I was doing the family books this morning and noticed an expenditure that looked kind of excessive. I talked to my husband about it, laughed and commented, “You know, we could stop doing that, put the money we’d normally spend on it in a savings account each month, then go on a cruise.”
Yeah, I know, I tagged the post “frugality”, and here I am talking cruises.
There’s a reason for that.
Once your basic needs are met (and yes, being good with money can help with that), being careful with your money is about living deliberately – making sure you actually have what you want to have, and thinking carefully about what that is.
Here’s one: Coffee. I love a good coffee. Do I go out to the coffee store chain and buy it?
Only if I am traveling. I have a Chemex and do my own pour-overs. Shoot, I even used to make them at work rather than buy the coffee available at the café. I’m not getting a lesser thing or doing without something I love. Rather the opposite! What I love is really good coffee, and I know how to make it, so I do.
If what I loved was the experience of the coffee shop, then buying the coffee in the shop would be the better choice.
The thing is, you can’t know where the thrill is until you know where the money is going.
If you want to save money, record every penny you spend
While I do use financial software (I run a small business), a free Google Docs spreadsheet would work just fine. Both my father and my son use a spreadsheet, and it works for them. There are lots of free financial tracking apps available if you have a smartphone. When my husband and I were first married, we didn’t have a computer, and this record was kept on paper. It doesn’t matter what format you use. The point is to write down everything you buy.
Doughnut? Write it down. Classify it as Food. If you really want to get granular, you can break it down as Groceries and Restaurants, but you don’t necessarily have to when you get started.
Maserati tune-up? Write it down. Classify it as Auto. Again, if you’re going for granularity, you could classify it as Auto: Service, but when getting started, you probably don’t need to take it that far.
You can make up classifications that make sense to you but don’t go too crazy with it. The important thing is to make it relatively easy to make this a habit.
At first, it’s not going to seem particularly useful. There will be expenses where you’ll say, “Yeah, but I don’t exactly replace the tires every month. This month was an exception.”
The thing is, after you keep this up over a period of about a year, patterns emerge. You find out that you go out to dinner every two weeks on payday. This is actually neither good nor bad. While we all know that eating out is much more expensive than cooking your own meals, the point isn’t that you should only make the cheap choices.
The point is, are you following a general habit that isn’t really providing a kick for you, or are you doing something you truly and consciously love to do?
You might look at those meals out and say to yourself, “Sure I enjoy it, but I don’t get $200 a month’s worth of enjoyment out of it! I think I’m going to cut back to once a month.”
You might look at those meals out and say, “Oh man, dinner out just makes me smile every time I think about it. I love doing that having people around me and being waited on. In fact, I’m cutting back on buying yarn for knitting, because this is something that’s really worth my time and money to do.”
You might look at those meals out and say, “The thing that gives me a kick for those dinners is the candlelight, the well-presented meal, and the nice place setting.” You’re also a good cook, have a tablecloth, candlesticks, and nice china, so you decide that you’re going to make fancy meals for yourself more often and buy those high-end knitting needles you’ve had your eye on, or put it in savings because what you really want is the security of knowing that if an emergency comes up, you have it covered.
Notice that the different ways of looking at it. In each case, it’s the combination of knowing what you’re doing and what you’re spending plus knowing what it is about it that’s giving you the thrill. In each case, you can make a conscious choice to get the best value out of your money by spending wisely.