Transitioning from an earner to a spender was not emotionally easy for me… but this is how I adjusted, and now, I’m at peace with it
Seven months ago, in December 2021, I left my 6-figure corporate remote job and company-sponsored health care behind — by choice — and I decided to travel, focus on my blog, and work on my memoir, among a few other things.
Prior to quitting, for over a year, I had been a full-time digital nomad traveling North America, working my remote job “from anywhere” in an Americas’ time zone, and living out of hotels, Airbnbs, and on friends’ couches. I kept a budget, which allowed me to save 20% of my income while affording what I wanted. (I lay out my 2021 spending here, if you’re interested.) But I still spent a bit carelessly, in my current opinion (less so than in my 20s, but still)… maybe even *cough* wastefully.
There was a lot I didn’t bat an eye about, earlier. I was saving, I was investing, I was paying my bills, and what was left over was funding my lifestyle just fine. I still had to make choices, though — the hotel a little farther out of town that was a little more affordable, the pizza instead of the steak, the DIY nails vs. the biweekly salon manicure.
But, that was last year. I quit my job, I quit my regular income, and I quit the U.S. — and I went to Mexico the first half of 2022. In late July, I’m headed to Eastern Europe for a few months (where the cost of living is generally also a little less than the states), and I’ll be coming back to Mexico in the fall. (It’s called geo-arbitrage, and it’s really the only way for me to make my savings and investments last for many years instead of just a few. Follow along with the journey on Instagram!)
It was difficult making the transition from being an earner to a spender, and it’s something I fretted about long before I gave my notice (being a millionaire would’ve made the decision easy, but alas). It was an especially tough pill to swallow during my first month job-free: I was spending money… that was not being replenished every two weeks. I went from debits and credits, to only debit, debit, debit, debit. Cue the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
And let me clarify: I wasn’t in the red. I wasn’t overdrawing; I had the funds saved up. It was the fact that I was, and always had been, a fiscally responsible person, who was now taking out without putting in… watching my net worth decrease after months and years of gains (so much worse now, in this time of market volatility!)… AND IT PAINED ME.
Obviously, I chose to quit my job; and I knew spending money without making it would be a byproduct of that. And I wouldn’t, couldn’t go back to full-time work, not in the typical sense. So the only thing I could do to ease my anxiety was to be as smart, thoughtful, and thrifty as I could.
#1: I got conscientious.
I remember when I was a kid and I would tell my parents that I wanted this or that — and typically, they would say something like, “You can’t have all of them, but you can pick one.”
This is kind of like that.
Now that my funds are finite and I can’t have it all, my choices are mutually exclusive of one another. Is it imperative that I have that appetizer with my meal, or that second (or third) drink? Can I walk or take a bus, or do I really need to get an Uber? Do I really need the black jeans, or will the dark denim ones do?
A $6 Uber might not seem like a big deal, but compare that to a 25-cent metro ride (like in Mexico City) — and it definitely adds up. So what, where, and when is it really worth it? Now, I exercise almost superhuman thoughtfulness, patience, and self-control — where before, I was spending without conscience.
And when I see a charge, an extra bill, or an amount that no longer makes sense? (And this is where many of us go wrong) I take time out of my life to pick up the damn phone and talk to customer service: “I want to pause, downgrade, or cancel, please!!”
#2: I’ve gotten crafty.
We live in a country where you can order up anything you want and have it delivered in mere hours, but remember, you pay a premium for convenience and ease. But there are a lot of ways to solve a problem yourself!
In the past, when certain belongings were broken or damaged, I would’ve tossed most in the trash — instead, I glue, sew, or make them work anyway, and all is well (or rather, I take them home to my helpful mom and 18-year-old niece. Thanks, Mom & Daria)!
But also, there’s do-it-yourself; enter, my DIY passport photos. Instead of paying $15 at Walgreens or a similar retailer for passport photos, I took a selfie on a pale background, made a few collages in Canva of varying dimensions, uploaded them to Walmart’s 1-Hour Photo, and ordered 12-cent prints. One of them I cut into a 2×2 square to fit the requirements perfectly. Instead of $15 plus tax, I paid 36 cents — and the whole affair just took a few hours of my time. (Note, this is not actually for a passport, but for my Mexican residency application. More to come on that adventure later.)
