Spend less in 2020. There is something important that I have been trying to save for, for a few years, but have not been successful with my savings. I have decided, starting immediately, to spend less and focus hard on that savings of mine. I worked in a bank part-time for nine years. I educated clients on how to save money, yet I can’t seem to do it myself. I earn approximately $40,000 with a full-time career and two part-time jobs. I own a house with an affordable mortgage. I rarely drink and I don’t have any “bad habits” such as smoking. I don’t have any children, but I do have three animals: two cats and a horse. I board the horse at a nearby barn, yet compared to many other boarding facilities, this barn is reasonably priced. I am Celiac, which means that I cannot consume gluten. Unfortunately, certified gluten-free food is expensive. I have a low cell phone bill. I don’t have cable or satellite television, and my internet is the lowest package available. Yet, I have difficulty saving for something very important.
For the middle class, life is much more expensive than it was decades ago.
Housing prices have soared, post secondary tuition has risen, and even costs related to childcare have gotten more expensive. People are finding it harder to save because of expenses. While most expenses are unavoidable, some can be avoided.
While researching and contemplating attainable money saving ideas, I have compiled a list that will hopefully help you out as well. It has helped me out; however, I already do a lot of what’s in the list. I have a lot of debt. Home renovations line of credit, car loan, and student loan. This is where I struggle financially. An appointment with my financial advisor in the new year will hopefully give me some advise. In the meantime, I hope that my list will help you spend less and save more in 2020.
1. Never go grocery shopping when hungry.
I am a victim to this. I am always on the go, so I tend to not eat while I am out and about completing my to-do list. So, when I get to the groceries on my to-do list, I am starving. I tend to grab a bag of corn chips, or a box of granola bars, and perhaps a package of dried fruit. Three items that are rarely on my grocery list, or in my house. I eat these items while driving home or to work. Research shows that shopping while hungry will make you want to acquire more, so you may not just buy more food to eat on your drive home, you may buy more unnecessary items, just because you are hungry.
2. Shop with a list.
I grew up in a home where there was always a shopping list. This list was on the fridge, and sometimes I’d have fun with it, and add things that I wanted, such as a pony. Of course, being the good money managers, they were, I didn’t get that pony, or many of the impractical items I added to their list. My dad was big on flyers and looking for the best deals. So, after my parents’ list was complete for the week, my dad would find out what stores had the best deals on these items. Shopping with a list will help keep you on track. This will not only be helpful for food, but also for household items: light bulbs, laundry soap and toilet paper, for example.
3. Grocery shop at an actual grocery store.
Avoid Walmart or other big department stores that carry a lot more than groceries. Walmart and Target might have better deals on food, but the amount of non-food items you will see in the store, might just entice you to browse other aisles, which may lead to buying unnecessary items. You need to avoid unnecessary shopping.
4. Just stay home.
I used to think that I was boring and unsocial if I stayed home. However, over the years of always wanting to make the most of my life, and not miss out on anything, I’ve neglected me. Staying home is making me feel better about myself. I am more relaxed. I am paying more attention to my home (cleaning, decluttering, fixing it), I am reviving my creativity by writing and educating myself by reading. I am also relaxing by doing yoga at home (with the guidance of free online videos) and living a healthier lifestyle by cooking at home. I have even started to further my tea obsession by exploring my own tea creations, drying herbs I have grown in my garden, and adding dried fruits. For me, being home now feels productive and relaxing. You may not be interested in reading, cooking or making teas, but I’m sure you have your own hobbies, and interests that will keep you productive and happy at home. If you go out about near stores you tend to see things you feel you need, when really you didn’t need it at all, and perhaps only realize it after you bring these suspected needs home. Is window shopping only window shopping? If you have little to no self-control when it comes to shopping, perhaps avoid stores, even if window shopping, during your spare time.
5. Go to a pet store when buying pet food.
Just like groceries, buying pet food at a department store, may get you side-tracked. So many aisles with so many great deals! Avoid those buying urges by avoiding department stores. Furthermore, pet stores offer a better selection of pet food, and have trained employees who can help you select a good diet for your pet. Having a healthy diet for your pet, may just reduce your vet bills.
