates, gas, insurance, etc…
- Become a one-car family. Alright so you have to be able to drive. Whatever. More and more families these days are making the jump to a one car. Whatever you do, you’re going to be hard pressed to explain how having 3, 4, or more vehicles is necessary (not all that uncommon). Go ahead and try, I’m all ears.
- Buy a smaller car. Less upkeep and usually more efficient anyway. Don’t read this incorrectly, though. This doesn’t say “buy a new car.” You can find dependable, late model, compact cars. In fact, they are all over the freakin’ place. You might have to look at more than just one website, though.
- Rent. Avoid the number one killer of financial simplicity… a house. Two years ago, I would have been shot on sight for this suggestion. These days, examples of buying too soon, too much, or too many are all around us. I’m a fan of home ownership, but you’ve got to be 100% ready for it. It’s adds an enormous amount of complexity to your financial life.
- Consider a condo. A condo could be an option if you’re just dying from house fever, but are looking to stay as simple as possible. Obviously, buying a condo is just as dangerous (if not more so) than buying a house. It still requires 100% commitment and offers a different set of challenges. However, it’s often easier to budget for “association fees” than it is to account for all the ups and down of maintaining a single-family home.
- Buy less house. Finally, if a house is a must, consider buying less. One of the biggest problems with leveraging credit to purchase a home is the temptation to buy so much more than we need. Remember, bigger home means higher maintenance, insurance, and mortgage. Don’t forget you’ll need more crap to fill it up.
- Simplify your income sources. Multiple streams of income sound great, but pursuing too many options at one time can stifle them all. I suggest having one primary and one secondary source at any one time. If you’re working a full-time job, trying to buy and sell on e-bay, launching your blog, and delivering pizzas on the weekend… stop. Choose one of these side pursuits and focus your energy. You’ll simplify your life and most likely have more success anyway.
- Discover what you do well… and do it more. If you’re an employee, search for whatever delivers the most value for your employer. Once you find out, replicate it as much as possible. Playing to your strengths will fast track your progress, as well as your satisfaction. As an entrepreneur, you’re goal is to find out what unique value you provide that your competitors don’t. Whatever extra value you offer, focus on that. Stop trying to be everything to everyone and just be something to someone.
- Learn to negotiate. Many of the tips above will be much easier to implement when you become comfortable with a certain level of negotiating. We all negotiate in one form or another. It pays to learn some basic strategies to help you understand and deal with other people’s wants.
- Filter your financial advice. Experiment with different forms of inspiration. Find what sources click with you and which don’t. Hone in on those that offer value (*cough*- Man Vs. Debt) and throw away the sources that don’t speak to a part of you. Take the best parts of all the guru-system out there and craft your own. Once you find a system that works, cut down the noise and focus on it.
- Simplify other areas of your life. Eat Less. Passionately pursue only one hobby at a time. Remove clutter work environment or office. Simplicity is viral. Come drink the kool-aid.
What other ways have you found to simplify your finances? Which ones on the list are your favorite? Which ones could do even more to simplify your life? Let everyone know by joining in on the conversation below!
172 thoughts on “42 Ways To Radically Simplify Your Financial Life”
Great list, I can see this would have taken you ages to put together. I like the idea of a one car family. We are currently a 3 car family (between three people) which can be a bit of a hassle sometimes.
.-= Glen Allsopp´s last blog ..How I Made $20,000 in 4 Months…At 17 =-.
It did take a while, but I wanted to really provide something for everyone! By the way, wtf… dump at least one of those cars!
I have one thing to say… WOW!
You have put together another awesome post that is going straight into my Delicious bookmarks to be referred back to early and often.
I have found that simplifying my life and going back to the old fashioned way of doing things is almost ALWAYS beneficial. I have already adopted some of these bad boys… but am now challenged to continue to push the envelope.
Thanks for the inspiration!
.-= Matt Jabs´s last blog ..The Modern Pocketbook – A Spending Journal and a whole lot more! =-.
I, too, seem to be finding that the old fashioned way of doing things end up leading to a much more clean and simple financial life. It’s so refreshing.
WOW Adam excellent job! Love the list! I think the biggest point you make is KEEP THINGS SIMPLE! Finances are complicated enough, not need to make things harder, just simply your finances and your life.
.-= Ray @ Financial Highway´s last blog ..Spending Filters and Delaying Gratification =-.
It’s the KISD principle. Keep It Simple Dumbass. (that’s how I talk to myself) 😉
#31 Get rid of 2 items for every 1 you buy.
Excellent advice right here! If we all did this we’d have no need for an attic, garage and much of our closet space.
Great list Adam! Just tweeted it. Eric
.-= Eric Hamm´s last blog ..The Importance of Remaining Flexible In Your Daily Pursuits =-.
Yeah, adopting little hacks like this can go a long way. It not only simplifies clutter, but is a great weapon against impulse spending.
Great post, Adam. A very comprehensive list. I want to hear more about items 6, 7, and 20. Would you be willing to scan in one of your paper budgets (amounts optional)? Show us how you do it! I get a little bit of brain freeze when it comes to the logistics of setting up a budget.
