Even for the most disciplined, frugal, and budget-conscious, achieving a big savings goal is rarely just a walk in the park. The path to reaching that coveted end goal is filled with distractions and spending temptations that are challenging to wrestle with, and long-term thinking can quickly be taken over by a desire for instant gratification.
Whether the goal is an exotic beach vacation or the deposit on a pricey apartment for rent in San Francisco, CA, reaching any dollar amount requires more than setting a numerical goal and establishing a timeline. It requires a careful look at spending habits that can slip under the radar, undetected. We’re talking about those habits that seem harmless in the moment but can pack a big punch when tallied up together. Arm yourself with these four tips to learn how to curb your spendy ways and give your savings goals a little extra reinforcement.
1. Change your routine
It’s easy to fall into a daily spending routine when the barista at the corner coffee shop knows exactly how you like your brew and your favorite deli is two quick steps from your office. Convenience and habit are two of the biggest culprits for spending and can be a major hurdle in the way of achieving savings goals.
To counteract this easy habit, focus on mindfulness; consider where your money goes and come up with some new, less expensive ways to get the fixes you crave. But before you nix the daily deli stops or cut back on lattes, be sure to replace your old routine with something new. If you deprive yourself of your favorite sandwich shop, you’ll need to replace that old routine with a new one to counteract that habit. This might mean establishing a time over the weekend or every morning to grocery-shop and prep food for easy lunches and dinners, or making sure your favorite coffee is ground and ready for your home coffee maker. You may find that you enjoy your homemade sandwiches better than the ones from the deli next door! Alter your routine, and mindless spending can be curbed in the process.
2. Notice your spending triggers
Even if you head to a big-box store armed with a list of needs, it’s easy to walk out with a dozen other impulse purchases in your cart. You’re not necessarily off the hook if you avoid those big-box stores either: maybe you’re a little overzealous with online shopping or stocking up on food from specialty (read: expensive) grocery stores. Or you might notice your spending trends aren’t location-based but emotion-based instead. A bad day at the office sparks a desire to go out for drinks and dinner, or loneliness makes you crave a trip to the mall. A study from the University of Michigan found even hunger can influence spending habits, with hungry subjects spending, on average, 60% more on nonfood items than their full-tummy counterparts. Try keeping a spending diary to help pinpoint your spending triggers; it will allow you to anticipate these cravings and find more affordable (and healthier) ways to overcome them.
3. Beware of budget vampires
While fixed expenses — like rent and car payments — probably consume the lion’s share of your budget, variable expenses can be a huge, sometimes unexpected drain as well. Here are three common ones to consider.
- Subscription services: From monthly sample boxes to cable add-ons and everything in between, it’s possible that hundreds of dollars a month disappear from your account in small, easy-to-miss increments. Find the ones you can go without, and see if things like your cable and internet can be pared down. Once you decide exactly which services you absolutely need, comparison-shop and see if switching providers could save you money.
- Fees: If you frequent out-of-network ATMs, you could shell out more than $4 per transaction after paying the managing bank’s fees as well as your bank’s fee. Throw in things like checking and overdraft fees, and you could be throwing away more than you realize. Look carefully at where your financial accounts are sitting and find a better, low, or no-fee option.
- Energy usage: Think your energy bill is on the high side? Try these tricks: Use a power strip with electronics to stop the use of phantom power when they aren’t being used, go digital with your thermostat to better control heat and air conditioning usage, and keep your water heater at 120 degrees to lessen the energy used to heat the tank.
4. Go digital
If saving doesn’t come naturally to you, there are plenty of apps to make the process more automatic. Pulling out your phone and checking your bank account may be the extra incentive you need to stop an impulse purchase.
- Digit: Digit can monitor your spending habits and make small, weekly transfers of money into your savings account when it won’t impact your checking account in a noticeable way.
- Acorns: After rounding up your purchases to the next dollar, Acorns will take your spare change and invest it for you in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.
- Simple: Simple is a bank and a spending app. With your input and the debit card it comes with, the system can keep track of what is “safe to spend” after taking your bills and savings goals into consideration.
By taking care of the physical and mental stumbling blocks that make you spend, you can clear your path to the experiences and lifestyle you crave.