Finding Money To Save (Even When You Think You Can’t)

expenses cut.jpgIt’s that time of year when we all resolve to put a lid on our spending and save more money. The internet is full of articles like “Five Ways To Save $1,000 This Year” and advice for folks to save $30 just by cutting back to eating out just three days a week.

But what if you don’t eat out every day and you’re sure there’s not hundreds of dollars in savings to be found in your budget? We don’t claim to have all the answers in this one little story but we do have some things for you to think about and maybe kickstart your way to savings this year.

Think About Your Spending
We all spend money on things we don’t need and sometimes on things we don’t really want. The first thing you need to do is study how you’re using your money. Do this however you like. An easy way is to save your receipts and keep a slip of paper to jot down every time you drop a few bucks in the work vending machine because you’re craving Diet Coke and Peanut M&Ms. Then study your habits and think about ways to cut costs or change behaviors. If you’re buying candy and drinks every day, it might be smart to bring a snack from home.  This is an easy behavior change that could save several dollars a week.

Once you know what you’re spending money on, ask yourself some questions. What are you buying that you don’t need or that you buy out of habit? Are you actually using what you buy? Is it truly a need or a want disguised as a need?

When our bankers visit third graders to talk about spending and saving money, they typically understand the difference between a need and a want. For example, you need shoes but you want Nikes. However, when we talk to teens, we find they think they need Nikes and that no other shoes will do. What do you truly need?

Food is a major money leak for many American households as so much of what we buy spoils before we use it. If you find yourself throwing away most of the celery every week, it might be time to ask yourself if you’re buying celery because you like it or because you always buy it (or because it just looks good in the cart).

Plan, Plan, Plan
Planning is half the battle when it comes to spending and saving. How many times have you gone to the store and couldn’t remember what you need to buy so you just buy a bunch of stuff that sounds good? Whether it’s school clothes, groceries or holiday shopping, make that list and stick to it.

Also, be sure to research your purchases ahead of time. Find out what’s right for you, what’s most economical and what’s most likely to last so you’re not buying a replacement next year.

Planning a purchase also may involve delaying a purchase. In this world that delivers up to the second news and overnight packages from across the country, delayed gratification is becoming a lost art. Do your research and think about how badly you really want or need what you wish to buy. How many hours must you work to pay for it? This question alone may impact your views.  Sleep on it and revisit the purchase later. You may find you were more excited about buying something new than you were about the thing itself.

Don’t Overlook The Big Stuff
You need homeowners insurance but when was the last time you read your policy or comparison shopped? You need a car but can you afford your car when you consider the cost of insurance, maintenance and monthly payments? You need a place to live but could you downsize or find a more affordable neighborhood?

These changes may seem drastic but if you’re serious about saving money, the effort could be worthwhile.

Once you’ve found ways to plug those money leaks, both big and small, be sure to actually have a plan in place to save that money and make sure your budget reflects any changes in spending. If you are saving $50 a month on your insurance, why not set up an automatic transfer from your checking to your savings account?

Saving money isn’t always about the obvious advice to avoid the expensive cup of coffee. It also involves some thinking, research, planning and maybe even a little soul searching to figure out what’s best for you and your finances.

Do you have tips to share? How are your savings efforts working out in this new year? Tell us about it in the comments below!