Stop Spending and Start Saving

It’s About Time You Stop Wasting Money

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All of us have spending leaks, money we spend that we shouldn’t. Stop wasting money already!

We’re getting back to basics. While you were all busy investing in real estate and monitoring your portfolios, you’ve been steadily wasting money. We’re all guilty of it, but from time to time we need to go back to personal finance 101 and take a hard look at how much we are spending day to day.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

How many transactions are charged to your credit card that you forgot about or know about and don’t use but don’t bother canceling? When it’s $8 a month here for Netflix that you don’t watch and $35 a month there for a gym you don’t go to, it starts to add up.

Sit down and go through your credit card transactions. Stop those subscription expenses that you don’t use.When you don’t even swipe your card for transactions like those, you don’t realize how much money you’re wasting.

And when you hand over your card for little things like coffee or a bodega bacon, egg, and cheese, at that moment, you don’t feel like you are losing anything during that transaction. You’re just pulling money out of an account you don’t see.

Do you really enjoy that coffee each morning or is it just part of your routine on your way to work? If you sit down and drink your coffee and read the paper, fair enough. That is enjoyable.

But if you just grab it after you leave home (where there is coffee) and before you get to the office (where there is coffee), that’s nothing special; it’s just a habit. A habit costing you money with no real return.

Maybe you meet friends every week for trivia night or board games. This is something you don’t have to spend money on; it’s not a necessity. But it is enjoyable, probably more enjoyable than your coffee on the way to work.

Or maybe you enjoy them both. But nearly all of us have limited resources, only so much disposable income. You will sometimes have to choose between two things you enjoy or start thinking about how to you can earn some more money.

As it Happens

Because spending these relatively small amounts of money doesn’t feel like spending money, you have to make it more painful. Every time you spend money, write it down as it happens in a little notebook or log it into an app like Spending Tracker (for iOS) or Expense Manager (for Android).

If you can’t manage that, use the boot camp of budgeting systems, the envelope method. It’s strict, but it works. You make an envelope for each of your non-fixed expenses, so things like gas, groceries, clothes, entertainment, etc. and budget a certain amount of money for each envelope.

When an envelope is empty, you have no more money to spend in that category until the following week or month, however often you set the budget. No credit or debit card to bail you out, you leave those at home until you are disciplined enough to make the envelope method work sans envelopes.

Bonus Tip

If this all sounds penny ante and you want to save pounds, not pennies, there is one sure way to save money. Get a cheaper living situation.

That might mean moving home with mom and dad for a time, getting a roommate, moving to a cheaper apartment or home, or moving to a location with a lower cost of living than where you are now.

The personal finance rule of thumb is to spend no more than one-third of your income on rent. LMM thinks that should be no more than a quarter if you can swing it. And you can.

We live in too much house. The bigger your house, the more stuff you buy to fill it, the more it costs to heat and cool, the more time it takes to clean and maintain it. You don’t need so much house.

You also don’t need to live in the expensive hipster neighborhood. You’re not a hipster; you’re not a BoBo, you are not a Shoreditch true believer. You don’t need to live within walking distance of the coffee shop that sells the cat poo beans coffee. You can drink Cafe Bustelo like the rest of us.

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Only Make Right Turns

Do you go to the grocery without a list and then have to go back because you forgot a key ingredient? Do you get home from the second grocery trip and realize that you were supposed to pick up the dry cleaning from the place that is just across the street from the grocery?

This all comes down to poor financial planning, it costs you money in wasted gas, and it costs you time. Keep a list of this kind of stuff, what groceries you need and what errands you need to do. This way you can coordinate things and not have to backtrack all over town.

If You Can Read You Can Cook

Americans throw away nearly half the food we buy. Money going into the trash and the reason there are starving kids in the world, that’s your fault!

Or are you one of those people who claim they can’t even boil water. It is really an unattractive quality for an adult to not be able to feed yourself. You might think it makes you look busy and important, but it just makes you look stupid and lazy.

If you can read, you can cook. If you can read and cook, you can use meal planning and prep to save time, money, and improve your health and weight if that is something you need to do.

If you really want to save money with meal planning, base your menu for the week on two things; what you already have in the house, particularly things that need to be used before they go bad and what is on sale at your supermarket.

An aside on this, best by dates have little to do with food safety. If the government or manufacturers gave a shit about food safety, they wouldn’t pump food full of hormones, antibiotics, and weird dyes and flavorings that are probably giving men moobs and all of us cancer.

Those dates are a ploy to make you throw away perfectly edible food and buy more. Here’s how you tell if food is safe to eat, does it stink? If it does, throw it out. If not, you can eat it.

I once left a whole pot of beef stroganoff out overnight because I forget to put it away after leaving it to cool. I wasn’t going to throw away a whole pot of food. I ate it and lived to tell the tale.

