I've had the privilege of being debt-free twice in my adulthood. The first time was for two years after paying off my student loans and buying our first house. Since May 2018, my wife and I have been debt-free the second time. Now, that we no longer have monthly loan payments, we suddenly found ourselves with more cash to burn in our pockets.
Our #1 financial goal when preparing for the next recession was getting out of debt. This way, we have fewer monthly bills. And, we don't have to earn as much each month in a job market with lower income and employment potential. Since my wife and I both earn a variable monthly income, continuous low-income months can be difficult to afford.
Like other people who get debt-free or indebted people who get a large pay raise, we saw ourselves spending money more liberally than before. There wasn't as much pressure to watch our spending like before, we asked ourselves if we still spent our money as wisely as possible.
These are some of the money traps we find ourselves in and areas you might be on the lookout for too.
Full Disclaimer: Our life is pretty boring. You've been warned.
With two small children, our idea of fun isn't quite what it used to be. Now, we like having play dates and finding playgrounds with a fair number of swings. Minus the cost of gas, these activities are free.
But when we're home, we enjoy reading books. Now that we're debt-free, Thriftbooks has received a lot of our business in the last six months. We prefer print books to ebooks, and being able to bundle books to get discounts and free shipping is usually cheaper than buying from Amazon or individual eBay sellers.
We also buy the DVD seasons for some of our favorite shows. We do this when we can't stream the episode free online. Plus, we're still too cheap to reactivate our Netflix subscription since we don't watch enough video to justify the monthly fee.
Since I primarily work online, we have a lot of flexibility with our travel schedule when school's out of session. Last year, we rented a beach condo for two weeks. It was a relaxed working vacation for me where I worked half days. Then, I enjoyed the morning and evenings with the wife and children had fun.
A few years ago, we used hotel points to book free nights so we could travel for long weekends. This way, our only expenses were gas and food.
Our Weird Way of Saving Money on Vacation
Assuming you don't fly, food can be your next most expensive expense after lodging.
We still bring most of our own food from a grocery store and only go out to eat one meal per week and several times for ice cream. Even then, we get a triple scoop of ice cream and split it three ways. Since we still have two small children, this $5 option suffices. Our family thinks we're weird for not getting four $3 single scoops. But, it's all good.
Depending on the week and who shares the beach house with us, we also buy ice cream cartons from the grocery store. This is so much cheaper than going to ice cream shops, but it's not as fun of an experience.
This is partially because of shopping the clearance aisle at grocery stores, but we like buying chocolate and other snacky type foods. Especially when they are on closeout or near expiration.
Do I need these savory and sweet treats? My doctor would tell me to lose 10 pounds, so I'll let you be the judge.
Now that we own our home 100%, we're spending some money on home projects that were “wants” when we still had our mortgage. Now, that we no longer shill out $1,200 monthly to the bank, we have some cash to buy more shelving for our garage and improve our landscaping. These tiny project costs add up quickly as it's hard to avoid hidden fees all the time.
Large One-Time Purchases
Being debt-free means we have the capital to make large purchases that we wouldn't have before. For instance, you can wait an extra three months to buy a newer vehicle that costs $3,000 more. We did this and hopefully, another vehicle purchase isn't in the cards for the next few years. After buying three different vehicles in three years that weren't exactly what we wanted but what could afford, we've had our fill of vehicle swapping for a bit.
We also have the unique privilege of being self-employed. My wife and I have used our debt jubilee to make larger business purchases. For instance, taking courses that we wouldn't have spent money on before. And, upgrading our electronics (computers, printers, etc.) before they become completely unreliable.
For you, those one-time purchases might be getting a new flat screen tv (I've resisted the OLED tv so far) or those other “wants” that you used to spend money on before you got serious about paying off your debt.
Saving Too Much Money and Not Investing
I've saved this money trap for last as it's a good problem to have. For me, the biggest question was how much more income to invest for the long-term from our previous monthly loan payments.
Having money is better than not having any money. But, is keeping it all parked in an FDIC-insured bank account the definition of being a good stewart?
Like everyone, we have planned expenses that will come up int he next few weeks, years, and decades. We knew we didn't want to put all our cash in the market that we anticipate using in the next five years because of the stock market volatility.
Since I'm in my young 30s, the allure of compound interest makes investing more cash than not very tempting. So, I think I've found a good mix of what to invest in stocks (mostly a 5+ year investing horizon), peer investing (12 months to 5-year investing horizon), and keeping the rest in a high-yield savings account with 2%+ interest.
These are my 6 money traps that we're trying to avoid to boost our savings. What are you trying to cut spending on?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.