Save More And Have Fun With Money Savings Challenges

My Antarctica Fund Tracker

Saving money is hard.

Saving money is boring.

WRONG!

Saving money can be fun!

I’ve just discovered money savings challenges 😄

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No Spend Challenge

Let’s go back to the beginning …

When I first found FIRE, I really struggled with the idea of frugality.

To me, frugality was about deprivation, scarcity and restriction.

It was not very me. I was about excess, abundance and being able to spend freely on whatever I want to spend on.

I’ll give you an example.

When I walk into a chocolate store, I will walk away with nearly one of everything from the display cabinet because I want to taste everything. My friend will agonise and select maybe three to try. (No judgement here – I love my friend but I never want to be limited to 3 out of lots of delicious options)

And so one of the first challenges I did was the Frugalwoods’ Uber Frugal Month challenge.

As the name suggests, it was a month long challenge.

The key word here is challenge.

Because in the same month, I also had a short trip to Sydney planned. Plus I had scheduled my crumbling fence to be replaced and new plants were being purchased.

So I was on tenterhooks for that whole month, trying hard not to spend any more money. I was anxious and guilty as the bills for the new fence and plants rolled in. And trying to justify meals out with friends in Sydney.

The good thing about the challenge was that I discovered I could make coffee at home at a fraction of the price at a cafe. And 3 years later, I still enjoy my coffee from my stove top moka pot.

Doing the challenge opened my eyes to how I spent money. I learnt how to question what I was buying; if I needed it or if I just wanted it. I still can’t call myself frugal but I have reined in my general spending habits.

But I have never participated in another money savings challenge.

Until now.

 

Roll the Dice Challenge

At the start of November, I saw an instagram post from @gofrombroke

And something lit up within me.

At the time, I was writing about how automating my money flow takes away my lack of self control and discipline because it made saving and investing so easy and convenient.

It brought one thing to my attention. I have one sinking fund that is not automated ie I don’t have any savings automatically going into this account.

This is my Antarctica fund, as separate to my Travel fund.

I had set up the Antarctica fund at the end of 2020 as a way of making my dream of visiting Antarctica more real. It is one of my goals for this decade (2 years down, 8 to go). Plus I’d asked to tag along with Frogdancer Jones on her trip.

Visiting Antarctica is expensive! And my travel fund has to pay for other more immediate travel especially to London to visit family.

Initially, I automated savings into this account. But it conflicted with other priorities, namely home maintenance and I stopped the automation.

So the only savings going into this account now was earnings from Octopus Group surveys plus cash back from purchases using Cashrewards.

When I saw @gofrombroke’s instagram post about a Roll the Dice challenge, I decided to try it.

Every morning, I roll the dice digitally and whatever number came up, I transferred the dollar amount into my Antarctica account.

Amazingly, it was fun and I only forgot a couple of mornings. I then made it up by rolling twice the next day and transferred both amounts.

So far after 28 days, I have transferred $194!

I had a bit of cash flow problem on the second week and had to wait for my pay to hit the bank account before I could transfer that day’s savings.

But overall, I haven’t suffered or felt deprived in any way.

While $194 is not an earth shattering amount, it is much more than what I thought I’d be able to transfer monthly.

So what should I do now? Automate that amount monthly?

 

More Money Savings Challenges

Because I quite enjoyed this savings challenge, I’ve decided to do more!

I will do a savings challenge each month and all proceeds will go to the Antarctica fund.

Hopefully, this keeps the Antarctica fund front and centre in my brain and will motivate me to save more.

But I will automate the savings whenever I can.

Knowing me – if it’s not an easy system, I will get tired of it and forget to do it.

So this is what I’m going to do for the next few months.

December Savings Challenge

Traditionally December is a high spend month for me, with hosting Christmas lunch and gifts and entertaining family back from overseas. Think lots of eating out, entrance fees … a festive and social time catching up with everyone. It will be money well spent and I don’t begrudge it.

This is when I am most grateful for automation – I know my usual savings and investing goals are taken care of.

There are lots of $2 per day or save every $5 note suggestions on the internet. I hardly use cash these days so am ruling out the $5 note idea.

 

I think I can do better than $2 per day so will try a $3 per day savings challenge.

I will automate these amounts to be deposited weekly on Sundays.

January Savings Challenge

January is usually our hottest month in Melbourne, with highs in the 40s (Celsius).

So … my money savings challenge is tied to the highest temperature!

A popular challenge on the internet is to save the dollar amount of the highest temperature on Wednesdays. Others suggest averaging the week’s highest temperatures and saving the average. Do I look at actual temperatures or the forecasted highs?

Sigh, already overthinking!

So I’ll keep it simple and just check the highest forecast for Wednesdays and transfer that amount. I won’t be able to automate this.

February Savings Challenge

February is the shortest month so I’ll do the Save the Day challenge. But in reverse.

The usual way is to save $1 on day 1, $2 on day 2 and so on.

But I think it’ll be easier to start on the bigger number first and then it gets progressively easier.

The first week will be tough – $28 + $27 + $26 + $25 + $24 + $23 + $22 = $175 !!

