About six months ago, I realized that I was bad with money. I’d always known that it wasn’t my strong suit: I started my financial life by maxing out and defaulting on a credit card when I was 18. But in the years since, I thought of myself as a manageable, forgivable kind of “bad with money.” This summer, though — when I managed to spend $100 on mostly food-and-drink impulse purchases in a single day, without knowing where the money went — I realized I was terrible. I had no real budget, I had no concept of money, and I’d end up with $50 in savings at age 30 if I continued that way.
I started a money blog, the Financial Diet, and broke my spending and earning down into an easy-to-follow, reasonable system. To achieve financial balance, I had to cut out some of the things I used to love (no matter how bad they were for me). Here, the 11 things I gave up in order to get good with money.
The obligatory “glass of wine with dinner.” For some reason, I used to believe that “being an adult who is capable of ordering a drink with dinner” meant “being an adult who is obligated to order a drink with dinner.” Even if I didn’t particularly want it, I would accompany my restaurant meal with some alcoholic beverage, particularly if the entrée was cheap and therefore seemed to justify a $10 glass of sauvignon blanc. Now, I usually just drink water, except on the “big meal out” evenings with friends, where we get a bottle of wine, linger around the table for hours, and go to bed late.
Aspirational lifestyle and fashion blogs. I used to torture myself with the Sartorialist. It was a form of deeply masochistic envy-blogging, where I would lust over the endless disposable income, chic surroundings, and whisper-thin waistlines of the subjects, and imagine my life would be so much better if I could only afford that handbag. Even the lesser gods of the lifestyle-blogging pantheon made me feel like I was a mediocre person who was a 50 percent salary increase from being wonderful and happy. Now, I stick to the more realistic bloggers, who pair “sale sweater” with “being a normal human being who has flaws.”
Uber. I took it off my phone, and take the metro (or my own legs) as much as possible. It’s simply too convenient, too tempting, and — because you don’t actually have to physically hand anyone money — too deceptive in how much it actually costs you. And if I know anything about myself, it’s that automatic debits are my natural enemy.
(Most) designer makeup. While there are a few things very sensitive/problem skin like mine needs that can’t be found in a Duane Reade, there are other things that simply don’t need to be expensive. Mascara is pretty much mascara, and same goes for lip balm, most eye shadows, nail polish, and eyebrow pencils/powder. Once you switch to drug-store brands for a few items you assumed had to be designer, you’ll realize just how much of your makeup routine was a placebo effect.
Subscriptions I had no idea I even still had. When I went on my initial financial cleanse, I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know about myself, such as the fact that I had been paying $10 a month for a calorie-counting website that I hadn’t used in over a year. If you go through your bank statement with a fine-toothed comb, you might find some things you didn’t know you were paying for, either.
Fast fashion for anything but basics and parties. When I went through my closet and removed everything that wasn’t versatile, stylish, or something I’ve worn in the past year, I realized that 90 percent of what I was getting rid of was fast fashion. I had a veritable treasure trove of cheap dresses I bought on a whim. Now, I buy fewer things, I buy higher quality, I search multiple stores before I choose, and I avoid fast fashion for everything except basics like tees and tanks, and clothes to wear to parties that I’ll probably ruin in some way.
A memorized credit-card number. Let me tell you, having to get up out of your comfy, cozy bed and go fish your credit card out of your purse to make an online purchase is enough to make you reconsider — and ultimately decide you don’t need — nearly every purchase. Having your card number memorized is removing the one step of the process that keeps you from buying an ebasket full of patterned tights from Asos at 2 in the morning.
My empty refrigerator. I love to cook, but I also love to be lazy, and would frequently find myself with a near-empty refrigerator, and thus the perfect justification to order Seamless. With a once-weekly, comprehensive grocery trip, you can fill your fridge with the kind of food that is (a) delicious ; (b) beckons you to cook; and (c) makes you feel like an abject failure for ordering in.
Unnecessary beauty treatments. I recently tried to calculate how much money I spent on gel manicures this year, but I stopped somewhere around $700, because I was getting sick to my stomach. Doing your own nails is easy and basically free, and once you get decent at it (which only takes a month or so, honestly), it looks the same. Yes, part of the experience is being pampered, but it should be a treat — not a monthly routine.
Fancy coffee. At one point, I was spending upwards of $40 a week at the coffee shop across from my office. And you know what? The coffee I make at home is just as good, and doesn’t come from a grown man in 2014 wearing suspenders and a turn-of-the-century mustache.
Friends who are contagiously bad with money. Perhaps the biggest change I had to make was to stop going out with friends who spend money like Rockefellers on the weekend before the crash of ’29. It doesn’t matter where their money comes from (a salary or generous parents), what matters is that going out with them entails spending hundreds of dollars on restaurants, $15 cocktails, and cross-town cab rides. If people impose their financial badness on you, you have to stop going out with them, or at least make sure you do it on your own terms. It doesn’t make you a bad person to not see them as much. It just makes you a person who wants to own property someday.