As a preliminary note: Thank you all for the well-wishes in response to my last post! I had a lovely month out of the country (although everyone everywhere wanted to talk about Trump and the American election). If you’d like to see some pictures from Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, Durban, Cape Town, and Barcelona, feel free to check out my wife’s Instagram page. I also have some articles on vacation and travel coming up, in which I will include some photos from the trip.
And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
I recently wrote about how to save money better. I argued that you should focus first on housing, transportation, food, and taxes. My explanation was that these are the areas where we spend the largest amounts of money, and so they are also the areas where we could save the largest amounts of money.
Today I want to follow up on that. I want to clarify that when I recommend focusing on the big wins first, I do not mean that you should save some money in those categories and then quit. As a number of commenters to that article pointed out, there is other low-hanging fruit and the little things add up.
When focusing on smaller spending categories, it is important to establish a framework within which to think about saving. If we decide to pursue every savings method possible at all times, we will drive ourselves crazy clipping coupons and driving from store to store to get the lowest price on each item.
We want to remember to think about both money and time when we are trying to save. If I spend an hour poring through newspapers, magazines, and websites to try to find coupons and end up saving $5, then I am effectively valuing my time at $5 per hour.
If I spend an extra 15 minutes to drive to a second grocery store so that I can save $1 on eggs, then I am valuing my time at $4 per hour (ignoring the cost of the extra gas required to drive there).
Maybe that is fine if I don’t have anything better I can do with my time, but usually this is a very inefficient use of our time.
Focus on Recurring Costs
- Fixed costs
One way to efficiently save money is to focus on recurring costs. These can be recurring fixed costs like your cable or phone bill or any subscription services you may have, or they can be recurring variable costs like a coffee that you buy every morning.
Three years ago my wife and I canceled cable and replaced it with Netflix and Hulu. This switch saved us right around $100 per month. Between the call with Comcast and the online forms for Netflix and Hulu, I probably spent about 15 minutes. After three years, those 15 minutes have netted us around $3,600 in savings. That’s a rate of $14,400 per hour. And it will only get higher as we continue to save money month after month without spending any additional time.
You could take a similar tack with pretty much any of your bills. Look into switching to a cheaper cell phone plan or carrier. Call around to get quotes from other home/renter’s/auto insurance providers. Consider whether it makes sense to cancel some subscriptions.
I am not against subscription services generally, but it is easy to maintain the status quo and continue paying even if you are no longer getting much value out of them. Maybe try calendaring a date once every six months to run through your list of subscriptions and just make sure they’re still worth it to you.
- Habitual spending
Next, we can tackle some small, habitual spending. That $5 coffee that you buy on the way to work every morning doesn’t feel like much money, but when you multiply that by five days a week and 50 weeks a year, you end up spending $1,250 on your morning joe. Maybe that’s worth it to you. Great! Make the conscious decision to keep buying your coffee.
But maybe it isn’t. Maybe you think that coffee you brewed at home would be just as good. In that case, it may be worth stepping back and thinking about how you can rearrange your schedule to get your morning coffee from your kitchen instead of Starbucks.
This isn’t to pick on coffee drinkers. The same logic applies to any habitual purchase. I don’t like coffee, so it is easy for me to brush off the morning latte. Instead, my problem was buying lunch at work. This is another easy habit to slip into that doesn’t feel expensive on a day-to-day basis, but it adds up. I had to do some planning ahead and create time to make myself lunches to bring to work. (I also added a mini fridge to my office, which has been a major game changer.)
When it comes to these habitual purchases, our research on second order decisions can also help us save money easily and efficiently. Through second order decisions, we can create a rule for ourselves to follow that shifts our habitual decision-making. I will only buy coffee on Mondays and Fridays. I will buy lunch at work no more than once per week. I will never buy a soda from the vending machine.
These changes in habit can end up saving you a lot of money without costing a lot of time.
So what do you think? Any other saving tips? Am I being too harsh on coupons? Let us know in the comments!