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How to Save Money and Spend Smarter

Updated on May 3, 2015
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The Struggle and Solution

Ah, the perennial problem that persists through American society like the wheezing cough of a chain-smoker. Money-you are freedom, an abstract object that dictates our standard of living, all while commanding our present and outlining our futures. We live by the dollar; we work for the dollar; we die hoping we have a few to spare. Saving money, for some, is an eternal struggle that waxes and wanes in intensity and emotion like the peaks and troughs of the boom and bust cycles. The endless need to have money nags at our minds like the biting fear we experience when we leave the house wondering if the stove is on or if the water is running. No matter how many times you check, double-check, triple-check, your anxiety ridden mind refuses to believe in your ability to manage your household. Maintaining a healthy savings account exacerbates the struggles of our minds. Restless night after restless night you count and recount the money you could have saved, should have saved, on shopping sprees and late-night runs to the local 24/7 convenience store. We have all been there. I know I have.

“Enough is enough,” I finally said to myself one night. In need of sweet sleep, I sought to assuage my worried mind. I created a plan, using four tricks, that helped me become a better saver and a smarter spender. After implementing these tricks into my saving-expenditure routine, what I discovered surprised me because the source of my anxiety was not the lack of money in my wallet or savings account but my inability to save money. It was entirely caused by my own actions. With discipline and dedication, I joined the ranks of money-saver extraordinaire. Here are the four tricks I used to become a better saver and more efficient spender:

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Trick #1: Record Expenses

What better way to keep track of your expenses than by writing them down. A notebook and pencil work fine for me, but spreadsheets, diagrams, charts, etc. work just as well. Before I began recording my expenses, I watched the amount of money in my savings account slowly, painfully dwindle down, yet I did not take action. Perhaps the ethereal, immaterial nature of online bank accounts convinced me to believe that the number which grew smaller and smaller was not real, just a collection of pixels on a screen that surely would increase again. As I put this method into practice, my spending habits manifested themselves into a monstrous, frightful beast that made my pockets tremble. The reality of my situation hit me hard and set me straight. Not only does keeping a record of expenditures help you fathom the amount of money spent daily, weekly, and monthly, it also offers an insight into reckless spending habits developed overtime. Think of yourself as a surgeon who is trying to stop his patient from bleeding. First, he must find the source of the bleeding. After doing so, he can operate as need be, curtail the bleeding, and avoid disaster. Like the surgeon cutting off blood flow, Pinpoint areas of spending which you believe empty your pockets needlessly. For example, Rather than spending $5 every day at a convenience store for lunch, spend a little more at the grocery store and stock up on food that will last for extended periods. You will save money in the long run!

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Trick #2: Save up to Meet a Goal!

Have you ever woken up in the morning, perhaps on a weekend, with nothing planned? Even with so much free time and little to do, you somehow manage to waste away the day watching Netflix and scavenging through the fridge and pantries for whatever morsel of food left in the house, only to find yourself in a dark room in the middle of the night wondering what happened. Attempting to save money without a plan is a lot like that. Creating a saving plan is a great way to develop a regimented saving routine. In essence, saving with a purpose is a whole lot easier than saving for the sake of saving. What I find helpful is setting a goal and a timetable for when I would like to reach that goal. One of the benefits of using this method is in its flexibility; any amount is better than nothing, and smaller amounts can be added onto each other over weeks to meet larger goals. Gone are the ways of the wondering wallet, once dictated by impulse purchases or temporary spending reductions to recharge emptying savings accounts. Here to stay are the ways of following a set, predictable path that, if you decide upon it, can allow for slight deviations from time to time. In other words, it is okay to set a goal for the future, but spending money on yourself occasionally, as long as you give yourself the leeway for this to occur, is healthy. Take charge of your finances, and take into account where you currently are and where you would like to end up a day, a week, a month, etc. from now. You are the captain at the helm of your financial ship. Only you can guide your ship to a financially stable port.

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Trick #3: Do Not Ignore Debts!

Do not do it! As much as I would love to place my debts in the darkest, most isolated corners in the back of my mind, I would only do so to my detriment. Instead, and this article has now reached paradoxical levels, keep track of your debts and use them to save money. Honestly speaking, this method is outright depressing at times, but as I near the end of my college career, my debts and their accruing interest motivate me to save more and spend smartly. Why is this method effective for saving money? To put it simply, it follows the same logic as trick #1-by keeping track of your debts, the balance between how much money saved and how much money spent becomes clearer. Additionally, having awareness of your debts creates the context for a realistic perspective on your situation. However daunting the amount of debt you own may seem, fitting it into your monthly expenditure/saving routine will help you save money better and even pay off your debts more efficiently.

Trick #4: Spend Smarter

Already touching upon this earlier in Record Expenses, it is tempting to spend money daily at restaurants, food trucks, or convenience stores; however, the amount of money saved when preparing home cooked meals will help you save more and spend smarter. For example, if I were to purchase one meal a day at my local Chinese restaurant for $8.50, I would spend $59.50 a week on food. That number inflates to $238 a month. Obviously, I require more than one meal a day, so eating out regularly becomes quite expensive rather quickly. Instead, I opt to spend anywhere between $20-$25 a week on groceries-with that budget, I purchase potatoes, onions, eggs, either chicken or ground beef, bread, pasta, milk, and cereal-preparing home cooked meals daily and saving money that would have been spent eating out. Although the figures used in this example are low, compared to what your grocery expenditures might be, the principle remains the same. Whether you are single, married, have one child, or have many, preparing home cooked meals will almost always be cheaper than eating out. Set a realistic budget for yourself or your family, and try to fall within the range. Using this trick has helped me save better and spend smarter!

Recap

Record your expenses, save up to meet a goal, do not forget about your debts, and spend smarter. Combining these four tricks does not only help in managing your finances but also help to create a regimented money saving routine. I challenge you to incorporate these tricks into your financial plan! If you accept this challenge, please leave your comments below and inform me on how well they worked for you!

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