When you’re getting started down the more frugal path, it can be challenging to figure out where to start when it comes to cutting your expenses. Some folks will argue you should start with the biggest expenses, just like mathematically it makes sense to pay off your highest-interest debt first (versus loans with smaller balances as part of the standard “snowball” approach). For example, work on moving to a more affordable area or house first.
While I am a proponent of paying off your highest-interest debt first (regardless of the balance), when it comes to expenses I definitely encourage folks to start with the easiest effort items and work your way up as your frugality muscles gain strength. Cutting expenses is more challenging (in general) than just picking which card to pay off next. And hopefully credit card debt won’t be a problem for you for very long if you work hard on reducing your expenses!
Perhaps the easiest effort expense to cut: entertainment. The reason? Here in the year 2020 (and likely all following years) it is supremely easy to find high quality entertainment for free or close to free. Below are some ideas of what entertainment expenses to cut and some low-cost alternatives.
Last year my wife and I were procrastinating yet again on selecting a health care plan option. Specifically, which of two plans to select for her and our son that were offered by her company. My health insurance is super simple: I’m fully covered, no premiums (ignoring dental and vision). But hers was hard! There’s a huge amount of information to consider, from premiums to deductibles to co-pays to co-insurance rates to tax-savings to traditional vs high-deductible plans to how much to put in your FSA or HSA…. Insane.
I got fed up with trying to eyeball this decision. So, I broke out Python! I managed to script up and plot a wide variety of scenarios, and as a result the decision finally became clear. I love Python and plots – I’m definitely an engineer to the core.
The professor looked at me in disbelief. I’m pretty confident I was the first person to ever try typing his lecture notes, especially given how equation-heavy this aerospace engineering graduate course was. I think standing on my head while singing the school fight song in the middle of class would have produced less surprise.
I had decided after several years of furiously scribbling class notes in grad school (and never capturing everything I wanted) to try something I later learned is called “Live-TeXing”. Yes, it is exactly as cool as it sounds. The idea is to type equations using the typesetting language LaTeX in real time as they are thrown up on the board. I had always assumed prior to that class that typing math-heavy notes was totally impractical. But as I became more comfortable with LaTeX, I realized it would probably not only be feasible, but also much better.
The good news is you don’t have to be a LaTeX master to do Live-TeXing. With a few pointers, I think anyone can employ this system, assuming you can type at a reasonable speed in general.