I put over $14,500 back in my pocket this year – this post shows how!

I put over $14,500 back in my pocket this year – this post shows how I did it by living Modestly, not Minimally!

Often times people have asked me questions such as, “How do you DO it? How do you survive on just $xxxxx a year?!” Or, “You don’t look ‘poor.’ But I guess by today’s standards, you are!”

(The second type of question-asker I generally keep at arm’s length if possible – if they think “poor” has a “look,” well, frankly, I’m not wanting that Judge Judy in my circle of influence.)

That said, we have drastically reduced our small family expenditures over the past year – first for fun, second for necessity. And yes, I did say “fun.” Why? Well, we have saved more money, and that leads to being able to experience more “fun.”

Additionally, I truly enjoy the feeling of seeing how much I can stretch a dollar or dime. Call me weird, but I kinda feel like I’m getting one over on ‘the man’ when I figure out how to DIY a new skill or shave some consumer bucks off of the Gross National Product spend!

So, without further ado, here are some of my tips to shave massive costs off of general living, nearly painlessly!

1. Make the switch to LED or CFLs! – $133.56 personally saved in one year switching to LEDs and CFLs

According to the LED Waves site, by replacing 11 bulbs in my home with LED fixtures, I saved approximately $133. 56 cents. That is based on 4 hours of use per day, and granted – that may seem like a lot, but in the blustery Northeast of North America, our days can be MIGHTY short – and don’t forget that it also includes the bulbs in ceiling fixtures, under the hood kitchen fixture, etc.

Chris Tecmire over at Simple Family Finance has a great article that goes over the prioritizing necessary to get a good ROI when making the switch. You can read that here at his blog.

Savings Total = $133.56

2. Quit your Vices – $1,794 personally saved in one year eliminating one vice

Alright – this suggestion definitely does not apply to everyone, but as can be seen in this USA Today article, I had an extremely expensive habit that I needed to butt out of a conversation with – both for better health and money savings. Although I wasn’t a SUPER heavy smoker, and I was very secretive about it when I did light up – that bad habit was still costing me on average a whopping $1,794! I calculate that figure on the price of my old brand at $11.50/pack and three packs a week.

I quit before the tobacco tax and price hike discussed in the article. Now let’s think about the numbers if someone was a “pack a day” smoker, living in the city and choosing the pricier brands at what is now $15/pack in the area – that cost that is literally money that “goes up in smoke” is costing the smoker $5,475. The cash saved could almost pay for this lovely necessity.

And in case anyone would like to know – I quit cold turkey over a long snowed-in weekend stuck in a vacation chalet with a bunch of little children. You may not find yourself in the same type of atmosphere – but I knew the time there was on the horizon and would be the perfect quit day to set for myself.

Not only have I saved money, but I believe I’ve saved myself from various health issues, stigma, and become a better role model in my little family.

Onto another possible leak of resources: libations. According to some websites, the average cost of a bottle of wine is $38. There is a pointed article on Mass Live that asks the reader “Wine Prices: what’s the magic number for a good bottle of wine?” Personally, when I did drink wine that I purchased in retail shops, I wasn’t typically spending $38. It was more of the $12 – $20 range. Using that as a base, the following illustrates how a two adult household may spend resources on the ‘glass of wine with dinner’ habit.

One bottle of wine= 5 glasses.

Two adults @ 1 glass a day = 14 glasses a week.

14 glasses a week = 2.8 bottles a week.

Let’s round that up to 3 bottles per week and use $15 as the wine bottle price point. (I’m illustrating ‘wine at dinner at home’ calculations here – not ‘out to dinner’ examples.) So, if our fictitious friends had no real social life outside of the home, and stuck with 1.1 glasses of wine each per evening at the $15/bottle price point – that equates to $42/week.

What? But that’s just a glass of wine!

Yep. And if that $42 a week is multiplied by 52 weeks of the year you get a grand total of $2,184 a year!

