A while back I discussed how you could save some cash by cutting just one cup of coffee a week and by brownbagging it just one day a week. That’s when, in chatting with Paid Twice, she joking said “yeah… all these years of home brew coffee and packing lunches – explains why we’re broke. ” She said it tongue in cheek but it’s a legitimate concern. So many people budget to a penny, diligently track their expenses, yet find themselves behind the eight ball and I suspect it has to do with expenses on the other side of the spectrum – the big ticket items. (I suspect this because that’s what happened to me!)
With respect to frugality, I see the world in two different categories. The first category is for those big ticket items where savings can be significant. Big ticket items are marked by lower frequency but high savings potential, such as a car. The second category are those smaller day to day expenses where there is a much higher frequency of expenses but lower potential for savings. Many times we focus on the small items because we deal with them every day but get panicky or pressured when we start talking major expenses, but those big expenses are the ones where the big savings are too.
Unfortunately, big ticket items aren’t things you can change overnight and they also tend to be more stressful. I recognize that. The two big ticket items most individuals have to pay for are housing, either renting or buying, and a mode of transportation, usually a car. The two are generally marked with higher levels of stress (what’s more stressful, buying a house or making your own detergent? duh!) in part because of the higher dollar values but also because of time constraints. With housing, you’re usually under the gun because you have to move by a certain date according to your lease or some other agreement. With a car, you’re usually under the gun because you need a car ASAP and the whole car sales business is a pressure cooker anyway.
So, how do you counter it? Remove the pressure and reduce those expenses as best as possible.
Remove the Pressure
Sales Pressure: With either a car or a house, there will always be a measure of sales pressure on the part of the agent or the salesperson. It’ll be far worse with a car dealership salesperson because they know they might not get you the next time in so they want you to buy now. Combat this by doing one thing… never sign anything the first time you walk into a place. If you meant to go test drive a bunch of cars, don’t buy that day. Always sleep on a decision and always get a second and third opinion from people you believe are both trustworthy and knowledgeable. You can save yourself from making plenty of bad decisions if you sleep on it and ask for second-party opinions.
Housing: You know when your lease will expire, so start your housing search as early as possible. If you’re buying, start it several months in advance of your move. If you’re going to rent again from another place, start a couple months in advance of your move. Chances are, if you’re renting, even if you can’t find another place to live, you can always go month-to-month on your lease and pay a small premium. Paying an extra hundred dollars a month for one month is far better than rushing into another lease or even a 30 year mortgage!
Car: What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t buy a car and your car is kaput? At best, you’re inconveniencing yourself and perhaps friends and family that agree to drive you around. At worst, you rent a car at about thirty or forty bucks a day until you settle on a car. What’s worse, overpaying a few thousand on a car or shelling out for a rental? There is no pressure to buy a car as soon as possible.
Reduce the Costs
The topic of how to reduce the costs of housing and a car, at the tactical level, is way too complex to go into in a few paragraphs here. If you want to know the best tactics for negotiating down the price of a car or a home/rental, you can find plenty of information online . I will however say a few words about how I view homes and cars from a philosophical level and I’m interested in hearing your opinion as well.
Housing: When I rented, I saw my apartment as a temporary location for, at most, a few years. Since it was temporary and I wasn’t building a long term solution, I tried to spend as little as possible on my housing. My end game was to buy a house, not rent a swank apartment, so I never painted or put up pictures. The point was to pay as little as possible so that I could put as much as possible towards a down-payment. To this end, I spent two years renting, always had the same roommate, and we tried to keep costs down as low as possible – I never paid more than $600 a month for rent. I’ve know people who have spent $1200 to $1500 on single bedroom or studio apartments because they wanted someplace nice. That’s $600 to $900 a month that person can’t put towards something else (which is perfectly alright, we all have our own tastes). However, if you are looking to save money, you have to make a lot of detergent to recover $600-$900 a month.
Car: My car gets me from A-to-B and I want it to be affordable, reliable, and fuel efficient. I know some people like to buy cars because it projects a certain image, they want to be able to drive their co-workers or bosses around in a nice ride, but luckily I never worked in industries where that mattered or could affect my future job growth.
Total Cost Considerations: This post is getting a little long winded but I wanted to throw in one last point about total cost. When you sign up for a house or a car, you’re signing up for years and years. A lease is often for twelve months minimum. When you make these purchases, remember to consider the monthly costs as well as the initial costs.