Only a few short years ago, my wife and I were broke (financially speaking!). Between two car loans, a handful of other consumer debts, and student loans, we were worth far less than a homeless man (again, financially speaking!) begging for loose change on the street corner. Fast forward to where we are today; we have a more than healthy positive net worth, we no longer stress over our money, and we are able to easily make our budget work on only one modest salary while the wife stays home with our infant. This often leads people to ask the obvious question. How did we go from where we were to where we are now? And honestly, it’s really quite simple. Boiled down to its roots, it all comes down to one easy to remember rule: don’t buy what you don’t need or what you don’t use. Emphasis on what you don’t use.
I know you’ve probably been told this multiple times by more than just your cheap tarot card reading. But it’s by far the most important rule when looking to build wealth because it stops future cash from leaking out when it needs to be used to pay off debts and grow your net worth. And this goes beyond learning how to invest (which we also did along the way), taking our student loans by the throat and kneeing it into submission, and learning how to vacation while on a budget. It’s one simple rule that can build such an incredible amount of wealth that it simply can’t be ignored. But how does one start? Here is a list of different things that we specifically applied this rule to in order to dig ourselves out of debt and free up cash to start investing.
Application 1: Kitchen Clearing
It sounds like an oxymoron to think that you’ll save money by clearing your kitchen but I promise you that I’m not just selling sour lemonade. Hear me out and then make your own opinions!
If you’re like millions of other Americans, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ve got at least a handful of expired items taking up space in your fridge. Whether it’s the old jar of pickles that’s hidden behind your butter, a can of coke that got shoved to the back of the bottom drawer, or the top of your far expired wedding cake, there is bound to be more than just a few. And if that’s the case, you can take a few lessons from what has been left uneaten and unused.
Because groceries can be one of the biggest money pits for far too many households, we can all take a deeper look at what’s worth buying on our next trip by paying close attention to what’s expired in our fridges. By removing all of your expired items and keeping track of those items on a sheet of paper (or on your new iPhone X) you can be more intentional on your next trip to the store. As a general rule, we used this list as a “to avoid” list when shopping. If it had the chance to expire, it really wasn’t worth purchasing again (in MOST but not all cases).
Application 2: Raid the Bookcase
If you’re a bookworm like my wife and me, you’ve likely got a few books on your shelves (or maybe more than just a few). After only a few trips (maybe more than a few) to Barnes and Noble where we pick up a book or two from the discount rack (what?! They were only three dollars each!), the bookshelf can start to fill up. And while this is seemingly a good thing because reading is a great habit to be stricken by, it can all too quickly turn into a space cluttering money hemorrhaging mess of books that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
And while I’d love to give out participation medals to all of the authors who were somehow able to get their drudgery published and stocked onto the shelves, their lucky first break for a printed copy is for the most part not worth your money. This is largely due to the fact that most owners of large book collections simply never return to read a book after it’s been conquered. Think about it – how many of the books that you own have you actually returned to read a second time? I’d bet the number is fairly low.
And with that being said, it leaves an opportunity for some savings. While I don’t intend to tell you to stop reading by writing this attack on bookshelves, I do intend for it to be a wake-up call to buy only hard copies of books that you simply can’t stop returning to. Instead, aim to download an electronic copy (that is almost 100% of time less expensive than the physical copy) first and then if you continue to go back to it, honor the author by then buying a physical copy for you to own and hopefully one day gift to someone who could benefit from your treasured novel (my precccioussss). Or, you know, go to your library and check a hard copy of the book out. Or use your e-reader to download free books through your library (you can actually do this!).
Application 3: DVD Disease
Do you suffer from frequent episodes of DVD disease? Symptoms include buying copies of movies that you watch once at home before tucking away the disc into an extremely large display and never again viewing it. If so, you can find remission.
What was once a shrine to your favorite creators, large collections of almost anything (in this case, your Power Rangers DVD collection) can simply turn into giant mistakes that you stare at and move with you from apartment to apartment. That is, until you ultimately part with them when your new child spits up onto them (I promise I’m not speaking from experience).
Please don’t wait for this to happen. Next time, instead of buying that movie that you thought was awesome in the theatre, try renting it at Redbox first or waiting until a year after it’s released when it hits the discount bin at Walmart. If by then you still want it, the price should fit the purchase.
Application 4: Dust Check
Ready to drop some truth on what you actually use and what you don’t in your house? Try checking for where the dust clutters. When my wife and I cleaned our apartment in preparation for our new way of life, it was immediately apparent what was being used and what wasn’t by how much dust had accumulated on each of the items.
By cataloging what we were using and what we weren’t, we were able to quickly determine what we should continue spending money on. It also allowed us to determine what could be resold for some extra cash to pay off debts. Blu ray player full of dust because all you use now is your Xbox or Apple TV? Sell it. Have multiple sweatshirts that are full of dust in your hallway closet that have been replaced by newer/more wind resistant products? Sell em. Autographed picture of David Hasselhoff stuffed into a corner and covered in (you guessed it) dust? Sell it!
You get the idea. Dust covered? Think about selling it. Not dust covered? You probably use it frequently enough to warrant keeping it. This can also help with your stress levels as a packed and cluttered house can affect your happiness (also see famous study: “clutter = crap”).
With all of this being said, I’m sure that most of this isn’t coming as much of a shock. Deep down, we’re all too aware that the things we own start to own us if we collect too much of it. And if that’s going to be the case, in my honest opinion, I want those things to tell a true story of what I actually cared about – not the obscure crap that I only gave five minutes to because it was “the hot thing to buy”.
Instead, try to focus more on spending time with family and friends, taking an interest in low cost/no cost activities, and really living your life – not simply accumulating stuff. After a bit of time, you’ll see that living by the simple rule of buying what you need and not what you want will lead to a much more fulfilling life with less debt and more wealth.
And that’s my soapbox speech for the week! If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it with your friends and family. And if you’ve really really enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to our email list.
Until next time,