6. Filter out and unsubscribe to promotional emails.
I love Gmail for this. A lot of businesses will ask for your when shopping so they can send you promo codes and flyers. Sometimes you’ll get an in-store discount when you sign up for their e-newsletters. These emails might entice you to shop, and purchase stuff just because you have a discount code or coupon! Gmail recognizes promotional emails and filters them to its Promotions tab, keeping them out of your main inbox. It’s an included feature of the free email service. Another option is to unsubscribe to these marketing emails. Sometimes the “unsubscribe” link is hard to find. Check at the bottom of the email in smaller text. You will most likely find the “unsubscribe” link there.
7. Shop your closet. I’m sure most of you have plenty of “forgotten” clothes in your drawers and closets. Take everything out, sort it by style and rediscover what is in there. You may not have to go shopping for new clothes after all! When you’re done shopping your closet, donate the clothes that don’t work for you anymore.
8. Meal preparation and planning.
I’m lucky enough to work somewhere that provides a daily meal. But when I worked elsewhere, I needed to pack breakfast (which I ate on the commuter train), lunch and dinner (which I ate on the commuter train on my way home from work). I saved so much by not eating out. Sometimes I would treat myself on pay day and buy lunch at my favourite restaurant. I was off every Sunday, and this was the day that I would cook a lot of food, portion it out in containers, and either freeze it or store it in the fridge. I would have five stacks of containers in my fridge, for each workday of the week. You can save a few thousand sticking to brown bagging your lunch.
9. Monthly budget.
Honestly, I suck at this. I’ve tried Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s money jar system (a way of putting aside budgeted cash in jars for expenses, and only using this cash to spend). I have also tried maintaining an Excel sheet. No matter what method I tried, I always seemed to come up short, and then getting sick with anxiety trying to figure out how to make more. After years of trying to make more money, I have realized that I need to spend less, instead of making more. This meant cutting out expenses. Making a monthly budget hasn’t worked for me in the past, but now that I have concluded that I need to spend less, I will attempt a monthly budget in the new year. Let me know if you come up with a great way to budget! I would love to try it.
10. Refer to the statement “is it a want or a need?”
I hate shopping. When I am out shopping, I can’t stop thinking about how I could be spending my time more productively, like cleaning my house. While some people find shopping therapeutic, I find it stressful. I don’t like crowds, and I don’t like spending money, believe it or not. However, my weakness is Winners (Marshalls or TJ Maxx, for the American readers). I go in for the clearance items, but I get easily distracted by everything in there. Recently, I have been asking myself, as I hold an item, do I really need this? Or do I just want it? Try this next time you find yourself straying from your shopping list.
11. Rediscover your library.
As a daughter of a retired librarian, I am very familiar of the services that public libraries offer. However, most people are not aware. Think free, when you think library. These public gems offer so many amazing free services. Not only can you check out several books and magazines, you can also check out CDs, DVDs and games. Or many bigger libraries now have movie and music apps that you can access at no charge! You can also use bring your laptop and get free internet access or use one of the library’s public use computers. Many libraries also offer free classes, book clubs, guest speakers, movie nights, activities for children, and so much more. Libraries are typically funded by tax dollars, so use their services. The more people use them, the more likely they will stick around and grow.
12. Join or start a local Buy Nothing group.
The Buy Nothing Project started in 2013 by two friends in the state of Washington as a “experimental hyper-local gift economy.” Over the years, this project spread out globally. The Buy Nothing group in my neighbourhood is on Facebook. Not only can you post items you no longer want and claim items you want, you can also get to know those in your community. Check it out!
13. Host clothing swaps.
If you live in a rural community like me, and know almost everyone, then inviting the neighbourhood over for a clothing swap wouldn’t be such an odd idea. But if you are not comfortable inviting the neighbourhood into your home, host a clothing swap with your friends. Encourage your friends to bring a friend. Or check with your local legion to use their hall at no charge for your swap. The purpose of the swap is for people to exchange clothes that they no longer desire for clothes that they will use. It’s a perfect way to find free clothes, but also great for re-organizing your closet. Furthermore, exchanging used clothing is an act of environmentalism!
