4 Quirky Ways to Spend Less and Kick-Start Saving

by Kentin Waits on 26 March 2012 7 comments
Photo: felixtsao

Starting a savings plan can be fraught with stress and anxiety. People worry about not saving enough, not being consistent, giving in to spending temptations, and not knowing how to invest what they save. The whole enterprise is enough to leave some people stuck in a chronic state of analysis paralysis.

For beginners, the best approach is to make saving less work and more experimental. Dip your toes in the water by trying some unorthodox methods of spending less and saving more money. Granted, these ideas might not fully fund that retirement plan or turn your job into just a 9-5 hobby, but they might make saving more fun and pave the way to more serious strategies. (See also: 5 Easy Ways to Add $50 to Your Pocket)

1. Choose a Denomination

How many quarters pass through our fingers in a year? How many five dollar bills do we touch in a lifetime? What if we decided to eliminate one denomination of currency from our consumer lives and made a silent promise to never spend it? Experiment with how this would work for quarters (no more quarters for vending machines; no more quarters for parking meters; only the nickel slots in Vegas, etc). Save ‘em all in a big Mason jar and count how much money you accumulate each month. Or, go big — make fives your target. Over time, those Lincolns would surely become synonymous with saving, and pocketing them would become second nature.

2. Impose a Spending Moratorium

I have enough shirts for two men. I have shirts for every season and nearly every occasion. I could, without a moment’s discomfort, choose to not buy another shirt for two or three years. Try it yourself — choose a category of spending and take a month off (or a quarter…or a year). How much could you save if you abandoned an entire category of spending like footwear or movies at the theater?

3. Decide to Buy Used

Similarly, consider creating or expanding entire categories of things you buy used. Buying second-hand shoes, for example, can sometimes creep people out. But choosing lightly worn, well-cared-for, and clean used shoes can be a real money saver. Try it; you might like the fit. Or consider sourcing eBay, Amazon, your local thrift store, or garage sales for books (the old printed kind) and make the $14.99 new ones a thing of the past. As you score more great deals, expand your categories, and save more.

4. Create Spending Limits for Common Items

We all have certain financial boundaries or thresholds we typically don’t cross. I’m out of my comfort zone if I pay more than $6,000 for a used car, and I get a little shaky if my share of a dinner out exceeds the $15 mark. But how much could we save (and how relatively painless would it be?) if we created hard-and-fast spending limits for things we buy every day? Impose a Monday through Friday lunch limit of $3.50. Decide to never pay more than $20 for a pair of jeans. How much more could we sock away if we adjusted those limits downward every six months? Create a few spending limits and experiment with the lower end of your thresholds. Throttle back.

Deciding to spend less and save more doesn’t have to be stressful, and you don’t have to do it perfectly. Success lies in dedication to the experiment — seeing what methods work for you, finding out what your spending triggers are, and deciding the best way to turn a few quirky ideas into a full-fledged savings strategy that fits your personality.

What novel ideas have you had about ways to spend less? Have any of your friends ever responded with “You do what?!” when they hear about your latest savings strategy? 

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Guest's picture

My advice is to use cash. It forces you to keep to a budget and avoid overspending. When you get back home put all the "leftovers" in a jar and put it out of sight.

Guest's picture

If I could defy gravity like that guy when I shop, I'd probably shop more often... so it's probably a blessing that I can't.

Guest's picture
Carl Lassegue

Awesome article! I particularly liked the first suggestion. I think I'm going to start doing that. I'm gonna go big and save 5 dollar bills!!!

Guest's picture
Zisca

My number one strategy for saving more is to simply to stay at home more. It's a no-brainer that when you go out, you spend more. For example, make fewer trips to the grocery store so there's less temptation for impulse buying. Wait for a movie to come out on DVD rather than going to the theater where you not only pay more to see the movie, you spend more on gas as well as at the concession stand.

Guest's picture

I do the first suggestion all the time - I never spend the 5 dollar bills ever! I save them up and then put them towards my emergency fund. It's painless and hassle-free!

Guest's picture

This article has some excellent tips to start saving! Start saving today, even if it’s only $100 or less each month.

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Nic

I've been picking up lost change and recycling the cans that we got from pop on sale. Since having a little one on the way I decided to save one dollar bills. So far it isn't to hard.