10 Ways to Keep More of Your Money

March 12, 2019

Without a lot of ado–how novel for me!–I have lately been thinking of specific ways to keep more of your money instead of letting it fritter itself away. This list applies to all of us, myself definitely included.

  1. Track your spending against your budget. This one is just so incredibly key. Don’t you dare act surprised that I am putting it at the top of the list.  Basically, have a budget, and then spend according to it. It’s that straightforward. Without a budget, we cannot expect our money to behave. It’s sort of like the time I taught 100+ teenagers to square dance on the really muddy plains of Wyoming. It was pretty epic, and involved a bunch of happy yelling. I had to give them some structure and expectations of what they were going to do in order for them to have any fun and actually dance the Virginia Reel.
  2. Eat at home, sweet home. I think it’s safe to say that in the world’s history, we’ve never had more eating out options. Almost every city in America has every ethnicity of food you could think to want. We have Thai, Vietnamese (a personal favorite), Italian, American Italian, American, Mexican, Tex-Mex, Chinese, French, Japanese, Mediterranean. We’ve got sandwich shops, burger joints, smoothies, cafes, drive-thrus, and diners. Many of these offer up convenient and reasonably priced options, making them a tempting and accessible option. Eating at home can feel less accessible since it usually involves at least some preparation and clean-up effort. But meals at home can be simpler, healthier, and more economical. I wouldn’t pay a restaurant to prepare oatmeal and toast for dinner or one of my simple breakfast burritos. But these are just the sorts of meals that my budget loves and that allow me to spend the savings somewhere I want more.
  3. Buy better groceries so you want to eat at home. This is one I need to remember. I am a creature of habit and know what foods I like to eat and will eat, so typically buy those. Green peppers, yogurts, nut+fruit packs, summer fruit, eggs, tortillas, cold cereal, Trader Joe’s mac & cheese are just a few things I typically have on hand. But I don’t deviate very far very often, usually because I haven’t planned ahead very far. And this means I don’t have very exciting options to make for dinner, which further means eating at home is not as enticing as it could be.
  4. Plan ahead for hunger on-the-go. My sister is really good at this with her family. She often packs dinner or lunch when she knows they’ll be on the go at a mealtime. For me, keeping a snack in the car for when I’m on the go, or taking it with me when I leave helps stave off impulse snack stops motivated by hunger. On a flight years ago from Nebraska to Las Vegas, I remember the older couple next to me. Shortly after we reached a cruising altitude, the wife pulled out a small cooler, set napkins on their trays, and pulled out homemade sandwiches. The other passengers on the plane were getting a head start on “Viva Las Vegas” and buying outrageously-priced snack items and beverages. This made my couple’s planning ahead for their inevitable hunger stand out all the more remarkably.
  5. Give less expensive, but more thoughtful, gifts. For birthdays and Christmas, I do like the idea of making sentimental gifts or buying thoughtfully-useful gifts. It’s a little bit harder for bridal showers, weddings and baby showers, especially when one is not particularly crafty. I could make the happy newlyweds a paper chain decoration, but this is not exactly the sort of thing that’s going to help set up their household:) One idea I like is looking for gifts throughout the year that are practical for showers and birthdays, and keeping a gift stash. You can then pull items out of the stash and pair it with something sentimental and/or homemade.
  6. Don’t pay for soda. Because this has never been a habit, I am astounded at how much soda costs whenever I do order it at a restaurant. It almost feels wrong to not have root beer with pizza, doesn’t it? It’s the daily drinks with lunch or stops for a drink that really add up. One thing my friend did to cut back was to buy her Dr Pepper in bulk and take it with her from home instead of popping into 7-Eleven every day.
  7. Shop with a list. This one makes a huge difference with especially grocery shopping. In some ways, your grocery list is a budget of sorts. It’s looking ahead at what meals you might want to eat and then purchasing the ingredients to make those meals. When I do not shop with a list, I end up with some essential staples but rarely do I end up with ingredients to make a cohesive meal. It may feel like a hassle to plan your list, but it’s a bigger hassle to have no meal options despite your spending.
  8. Enjoy free entertainment. There are so many options for entertainment that cost little or no money. Movies or reading at home, hiking outside, a game at the park, baking a treat for someone. [In the middle of July, you might need to do the latter at 2:00 a.m. for it to be bearable.] This time of year there are lots of outdoor, free movies sponsored by local cities. With a little effort, you can find obscure community events that aren’t charging admission and are sure to be memorable. For example, something on my Fall To-DO list is to go to the Bison Auction on Antelope Island. They literally round up the bison herd, pen some of them up, and auction them off. It’s a great day of people- and bison-watching, and totally free.
  9. Keep a list of the things you have the urge to buy. It won’t deter you from buying all of them, but it’s been helpful for me to at least acknowledge that it’s something I want but that I might not need to buy it right now.  I’ve been surprised by just how long things can stay on the list without causing me sorrow. For example, when I had the flooring replaced in my house, rugs felt like a necessity to warm up the wood laminate. I put them on my list, and a year later, still have no rugs. What felt like such a priority at first has totally dropped toward the bottom of my To Buy list.
  10. Make a game out of keeping more of your money. If you treat the above like drudgery, it will be and you won’t do it for long.  The key to making a game out of it is to remember why you are doing all the above. It’s not to make your life miserable. It’s to become debt-free, or go to Disneyland, or to replace your computer, or to save for the down payment on your house.

Math and intention

With all of these, I am certainly not suggesting you do every single one, 100% of the time. Well, except for #10. That one is pretty much always a good idea. With the other 9 though, even if you only do them most of the time, you are guaranteed to save hundreds of dollars per year. If you spent $3/week less on beverages, you could save $162/year. If you shop with a list and save $10/week on groceries and household supplies simply by being intentional, you will save $520/year. With just these two practices, you have saved nearly $700/year. Isn’t math cool?

There are some finance people out there who encourage not cutting back, but instead finding ways to increase your income to pay for the habits you’d like to keep. I see where they are coming from, and I appreciate their encouragement to not live for a lifetime on a shoestring. My philosophy, coming out of years of unintentional and thus wasteful spending, is this: if you do not change your habits and live by a budget, you will spend any increase in your income as unintentionally and un-enjoyably as you have your current income. Changing your habits to be more responsible and, even if not responsible, intentional, will help any increases in income not get wasted mindlessly.

What other tips do you have for not wasting your hard-earned money?