Find Your Hidden Spending Habits and Save

by Tisha Tolar on 8 January 2013 3 comments
Photo: Soroll

We all know saving is important — some of us may have even made “Save More” one of our New Year's resolutions. Unfortunately, though, when the end of the month rolls around, many of us don’t have anything left to save. (See also: 37 Savings Changes You Can Make Today)

But it doesn’t have to be that way; there may be some hidden spending habits you haven’t uncovered. I know there are some purchases I still don’t believe actually matter much for my budget, such as when I buy a discounted book for my Kindle. But the truth is that all spending matters, and you need to fess up to your hidden habits if you want to put more into the bank — even $150 more.

To that end, I’ve gathered up a few common spending hideouts for you to investigate.

Household Cleaning Supplies

I am starting here because I am guilty of this hidden spending flaw.

Buying one product for one purpose can get really expensive. Add expensive, pleasant-smelling candles, supposed-to-be-magic carpet cleaners, fabric refreshers, and so on into the mix, and your cleaning supply bill each month can clean out your wallet.

Cut down on your cleaning bill by getting back to basics, using home recipes for effective cleaning. Vinegar alone can clean most of the house. Stock up on ingredients your Grandma used to keep the house clean rather than go for overpriced, ineffective, smell-good products. Imagine the savings you’ll have by instead using a gallon of vinegar and a box of baking soda.

Grocery Store Meats

I am also guilty of this spending habit.

I rely on the grocery store for meats when I have a ton of other options that are more cost effective. We have a local butcher shop in the area as well as a farmers market where locally-produced meats can be purchased fresher and at a much lower price than their packaged counterparts. I also have the option of buying larger portions of beef or pork from local farmers, which I can use to stock my freezer for months to come, freeing up more cash from the grocery bill that can go into savings. Consider that cutting four $10 roasts a month saves you $40 right off the bat.

Software Downloads

Technology has made it so easy to buy the latest app, game, or song with a brief touch of your finger.

You may not actually realize how much these little $.99 purchases add up to at the end of a month because you don’t actually look at your credit card statement or review your cell phone bill very closely. If four people in the family are downloading 25 apps each a month, that’s at least $100 spent unnecessarily. Make the kids buy their own gift cards for app downloads, and cut off permission to add download charges to your bill for everyone on the plan, including you.

Convenience Products

I should make a T-shirt for myself to remind me that every dollar matters! I still can dismiss that $2 cup of coffee I get before attending my monthly soccer meeting or when heading out to see a friend. Fact is, I have a better brand of coffee at home, but I am too lazy to make it for myself on most occasions. It’s easier to stop at the gas station, but it is really ruining my plan for savings.

Other convenience products like fast food stops, pre-made groceries, and the like can also be avoided with some pre-planning and a little food prep in advance.

Stuff You Already Have

I swear that when I walk into a Staples store, I hear angels sing. Staples and other office supply stores are a temptation I just cannot resist.

Everyone needs new pens, another notebook, and fresh highlighters, right? Luckily, I realize how dangerous it is for me to hit the office supply aisles in any store and do my best to avoid them as much as possible. But I also know I am guilty of falling for “great deals” on things I already have a ton of at home. Keep your interests in check and know your weaknesses. That $20 you just blew on stuff you already have would have served you much better if it were deposited into savings.

Guilt Gifts

A lot of spending occurs out of guilt. Just because the rest of the office is buying Suzie a gift for her birthday does NOT mean you have to buy too, especially if you can’t afford it.

Peer pressure can guilt you into spending more than you want to, need to, or should. Take a stand with yourself, and don’t fall for the pressure. If you feel the need to contribute to a celebration, offer to decorate her desk, make a card, or have another task that won’t cost you money. Let’s be honest — it is far wiser to invest in yourself than to buy useless stuff for people you hardly know.

Get Motivated

Whatever you have to do to motivate yourself, do it. Paste pictures of piles of money around the house to remind you how nice it would look sitting in your bank account. Consider life without having to worry about paying for emergencies. Whatever it takes to keep you focused on savings and related goals, find a way to make it work. If $150 is too high a goal starting out, make it $50 and find a way to get it. Keep adjusting your goals, and aim for a larger cut of your income to be safely stashed in savings.

What spending habits have you transformed into savings habits?

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Nancy

I have rooted out most of my spending habits--cosmetics; books that I could just as well get at the library; books and toys for grandchildren. I used to buy a coffee whenever I had a wait of more than 15 minutes or a long drive. Now brew and bring my own. The last habit to go was food impulse-buying. You know, that tray of cinnamon rolls on sale or "oh look, they have such nice looking artichokes." Now I shop with a menu plan, a list, and a budget, and I almost never stray.

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Bry

Cleaning products and dry cleaning are big for me. Also buying clothes, when u can barely see the back wall of your closet. I have stopped all of that, i just have to get bank fees and insurance under control and i will be all set. I would recommend tracking ur spending too, seeing where ur money is going in plain black and white was eye opening to me.

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Edward

Great article, Tisha! At first I assumed this would be just one of those normal personal finance lists everyone has read a billion times, but instead it's somehow different and more fun. (And the first time I've ever heard of someone having a stationary fetish! (Usually it's shoes or something, ho-hum.))

I started borrowing all my books and DVDs from the library, making instant coffee at my work desk instead of going out, quit going out for drinks after work and nixed the office lottery pool. The lottery was only $2 a week (and they'll likely win now that I've quite), but $2 a week is about $1500 over ten years when put into an investment instead.