financial independence, frugal food, sustainability

SHIFT HAPPENS – How To Find Money By Changing Your Mindset

SHIFT HAPPENS – How To Find Money By Changing Your Mindset

Hi y’all!

Here’s my big take away from learning about Financial Independence: it’s a SHIFT IN MINDSET. This shift was the catalyst for our plan and our drive to start taking action. Here’s what we have done so far since January of this year.

CONTINUOUS LEARNING AND STAYING INSPIRED

To help keep that MINDSET strong I continued learning. In addition to the Choose FI and House of FI podcasts I started following blogs and podcasts about FI in all it’s shapes and sizes.

Liz from The Frugalwoods offers the Uber Frugal Month Challenge. I did the challenge and read her entire blog. Paula Pant from Afford Anything is an inspiring writer. For example, this quote sparked my awareness around buying more stuff:

“Maybe this reflects a simple truth: The more items we own, the less we value them. The less we own, the more we enjoy the few items we have. Owning less isn’t deprivation. It’s curation. The less we own, the more space in our lives for things that matter.”

This awareness dovetailed nicely with the decluttering technique that I learned from Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. For the past two years I have been decluttering our house. I didn’t realize it until I found FI but when we declutter and focus on only the items that matter the most to us, we inevitably save money because we are not buying a bunch of crap! And on top of that we’re getting rid of items that can be sold. FOR EXTRA CASH!    mind. blown.

Mad Money Monster is another great blog. I really identified with her concept of F.I.O.R. (Financial Independence, Optional Retirement) because of our short savings timeline. We want to earn, save, and invest as much as possible in our remaining earning years so we can retire comfortably if not early.

Feeling like I found my groove in the FI community gave me the confidence to dive in to Mr. Money Mustache. At first I was a bit intimidated by MMM. I admired his story but I had trouble translating his message into my own life.

I thought FI wasn’t for me because I wasn’t a young guy making a high salary in an engineering career. But by learning about so many other stories from different people and different situations, some similar to mine (tons of debt, no savings, with kids), I felt more confident diving into MMM must read articles. I’m glad I did because he’s a great writer and he gives a straight dose of no-nonense truths.

This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

STOP SPENDING ALL THE MONEY!

A Kinda-sorta Spending Fast

I went on a kinda-sorta clothes buying ban for myself.

As Anna from And Then We Saved says: I’m on a spending fast.”

Last year I Kon-maried my closet (that means I decluttered my closet Kon-Marie style). I was left with a curated collection of clothes that I liked, that fit, and that I get a lot of use out of.

Not really my closet but isn’t it lovely?

After that I was careful about buying clothes because I wanted to be mindful about bringing any items into my newly decluttered closet. I didn’t realize it at the time but this also saved me money!

After finding FI this approach took on new meaning to me. Since I was already being very judicious about buying any new clothes, going on a clothes-spending fast wasn’t a huge leap. I am also trying to be more environmentally conscious with my spending so a clothes-spending-fast has a triple impact for me:

SAVE MONEY.  DECLUTTER.  ECO-FRIENDLY.

THREE items have made it on the buy list for me since January:

  • A black skirt for a work interview. I interviewed for a potential new job in August. I wore the one interview-appropriate outfit I owned to the first interview. When I was invited back for a second I was in a bit of pickle because I couldn’t wear the same thing twice and I had no other appropriate outfits. 

    I tried borrowing a skirt from a friend but when I tried hers on at home with my tops I couldn’t find anything that worked so I broke down and bought an $18 plain navy skirt at Target.

    It was a great price but I didn’t feel good about buying new fast fashion (not eco-friendly). It did the trick though. Alas, I did not get the job.
  • New cheap sunglasses. My old cheap sunglasses developed a crack in the lens. I tried to tough it out and keep wearing them but the crack grew bigger. I broke down and bought a pair for $15 at Target.
    Sadly, it’s more cheap fashion. More later in another post exploring frugality vs. eco-friendly shopping.
  • New pajama set from Amazon. My jammies were in terrible condition and too big. I got a nice, soft, comfortable set for $20 bucks.