And please tell me more about how to avoid contracts. Especially for my cell phone. We are considering switching to pay-as-you-go. Are there other options?
As always, looking forward to hearing more.
.-= Alaya Morning´s last blog ..Stop Trying to Control Your Emotions =-.
Alaya, thanks for the comment. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I cover a lot of this stuff more in-depth in my free e-book I’m finishing up. It was sort of a feeler post and it’s awesome to know there is some interest in those specific topics.
This feedback is helping me push to get things wrapped up! 🙂
So glad to hear it! I look forward to the ebook. (I’m sure you’re looking forward to having it finished and launched!)
.-= Alaya Morning´s last blog ..Stop Trying to Control Your Emotions =-.
I *love* this list! Awesome job! As somebody who also blogs about money, I’m often perplexed at how complicated my own finances still are, and I’m always looking for ways to simplify. Needless to say, I’ll be taking some of these steps.
.-= David Weliver´s last blog ..Student Credit Cards: A Necessary Evil? =-.
This is brilliant. You’re really showing us how much personal finance knowledge you have Adam. There’s little to say, jsut wanetd to congratulate you on a wonderful job. Keep it up man.
.-= Carlos Miceli´s last blog ..Job Insecurity =-.
Wow – an ambitious goal but I think I’m up to the challenge. Thank you!
Adam, you’re a beast!
My favorite tip: Automate the flow
I’ve streamlined most of my finances except my checking account to my saving account. I just need to iron out some more details (like when I would like to pay for my credit card bill and my student loan) and then I will be able to create a system that I can sit back, relax, and enjoy.
A new one for me is to budget using pen and paper. I always use excel sheet, but I think I understand the beauty of the simplicity of a pen and paper.
Yeah, I’ve always been a fan of spreadsheets. I crafted my own, personalized it, kept adding features… finally just messing with it became the point. I was more involved in the process of budgeting than actually on the behavioral changes. So I just quit and picked up pen & paper. It’s been an awesome switch for me and I’ll be sure to cover it more!
Ah-ha, that’s my problem too–over-involved in the process!! Thank you, Adam, for sharing.
Re: #31 – Certainly this does not apply to underwear 😉
Really a FABULOUS list!
.-= Money Funk´s last blog ..Tipping the Scales =-.
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Awesome list – and I really dig the promotion of good ol’ pen and paper. There’s something surreal about punching numbers into a computer program. I’ve started making budgets and spreadsheets on the screen before, but it never seems to have the impact and I never really feel like I accomplished anything. Nor do I feel motivated to review them. I’ve recently taken to writing EVERYTHING down. My hand gets mighty tired, but it’s a good tired.
.-= Jack @ Master Your Card´s last blog ..The Lenders Strikeback Pt. 2: More Credit CARD Act Loopholes =-.
Exactly. That’s been word-for-word my experience so far. Nice to know I’m not alone!
We are selling our duplex to
– substantially cut back our debt with about 650K
– have less room for stuff (of which a lot has been sold or tossed already)
– simplify our finances
– be more agile (moving to California from Denmark and back was a hassle owning/renting the dupleX)
– be able to more easily persue our dreams
We are married and have shared accounts.
We no longer have credit cards, but still have a way to go simplying our finances.
Good luck in NZ, we loved moving to San Diego for a year. Just to try it.
Thanks for sharing your personal story, Peter. You bring up a great point, I didn’t touch much on and that is… agility. That’s a really great feature to have in your financial life. The ability to adapt, take opportunities, and search for fulfillment all rolled into one. I love it!
As always an exhaustive list, nicely done. I’m with you on most with the exception of the written budget. It was great for us to start that way, but for sheer convenience and flexibility of maintaining budgeting buckets and active balances, I’m all for software. If anything it allows both my wife and I to have the most current information, all the time.
.-= Paul @ FiscalGeek´s last blog ..Cash Envelope Budgeting: Why Your Bank Hates It =-.
I totally agree. For me, though, it was too easy for me just to focus on the information. I just sort of got it all in there and wham I was done. Even though, I could do a lot more, the connection was missing. I’m sure I could of figure out how to balance that (like you have), but for me pen & paper was just easier! 🙂
Great list, i will be following about 42 of these!
I’m trying to give this kind of advice to students, just having had graduated myself, being in stuck in student debt isnt a nice feeling!
One thing about emergency funds that more people seem to be realizing lately is that a Roth IRA can be tapped as an emergency fund. Something to think about.
How about “balance your checkbook”? It’s scary how many people don’t.
I pay bills about twice a month. Once at the end of the month (wife’s monthly pay check, day care, mortgage, etc) and another time in the middle of the month – the cable bill has such a short turnaround that I can’t possibly pay it at the end of the month!
.-= kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..Wolves =-.
I love #’s 29 and 30. I just got married and we moved into a new apartment together and realized how much junk we have. We’ve been slowly getting rid of it and it’s a lot of work but definitely worth it. We’re working to combine our bank accounts and have started up a budget together. Luckily, neither of us have credit cards or credit card debt- just school debt. I’d love to be able to take off and live somewhere else, the way you and your family have done. Loving your blog.