Let’s add up the household vice cost for two light smokers who drink alcohol on an adulting level –

$3,588 (light smoker cost x two)

$2,184 (alcohol example above)

= $5,772 a year potential savings

Personally, I would take that savings and run to my nearest travel agent to book a Two Week Caribbean Cruise as the estimated prices shown on Travel Cost Helper illustrate, you know what I’m saying?

As for me and quitting my last remaining vice of stress-induced tobacco?

Savings Total = $1,794 personally saved in one year

3.Be Pedestrian – $5,783 to be saved this year!

I completely, 1,000% understand that this may only be possible if you live and work in an area with decent public transportation, ridesharing, and taxi/shuttle service. It is simply not feasible for everyone. I get that. This article is written to illustrate my successes and perhaps act as inspiration, not a “you must do this to survive” sermon. So hear me out on this one…

metro underground

I do have something very first world, basic Becky to admit: Before the accident that could have cost me my life but instead gave me a new perspective I had never taken a public bus. Yes, I had taken the metro, the train, the subway, a multitude of taxis, Ubers, and Lyft’s… But I was so darn used to getting behind the wheel of my old but trusty vehicle and parking in my city garage – it hadn’t even occurred to me to do public bus. The irony? In my “old life” our local public transportation authority was on my client roster as an advertising executive.

Yes, yes… I’m a hypocritical and horrible carbon emission spewing person.

BUT? That all changed!

At the time of my accident my car was paid off, and wasn’t worth more than about $1,500 (a lot of the poor resale value was due to the high mileage I gained from being a gas guzzling snob) but not long before that my payments had been approximately $300/month! Thankfully my insurance premiums were SUPER low for the region due to my great, safe driving record, but they did still average about $115 per month.

As I lived in a Pink State and was paying about $2.50 a gallon when I had my car, and was driving a modest 20 miles a day and my car got a convenient-to-calculate 21 miles to the gallon. I was spending about $2.50 a day on gas on the weekdays, and on the weekends – travel and errands could raise that to up to $10 a a day. It may not seem like much, but the modest math of fuel costs brought my potential spend to $32.50 a week. That’s $1,650 a year in gasoline alone in my rather tiny radius of driving!

Take into consideration these numbers at time of publication:

  • CharlieCard Inner Express in Boston is listed at $128
  • The cost of an unlimited Metro Pass in NYC is $116/month
  • The Atlanta MARTA cost is listed as $95
  • Comprehensive San Francisco metro pass cost is listed as $95
  • Unlimited Express service monthly transit pass in Kansas City is $95
  • Public transit unlimited pass cost in Seattle is listed as $72

The average cost of the examples above is $100.16 – and yes, there ARE cheaper metro pass cities and regions – but I picked those few as I have personal knowledge of them all and can vouch for the ease by which they are traversed via public transportation.

So… Doing the math, we’ve got $25.04 per week approximate average for a metro pass vs $32.50(gas) + $28.75 (insurance) + $75 (former car payment) = $136.25 per week personal vehicle cost.

My calculations for transportation costs?

$1,302.08 – Public Transportation vs $7,085 – Personal Vehicle

Savings Total = $5,783 in transportation savings for one year!

Please note that these figures don’t take into account that I have a car share membership or any costs that may come from that. But, as I have yet to use my membership since joining, the costs haven’t kicked in, but it may average up to an additional $50 / month when and if I do end up utilizing it fully. Even though I haven’t been back in the driver’s seat in a long time it is a great thing knowing I have access to my ‘own’ large vehicle should a trip to IKEA or an estate sale call for one.

If you want to check out the averages of a vehicle’s gas usage, check out Fuel Economy.

4. Curb Shopping – $820 saved in TWO MONTHS

I kid you not my neighbors couldn’t find a new home for this gorgeous bed …until I walked by! Don’t be afraid to carry something home and inspect it before bringing it inside. Another neighbor helped me walk this bad boy of a bed two blocks to my front door – and he saved me a few hundred bucks on the bed I’ve actually been lusting over online!

