Talking about money as a means to solving a problem was a mindset shift that made a big difference in the way I spent.
This might feel a little basic or over-simple for something that’s just math, after all—but personal finance is just that. Personal. We buy things to fix real or perceived problems. When money is our go-to fixer for everything, it’s easy to fall into a mindless trap of swiping, tapping, or inserting a chip to alleviate negative emotions the second they arise.
Think about the last time you were bored out of your mind. What did you do? Was your solution to make up errands for yourself? Wander the aisles of Target? Invent a project that didn’t really exist that ended up costing you $40? $60? I’m WAY too familiar with this.
It’s because spending money is, in some ways, a time-filler. It’s something to do.
Isn’t it amazing (and horrible) that we live in a world (or rather, the first world) where we have so much damn free time on our hands that our invented tasks involve trying to think of things to buy?
(Ever heard that old joke about how we work to afford the car that drives us to and from work and the house that we never spend any time in because we’re…at work? Kinda makes you reevaluate the value of your time and money.)
Lately I’ve been practicing ~creative solutions~ to things I otherwise would’ve just run out and bought on the spot at the first excuse for a Target run.
“Borrowed” personal care stuff from the gym bathroom
Sam Cat has this really hilarious yet simultaneously concerning habit of stealing our razors from our showers. For real—we’ll come home and both of our razors are sitting in the middle of our family room floor. It’s like he’s trying to send us an ominous message.
Anyway, he ruined my good razor and the last good blade. I was fresh out.
I almost bought another set of razorheads (an annoying expense) until I was showering in the bathrooms at SoulCycle the next morning and noticed the giant vat of disposal razors free for the taking.
Well, my friends, I go to Soul three times a week (complimentary thanks to studio reciprocity), so my cheap ass just uses a fresh disposable razor every time and takes it home with me. I use it for the next few days/week and then replace it. Bada-bing! Creative (cheap!) solution!
The same went for Q-Tips. I was fresh out around the same time and decided that I’d just snag an extra couple from our studio restroom for a few weeks until I was at Kroger and could get the big pack for $1.29. Ordinarily, I would’ve walked next door to CVS immediately and paid upwards of $3 for the convenience of the downtown location.
Obviously, I’m not delusional—I’m not saving hand over fist on things like this, but I think it perfectly illustrates that mindset shift from “fix a problem with money immediately” or look for a free, creative solution instead.
Making household items go further
I went through this phase (can y’all tell I’m big on phases?) where I was SUPER paranoid about toxins and chemicals in my beauty and household products.
(I’m going to write a post soon about balancing frugality with buying quality products and why I think sometimes the money you save on the dirt-cheap product isn’t worth the environmental or health impact.)
So I spent around $5 on a bottle of Jessica Alba’s HONEST Company multisurface spray. It smells like lavender and makes me feel fancy, you know? But it’s expensive, and I clean A LOT, so I was running low.
The ~Old KG~, before my reformed materialist days, would literally GET EXCITED for products to run out so she could run out and buy a new one—try a new scent, give a new brand a spin—it was always fun. You know when something is almost out (but not totally) but you’re antsy to replace it so you just chuck it in the trash and go ham at Target? That’s the struggle.
But now that I’ve trained myself to HATE spending money, I decided to make a simple yet frugal decision—add about a cup of water to the solution and make it last longer. I was concerned it might dilute it too much, but I honestly can’t tell a difference.
Prolonging the life of your household cleaning products to save money is MAYBE the most adult thing you could possibly do, besides your taxes.
Fixing what I already have instead of taking every opportunity to buy new
I’m pretty clumsy with my stuff. I’ve shattered countless glasses and mugs, especially when I reach that caffeine high PINNACLE state of existence early in the morning where I’m teetering the line between effectively energized and at risk of a heart attack.
I was walking at work with my laptop in one arm and my Starbucks travel coffee mug (with my FREE APARTMENT COFFEE, holla) dangling from the other, and I banged it into a wall.
The beautiful, painted ceramic outer layer of the cup shattered to the floor, but to my surprise, the inner component—the cup itself—stayed together. The lip of the cup still had about an inch of ceramic covering attached, enough to hold and drink from.
