The Year We Saved $10K: I Try to Live Below the Salt

Let’s start the morning off with a Saved $10K story that taught me a new idiom: living below the salt.

Ruzielle: This year is the year I have saved over $10,000, and I did it because I’m incredibly lucky and also, I have serious workaholic tendencies. I spend my days off scouring the internet to make extra cash on the side — read: mock jury research, usability research ($50 an hour? Holla!), focus groups, etc. — and I take any chance I get to work overtime. Two years ago, I worked three jobs to beef up my savings and because: workaholic tendencies. Right now, I make okay-ish money for an unmarried woman without kids or animal friends ($45,000 plus range). I’m also a unicorn — I have zero consumer and/or “life happened” debt, zero car payments, and zero student loans.

My job has a 401(k) (sadly, it’s unmatched) and they take away $200 a month. Plus I also save about 20–25% of my post-tax income and any money I make on side jobs goes directly to my savings account. I received a huge chunk of tax refund money earlier this year from educational costs; it was around $4,000, and most of it went to savings. Also, I’m part of a twice-yearly bonus program at work and you guessed it, the money goes to savings. The bonus checks vary in amount; I’ve seen $1,000 dollars, and the one I just received was $250.

My housing costs are reasonable. I live alone and my rent and everything included is a flat fee of $1,100. I’m a bit of a recluse so I don’t spend all my time going out to happy hour with co-workers or going out, period. I’m not one to engage in FOMO, no matter how much fun going to Vegas is, or going to a bar that just opened. I try to live below the salt, because I have that mentality that I work X amount of hours to pay for this sweatshop shirt or whatever, so I might as well pay myself.

This past couple of months, I’ve made a conscious decision to cook more and meal plan. I’m fixated on fancy grocery stores and tend to pay $5 for a small cup of deli chicken salad which I can make at home and do a better job on it. I used to eat out a lot more but I get more disappointing meals than satisfying ones, and I just paid $15 on it. So I’m trying to be better at not eating out and the savings are adding up.

I also have to re-emphasize how luck plays into being able to save money. My bosses liked me a lot so I’m always first in line for raises, promotions, bonuses; I have lots of co-workers who never get ahead or get bonuses like I do, and I feel incredibly lucky.

Also, I have excellent health and in generally good shape. I’m one of those freaks who never, ever get sick. Although my job offers the best medical, vision, and dental insurance money can buy (acupuncture and massages are included!) which I pay $11 a month for (another good reason to get a union job).

I don’t have any student loan debt because once again, I’m lucky and sacrificed a lot in order to graduate without any debt. I dropped out of college for a few years but my first three years in college were subsidized by FAFSA and I remember getting $500 checks every quarter to pay for incidentals. I’ve also worked full time the whole time I’ve been in school, took the bus everywhere, went to community college first, then transferred to a four-year. Sure, it’s unsexy to go to a community college, but nobody was going to pay for school but myself, so I had to take my pride out of the narrative and get my free education instead.

I went back to finish my college degree last year, and in the interim, I lived in a massive house with seven other people; so not sexy to live with seven other people but college costs went stratospheric during my time off from college and the $500 grant checks were not going happen this time. I calculated paying $15,000 for 4 quarters of college to get my BA (it ended up being around $14,000), and the only way I was going to graduate debt free was to keep my overheard minimal. I lived with seven other people to push down my living costs to $550 a month (everything included), picked up as much OT as possible, and worked like a demon applying to any and all scholarships that would have me. I ended up receiving $4,000 in scholarship money from three different sources, plus FAFSA grants, and I received some cash gifts which all went to paying for school.

While waiting at my acupuncturist’s office, I heard the receptionist say she pays $238 a month in student loan debt. Yikes! Her story reminded me of all the variables I had to deal with in order to graduate debt-free. All the times I cried in my pillow from the stress of one thing maybe going wrong which will curtail my well-laid plans.

Anyway, after I paid my last tuition fee as an undergrad, I attacked savings with the same energy I did with paying for college, although I still have moments of “am I saving enough?” My goal is to increase the percentage of what I save every month, but that also depends on increasing my income in the near future and staying incredibly lucky.

Photo: Rob Boudon