Photo: Flickr via spyndle
Starting a savings plan can be fraught with stress and anxiety.People worry about not saving enough, not being consistent, giving in to spending temptations, and not knowing how to invest what they save.
The whole enterprise is enough to leave some people stuck in a chronic state of analysis paralysis.
For beginners, the best approach is to make saving less work and more experimental. Dip your toes in the water by trying some unorthodox methods of spending less and saving more money. Granted, these ideas might not fully fund that retirement plan or turn your job into just a 9-5 hobby, but they might make saving more fun and pave the way to more serious strategies. (See also:5 Easy Ways to Add $50 to Your Pocket)
1. Choose a Denomination
How many quarters pass through our fingers in a year? How many five dollar bills do we touch in a lifetime? What if we decided to eliminate one denomination of currency from our consumer lives and made a silent promise to never spend it? Experiment with how this would work for quarters (no more quarters for vending machines; no more quarters for parking meters; only the nickel slots in Vegas, etc). Save ’em all in a big Mason jar and count how much money you accumulate each month. Or, go big — make fives your target. Over time, those Lincolns would surely become synonymous with saving, and pocketing them would become second nature.
2. Impose a Spending Moratorium
I have enough shirts for two men. I have shirts for every season and nearly every occasion. I could, without a moment’s discomfort, choose to not buy another shirt for two or three years. Try it yourself — choose a category of spending and take a month off (or a quarter…or a year). How much could you save if you abandoned an entire category of spending like footwear or movies at the theatre?
3. Decide to Buy Used
Similarly, consider creating or expanding entire categories of things you buy used. Buying second-hand shoes, for example, can sometimes creep people out. But choosing lightly worn, well-cared-for, and clean used shoes can be a real money saver. Try it; you might like the fit. Or consider sourcing eBay, Amazon, your local thrift store, or garage sales for books (the old printed kind) and make the $14.99 new ones a thing of the past. As you score more great deals, expand your categories, and save more.
4. Create Spending Limits for Common Items
We all have certain financial boundaries or thresholds we typically don’t cross. I’m out of my comfort zone if I pay more than $6,000 for a used car, and I get a little shaky if my share of a dinner out exceeds the $15 mark. But how much could we save (and how relatively painless would it be?) if we created hard-and-fast spending limits for things we buy every day? Impose a Monday through Friday lunch limit of $3.50. Decide to never pay more than $20 for a pair of jeans. How much more could we sock away if we adjusted those limits downward every six months? Create a few spending limits and experiment with the lower end of your thresholds. Throttle back.
Deciding to spend less and save more doesn’t have to be stressful, and you don’t have to do it perfectly. Success lies in dedication to the experiment — seeing what methods work for you, finding out what your spending triggers are, and deciding the best way to turn a few quirky ideas into a full-fledged savings strategy that fits your personality.
What novel ideas have you had about ways to spend less? Have any of your friends ever responded with “You do what?!” when they hear about your latest savings strategy?