Keeping up with the Bloggers. Can I really save as much as the bloggers out there?

Lifestyle inflation
Most personal finance blogs that I read talk about how much they save and what they have done to get their savings rate up to ~70% of their income. I admire these people and I truly wish I was one of them. I do save pretty aggressively myself, but I'm probably at about the 40% savings plan. I could maybe bump this up a little more, but I don't think that cutting out public transportation and getting a bike will really save me much more than say... 1% or something like that. I'm sure there's 4 or 5 other things that could do to incrementally save more but that would probably only get me up to 45% or so, and I think the conveniences that I do still pay for are worth the money. I mean, is taking the bus to work really a luxury in life??
 
Almost all the blogs out there talk about how there's more in your budget that you can be cutting to save more, and that you must not be serious about your savings if you aren't willing to do these things to increase your savings percentage.

I don't have cable, I don't buy soda, (that's mostly because I don't want to carry it up 3 flights of stairs to my house) I make my lunch everyday for work, and I don't feel the need to have the latest and greatest gadgets. (No smart phone for me!) I also make an above average salary being that I am a software engineer, but I can't see how I could get my savings rate up a significant amount to anywhere near the 70% savings rate that I can hear other bloggers gush about all the time.

Today I'm going to say that you shouldn't feel guilty because you could save more. First of all, you're reading personal finance blogs, that means you are serious about your finances. That means you're probably doing better than most people out there, I'm guessing that you're an above average saver too, so you shouldn't be kicking yourself for not being able to match the extremists out there. I guess that since I am so into personal finance I have been trying to do my own version of "keeping up with the Joneses" except in my case it's "keeping up with the Bloggers" which is probably a good goal for me, I'm sure that there's worse lifestyle choices I could be making...

The way that I see it, the bloggers that tell you to cut everything that could possibly be a luxury out of your life are like those rich neighbors that brag about their new cars. In a way they are just being smug about how superior they are for riding a bike and only using thrift stores and growing their own food. Some of us out there simply don't have the time or resources (by resources I mean, space to grow food) to do these money saving tasks. You can politely listen but you don't have to do everything that they do. If you can only save 10% of your income right now then that's still more than the average American saves, If you're ahead of the average then you are on the right path. So do what you can but don't think that because you can't get your savings over 20% that you are doing something wrong.
 

So how do these other personal finance bloggers save so much?

 

Usually when I dig deeper into the author I discover a few key differences that explains why they can save so much more than me. The first is usually location, I live in San Francisco. Most other PF bloggers out there for some reason always seem to live out east (or at least someplace cheaper than San Francisco) I'm just going to go out on a limb here and guess that that housing in Vermont or the Colorado is probably cheaper than the lower end housing in San Francisco. Housing in San Francisco is not cheap by any means. I suppose I could move to Oakland and try to reduce my monthly housing costs but after owning my house for 7 years and refinancing at what I would consider a great rate. And also raising rent for my roommates over the years I think that moving to a different house (even if smaller) would not really save me much at this point in time. It would also increase my commute time and costs.


I think I remember reading about one blogger that talked about living in the bay area on some incredibly small amount of money (about 18k per year) but I think I remember that he lived in a trailer park. That's another personal choice that I would prefer not to do. Once you are retired and live in a motor home, it's probably difficult to change your mind and decide that you suddenly want to own a house. At that point in time you have to make more money to change your lifestyle like that.

The second thing that I usually notice is that most other PF bloggers out there count their household incomes as a total. So all of you dual income households get a bonus paycheck to cover your expenses. I guess that for all of the single PF bloggers out there we really get no love. *pun intended* I'm guessing that if I had a significant other and I was counting both of our incomes that would change the picture dramatically. First because many of the shared expenses probably wouldn't rise that much, there would be an uptick in food expenses and housing since I probably would lose one roommate to bring in a significant other. But overall there's shared expenses where adding a second person in doesn't increase as much as the first person alone. Making dinner for 2 doesn't cost that much more than dinner for 1, in many cases it costs the same but there's less leftovers.
 
So I guess some of this comes down to personal choice, I choose to live in a city I have grown fond of even though it is expensive just to have a roof over your head. I also prefer to have a regular lifestyle and live in a home that cannot drive away. I don't need an above average flashy lifestyle, I have roommates, I mentioned how I take the bus to work everyday. But I don't cut back on my lifestyle to the extremes of other bloggers.
 
The other main reason I can't save as much is becuase some of the bloggers out there have more than just their own personal income helping their journey. For the bloggers out there that are working with significant others to reach financial independence that's a great for them and I hope that they know how lucky they are to not have to do it all on their own, but then again, they are saving for 2 people not 1 so they have a higher bar set.
 
Since I can only get my savings rate so high I probably won't be able to retire as early as others out there, but I'm definitely on the fast track to financial independence. I think in a few more years, after a few raises, increasing rent on my tenants and more money going towards the principle of my mortgage instead of interest I should be able to get up over a 50% savings range that others talk about.
 
It's a long journey, and I'm sure there will be unexpected twists and turns along the way (Jobs/Significant Others/Vacations/Accidents!), at least I hope there will be because that will make life more exciting!
 