Ariana, thanks for stopping by. It seems like you are in a very similar situation to us. We’ve got it cut down to only student debt, too. It’s nice to see your slowly working on building a foundation in simplicity. It’s one of the things I’m most proud we’ve done over the past couple of years. Let me know how it goes!
GREAT advice here Adam. I am bookmarking this and will use it as reference moving forward. My fiance and I are moving into our first place together this weekend – getting married in a few months – We’re both now out of school and working full-time, so we’re at that point of wanting to really start saving and ‘being smart’ with our finances and budgeting. Cheers for putting this together – nice work.
.-= Matt Cheuvront´s last blog ..Life is a Game of Inches (So is Football) =-.
Lot of great tips for all types of people in different situations. I like how you put plan for one goal at a time at #1. It can be easy to set different things down that you would like to achieve and some people can multitask multiple financial goals. But it is difficult and can get confusing. Having one goal makes it easier to set for it and achieve it.
Yeah, Craig, that is really one of the pillars of this process. It’s a little controversial, as I know many feel they are in spots where they HAVE to pursue multiple responsibilities. But it’s the sole reason why Courtney and I don’t invest a single penny right now. We’ve had luck with passionately attacking our consumer debt, and have now switched our focus to frugality and creating a life overseas. I’m looking forward to the point when we are debt-free and can focus on house-savings or invest in long-term opportunities with our full force and passion.
to add to this point, too, I’ve read in multiple psychological sources that we also really only have a set limit/source for self-discipline. So you’re more likely to “fail” if you’re trying to spread your discipline out onto several sources than if you dedicate to one at a time (or two, or whatever the small number is that you’re naturally able to focus on). I know I’ve experienced this in trying to make too many positive changes, which all require discipline, all at once.
.-= MoneyEnergy´s last blog ..Top 20 List of the Biggest Canadian Gold Stocks =-.
I am going to come out and say that I am doing almost everything 100% opposite from what you wrote. I am not a fan of what we are doing financially, but my hands and pockets are in so many courts that sometimes it is hard to keep up. From bank accounts to other financial accounts to stock accounts, to too much “stuff” to a new car to being belly up in a mortgage to way too many businesses.
Getting simple sounds simple, but at the same time we all have varied rolls and ways to manage these things. Recently we have been using Mint.com to start to organize things, track spending and the results have been eye popping.
I love the advice here, I just hope I can push myself to use some of it (starting with destroying all personal credit cards and stop falling for the 1-yr no payments no interest cards that have decorated my house and office!)
.-= Greg Rollett´s last blog ..Interview With Donna Fenn Author of Upstarts =-.
Greg, for me this stuff was a slippery slope. And I mean that in a good way, actually. Once I got the ball rolling by exploring a few of these options, everything else just became so much easier.
Just figure out which ones seem realistic and start with those. I’m familiar with some of your projects and know how many different ones your involved with. Just make sure you aren’t too thin, man. I’d love to see what you could do if you focused in on 1 or 2 (like you have lately). Only you know the right mix in your life, but this stuff has been awesome for us!
Thanks for the words back. Breaking down priorities has been goal number one. I have so many dreams, goals and ideas but getting one kick ass project off the ground needs to be number one and the rest will fall in place.
.-= Greg Rollett´s last blog ..Interview With Donna Fenn Author of Upstarts =-.
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Bravo Sir Bravo
I think this should be given to every individual in America and thoroughly read through. This hits every major financial point and does not bore. I am so glad you have written this. You need to get this out to EVERYONE. This is amazing.
Once again…Bravo Sir Bravo
.-= Dave´s last blog ..Organizing Your Life’s Plan =-.
Dave, I love the fact that this connected so well with you. It motivates me to keep at it. Thanks!
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Hi Baker. I’m Jason. I love the word simplify. It’s so important to live simple, especially, when it involves finances. I’m a volunteer financial counselor and the first thing we teach people is how to start tracking their spending and to set up a spending plan. And guess what? We teach them to do it manually. I’ll be honest, I’m a software guy by day and also use software for managing my finances, but I have really been thinking of stepping back to a manual approach. I agree that it will help control spending and probably help me learn other things. Just something about writing it down on paper.
.-= Jason @ One Money Design´s last blog ..Commuting: Save Money and Time =-.
Hi Jason. I’m Baker. Try manual. Report back. Interested. I love the word simplify, too. 😉
Fantastic and comprehensive list. I especially agree with what you say about funding an emergency fund. Its so important to have that cash available when you’re on your journey to becoming debt free.
.-= Money Hacker Blog´s last blog ..20 Essential Tips for Avoiding Disaster When Buying a Fixer-upper =-.
The first thing I thought of when I read the title of this post was – wow! 42 ways! That does not sound simple at all.
I read through and think that most of it is pretty practical and usefully advise. Some is a little extreme (like sell 50% of your thinks in two weeks), but I like it none the less.
.-= Jessie´s last blog ..Go house fund go! =-.
