One of my goals for 2012 was to save more. We all want to do this, right? So, I got started on January 1st. I declared January as a "no-spend month". I told my husband and four teenagers that I would not be spending any money on extra stuff. I would only buy food and gas, and pay our monthly bills. That's it. And, surprisingly, they were on board with this idea. So there were no trips to the mall for that 'after Christmas' sale, or impulse shopping online. Nothing. For the whole month.
So, how did we do? I give us an A-. Here's what happened. When I declared this no-spending month, we all changed our mindset. Everyone put their wants and needs on hold. We found ways to use stuff we already had instead of thinking we needed something new. For example, I finished up some projects around the house that I already had supplies for - instead of going to the hardware store to start new projects.
Unfortunately, some expenses popped up that we couldn't put off - a car repair bill, my son's boots (I hadn't bought him boots in a long time - and he needed new ones for an outing. I couldn't put it off.), and a lamp from Salvation Army that I picked up for $1.49. That was too good to pass up. :-) And there were a few other odds and ends during the month.
But I know that we saved a ton - just because we focused. There were so many things that we didn't really need to go out and buy. As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to declare February a 'no-spend' month too!
How many times have you asked your spouse (or friend or co-worker) that question? You see your neighbor driving a new car or taking a nice vacation and you wonder how he can afford it. I mean, you can't afford those things. Well here's the answer - he can't afford it. He's probably in debt. And if you try to keep up, you will be in debt too.
This is still a conversation in our house. And my husband and I have had this conversation many times. We know what our income is and we know what our friend does - so we can estimate his income. But this friend seems to have so much more disposable income. And we question why we don't. Why do we only buy used cars? Why do we always use coupons? Why do we take our kids to a nearby beach for a few days instead of flying to Disney World for our annual vacation? It seems like everyone else can afford so much more - on a similar salary.
The math is the same on the other side of the street. Really. It doesn't change. If you can't afford it, neither can he. And while you may choose to spend your money on different things than your neighbor, the amount you have to spend remains constant.
That's why I try to minimize my spending on every day items. It takes a little time, planning and organization but it allows me to do fun things more often. If I can keep my grocery bill down to $100 a week (for 6 people) then I have more money for other things (like that beach vacation). And - most importantly - I stay out of debt!
So, stop trying to figure out 'how they do it' and start figuring out how you do it!
Alternate post title - How To Start Saving. This is my favorite tip for saving. It's how I started. It's how most people start. And it's simple.
Write down EVERY penny you spend.
That's right - write it down. I kept a journal for one month. I wrote down everything. What I spent at the gas station, the fast food restaurant, and the mall. I even wrote down that $.50 toll. And even though I thought I was frugal, I discovered that I really wasn't. There was so much waste - everyday. And when I wrote it down, I had to face it. I could see how much those little $10 trips to the grocery store were adding up.
So why did I do this for a whole month? Well, when I decided to write down every expense, I figured I would do it for a week. You know, just to get an idea of where my money was going. And as I mentioned, I already thought I'd be pretty pleased with the result. I thought I was smart with my money. But I was wrong. And I noticed that within a few days. So, I just continued to write everything down. For weeks. And it became a game - to see how little I could spend. I loved writing $0 on any given day. And after a few weeks, those $0s were adding up.
My mind set was changing. Instead of having things, I had money. Which I liked more! Instead of thinking about all of the 'stuff' I didn't have, I was thinking about all of the money that would be adding up.
Holding myself accountable was really life changing. Every time I thought about spending money, I knew I was going to have to go home and write it down. And be reminded of it. It forced me to question every purchase. It also forced me to think before I spent. Which is something I had never done before.
This is how I became frugal. And I still use this tip today. Years later. I still pull out a piece of scrap paper and write down my expenses. Just to make sure I'm still thinking about my money. We work hard for it - we should work hard to keep it!
Here are some of the things that I do to save money. I hope some of these are helpful:
1) Turn off the TV. When my kids were young, and I was the only adult in the house all day while my husband was at work, I had the TV on all of the time. Just as background noise. I can't even say I actually watched much of it, but it was on. And you know what else was on? Ads. Lots of them. But a few years ago, I realized that I wasn't watching anything, and I decided to listen to music instead. It's been a great switch. And I no longer get caught up on the latest fads or gadgets. I don't even know what movies are playing in the theaters. I spend less. And I don't miss it at all.
2) Don't go to the mall for entertainment. This sounds simple. But many people do it. I used to do it. When it's cold and snowy here, and you really want to get out of the house, it's a natural destination. But I stopped doing that a long time ago. I replaced it with walks outside (even in the cold), trips to the library and even trips to the dollar store. It's a lot cheaper!
3) The 30 day rule. When I want to make a big purchase, I wait 30 days to think it over. This came up recently when I decided to buy a sewing machine. I hand sew some things now and thought it might be a good investment. After waiting it out, I realized that I probably won't really sew my own curtains or pillows. I don't have the time - or talent - to take on those projects. And even if I want to give it a try, I can probably borrow one from a friend. So, I'm glad I waited and thought about it more. I mean, do I really need another bread maker, or ice cream machine sitting in a closet?
4) Write a list. I love lists A lot. So this is easy for me. I always write down what I am shopping for - whether it's the grocery store or the hardware store. And I stick to it (most of the time). It keeps me focused - when I'm looking for certain products, I'm not distracted by things I don't need.
5) Start a garden. Ok this one I have not tried. I'm a little nervous about it actually. But I plan to grow tomatoes this summer. I just have to figure out how to keep all of the critters away. :-) I know it will save us a bundle and if it's successful, I plan to grow more things next year. I really hope I have a green thumb.