I made it through spring and summer without buying any new tank tops, sandals, swim suits, shorts or any other amount of things I “needed” in my Pre-FI life.

And you know what happened? I WAS FINE!

Note: my clothes-spending fast does not apply to Root Jr. or Mr. Root. However we are still minimizing spending on their clothes when possible.

Subscriptions Cancelled and Reductions of Services

Tracking all of our expenses in Mint made it super easy to see how much we spend on subscriptions and services we “need“.

  • The gym. Ah that thorn in my side… We had a gym membership for $160 a month. Guess what? Neither Mr. Root or I ever went to the gym to work out.

    So we cancelled it. Well actually, we switched to a reduced plan that cost us $16 a month that allowed us two monthly visits. We didn’t use that either (well, once and it was for the hot tub, NOT to work out)!

    Finally we really, really cancelled it completely so that our last charge was in May.
  • The NY Times. In a fit of solidarity with the not-fake-news in 2016 we signed up for an online subscription to the NY Times for $16 a month.

    We gave it up, saving us $192 a year.

    If you don’t mind obnoxious ads there’s plenty of free content on the interwebs to satisfy Mr. Root’s morning news reading.
  • Apple music subscription. A cost of $13 a month. I loved it but when I thought about how that cost us $156 a year and we were in debt I couldn’t justify it. GONE.

    Now when Root Jr. and I NEED TO HEAR THAT QUEEN SONG RIGHT NOW we just YouTube it.

  • Pest control service. I hate roaches. And in Texas those suckers are freaking nightmare material. 

    The roach killers came every two months for $86 a visit. Mr. Root said he could just DIY the pest control. GONE. That’s $516 a year.
  • iPad wireless service. We paid for a wireless service for Root Jr.’s iPad. This was especially helpful for when we take long road trips so he can watch movies.

    However, my savvy coworker taught me that he can just download videos while on our wifi at home and then watch them on the road, or use a personal hot spot.

    Cancelling the wireless service on the iPad saved us $13 a month or $156 a year.
  • Monthly cell phone expenses. I found that we could save $20 a month by signing up for autopay so I did that.

    We had a multi-device insurance plan for our two cell phones and iPad.

    Some folks in the FI community are of the opinion that if you can afford to replace a lost or broken device out-of-pocket then there’s no need to pay for a monthly insurance plan.

    We are pretty careful with our devices and have never needed the insurance. Cancelling this saved us $35 a month. These two things saved us $660 a year.
  • Audible. Oh this one was hard for me. I love listening to audiobooks. I have a 45 minute to 1 hour commute to work and listening to books saves my sanity.

    But the service costs $16 a month, not including the price of the audiobooks.

    I discovered the Hoopla app which allows you to download audiobooks from your public library. But what really saved me is podcasts. I binge listen to podcasts on my commute now, specifically Financial Independence podcasts.

There is no shortage of great content to devour and it’s FREE.

  • TV streaming services. We don’t have cable. We have access to our local channels thanks to an old-school antenna. The rest of our viewing we do through streaming services.

    While not spending money on cable every month is smart, we went overboard on the number of streaming services we used. We subscribed to HBO, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.

    We canceled HBO to save us $15 a month. Mr. Root is a Game of Thrones fan though so we agreed we would wait until all the new season’s episodes were released, then sign up for HBO for one month in the summer so he could binge watch the whole season. After binging we would cancel it again before paying for another month.

    We did that. But Mr. Root realized once he had HBO back and he finished GOT that he missed having HBO. So, it’s back in our mix. At least we saved money on a few months?

Food Food Glorious Food

Mr. Root and I LOVE food and cooking. We met in the restaurant industry. We owned a restaurant (blog post to come on that one). I come from a family of French chefs. Saying I’m a little obsessed with good food is putting it lightly.

In our Pre-FI days we loved to eat out for entertainment and relaxation. Austin has a booming restaraunt scene that we tried to keep up with. I shopped for the best food at the best places.

My favorite grocery store in Austin was Central Market (otherwise known as Central Mark-up), a gourmet grocery store owned by H.E.B. It’s fabulous. The best produce, cheese, seafood, wine, flowers, everything.

I also shopped at Whole Foods. Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods and they have an amazing flagship store here.