Haha, yes. The goal is to have everyone take away a couple that speak to them. Although, obsessive people like me can try to go at all 42 😉
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Great list! I love the idea of writing down everything you own. Really is a great way to simplify!
.-= Kaizan´s last blog ..How to Make Sure That Nothing Gets Between You and Your Good Habits =-.
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I agree with what everyone’s saying about the financial advice (and I will bookmark and tweet). But what I love best is your definition of simplicity – It’s a journey to increase intimacy.
.-= Barb McMahon´s last blog ..How to Avoid Disappointment =-.
Great list! I’m a little ashamed at how *few* of these we do, and I thought we lived a very simple life.
Thanks for some food for thought. I’ve added this to the Frugal Hacks page on facebook.
.-= kimc´s last blog ..Cash for Clunkers hurts everyone =-.
Simplicity is a journey. You can’t ever really *reach* it. It’s about continually adapting, experimenting, and focusing. Hopefully the list will help!
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Great overall financial list! Not everyone can do everything on here, and I think depending on situation some of these tips aren’t good, there not bad either though. I see where you are going offering a little bit for everyone’s different situations and I commend it!
I enjoy being financially cut throat and this posed riled up in me an urge to find more spending hacks, (I love the $0 weekend, lets fix this ourselves, etc. mindset) further automate my finances through Mint.com and auto bill pay (free from most checking accounts, a feature on any credit card), and bump my pay myself first % to 8…thanks for that!
Question: What service examples are there that you could pay months in advance for a discount?
.-= Robert´s last blog ..Life Designed | 70 days in, What have I done?! =-.
Robert, this is very true. Not all with be applicable to every situation and there are some that don’t take the “mathematical” approach. But as you know, I’m not always a big fan of the math involved ;-).
Answer: Insurance usually offers discount for paying either every quarter, 6 months, or yearly. Before leaving we received at 10% discount for paying a year of term-life up front. In addition, I recently received a discount on the BJJ lessons I’m taking by offering to pay in advance. Try ask, “what it your discount if I pay this in advance.” It doesn’t work 100% of the time, but there are plenty of opportunities we’ve found in our life.
I wouldn’t recommend canceling credit cards because doing so will hurt most people’s credit scores. By canceling one or more cards, you’re lowering your total available credit and, assuming your spending patterns remain more or less the same, it will increase the percentage of available credit you use. That, in turn, will lower your credit score.
Your risk of financial liability in the event of ID theft is limited by federal laws to $50 for credit cards, provided you report the theft in a timely manner. (Debit cards carry no such protection, so that’s one reason to favor a credit card over a debit card.)
Rather than canceling cards (even if you did cancel, your prior history will still remain on your credit history, so you’re not really making it any “cleaner”), just stick them in the freezer or some other equally inaccessible location.
Although it’s nice to say focus on one financial priority at a time, that’s just not realistic for most people. Just like at our jobs, where it’s rare to have the luxury to concentrate on just one project, most people have to learn to juggle competing demands for our money. It’s quite possible to fund 3 or 4 goals simultaneously. God forbid you should focus solely on paying off credit card debt only to find yourself without a job the next day.
Dawn, I’m well familiar with the downside of canceling a card. You can follow the text link for a full article on it. Canceling makes checking your “open” or “active” accounts easier (I don’t check all my closed accounts when I look over my report). Also after approx 7 years the closed will fall off completely, although that’s admittedly s minor point.
I also don’t disagree that it’s POSSIBLE to fund 3 or 4 projects, but I do love exploring whether it’s a better option to attack one at a time with increased passion and intensity. For example focusing all your energy on building an emergency fund (or increasing it if you feel your job security dwindle) would be one example of this focus.
I like number 12. I do this often, especially when an unexpected expense comes up during the month, and we need to make it up. We’ll go into a ‘no buy zone’. 🙂
.-= Russ´s last blog ..2009 Goals Update and Productivity Tools – What works and what doesn’t? =-.
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I love the one about just making a lot of money. Then, one would never have to simply! 🙂
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..Fortunes, Fortunes, Everywhere! =-.
Hehe, if that were only true!
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Baker, This is a great list. If even one would follow us a few of your tips their financial lives would be much easier. Personal finance is not rocket science you just need to develop a system that works best for you. I am very passionate about this subject and that why my web site is geared toward simplifying your personal finances. I look forward to seeing what you have in your ebook. Keep up the great post.
Interesting read, you definately would simplify things if you did all of these. However, if you goal is debt free some make a lot of sense. However, some of things I prefer not to do and think I am better financially for it. Home ownership is one. Also, I use credit cards to earn points. I recently got 2 plane tickets using miles that would have cost over $1000.
Thanks for the article, as I said it was interesting and thoughtful.
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Sorry Baker, I’m a three car household for two people… And it’s only going to go up from there. 😉
But I have to say, having an expensive hobby kinda helps cut down the clutter — I spend a lot on car parts, and those parts just go on the car… No extra space needed, save for the parking already used. Eats up most of the leftover funds, so the house isn’t full of a bunch of junk that was wanted at one point in time — all the new stuff has to be something we *really* want for us to not spend the money on the cars!
