20 ways save money (and reduce consumption)

Kicka här för hela inlägget på svenska: 20 sätt att spara pengar (och minska din konsumtion)

As Mike and I decided we were moving to Sweden, we cleaned up our finances immediately. Living according to a strict budget has been our (chosen) everyday since, and we can’t even imagine not, today. Our general consumption has gone from quite all over the place to minimal and very thought-through, and it is much thanks to our low living expenses we can live the way we do today, with plenty of free time and space to pursue the things we love. We also think of these (very) manageable costs as one giant social insurance in itself. If we would run out of work or get sick, or when the day comes when we choose to retire, we won’t be sitting here with piles and piles of bills, unable to afford a much too expensive lifestyle we’ve gotten used to. We won’t need to dramatically change the way we live due to drastically different circumstances at some point in the future – simply because we already did that (change the way we live, that is). And of course we’re all different, but we’d much rather take that step when in full control, and not when forced to.

When you don’t need that much to make ends meet every month, you can automatically feel a little more safe. A little more like the captain of your own ship, if you will. At the same time, as you reduce your consumption, you’ll automatically decrease your carbon footprint significantly. The simple, non-extravagant life is kind to Mother Nature, but is – contrary to what many might fear at first – not lacking in life-quality. A massive pretentious-warning goes out here, but we truly feel richer than ever before. Instead of purchasing substance, we’re creating it ourselves, and that beats any Black Friday steal in the world.

In this blog post, we’ll be listing some of the measures – big and small – that we took in order to save up money to facilitate our actual move from New York and “sabbatical year” once we had arrived in Sweden, and some of the things we’re doing still, in order to continue keeping our costs low. It’s by no means a complete list, capable of turning financial ruin into blossoming prosperity, but it’s an insight into how we have done and still do things around here. And while there might not be many revolutionary ideas to be found, there will hopefully be some inspiration to get you going towards your own goals. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we weren’t bankers making a fortune on Wall Street. We’re just two normal people who drew up a dream and got to business, trying to make it come true. (However enjoying oatmeal did come in handy.)

For reference, we’re using 1 USD = 10 SEK for simplicity, even though it was more like 9,20 when we moved and 9,85 right now.

1. Bringing lunch to work

Mike’s deli sandwiches at $10 seemed very innocent until we added up the numbers and realized they robbed us of $2500 a year. Today, we need SEK 12000 (or USD 1200) per month to get by (as in, that’s our minimum), and to think we spent SEK 25000/year on sandwiches alone back then is quite insane. That’s two months of life! In other words, bringing lunch to work should be a no-brainer for anyone looking to save money. The extra cost and effort of cooking one additional serving is close to none (especially if you eat plant based and in season), and we typically made (and still make) even bigger batches than just one dinner + one lunch for two people. To make sure you actually save money from bringing your own lunch, and not just end up spending it on other things, an automatic transfer into a savings account could be a good idea. We’re naturally self-disciplined and didn’t feel the need to, but for those who aren’t it could be worth considering.

2. Eat plant based and in season

There’s no point in reinventing the wheel here, but basing your diet on locally grown produce – e.g. potatoes, carrots, cabbage, beets and other root veggies for us here in Sweden – and legumes – i.e. beans, lentils and peas – will bring your costs down right away. That’s what we do. We never buy expensive nut butters, avocados, exotic dried fruits or fancy powders. Instead, our diet is quite basic – however all but boring! Our recipes here on our website represent more or less exactly how we eat, and seasonal eating automatically brings variation to the table. Cooking from recipes that use a simple baseline ingredient list is also recommended, as opposed to having to get obscure items you’ll use once and never again. 

3. Unsubscribe to emails

Yes, it’ll take a little time and sometimes be a pain in the butt because companies make it difficult to, but once you’ve unsubscribed to emails, your desire to shop will be significantly less triggered. We can both attest to buying various items in the past just because a discount code arrived in our inboxes. That “25% off an entire order” can be endlessly welcome if you’re truly, truly in the need of something, but for the most part, it’ll only lure us into spending money on pointless stuff.

