Years ago, my husband was laid off from his job. I was in the process of going back to school to finish my degree, and we had a house full of teenagers. It was a great wake up call for us to evaluate our finances and discover ways to save more money in our monthly expenses.
I’m glad the stress of unemployment is behind us, but the lessons we learned aren’t just for when we find ourselves in crisis mode. When it comes to saving money, we’ve learned it’s about more than what we have in the bank — those are only numbers. It’s more about learning to modify and control our behavior, changing our mindset to get the results we want.
Here are some things I do to save more money.
1. Keep a Budget
I know! It seems like such a time-consuming task to do but keeping a budget it the best place to start when it comes to saving more money. A budget accomplishes a few key things. It tracks where your money is going, helps you identify what you might be wasting money on, and allows you to be proactive about saving.
A budget gives you more control over where you want to spend your hard-earned cash. Maybe it’s dinner and a movie, but perhaps it isn’t. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an actual choice?
2. Put Your Savings on Autopilot
Once you’ve created your budget, be sure to add a savings category. We’ve always treated saving like it was another bill. After reviewing your budget, decided on an amount you can commit to saving each month. Whether it’s $50 or $500 be consistent. Most banks have options where you can automatically transfer the amount on a set day each month.
I have our auto-transfer set up on payday, so I don’t feel like I’m ever missing the money. Several times during the year, I evaluate our budget and determine if there is any extra I can be adding to our savings. We’ve learned to live on less to ensure our savings account is growing at a healthy rate. Be sure to use an interest-bearing savings account so your little nest egg can continue to grow. Talk with your banker about available options to help you get your savings on autopilot.
Finally, make sure you are optimizing your employers 401K options. If they match your contribution, it is almost like a little raise that goes straight into your long-term savings. Even if they don’t match, it is a great tax-free way to save money each paycheck.
3. Cut Out the Extras
Is it stopping in the drive-thru to grab your favorite drink? Or the annual magazine subscription you never get around to reading? The extras start to add up quickly when we aren’t paying attention. Don’t look at it as some kind of punishment; instead, think of it as a savings game. Think of the dangling carrot. What type of reward will you get for cutting out a costly habit?
This last year we decided to cut back on how often ate out. Its meant I’ve had to be more intentional in meal planning, but the reward has been healthier food options and a better self-image because I’m taking care of my body. (We are both down 20 pounds, yay!) The side benefit has been we’ve saved a significant amount of money. We hadn’t realized how often we had opted for a quick meal out rather than staying home to eat.
Use your budget to track your spending and see which “extra” is costing you the most. Come up with a plan to reduce the amount of money you spend on the most significant “extra” draining your bank account. Remember baby steps.
4. Make a Shopping List
How many times have you made a quick trip to the grocery store only to walk out with a cart full of food? If we go to the store with a list and stick to it, we can avoid impulse shopping, wasting food we won’t use, and save more money.
Right in line with our effort to cut back on eating out, I had to be more conscious about making a shopping list. I created my meal plan and worked backward from there. It also helps to go after I’ve eaten. When my stomach is growling, it is always harder to avoid throwing a few extras in the cart.
5. Know Prices and Watch for Good Deals
Sometimes it is better to buy in bulk and other times it isn’t. Know the average prices for your commonly purchased items. When I first started watching prices I kept a small notepad in my purse to keep track. Then watch for sales and stocked up.
6. Adopt a Debt Reduction Strategy
Years ago, I learned about this one in a finance class. Similar to Dave Ramsey’s Snowball method, it’s all about eliminating debt to be free from the albatross around your neck.
- Start by making a list of all of your debt. Put them in order from the smallest owed amount to the largest.
- Make minimum payments on all of the accounts except for the one at the top.
- Take any extra money you can find in your budget and apply it to this balance. (Any of the above strategies can help you find some extra money to add to this step.)
- Work to pay off the smallest balance as quickly as possible.
- Once your smallest balance is paid off, take the amount you were paying on that bill and add it to what you are paying on the next debt on the list.
- Don’t lose your steam yet! Rinse and repeat. Each time you pay off a balance, use the momentum and excitement towards working off your next debt.
The key to this strategy is consistency. We paid off our mortgage in less than 15 years using this method, and it has allowed us to have so much more financial freedom for investing and doing the things we love!
Takeaways to Save More Money
The amount of money in my bank account is only a number, but what I can do with our money is a blessing. It provides shelter and food for our family. I can use it to help others, do fun things to strengthen relationships and help provide some of the necessities in life.
Rather than thinking of spending from a place of scarcity, try acting from a place of abundance. Remember, having enough money is a gift, learning how to save more money is a skill.