Just had to be all contradictory about that, cars are my no-compromise thing, but we don’t have more than we can afford. 2/3 are paid off, the cheapest one is the one that isn’t… Yet. I need to build the credit so I don’t have to worry in the future.
The list overall is great, just take what works for you and go from there. No need to feel bad for not having everything apply. 😀
.-= Foxie | CarsxGirl´s last blog ..Car “Bucket List”? =-.
Absolutely, not everyone is going to want OR need all of the tips to apply. For example, it sounds like cars is a hobby of yours. So in reality if it was only a NEED you could most likely get by with 2 or even 1.
Again, simplifying is about cutting the crap in order to focus more on passion. For you, it’s sacrificing other things, so that you can have space, time, and money for the extra cards. Cool stuff.
Great list! I’m leaning pretty far to the “rent” side myself lately. Not sure I’m going to be a homeowner again, any time soon!
.-= SimplyForties´s last blog ..Monticello Apple Cake =-.
Yeah, we are going to try to wait as long as we can resist the urge. It was SUPER tempting before we left, but now that we’ve made the jump, it’s easier to embrace renting until we are 100% ready.
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If someone isn’t able to save a good sum of money, I think credit cards should be kept as emergency funds. Also, they’re necessary to rent vehicles and make other purchases. However, if credit cards are kept as emergency funds, here’s what I would advise: Keep the cards AT HOME in a secure location (not in your wallet–less tempting to use them for something) and keep the balance at $0. Great post!
.-= Robert´s last blog ..Your Money is Dirtier Than You Think =-.
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Wow, you have lots of great tips here!
#3 and 33 – are great advice but are forms of art that need yet to be mastered among family members
#35 – I have been suggesting this to friends what with the present economic situation that couldn’t be ignored
#42 – Definitely!
My Well Of wealth
My Well Of wealth
.-= Peter Luke´s last blog ..“Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.” =-.
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#37 – Buy less house. Amen. Our house is twice as big as it needs to be. Of course, we found this out after living in it for a year. There is literally one side of the first floor we never walk into. We call it the Christmas side, and I’m sure people can figure out why. The only saving grace is because of our state’s property tax laws, we pay next to nothing in property taxes. So any savings in downsizing would be countered by the increase in property taxes. We did say should the house burn down, we would rebuild it at half the size.
Haha, thanks for sharing your story.
“We did say should the house burn down, we would rebuild it at half the size.”
That sounds like a great motto for my life moving forward!
This a great list. Thanks.
.-= Yann´s last blog ..YannTessier: From @ManVsDebt a useful post To Radically Simplify Your Financial Life http://tr.im/yTn8 ~Pour simplifier radicalement ses finances =-.
I have never been a collector or keeper of ‘things’. If something enters my home and isn’t needed or doesn’t get used, I immediately find a new home for it by donating it or giving it away. Many people enter my home for the first time and say “where is all your stuff?”.
Yes, this lifestyle has meant that from time to time I do end up re-purchasing things. For instance if I had an extra garden hose I wasn’t using and didn’t want to store and maintain then I would give it away and later accidentally mowed over my hose and guess what? I had no replacement so had to buy a new one but I say I am still ahead because I didn’t have to use valuable space and time on an extra hose.
My home and garage are well organized and clean and this frees up an incredible amount of time when you don’t have to constanly search for the things you need. Living simply really does equal freedom.
We have more than one car because we can’t fit in one.
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Found your blog a while ago, only just started visiting it regularly though. Really interesting to read that you budget with pen and paper and use envelopes — probably means you’re a kinesthetic learner! (You learn best when you can actually do something physical). I find Google Docs spreadsheets make managing my money fun, and it reminds me that money is just numbers — it doesn’t really “exist.”
Great blog though, it’s in my top five blogs to check regularly!
My mother taught me the envelope system (she got married during the Great Depression) and it’s really the only thing that works for me. Also, using cash. I’ve never had debt, and always pay my bills on time, live small, within my means, etc., but pulling out those greenbacks is a totally different experience than paying by credit/debit card and my spending has diminished considerably!
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Awesome, awesome, awesome. This is my new to-do list.
.-= Chris´s last blog ..Congress May Extend Unemployment Benefits for 1 Million =-.
These are great tips! And very relevant for anyone who wants to be agile and ready to change easily – whether that’s changing your work, your location or anything else. In these turbulent times, being able to adjust easily in a changing financial environment is key to be resilient and happy.
.-= Cath Duncan´s last blog ..How to Feel Secure When Everything Is Changing =-.
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I have to say this is some extreme measures in my mind, but I like intense. It means its definite and there is no room for misinterpretation. When I get back home from Iraq, I am going to be selling, recycling, and getting rid of a lot of stuff since I have not used it for 2 years. There is one thing I like about deployments it helps you reset. It makes me realize there are a lot things I do not need. I will take advantage of that. Thank you for the tips. Peace.
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Some great tips here! I most recently have “Stop trying to be everything to everyone and just be something to someone.” That “someone” for me is my kiddies. I had to stop saying yes to everything and everybody. For single parents, our lives are so unique and complex, I definitely would have to add to and modify the list. Thanks Baker!