4. Track expenses

Do you look back at the end of the month and summarize how much money you’ve spent and on what? We hadn’t until… well, until we started our savings plan, and it made a big difference in how we thought of money going forward. Seeing it black on white just once changed our attitude towards money entirely, and our spendings decreased right away as a result. When we saw all the transactions (and how many there could be in just one month’s time!), there was an immediate shift in us, where we became so aware of all the credit card swipes and instinctively wanted to avoid them as much as possible.

5. Monthly allowance (Swedish: månadspeng)

Give yourself one! Set aside a small sum of money that can be spent on whatever your heart desires each month. We actually didn’t do this at all (neither are we now), but it could be a way of “easing the fall” when you tighten the screws and attempt to decrease your spending. Having that little something to spend might make it more doable, staying away from shopping/spending as a whole.

6. Walk, run or bike to work!

Mike’s commute looked like this back in New York: 15 min walk to the subway, 15 min subway ride to Grand Central, 60 min train ride to Norwalk, CT, and then a 10 min bus ride. As you can tell, walking to work wasn’t quite an option – but cutting out the bus ride and walking the last stretch was! This saved us $3 per day, which over the whole year added up to $750, or SEK 7500. Not too shabby! I worked in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and could choose between riding the subway or making my way there and back by foot. One subway ride cost (and still costs) $2.75, which would have added up to $5.50 per day. Thus, rain or shine, I walked or ran the 4.2 miles/6.8 km (one way) every single day. (We didn’t own bikes back then and didn’t want to spend money on ones either, with savings being our priority and the move coming up.) I worked on average 4 days a week, so this saved us $1100 over the year. And not that we were – or are – gym-goers, but for those who pay for a membership only to go run on a treadmill inside… well, maybe run to and from work instead, and save money on both transportation and gym?

7. Sell things you don’t need!

It took a while before we got going with this, but once we did, we got addicted. First of all, we needed to essentially get rid of everything except personal belongings and clothes because we were moving, so that made it easy to make a decent amount of money (because we sold more expensive things, such as furniture and kitchen equipment). But beyond couches and blenders, we found endless other stuff we could sell. Sunglasses we never used. Textbooks long forgotten about. Other books. Suits and formal dresses we had only used once at weddings. Shoes. The list goes on. As all money saved just went into our savings account, we don’t have a number for how much we made, but it was a lot. Totally worth the effort. We primarily used Craigslist (for Swedes, think Blocket) and eBay. The search for items to sell also forced us to really take a close look at everything we owned and ask ourselves if we really wanted to keep whatever was in front os us. That made the packing phase easy – because whatever was left in the apartment when it was time to wrap it up was actually stuff we cared for. (This was definitely our first step towards a more minimalistic approach to life.) We both bet you have so much more to sell at home than you might think. We do, too. This fall, we’ll be selling off some camera equipment we no longer use, a fish tank we found in the shed and some pieces of clothes. And don’t forget the service you’ll do the planet when you sell your old things – it’ll prevent others from wasting resources as they go to buy something new.

8. Invest in a stainless steel water bottle and a to-go coffee mug (if you buy coffee out a lot)

One of very few “investments” we’ll encourage you to make, if you haven’t already, is that of a water bottle (and possibly a coffee mug). Not only will you save money, but you’ll also help reducing the tons of plastic that end up in our oceans. Buying bottled water is not ok, we think, unless there’s an emergency. And once you’re in the habit, bringing that bottle will be second nature. You’ll be just as likely to forget the bottle as you would your phone.