Have you picked up on the narrative theme of this post yet? OLD KG would’ve gone to Starbucks on her lunch break and bought a replacement—because that’s just what you do when you have money to buy new shit. You buy. New. Shit.
Nope, got creative. Slid a koozie (roll tide) on the ceramic inner piece to keep it insulated, and continued using the travel mug.
Coincidentally, the very next week, our onboard coffee partner Community Coffee dropped off hundreds of free "Southwest & Community Coffee" tumblers, free for the taking. I've noted this before, but it's amazing what happens when you just...wait...and don't RUSH OUT immediately to buy a solution to the problem right in front of you.
Same goes for my riding boots from high school. I received them as a gift and wore them so much in college that the heels wore off down to where they screw into the rest of the boot. I wanted to just drop a few hundred dollars on nice, new riding boots, but found out there are these novel things called COBBLERS (welcome to 1732!) who can re-sole and fix up your boots for, like, $20 so they’re practically new again.
Cooking for friends instead of enabling expensive brunches
Fresh off an especially intoxicating Saturday morning SoulCycle high (thank you, Valentina), I was under the spinfluence and remembered my friends had talked about getting brunch the night before.
My friends aren’t high rollers, but I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to get out of brunch for less than $20 at just about anywhere in Dallas.
So on my way home, I stopped at Kroger and bought half a dozen donuts, bagels, eggs, bacon, English muffins, two bottles of champagne, and a jug of orange juice. $40.
I sent a picture to our group text and invited everyone over. Because my friends are great, they offered to Venmo me for some of it, but I honestly just enjoyed knowing that I was getting a TON OF VALUE for my $40 instead of a small plate of food for $20.
I still have lots left over for breakfast for the rest of the week, too, and we had a blast sitting around in our pajamas instead of jockeying around with valet and parking, getting dressed and presentable, and the other annoying accoutrement that accompany a brunch out on a Saturday morning.
THE MAIN TAKEAWAY
It’s about making the money that you work hard for, work harder for you—so when you get your credit card statement at the end of the month, you’re not like, “Shit, I have nothing to show for this huge balance.”
It’s not all sunshine and savings, though—I also spent $50 on a haircut this week.
You can see how it may seem contradictory if I’m scrimping in some areas yet spending somewhat frivolously in others. But that’s the point—you’re making conscious decisions about what’s worth it, and where you can find alternatives.
And while I did ask Thomas to cut my hair for me to save that money, I’m not sure I’m at the point where I’m ready to sacrifice my ends for frugality’s sake. Maybe someday.
Undoubtedly, one of the best feelings is buying something on Amazon that sharply undercuts what you’d typically pay in a drugstore or supermarket.
Conversely, one of the most annoying feelings is when you overpay on Amazon and see that same item on the endcap in Target for one-third the price.
I beat myself up for three days over what I thought was a wise purchase—toilet paper and paper towels on Amazon with a coupon. It looked like it was Prime, so I was thrilled to worship the free overnight shipping gods and felt I had outsmarted the CVS next door and their laughable markups.
I must not have been paying close attention at checkout, because at later inspection of my receipt, I noticed I had paid $5.99 in shipping.
What the expletive?
These household goods were Prime Pantry, not Prime, some other godforsaken magic voodoo Amazon service for which I (a) had not paid for previously and (b) had not noticed while checking out. My fault, for sure, but still incredibly aggravating that my total for six rolls of toilet paper and the equivalent in paper towels had cost me upwards of $17.
(I realize this isn’t that big of an expense; I’ve spent $17 at a taco place for lunch before, but it was the principle of attempting to do something in order to save money and inadvertently wasting it that made me feel like the world’s worst online shopper.)
To rub salt in the Bezos-inflicted wound, I was in Target the next day picking up protein bars and saw their new Smartly line of ultra-cheap health and beauty products. Paper towels? $1.19 for two rolls (or $3.57 for the amount I bought). Toilet paper? $0.99. No f***ing shipping costs in sight!
I practically kicked over the display, I was so pissed (but not before I picked up a $0.99 body wash that smells like an attractive man).
Whatever, lesson learned. I won’t buy household products on Amazon again unless I can confirm (and confirm again) that they’re significantly cheaper than their generic, store-brand cousins.