#3: I’ve gotten methodic with savings tactics.
Once I’m decided I’m going to buy something, I am gonna maximize, baby. Some of my tactics include (with examples):
- Email sign-up discounts
I use my MSN email address from high school on retailers’ websites to get 10-20% off my first online order, and recurring coupons by email. Restaurants often have an email sign-up offer too!
- Online coupons or promo codes
A quick Google search will show you if there’s anything you can plug in on that “promo” field in your shopping cart.
- Cash-back when using certain credit cards
When I had to buy flea & tick solution for Penny, I noticed I had a “$15 back when spending $49 or more” cash-back deal with Chewy.com if using my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. I made sure to “add” this deal to my card prior to making the purchase, and the cash back will end up on my statement as a credit card payment. Below are current offers on my Chase Sapphire, as an example. (I could’ve bought the flea & tick from Petco, but $15 back is greater than 10%, so!)
- Loyalty points multipliers
Before I book any hotel direct (Hilton, Marriott, IHG, Hyatt), I check to see if there are any promos on the hotel website or app. There’s often something for bonus points, or points-multipliers, meaning your points balance will add up with fewer stays. All you have to do to register is to log-in. Example here.
#4: I put my negotiation hat on.
Some prices are up for negotiation… and it really doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Can you waive that fee?
- Are there any current promos right now?
- Do I qualify for any discounts?
- Do you have any samples?
- Can I try it first for free?
- I know it says non-refundable, but ____ [enter good reason], is there anything you can do?
- What is the absolute best price you can offer?
Of course, I wouldn’t put these to the cashier at TJ Maxx, but on the phone with customer service or salespersons, or at certain service providers, there can be leeway to keep your business; use your discretion.
(And, if you’re ever asked, “Why are you canceling?” and you answer, “Because of price”… chances are you’ll be offered a new discount! Kindle Unlimited is one service that tried to entice me to stay with a hefty discount, once I went through all the cancellation screens.)
Here’s another example. While traveling in Mexico, I found hotels with widely-varying pet fees, some that were 50% of my (human) nightly rate. At my last stay, the owner told me the high pet fee of 300 pesos ($15 per night) was because of deep cleaning and fur removal to the sheets. I pointed to Penny’s dog bed and promised she would sleep only on her own bed. The owner was convinced (enough), and the fee was waived. I saved $30, and indeed, Penny slept in her dog bed.
Remember, wherever you are, the listed price doesn’t always have to be the one you pay. There’s a markup for a reason, and if a business wants your business badly enough… sometimes you can meet in the middle. In addition, and my fellow marketers will understand — retaining an otherwise happy customer, building loyalty, and offering a good experience is sometimes more important than making a big sale — and their behavior will align with that.
Summary: Now, with my spending, I’m conscientious instead of careless.
(And maybe, just maybe, this is what we should be, regardless of our income level?)
I’m “retired,” and I think more about money than ever before… but I don’t really stress out about it. I try to look at my spending, budgeting, and bank account balances (including my brokerage… ouch!) logically and un-emotionally. I’ve set my budget, my budget is based on numbers and formulas, and all I can do is to stick with it or make necessary adjustments . Plus, my original choices were not made lightly or without analysis. With all of the above in mind, and being as smart, thoughtful, and thrifty as I am, I’m doing the absolute best I can… and I’m living my best life.
Finally, I want to leave you with a some feedback from one of my mentoring clients, and add, if you want ANY additional support around this topic, please reach out!
"Thank you, thank you, I found our session so helpful... I have definitely been conditioned to be fearful of not having a regular income. Your insight about this was a monumental shift for me. I was feeling sick about the prospect of spending and reducing my savings. You mentioned the huge value I will receive when spending my money to buy time freedom, rest, travel and adventure... You helped to reassure me that my dreams aren’t crazy and that I can live life on my terms." - Meri-Li
How is your emotional relationship with money? Do you have any suggested savings tactics for my readers? Leave a comment!