But the final week will be easy peasy 🙂

March Onwards

I may change this when March rolls around. We’ll see.
 
Because this is when I think my patience may run out!
 
So I will just do a year’s challenge starting in March.
 
Just like the Save the Day challenge in February, I’ll do Save the Week in reverse once again.
 
Week 1 – save $52
 
Week 2 – save $51 and so on
 
I will save $1378 (!) at the end of 52 weeks.

Final Thoughts

Saving money doesn’t have to be hard or boring.

Add a little bit of fun by doing some money savings challenges.

You’d be surprised as to how much more you can save!

There are no spend challenges – I like them for challenging your spending habits. You quickly work out what you spend your money on. Self awareness is the first step in reining in a spending habit.

Or you can sign up to round up purchases – there are phone apps or your bank may offer this service – save the round up bits to another account. For example, coffee costs $3.60 – save 40 cents (rounded up to $4) I don’t like these as much because it depends on me spending and I’m trying not to spend!

I’ve chosen my money savings challenges based on them saving real dollars into my account.

And automating them as much as possible will take away my lack of self control and discipline – who knows how I’ll feel in February but if I’ve locked in the automations, it will just happen automatically.

I’m off now to lie on the couch and set up these automations. And set up reminders for the 4 Wednesdays in January to check the forecast high that day.

I’m feeling chuffed that my Antarctica fund is getting some TLC, making the possibility of visiting a lot more possible ❄️🐧 

What money savings challenges have you tried? Please share them below and inspire me to try them too!

Late Starter to FI Series #34 – Start Where You Are

Start where you are | Use what you have | Do what you can | superimposed on picture of tree and canoe in a lake

Welcome to the Late Starter to FI series!

I am a Late Starter – I discovered the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement when I was 47. This was way later, I thought than others who seem to have it all together in their 20s and 30s.

Since I started to write about my own journey, I have discovered there are many more Late Starters like me, yay! It’s such a relief knowing I’m not alone. 

I want to share our stories, our unique perspectives and show that it is absolutely not too late for us.

So in this series, I particularly highlight those of us who start our FI journeys in our 40s, 50s and 60s. And explore questions such as ‘where do we start’, ‘can we still retire early(ish)’, ‘what are the specific challenges for us late starters’. We look at our past, not to castigate ourselves but so that you can learn from us.

Please join in the conversation in the comments below. I encourage you to share your story if you fit the profile of a late starter. You absolutely don’t have to be a blogger or podcaster to share your story. 

Please email me at info@latestarterfire.com or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram

If you’ve missed any of the previous stories, you can catch up here – Late Starter to FI Series

And if you can’t wait to start on your own FIRE journey, check out my step by step ultimate starter guide, Late Starter to FIRE Action Plan.

 

Disclosure: Please note that I may benefit from purchases made through my affiliate links below, at no cost to you. Additionally, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

Start where you are | Use what you have | Do what you can | superimposed on picture of tree and canoe in a lake

Today’s late starter is Maz, an Australian reader who has so generously shared her story. You can connect with Maz at Mazfires@gmail.com – here is Maz in her own words …

A little about me

My partner and I are in our early 40s and live in a large regional centre in Australia. We live on a suburban block with our beloved dog.

I enjoy exercise, reading and cooking. My partner loves making furniture and any sort of DIY.

We are both in essential services and value the security of these jobs, especially since the pandemic. We have kept our jobs and maintained our standard of living through Covid – probably saving more since we haven’t been able to go on holidays!

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Looking back ...

I’ve had a budget since I first moved out of home. I was on a basic wage starting out and learnt quickly that if I didn’t put money aside for bills, I wouldn’t have it when they were due. And I also learnt the hard way that credit card interest quickly adds up. Luckily, I learnt this quickly before I did any damage to my finances.

In hindsight, these principles really set me up. I worked throughout my 20s and put myself through university in my late 20s to complete my Masters degree.

At 30 I was starting a new career, with almost no savings, but improtantly, no debt except my HECS (a government funded student loan that covers tuition and is indexed to inflation but interest free)

Lightbulb moment

Like many others, I first came across FIRE via Mr Money Mustache several years ago (maybe 5 or 6). At the time, it did not resonate with me at all.

I thought I had to sell my house and buy a tiny apartment. And sell my car and cycle everywhere. This did not fit the lifestyle I had wanted. I like my house. I like my car. I like my life!

A few years later, I was at a different point – we had a home we love, had great relationships with our extended family but what was next?

We’d been unable to have kids and it led us to rethink the assumptions we had had for our life together.

Sometime last year, I was bingeing on personal finance podcasts and found FIRE and CHILL. Pat and Dave broke FIRE open with their emphasis on the underlying principles.

I remember listening to one of the early episodes and thinking – we already live well below our means, wait! – we already saved a good part of our income – wait! Is this something we could do??

 

Our financial situation at the time

We’d been sensible with our money – putting extra on our mortgage, always lived within our means and, mostly, saved up for the big things we wanted.

But apart from superannuation, we had no investments, just a small emergency fund.

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First steps on the path to FI

It really changed our approach to our finances – to think about how we could make our money work harder to give us more freedom and flexibility.

