Always. Or, most of the time. Johnny and I were having one of our nerdy money discussions last night, and we were looking back on our days of paying down our student loans and how we actually made it work. We weren’t making much money, but our debt payoff goals were aggressive. And more often than not, we were able to meet those goals and even pay off our loans a few months faster than we’d planned. So how did we do it? What was the defining factor? It was the little, everyday purchases. It was those little, extra expenses that seem like they won’t add up, but they DO! Sure, in the long run, those purchases won’t make the difference in whether you’re a millionaire. But they could mean the difference in getting yourself on the right track financially.
More often than not, I think much of the frustration of budgeting comes from feeling like there’s just nowhere else to save. You’re not taking extravagant vacations, you’re not eating out at fancy restaurants or buying expensive clothing. And yet, there’s no extra money for savings each month! What is going on?? But there’s almost always more savings — you just may not be noticing it. And that’s why we’re so gung-ho about tracking every little expense: it makes you aware of your expenses and where you might be able to cut back some.
But I think we all get into spending habits that feel so second-nature that we can’t imagine cutting them out of our lives. They feel essential. So even if we’re tracking our spending, those expenses don’t necessarily raise any red flags. Or they’re so small that you might not consider cutting them out. If you’re mentally nodding your head to any of this, here are a few questions to ask yourself before you declare “There’s nowhere else to save!” once and for all:
Is it necessary?
Not, OMG I NEED Starbucks, of course it’s necessary. But really, is it necessary? I have a candy/cookie/cupcake addiction, especially when life is stressful, and going to specialty bakery shops a couple times a week can actually put a big dent in our food budget if I’m not careful… like $20–$40 in a month, even though the $4 purchases don’t feel like much at the time. I can still get my fix by baking at home and spending hardly anything in return.
Could I get it cheaper elsewhere?
The antagonist to smart spending is impulse buying. If you see something you need but it isn’t a planned expense, never buy it on the spot. Instead, shop around. Look at other stores and online retailers to make sure you’re getting the very best deal. You’ll save 20% of the cost like it ain’t no thang.
Can it wait?
You may need something. But do you need it right away? Here’s an example. Johnny and I have been married for almost nine years. We’ve wanted and kind of needed an outdoor grill for years. YEARS. But it could wait. In the meantime, we got a tiny, portable grill to meet our needs. Well, a deal finally came up on a real, legit grill, and we just bought it as an early Father’s Day gift for Johnny. We waited years. And it has made us appreciate the grill that much more because of the wait.
Could I get something else instead?
Oftentimes, we may feel the need to purchase an item when, in reality, we could get something similar that’s much cheaper. This has applied to much of the furnishing and decorating of our homes and apartments for most of our marriage. Budgets force us to get creative, and that’s not always a bad thing.
Can I afford it?
Will it break my budgeting goals? Even if you pass all the other questions with flying colors, it ultimately comes down to this last one: can you afford it? This is a tough one because sometimes something you really, really need you can’t afford. But by asking that question, it ensures you’ll try your darnedest to find some cheaper alternative before spending that money.
There’s almost always somewhere else to save. And while it may just be a few dollars here and there, day after day those dollars can add up to hundreds at the end of a month. And that’s a few hundred more that can go towards building your savings or paying down debt. No matter how much money you feel like you have or don’t have, never forget that you’re the boss of it. Make it do what you want it to.