9. Change your attitude towards eating out

Do you eat out because you’re hungry or because of the experience? For the past 3 years, we’ve only gone out to eat because we’ve been really intrigued by a restaurant, had a special occasion to celebrate and been willing to pay for the experience. Not because we were too lazy to cook, were hungry or had forgotten to go to the grocery store. Before, we would grab Indian food just for the heck of it. Get Thai take out because neither of us felt like cooking. Left the apartment only to realize we were hungry and then grabbed sandwiches from a shop down the street. Etc. We decided we could save a lot of money just by limiting our restaurant visits to the times we were actually after an experience, not just satisfying hunger. We really like going out to eat – we love food, creative menus and fun interior design – and will never stop entirely. But having it be something special is key. We like to do our research, plan ahead and find the perfect day for it. This way, the money spent is very little and the enjoyment much greater. Nowadays, we go out around 3-5 times a year.

10. Plan meals

Back in NYC, Sundays meant going to the farmer’s market, buying the fruit and veggies we’d need for the week and plan the dinners until the coming Friday. We’d take into account how we’d be working and when we’d be getting home (my hours fluctuated a little more than Mike’s), what type of meals would be suitable and how we’d be able to make it all work. Stews, soups, warm salads (as in, filling and complete meals) and frittatas were go-to’s for us. We always made enough for at least two dinners and two lunches per person, which meant that we could get by cooking only two or three times in between the weekends. We relied on cookbooks, what was available at the farmer’s market and our own imagination, and practice really made perfect (or at least good enough). Coming up with what to eat is not difficult for us anymore, and cooking cheap meals is our speciality. Hey, we could even have Max, our brother/brother-in-law over for dinner once a week back then without breaking the bank!

11. DIY a few food things

There are a few food items we used to spend money on but never do anymore – instead we make our own and, if needed, bring with us on the go. These are all things where the effort needed to save some serious money over time is completely worth it, according to us. The list could be very long (and we encourage you to add things in the comment section below), but we’ve decided to limit it to:

  • Energy balls – as in those chic looking, “healthy” ones available everywhere, made from e.g. dates and oats
  • Energy bars – such as these Granola Bars
  • Popcorn – buy the kernels, not the already popped
  • Sandwiches – the easiest thing to prepare and bring, yet still costs a lot from a shop
  • Muesli/granola – buying the ingredients in bulk and making your own is the way to go, and don’t forget to put in the real (and cheap) superfoods in there, such as wheat/oat groats and bran (fiber and protein heaven for those interested)
  • Canned beans – once you get into the routine of always buying dried, it won’t feel like such a drag anymore. (The trick to getting them as soft as the pre-cooked ones is adding a pinch of baking soda to the pot when boiling them)
  • Buns at cafés – because us Swedes love them, but SEK 30 for an indulgence gone in a few minutes is too much for us frugals

We can’t even tell you how many KIND bars we’ve bought over the years, or how many of those $10 deli sandwiches we’ve shamelessly munched on, or how many expensive (and nicely designed) bags of granola we’ve carried home from the store. But boy, so many. (Another plus, when going DIY, is of course the reduce in package waste.)

12. Reduce your alcohol consumption

Have you ever looked into how much money you spend on alcohol over the course of a month or a year? For something that gives… let’s call it a “fleeting moment of happiness”, people sure spend a lot of their paycheck on it. Mike was a typical bar-goer when we first met. Not a crazy drinker by any means, but meeting up with friends and having a few beers together was standard procedure on the weekends. I’ve never been much of a drinker at all, but would join in for the social aspect and have maybe a cider or a glass of wine if I felt the pressure (my staple “drink” was otherwise a glass of water with a slice of lemon). In other words, we didn’t spend nearly as much money on alcohol as many of those around us, but $100 could easily go missing after just one night anyway. And so, we changed that. Alcohol gives me exactly zero pleasure and enjoyment. I only ever have it because it fits in the social context. I’ve not had any at all for the past 3 years, and I see no reason why that will ever change (I even prefer my glögg, or mulled wine, alcohol-free). Bar-going isn’t part of our lives at all anymore, so that spending has just erased itself, as we don’t consume any at home either. Mike still enjoys a cold beer every so often, but prefers the non-alcoholic kind these days. (Yay to there being so many alternatives nowadays!) By asking yourself what purpose the consumption serves for you, you can easily determine if it could (and should) be cut back on or not. As there is potentially a lot of money to be saved here, this bullet point should not be looked down upon. The health effects we trust everyone knows about already.