-Zee

P.S. I'm waiting for the day I see a blogger talk about making all of their clothes themselves and that you could be saving so much money by growing your own cotton and weaving your own cloth.

12 comments:

  1. I think we just have to take the advice with a grain of salt. I pack my lunch everyday, rarely drink, rarely eat out, borrow books from the library, wash my clothes with cold water and hang dry them, yet I only can save so much because I decided to buy a house with my partner. While it does eat up a chunk of our finances, I have no regrets about buying it, except that I wish we had found this house sooner.

    You're absolutely right about the way you save/spend is personal and different for everyone. Everyone's situation is unique so they will use methods that will work for them, but not necessarily for the next person. There's no way I could ride a bike to work, because I am a 15 min drive from work, BUT I start work at 6:30 am. :S

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    1. Yeah, I think that it's definitely a personal thing for everyone. Comparing yourself to anyone else usually an unhealthy thing to do since everyone is different.

      The cool thing about houses is that over time they get easier to deal with. Your mortgage will remain the same, hopefully years later you're making more money at whatever you do, and the value of them should be higher.

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  2. That is a good article. I think that saving 40% per month is an excellent achievement. One of your biggest obstacles are high costs in California, plus high taxes. At a 40% savings rate, it would take about 20 years of savings to reach FI however, vs about 15 - 16 at a 50% savings rate.

    I am also curious, are you counting your mortgage in the expense category? I am probably getting a little creative here, but I think you might be giving yourself a much harder time than you deserve. In reality, if you live in your house for a period of say 15 years, and you build equity at a cost that is about equal to what you would have paid in rent, then you have effectively capitalized that rent into an asset. Hence this should have been added to savings.

    Example: You live in an apartment and pay $3K/month in rent. If you end up purchasing an apartment with a $3- $4K in monthly mortgage, and you live there for say 20 years, you are pretty much "saving" a portion of what you would have thrown out the window in rent payments anyway. Of course, I don't live in SF so my numbers are all made up.

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    1. DGI,

      I am being a bit hard on myself here, but that is intentional. I prefer to under estimate my savings and over estimate my spending so that I will have a happy surprise when I finally figure it all out. Since I know I'm still years away I'm not getting to the actual dollar amounts on everything yet. I know a lot will change before I reach financial independence so I'm just saving as much as I can now.

      As for my mortgage, I am counting that as an expense. While I know that I'm gaining equity with each payment I don't usually count my home as part of my net worth. Since I need a roof over my head and I don't plan to sell it does it really matter what I pay? Sure, one day it will get paid off and lower my expenses but in reality I know I will not always live in this home. It's not my forever home. I actually want a smaller house where I don't have to take in roommates. Even though it will be smaller it will be more expensive living alone so I will eventually have to calculate for that too.

      Perhaps if I were only 5 years away from FI I would start to get into those calculations to really figure it out but I'm probably somewhere between 8 (my ideal goal) and 12 years (my most likely goal).

      -Zee

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  3. I agree that's it is easier being married as I have been on both sides of the situation. But if you're looking for inspiration, Mad FIentist and Pretired are married but they don't combine their money with their wives so they're in a roommate type situation. Also Frugalwoods lives in Cambridge

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    1. Both of those are excellent examples of other people that have reached their goals. I think they both have a higher base salary than I do so that probably bumps up the savings rates for them. I'm hoping to get a significant raise soon, hopefully that will bump up my own savings rate by about 10% soon. If things don't go that way then I will probably just search for a new job to get me the bump in salary that I'm hoping for. We'll see though.

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  4. Between my wife and I, we save a little over 70% of our income every year. But just because we do it, that doesn't necessarily mean it's right for everyone. We have the benefit of two salaries and a very modest lifestyle, which makes it easier to save at that level.

    Luckily, you have help paying your mortgage, so you probably have some wiggle room somewhere in your budget to save more *if you truly want to*. Maybe you do. Maybe you don't. There's nothing wrong with making the decision to work a few extra years in life so you can keep a little more discretionary spending in your budget now.

    What's NOT okay, though, is to lament every working day of your life, complain that retirement seems to get farther and farther away, and continue to blow through money on crap you don't need (I know YOU don't do that...I'm talking in generalities about typical people). This doesn't get you anywhere. It only gets you more and more frustrated.

    Hell, life is a series of trade-offs. There are things that I spend money on too that I shouldn't (I drive a gas-guzzling Honda Ridgeline). Nobody is perfect. Life isn't about perfection, though. It's about being happy and having some fun while doing it.

    Good luck to you, fellow software engineer.

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    1. Actually I think my savings might be somewhere around 60% now, part of that is due to one of my roommates moving out and getting a new one that came in somewhere closer to market rate, a raise and probably some underestimation on my part since I would rather play it safe.

      But I agree with you, giving into the idea that you can't save anything and that it doesn't matter because retirement is so far away is just malarkey.

      I really wonder why so many software engineers get into the heavy saving mindset. We must either be a group of people that likes the best shortcut or a group of people that just gets burnt out of their jobs and knows they don't want to do it forever.

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  5. **We must either be a group of people that likes the best shortcut or a group of people that just gets burnt out of their jobs and knows they don't want to do it forever.**

    LOL. When I was driving truck I met a former software engineer who switched to trucking 'cuz he couldn't handle the stress anymore.

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