I’ve been doing a lot of introspection over the past twelve months. It’s likely partly due to the confinement at home, and it’s also probably an age thing. I’m turning 31 in March, and when you hit your 30s you start feeling like you’ve lived a little and acquired a modicum of wisdom.
You also start looking back on your twenties, analyzing the decisions you made, and what would you have done differently with the knowledge that you possess now.
Specifically, the way to spend my work income could’ve definitely been optimized and improved upon in hindsight. Had my older sibling given me the same advice I’m about to give through this blog post, I would have probably ignored it, but I really wish I hadn’t!
Avoid Fast Fashion Stores
Avoid fast fashion stores like it’s the plague. You feel like you’re saving money by buying affordable clothes, but when its all said and done, you really aren’t in most cases…
Clothes you buy at fast fashion stores like Zara, H&M, and Forever21 will not survive a year of washing, and will likely go out of style within a few months. My experience is that even basics like white t-shirts from these fast fashion stores is a waste of money given of how quickly they get worn out from. Understand that buying something for $16 or $20 and throwing it out in a year is a much more expensive way to dress than spending $50 and keeping this item for several years.
What’s more, the affordable price of each item gives us a false sense that we need more because we can afford more. Of the Marie Kondo sessions that I’ve had with clients helping them declutter their homes, I can’t tell you how many of the clothing that gets discarded come from the impulsive decisions that many of us make at fast fashion stores like these.
Bottom-line: you are not saving money by shopping at cheap fast fashion stores.
Build a capsule wardrobe
There are certain items that withstand time. They were fashionable in 2010 as much as they are in 2021. I would recommend carefully planning these purchases, doing your research, and saving over time in order to invest in them. Try setting aside an envelope and put $100 towards your capsule wardrobe every month. Go shopping at the end of the year when things go on sale while limiting yourself only to the money you saved up in that envelope. By planning ahead of time this way, you create a psychological ceiling on how much you will spend and thus limit your natural impulses to buy what is ultimately not needed.
Clothes in your capsule wardrobe will become your go-to. You should be able to keep and enjoy them for the next decade. They will likely be more expensive initially, but you will take much better care of them, mend them, and appreciate them 10 times more than anything coming out of a fast-fashion store.
A few capsule wardrobe staples:
- Leather jacket. This is probably the most expensive item on the list, and a good gift idea for your family to pitch into for your birthday or a special occasion. I bought mine from JOIE and the quality is amazing. Expect to spend $500 – $800 for a good quality leather jacket. Consider also opting for a vegan leather jacket.
- 2-3 pairs of high-quality jeans. Check out FRAME jeans; they are pricey, but last forever and are in my opinion a great quality and style combo. Also, avoid jeans that are too trendy; straight leg skinny jeans and a good high-rise will never go out of style.
- 3 Turtlenecks. (one black, one gray, one beige). A staple that never goes out of fashion, and easy to pull off with any outfit. It is perfect for days when you don’t want to think about what to wear (and yes… Steve Jobs was right on this as well in hindsight!). A turtleneck gives such a clean, elegant, and slimming look, and it’s very easy to accessorize it with a chunky gold necklace and/or earrings. My favorite turtlenecks are from UNIQLO, as their quality is truly impressive, especially given the affordable price.
- 2-3 wool or cashmere sweaters. Try to pick classic styles here that will age well. A good quality cashmere sweater will be useful for you for a long-time if you take good care of it. You can also try something with mohair that is fluffier and easier to maintain. I would recommend you invest in a gray, light gray, beige, or light pink sweater to build out a good neutral base.
- Leather leggings. These have been in style for the past decade and will continue to be because of how flattering they are. They can look dressy or casual depending on the top you wear them with.
- Dress pants. Get a pair of power pants that you’ll want to wear to interviews or important meetings. Something high-rise and long will make you look taller. My recommendation here is to pick a pair that does not look overly corporate so that you can also wear them to a cocktail bar or to a nice restaurant with a pair of heels.
- A wool coat or trench coat. The classic case of something that you buy once and keep for decades. A classic wool coat is a good thing to invest in. Plan to spend between $500 to $1000 for a proper high-quality wool coat, and make sure to bring it to the dry cleaner every year or two.
- Leather crossbody bag. This will be your everyday bag that you walk around the city with and travel with. Get a genuine leather one that keeps up well over time. Ideally, you should pick something delicate enough that you can wear it when you go out. Something like the Gucci Soho small leather disco bag is a nice luxury item to save up for!
Shoes… and how to avoid becoming a shoe addict
To this day shoes are my biggest temptation; I can’t seem to have enough pairs! The problem with shoes is that, well… they wear out… particularly in colder or wetter climates (fellow Canadians here know exactly what I’m talking about!). I wouldn’t recommend that you spend too much money on luxury shoes in your twenties. A pair of Stuart Weitzman boots may seem like a great investment, but unless you have 5 other pairs of boots to put into rotation, you’ll end up getting them worn out in a year. So… for boots… I would actually give you the opposite advice than for clothes and recommend you go for affordable but with reasonable quality. Go to Steve Madden and pick up a pair for $120, which will look nearly as good, and you won’t feel bad about replacing them in a year.
The list below is what is in my opinion a good shoe capsule wardrobe. That’s $1,000-$2,000 right there, so if you’re not careful and keep buying two of the same type, you can easily sink thousands of dollars into shoes.
- Black bootie
- Black heel boot
- Combat boots
- Summer sandals
- Neutral heels
- Black heels
- Black pump
Live in your small apartment for as long as you can
The biggest monthly expenditure for nearly everyone in their 20s is rent. It may sound trivial and almost self-evident, but try to keep your rent low for as long as you can.
