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There Are Different Ways to Think About Money. But My Way Will Save You $6000+ a Year.
Simply being aware of what things cost can save you a bundle.
I recently had a conversation with an old friend that reminded me how we humans can view the same issue in such wildly different ways.
The conversation was about money.
I said to my friend, “As Michael and I travel, and as I go through life, I generally look for deals, and I try to be aware of what things cost, and I think that’s saved us a ton of money over the years. I also think do-it-yourself can sometimes save a ridiculous amount of money.”
My friend said, “I don’t like thinking about money. I’d rather just pay what I’m asked — within reason, of course. As for DIY, that can end up costing much more than you save. Anyway, your way sounds like too much effort.”
“But it’s not much effort at all!” I said. “It’s often as easy as simply being aware of what things cost and asking a few questions.”
“I’m self-employed with a complicated job,” he said. “When I’m not working, I want things to be simple and easy. If I need something done, I’d rather just pay someone to do it for me.”
In the end, neither of us convinced the other — at all — although I do agree that DIY should only be done very selectively.
If I didn’t convince him, maybe I can convince you. And since he reads this newsletter, maybe this article will give him some food for thought too, by revealing some hard numbers on exactly what I’m talking about.
Here is a list of all the ways I’ve saved money this year — including exactly how much I saved and how long it took me.
What do you think? Is this really too much effort?
(All numbers below are in USD.)
I Closely Monitored Our Spending
I do Michael’s and my finances (while he does his share of other chores), and I keep a fairly close eye on what we spend: saving receipts, balancing the checking accounts, and going through our credit card and other financial statements with a fairly fine-tooth comb.
So far, this year, I’ve found two fraudulent charges and three incorrect ones, all of which have been reversed, for a total of $1387 in savings.
What kind of fraudulent charges do I catch? In 2021, I made the rookie mistake of buying plane tickets through a “discount” app, which tried the sneaky trick of advertising their prices in USD but then charging us in British pounds (which made the price far more expensive). But by watching our finances closely, I recognized their ploy and reported them, resulting in a full refund from the credit card, which was actually credited to us twice (despite my objections). So that year, in addition to my other catches, we ended up with a $1300 credit and two free $280 plane tickets.
It’s a bit difficult to estimate “time” on this one, since everyone obviously has to spend some time on their finances. But I’m fairly rigorous, so I’ll estimate I spent five extra hours more per month than the bare minimum.
How Much I Saved (in 2023, so far): $1387
How Long It Took Me: 60 hours
What I Made Per Hour: $23.11
We Downsized Our Storage Locker
Michael and I travel full-time, but we maintain a storage locker back in the Seattle area for documents and other essentials. Our first locker, which we rented in 2017, was 10’X10’. Our first year back, after we realized how much we liked our new lifestyle, we got rid of many of our belongings and downsized to a 10’X5’ locker, saving us $500 USD/year.
As the years passed, I suspected we could get rid of more things and make due with an even smaller locker — 5’X5’ — but there was never one available when we happened to be in town.
Then in July, when I was home for my father’s funeral, a smaller locker opened up, and Michael and I spent an afternoon taking stuff to Goodwill and moving into the new locker.
Because we pay a year in advance, we also always get one month free. (We also pay less because we chose a storage company outside Seattle itself.)
How Much We Saved: $520 *
How Long It Took Us: 5 hours (X2)
What We Made Per Hour: $52 *
* This is only for the first year. We will now save this amount every year, for as long as we keep the locker.
I Got Creative in Redoing our Wills
It had been almost a decade since Michael and I had updated our wills, and our finances had changed a lot, so we decided to update our wills.
We got two estimates from lawyers, both recommendations from our financial advisor: $2500 and $3000.
Frankly, I found both quotes to be ridiculously expensive, so we went back to the guy who had done our wills before (previously recommended by our financial advisor, and I checked to see if he was still in his good graces — he was). He now charges $650 per couple — up from $550 in 2016.