I looked at our budget and realised we already had the basics covered. We were already saving a good proportion of our income into our superannuation and extra mortgage repayments. I think it was around 30% at the time.

So the jump to FI wasn’t too hard – as compared to when I first read MMM. But it took some thinking and re-thinking about how to apply the principles to our situation.

How we think about our finances now

We think in terms of inside superannuation and outside superannuation. The last few years we’ve made additional contributions to our retirement funds. And with the recent high market returns, our superannuation has done well. It’s only been recently that I’ve realised how well.

Here are the calculations (not our actual numbers).

Let’s calculate our FI number using the basic 25x yearly expenses – 25x $50,000 = $1,250,000 allowing for a 4% withdrawal rate.

Then let’s assume half comes from my superannuation and half from my partner’s. To start drawing down at 60 years of age (when we can access our retirement accounts), we need $625,000 each in our retirement funds by then (half of $1.25 million).

If our current superannuation balance is $200,000 each, let’s use the rule of 72 to project that forward (or a compound interest calculator). If my superannuation makes 7% per year, it will double every 10 years. So if I’m 40 now, when I’m 50 it will be worth $400,000 even if I don’t make any more contributions.

Then double again between 50 and 60 years old to $800,000. Each!

So, our superannuation can just sit there for the next 20 years, and we’ll have enough! This is what’s referred to as COAST FI. We don’t need to add any more to my superannuation – the compounding and time does the work.

This is amazing! We could both go to part time work, just to cover our living expenses from now to 60, and not need to invest any more.

We can dream bigger!

So now we get to dream and be even more ambitious.

We can both go part time if we like.

We can risk a job change to something new, but lower paying, or less secure than our current jobs.

I’ve already had a conversation with my boss about changing to 4 days a week (we are still negotiating).

So how can we move our ‘work optional’ date forward, and forward again?

Maz's dog
My beloved dog

What are our new goals?

We have 2 big goals at present: the first being to pay off the mortgage. Our lofty goal is to have it completely paid off within 5 years.

I know mathematically we’re better off paying the minimum and putting the rest into investments. But for us, it represents security, and flexibility and will significantly reduce our expenses.

It’s also taking advantage of being fit and able to work full time while we can. You never know when life can suddenly change. One of us, or a family member, could become sick or injured. If this happened, we might not be able to work full time, or might need to take on an increased caring role.

Our other goal is to invest more, to be able to fully retire at 55. The strategy is simple, just low cost index funds. We’re not keen on property, because we don’t want to borrow large amounts, and that’s just our personal preference.

 

Our current budget breakdown

Minimum mortgage payment 15%

Short term expenses 15%

Yearly expenses 15%

Additional mortgage repayments 15%

Outside retirement investments (taxed brokerage account) 10%

Other long term lifestyle goals 20% (includes holidays, home renovations)

Additional superannuation contributions (like a 401k account) 10%

Specific challenges or advantages of starting late

I think for people just discovering FI, especially if you think you’re too old – my advice is just start where you’re at.

You don’t need to side hustle, or start your own business, unless you want to.

You need to spend less than what you earn and invest the difference. Even if all you do is add extra to your retirement, you are still ahead, in my opinion.

I use YNAB, which is a detailed budget tool. But the Barefoot Investor buckets might work best for you.

I was chatting to a friend about this. Late starters may not have as long for interest to compound, but we can still save.

I think later in life you have a stronger sense of yourself and your values, which makes it easier to prioritise the needs of your future self over instant gratification.

Resources I've found useful

Books:

The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape

An Aussie Finance Classic. If you really feel like you have no idea where to start with your finances, this gives you a step-by-step framework. It includes banking, getting out of debt, budgeting and starting out investing.

The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins

If the calculations I’ve included don’t make sense, this is your book. It’s in the title – the basics of investing and compounding for passive income. If you’re knee deep in analysis paralysis ot side hustle YouTube, it’s great for perspective.

Budgeting:

YNAB – You Need a Budget

This is an envelope style, or zero-based budget tool. It really helped me find the extra percentages to add to our savings rate. A great tool for prioritising your financial needs and wants.

Podcast

FIRE and CHILL

As I said above, it really emphasises the principles of financial independence over tiny details. Both hosts have their own blogs too.

Dave from Strong Money Australia

Pat from Lifelong Shuffle

What's next?

Once our home is paid off, we’ll turbo charge our saving and investing, to move our retirement date closer and closer.

We’re planning a holiday in Australia next year, as things open post pandemic. We’re also planning an overseas holiday in the next few years.

I love talking about this stuff and bouncing ideas around. Drop me an email if you want to chat about your own ideas – Mazfires@gmail.com

 

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you, Maz for sharing your story.

For me, your story highlights the importance of sharing our own stories with others. Even though reading Mr Money Mustache did not resonate with you at the beginning, it did many years later.

Another point that strikes me is that if you have the basics right from a young age, the stretch to FI is not big. It’s just a matter of tweaking a little here and there and you could be at Coast FI very soon.

And I love your advice to other late starters – just start where you are. It truly doesn’t matter how you start or what you do – the key is to start today.

Did FIRE resonate with you when you first found out about it?