Seven Things We’ve Done To Improve Our Finances in 2017

2017 has been a crazy year financially for us. I started out the year with being laid off. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if it weren’t for the rest of our plans. We were set to be married four months later, and still needed to pay the remaining vendors. Depending on how long I was out of work, that could have been troublesome (even though we already had that money set aside). We are building a house, a process which started in late 2016. If I was out of work for an extended period of time, would we be able to afford the down payment? Would we even be able to secure financing? With all this expensive stuff, how could we possibly improve our finances?!?

For as stressful of a situation as that was, and for as expensive of a 2017 this has shaped up to be, I can proudly say we are pretty much treading water financially. Considering we tackled two of the most expensive life events in a single year, combined with one of the more potentially financially devastating events possible, I’m very happy to be holding steady.

Even though from a net worth perspective we’ve remained about the same, we were able to make some improvements so far this year. Here are seven things we’ve done to improve our finances in 2017:

1. We avoided consumer debt like the plague.

I haven’t been in debt since paying off my car in 2012. Kristin had a bit of credit card debt when we started dating, but destroyed that as well. We’re taking on a mortgage, but steer clear of all consumer (credit card/auto) debt. It’s the worst.

 2. We opened a Money Market account.

This one is pretty small, but it added over half a percent to our APY and took two minutes. This one was a no-brainer. We’re transitioning over all of our savings into a Money Market account because the return on it is better than we get with a regular savings account, and for all other purposes it’s practically the same.

3. We increased our 401(k) contributions.

I’m a big fan of increasing 401(k) contributions stealthily if possible. With my new job I was unfortunately not able to contribute to a 401(k) until this month, but we increased Kristin’s contribution and we increased where mine was, as well. Our plan now is to work toward maxing these out.

4. We started going to Aldi.

Being in Minneapolis, we’re big fans of Super Target and had traditionally done all of our grocery shopping there. It’s convenient, and the quality was good as well. However, we’ve been going to Aldi for a few weeks now and the price difference is definitely noticeable. Our weekly grocery bill for two of us is about $70, and we realistically could cut that down even further if we did a better job planning our dinners. Aldi has its quirks (if you haven’t shopped there before, do your homework on it first!) but the prices are great and the food is of high quality, too.

5. We saved money on lunches by meal prepping.

I just calculated yesterday that our rough cost per lunch is about $0.82. That does not include a few extra cheap snack items like carrots and hard-boiled eggs. Prior to meal prepping, I’d go out to lunch about once a week with my old co-workers. I love them to death, but those lunches frequently ended up being expensive. We worked at a start-up, where the drinking culture was strong. Enjoying an old fashioned (don’t muddle the fruit) or three with lunch wasn’t uncommon, and that led to lunches that easily cost $40 or more! They were great in the moment, but absolutely terrible for our cash flow. Meal prepping saves us money, keeps us healthier, and comes with the added perk of not killing my liver.

6. We stopped drinking as often.

Lunches weren’t the only time or place we’d drink. When we lived in California, we had a liquor store that was kiddy-corner from us. We’d stop in there frequently – a few times a week – and pick up a bottle of wine or a six pack. We’d easily spend $75-$100 a week on alcohol, and we didn’t even go out to the bars often. We cut down to only drinking on the weekends, and only one night, and that’s kept our alcohol budget low and kept some extra money in our pockets.

7. We agreed on our short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals.

While not having a significant direct financial impact, openly communicating about our goals and how we want to save, spend, and invest our money is an important part of growing together as one financial unit. We’re both on the same page with where our money should go and what sorts of things we want to buy. We know what our retirement plans (tentatively) are, how to get there, and what we can do to speed it up.

Being on the same page and having the power of two income-earning individuals working toward a single shared goal is immensely helpful. Our focus is currently making sure we have enough extra padding in our budget and savings to feel very comfortable with moving into the house we’re building.

We will have additional associated costs; things you might otherwise forget about. Blinds, gutters, and towel racks – none of which our builder installs for us – will need to be taken into account. We’ll probably need some more tools and lawn equipment. What can we borrow from neighbors or get as hand-me-downs from friends and family? What can we find for free on sites or apps like Craigslist or LetGo?

Recap

It’s never really a great feeling to look at your net worth and realize you’re going backwards or, at best, barely going forward. The changes that we have made, though, not only kept some of that in check, but also set ourselves up for a good future. Undoubtedly we’ll have another expensive year in 2018 as we get to enjoy some of the joys of home-ownership (but not everything at once). Knowing that we’re in a better position now to be able to handle that is encouraging.

