5 Ways to Spend Less (& Live More)
Having gotten married in our very early twenties, my husband and I have grown into adulthood together. After over a decade together, it's safe to say we've had a many a discussion about money and all the things we'd do if/when we had more of it. Somewhere along the way, though, we'd forgotten that making those goals a reality takes a real effort. As MuseDays mentions in her BlogHer post entitled,
If you stay in the mindset of only dreaming what it would be like to reach your goals, you’ll always find a reason why you can’t do something. By the time you finish with all the “what ifs," you will have talked yourself out of truly living a more successful life.
For all our fantasizing, we'd made the crucial mistake of speaking as though we were still newlywed twenty-somethings, musing about future plans--homeownership, family travel, saving for our children's education, retirement--and waiting for some arbitrary starting gun to sound! A few months ago, we decided it was time to replace all those lovely words with actions. First on the list: acknowledging our undisciplined spending habits and creating a budget that would put us closer to our goals. Using this plan, we we've managed to reduce our expenses while greatly increasing our overall quality of life.
1. Go back to basics
Get your paper, pencil, and calculators, folks, because there's no point in beginning this process if you don't know what's coming in and going out. It might be uncomfortable, but there's no way around it. Further, don't just look at the grand total of your credit card statement and/or checking account balance; whittle it down by categories to get the most accurate picture. In the past, I'd made what I thought were drastic cuts--switching to bare-bones cell and cable plans, furiously clipping coupons, canceling my gym membership--to our budget, but they never alleviated the problem because those things didn't make up the bulk of our overspending. Upon closer examination, we concluded that the majority of our resources (after fixed expenses) flowed to three areas: eating out, unnecessary trips to Target, and gift-giving. We indulged in the first two categories out of boredom. Apparently, we were bored quite often because the simple act of getting into the car would trigger a Pavlovian response; we'd literally feel hungry a few minutes after pulling out of the driveway! Now, we cook at home almost exclusively and only shop at Target when we have a list. If we've got a bit of excess energy, we head to the library, the park, or Grandma's house for a quick swim. Not only have we saved hundreds of dollars each month, but we've grown closer as a family. Bonus: I've even lost a few post-pregnancy pounds! Lastly, we cut waaaaay back on giving store-bought presents. A sincere message, modest bouquet of flowers, or a shared meal at our home have become our go-to gifts of choice.
We live in a culture of instant gratification and overconsumption, so depending on how deeply entrenched you are, this process may cause varying degrees of discomfort. That is completely normal! In time, I promise you will see the benefits, and your hard work will pay off in the immediate as well as the future.
2. Take a Bite
Break your goals down into smaller chunks in order to make them manageable. For example, we calculated that finding ways to save just $10 a day would be enough to stay within our budget. Connecting day-to-day impulse purchases to a larger goal made such a difference to me. Did I really need that latte' and magazine? Nine times out of ten, the answer was no. Of course, the added benefit of saving is that eventually, you come out ahead.
3. Keep a Financial Log
This functions much the same way as a food journal, but instead of calories, we track every cent we spend. We took it a step further by placing it prominently on the refrigerator, making it all the more unavoidable. Admittedly, I was skeptical, but the simple acts of writing down expenses and being held accountable for them has curbed spending in a major way.
4. Celebrate the Successes!
Don't forget to recognize what you're doing right! It really is just as important as being critical. One of the most rewarding aspects of this entire process has been seeing my husband's face light up when we come in under-budget. It warms my heart to know that we're working together and seeing results. Actually planning for a splurge makes it more meaningful because we know we can truly afford it. Despite spending less than ever before, we have increased our quality of life by focusing on the value of our experiences. Less stuff means more time devoted to things that truly matter.
5. Stay Focused
As we continue this endeavor, we know from firsthand experience how easy it can be to fall back into old habits, so our focus will continue to be on vigilance, paying close attention to the connection between our spending and emotions.
What are some of your favorite money-saving habits? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section! I'm always interested in more budget-friendly tips.