New year, new you, right? Even though I’m slightly skeptical of New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the year is a good time to start implementing changes. And what better change is there than spending less and saving more?
It can seem impossible to cut your spending, even by a little bit each month. Even if you succeed, it feels like the little changes you achieve won’t make a worthwhile difference. I’ve been there, and I’m here to tell you: it IS possible to cut your expenses, and small changes WILL make a difference in your life. As a former environmental organizer and a current financial coach, I have plenty of ideas for how you can make this happen. Some of these ideas are simple — hiding right under your nose, but you need a step-by-step breakdown of how to actually make it happen — and some you may not have thought of before!
- Track your spending.I basically force this on my coaching clients. You can’t make better financial decisions if you don’t know which decisions you’re already making. Whether it’s in a program like Mint or LearnVest, or in an Excel spreadsheet, it’s critical that you keep track of your spending. Pick a time each week (or more than once a week) to sit down and go through your bank statements or receipts and add up how much you’ve spent and what you’ve spent it on. This will let you know if you’re reaching your monthly budget (if you have one…which you should) and if you need to start slowing down.
- Carry a reusable water bottle.
Not only are plastic water bottles bad for the environment (check out this plastic island), but they also add up! Why spend upwards of $2 per bottle when you can buy yourself a nice reusable water bottle that you can refill for free? You’ll get your money’s worth within days if you drink a lot of water. I personally carry my Klean Kanteen around with me everywhere I go. It is stainless steel, so it will last me a very long time, and it helps me to drink plenty of water every day. Consider ditching your disposable plastic water bottles for a reusable one.
- Make coffee and tea at home or at the office.
I know that coffee shops such as Starbucks can be incredibly tempting. You get your caffeine fix quickly and with barely any personal effort. However, those $5 coffees seriously add up! (Especially if you’re a caffeine addict…like some people I know.) If you stop buying a daily $5 coffee for one year and put that $5 into a savings account instead, you will have $1,825 by the end of the year. Think of the things you could do with that money! It’s such a simple change: make your coffee (or tea) at home and carry it with you. Or, wait until you get to the office kitchen to get your fix. I personally keep a box of green tea at my desk and drink several cups a day. The box cost $2, and has 40 bags in it! Compare that to buying tea at a shop, where one cup costs at least $2.
- Make a grocery list and stick to it.
Ugh. Grocery shopping is so full of temptation. You go in to get only one thing and you come out with 20 delicious items. I have found that preparing ahead of time helps me avoid impulse buys. You can be old-school and write out your shopping list, or you can use apps on your phone, like AnyList. Just make sure to actually stick to your list!
- Cook more meals at home.
Now that you’ve started making a grocery list, you can also plan out your meals for the week. There are several benefits to cooking more meals at home. You save money, it’s easier to be sure you’re eating healthy foods, and you get to explore your chef skills. Win, win, and win! (Anylist also lets you store recipes and build out your meal calendar. I love having everything in one place.)
- Bring your lunch to work.
I like to make sure that dinner the night before includes multiple portions. That way, I always have leftovers for lunch the following day. Bringing lunch to work ends up saving a ton of money! I know how tempting it is to go around the corner for some delicious, comforting Pad See Ew, but that takeout can run you at least $10 a pop. If you do that every weekday for the entire year, you end up spending over $2,500 on…lunch! Again, think of the amazing things you could do with that money instead. It can be really fun to go out to lunch sometimes, so if you don’t want to give it up completely, give yourself a lunch allowance. Perhaps you can go out to eat with a co-worker only once a week instead of every day. That will still save you a lot of money in the long run!
- Cut out unnecessary utilities.
One of my hardest (financial) choices in recent memory was getting rid of cable. I love television, y’all. I was well-established as a couch potato by the age of 4. I love the characters, I love the drama, I love the Twitter commentary. However, when I decided to move into an apartment by myself, I knew I had to cut costs where I could. In the age of Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus and more, it didn’t make very much sense to pay an extra $50 a month for cable. So, I cut the cord. Now, I pay for internet, Hulu Plus, and Netflix (and use a friend’s HBO Go…don’t we all). I also have an antenna so that I can watch certain channels for free, like ABC (yay, Scandal!).
- Turn off the lights.
Again, I’ll harp on the environmental impact of humans’ habits. The more electricity you use, the more pollution you contribute to (if you’re using coal-powered electricity, which most of us are). Saving the planet in the abstract doesn’t always appeal to us, but I know that saving money does. Whenever you are not in a room, turn off the light. Unplug your chargers when you aren’t using them. I keep my phone charger plugged into a power strip and power it off every morning before I leave the house. That way, I can keep the charger conveniently plugged in by my bed, but I am not using up excess energy. (Yes, plugged-in chargers suck up electricity even when you aren’t using them!)
- Drive less.
I know this is not possible for many people, but a big money-saver is driving less. In Washington, DC, a lot of us can take the metro, the bus, ride a bike, or walk. If you don’t have that option, ask yourself: do you have a friend or family member you can carpool with? (Save on gas and…ahem…fossil fuel emissions!)
Like Ben Franklin said, “beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.” If you start instituting these small changes above, I guarantee you’ll see more money in your bank account. And don’t forget to put that extra money towards your financial goals!
Do you feel like you need more support and guidance to make positive financial changes like these? Let’s chat!
This article was originally featured on The Financial Diet.