Millie was a spend-a-holic in credit card debt. Then, with 4 steps, she saved $30k in less than two years.

Two years ago, Millie set herself a wild money goal: to save $25,000 by December 2019. And not only did she reach it, she smashed it by saving $30,000!

So how did this spend-a-holic party girl turn her finances around?

The short answer is: where attention goes, success flows.

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The longer answer is that she followed some basic money management advice, committed to trimming expenses, and learned to love op-shopping.

It’s a big change from two years ago when Millie declared, “I don’t deny myself. If I want something, I’ll get it.”

What she realised is that by constantly treating herself, she had lost the ability to appreciate things as much.

A big part of her makeover, therefore, was a mindset shift. She came to the conclusion that you can have some things, sometimes, but not all of the things all of the time.

The steps I recommended back then were:

1. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) Goals

Millie decided she wanted to save $25,000 by the end of 2019, cruising into a new decade as a certified adult.

Not only did she exceed this goal, but she also paid off a $3000 credit card debt and knocked $10,000 off her HELP debt.

2. Set a realistic budget

Millie loves a good spreadsheet at work – I’ve seen her project manage the hell out of things when we were colleagues. But she hadn’t applied the same rigour to her own money, so the first step was making friends with spreadsheets at home.

She realised that the whole goal-setting-and-budgeting thing needs some practice though.

“At the start, I was trying to save too much each month, then getting disappointed and feeling like a failure when I didn’t get there,” Millie said.

Over time, she pulled back the savings a bit and managed to find a balance between having a life and meeting her goals. This was a good motivator.

Part of Millie’s issue in the past was simply a lack of knowledge – nobody had ever taught her this stuff. “Your money is something you should pay attention to every day. Sit down and figure out where it needs to go.”

She also subscribed to money blogs (like mine, of course) and generally started taking an interest. Another step was choosing to feel inspired by others.

“When I read about other people kicking goals with their money, I would think ‘yes, I can do this too’, instead of feeling like a failure because I hadn’t yet”.


3. Make a mindful spending manifesto

This is a process where you get real with yourself about where you want your hard-earned cash to go (and where it shouldn’t go).

The first thing to go for Millie was wine. No, she didn’t join AA or anything crazy.

But she took a step back to see how much she was spending on nights out. In fact, she downloaded four months of bank statements and went through each one.

The money-pit culprits were clear: partying and shopping. As Millie had recently moved in with her boyfriend, cutting down on nights out was easier.

Overall though, she just got better at saying no to things. For example, instead of going in on expensive rounds, she would just buy a drink for the person who bought her one. (Have you ever tried to keep up with a bunch of lads at the pub? Not recommended).

The shopping thing was straightforward. Firstly, she went through her wardrobe and realised just how much stuff she had already. Secondly, she sold a bunch of it on eBay and Gumtree – and made over $500!

And finally, when she felt the urge for something new, she would buy second-hand (hello Vinnies!).

Another thing was changing her expectations of what she needed. Millie gave up the fancy department store foundation every day for the L’Oreal, bought in the Priceline 50% off sale (seriously, why waste the good stuff on your colleagues?).

Or when she needed new trainers, she asked for them as a birthday present, instead of asking for another Naked Palette (how many can you actually use?).

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4. Set up your spending buckets

This was a game-changer for Millie. “Even my boyfriend, who is quite the saver, loved the idea and borrowed it from me,” she said.

By allocating money to spending/saving/bills, Millie was able to cut down the amount of thinking required.

Another hot tip: “I have my savings in a different bank to my everyday accounts and I don’t dip into it.”

She’s also a fan of checking her banking app every day to make keep an eye on spending and also check for fraud.

Another hack was setting up a Raiz account to scoop up her ‘round-ups’ (digital loose change). Millie then spent this on Christmas presents at the end of the year.

Following these four steps was the foundation for her makeover, but Millie made the real difference by doing a whole bunch of small things. If I had to summarise, I’d call it: paying attention and asking for a better deal. For example, she:

  • Held off on an iPhone upgrade hand instead moved to a SIM-only plan that halved the bill and ditched the insurance.
  • Stopped buying coffees when the month’s funds were running low – by having instant coffee at work, Millie realised she appreciated that latte more.
  • She ate less takeaway, and cooked more often – Millie is a big fan of batch cooking in a slow cooker.
  • Stopped buying extravagant gifts – and guess what, nobody complained! “Actually my boyfriend didn’t like those gifts anyway; they made him feel uncomfortable.”
  • Paused the gym when not there. She also changed gyms and saved 40 bucks a month that way.
  • Bought contacts lenses in bulk online.
  • Cancelled Apple Music for free Spotify – “It was a hard decision but I did it it”. She said those monthly ‘small’ subscriptions all add up big time!
  • She has all the taxi and ride-sharing apps, and checks them all for a special or good price before booking one.
  • If she does go out for dinner, Millie looks for specials like the 50% off The Fork booking app.
  • No more Shellac at the nail salon – “If you have a special occasion, the stick-on nails from the chemist are actually really good.”
  • Bought dye from the chemist to tint her own eyebrows – apparently, it’s “surprisingly easy.”

So much of this great work started with one step: the decision to change her mindset.

Rethinking her priorities allowed Millie to look ahead rather than just at this month’s pay. She also reframed how she spends time: “Spending time with your closest friends doesn’t have to cost much,” Millie said.

Ultimately, money management isn’t easy, but nor is it complicated. And if Millie can do it, you can too.

Belinda White is on a mission to help women fall in love with finance. Her blog, Fierce Girl Finance, makes investment topics funny, relatable and easy to understand. Her promise? No jargon, no men in suits and lots of Beyonce.  

Feature Image: Getty.