How Efficient Is Your Life?
I mean in terms of how you use food, electricity, water, clothing, and all the other necessary resources for living in the modern world. It’s so easy to be sloppy in these areas because life is busy and we all get distracted moving a mile a minute. If you’re like me, you have clothing hanging in your closet with the tags still on. Maybe you leave all the lights on or use water a little carelessly. When you’re putting new groceries away, do you have to toss food because you didn’t use it up in time? These things may seem insignificant, but when added up, it could be quite a bit of money. What could you do with a few thousand dollars extra every year? Fund a vacation, an IRA or savings account, pay off some debt? Small changes can move us closer to the freedoms we crave , even though it may not seem like much along the way.
I know I’ve been guilty of substantial food waste in my kitchen. The unused leftovers and produce that have gone into the garbage add up quickly. If I could calculate the amount of money that translates into, I’m sure it would make me sick. Thousands of dollars over my lifetime could have been saved for something much more significant. Food waste is common in every household, school, restaurant and grocery store. But what if we could organize our habits in such a way that food wasn’t wasted in astonishing amounts, and instead that money was valued more than just to be thrown away? The amount of money saved could be life changing.
According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, between 30 and 40 percent of our food supply in the United States is wasted every year. Instead of feeding the hungry or conserving precious resources like land, electricity, water and fuel, we throw 133 billion pounds of food into landfills. That’s $161 billion in food waste in a single year, causing the largest single contributor to landfills and the third largest source of methane in our country. That amount of money could be put to work enriching our lives, and even more, to combat many of our social and environmental problems.
In an average US household, the three biggest expenditures are housing, transportation and food. The US Department of Labor reported that the average American consumer spent $9503 in 2015 on transportation costs, which includes vehicle payments. When evaluating our budget, it became clear that we didn’t need a second car, and so that vehicle was sold. Our truck was paid off, so not including a payment, not having to maintain, fuel, license and insure our truck is saving us at least $3000 every year. Instead, we share the car, take the bus and ride our bikes. Once we got used to planning ahead, there has been no problem at all with having only one car. In fact, we really enjoy the simplicity and slower pace. We will save $30,000 over the next ten years and $60,000 over twenty years at this rate. These totals don’t take into account compounding interest that could be earned if we invested the savings each year over the next twenty or so years. If that were done, we could accumulate over $100,000 over 20 years. No chump change.
The USDA also reports that the average monthly grocery budget for an American family of 4 is between $600 to $1300 per month. This is set from thrifty on the low-end to liberal on the high-end; a huge range. If you just trim a little fat from the high amount, you could be saving quite a bit per month. Say you reduced your monthly budget by just $100, or $25 per week. $1200 every year would be your savings; an amount that adds up to $12,000 over ten years and $24,000 over twenty years. If invested, you could be looking at nearly $50,000 in 20 years. Could you spare $25 a month?
What about the single most expensive budget item we all have: housing? The US Department of Labor reported that the average American consumer spent $18,409 on housing in 2015. Suggesting that you sell your home and move somewhere cheaper is easier said than done. This is a multifaceted decision that involves location, children, pets, lifestyle and so on. But at least consider it. We all have different priorities. Personally, I would rather live in a smaller home so I can put the money saved somewhere else. Having a larger home may bring you joy, and if that’s the case, carry on. Sometimes though, I think we get used to doing what is “normal” in our culture without really thinking about it. So, consider how you live and if that is truly what you want. If not, change it! Housing costs is an area that can save a huge amount over time.
In 2016, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a report showing the mean retirement savings of families between the ages of 56 and 61 was just $163,577. Now, if you add up the twenty-year savings I showed you for just food and transportation, it totals $84,000. With only those two categories, you are halfway there, and that doesn’t even factor in compounding interest if invested. Of course, I’m not suggesting that’s all you need, just that these small changes can contribute a large amount to your ability to save.
I don’t propose you become a miser, or operate in a scarcity mindset. Rather, I know money is the facilitator of happiness. Money alone doesn’t make you happy, but it can enrich your life. Travel, good food, stability, freedom from worry, and having the ability to change course when you aren’t happy with your situation all come from having enough money set aside to do so. I am encouraging you (and myself) to be purposeful in your spending so that you get the most from your hard work.
My goal is to become more efficient in all these areas, not just for my monetary benefit, although that’s huge, but also to be a good steward of the planet. This goal motivates me to grow my own organic food, plan menus, shop carefully, manage leftovers, bike instead of drive, and make all kinds of purchases wisely. Everything makes an impact on life outcome. It makes me feel better knowing I can cause a more positive outcome with just a little intention.
It can be overwhelming to change everything all at once. Challenge yourself with changing just one category to start with. Let what you save encourage you to move on to the next.