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Just added this post to my own “ultimates” section. While I have been yearning for simplicity in all aspects of my life, I had really let a lot of previous notions about finances cloud my view on my accounts to the point where I thought they were perfectly fine and normal. This post is kind of a kick in the ass for me to re-prioritize things. Thanks.
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What an exhaustive and comprehensive list. I’m just curious as to why you choose to budget via pen and paper, I just don’t have the time to do this. I really like your blog title too btw.
How are these radical?
Some good tips but you should kick it up a notch!
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I love item 31! Get rid of two items for every one that you buy. I will have to consider this the next time I go shopping!
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You where so right about the rent part. When you own a house, it costs more money, period. It’s not an investment till you own it 100%. There was an article in the WSJ that debunked the myths of home ownership as better than renting, and they broke it down really well. Wish I could find it to link to it.
But if you’re not in a position to own a home yet, if you do own one, and something breaks, you gotta fix it. Not to mention all the taxes and other things that go along with home ownership.
If you’re heavy in debt, finding a cheap place to rent isn’t throwing your money away, if you are able to put more money towards getting out of debt. Case in point, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I used to be renting a nice place for 940 a month when I was 18K in debt. My mother convinced me to humble myself and purchase a mobile home for 2000 which she gave me. I fixed the place up, but the kicker was 300 a month rent, for my own residence, where I could paint and do whatever and have a dog. Before I lived in a 1 bedroom apartment that had less sq ft then the mobile home. Anyways, I used the additional money and a set spending plan to get out of debt in a year. After I got over the stereo type, I started saving money, I lived their for another 2 years till getting married. I saved huge volumes of money by finding a cheap housing.
This however required me to put away my pride and the need for image. However today I own my car and home and my buddies are still eyeballs deep in debt because they are to busy worrying about image.
Sorry for the long ramble.
I am not in the debt payoff stage of my life but I keep telling myself I do need to start the “grow my money” stage. The way I have decided to simplify my life is buy an Xbox 360 and Call of Duty. Seriously, I paid $250 for a used X-box 360 at a gamestop, bought Call of Duty, and later on MW2 and plant myself in front of my TV any time I think I’m going to go out and spend money on something stupid. Since buying my 360 my “going out” budget has fallen by at least half as being lazy and staying home on the couch is much easier than showering, putting on a belt, and spending money. This WORKS!
To be aware of what I spent I payed everything in cash and every evening counted the ammount of money in my wallet and wrote down in a simple excel sheet for what I spent the difference between yesterdays ammount and this evenings ammount. First I often did not remember for what I had spent the small amounts missing.
And it are this small daily amounts which are the big sum of spendings!
After a while I found myself thinking of the excel sheet every time I was spending money.
Hi Baker. Thanks for the great tips. I just came across your site yesterday and found this post to be extremely motivating. I managed to write down absolutely everything I own, and was shocked by the results. I am always downsizing and helping family and friends simplify. In fact, all of my possessions (excluding car and bicycle) fit in one 9′ X11″ bedroom. So, it came as a surprise to me that I have been storing 737 items in that space! Selling half will be a challenge, but I am excited to use the money I make to fund my new business.
Switching to a cash only system can definitely assist with sticking to your budget when it comes to food, entertainment, and gas. I have been using the envelope system for several months now and it works great.
Here’s another two suggestions: Go car-free. I’ve been living without using my car for over a year. It’s great; makes you focus on local shops and gets you outside for walks more often. Plus when it’s cold outside you really have to justify spending money on restaurants (I live in Canada, so if it’s cold you think twice).
The second tip is: Never buy a used car with a loan. You’ll be paying interest on an item that will be worth NOTHING when you’re done paying it off. Make no illusions. Cars are worth nothing but cost EVERYTHING.
Sounds like you’re reaping the benefits of being car-free, I admire that. I would love to live without a car, for now I need one because I’m an artist and do shows 1x week in town. To paint and be car-free is music to my ears!
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I love articles such as these. People should become more aware of the increasing need to take their perosnal finances seriously.
As far as paying bills at the same time, years ago when we got paid only once a month, I called all of the companies we wrote checks to each month and asked them if I could have the due date moved to accomodate our payday. Everyone but the phone company (it would have required a new phone number) was happy to do this. It really simplified our life. Great tips!
A suggestion of a no spend day always makes me smile. It’s a good suggestion, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that a normal day for us is a no spend day. I normally work from home so no spending opportunities. My hubby is at his desk downtown by 7, takes a packed lunch, and heads straight home after work. By the time we have dinner, supervise homework, take someone to a sports practice or music lesson, and have a little quiet family time the evening is full. We only head into town for a restaurant for a very special occassion. It’s just not that important to us, and frankly when you live 20 minutes out of town it’s just enough to make it less convenient that cooking dinner at home. A few weeks ago we were all downtown to check out the ice sculptures at the winter carnival. Walking back to the car we passed block after block of restaurants and shops. By the time I got to the car I realized I felt like I’d had 5 coffees. Talk about over stimulation. I can see how living frugally in that environment would be a real test of strength, and having a no spending day would be an accomplishment. Living where we do we have to consciously get in the car and go somewhere to spend money. Yes living where we do means we need a vehicle (or two) but I now think it’s actually cheaper than living in close proximity to so many businesses all trying to tempt you.
