A Guide to Ballin’ on a Budget

My husband and I have always been pros at ballin’ on a budget. So much so that we actually recorded a song and a video on the topic.

Understanding how to budget has allowed us to do a lot of cool things in life, from international trips to having an incredible three day wedding at a summer camp. These are things that people like us typically can’t afford, but we’re pretty good at finding creative ways to pull off our dreams.

Now that our budget is tighter than ever, it feels less like ballin’ and more like survivin’. Still, we’re making things happen, getting closer to our goal of buying a tiny home, and having fun doing it.

Thankfully, we have both been broke at many points in our lives before this, so we’re able to pull from old skills and get creative to make ends meet. Here’s how to maintain some kind of lifestyle while severely cutting back and getting your finances in order.

Plan Ahead to Stay on Track

Okay, so we’ve taken this to the extreme, and have completely budgeted out the next five years. When you have $40,000 in debt to kill, and a tour van and a tiny house to buy, you’ve got to have a plan. For most people, making a one year plan and a longer term goal should be plenty. Either way, first things first.

  • Create an emergency fund. I know. You want to immediately start pushing those dollars toward your end goal. But the thing is, expensive shit is always going to come up when you least expect it. By putting $1,000 aside now, you’re covering the medical bills, car problems, and vet bills that you didn’t see coming. This is so important, because having that $1,000 will help keep you on track with your savings when life happens. Just do it.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Whether you’re doing this alone, or as a team, make sure you’re not cheating yourself. I recommend keeping your monthly and annual savings goals clearly written out and displayed where you’ll see it every day. Keep track of your progress on the same sheet. When you’re falling behind, it’s in your face until you catch up.
  • Set ground rules. Decide what you will (and won’t) spend money on ahead of time. This includes making tough decisions on gym memberships, beauty regimens, subscription services, shopping addictions, vacations, and more. Make sure your ground rules are set in stone, and inarguable. Also, make sure they’re calculated into your budget.

Be a Frugal Foodie

When you love food, and you live in a foodie city, it can be especially difficult to live on a shoestring budget. Here’s how to do it, and still have fun.

  • Get the most out of your groceries. Buy ingredients you can apply to several meals throughout the week.
  • Learn new recipes. Try at least one new recipe each week. Learn it together. Make cooking a part of the adventure. It can be way more fun than going to a restaurant.
  • Go to the store with a fixed budget. It can be a surprisingly fun and rewarding puzzle to figure out how to stretch $50 between two people for an entire week. It forces you to problem solve, and once you checkout within budget, you feel like a super badass.

Crush Convenience

We were spending way too much money on bodegas and deliveries. We justified this spending as being necessary with our busy lifestyle. But really, proper planning can reduce or eliminate the need for these money suckers in the first place.

  • Buy a lot of what you use often. If you’re purchasing a non-perishable, and you use it a lot, then buy it in bulk. This could go for anything from nuts to toilet paper.
  • Drink less alcohol. This seems simple enough, but it can be difficult in a fun city like Austin. Unfortunately, I had to significantly cut down on the booze due to health issues, but I found that once I did, the bodega spending did too.
  • Keep a case of nice budget wine in the house. My husband and I don’t really drink at home anymore, but we do get invited to dinners and parties, and we do need wine for those occasions. When you keep a case of your go-to wine at the house, it’s a quick grab-and-go for these events, and saves you the $20 bottle at the bodega, coupled with the inevitable $5 impulse buy.

Learn to say “no”

We are lucky enough to get invited to a lot of cool stuff. When we weren’t counting pennies, we had a habit of saying “yes” to almost all of it. It’s important to remember that most events will go on without you, and you can still have your own fun for free.

  • Make events a part of your budget. For instance, we are at that age where everyone is getting married. Weddings are the one thing we have a very hard time saying “no” to, as love is super important to us and should be celebrated to the max. So we’ve worked in a $1,500 annual “Weddings and Planes” fund. Most of our plane trips are for weddings these days. We try to build our own romantic getaways around these excursions, and this money being put aside at the beginning of the year means that our entire budget doesn’t get out of whack every time someone says “I do.”
  • Chill on the birthdays. We have a lot of people in our lives who we love and cherish. We are all about heading out to where they want to be on their birthdays to celebrate. With all of the weddings these days though, big money items like birthday gifts and special birthday excursions (cabins, trips, fancy restaurants) have fallen into the “no” list. Your friends will understand that you’re saving for your dreams, and you will get over your birthday FOMO. I promise.
  • Suggest alternative plans. When you live in a really cool city where there’s live music every night of the week, it’s always tempting to go out. Remember, it can be just as rewarding to stay home and work on your own creativity – whether that’s music, painting, blogging, or whatever. If you want to catch up with a friend, suggest a board game night or a walk. You’ll probably have more quality time that way, and you won’t pay $50 for covers, drinks, food trucks, and cabs.

Get Creative with Your Cash

Remember, you’re not shackled to the money your paycheck provides you. There are other ways to get what you want.

  • Trade your resources. Life is a big game of Settlers of Catan. We all have resources that someone else wants. For my husband and I, the most valuable resource we have to trade other than music is massage. Kevin is a LMT (one of the best in Austin), and we save a lot of money on valuable commodities by trading for massages.
  • Never be afraid to ask. I learned this lesson from my friend, Carrie, who I asked to play our wedding. Her band was already getting pretty big in the Austin music scene, so I almost didn’t ask. But I did, and they said “yes.” Carrie told me that the simple “act of asking” has gotten her a lot of what she has in life. Now that I’ve learned this skill, it’s afforded me many new opportunities and saved me boatloads of money along the way.
  • Sell what you don’t need. There’s a certain pleasure in simplifying your life. Clean out the clutter, and have a yard sale! If you’re not one to put all of your stuff on the lawn and wait for strangers to come by, then consider eBay, Craigslist, OfferUp, Tradesy, or any of the other dozens of apps available these days. I think that even Facebook has an online marketplace now. Remember, your trash is someone else’s treasure – and you can take that to the bank.

For more tips on simplifying your life, getting out of debt, and living your dreams, please follow this blog! I’ll be releasing new stories and guides weekly. Cheers to change!

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