Whatever I couldn’t find at Central Market and Whole Foods I bought at Target. Oh Tar-jay. You know you can’t get out of Target without spending at least $100 right?

Since this was Pre-FI I did not track my expenses. But I KNEW I was spending too much on groceries every month. I just didn’t know how bad it was.

By the time I started tracking expenses in January I had already reduced our grocery bill a little. Just the simple act of tracking things had an automatic impact on reducing spending. Cool huh??

I have tried to guesstimate what I likely spent. Get ready because this is ugly…

  • Central Market: I went once a week and spent between $200-250.
  • Whole Foods: I went about once a month specifically for coffee and various other things we “needed“. I never spent less than $100 – $150.
  • Target: I went about once a month for household supplies like cleaners, pet food, and paper products. This was usually about a $200 – 300 bill.

So on the high end that could have been about $1450 a month on GROCERIES for a small family of three. This doesn’t include what we spent on going out to eat. EESH.

The USDA guide for a family of 3 (couple plus one child 2-3YO) ranges from $596.60 – $959.60. Root Jr. is 10 but I don’t think he can be blamed for the extra $500 a month.

Clearly this was an area we needed to reign in our spending. With our new FI MINDSET we did the following things:

  • Cut back on eating out.
    • I bring a frugal work lunch from home almost every day.

      I haven’t cut out work lunches at restaurants completely though. Here’s why.

      Sometimes during my lunch hour I get to connect with friends that I don’t get to see that often. It’s a treat to go out for lunch with them. It’s important to me to stay connected with the people I care about. I consider it an investment in friendships and a strong social network.

      Maybe that means I’m Slow FI?
    • We cut back on how often we eat out as a family. Root Jr. loves this. He has never enjoyed restaurants. He is a home body and much prefers eating at home.

      However, for the same reasons I still take work lunches with friends, we still eat out occasionally.

      For example, if Mr. Root and I get a kid-free night we take advantage of that sometimes to make it a date night at a restaurant. It doesn’t happen often that we get time alone and eating out is one of our favorite things to do.

      We keep it easy though and tend to pick casual places, split meals, and go easy on the adult beverages since those are pricey.

      We don’t turn down get-togethers with friends or dinners for special occasions. Again, these don’t happen often but we feel it’s worth spending the money to connect with friends and family.

      There’s a benefit to not eating out as much in addition to saving money. When we do go out now we appreciate it more. It feels like more of a treat and not something we take for granted.

      On the flip side, we love to entertain so we host dinners at our house quite often.

      Sometimes it’s potluck or sometimes I’ll cook the meal and friends offer to bring adult beverages or desserts. This is actually my favorite way of hanging out. House party!


  • Changed my weekly meal planning.
    • I have been planning our weekly meals for ages. Every weekend I sit down and plan meals for the week, make a list, and shop.

      But now I do it with frugality in mind (balanced with healthy and yumminess). Oh and things that Root Jr. will eat (a whole other post I tell ya).

      I also “shop the pantry” meaning I see what we already have on hand in the pantry, fridge, and freezer and make a meal of it. Discovery: breakfast for dinner is delicious!

      I cook some meals so that I make enough for leftovers another night or to freeze for another dinner. Leftovers make good work lunches too.

      Tomato & corn galette
      Chicken pot pie
      Eggs Benedict with green chile cheese grits


  • I stopped shopping at Central Market every week and switched to my local H.E.B. Shopping at H.E.B saves me money. There are a few reasons why I spend less.
    • Overall stuff is cheaper at a regular grocery store than at a gourmet foodie market, so no surprise there. I’m less tempted to throw extra stuff in my cart because frankly there are less gourmet temptations.
    • There are tons of coupons all the time. I used to ignore those but now I use them.
    • Speaking of coupons I also started using iBotta which is an app that gives you cash back on your grocery bills. Pre-FI an app like this was totally out of my wheelhouse. I made $67 so far this year. It’s free money!
    • I look for cheaper alternatives. For example, Liz from the Frugalwoods wrote about buying good quality boxed wine. I tried it and it’s fine!
    • There’s not as much enticing organic produce. In my opinion this is a downside. I prefer to buy organic. I still buy organic when possible but there just aren’t as many choices at HEB and non-organic produce is cheaper.
    • I changed my MINDSET. Realizing that we spent too much and being armed with my new found FI knowledge I just made a conscious effort to spend less.
    • I still go to the other stores but only for very specific items. For example, I make a special trip to Central Market for seafood because the quality there is amazing and the quality at HEB is not.

