• I decided to make some changes to my daily routine to raise the money.
  • By making small changes like making my lunch instead of buying takeout and cutting out one cup of coffee a day, I managed to save the whole $5,500.
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I received a letter last March explaining that it was time to pay back a hefty career development loan.

I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was because, to be honest, I'd completely forgotten about the loan I'd taken out several years before to help support myself while I completed my master's degree.

But there it was, in black and white, explaining I had 12 months to pay back the total sum of $5,500. If I didn't pay within a year, I'd be charged a steep interest of 9.9% annually which would have added an extra $544.50 for every year I delayed.

This looked pretty challenging, as I had other outstanding debts at the time, including a car repayment loan. Not to mention all the usual expenses like rent and utilities. But there was no escaping it. Where was I going to come up with an extra $5,500 in a year?

I decided this was the challenge I needed to make some long overdue adjustments to my weekly working routine.

And by making a few small changes to my everyday routine, I managed to save the entire $5,500.

Here's exactly how I pulled it off.

My first order of business: Stop getting takeout for lunch every day and start making my lunch at home. By making my own lunch, I saved more than $2,500 in a year.

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My first discovery was just how much money I was spending on my lunch. I worked out of an office in London, which meant my daily routine included popping out for a bite to eat.

For 50 weeks of the year, this routine was costing me 10.65 pounds, or $17.04 every day. It's hard to believe, but when you factor in $10.40 for a salmon salad or similar meal, $3.20 on a drink, and then a sneaky $3.44 on a dessert to get through the afternoon, it quickly adds up.

When I realized I was spending more than $850 a year on dessert alone, I knew was definitely time to get organized.

Instead, I started buying in bulk at the start of the week, stocking up on salad items including a bag of spinach or lettuce, a pack of fruit, a big bag of nuts, and some decent cheese. Even with a bottle of balsamic vinegar and some good quality olive oil thrown in the basket, I was only spending $17.20 on average each week.

I added to this an avocado or two for dip ($4) with a packet of wraps ($1.60). For afternoon snacks, I threw in a multi-pack of chips ($2.88) and yogurts ($2.64 for four), plus a liter of rich fruit drink to keep in the fridge at work and last me most of the week ($5.60).

You can see I didn't scrimp on treats, but for the price of some Tupperware and 10 minutes prep each morning, I ended up spending a mere $33.92 a week on my lunches saving $51.28 a week, which added up to $2,564 over the course of the year.

By cutting out a single cup of coffee from my daily routine, I saved more than $1,300 a year.

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One of my simplest means of saving was on coffee.

Some marketing genius made a fortune convincing the Western world that, on top of a cup of coffee at home over breakfast, and another one at the office first thing, we all suddenly needed one for the time in between as well. I was buying a chai latte every day from the stall at the train station, something I'd decided was my early morning treat to myself.

Well, no longer!

By simply cutting out this morning purchase completely, I saved a $5.36 a day, or $26.80 a week. Over 50 weeks, that added up to a whopping $1,340 a year. Bye bye chai latte! Instead I carried a water bottle with me for my journey, which was probably a lot better for my health, too.

I added more walking to my daily commute and saved $81 a week.

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Flickr / Rupert Ganzer

My daily commute into the city in and out of London's central Zone 1 to my home in Zone 3 was costing me $80.80 a week.

To save money, I swapped the type of rail ticket I bought for one that took me just to the edge of Zone 2, and I would walk the rest of the distance.

Instead of spending $80,80 a week, I spent just $56.16, saving $1,232 over the year a lot of money for what amounted to two short stops on the metro.

On top of saving me money, you can guess the physical benefits of all that new walking, and the added time let me catch up on my podcasts. I splurged on a Fitbit to keep it interesting and keep a tally of all those extra steps.

I started buying store-brand toiletries instead of name-brand products.

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Swapping my salon-brand toiletries for supermarket savers proved to be an easy win.

I was used to "treating myself" with premium hair products, but I swapped salon-brand shampoo and conditioner ($11.20 each, $22.40 total) for cheaper products, whatever I could find that was on sale (often as low as $3.20 each, or $6.40 in total). That added up to $16 saved each month and $192 over the year.

And guess what: It turned out the cheaper brands did exactly the same job. You just had to leave it in a bit longer. Who knew?

A similar exchange of luxurious-sounding shower gel to whatever was on sale at the store saved another $6.33 a month by the end of the year, that meant another $76 in the pot.

And I cut out one magazine subscription to save almost $100 a year.

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Finally, I realized I needed to cut out one of my magazine subscriptions. Sorry, Vanity Fair. Doing so saved me $8 a month, and I found that all the best features and interviews eventually turned up somewhere else where I could read them, anyway.

That gave me another $96 in savings, but I have to say, that one really hurt.

With these small changes, I managed to save the whole $5,500 by the end of the year.

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Sudarshan negi/Shutterstock

By the end of the year, here's exactly how much I saved:

  • Weekly lunches: $2,564
  • Daily coffee: $1,340
  • Transport: $1,232
  • Toiletries: $268
  • Magazines: $96

My grand total? A whopping $5,500 in savings.

And that's how I did it. Twelve months later, my debt was fully paid off before I had to pay a penny in interest.

But more significantly, I'd formed new daily habits and left the more expensive ones behind. I realized my routine had become increasingly easy to follow and to continue into the future.

I'm sure I could have carried on saving by canceling gym memberships, Netflix, mobile phone contracts, and more, but I realized I didn't have to go that far at least at this point. But it's good to know I could.

These days, I can once again afford to treat myself to a coffee on the go, or a pedicure before a holiday. But now they're just that a proper treat, not the norm and much more enjoyable as a result.

I've also become very easy to buy gifts for. Because my friends and family know I'm happy to live simply in my daily rounds, when it comes to my birthday, it only takes the gift of a premium-brand shampoo or a copy of Vanity Fair for me to bask in luxury and feel properly special.

All my norms have been reset, and my life is the better for it.

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