Meal prep can mean doing things like chopping all the vegetables you plan to use ahead of time, so when it’s time to make dinner, they are ready to go. And chopping really is the part of cooking that is most time-consuming.

If you had your veggies and meat pre-cut, you could have a good stir-fry in about 15 minutes which is less time than it probably takes you to drive to a restaurant and back.

Meal prepping can also mean cooking big batches of things that re-heat well like lasagne, chili, soups, and stews and then eating from them for a few days. You can also freeze them if you don’t like to eat things more than one day in a row.

You are also allowed to cheat. Buying pre-chopped veg is not as cheap as doing it yourself, but it is still cheaper than going out. I like to chop vegetables because it’s relaxing, but I’m not going to save a few cents by shredding big blocks of cheese when I can just buy it pre-shredded. You can make similar compromises if you saves more money than you are spending now. The perfect is not the enemy of the good.

If you have no idea where to start, check out Budget Bytes. Her recipes are tasty, reasonably healthy, inexpensive, and easy to follow. If you really want to get into meal prep, type it into Pinterest. There are about a million pages dedicated to it.

If the mess is what puts you off cooking, you’re doing it wrong. The kitchen shouldn’t look like a bomb went off. Clean as you go. Don’t use a different utensil, pot, pan, or bowl for everything. The spoon you used to stir a dish on the stove can be the same spoon you use to dish it up at the table.

Vimes’ Theory of Boots

This is from a Terry Pratchett novel. A character, Sam Vimes notices that poor people buy cheap boots that have to be replaced much more often than the more expensive boots rich people buy. In the end, the poor people spend more money on boots than rich people because they can’t afford to buy boots that last.

Those cheap boots are “fast fashion,” stuff places like H&M or Old Navy sell. It’s poorly made and made out of cheap, ugly material. I can spot polyester at 100 paces. You don’t have to buy couture to buy quality.

There is a middle ground. If you are lucky enough to live near a Uniqlo, check them out. They have great, inexpensive, well made, natural fiber basics like t-shirts, dress shirts, and khakis.

Buy quality jeans. Most of us wear them more than any other piece of clothing and are rougher on them than we are with most other clothes. Don’t buy cheap shoes. They are bad for your feet and back, especially cheap running shoes.

You should spend the most on the things you will wear the most. If you have to wear suits every day, buy good quality suits. If you live in a cold climate, buy a good winter coat. You can cheap out on the stuff you don’t wear so much because it doesn’t get as much wear and tear.

Take proper care of your things too, so they last longer and don’t look shabby. Don’t wear a pair of closed shoes two days in a row, let them air out and put shoe trees in them, so they keep their shape. Treat your leather goods with a conditioning cream, so they don’t dry out. If something gets a stain or tear, attend to it quickly, so it doesn’t set or get bigger.

Dinner and Drinks?

This is the socializing default for a lot of people whether they’re meeting friends or going on a date. Everyone likes dinner and drinks but it gets expensive, and it’s not that imaginative. Here is a whole article on fun, cheap dates and most of them will work for getting together with friends too.

Have a potluck, invite people over to play video games, go on a hike, have a picnic. Food tastes better outside, and people are more relaxed when they are sitting on a blanket in the grass.

 Go Deep Not Shallow

Do you have ADD when it comes to hobbies? You get interested in something, buy all the gear, and then, just kind of stop doing that hobby. You spent all that money and are stuck storing all that stuff, and you don’t even use it.

Before you splash out on all the kit for your new interest, test it out first. If you want to start skiing, rent or borrow the gear the first few times to see if you really like it. Maybe you’re not good at it, or you realize you hate being out in the cold for so long.

When you find something you like to do, then you can invest in it. And stick with it, even if it’s hard. Part of the pleasure of a hobby is becoming good at it, and that doesn’t happen over night.

Tools You Can Use

Sometimes we have to buy things, have to spend money. Before you make a sizeable purchase or before you buy something you buy regularly, Google that thing and the words “discount” or “coupon.” You can almost always find a way to save a little money. Maybe Home Depot is giving 10% off the washing machine you need. Or maybe Groupon is selling Starbucks gift cards for less than face value.

You can use sites like ebates which is a shopping portal offering cash back and discounts for more than 2,000 retailers. Check out the best time of the year to buy various things. Big ticket items like electronics, furniture, and appliances go on sale at certain times of the year.

More For You

These little amounts we mindlessly spend really do add up. The $20 you spend on coffee each week and the $60 of food you throw away in a month is all money that you could be investing or at least getting some enjoyment from.

Plug your spending leaks, break your mindless money habits and make that money work for you.

Show Notes

Cascade Kriek Ale: A sour ale from Cascade Brewing.

LMM Pro: Research, evaluate, and track rental property.

Toolbox: All the best stuff we use to manage our money.

Community: Join the conversation.

Candice Elliott - Editor-in-Chief Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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