There are, however, some things I’ll never buy in a store again after seeing how much more cheaply I can get them on Amazon (if you’re one for DIY furniture, Amazon is a great resource—check out my “Chic Bedroom on an Entry-Level Budget” post for my entire bedroom under $1,000).
Keep in mind these aren’t mind-blowing, slap-yo-mama differences. When the store price is $30, even a $6 break represents paying 20% less. So while $6 may not sound like much, you’d take a 20% coupon to the store if you had one, right?
Moreover, recently I’ve noticed Amazon offering coupons right in the product description portal. Between an additional 15% and 30% off, usually you can save more on top of the initial undercut price.
For the most part, it’s beauty products, but there are a few outliers I love.
It’s a 10 Hair Products
You’ll pay roughly $1.62/oz. for the It’s a 10 conditioner at stores like Target (a 10-oz. bottle is about $16.19) vs. $0.91/oz. on Amazon. I buy the 33-oz. pump-top bottle for about $29.88 and it lasts several months. The same bottle is $44.29 at Ulta.
I’ve been using this conditioner for a couple years now and I’m obsessed with it. I deviated (like a moron—never abandon a beauty regimen that works!) and was so annoyed by the other products that I returned them and went back to this one.
Absolute difference: $14.41
Percent difference: about 33% off
My holy grail purple shampoo that I recommend to everyone, the Joico Color Balance Purple Shampoo
For $26.66 on Amazon, you can get the size that’ll set you back $33.99 at Ulta. And it’ll come delivered to your door, rather than require you to tempt yourself by walking through the other 400 sq. ft. of beauty products that you don’t need.
Absolute difference: $7.33
Percent difference: about 22% off
ONE Protein Bars
In the aforementioned Target story, I was stopping by the new Preston Center location to pick up a four-pack of these bad boys (1 gram of sugar and 20 grams of protein—can’t beat it, and they taste incredible).
Due to poor planning, I had to pay *gasp* full price for a four-pack, or $7.99. It makes WAY more sense to buy things like this on Amazon because you can buy them in bulk (i.e., more than a mere four days’ worth) for less.
This story illustrates a separate point that’s served as a major takeaway during my shift toward a ~reformed materialist consumer~ lifestyle: a little planning goes a long way. Small amounts of discipline and thinking ahead make for a pretty easy life.
But because I hadn’t planned for my expensive protein bar habit, I spent full price. Blah.
Instead, I like to buy them on Amazon—a 12-pack for $17.49. That’s $1.45 per bar vs. $1.99 per bar at Trader Joe’s or in the Target four-pack.
For the same amount (12) at Target or Trader Joe’s…
Actual difference: $6.39
Percent difference: about 27% off
The Birthday Cake flavor (my favorite) is on sale right now for an additional 30% off, so I got 12 bars for $12.24 (half off the price I’d pay in store) with free shipping thanks to bae, Amazon Prime.
As my paper towel/toilet paper debacle illustrated, Amazon isn’t always cheaper. But if you typically buy products at pseudo-specialty stores (Whole Foods, Ulta, GNC, etc.), you could probably find the product on Amazon for cheaper—and maybe with an add-on coupon, too.
Of course, you can’t overstate the convenience of next-day free delivery with Amazon Prime. I think paying for convenience is a little fruity-First-World, but if you’re paying less for MORE convenience, I don’t know why you’d trek to the store anyway and risk buying a bunch of other shit you don’t need or fighting the masses in crowded parking lots.
Check out these categories of things you buy regularly and make the comparison:
Protein shakes & bars
Happy online shopping, Cyber Monday friends! While I'm not encouraging you to buy things you don't need, I DO encourage you to buy the stuff you already use and need for less.
P.S. Anyone have the Amazon credit card? I know it gives you an automatic 5% back. Thoughts?
My borderline obsession with personal finance, the road to financial independence, and overall money savviness has led to some pretty interesting conversations with acquaintances and close friends alike.
One stuck out to me in particular, because it was so illustrative of how pervasive lifestyle creep is. *record scratch* What’s “lifestyle creep”?
