It’s a generally accepted truth that in order to save more money, you have to make sacrifices — whether they’re in the things you do, the things you eat, the things you buy, or just generally the way you live. But what if that’s not true? What if all it takes to save money is the willingness to make a few small shifts instead of full lifestyle changes?
With this in mind, I decided to take a look at some common expenses attached to things integral to my lifestyle (and my friends’ lifestyles) and figure out how to save a little more money each month. Through the process, I learned that it comes down to two shifts: mental shifts, and purchasing shifts. Here are a few of the most important:
1. Keep track of your spending
Sometimes I get to the end of a month and wonder what I spent so much money on. I always feel like I didn’t do anything overly expensive, and in fact, I consider myself to be pretty frugal. But money tends to disappear all the same. Lately, though, I’ve been keeping an official, written-down record of how much I’m spending and where, and it has been incredibly helpful.
One reason this practice helps me save money is that it makes me, as a spender, more aware of when and how I’m spending money. Much like how calorie-counting diets discourage dieters from mindless snacking, tracking spending can help make sure you’re being conscientious when you do choose to make a purchase, and will make sure even the smallest impulse buys don’t fall through the cracks.
Personally, I’m a fan of the tried-and-true spreadsheet method of tracking expenses, so I think something like Google Sheets is a solid place to start. It’s also a good idea to have the mobile app so you can input your expenses in real time. If you don’t want to build out a budget sheet yourself, apps like Mint can also be helpful to keep track of and stick to your monthly budget.
2. Shift your subscriptions
My household accrues a stack full of magazines every month, from fluffy home and garden magazines to National Geographic. And although some of them get read enough to justify the cost, some just end up collecting dust until the next month, when they are recycled and the process begins again. But recognizing that the magazines and even newspapers that get neglected month to month aren’t a good use of funds can shave a little bit off of your monthly spending.
Another subscription a lot of us have? Cable. I’m a TV lover, and I can’t imagine living my life without access to all my shows and movies. But cable is expensive, and if you’re spending over $100 a month for a subscription (as many Americans still are), that can really affect your monthly budget. But there are plenty of options for streaming or using a digital antenna to tune in to what’s on TV, and making the shift to the cheaper alternatives for cable can save a lot of money without making any lifestyle sacrifices. A cord-cutting tool can help you see what streaming options you have to get all the content you already watch.
3. Ask key questions
An important thing to think about when making a purchase is your motivation behind it. With that in mind, when I’m about to buy something, I ask myself these questions:
- Why am I buying this?
- Will this make my life better or fulfill one of my needs?
- Is this something I can buy on sale?
- How will I feel about this purchase tomorrow?
If you ask yourself these questions each time you buy, you’ll avoid buying things you don’t truly want or need while still allowing yourself to spend money on what’s most important.
4. Find cheaper replacements
If there are things in your life you just can’t cut out, try to find a similar but cheaper alternative option. For example, if you’re a makeup addict like me, it can be tempting to pour money into products from high-end brands. However, in this case, I took some time to try out drugstore brands and I found some quality products at a fraction of the price of those top brands. The same can be done with plenty of other living expenses without having to cut anything out completely. Love going to movies? Go to a matinee to save a few dollars off the evening price. Spend too much on groceries? Shift to generic brands for food basics. I found that these kinds of changes in my own life helped to show savings month over month without having to make any major sacrifices.
Saving money doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Sometimes all it takes is making small shifts in your purchasing habits to help you save a little extra money each month without having to change your lifestyle.
Alex Haslam is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her personal financial philosophy is to be frugal, but not cheap, and she’s working to figure out the difference between the two. Besides writing and budgeting, Alex enjoys television, film, good food, and music of all kinds.
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