      I am a foodie at heart after all and there are some things that are worth the extra money.

      I still go to Whole Foods for their ground packaged coffee. It’s what we like the best. I shopped around for other organic fair-trade offerings but no one can beat the price and quality of theirs.
  • Making my own stuff reduced our grocery bill even further.
    • I make our laundry soap, hairspray, and tooth powder.
    • I bake bread twice a week.
    • I made spray starch for ironing clothes.
    • I make batches of school snacks for Root Jr. and freeze them so they last a couple of weeks. Packaged school snacks are expensive!
    • Not only does this save us money but we’re reducing the amount of processed foods we eat and amount of plastic we buy. A win for our wallets, bodies, and the planet.

My goal is to keep our monthly grocery expenses under $1,000 for sure but aim for $800. This includes food, home supplies, and pet food. Some months are better than others but overall we have definitely reduced our grocery bills.

Approaching Other Spendy Areas With a FI MINDSET

  • I closed a Loft clothing store credit card that I didn’t use but carried around anyway, “just in case”.
  • I wash and vacuum my own car rather than take it to the car wash saving $50 bucks.
  • My last professional haircut was in late 2018. I CANCELLED a February 2019 appointment saving me $85 for a cut plus $6 in parking.

    I cut my own hair at home now and tried out the store bought DIY root color.
    • Root color: it works just fine and does the trick. Is it as pretty as when I get professional highlights? No. But it looks fine.

      I was very lucky to have a good friend who works in a fancy salon do my color for a friends-and-family discount but doing it at home saves me the $25 plus parking every few months.
    • Skipping salon haircuts is a great way to save money but it’s important to say that I happen to have hair that is easy to care for. All I have to do is trim my own bangs every few weeks and give it a simple trim when it gets too long.

      I realize that not everyone’s hair or hair style is so easy to take care of and professional hair services are not an area that can be cut.

      Will I ever go to a salon again? I think I will. Maybe once a year for a nice color treatment and cut.

      Mr. Root has cut his own hair for many years. It’s easily done with a pair of clippers and buzzed cut. Voila.

      I offered to cut Root Jr.’s hair. I told him I could learn how to do it on YouTube. He said yeah, no thanks.

      So a few times a year we shell out $30 which includes tip . I could find a cheaper place but Root Jr. likes this one. He has a history of not enjoying haircuts so now that he willingly goes to this one I ain’t changin’!

      Recent haircut at Bird’s Barber Shop in Austin
  • I used to take Mr. Root’s nice shirts and an occasional item of mine to the dry cleaners. No more! We didn’t do it very often but I decided to just iron these myself using the DIY spray starch which works splendidly!

    This probably saves us around $100 a year. Bonus: no more wire hangers and plastic bags. Also no nasty chemicals.

    My wallet thanks me. The planet thanks me. My recently decluttered closet thanks me – no more wire hangers!!!

  • My employer offers a Health Flexible Spending Account. It allows me to deduct pretax income up to $2,650 per year to use for approved medical expenses.

    I have worked for my current employer for 15 years but have never taken advantage of it. For the first time ever I elected to contribute $1,000 a year to this account.

    It’s use it or lose it so I was apprehensive to put in the max not knowing exactly yet what would and would not be covered. I think this is a safe amount that we can be sure we’ll use and if need be I can increase it next year.

    The advantage here is that it’s pre-tax money ANNNNNNND it lowers my taxable income so I pay less taxes over all. Super!
  • I switched to a generic version of a monthly medication saving me $30 a month. Why didn’t I do this already?

    It’s complicated. It’s thyroid medication and generic brands can sometimes fluctuate in quality. The name brand Synthroid is guaranteed to be consistent. I was scared to mess around with something that might impact my health.