Lifestyle creep, also known as lifestyle inflation, is the all-too-familiar phenomenon of spending more as you make more. Sound familiar?
I remember when I first learned my salary. My jaw dropped to the ground when I saw my first paycheck. It was such a drastic jump from the $100 I’d get every two weeks from my parents in college. I’ll be able to save at least half of this, I thought.
Do you ever look at your credit card statement or checking account balance at the end of the month and think, “Surely there’s been a mistake! How could I have spent this much? What the hell am I even buying?” I remember going line by line in my Discover bill once because I was convinced I was frauded--"There’s no way I spent $2,100 this month."
Of course, I had.
Put simply, no matter how much you make, you’ll find a way to spend it.
This individual and I were talking about saving & getting off the consumerism hamster wheel—and they told me their parents, who were both making six-figure incomes at the time, had declared bankruptcy.
This is why cognizant spending is crucial to building wealth. We are conditioned by consumer culture to believe that acquiring new things (little “opioid bumps” throughout our day) will give us a frictionless life.
I want to encourage an attitude of conscious consumption—pay attention to the mood you’re in when you tend to buy things you didn’t plan to. Are you hungry? Bored? Sad?
While I’m actively trying to practice this myself, I never want to sound like I’m preaching as though I’m holier than thou. Obviously, I’m no expert, and as recently as last month I was impulse-buying my way through a shitty Monday to make the day pass faster.
Sharing actionable advice and philosophy with you (as I learn it myself) is my way of paying it forward (pun intended), as I’m already noticing the positive effects in my bank account AND my mindset.
Impulse buys represent the most dangerous of financial decisions because they are—by definition—unplanned for and oftentimes not carefully considered. In fact, stores are literally laid out by design to encourage purchases of this kind because retailers know how powerful that instinct can be.
They range from the $4 muffin to the $25 shirt in the Target casuals section (gets me at least 50% of the time).
There’s an inherent promise of excitement and a quick shot of dopamine with each—this is something you didn’t have 10 minutes ago, but for the low, low price of [insert any number under about $50 here] and a quick swipe of your card, it’s yours.
But that’s where it ends. Muffin or shirt acquired. Dopamine shot over.
Impulse buys are typically easy to justify because their absolute dollar amount is relatively low.
But consider how often you fall victim to impulse buys. (Cue my obsession with compound interest—and how small things add up over time.)
Here’s my challenge to you: next time you want to buy something, write it down (and its price) in a spreadsheet. Keep track. Make yourself wait two full weeks before purchasing it.
I bet it’ll save you from buying at least half of what you write down.
This means no more thinking of something in the morning and purchasing it in the afternoon (or worse, seeing something in the store and throwing it in the cart).
Log these items over the course of a month or two, and mark which ones you purchase and which ones you don’t after the two-week waiting period.
And—here’s the most important part—add up the total of how much you would’ve spent on all of it, had you purchased the day desire struck you.
Even IF the number isn’t astronomical (say it’s only $100 after the month is over), the philosophical underpinnings of eliminating impulse buys are far more profound:
What do you have to show for that hypothetical $100? A collection of artisan muffins that you forgot about 10 minutes after you ate them, a light-up phone charger, and a few articles of clothing that got shoved in the back of your closet with everything else?
Psychologically, an impulse buy is a pick-me-up. It causes your brain to release a chemical that makes you feel happy.
But what if, with a small amount of planning, you could regain control over your spending and loosen consumer culture’s grip on your life—the constant wanting, needing, buying more?
This isn't about deprivation or sacrifice--it's about becoming aware of the way we tend to lean on impulse buys to improve our mood, and recalibrating ourselves to find that same satisfaction in the digits in our bank account (and the stuff we already have).
The financial results will probably astound you, but I think the psychological benefits are infinitely greater—imagine waking up every day knowing you already have everything you need.
See a cute top? Who cares. You have 50 of them. You don’t need that top and that top isn’t going to make your boyfriend like you more or impress your friends for longer than a second or get you a promotion.
(If there’s something that tempts you frequently and you KNOW you buy a lot of it, literally count how many you already have. That number can bring awareness to your habit of binging on it. I counted the other day—I have 12 pairs of black lululemon leggings. No más!)
