I might not be good at too much, but saving money is something I’m absolutely anal about. My family has taken to calling me “Fishhooks,” implying I line my pockets with sharp objects in order to resist the urge to reach in and pull out some cold hard cash whenever something at the store catches my eye. The truth is, I just use my head when I’m at the mall, and don’t let the sales traps get to me. Whenever faced with the prospect of purchasing something, I usually go through at least a few of these thoughts before making my decision:
1. Calculate how much work it would take to pay for the item
This is a big one, and I always get made fun of for it. My wife even anticipates it, and will launch a preemptive mimicry of myself saying “That’s like, three and a half hours of work!” whenever she’s looking at a new dress or something. But really, I look at the item’s longevity and meaningfulness, and figure out if it’s worth it or not. For example, when looking for a new PS4 game to buy, if I see a game might take 60-80 hours to complete, that equates to less than a dollar per hour. Totally worth it over time. On the other hand, a two hour movie would cost me around $40 (yes, I would treat my wife, I’m not that cheap), or $20 per hour. See the difference?
2. Don’t carry all your credit cards
If you have multiple credit cards, and plan on hitting the mall, just take one for emergencies and planned purchases. And check your limit before you go out. That way, you know how much you can spend while still having some left over in case disaster strikes. There’s not much worse than spending a few hours on a shopping trip, only to get a flat tire on the way home and be out $400 instead of $200. Keeping your other credit cards home saves you from spending way too much, and ending up getting in over your head.
3. Don’t go therapy shopping
There are so many better ways to ease stress that don’t involve spending any money. Shopping when stressed can lead to a vicious cycle: you’re stressed, so you buy stuff, then you’re stressed because you spent money, so you buy more stuff…and it continues. Not that gambling while stressed is something I would ever advocate, but at least there you have a chance of getting some money back! Just kidding. If you’re stressed out, try going for a walk or listening to music, but avoid spending money at all costs.
4. Block shopping sites when using your computer
I shouldn’t talk, because I have ten other tabs open right now. However, I haven’t clicked on a single one since I sat down to write this (I know, go me). But really, I remember the college days, in which I would rather have been doing almost anything than sitting down to write ten pages on Chaucer. The internet has made it way too easy to buy buy buy, without thinking about the purchase first. If you need to, block all other sites while you’re trying to get work done, and save the shopping spree for another time.
5. Don’t go shopping in groups
I know that’s pretty counter-intuitive to most “shopping trips,” but really: When I go shopping with my wife, we almost always end up picking up something we didn’t plan for. I’m not blaming her, either. Either one of us end up saying “Why not?” when the other one asks “Should I…?” On the other hand, whenever I go out by myself, I make it a point to buy only what I planned to buy. Not only to I make the plan and stick to it, but having the plan helps me stay focused and ignore other sales going on around me. My wife on the other hand…
6. Don’t drink and shop
Common sense people! Okay, if you’ve had a few, common sense might not be your strong suit right now. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. But just like you should avoid texting your ex at 2AM, you should also avoid Amazon like the plague. Even Fishhooks over here once woke up to see a new computer monitor in his “recent purchases,” even though he doesn’t even use his computer for gaming. Luckily I was able to cancel it, and no harm was done. But I did learn my lesson: Amazon is not a drinking buddy.
7. Put away money you were going to spend
Easier said than done, right? Well, it will pay off in the long run. Add up all the extra “stuff” you’ve bought over the past year, then look up prices of trips to Aruba. I definitely know some people who spend more on the former. And even if you don’t have enough for a trip to the Caribbean, you’ll have enough at the end of the year that you can splurge on a few things and not feel bad about it. And you might be able to pay off some of those credit card bills, to boot.
8. Donate to charity
Nothing will make it more clear to you that you don’t need another new pair of shoes than seeing someone on the sidewalk who actually does. Sometimes it’s best to take the money you were about to spend on yourself and give it to someone who truly needs it. If you were going to spend the money anyway, at least put it towards a good cause. Just think: the new gadget or dress you were about to pick up might improve your life a little, but buying a week’s worth of groceries for someone in need can change their life completely.
9. Spend money on others
Like me. My address is…
Just kidding. But like I said, if you’re going to spend money anyway, spend it on a friend or family member to give thanks. No matter what you get them, it will surely be much more meaningful than whatever you were going to buy for yourself. I like to think that money has no actual value (it helps to think that way when you’re broke!), but it can have meaning if spent in a way that will make yourself and others around you happy. Share the wealth, even if you don’t have much of it.
10. Spend on experiences, not “stuff”
I’m pretty minimalistic, and I’ve said it before that I’d rather save money than buy some gizmo or something I won’t need in a week. But when it comes to going out with my wife, I spare no expense. I’d rather go without money in my wallet for a week and give her a nice night on the town than save and miss an opportunity we might not get tomorrow. Of course, we set limits, but you can’t put a price tag on a good time. So, even though this entire article has been about saving money, I guess I should wrap it up with: Don’t get married. Just kidding! It was the smartest thing I ever did. Save your money, so you can have a life with someone you love.
Featured photo credit: Flickr via flickr.com