By Ryan Ermey - CNBC
When it comes to establishing her image as a savings and budgeting expert, Carly DeFelice, who runs the Best Money Class Ever online course on personal finance, has some big numbers to show. Between his college graduation in 2008 and his 26th birthday, he paid off $35,000 in debt and racked up more than $100,000 in investments.
Now 38, DeFelice is a community manager at a coworking space in Austin, Texas, and has grown that number to about $400,000 in cash and investments, never earning much more in a year than her current salary of $58,000.
But as DeFelice continues to practice the budgeting methods that got her out of debt and allowed her to accumulate wealth, the smaller numbers can be even more impressive.
DeFelice takes out $120 a week in cash to cover expenses such as gas, food and drinks with friends. Corentin Soibinet for CNBC Make It
Consider, for example, that in September, DeFelice spent just $123.65 on groceries. Given the current inflation situation, it's not a difficult figure to reach in a single visit to the supermarket.
"I reckon I spend a few thousand less than the average person planning my meals and what I'm going to consume during the week," DeFelice told CNBC Make It. "My secret advice is to always have a shopping list."
The money for DeFelice's purchase comes out of his weekly discretionary budget of $120, which he carries in cash.
"This is what I consider operating expenses. So first I invest in my necessities – food, gas and my car – and then what's left would be to have a drink and go out with friends, maybe a new blouse or small gifts."
That means, if you want to have fun, it's imperative to stick to your budget. Start by planning all the meals for the week, which usually include large dinners that you can prepare in advance.
The week Make It interviewed DeFelice, the menu included breakfast and lunch cereal, a turkey sandwich, chips, and an apple. Dinner was salmon, avocado and rice.
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The ingredients DeFelice needed to prepare the week's meals were written down in the same diary she uses to keep track of her budget and on a list that accompanied her to the grocery store.
"I think like Santa Claus: I make a list and check it twice," he explained.
Once you make sure your list includes everything you're going to need to eat during the week, you have the confidence to stick to it and avoid purchases that could inflate your budget.
"The key is that I only buy items from the list, so this helps me avoid impulse buys."
DeFelice applies the same budget tactic to dinners or drinks with friends, for which it earmarked $50 in its September budget.
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"I'm very proactive. I make a lot of the plans and say, 'Let's go to this happy hour [when drinks are cheaper] at a bar,'" he explained. While you're there, you don't have to spend a lot to have fun with a friend. "I can have a frank conversation and build a relationship with a friend and spend about $4."
Whether it's shopping or a night out, if you're mindful of what you spend, DeFelice explained, you're less likely to invest money in things that ultimately don't have meaning.
"I've mastered the art of being incredibly sociable, having an amazing social life, and also saving money," she said. "And I think the way I've found the balance is that I've realized that what matters is the experience with my friends."
"The key is that I only buy the items on the list, so I avoid impulse purchases," she said.