It is most difficult to start saving if you feel like you have no money at the end of the month to save. Every penny is accounted for… well, I beg to differ. I PROMISE you anyone can find places to cut back. Here are a few steps to take to analyze your spending and stop nickel & dime-ing yourself to hell.
- Stop carrying cash. There are varying takes on this. Mine is to use your debit card for EVERYTHING. This will allow you to truly track your spending down to every dollar. If you implemented the jug after my previous post then you don’t have much cash at the end of each day anyway. Use the debit card for all purchases for at least a month so you have something to analyze. (If you really MUST use cash, then take a little notebook and write down everything you spend money on during the month)
- Download your statement. Most banks allow you to download your previous months statement into Excel. Do that.
- Categorize each transaction. Take a look at every single little thing and put it in a bucket. Some of my buckets are: Dining, Entertainment, Shopping, Memberships, Utility, Gas, etc. Naturally this allows you to sort the list and see how much you’re spending in each category. If you have several months to download, it is worth the extra effort for the ability to see averages.
- Examine $10 and under. This is where most of us get into trouble. How much money did you spend on transactions under $10? These are unlikely NEEDS and most likely WANTS. Be honest, do you NEED to buy lunch at the local fast food joint 5 days per week?
- Cut deep but be realistic. Now be honest with yourself. If you commit to stop eating lunch out every day and bringing your lunch, then honestly you probably won’t sustain that. However if you commit to bringing lunch twice per week and cutting that cost down by 40% then you’ve made sustainable progress. The idea isn’t to cut every single unnecessary purchase but to give yourself a reasonable chance at making sustainable changes.
- Examine memberships and monthly subscriptions. These items are often things that are under utilized. Take a look at these and examine them on a PER USE basis. For example, if you pay $40/month for a gym membership and you actually went 10 times last month, great job, you only paid $4 per visit. More likely, you went 3 times and paid $13 per visit. Many places will allow you to pay per use, look at if that is a better option for you.
- Get Creative. Did you know if you subscribe to Netflix you can watch it on your TV with a $99 device like an Apple TV? My brother does this now and eliminated his TV Cable bill. He simply watches shows online for free or through his $8/month Netflix subscription. He is utilizing a subscription he already had and was able to cut over $1000/year in cable costs. He also watches less TV now and exercises more. My other brother (not Daryl) decided to drop his internet and keep his cable TV. His wife’s mobile phone can get access to the internet for small things and they go online on the laptop when they are out and about.
- Add it all up. Ok so you’ve now found some extra cash. What will you do with it? Will this be allocated to saving up that emergency fund? Or will you deposit into your kids’ college savings accounts? You could also increase your 401k contribution if you haven’t maxed it out.
- Pay Yourself FIRST! This concept is one of the most important things to grasp when becoming more financially sound. Once you’ve added this up and determined where you are going to put your extra money, schedule a regular transfer of these funds the day after you get your paychecks. That means if you found an extra $200 per month and you get paid on the 1st and 15th of each month, you are scheduling a regular transfer of $100 on the 2nd and 16th. Paying yourself first means you take it out BEFORE you spend it on Taco Bell or Starbucks. If it is just lying around in your account you will find a home for it, I promise. 401k contributions are the best example of this. The money doesn’t even make it to your bank account. If it is not there, out of sight, out of mind.
Have you done this? What are your weaknesses in spending each month? Mine is Starbucks. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the attractiveness of the drive-thru guy.
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