14. Make your morning coffee at home.
On average, in Canada, a large coffee bought at a coffee chain costs $4.65 and Canadians drink an average of three cups a day. So just think, during your work week, if you purchase a coffee on your way to work, on your lunch and on your way home, you are spending over $3,500 on coffee! I don’t like coffee, so I don’t have to worry about this. However, I do love tea, but have a grand collection of loose-leaf teas at home, so I rarely buy tea when out and about. My friends joke because I always seem to have a reusable mug filled with tea from home, whenever I’m out and about. My aunt has a single cup coffee maker with a timer, and she sets it to start brewing about 20 minutes before she leaves for work, so it’s ready for her to-go mug! If you absolutely must have your coffee throughout the day, try starting with at least making your morning coffee at home. You will save about $640. How about, starting January 1, putting that morning coffee money into a savings account?
15. Borrow an outfit.
I don’t like getting “dressed up,” so I don’t own a lot of dresses or heels. Last year I had a formal fundraiser to attend. The last thing I wanted to do was to go out and buy something new for this occasion. So fortunately, a friend of mine, has the same size feet, and a lot of shoes! I was able to borrow a couple of pairs from her. So, if you need an outfit for just one occasion, see if any of your friends have something that they could lend you.
16. Travel local.
I traveled a lot in my 20s, but when I bought my house at 30, I wanted to stay home more. And then I adopted two cats. After that, I barely wanted to go anywhere. I wanted to be at home with my cats. I spent a lot of money traveling. I don’t regret it at all. I could afford it then. I was able to travel without going into debt. In my 20s, I didn’t have the debt that I have now. Traveling was a cultural and educational experience. As a homeowner, I’ve learned to travel more locally. I go on shorter trips, so I don’t miss a lot of work; and within Canada, so I can avoid exchanging currency. Day hikes have become my favourite. I try to find new hikes weekly, in the summer and fall. Most hiking trails are free, and you can typically get park passes for provincial and national parks. I pack a cooler full of prepared food and drinks, and my only out-of-home expense is fuel for my vehicle. Check out the tourism in your own area. You love living there for a reason, right?
17. Use a basket (not a cart) when grocery shopping.
In addition to sticking with your grocery list, choose a basket instead of a grocery cart. You’re more likely to fill your cart with junk food and unnecessary items. I love the look of a basket filled with fresh produce. Also, a heavier basket will hurry you to the check out line quicker than with a cart. The less time spent in the grocery store, the less you will spend.
18. Cancel unused or barely used subscriptions.
I just did this. I cancelled a couple of subscriptions that were automatically being charged to my credit card. One of the subscriptions I cancelled was satellite radio. It came free when I bought my vehicle, and I loved it. But I really didn’t need it. So, I cancelled it. Look at what you are paying for and think about if you can live without it. You can always re-subscribe in the future. A lot of companies will be hungry for your business and may offer you cheaper rates later. But don’t fall for those cheaper rates right away. Try canceling for six months to a year, then perhaps re-subscribe if you really want to.
19. Automate your savings.
I’ve been doing this for many years. After each pay is direct deposited into my chequings account, $10 automatically transfers into my RRSP, and $25 automatically transfers into my TFSA. If I could afford to put aside more, I would, but this is currently an attainable goal for me. Book an appointment with an advisor at your financial institution and find out what’s attainable for you.
20. Pay attention to your bank accounts.
As a former bank teller, I can attest that this was something that not a lot of people were doing. A lot of people didn’t know how much they had in their chequings account and were spending with their debit card, bringing their balance in the negative. Going in the negative can cost you. Overdrafts fees. Fees for insufficient funds. These fees ranged from $5 to $75. That can be a lot of money just for not paying attention to your bank account balance. Also, check what type of chequings account you keep your spending money in. Find out how many transactions you can have with your account, and what types of transactions are included. If you go over your transactions, the bank may charge you. These charges could be from $1.50 to $3, per excessive transaction. The fees can add up. Now that online banking is easier than ever for monitoring your account, use it! You may not realize that you have been paying fees that you could have easily avoided.
These suggestions may not work for you, but I hope that you can choose a few of them to help you spend less in 2020 and start building that savings account. All the best in the new year! Let me know how if something worked for you, or if you have other ideas.