    But I checked with my doc and he okayed it. My new FI MINDSET got me to get past my fears. Guess what? It’s fine!
  • I tried reducing our internet service to the lower price bracket from $70 to $50 a month. Unfortunately we noticed a decline in quality immediately so we changed it back. At least we tried?

Summer Can Be Spendy – VACATIONS AND CAMPS

Oh boy, these two things are part of the reason we carried credit card debt.

  • Summer camp: we both work full-time and Root Jr. is just 10 so when school is out for the year he gets to has to go to summer camps while we’re at our 9-5 jobs.

    Summer camps can be expen$ive. The ones Root Jr. goes to range from $390 – $500 a week! These have to be booked as early as January and February for early registration discounts and wait lists.

    The boy enjoying pricey summer camp


    I didn’t have $3,000+ extra in change laying around early this year so they went on the credit cards. However I did have a couple of small wins this summer thanks to my new FI MNDSET and some savvy mom-friends.

    We organized one week of “Home Camp”. Each of us took 1 -2 days off and took turns having the kids at our house. The cost was 1 – 2 days of paid time off and feeding 4 ravenous boys but that saved us one week of camp fees so about $400.
  • Summer vacations: being my first summer of my new FI MINDSET proposed a challenge. We love to travel and do fun things for the summer. We like to do one big (meaning spendy) vacation and then other little fun things or long weekends over the rest of the summer.
    • One of those “little” things includes a night or two at the JW Marriot San Antonio resort just an hour outside of Austin. The kid gets to swim and ride the water slides and we get to sip cocktails by the pool.

      We love it. But boy howdy is it pricey. There’s just no two ways about it. I haven’t learned to travel hack yet and since we are in our paying-down-debt phase there was just no way we could justify doing it this year. This saved us around $1,000.
    • Instead of sharing a beach house with friends on Memorial Day weekend we took advantage of our RV camper. A three-night stay at the beach house would run us about $1,000.

      The RV site was five minutes from said house. Staying in the camper saved us about $800.

      The boy in just woke-up-why-are-you-taking-my-picture-cranky-mode.


      Our generous friends let us join them at the beach, pool, and at the house for meals. We shared the cost of the chair and golf cart rentals. We all pitched in to buy groceries and took turns cooking meals. We had a great time with a great group of friends.
    • We took a whole week of vacation on the week of 4th of July. Instead of traveling somewhere this year we did a staycation to save money. This would have been our “spendy” trip.

      Instead we threw a 4th of July party in our backyard and rented a water slide. The water slide may seem like a not-so-frugal choice. Indeed it was not ($250).

      However, we justified this expense by comparing it to how much less it cost than a pricey vacation.


    • Another small win is that we cash-flowed our summer expenses. We didn’t put anything on credit or go into any further debt. This is a huge WIN for us.

Overall summer was rather spendy despite all of our efforts, BUT a lot less spendy than our Pre-FI ways. WIN!

Making Extra Money

That’s right shrewd FI-minded people. It’s not just about reducing expenses. Increasing income is part of the equation too. Gotta grow that gap! There is a LOT of room for growth for us here but we’ve made a little bit of green so far.

  • I gave Rakuten (formerly known as eBates) a try. This gives you cash back for your online shopping. I’ve earned over $48 so far.

    Not a huge amount but not bad for little effort on items I planned to buy anyway. Ammiright???
  • Decluttering our home Kon-marie-style yields plenty of stuff to get rid of. With my new FI MINDSET I tried my hand at selling some of the items that have value. I’ve had a little luck.
    • The Decluttr app is great for selling tech items, DVDs, and CDs. I made $65 bucks!
    • I used Mercari and had mixed results. I sold an old camera for $25 but lost a perfectly good ice cream maker in shipping. So, the bad outweighed the good on that one and I won’t be using them again.
    • I sold a few items successfully on FB Marketplace and will use that again. About $100 bucks made so far.
    • I have yet to try Offer Up but plan to at some point. Do you have favorite places to sell your stuff? Lemme know in the comments please!

WAS ANY OF THIS WORTH IT???

