In my series on How to Save More Money, I’m taking an A-to-Z look at what’s involved in building your savings. We started with Mindset, then moved on to the Myths we tell ourselves about saving money.
Today, we’re digging into the source for those savings – where does that money come from?
The fastest way to generate more money for savings is to earn more money, whether through your existing work or through a side hustle, while also ensuring that you don’t spend more in the process. That’s not what this series is about, though.
We’re concentrating on the money you already have in circulation on a monthly basis. Where do you find more money for savings, especially when you feel that every dollar is already spoken for? Let’s look at three of the fastest, most effective ways to free up some cash.
Step #1: Cull mindless expenses
Most of us go through our day without ever thinking critically about our spending, however we definitely pay attention to money coming in. Why? Because more than 50% of families live paycheque to paycheque, which means that it’s a matter of staying afloat.
When we need the funds to be in our account on a certain day, we pay close attention to the inflow. The same isn’t true of tracking where the money goes once it’s in our account.
This is where I started the process with clients during my days working as a Financial Repair Specialist. It’s a simple and remarkably effective way to bring to light where money flows out of your life in ways that don’t support your goals.
Think about a typical week day for you. How much money do you spend, what do you buy, and where do you make your purchases? Do you frequent certain shops out of convenience or habit?
Write out your usual steps on a sheet of paper or in a money journal. Can you spot expenses you can eliminate to free up some cash?
Perhaps you’re too rushed to prepare breakfast at home, so you grab something on the way to work several mornings a week.
Maybe you have a habit of swinging by a drive-through for coffee.
What about lunch – where do you get your food? Do you regularly go out with office mates?
After work, do you have a habit of stopping by a shopping center “just to look”?
Do the same exercise for your weekends. Can you spot any patterns, like take-out or drinks out on Fridays?
If you do identify repeat purchases, do they provide great value for you or can you eliminate/reduce them?
Any money you free up through this process can be automatically deposited to your high interest savings account. Once you know the amount you’re “saving” by reducing expenses on a monthly basis, simply set up a recurring transfer from your chequing to your savings account for that amount.
Results with clients
I did this exercise with a client who had previously said he didn’t spend any extra money on himself. As we walked through his daily habits, he was surprised to realize that he ate lunch out every day of the week. It never occurred to him that this was an issue, because, as he put it, “I rarely spend more than $8 – $10 on any given day.” That amount was small enough to fly under his radar; yet when we did the math, he realized that this habit alone was costing him roughly $1,500 every year! That extra money was a great boost to his savings account.
When one of my Women’s Money Group members analyzed her daily habits, she discovered that she had a tendency to stop by the grocery store on the way back from work to buy prepared food. Not only was this a costly practice, it wasn’t ideal for her health. She began planning meals and shopping for several days’ worth of food at a go. The money she saved was diverted to pay off her credit card debt. Once the debt is paid off, those funds will go to her savings and investing accounts. Net result from this single step = less time spent on trips to the grocery store, less money paid in interest on credit card debt, more savings, and a healthier body.
Step #2: Assess automated payments
I have long promoted the benefits of automating key portions of your financial management system, including bill payments. It ensures on-time payments and eliminates late fees. It also frees up your brain space which then enables you to focus on the more important aspects of your finances.
That said, I point out in this blog post on Automated vs Automatic Finances, that problems arise if you allow your spending to proceed on auto-pilot without critical review.
Our aim with this exercise is to bring your spending up to the level of consciousness and to assess whether or not each item passes the values test: Is this expense in line with your most cherished values? If not, eliminate it. If it is in line with your values, could you nonetheless benefit from cutting back on the amount you spend?
Time to do some digging
Print up your bank statements for the last three months. Do the same for your credit card statements.
I like using statements because they don’t forget about purchases! It’s hard to argue with a black and white line item.
Then, grab a highlighter and go through your statements, noting the expenditures that recur every month. Make a list of these items.