We head out Saturday morning and get our weekly coffee, groceries, gas and head home. If someone wears a clothing item or there’s a home repair to do we’ll add a stop at the second hand clothing or hardware store. We absolutely don’t go to a store “just in case”. There’s always a list and a purpose, and for major purchases there’s been a lot of research done in advance.
We spend very frugally on day to day expenses (55% of our take home) and all the rest goes to retirement savings, extra mortgage payments, and our one splurge – a major trip every other year. We plan to retire in our early/mid 50s but want to travel with the kids now. We could retire a few years earlier but have decided travelling with the kids (8 & 15) now is more important.
FYI – have to disagree on getting rid of the credit cards. It’s good suggestion if you find you have trouble controlling your spending I guess, but we don’t have that issue. We buy everything possible on them to get the flight points. I pay them off WEEKLY and have never paid interest. I kind of look at them as the same as cash, but with a few days delay on actually handing over the cash. I’m not tempted to spend any extra because of the method of payment, but in another few weeks we’ll have enough points for all four flights to Europe for this summer. I love getting those flights for doing exactly what I would have done anyway.
Reallly good list. Nice work!
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Much as I see the wisdom of using cash and the envelope system, I have never been able to bring myself to try it. I am more comfortable carrying a credit card because of my size (I’m tall but lightly built, and anyone could knock me over and take my cash from me), my worries about misplacing cash, and because I like to keep a simplified wallet (I carry only a credit card, medical insurance card, and an ID). I try to adapt the same ideas that people use for a cash-based system into my credit-only life.
I created a modified “envelope” system using Quicken. I pay myself first by transferring money from my checking to my savings. Then I write checking account entries for my bills (insurance, utilities, etc.) and then add an entry each week for gas/groceries/misc. spending. I reduce the amount in the gas/groceries/misc. entry as I make a credit card purchases. I’m good about keeping within my limits, and I pay my credit card bill every three days, so I’m not out any interest expense.
I liked Bank of America’s “keep the change” idea — where they round up each debit purchase to the next dollar, then put the difference in a savings account — it’s just like saving pocket change. But I don’t like debit cards any more than I like cash, so I’ve started to keep track of the change from each purchase and will transfer the “change” to savings a couple of times a month.
If ever my credit card should be lost or stolen, the issuer will replace it in a jiffy, and I’m only out US$50 maximum — that is simplicity for me. My credit card is a rewards card, and in the last year, I’ve earned nearly $900 (I’ve put all of it in my savings account). Granted, the rewards programs have been revamped and won’t be as rewarding from now on, but it’s still free money.
I’d love to hear if any other credit-loving types have other “money hacks” that they are using to make life simpler and easier.
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I just got your new ebook, it’s really good, and I like that simplified monthly budget pdf too.
I’m an artist and starting to do outdoor shows, though I would really love to get rid of the car because I have college debt as well. (But no mortgage, kids or credit cards) I would love to not depend on a car, though I have a Chevy Prizm with good gas milage, so it’s not so bad, just the stress of driving is tough. I really admire your traveling lifestyle and would love to somehow incorporate my art career with traveling. Keep up the good work!
Interesting tips and congrats on the new book!
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I am a business owner and I would like to add that starting a smart, profitable business is a good idea. Great job on your list!
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Adam — you are one amazing cat … ! This is the best list I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen tons of them (I just had my 70th birthday last month). I have this printed out and will study it on a daily basis until I “get it right” — have had financial problems over the years, but I’m going to blame in on the fact that I didn’t have your list 50 years ago — that would have made all the difference in the world. Thank you buddy for puttin this together and publishing it. Very cool…!
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Good day Baker,
Shocking is it not, when one makes a non-emotional choice to arrange a budget and spend “money” on only what is needed, how much more just “seems” to be there to put towards business and debt reduction.
I just ordered Sell Your Crap and am anxious to put it to use.
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Great information. Look forward to reading more of your work.
I really like your style. This the first post I have read of yours and you think like my wife and I do. We killed all our CCs, sold everything and moved to Costa Rica for a year. It was sort of scary at first. But after we did it , we were so relieved to be out of debt. We lived on about $300.00 per month from writing online. If you know whats up in Costa Rica 300.00 per month for 3 people was more than enough.
Thank you for the great post
GREAT LIST BAKER!! Awesome!! Actually, just about all of your posts are awesome, but I love this list of 42.
I have been on the Dave Ramsey plan for about 2 years and will be 100% debt free (inc. house) by August 2012. I will have paid off 100K in the four years. The plan works, but only if you are focused.
Dollars Not Debt
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#12 wonderful!! Most of the others I have done in one form or another. But not #12 “a no spend day” a new idea to add to my plan of simplying my life and living within my means. What day of the week will I make my “no spend day” ??? Not Friday!!!