Add to the curb side hauls in recent weeks – our Ethan Allen couch, kid’s shelf, primed and ready canvases, easel, cast iron pan, and a fully functioning CAMPING TENT with a note that instructed the universe to “enjoy.” and I may as well open up a second hand shop or start posting photos of these treasures here soon!

My estimates of the items using second hand price guides:

  • Bed – $250 (retail $516)
  • Couch – $150 (retail new is approximately $1,800 but ours definitely needs some accent pillows and love)
  • Shelf – $10
  • Cast Iron Pan – $30
  • Canvases – $25
  • Easel – $15
  • Camping Tent – $50

Savings Total = $820 saved for household goods in two months!

5. Downsize your living space – $6,180 saved on basic shelter expenses in one year!

Once again, this tip may not be easily accomplished by most, but I think there can be value seen in hard numbers. We lived in an apartment that was unnecessarily large for our family, and when it was time to relocate we decided to look for a drastically smaller space.


The funny thing? Where we moved had historically higher rents, and ummm, much ‘quirkier’ apartments. I went searching with a mission in mind – find a much smaller home that was easier to maintain but offered a better quality of life for a pedestrian family interested in community events, urban gardens and parks, and with super easy access to groceries and the new school H.J would start attending in the area.

The day I viewed our current apartment, I came ready with cash. Yup. It felt a bit illicit and dangerous walking around with a stack of bills to rental open houses, but I believe it may have been a factor in us sealing the deal! The owners didn’t take the cash on hand, and instead we did the traditional lease signing, but I know that other interested tenants were turned down (one happened to be a friend of a former coworker) because I was ready with funds and ‘serious’ about the search.

And…our rent is now $375 less a month and includes utilities that were running us $140/month in our old home! Our numbers related to getting rid of the large space in a suburban town and moving to a cozy, historic flat in the city:

$375 x 12 = $4,500

$140 x 12 = $1,680

Savings Total = $6,180 saved in one year by downsizing

Conclusion? Crunching numbers and prioritizing where we could save money without sacrificing quality (and in fact improved the quality of life in so many aspects) has led to a savings total of… $14,710.56!

We are able to live modestly so that we can love life boldly. If you haven’t done so already, I challenge you to rethink your needs and celebrate joy everyday by choosing a path of modest living that fits you and yours.

In gratitude,


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4 thoughts on “I put over $14,500 back in my pocket this year – this post shows how!”

  1. These are great ideas. We gave up our car in 2004. Transit costs us about $250/month for the family. We bike/walk also so that sometimes reduces our costs (we buy two passes and share those and when we all need to travel we pay single fares). Cars in Canada average about $10k/year in expenses and right now with gas at about $1.20/litre ($4.56/gallon) it’s pretty costly!

    We recently moved to a less trendy neighbourhood also. Crazily enough our rent went down to 60% of what it was but our space nearly tripled. The cost of trendiness is crazy! Hilariously we live in a more walkable neighbourhood with better transit before.

    Now back in the late 90’s when both of us wanted to be at-home parents we went the minimalist route. We put up a 314 square foot yurt in the woods on some land a friend owned. We had no electricity, gathered wood for heating, got water from a spring, rainwater, and occasional visits to our friend’s well. We cooked from scratch almost all the time and shopped at inexpensive stores, bought bulk food from the health food store, and went to the dented can store often. The result was that we pared down our lifestyle to a minimum of $300 USD/month. We didn’t always go that low, but could if needed. In the end, our first year living like that our family income was in the high four-figure range. Around $9k, if I recall correctly. We didn’t have a lot of cash but we had so much time to spend with one another. It was life changing. Over the years we got better at making money and even moved to the nearby town where we rented a small 2br cottage for $190/month but still hovered at or just above the poverty level while living happily and never feeling as if we wanted for anything.

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