How to save money on your worst problem areas

Ramit Sethi · January 28th, 2009

Need to cut down on eating out? Going out?

Here’s how I do it (this is from an upcoming lifehacking movie):


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  1. studenomics

    I was skeptical at first but I have since given this new service a chance. Thus far it has been pretty impressive with detailed tips arriving in my email inbox every week. My favorite tip was the one about just running the numbers where you discussed how people too often find themselves using their gut to make decisios instead of making the simple calculations. If I could nitpick I would just say that I am still waiting for a tip that directly helps students save money.

  2. Green Panda

    I signed up to see what tips can help us reduce our expenses and build some extra income. I decided to use some of the money I saved with the 1k challenge.

  3. Great tips

    Quick question:
    How do I know if you’ve filtered me on email? Once I asked a stupid question asking where I could get a credit card in a week, and in hindsight it was an inappropriate question. Thanks, Brian

  4. Younas Saleem

    Great Post, Great Post, I am defiantly tried out your strategy in month on February and March and share the results with you. Your process is the slow but steady and I like it. Great work

  5. I’m curious to know what you do with all of those labels in gmail. 🙂

  6. Bob Crooks

    Hello Ramit,

    I am not bashful about saying this, but I am an expert at saving money. I am the most frugal person that I know. But I will say this vehemently: I am NOT a cheapskate. The reason that I know this is that I have problem areas such as you mention with ‘eating out’ and I spend money on myself and my girlfriend. The other day I just bought a Dell netbook. Not cheap.

    That being said, I am an expert at being able to tell good spending from bad spending. For example, going out and spending $100 at a bar is bad spending, but going to a grocery store and spending $200 on groceries can never be bad (as long as you are not wasting food by throwing it away).

    I have been reading your blog for months now and I really like it. I used to think that “Simple Dollar” blog was good, but I unsubscribed when he started talking about eating beans and rice because they are cheap. I am sorry, but you said it – those types of tips are useless. If I want to eat a t-bone every now and again I will do it. You have given me a lot of tips that really resonated. One that blew my mind was the idea of selling something to “save” money (or earn money – whatever). I made $200 by selling this stupid RC truck that I bought a while ago. When I did that I was hooked. I sold some winter tires that were just stacked up in my parking spot – for $400! It is true that I bought these and didn’t get all my money back, but they were just sitting around and I was able to get cold hard cash back out of them.

    But that only goes so far and I think that I can give you some more good ideas for your blog:
    1. I created a few programs on my computer that help me soooo much. One imports .qif files into a mysql database. This allows me to download all the transactions from my bank accounts and saves them in a database. I have all my bank transactions going back 2 years now. The other program scans this database and aggregates the data into different forms. One is a simple aggregation of all transactions by date. It gives me a very quick view on how much I spend each day. When I look at this and I see $0.00 for one or two days in a row I feel great! I can also aggregate based on category, such as “Dining Out”, which is my personal demon. The reason that I mention these things is that my simple program that I wrote with a few lines of PHP is FAR superior to MS Money and Quicken. It is far better because it is simple, flexible and customizable. “Coffee” is another weakness of mine. When I saw how much I spent on coffee in a month… well, read on.
    2. Brew your own coffee at work. I know that it is against corporate policy in most organizations, but hey give me a break. I have a one cup coffee brewer in my desk drawer (the deepest one). Instead of spending $4-6 per day on buying coffee, I now spend $4-6 per MONTH as long as I brew it myself. This is about $76 per month that I save.
    3. Canceled my cable. Honestly. I started doing this a year ago. I called my telephone company up (I had digital TV over DSL) and got rid of it. Now for entertainment I read books (a lot), play my xbox, or go on the Internet. I can spend hours on the Internet and even watch TV (with Joost, Youtube, etc.). This saves me around $60 per month, but I know a lot of people who spend more than that on cable.
    4. Caller ID (name display and number display) on my phone. Again, my poor phone company – but I have no sympathy, I called them up and got rid of it. I bet you think that is one of those silly tips that don’t save you much. WRONG. $12 PER MONTH! Is it hard? Well, I don’t know. Is answering the phone hard? When people call, I answer it – no big deal. That alone saves me $144 per year.
    5. I have a cell phone for work. I used to have both a work cell phone and a personal cell phone. I told my boss that I wasn’t going to carry around two cell phones and if he wanted me to have a cell phone for work (they get the benefit of being able to call me wherever, whenever) then I may from time to time use it for personal calls. He actually didn’t have a problem with this, so I was able to cancel my personal cell phone. Savings: $30 per month easy.
    6. Cooking: It is so easy to optimize your cooking. For example, today I defrosted a pound of ground beef. Did I make one meal with it? No, I divided it into two and made spaghetti sauce and hamburgers with it. Now I have enough spaghetti sauce for 1 meal and 2 lunches and about 4 hamburgers. The freezer is my friend. Chicken: it usually comes in a pack of 3 breasts (that is what I buy). Why not BBQ them all at once. You can put as many of them on the BBQ as you have space. They can be used in sandwiches, take them out of the fridge and throw them on a salad, hot turkey sandwiches. Again, one package defrosted and about 3 different meals.