Your list might include some of the items you’ve already identified in Step #1. It might also include some of the following:
- mortgage payment
- car payment
- insurance – car, home, disability, life, other
- gas or bus pass
- line of credit payment
- bank fees
- financial planner’s fees
- Other subscriptions
- internet package
- cell phone package
- Starbucks or Tim Hortons
- meals/drinks out
- take-out meals
- gym membership fee
- kids’ activities
- retail store purchases
- child care
- pet care and other expenses
- travel expenses
And so on. If a bill is set up for automated payments or auto-renewal, add it to the list.
Then, ask the same questions as you did in Step #1: Are these recurring expenses in my highest, best interests? Do they provide sufficient value for me or can I eliminate/reduce some of them? Are they helping me get closer to my goals, or are they moving me further away from the end point I’m shooting for?
Get rid of, or reduce, the expenses that are not aligned with your values and goals.
Results with clients
If, like me, you realize that you’re hardly making it out to the gym, yet you’re paying more than $70 per month, you might want to reevaluate that expense. I cancelled my membership and bought a per-use card at a hot yoga studio that I love. Some months, I spend as much as I would have for the gym, but when I’m away on business or when my schedule doesn’t work for yoga, I spend significantly less. The money saved goes to my investing account. Each dollar I save and invest buys me more time freedom down the road. This is a powerful motivator to save more!
One of my former clients experienced an unpleasant shock when she tallied up her spending on a monthly basis for her kids’ extra-curricular sports. It worked out to more than ten thousand dollars per year, an amount she could ill afford. She allowed the kids to retain their favorite, primary sport and she cut back on the others. The children were included in the conversation about why the move was in their best interests – some short term pain today for greater gain, and better options, tomorrow.
Step #3: Negotiate the big items
My husband tells a funny story about a friend of his, Brent*, who once spent hours deliberating about a pair of winter boots. Were they good quality? Did they look good? Would they be warm enough? Were they too expensive? On and on it went. My husband, who was shopping with him at the time, bought himself a pair of boots, then took off to do his other shopping while Brent paced around the shoe store, paralyzed with indecision.
Fast forward several years and Brent now found himself shopping for a house. He made a decision to buy a high-end house (= many hundreds of thousands of dollars) in far less time than it took him to buy a pair of boots (= less than $200). WTH?!
Before you laugh too hard at this seemingly irrational behavior, consider that most of us spend more time shopping for deals on items that that cost pennies while automatically renewing policies and contracts for services that cost us thousands of dollars every year.
50 bucks off a tech toy online – AWESOME! Buy now. Mortgage? Just sign on the dotted line; no shopping around because that’s a pain.
Ditto for insurance policies and credit card fees.
The habit of automatically renewing policies, agreements, and subscriptions could be costing you thousands of dollars every, single year.
One reader’s big win
The practice of negotiating prior to renewal pays off big time. Read this story to learn how one of my readers used my advice to save $834 per month. That’s more than $10,000 per year!
One of my Women’s Money Group attendees decided to tackle her cell package. She spent one hour on the phone with Bell, insisting on a better deal. The result? A better package and savings of $100 per month. Do you think a $1,200 return per year is worth one hour of your time?
Another WMG member finally got down to reviewing her insurance policies. She made a few calls and, like the member above, now has a better policy for a fraction the price. She’s pocketing several hundred dollars a year, which can now go to growing her savings and investments.
My promise to you
In more than ten years of using these strategies, I have never encountered someone who failed to generate savings when applying them. Unless you’re struggling to put food on the table, I can guarantee you that the three steps above will help you free up hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
I’m about to do this process all over again for my own finances. Pull open your calendar, set a date and time to tackle these strategies, and let’s compare notes. Shoot me an email with your stories. I want to hear them all! If you’re comfortable doing so, leave a comment below so everyone can be inspired by the action you take.
Any questions? Reach out. I’m here for you.