Even though the year is halfway done (WTF? Where did time go?!?) we have plenty of time ahead of us to continue making progress and end the year with a net worth quite a bit better than when we started. In the meantime we’ll keep our eyes peeled for opportunities to earn more, spend less, and be sure to enjoy ourselves along the way.

Question:

What have you done in the first half of 2017 to improve your financial situation?

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14 Comments

  1. Great job this year! We have been trying to save in advance for expenses that we can anticipate. For example, we know we will need to re-roof our house in the next year, so we are saving out of each paycheck so that we are able to fully fund this project from a savings account specific to the re-roofing. Good luck with the remainder of 2017!

    1. Thanks!! Saving for upcoming expenses you know you’ll have is a great idea.

      We’re planning on putting a little bit of money each month into a savings account to help with this. We’re building a house so we don’t anticipate having any large expenses anytime soon associated with things like a roof, hot water heater, etc. so we should be able to trickle money into that account at a bit of a slower pace and be ready when we do inevitably have those big ones!

  2. Fantastic steps in the right direction! We’ve also cut down on the drinking and it’s been phenomenal for our budget. I’ve almost stopped drinking altogether since I’m not a big drinker, but Mr. Picky Pincher has cut his beer usage impressively. 🙂 I’m torn about Aldi–our nearest one is 30 minutes away, so I’m not sure if the food savings would make up for the gas costs. Hmmm.

    1. The drinking was a huge one for us!

      It has made us a lot healthier too in general (and helped us lose 35+ lbs between the two of us), so win-win on that front. I think keeping it down to one night a week is a good balance for us. Sometimes I will have a few beers on a Friday as well, but my typical rule is one bottle of wine or six-pack a week.

      And yeah that’s a fairly long way to go for groceries. I’d probably try to compare the cost difference and then see how much extra gas and time you’d be using to know if it’s worth it. When we move to our new house, the closest Aldi will be about 20 minutes (13 miles) so we’ll be in a similar boat…

    1. We are so close! After we close on the house that’s the next thing for us. Next year we should be able to max both.

      And yeah Aldi is great! Not sure if it’ll be worth the drive after we move though…

  3. Thanks for sharing! An Aldis just opened up close to our place and it’s closer than Walmart or Costco, so we’ve been going there for in-between grocery shoppings when we can’t make it to Costco. Their prices are super competitive! We have a Super Target as well, but we never go there; we don’t “roll” like that 😛

  4. I don’t envy your situation Dave, but you’re making all the right moves. I’ve been laid off before and it just plain sucks. But, I did enjoy that year of sleeping in and learning how to cook while finishing my part time MBA full-time. As for changes we’ve made this year? That’s a tough one since we’re on year three of the Mr Money Mustache playbook. One biggie – we’ve started to aggressively pay off our mortgage.

    1. A full year of sleeping in sounds glorious, even if you were getting your MBA. 🙂 I found that I LOVED to cook when I got laid off. Our kitchen sucks now for it, but once we move into the house it’ll be incredible.

      I’m so torn on the mortgage (and just read your post about it). On one hand the math says we’re likely better served investing; on the other, paying the mortgage is a totally sure bet, and having it paid off would do wonders for our FIRE plans.

      I think ultimately we’ll end up splitting the difference and do a bit of both. I think we can pay down the mortgage and invest enough, based on our current income, to retire in about 20 years. Not GREAT, but still early since we’re in our early 30’s. As our income increases – which it’s poised to do – and we grow other revenue streams, that 20 years should shrink.

      Thanks for stopping by!!

  5. If Aldi wasn’t available would you shop at Cub instead? Being from MN I love hearing about FI stories. I look forward to hopefully moving back there someday.

    1. Two of my really good friends got food poisoning from some food they got at Cub a while back and since then I haven’t shopped there. I’ll get a Metro Go-To card but that was it.

      I also really dislike store layouts of grocery stores in general, and Cub is no exception.

      Once we move, we’ll have to see what’s close by and then figure out where to go. 🙂

      I used to live in MN for 3 years after I graduated college, working in the Twin Cities. I moved to CA for a few years and then I got a job at a startup back up here in MN so we moved. I love it up here, generally speaking…could do without snow in May though like we had in 2013!

      Thanks for stopping by!!

  6. I think number 7 is by far one of the MOST important. My wife and I joined a Dave Ramsey class before we got married and it was as he puts it “family tree” altering. From that point on we have ditched credit and bought using cash. It has not been easy and some of our family members look at us odd but it works for us. Being on the same page with our goals has eliminated almost every argument about money.

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