Money Matters

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
― Epictetus

Welcome to money month on SDS. In keeping with my 101/1001 goals I’ll be keeping a spending diary and reporting in weekly on where my money goes so that you, faithful minions, will keep me honest. There will also be posts on the subjects of money, spending, and adjacent choices. I’m curious to read your thoughts and feedback.

We the Small Dog clan have an odd sort of problem. We aren’t bad with money, but we’ve always made just enough to not have to worry about it. Hurrah for you, check your privilege, you might respond–which would not be an unreasonable admonition–but it has had a curious side effect in that we have never prioritized saving as much as I think we should have. Between rent, groceries, cars and subsequently travel cards, etc., most of our money has always been spoken for the moment it arrives in our pockets. We’ve always had a bit extra…and instead of saving, we’ve typically spent it.


There are some socioeconomic factors at work here. Jeff and I are millennials and like many of our generation we are paying off massive student loans. We were fortunate in that I had a job through the recession, during the worst of which we lived in a cheap university town, but it’s still had long term impact. Our savings from my first job financed our move to London but for several years we were paying over $1,000 a month towards student loans which was, in a word, backbreaking. We’ve also tended to prioritize personal goals over financial goals (one of the key insights that came out of an Edelman study looking into generational behavior) such as living in a major city abroad rather than buying a house and preferring purchasing experiences to stuff. We’re not extravagant, but the fact is that there have been times that we’ve overspent or life has been more expensive than anticipated (losses in the family requiring international travel, for instance).

We also live in one of the most expensive cities on earth. By choice. But nearly everything is more expensive for us than it would be most anywhere else. There are endless think pieces and reporting on Londoners moving further and further out from the city in order to afford rent. Expats without UK driver licenses, we need to live more centrally as we rely on public transportation to get around. Rent is, as a result, our biggest expense by far and followed closely by food. Would we like to own property someday? Sure, but it seems like a very faraway goal. It’s not outrageous for a good but basic house in a well connected part of the city to cost over £1m. For a central London home, a deposit of close to £100k is not atypical and, according to this piece in The Telegraph, if we were able to set aside £500 a month towards a down payment, we’d be able to save up to that…in about 16 years. Yikes.

Years back I made it a goal to put a specific sum (nowhere near the £500 mentioned above) in savings monthly and have mostly kept to it. But in six months of freelancing it has been hard to keep that up and some of those unexpected life incidents have periodically depleted or swallowed our savings over 7.5 years of marriage. We’re fortunate to have not really struggled thus far (written with the biggest knock-on-wood possible), but an unexpected side effect of this making of enough-to-get-by-comfortably-but-not-much-more has been an attitude of living in the moment, financially speaking, and not really thinking as much about the future as we should.

Which is why I’m making savings and budgeting a much bigger priority moving forward. This is part of my Year of Less, in that I want specifically to cut down on casual spending, consume less in general, and budget more closely. But overall, I want to start cultivating a saver’s mindset. It will be a shift, but as I start thinking about the second two thirds of our lives, it’s one I want and need to make.

What has had a significant impact on how you think about money–a book you read, an experience you had, a relationship you’ve been in or witnessed? What were the immediate effects? The long term ones? And how have the past few years changed (or cemented) your ideas about money? 

7 thoughts on “Money Matters”

  1. Two books shaped my thinking, neither one new…Your Money or Your Life and The Millionaire Next Door.

    The first is about making intelligent decisions about what you want most and how much of your life energy you’re willing to devote to attaining $$$$ — or enjoying freedom. Yet, without savings, you live in fear. So there’s that. The MND reminds people to live lower than their means, which we have done for years and have saved $$ as a result. My accountant has told me that I save more $$$ than people he helps who out-earn me by a lot; i.e. as a percentage. I did — until health insurance costs this year started making that impossible.

    The ugly fact is that life — esp. in a fab place like London or NY — costs a fortune. Here, an hour’s parking can cost $20 or more, a cocktail $12-18 or more. Theater, concerts, FUN…all the reasons we want to be in/near a major center. But it means having to earn more $$ and save 15% of it ANYWAY. It’s really boring!

    There are so many times — many many many many times — I want to see a ballet or concert or opera or something and I don’t. I just don’t. How else to save $$$, but by not spending? I sate my lust for pretty things by buying on sale, consignment, thrift shops and auctions/antiques with some splurges. Our home looks like a million bucks, but I know how to do that! 🙂

    Our car is ancient (safe is fine with me). I live/work in a 1 bedroom and would kill for more space…which would cost more and mean I’m stuck with higher, immovable monthly fixed costs. Nope.

    It’s really about what matters MOST.

    To me: 1) creative/intellectual freedom — i.e. not taking a job I hate for the $$$; 2) control of my time/space/sked (jobs are very limiting in this regard); 3) retirement and travel, for decades. have been my priorities. No kids. No house. No shiny new car. So IF you have a very clear goal and a reason it matters so much to you, saving becomes easier. But, in a world of many alluring options. it always means not doing something else that would consume that money.

    Which is why rural, isolated life can be a lot cheaper! 🙂

  2. Dave Ramsay is the popular personal finance author of the moment in my cultural bubble. His radio show is pretty entertaining, and his books are probably worthwhile.

  3. I think that my careful attitude towards money and motivation to save was formed mainly by my upbringing. I was brought up with enough and I had a happy childhood, but I was aware from an early age that money wasn’t abundant and my mother struggled financially for many years.

    I was lucky to find a job and start working straight after I graduated, but my salary doesn’t go far. I try and put between 10-15% of my salary aside each month, and my current savings goal is building up an emergency fund to cover six months’ outgoings. But as Caitlin said, it is a slog when you go without treats/fun/social/cultural experiences in order to save!

    1. It’s such a balance! I’ve never made bank either, but we definitely benefited from living in a cheap town for four years, and living in a shoebox when we moved to London. The six month savings goal is very much something we are now working on too–we’ve had it before, but have not maintained it as diligently as we should have.

      The tradeoff is a slog…haven’t found the cure for this yet…

  4. Hello! I found your blog from a link through another blog (Broadside)! I’m also an expat in London – have been here for one year now, and definitely struggling with the high cost of living and paltry salary. Am looking forward to gleaning some great ideas! (And motivation for saving!!) 🙂

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