Saving Money… by Not Spending It

A penny saved is a penny earned.
– Benjamin Franklin

We’ve known how to save money for quite a long time, but modern times have also produced an industry dedicated to taking your money.

I work in marketing, and I know exactly what my goal is at the start of every workday. So I am aware that marketing exists to separate us from our money. But I guess it wasn’t until we set a savings goal for moving to our future homestead property that I realized the true extent of it all.

Everything you see online, every day, has one goal; to get you to spend what you’ve earned.

Sometimes it’s mutually beneficial. I watch an instructional video about making rice wine, which in theory is better for me than buying it, and ultimately cheaper. The next thing you know, I’m on amazon buying yeast balls. Or I read something encouraging me to try growing a second harvest in the fall. Next I’m online ordering a few seed packets.

Those things are fine, especially if I follow through and MAKE the rice wine, and if the garden works out and I find myself with a second harvest of peas and lettuce, for the small investment of those seeds.

But taking this a level further. If I’m browsing epicurious and come across a fun recipe, I may find myself at the grocery store dropping $60 (including impulse purchases). I’d had the meals for the week all planned out, and now that schedule’s disrupted assuming I actually make this new recipe, so some of the ingredients I already had in the plan might go to waste.

One level further. I see a geeky graphic t-shirt I know my daughter would LOVE, and we can always give it to her at Christmas. Boom, another $23 gone.

Again, expenses I could justify, those aren’t even truly frivolous like falling prey to a Steam sale. But the end result is the same, my money is no longer mine.

A dangerous element of this is that your resolve may start out strong, but weaken by the end of the day. Not may… it WILL. It’s known as decision fatigue. It’s actually why stores put a bunch of candy and impulse purchase lures at the checkout. They’re taking advantage of the fact that you just had to make a bunch of decisions. Devious.

Advertisements? You're soaking in it...Times Square by TerabassOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

So we’re barraged with advertising and buying prompts (CTAs, or “calls to action”, in marketing speak) all day long. There’s no way that’s not going to erode your willpower over the course of the day. How do you fight back?

Self-discipline is the only way. It’s not a “life hack” and it’s not a big secret retailers HATE me for telling you. You have to work on your “just say no” muscle.

This is war, and you have to think of it as protecting your resources. Not “what can I buy today?” but “What can I NOT buy today?” In college I took global hydrology, and learned a lot about the concept of inflow and outflow. There’s only so much money coming IN every month. If I can’t easily increase that, I can at least work on reducing the outflow. Here are some ways I’ve done that:

  • Starbucks Vias vs. Starbucks drive-through. Vias are the little tubes of powdered instant Starbucks. It still comes out to about $1/coffee, but a grande ‘bucks is more than double that, plus there’s the time and gas spent driving there. We used to do that every morning, 2 coffees, $5 total. Now I just do it twice a week, making Vias instead on the other days. Savings: $15/week, or about $60/month.
  • Axing Stitch Fix and Hello Fresh. Yes, it pained me greatly to do this, but we’re talking $200 – $300 for every Stitch Fix order, which at one point I was doing every 6 weeks or so. Hello Fresh was $80/week, and it was my favorite of the meal kit services, but with a little planning, I can make $80 go a lot further.
  • Calling to reduce bills. It’s shocking how effective this is. I’ve done it for our phone bill, and my husband’s done it for our tv service. Multiple times. If you call and ask, they can almost always shave at least something off your bill.
  • Cancelled Audible membership. But then resubscribed, because it’s only $15/month, and I consistently use the monthly credits.
  • Ibotta/Ebates/Groupon. You have to be careful with these services, and make sure you really are only buying things through them that you would normally buy anyway. If you can resist the gamification triggers they’ve put in there to make you buy things you normally wouldn’t, there’s some savings to be had.
  • Go to the library! We used to make an afternoon of visiting Barnes & Noble. Grab a coffee ($5 cha-ching)… pick out a book. If the whole family was along, we’re talking $50 at least. In many cases, you can borrow literally the same books at the library, for a grand total of $0.

There are hundreds of blogs out there that specialize in helping you save money, and you should read them. Here, I’m just sharing my own thoughts and what’s worked for me. If you have any tips for saving money that have worked for you, please share. The more the merrier!