Making A Budget: Small Changes To Save Money

Your wallet, and everything in it is your property. Anything that leaves it without your consent is theft, anything that leaves it without your thought was never truly yours.

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If You Are Spending, You Are Not Saving

Many people have heard about the Law of Conservation of Energy. It says that energy is not created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed. Money similarly can only be transformed. When you make money it can either be spent or saved, never both. 68% of Americans try to be conscious about their energy use. Fewer seem to care about their money though as only 41% say they have a budget. It’s no wonder the average American cannot secure their money.

Overspending Is An Epidemic

I once mentioned how most American live paycheck to paycheck. Americans are infamous for spending more than their other first-world country kinsmen. What more is needed to figure out that most of America’s money problems could be solved by modifying personal spending via a budget?

Unfortunately, having a budget is not enough. Much like another epidemic, obesity, changing only one aspect of your life is not going to cure you. While having a budget is one important aspect to curing overspending, budgets also must be maintained, practiced, and modified. These will include small changes to save money.

Start Writing Your Budget

To start your budget, collect your banking statements from previous months. Write down every single transaction, and subtract them from your monthly salary. If those numbers are negative, you need to start a budget, because you are going into debt. Take a look at every individual interaction. If there is any transaction, or category of transactions, in which you feel is unnecessary, or unnecessarily large, start spending less in those areas.

Once you start with your budget, the first thing you should know is that your first and probably second month is going to suck. You will be following your budget as well as a frequent GPS user follows a physical map. Do not worry too much, you are trying to develop new and healthy habits. Instead of putting yourself down for the inevitable, try to learn from your mistakes. Watch your bank accounts like a hawk and try to modify your spending. Later on, you will start to be surprised that when your next paycheck comes, you still have some left over from your previous paycheck. Before you know it, you will be spending less money than you make, and these small changes will save you money.

Getting Offensive

I will offend many people about how to limit your spending. Let me clarify a few things. The purpose of this blog is not to make friends, but to give advice to manage your money. Also, these are all suggestions. I believe in a free market and that means people can manage their money anyway they please, even if the way they manage it is stupid. Regardless, if you want to gain financial independence, it would be best to at least consider my suggestions. In this first part of my budgeting blog, I will write about small changes to help you save money while minimizing the impact on your lifestyle.

Coffee

Many people probably saw this coming. The average caffeinated goodness in America is $2.75, and this includes typical cups of coffee. If you want anything that ends with the words latte, mocha, cappuccino (frozen or hot), macchiato, etc, expect to sink another buck or more. I have seen people who buy a cup daily, sometimes twice a day. This could cost thousands annually.

This cost, I find the least excuse for mostly because a coffee pot can cost less than $20. And an espresso maker is hardly any more costly. And how long does it take to make one? Only a few minutes, and it gives you more control in how to make it and what flavors you incorporate. You can make exciting new drinks that are actually healthy for you. Start here, and the executives for those coffee shops will be upset on how their bank accounts are, but you will not be upset with your own bank accounts.

Tobacco

Luckily, the millennial generation is not producing a very large smoke cloud. But to those who do smoke, you are burning just shy of a million dollars in your lifetime. At $7 a pack, the cost of smoking is more than $2000 annually. I do not condone smoking, but I do understand it is addictive.

Think of the benefits. If the money you save is not enough, then think of the health benefits.

Alcohol

This is one that offends me too. While alcohol does cost money, I still enjoy it from time to time. Although I would rather give up alcohol than caffeine (don’t worry I practically always brew my own coffee so I do not have that financial vice). While it is a sobering fact (pun intended) it is far from surprising to know that about 1% of America’s income goes towards alcohol. Keep in mind, this is an average, many people reading could possibly be thinking: “only 1%? I need to do better.” Let me list how you can do better.

If you frequently attend happy hour with coworkers and friends, assuming three drinks a visit, five visits a week, and let’s say $5 a drink, the bartender might as well be pouring shy of $4000 dollars into your throat every year. Most people (very luckily) do not do that, but still, it can be costly. Even if you spend only $10 on alcohol a week that is still over $500 dollars annually and could easily drip into over $1000.

