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Splurge on friends, not food: how one woman saved $400k on a $58k salary

By Jake Beardslee · December 3, 2023

In brief…

  • Carly DeFelice paid off $35k in student loans by age 26 and has built $400k in savings on a $58k salary
  • In September, she spent just $123 on groceries by planning cheap meals ahead of time and sticking to a list
  • Her $120 weekly budget also covers dining and drinks out with friends
  • DeFelice keeps costs down by focusing on quality time over spending money when socializing
  • She says intentionality with spending is key, since "it is the experience with my friends that matters"
Personal finance expert Carly DeFelice has amassed substantial savings through stringent budgeting focused on spending intentionally to maximize meaningful experiences with friends rather than material things.  Olia Danilevich/Pexels

When it comes to prudent personal finance, Carly DeFelice has impressive credentials. Since paying off $35,000 in student loans by age 26, the 38-year-old Austin resident has built savings and investments of about $400,000, despite never earning more than her current $58,000 salary.

But DeFelice’s most remarkable numbers may be her ultra-lean monthly budgets. “I estimate I spend a few thousand less than the average person by being intentional with writing out my meals and planning what I’m going to have for the week,” DeFelice told CNBC. “My secret tip is to always have a grocery list.”

That grocery list allowed DeFelice to spend just $123.65 at the supermarket in September. She starts by planning all her meals for the week, usually including some large-batch dinners to eat throughout the week. Her sample menu for one week consisted of cereal, turkey sandwiches, chips and salmon bowls. After listing the ingredients she’ll need, DeFelice sticks tightly to that list at the store, “so this helps me avoid impulse purchases.”

The $120 weekly “discretionary” budget that covers DeFelice’s groceries also has to stretch to dining and drinks with friends. But she has mastered “being incredibly social, having an amazing social life and also being good at saving.” By suggesting inexpensive happy hours and focusing on the time with friends over what she spends, DeFelice keeps her budget intact without sacrificing fun.

“I can have a heart-to-heart and build a relationship with a friend and spend, like, $4,” she said.

Whether it’s groceries or nights out, DeFelice emphasizes being purposeful with spending. “I realized that it is the experience with my friends that matters.”