My own experimentation with this has led to some pretty surprising, creative outcomes.
The last two times I've wanted to run out and buy something to make my life easier, I made myself wait. Within two days, that item (or something that functioned similarly) appeared in my life for free or from someone offering to let me borrow it. Can you believe that? It almost felt like magic.
I ended up spending nothing on either of those things and but having or using both of them because I asked around and waited a few days.
Spending money is the least creative way to solve a problem.
Luckily, everyone else in upper middle class America is also swimming in a sea of material goods they've purchased but don't need, so often times, you can benefit from others' excess.
I challenge you to implement the spreadsheet rule for at least a month and practice monitoring your "impulse buy" mood. Mine's boredom. Share your results with me when you're done—I want to feature someone! Like an inverse Money Diary: "These are all the things I wanted to buy but didn't."
Disclaimer: This post features financial transparency on my own part and a pinch of bitchy judgment (toward myself, and probably toward you) since most of us are irresponsible spenders. Read on at your own risk.
I feel like I’m looking at my own consumption habits with fresh eyes ever since I started reading Money Diaries and listening to the ChooseFI podcast.
While it’s not worth it to regretfully shame yourself for shitty money decisions in the past, I’m leaning into the self-loathing a little. I invite you to do the same, you dumb spender!!!!
Money Diaries features (mostly) traditional financial advice. Stuff you’d hear from your friendly neighborhood personal finance guy—the guidelines that are considered normal in United States personal finance culture. Save 20% of your take-home pay, contribute to your 401k up to the match… we’ve all heard this stuff before (hopefully).
ChooseFI, however, is on the far more radical side of the spectrum. If personal finance content were right-wing news outlets, Money Diaries would be NPR and ChooseFI would be Breitbart. (Great comparison, no?)
FI, or financial independence, is a school of thought that encourages people to save as aggressively as possible so they can retire early—like, “35 years old” early.
Yeah. It’s a little intense.
In a very, very simplified nutshell, it all basically hinges on the 4% rule.
If you can determine how much money you spend every year (I did mine earlier this week—if I’m perfectly “on budget,” I spend $30,600 per year), you can do this math equation to figure out how much money you’d need invested for your money to auto-replenish itself with interest for the rest of your life AS LONG AS you’re only spending 4% of it annually (assuming it’s growing at 8%).
30,600 * 25 = $765,000
(your annual spend) * 25 = (how much you need saved to retire)
This means as soon as I can save $765,000 in a portfolio growing at an average of 8% annually, I can stop working and maintain my same spending habits annually. No problem, right?! BRB.
So obviously this is really, really extreme. Especially because I want to spend way more than $30,600 per year!
Let’s do this again. Say I want to pay myself $100,000 in spending money every year for the rest of my life.
100,000 * 25 = $2,500,000
Once I hit $2.5M, I can pay myself $100,000 per year without working.
It’s called “financial independence” because your money is setting you free, playas. No more work for you. Your money is making money.
While I don’t aspire to this (because TBH, I like working), I like to water down their advice to help me save without being single-mindedly obsessed with this goal of retiring in my thirties. A hybrid of ChooseFI and Money Diaries presents a moderately aggressive approach to personal finance.
Here are a few high points (consider this approximately 10 hours of reading and listening distilled into three bullets—you’re welcome):
One ChooseFI cohost’s wife is from Zimbabwe and she told an eye-opening story about coming to America. To paraphrase:
“When I first came to America, I thought everyone owned these $60,000 and $70,000 cars because in Africa we don’t have credit to finance things. If you were driving a car, you owned it outright. There was no such thing as a lease or car payment. The only way to have a $60,000 car was to have $60,000. In America, people finance everything from couches to appliances.”
In the Money Diaries book (the more realistic and traditional approach to money), the author mentions your car shouldn’t cost more than 33% of your income. So if you make $50,000 per year, you can technically afford a car that costs $16,500.
How many people do you know who make less than that and drive a car that costs twice as much? The sad thing is, it's considered normal.
So that’s the “standard” advice about money on the topic.
FI’s take is that cars are such a horrific waste of money that (a) if you can bike to work, you should, and (b) buying a 5-year-old used car like a Honda or a Toyota is pretty much the only way to be even remotely sensible about car ownership.
