|Courtesy of ncrw.org
In recent months, I have taken a vow to begin simplifying and minimizing each aspect of my life. So far, I’ve been able to simplify closet, most of my home, and my refrigerator. The intent was to find ways to clear out things that made my life seem chaotic (cluttered), and to save and maybe even earn some money. As of today, I’ve donated over 20 bags to Goodwill, made over $80 selling books to Half Priced Books, and $100 selling items with some value on eBay.
The only thing that still seems to be chaotic is my finances. I sit for hours pouring over a spreadsheet I’ve created to track my budget, and yet I’m still coming in short each month. So, my next task is to minimize my spending.
With the news seemingly always filled with contradictory information about the economy, it’s even more important that I get my financial ducks in a row. One day we’re plummeting to end of the world, the next everything is peachy, and the next we’re plummeting once again. Right now, skyrocketing gas prices have once again started to cripple our finances. I know it is mine. It affects the cost of everything, from food, clothing, and of course, our cars.
So, what is one to do to help cut back on what’s going out so we can save more of what is coming in? Well, one well tested thing to do is to get a little, inexpensive notebook to log every single nickel and dime I spend, including that $1 bottle of water I keep getting at work. It adds up.
One of the things I started doing was keeping a spending journal to track where my hard-earned cash was disappearing. It was amazing to discover what was causing the drain: eating out, vending machine hits, ebooks for the Kindle, music for the iPod, and apps for the smartphone. It was all draining me, and rather quickly I might add.
When you start to really see where your money is going, you start to step back and make smarter decisions. I now search for free ebooks online. I listen to local radio stations for free promotional music downloads. I brown bag it. And…I bring a water bottle instead of hitting the vending machine. So far, I’ve saved quite a bit and lost a few pounds in the process.
For the ebooks, most classics are no longer under copyright, so they are now available for free on most ebook sites, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and even some libraries. Also, to promote a new book or a new author, some publishers will release books for a limited time for a reduced “bargain” price, or even for free. I can vouch that I will be well read by the end of 2020 thanks to the number of free ebooks I’ve already downloaded. Including a few cookbooks.
Speaking of cookbooks, I’ve saved quite a bit of money just by cooking at home. Of course, I do enjoy the occasional dinner out with friends, but I no longer hit the drive-thru at lunch or on my way home from work. I know that what I’m now eating is better for me and is costing me less in the long run. When you figure that most meals at fast food restaurants are now well over $6, you save approximately $30 a week, $120 a month or $1560 in a year. I don’t know about you, but that is a quite a hunk of change in my opinion. Imagine the interest compounding on that over 20 years.
Another option is reward yourself. Have you ever heard of the swear jar? I have. It is a jar set up to have a quarter dropped in it every time someone said a swear word. Imagine how full that would be in just 5 minutes of prime-time TV today! But, the twist on this is to put the same amount of money into a jar for each time you are tempted to eat out, buy a diet coke, or even splurge on something you really don’t need. Again, look back at the amount of money saved by not eating out. If you cut out the two diet coke a day habit, you save $14 a week, $56 a month or $728 a year.
Do you see a pattern? A lot of things we take for granted that we don’t actually “need” wind up costing us in the long run. In a time where the debt crisis has left most people cringing at the thought of building up more debt, and a time where reports show that most do not even have a month’s salary saved, it is even more urgent to start making hard, yet smart, choices in our daily financial lives.
Being minimalistic and simplistic means reducing the amount of waste and chaos in our lives. This includes our finances. By cutting down on our non-essential spending, we can save enough to get us through tough economic times without breaking a sweat. Okay, maybe a little perspiration, but you’ll have a more confident outlook if you are financially ready. I know I do.