The GTA is expensive, but these simple tricks save money that you can give to your favourite causes
BY AMY VALM
Iused to be obsessed with spending. Every week I’d go on a tear—if I had money, it had to be spent. Fast-forward five years and I actually have JOMO (joy of missing out) about all the things I’m *not* buying. That’s because I got frugal and learned this cool trick called mindfulness. Being mindful allows you to make more-informed purchases, set aside money and, in turn, make choices about what to do with the cash you’ve saved.
I grew up in a charitable household, where giving to others (via acts of service and money) was instilled in me since I was old enough to hold coins without putting them in my mouth. I love that donating any increment of money can help people in tangible ways.
It turns out that millennials are some of the most generous givers. Studies show that we like online fundraisers and volunteering, and are down to give monthly for causes that can cut through the noise and make good cases for their missions. Even though I’m not a baller (yet—I’m still trying to win the lottery every week), I enjoy seeding the crowdfunding pages that resonate with me and tossing spare money to charities and organizations that do good.
Listen, I hear you that it can be hard to give back when you feel broke: Living in the GTA isn’t cheap. A recent study from the not-for-profit organization Generation Squeeze found it can take upwards of 29 years for millennials in larger cities to save for a house. That stat hurts. And, to be honest, it’s not just housing that’s an issue—everything from food to transportation to going out is expensive here. But by making small shifts in how you think, live and spend, you can take steps toward having some financial control and getting your dollars working for you in ways that matter. Here’s how to start.
1. Set your personal and charitable goals. When you figure out the big picture and set goals, it’s easier to justify spending less. Plot something you’re excited for, big or small. Your list might include a trip, a bougie meal or being able to adopt a pet. Tack on any charitable giving you want to do—what do you care about and who do you want to help? Maybe you want the freedom to spontaneously support the crowdfunders, one-time fundraisers or Patreon projects that speak to you. In that case, figure out what percentage of your average income you can set aside for charitable giving, so you have a pool to draw from.
2. Make a budget and then track it, so you stick to it
OK, the idea of making a budget won’t give everyone a thrill, but it’s important. It takes a little self-discipline but really helps you outline your expenses, eliminate any unnecessary frills (we’ll get to how to do that next!) and stick to the plan. There are plenty of great apps to help you track your spending and stay on budget. I like Mint. Others to consider are PocketGuard and Wally. Do your research and find the one that fits your personality and spending type.
3. Change your mindset about money
Spending $15 dollars for pizza one day, $20 for drinks the next and $5 for coffee every morning doesn’t sound like a lot, but start tallying up those casual spends and it gets scary. The day I realized I was spending nearly $3,000 a year on sushi, I knew I had to reel it in. (Yes, that pun was very much intended.) Think of everything you buy from day to day in yearly figures, and you’ll quickly shift your perspective on what’s really worth the spend. It will help you trim the frills.
4. Unsubscribe from sale alerts
You know the ones: They infiltrate your inbox every other day with witty emojis and promises of big savings in the subject lines. I like a sale as much as the next person, but those emails are sent out by very skilled marketers to get you to spend money. No email, no temptation. That’s not to say you have to buy things you need at full-price. You’ll find the coupon codes and alerts on the company’s website or with a quick Google search—if and when you actually need something.
5. Do your best not to be impulsive (and make sure everything has a purpose)
Being attracted to shiny, new things is normal. But my advice is to Marie Kondo it before you even buy it. If it doesn’t spark joy, leave it in the store. And don’t buy things for the sake of buying things or for reasons you haven’t figured out yet (looking at you, Everything I’ve Ever Bought from a Craft Store). If you still really think you want something, sleep on it.
6. Be intentional with everything
Suss out the quality and sustainability of purchases and read the online reviews of customers who’ve tried and tested them. Yes, even that set of dishes. Maybe they scuff really easily and will need replacing in a year. Be OK with waiting if you can’t find the perfect item (think small furniture and wall art). It’s better to purchase something you really love that will outlive the fads (which are a revolving door of spending) than to waste money on a placeholder. And when it comes to electronics, be chill. If you don’t need to upgrade your phone or laptop, don’t. Also, sometimes you need to spend a little more for something that’s good quality and will last. That’s OK, especially if it’s sustainably made or supporting small businesses. We’re being frugal, not cheap!
7. Try to buy used first
Thrifting isn’t for everyone, but hear me out. So many used items are sold online, many locally, through websites like Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace. Sniff around for what you’re looking for there before you buy new. You might be surprised to find exactly what you wanted for a fraction of the price. If you like a good treasure hunt, you can often nab an entire outfit for less than a shirt at a regular shop. But again—and I can’t stress this enough—just because something is inexpensive, doesn’t mean you need to buy it. Be especially mindful about spending cash on something simply because it’s “a bargain.”
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8. Sell (or donate) what you no longer use or need
Want a new coffee table? Sell your old one first. After some new summer clothes? Get rid of the ones that are no longer in rotation. Enter those online marketplaces again. The money you make from your sale can become a charitable donation. Don’t want to sell? Donating doesn’t have to just be monetary. Many shelters gratefully take new or like-new items. Call ahead to ask if there’s a need, and head to a thrift shop if there’s not. A portion of their profits often go to charities, so it’s a roundabout way of making a donation.
9. Don’t deny yourself entirely
To prevent yourself from going on a shopping spree, allow yourself some indulgences. I have two weekly splurges: one order of sushi and a lottery ticket.
10. Save on food
You already know you’ll save money by making your coffee at home, packing a lunch and eating what you have in the cupboard. But there are further ways to stretch the budget when it comes to food spending. Try freezing leftover coffee in ice-cube trays, then throwing the cubes in the blender with cream for homemade iced coffee. Shop sales. Buy what’s abundant and in-season—and typically on special—at the grocery store. Cut down your meat consumption, which is not only great for the old wallet but also for, oh you know, animals (and the planet and your health). Some cheap proteins include chickpeas (chana masala!), lentils (soups!) and tofu (noodle bowls!). Bonus tips: Delete your food delivery apps—too much temptation—and join a community garden to grow your own food.
11. Do all the free (or cheap) things
You can still do fun things as a philanthropic cheapskate; just tweak the script. Instead of cocktails on a patio bar, make mixed drinks with your friends on the porch at home. Have a potluck beach picnic, where everyone brings snacks, or hang out in the GTA’s green spaces. And instead of spending money on expensive hobbies, you could get active in your neighbourhood. (Hello again, community gardens!).
12. As you save, make giving back automatic
Having goals and surpassing them is amazing (proud of you!). Just keep carving out cash for charitable giving. One very easy way to give back is to use an app that donates your spare change. Mylo connects to your bank and rounds up your debit purchases to donate to a Canadian charity of your choosing. You can also ask your bank to set up a feature on your account that automatically puts a set amount into a savings account every time you make a transaction. Fifty cents at a time doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’re a heavy debit user, it will add up. Alternatively, pick a coin and always save it. For example, every time you get a toonie, throw it in a jar to donate at the end of the month.
These tips won’t just help you give charitably—they’re a great foundation for your whole financial life. And saving money is addictive once you get started. You got this!
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