One of the many issues with today’s consumer culture is that we aren’t being intentional with our money. Over time we’ve become accustomed to spending; we’ve made it a habit. I’m not talking about paying for gas and groceries every week. Allocating money to your needs is just basic survival. I’m talking about compulsory spending. We never stop to ask ourselves how often we’re spending our money, what we’re spending it on, and more importantly, why we’re spending it in the first place. Because when something becomes a habit, not only is it difficult to let go of, but we tend to forget why we ever made it a habit to begin with.
Minimalism has served as a tool in helping me become more deliberate with my money. I’ve learned to ask myself all the how’s and what’s and why’s, and I’ve become more honest with myself as a result.
I made the decision to start making saving a habit. So today I’m going to be sharing with you a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up in the past few months of living simply and intentionally.
Write down a rough list of everything you spend your money on as of right now. Write down things like: I go to Starbucks every morning and get a caramel latte. I go to the mall every weekend with my friends. I go out to eat with my significant other 3 times a week.
If you want to take it a step further, look at your recent bank transactions and evaluate each purchase. Something I’ve done in the past is print my transactions from the previous month, highlight my needs (gas, food, etc.) in one color, and then separate the other purchases into two categories: what added value to my life and what didn’t.
Now, write down a list of reasons for why you might be constantly spending your money. Really be honest with yourself. Here are some examples: I go shopping every weekend to keep up with new trends. I frequently eat at restaurants because I’m too lazy to make meals at home. It doesn’t even have to be attached to negative attributes. It can be something like: I go to a lot of concerts because I love watching my favorite bands live. I’m always buying new books because I love reading.
Finally, evaluate where you want your money to be spent and where you don’t. E.g. I want to stop buying coffee every morning when I could easily just pour coffee into a travel mug before I leave for work. Or, I want to have more money to be able to travel to new places. See a connection yet? Stop spending your money on things that don’t add value to your life, and start saving for the things that will.
PRACTICE NEW HABITS
- Put a portion of your income into savings every week or month. This may seem obvious to some people, but others may not have picked up on this yet. When I got my first job in high school, my immediate response to getting a paycheck every two weeks was to go to the bank, cash it, and splurge. I didn’t know any better. So if you are anything like I used to be, I will be the one to tell you. Set rules for yourself. If your job offers a direct deposit option, use it. I no longer have an internal battle with myself over what to do with my money whenever I get paid because I’ve already made that decision. ⅓ of my paycheck goes automatically into my savings every two weeks. I’m working on upping that to ½ because I’ve found these past few months that I just don’t need all that extra money sitting in my checking account begging to be used. You can adjust that ratio according to your income and needs.
- Make a wish list. I still find myself wanting things occasionally, but now I’m able to find my way around it better. I have a document on my computer called “Wish List,” and whenever I see or think of something I want, I add it to the list. Along with that, I have a folder on my browser for when I see something specific online that I want and I bookmark it. For me, it feels like its own form of shopping (and satisfies the obsessive list-maker in me), but I’m not impulsively spending my money. Instead, I usually give myself 30 days or more before I purchase any item(s) from my list. I go back through these lists at least once a week, and almost every time I realize I don’t want several of those items anymore. Chances are, those items aren’t going anywhere. You don’t need to buy it right away. Add it to your list, research it, mull it over, and revisit it later. Be conscious, not compulsive.
- Avoid sales. You might be thinking: My favorite store is having a 50% off sale! But coupons?! Well, get this: you’re not really saving if you’re spending. Before you argue, I’m not against saving money on something if you really need it. If you know you need to get milk and you have a coupon, by all means take advantage! But don’t convince yourself that you have to get those two boxes of cookies just because you’ll save $1. Likewise, it’s in your best interest to avoid clearance racks at stores. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a piece of clothing just because it was marked down to like $5. Even better, unsubscribe to all those emails that bombard your inbox five times a day with “25% OFF TODAY ONLY!” Some good questions to ask yourself in these situations are: Would I buy this item if it wasn’t on sale? Would I buy it if it was double the price? If your answer is no, you probably didn’t really want it in the first place.
- Prepare your meals and drinks at home. I still struggle with this one. I rarely have the the energy to make a meal after a long day of school and work. But I’d rather spend 30-60 minutes prepping meals for the week than spending $10-$15 on lunch every single day. In the same way, I can easily pour coffee into my travel mug before I leave instead of going to Dunkin Donuts every morning. Whether it’s a $10 lunch or a $3 coffee, it might not seem like a lot at the time, but it adds up in the long run. According to Time magazine, the average American worker spends over $1,000 annually on their daily coffee. Adds a little perspective, doesn’t it? With that money, you could finally save for that trip to Europe you’ve always wanted!
- Find alternatives. Do you find yourself going out to eat with your partner or friends several times a week? Instead of making eating out a habit, make it more deliberate. For instance, rather than going to the same restaurants three times a week with your spouse, make it a bi-weekly or monthly occurrence where you try a new restaurant every time. You’ll have something to look forward to and thus it becomes more special for the two of you. You could also try making home-cooked meals together and challenge yourself to trying new recipes. This situation applies to almost everything- there’s always an alternative.
- Design a budget & track your spending. Now that you have an idea of what you’re already spending your money on, as well as where you do and don’t want your money to go, you can create a budget for your specific wants and needs. Allocate a certain amount of money every month for your savings, your bills, any experiences you want to have, and so on. Another budgeting method that I’ve adopted into my routine is to write down everything I’m spending my money on. Sometimes we feel detached to our money, especially if we use a credit card to make purchases. I have a portion of my journal dedicated to tracking every dollar I spend, but you could just as easily type it out on a spreadsheet or any other method you prefer. The point is, writing it down makes me feel accountable for my spending habits; I have to be honest with myself. And I can look back after every month and re-evaluate which purchases added value to my life and which ones didn’t.
I’m not a financial expert by any means, but I’m thankful that I’m learning early on how to spend my money more intentionally and save for my future. Once again, what works for me may not work for you. But I’d like to think that the methods I outlined above can apply to anyone, and the beauty of it is that you can tweeze out ingredients and implement them into your own life as you see fit. Being intentional with your money is not about limiting yourself, it’s about freeing yourself to spend it on what matters most to you.