What To Do

Like I said, I enjoy alcohol, but I still do everything I can to minimize the impact on mine and my wife’s wallet. Here are some ways I minimize the cost:

Buy only what is on sale: by following this, the $10 a week is easier to follow than you might think.

Go for some dry weeks, and sometimes even months. While traveling or during busy weeks it is much easier to just avoid drinking, use the money instead for saving and investing.

Stop going out to drink: if you go out to drink, unless it is a modest beer, you would be lucky if said drink was only $10.

If you like bar cocktails, there are plenty of ways to make them at home, including shaker, muddlers, strainers, and blenders.

If you have a very limited savings account or are in a more than modest amount of debt, your budget for alcohol should be $0 per week, month, or year. Plain and simple.

Some people may ask: “Oh what about DUIs, and the costs of health? Why haven’t you factored that in” For the first one, I have not factored that in because there is literally NO EXCUSE TO DRINK AND DRIVE, EVER! However, travel while drinking is a good thing to factor in. If you spend a night out drinking, you will need a trip home, and that will cost money to have someone else drive you home. As for health, if you are noticing the effects on your physical well being, forget about the financial benefits. Your needs for health always comes before wealth.

Food

Speaking of health, let’s talk about food. Now I know “everyone has to eat, what do you want us to do starve?” You would be surprised at how many times people say this when people say they should cut back on their food spending as if there are only too options: spend excessively or starve. Since me and every one who ever gave good money advice want you to retire comfortably and provide for your children, no, of course we do not want you to starve yourself nor anyone you love. You will always have to spend money on food, but your eating habits can more easily affect your wallet than your waist.

First, drinks are not food. The only thing you NEED to drink to survive is water (milk/formula for children but I am speaking primarily to adults). That being said water can be expensive, but only if you let it.

First if you want to save money, stop buying fancy waters that would make bar cocktails complain about how much of a rip-off those waters are. You know exactly which brands I am talking about. Also, if you want to save money, why are you paying people to filter your water? Buy your own filters, you would be surprised of the quality of water you obtain and how little clean water costs.

Eat Out Or In?

The largest impact on the food bill is how frequently you eat out. Unfortunately, the millennial generation is very guilty of this. They not only spend 44% of their food money on eating out, but 87% say they would pay for a nice meal, even if money is low. Do not be these people. Eating out is expensive, a decent meal out could cost over $10 a person even before the tip. Takeout is no different, and even those $2 food truck meals count as eating out. If you want to take charge of your finances, take more charge of your meals. Restaurant costs outweigh the cost of eating in by 325%.

You can even save even more at the grocery store. Look for sales, check some coupons, buy generic brands. Generic brands are 30% cheaper than brands. While there are minor changes in the generic brands the difference in taste are almost entirely in the mind.

Entertainment And Personal Wants

This one should be obvious. Entertainment and consumer goods rarely, if ever, extend into something that is actually needed. However, the average consumer does spend more than $3000 annually to be entertained, so clearly not. One of the least obvious costs include entertainment subscriptions. These costs may be small, but they add up and a single one could account for hundreds annually. However, movies and sports are not the only thing that needs to be cut back on to save money.

Apparel and personal goods can cost almost $3000 annually. While everyone needs cloths, good-hygiene, and some tools, I have seen that there could be heavy cut backs on how much these cost. People do not need the most expensive clothing, similar to food, buy generic.

Watch Your Accounts Improve

Many of these changes can be small, but you will save more money. For many people, these changes are more than sufficient to secure further financial security. For others, more must be done. In my next post I will write about more extreme methods to save money. These methods usually involve large lifestyle changes and will be harder. Let me remind you that obtaining financial security is a large lifestyle change, and usually requires other such lifestyle changes. Until the next time, claim your money and make it your property and use it to forge your wealth.

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