Which, like, I can get onboard with conceptually—but when I think about giving up my 2017 Acura RDX it makes me want to cry.
It’s something I’ve been grappling with lately.
And here’s why:
So I was like, All right, KG, when your lease is up, it’s time to walk this big responsible talk. You don’t need a $40,000 SUV. You’re barely 5 feet tall. How about a nice 5-year-old Honda Accord Coupe?
Those are cute cars. Reliable! Affordable! Sensible!
But my internal tiny Dallasite consumer goblin is like… But the BMW X1 is only $XX more…
Y’all, I cannot extricate myself from this concept of cars and status! It is so ingrained in me that a car represents wealth and success that the idea of downsizing to a “lesser” vehicle makes me feel weird—and I’m ashamed to admit that. Especially because I have neither status nor wealth, so it’s an outright lie.
(But most everyone ELSE is lying too!)
A car is a money pit, no doubt, but ultimately its job is to transport you from point A to point B (reliably). Sometimes I think about the upsides of having a car you’re not attached to—park it on the street, get a door ding, spill coffee? Not that big of a deal. It’s just a car, and you’re not sacrificing nearly $4,000/year on a financed plan with accruing interest just to have it.
Aside from rent/mortgage, most people’s second biggest regular expense is their car (and car-related expenses—gas, insurance, maintenance). And for what? To impress the strangers in traffic who don’t give a shit about you?
It’s a little silly when you think about it, and I can admit that despite being someone who used to tape literal pictures of Cadillac Escalades to her electric scooter in 3rd grade (I was doomed to consumerism from day one, people).
Shifting to the "more stuff" mindset in general…
This idea that you become accustomed to the luxuries you acquire in life is an interesting one because I’ve experienced it firsthand in the last year. Starbucks really DID used to be a treat for me. Then it morphed into something I felt I deserved.
You know why? Because “I can afford it.” And it was so normalized! All the other women in my office got Starbucks every day (never to mind the fact they make at least twice as much as I do and are married to equally successful men). Me? I’m just out here in the mean streets of Uptown riding solo with my freeloading cat, S’Neiman Marcus (S’Nemo’s new fancy boi nickname).
The big lesson I’m taking away from both Money Diaries and FI is that just because you can afford something doesn’t mean you should buy it.
I’m trying (and with some success) to embrace minimalism and the idea that less is more, most of the time. The consumerism hamster wheel promises a lot of things, chief amongst them that acquiring new things will make you a more desirable person (that’s the subtext, at least).
I’m trying to remember that (to quote sweet Thomas) every dollar I spend today is a dollar that won’t be compounded.
In a really weird way, it’s kinda fun. I’m re-teaching myself to appreciate and second-guess purchases. It’s turning into a game of sorts—I saw a sports bra at Soulcycle I really wanted this morning for $55. I’m currently selling lululemon on Poshmark and essentially told myself until I’ve sold enough to have $110 in profit, I’m not buying something worth $55.
You know you’re a greedy Millennial when you’ve found a way to gamify saving.
I don’t know if this resonated with you—maybe you’re not as indoctrinated with materialism as I am. I do hope, though, that it’s stirred up something for you, even if it’s just the notion that you could be inadvertently deprogramming your own ability to appreciate simple pleasures by raising your consumer expectation bar with each pay raise.
There’s joy to be found in a little light deprivation (and also, in not having a $400 car payment).
Now let us all get this bread. Y'all made those net worth tracking spreadsheets yet? What're you waiting for?
Extra credit reading for greedy peeps
If I've plugged it once, I've plugged it a thousand times:
Money Diaries from Refinery29. This is, in some ways, what lit my personal finance fire (or at least fanned it dramatically). This is Money Management 101 with some juicy shit thrown in.
The young woman's money guide for all the things you're too embarrassed to ask your friends. Build the life you thought you were too broke to afford through managing your spending habits, travel hacking, and simple, smart investing.
Full-time Brand marketer at Southwest Airlines, part-time Yoga Sculpt teacher, occasional Waffle House Model and reformed materialist.
Download my free budget tool
Rent or buy calculator
Invest with Robinhood. Get free stock.