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My Story: Cutting Expenses

contributed by SG

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I had a great job, with high pay, benefits, and a pension. I had an expensive apartment, was making extra payments on my student loans and saving up to replace my junker car. Then love happened.

Last March, I got engaged to a wonderful guy who happened to live halfway across the country. In May, I decided that it was time to quit my job and make the leap, to move to be with him in September when he restarted graduate school. Unfortunately, that meant goodbye good job, and our only income would be his graduate stipend. Now, I've always been frugal, couponing and cooking from scratch, but it was time to kick it into tightwad gear.

As a teacher, I had saved up enough money to get through the summer, so when the school year ended, I immediately got a good summer tutoring job and put every penny I made into an ING account called the "job hunt fund." I kept a spreadsheet to show me when I had accumulated three months' worth of each of my fixed living expenses (student loans, cell phone, and car insurance).

Next, I looked at how to reduce those expenses. The student loans were easy, with one call or click I could change to a graduated repayment plan. I was unhappy that I would have to pay more in the long run, but this was crunch time. I looked up car insurance quotes, and found a plan that would be $80 a month cheaper. Cell phone bill? Well, I don't really need unlimited text messages, do I?

Finally, I set about the task of living on almost nothing for the whole summer. I'm a stockpiler, and had to rapidly change my strategy to "buy nothing." Using up the food in my pantry became a game. Mac and cheese, canned peas, and canned tuna? Sounds like dinner for two nights! But what do I do with pasta, baked beans, and cream of mushroom soup?

My air conditioning stayed off, and so did my lights and my TV most of the time. I ran my errands on the way home from work to save gas. Then, I exchanged my fledgling car fund for a down payment on a bottom-of-the-line Honda Civic with 1.9% financing, rolling the rest of my savings into the ING account and making sure I could afford six-month's worth of payments.

To my surprise, by the time I packed up everything I hadn't used, sold, or donated into my tiny car, I had six months' expenses socked away and a nice cushion of an emergency fund to begin my new life. And, with these newly learned savings skills, I have a feeling I'll be out of debt in just a few years.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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