13. Keep a food budget

We transfer SEK 3000 into a food account every month. This covers all of our food + toilet paper, detergent and other similar items. Now, we do grow a lot of our own vegetables, and of course save a lot of money this way. But still, for us hungry runners eating everything at home/brought from home, we’re pretty pleased with this number. Sometimes we’re for sure running a little low towards the end, but then it becomes a fun challenge to stay within and still eat well (call us crazy, but we do get a kick from it). Monitoring all your purchases and comparing prices at the store are keys to not let it get out of hand. We typically go to the grocery store two or three times a month, if we’re not out and about on some sort of adventure, which also limits the opportunities to overspend. Using the self-scanning service at the store is also great, as you can see how the total amount grows as you go.

14. Look into your electricity usage

Lowering your indoor temperature a bit (ours is set to 18ºC), hang drying instead of using a tumble dryer, placing food outside to cool off before putting them in the fridge/freezer, taking short showers and not having unnecessary lights on are all ways of reducing your energy consumption and thereby spending less money on power. We try to be very conscious of this, and logged a kWh usage of 6500 last year, for a free-standing (albeit very well-insulated!) house of 70 sq m/753 sq ft footprint, with a 40 sq m/430 sq ft second floor with sloping ceilings (i.e. not full standing height wall to wall).

15. Clean out fridge, freezer and pantry regularly

This will help minimize any food waste too, as nothing will be forgotten about in the back of the cupboards, and spark creativity in the kitchen as well. Every time we’re nearing the end of a month, we try to work with what we have more so than buying new stuff. A few times a year, we do a big clear-out of the pantry items and then start fresh. With the help of a few different fresh veggies, it’s actually quite inspiring to see what you can make with what’s on hand. Some random flours you’d like to finish off? Make flatbread and have tacos for dinner, or try making your own crisp bread (a lot easier than you might think, and lasts for a long time). Somehow, it gives us an equally massive kick finishing things off and clearing space as it does stockpiling. Good thing life can see both!

16. For women: get a menstrual cup

I never did the math myself, but based on findings online, it seems a woman on average spends $50-$100/year on pads and tampons. A cup is around $20-30 and will last you at least 10 years. That’s a lot of money saved, not to mention the decrease in waste. I swear by it, even for long distance running.

17. Eat soups and stews!

It’s been mentioned as parts of other bullet points already, but cheaper, more wholesome food is hard to find. Why don’t you decide you’ll do soup or stew at least two nights a week? That will mean some seriously affordable meals right there. Putting together a list of 10 soups/stews you really like (hint: we have plenty of recipes here), and then rotating between them will make the “what to eat tonight”-quest simpler immediately, too. And go for nutritious soups, not the “cream sauce” type of deal. A glass jar works better for bringing soup to work than regular tupperware.

18. Vacation in your country (or corner of the country, if e.g. the US)

Not that we would jump on flights left and right even if they were for free, but exploring Sweden together has brought us infinite joy and excitement so far, and at a very low cost! We typically cook ourselves, rent Airbnb-places and spend time outside for free. Of course it costs a little bit, but not that much in the end. There’s so much beauty to be seen and experienced close by that there’s no need to fly all over the world to search for it.

19. Plan your purchases

We don’t have an official shopping ban – we just shop very little. For some, the ban works perfectly. We were never obsessive shoppers in that regard, but more or less stopped entirely as we wanted to start saving money. Nowadays, we trust that we only make smart decisions, both with regards to finances and the planet. By keeping a list in e.g. your phone of items you’re in the need of, you can plan them carefully and even jump on a sale or use a discount code when you’re ready (unless the item can be found used, then that’s always preferred). Shopping in a rush and shopping to make yourself feel better are bad ways of shopping. Knowing that “this fall, I’ll need a new pair of shoes because my old ones are beyond repair” is an example of good, conscious shopping. Letting each purchase take time is highly recommended. You’ll appreciate them so much more, and the risk of an item never being put to use is much less.