Thank you for the fresh idea
This sounds complicated…
First of all, I love your blog and respect the work your doing; it’s fantastic. I agree with all of your ideas, but especially like # 24 because it’s a something that I practice and relate to. When purposely creating scarcity you only focus on the important bills or goals at hand, and therefore; focus on what’s really important 🙂
It’s not learning how to be cheap or anything, but just prioritizing on what’s essential and what isn’t.
hi, i´m Lucero, i have 27 years old and i from mexico, and i live in usa about 5 months ago, and i just read 42 Ways To Radically Simplify Your Financial Life, and this is the way i been living with my husband , we have 3 years 1 month of marriage and we lived 1 year in Vancouver and then we moved to Guadalajara mexico and we just realized that we was spending a lot of money in furniture and useless things, and wen we moved to California we start to do exactly what did you say(funny because i was not reading you), we have just the necessary, we have 1 car, i generate my budget with pencil and paper, but we are failing in our debts, we are fighting against credit cards, thanks for all the tips i´ll follow your advises¡¡¡
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This is why I like to live in a minimalist life. I believe that no matter how we calculate our lives, the ultimate sophistication is still simplicity. Self-control is very important to simplify our life and to simplify our habits in saving, earning and spending money.
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Can you imagine how quickly the US economy would turn around if the majority of the population would follow Adams list of ways to “simplify your financial life”. We have become a nation of “gotta haves”. Gotta have that new smartphone, gotta have that new ipad, gotta have those new nike shoes. All those gotta haves is what got the US, State and Local Governments in trouble as well. We all truly need to cut back and live within out means if desire a life of abundance.
Keep up the great work Adam.
I like that you said unsubscribe to everything and start from scratch. I am signed up for so many blog lists that some I never read and don’t even remember what they are about. Also my hubby and I used to use money for all of our budget categories then we got out of the habit. 2012 is a time to start again.
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BofA recommended me to Money Mgmt Intl, and it saved my financial life! They were able to lower the interest rate on my credit cards (BofA did it automatically when the transferred me to MMI). Then I signed up with http://www.mint.com. What a lifesaver. Without mint, I don’t think I could stick to my goals. Now I only have to log into one site, not several. I can see my goals and balances of checking, savings and credit on one page. Easy peasy! I also found two side jobs that allow me to pay extra towards my debt. It’s amazing what happens when you’re motivated!
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This is such a comprehensive list. I love the fact that you’ve taken the time to give your readers a list like this, which would come definitely come in handy and be a timely reminder for those of us who lose track of some things vis-a-vis our financial ways.
I especially like the points on budgeting using pen & paper (I do this as well), subscriptions, and making a list of all the things you own. The other points are just as useful. Thanks for sharing – look forward to reading some of your other articles.
Great work 🙂
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This is great stuff. I especially like the idea of “no spend days”. From time to time I try what I consider a “Double Diet” in which I take the opportunity of spending less for a week to make sure I don’t eat out or that type of thing. In a way it can be fun.
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Great post, number 28 Outsourcing tasks is great. Focus on the things that your good at and you love so you can make more money. Its useless to be your own baker when bread is cheap and you hate baking!
Don’t necessarily agree with renting over buying, Statistic’s have shown if you buy in an area with increasing work opportunities and population density you will make capital gains in the long run, always best to buy cheap! Besides your turning one of your greatest expenses into an asset!
Love the blog. Love the above list. Don’t agree with the section on insurance. You are not buyintg a product, merely a piece of paper for peace of mind. We are all WAY over insured, and there is never a guarantee they will pay your claim. Your claim is overhead the insurance companies will try to reduce. My philosophy is the opposite, carry the minimum insurance possible. The only exception might be health insurance. Live insurance is a huge waste.
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Great info. My husband and I have already started on this journey. After having a baby in 2012 we were busting out of the seems in our 1100 sf home. We’ve been working for a year to downsize and are now very comfortably living in our home, even with a one year old! Now we are looking at getting rid of more things and building an eco home no bigger than 800 sf, hopefully more along 700 sf, and renting our current home as your described back-up income.
It’s so exciting to be doing this! And to be honest I don’t even remember all the boxes and boxes of “stuff” we’ve sold and/or donated. To think it was so important to me at one point! Apparently not so much. :p
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There is a downside to condos- it’s call an assessment and I personally have paid out over 12,000.00 for costly repairs to other buildings with structural damage in my condo association. CHECK before you buy to make sure that the HOA is financially healthy and has good management and money set aside for repairs. Another point is that other owners could foreclosure on their unit leaving the association short : who pays their dues for regular maintenance and insurance? The other owners… so condos have a down side-better option in my opinion is a townhouse
Great article! Very useful for artists like myself because as a solo business owner, I have to be very alert about where my money comes and goes. I’m writing everything down now, and looking at major purchases, like a camera or easel, as investments rather than average expenses. Being aware of your money is very important and I’m always learning how to budget better.
Can you explain what you mean by budgeting with the previous month’s income? Does this presuppose that I would literally have a whole month of income to spare, so that I could pay September’s bills with August’s paycheck? If so, sounds great but I doubt I will ever be able to do that in my lifetime. Thanks for clarifying!