How Much I Saved: $1850
How Long It Took Me: 30 minutes
What I Made Per Hour: $3,700
I Did a DIY Deed Transfer
But when I asked the management company for help on transferring the deed, they said, “Sorry! We don’t have anything to do with that.” They finally pointed me to a title company, but that company also said, “Sorry! We can’t really give you any advice.”
I knew the lawyer handling my dad’s estate would be really expensive ($2000+, more even than the paltry value of the time-share), so I went to the lawyer who was redoing Michael’s and my wills. He quoted me $550, which I knew was really cheap.
Even so, I wondered if I couldn’t do this myself. I’d never DIY something as serious as a will, but this time-share has almost no value; there was no one who would ever contest the transfer; and if I screwed anything up, the county would just reject it anyway.
So I called up the local county auditor and I said, “I’m the executor on a will, and I needed to transfer a deed. How exactly would I do that?”
He talked, and I took notes. I had another agency email me the old deed transfer, which my father (a lawyer) had previously done. Then I used a free online template to create a new transfer, followed my notes from that earlier conversation, and sent a package off directly to my contact at the auditor’s office — and it was accepted!
How Much I Saved: $550+
How Long It Took Me: 4 hours
What I Made Per Hour: $137.50
I Followed Up on Previous Purchases
One of the things I tried to impress upon my friend-who-doesn’t-want-to-think-about-money is that simply being aware of prices gives you all kinds of opportunities to lower them.
Case in point: Michael and I took several cruises this year, booked through the travel agent at a cruise-discount website. The prices were already fairly low, but even after we had reserved our cabins, I kept monitoring the prices.
On one of our cabins, the priced suddenly dropped $400 (for the two of us), and I immediately called our agent, who got us credited. Cruises are usually paid in full three months before the cruise, and he warned us, “If the price drops after that, you probably won’t get any more money refunded.”
But the price did drop, and I noticed, and I figured, “Well, we can at least try to get a refund.” So I contacted the agent, he gave it a shot, and — yup! — the cruise line refunded us even more money ($630).
How Much I Saved: $1030
How Long It Took Me: 3 hours
What I Made Per Hour: $343.33
I Followed My Own Advice
Regular readers know I write a regular column here on travel hacks, which often includes money-saving tips. Recent advice of mine includes:
Free websites for Michael and me (saving $500/year).
Cancelling all auto-renew subscriptions (which always results in cheaper subscriptions rates — saving $150/year).
Getting free Kindle books (saving $250/year)
We also alternate between streaming services (saving $400/year), and I closely watch grocery prices for errors as we’re checking out (saving $100/year).
How Much I Saved: $1040
How Long It Took Me: 15 hours
What I Made Per Hour: $70
Total Savings — and Was it Worth It?
So there you have it! On these examples, I spent about 92.5 hours this year watching our dollars, for a total annual savings of….
$6,377 (or $69 per hour)
Was it worth it? For me, the answer is obviously yes. That strikes me as a fairly reasonable hourly rate for the time and effort I put into it. And I think this is a pretty accurate annual average of what I typically save, so every ten years, that’s an extra $60,000 in savings.
That’s like one “free” year of my annual salary (after taxes) every decade. Plus, it feels very satisfying to catch and expose all the cheats and scammers who are trying to rip me off.
And the ideas mentioned here are all somewhat hidden savings. I haven’t included, you know, simply shopping for better deals. Or not buying certain things at all because you don’t really need or even want them.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that because Michael and I have been somewhat frugal, we’re now as financially comfortable as we are.
But reading over what I’ve written, I have a feeling I know what my above-mentioned friend would say to all this:
“You’re just proving my point! You say you only put 92 hours of work into this, but it’s clear you think about money all the time — you must constantly be aware of it. And I just don’t wanna work that hard.”
Which is, of course, absolutely fine. We’re both adults here, responsible for our own choices.
But I sure am glad Michael and I are on the same page. I can’t imagine anything quite as excruciating as being in a relationship with someone who has a differing attitude about money.
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author. Check out my new newsletter about my books and movies at www.BrentHartinger.com.