I speak here from personal experience. Right after getting my first big pay raise, my boyfriend and I immediately moved out of our studio apartment into a much larger one-bedroom apartment. Our rent went from $1400 to $2400. In hindsight, the extra space and better area was welcome, but ultimately not worth the extra $1,000. I could technically afford the new higher rent, but this move essentially absorbed my entire salary increase.
A bigger place also came with a ton of new expenses. I was so excited to decorate and fill it with new furniture that I must have spent an entire year paying off the debt from this splurge. My advice to you is to stay in your studio apartment until you have significant savings and can truly afford a bigger place. Try and keep your rent to 25% or less of your monthly income. The key is to make it cute and spacious by not cluttering it with too much stuff.
Don’t let stuff anchor you down
Until you settle on the career path you’re certain to continue in, and the city you think you will stay in, try to maintain a minimalist lifestyle. When exciting opportunities arise you’ll be able to turn yourself into a digital nomad and say yes to them! Consider renting a furnished apartment. I often see listings that are not much more expensive than empty apartments, and it can save you thousands by not having to commit to big-ticket items like couches and dining tables in your first few years of living alone.
Next 2 tips are for when COVID finally ends!
Minimize buying drinks when you go out
When I was in my twenties, most nights out started with pre-drinks at someone’s place. That’s usually the funnest part of the night, and the affordable part as well! By the time you get to the bar or nightclub, you are paying $12-$15 per drink and that bill can rack up extremely fast. From my personal experience, by the time we’d get to the place, most of us did not need to keep drinking to have a good time. Regardless, we would always order more drinks at the bar, because it was the normal thing to do!
Limit expensive dinners
This is the advice I really wished I followed in my twenties. Living in Toronto, with most of my friends working in finance, eating out at some posh place downtown was the normal thing to do. The bill per person was without fail close to $50-$80 each time. These dinners are fun, but if you do them 4-6 times a month, they start to lose their sparkle and add close to $500 to your credit card bill. I really wish I said no to more of them, and instead joined friends for a drink after, or directly on the dancefloor for when the real fun started.
Skip the gym membership
Try to work out at home and skip the expense of paying for an expensive gym. I had convinced myself I could only be inspired enough to work out if I did it at the gym. That lie to myself cost me thousands of dollars throughout my twenties. Nowadays, there are phenomenal free workout videos on YouTube and Instagram and you can set up your own small workout space in your apartments, with a few weights and a yoga mat.
Don’t buy coffee out – ever.
This is the easiest one to get sucked into. Spending $3-$6 on lattes per day can easily rack up to a hundred bucks per month. Get yourself a decent coffee machine and a to-go coffee cup.
When your office coworkers all go out for coffee, join them and simply say “I’ve had my daily dose of caffeine already” but that you’re happy to take a break and go for a walk.
Cook at home
This is such an obvious one but probably the hardest for most of us. Ordering on Grubhub or UberEats is just too easy. As soon as you normalize ordering in, it can easily become your fallback. There will be so many nights that you’ll come home exhausted and will not want to cook something complicated. Keep some Trader Joe’s frozen rice or a few frozen meals in your freezer for days like this. Instead, try to save ordering in for special nights with friends or a date night. The same goes for buying lunch out if you work in an office. $10-$14 at the food court every day will wipe out your monthly savings.
Initiate social plans that suit you
Be the one to suggest the plans and come up with very cheap activity ideas that suit you. For example, ask if your friends want to come over to your place for a wine and cheese party where everyone brings their own wine. Another classic cheap activity is to meet up at the park for a picnic. Activity ideas will vary depending on which city you live in, but there are always some outdoor or at-home activities that are fun, inexpensive or free. Trust me, your friends will appreciate a potluck, or movie night, instead of an expensive dinner at a restaurant.
I did not know in my twenties that you can find almost anything on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. When people are in a rush to move out, they will sell perfectly new furniture for 40%-70% off from their original price. The same goes for clothes. See if the item you are thinking of buying is available on Poshmark or at a local thrift store.
Develop a minimalist beauty routine
Like a capsule wardrobe, build yourself a capsule beauty routine and only buy new things when you completely run out. Invest in good quality makeup, and be careful to pick out things that you will actually wear every single day. Have a good mascara, a brow pencil, a brow gel, a blush, a highlighter, a few lipsticks or lip glosses. Pick an affordable foundation because that will be the item you’ll replace most frequently.
Skincare is used up more quickly and can become super expensive if you’re not careful. Wear SPF and avoid the sun! That will save you thousands on botox in your 30’s (trust me). I would recommend that you build a daily routine with an affordable brand so that you don’t pay $40 for a cleanser or moisturizer. CeraVe from the drugstore is your best affordable bet, or a brand like Stratia is an excellent option. If skincare is your weakness, try to splurge on replenishing items only when you run out.
Hindsight is 20/20…
I think that most of my unhealthy spending habits came from the fact that I was always surrounded by friends who make a lot more money than I did. Being very much an optimist myself, I thought that my 20s are meant to be enjoyed to the fullest and that I’ll have the rest of my life to save and be frugal.
Coming from a low-income family, the topic of money generally gave me anxiety. It took me years to realize that whatever I was spending money on in my twenties didn’t make me happier. I don’t remember a single Black Friday sale purchase I made, or clothes I bought on an impulse. I do remember (and still use!) the higher quality items I invested in like a leather crossbody or leather jacket. I also remember the trips I did, and don’t regret the money I spent on travel! I hope that this blog post helps give you some thought about your own spending habits.