Here’s a snapshot of our debt that I made note of in January 2019:

TOTAL $63,000 (not including the mortgage):

$28,000 student loan

$19,000 camper loan

$11,000 solar loan

$8,000 credit cards

1.69% savings rate

We had about $1500 in our Emergency fund.

By April it looked like this:

TOTAL $55,640:

$26,800 student loan

$18,200 camper loan

$10,640 solar loan

$0 credit card balance!

7.5% savings rate

$3500 in our Emergency Fund.

We paid off our credit cards!

I opened up a 457 retirment account with an automatic withdrawal of $250 a month!

In April and May we saved $1,000 each month! Not only were we not going further into debt, we were SAVING money each month. Where was this money going before? WE HAVE NO IDEA!

By July we had $8,000 in our Emergency Fund.

And we paid off $2,000 on our solar panel loan (the loan with the highest interest rate).

We increased our savings rate to 29%!

Then a slight SETBACK.

July ended up being a bit of bust. It was a slow paying month for Mr. Root’s business AND a spendy month for us. So we didn’t save any money in July.

HOWEVER, it was still a win. In our Pre-FI days we would have gone further into debt and financed our expenses. But with our FI MINDSET we did not use our credit cards and cash-flowed our spendy month.

In August things were looking up again. We saved $1300! Are you kidding me? No I am not! This is unheard of for us. Never have we ever saved money like this.

We’re working on bulking up our Emergency Fund for now and then we’ll focus on crushing that debt.

In summary, to answer my own question: did all these little changes pay off? YES.

It ain’t easy and there are setbacks. The debt-crushing phase can feel like a long, slowwwwwww slog. When you’re so excited about getting to the fun accumulation-wealth-building-investing phase that pesky debt can sometimes seem insurmountable.

There is also such a thing as “FI-Fatigue” in my opinion. Changing your mindset and rebuilding your financial health can feel exhausting sometimes. I think that’s why it’s important to make allowances here and there so you don’t experience a feeling of deprivation.

I’m a fan of the “Slow FI” approach. Yes, taking frugality to the extreme and working harder every waking hour to increase income might get us to FI faster but at what cost?

While I’m navigating this FI journey I’ll be paying attention to finding a balance. I want to secure our financial future AND live a joyful life now. I think it can be done.

Looking back on what we have achieved in this short amount of time really helps keep the momentum going. It also helps to see where further improvements can be made. The evidence is there.

SHIFT HAPPENS

With a shift in mindset and taking small actions each day, we can improve our financial health.

Poet Mary Oliver provides us with this excellent guidance:

Instructions for living a life. 

Pay attention. 

Be astonished. 

Tell about it.

Are you on a journey to improve your financial health? What are your WINS so far? Do you have any FI podcasts or blogs that you LOVE? Share your frugal tips with me in the comments. I love learning from this community.


4 thoughts on “SHIFT HAPPENS – How To Find Money By Changing Your Mindset”

  • Wow, Amelia! What great progress!! Congrats on killing the credit card debt and bulking up your emergency fund. I agree that mindset shift makes a huge difference. Like you, my biggest variable expenses are food (not quite as much of a foodie as you, but we do love our good, high-quality eats from farmers markets and Whole Foods), and spending on my kids, especially during the summer. I have a serious dancer – it’s what she wants to do with her life – and I really want to continue sending her to summer intensives. They’re so expensive! So looking for other ways to save. Your food pics look delicious. I’d love to know more about the kinds of snacks you’re making for your son – I’m always looking for healthy, homemade snacks my daughter will eat. So many great ideas here. Can’t wait to hear more about your continuing progress. (BTW – your son in adorable).

    • Thanks Deb! I love it that you support your daughter’s dancing passion. Sounds like a great investment to me 🙂 I plan to do a future post on school snacks. It’s a challenge sometime because my son would rather just have a bag of chips so I try to meet him halfway. Some healthy stuff made from home and some junky store bought stuff. I can’t blame him. I love Cheetos too!

  • Wow! What progress you made in a short time! I love it when our mindset shifts and our eyes are opened – we see things we did not see before … I love that you are killing the debt and saving at the same time. Totally agree that balance is key on FI journey and Slow FI is more sustainable 😊 Keep up the good work!

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