20. Shop in nature’s pantry

Here in Sweden, we’re fortunate enough to live under the freedom to roam-law (Allemansrätten). This means we can move through nature more or less however we please as long as we don’t damage it, and we’re free to pick berries, fruit, mushrooms etc. as long as not on someone’s immediate property. For anyone paying attention to food prices, equipping yourself with a bucket or basket and seeking out blueberries and chanterelles should be an automatic reaction. Out in nature, you can shop for premium produce at no cost at all. We picked 30+ kg of blueberries this year, making sure we have enough for the entire winter. Two weeks ago, we carried home 100+ kg of pears and this week, the same amount of apples. The majority will be turned into sauce (Swedish: mos) and stored for the oatmeal bowls of the winter. (And we should probably not even tell you about the masses of chanterelles growing 20 steps away from our front door.) All for free. You should also take advantage, and make sure less is wasted!

That’s that. We hope you found something to take away from this, and that you’ll find ways to make your dreams come true too. Feel free to ask any questions, and we’d of course be thrilled if you wanted to send others this way, if you think you know someone who might like this read as well. Until next time, take care and save smart!

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt (Featured Image), Michael Miracolo (2, 11, 17), Freestocks.org (6), Nils Stahl (9), Andrew Ridley (14, 20)

3 thoughts on “20 ways save money (and reduce consumption)

  1. Thanks for sharing. We once had a big trip with our family of six around the Great Lakes in North America and we did “Mennonite Your Way”. We stayed at peoples houses that were on the list and only payed a minimum (or nothing) , breakfast was includes and sometimes supper too. Our children met “Black Bumper Amish”,where we had to sing in their church; a family with 8 kids, of whom 5 were adopted on a dairy farm and a piano tuner, music teacher who showed the stars with his telescope and we got to see the first hummingbirds in our lifetime. We saved a lot of money that way and we got the cultural experience.

    1. What a fun trip and story! Thanks for sharing. The best ways of vacationing are often the cheap ones 🙂

  2. Det värsta jag och min fru gjort för konsumtion och miljöavtryck är väl att skaffa fyra barn… 🙂 men bra tips och jag tror nog vi kan checka av en hel del saker ändå, vi har båda i alla år pendlat kommunalt till våra jobb och bara använt bil i undantagsfall, för min del har det i perioder också varit en hel del run-commute när jobbet under många år låg inom rimligt avstånd. Vi har blivit allt bättre på att sälja av begagnade saker som barnens saker och kläder och har också under åren, framförallt min fru, köpt väldigt mycket begagnat. Vi planerar vår matlagning med matkassar från Linas och Ica och har matlådor med oss till lunch varje dag och låter i princip inget gå till spillo och vi äter mer och mer vegetariskt. Vi har bott i samma hus i snart 20 år vilket också gjort att vi inte konsumerat en massa nya möbler till ett nytt boende. Med fyra barn (även om de börjar bli stora nu) så är det också rätt svårt att äta ute eftersom det är svårt att hitta något som alla vill äta 🙂

    Med det sagt så finns det ändå en hel del att tänka på, t ex inköp av kläder och inte minst löparprylar, där kan jag behöva tänka efter, vad vill jag ha (t ex hur många löparskor) och vad behöver jag verkligen (klart färre par än de jag har).

    På tal om löpning så kommer jag under en period nu att testa att blogga på engelska för att se om jag gillar det och också om några nya läsare hittar till mitt lilla hörn av webben, vore roligt om ni läste såklart för att se om det kan funka 🙂 Ha en härlig helg, jag planerar en helg med väldigt lite konsumtion, mer familjetid och en hel del löpning 🙂

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