  7. I love this site, and I love reader-submitted tips, like Bob here 🙂

  8. Excellent post Bob, I use mvelopes for budgetting. It allowed me to see exactly what i was spending daily on different thing all funds that are spent are downloaded from my checking account and need to be allocated to some mvelope, you can’t ignore it. I’m not certain but it sounds like you wrote a very similar program and if anyone else has any experiences with this concept I would be interesting in hearing about it.
    The other great thing about this program is that if I “overspend” I get an email from the administrator (my wife) within a few hours notifying me that i have deviated from the plan.

  9. Josh Dubois

    Seriously, you have $600 a month to spend on eating out? Even $400 is insane! I just can’t take this website seriously when you have insane expenses like that, if you really want to be rich and change…spend $100 on groceries a month and $100 on eating out, bank $400 a month; or $4,800 a year! makes no sense to waste like this.

  10. Dan pARHAR

    how are you possibly living on just 100 worth of groceries a month???

  11. Nice video but the dollar amount special effects were a little distracting.

  12. Uhhh yeah…$100/month for groceries? I am a decent cook and prepare a lot of my own means, but even when I was single I couldn’t do $100/month. And I’m a bargain shopper.

    But still. $600/month for one person eating out?? o.O Ramit, I can’t believe your mom isn’t chewing you out for this!

  13. Hey. I think I spend about $100 a month on groceries as well. At least under $150.

    90% of what I eat is:

    -Some grain (pasta, rice or bread)
    -Milk, cereal
    -Canned Tuna
    -Frozen meat and vegetables
    -Peanut butter

    As I’m reading that now, I understand that it sounds pretty ridiculous. But I don’t feel like I’m suffering for it.

    I do eat out every so often, but I find that $25 a week on groceries is very do-able. I eat a lot too.

  14. Dan Parhar

    i could imagine spending a 100 dollars a month on groceries if i were eating out tonnes, but to only spend 100 on groceries and only 100 on going out? I dont know how i could handle that.

  15. Ramit

    You often talk about spending money to save money. You could always take some of that eating out money and take a cooking class. The rewards?
    1. you would be able to cook
    2. you would save money on eating out
    3. you would impress a date with a romantic dinner at home just for her
    4. you would not have to spend a lot of money on a romantic dinner out.

    • Ramit Sethi

      Damn. You’re right. I hate you for pointing this out.

  16. I tried doing that approach but I think it takes more discipline. spend about a thousand every month eating out because I don’t have the time to really cook. 🙁

  17. Ramit,

    You are definitely correct about focusing on certain areas.
    Recent studies have shown that males spend 54% of their income on food (in their 20s) and females ~48% on clothing. If you cut 1/3 of food costs in a particular month, as a male, you can save about 18% of your income. Even with a conservative estimate, 10%-15% in the long run is not bad!

    lol @ mcara’s post.

  18. Bob –
    You bought a dell? Your frugal ass should have saved some more money about bought a REAL computer. -Mel

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