Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
Do you remember the episode of Friends where Phoebe, Joey and Rachel are disgruntled with the rest of the gang because they are always suggesting to go out to expensive places for dinner and don’t realize half the group doesn’t make that much money?
I am the Phoebe, Joey, and Rachel of my friendship group. I’m the person who never has money.
Don’t get me wrong: I pay my rent, I’m on time with my bills and I always manage to get by, but if my bank account was a cartoon, it would be an abandoned town with a tumbleweed blowing through it. I admit I’m not the best at handling my own finances, and can never seem to stick to a budget. I’m forever wishing I had more cash to splash on fun things like ASOS sales or buying an entree while out to dinner.
So instead of just thinking about it, I decided to be more proactive and see how much I could save over a four week period by trying a new money-saving hack each week for a month. I didn’t want to do anything too drastic because I wanted these hacks to be as realistic as possible and above all, sustainable. If the hack was too crazy, I’d never touch it again after the week was up, and I wanted to make a lasting change to my life.
Here’s what I did. Spoiler: Money was definitely saved…
Hack 1: Save any loose change.
This hack is pretty straightforward. You simply put any loose change you have into a moneybox at the end of each day.
This was quite slow to get started because I never carry cash on me. I had to withdraw some money specifically so I could kickstart this hack. But once I had some money that could be turned into coins, I started to put a surprising amount of change away.
I even started collecting coins I found on the ground – even if it was only a dime. Some of my friends hate carrying loose change, and so I would offer to take it off their hands. At the end of the week, I had saved $31.45 in change. Not a bad start, and if I continued this over a longer period of time, this hack could make me save a substantial amount of money I would normally be wasting on useless stuff like chocolate bars just to get rid of the loose coins jingling around my purse.
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Hack 2: Make my morning coffee.
I am definitely not a morning person (and couldn’t be even when I tried to become one), and so the only reason I can drag myself out of bed in the morning is the promise of a smooth, rich, barista-made cappuccino. The very thought of giving up my morning coffee broke my heart. Instant coffee in a thermos just isn’t the same, but it was what I was going to do for a whole week.
Each coffee I buy is, at minimum, $3.50. At four to seven coffes a week, this adds up fast. By making a coffee at home before heading to work, I could save nearly $25 a week and a cool hundred dollars a month.
This information alone was enough to inspire me to learn to love instant coffee, and I could even have it more often because I wasn’t restricted by my bank account as to how many cups I could buy. A barista coffee will always be close to my heart, but $25 a week speaks for itself – and makes a pretty convincing argument.
Hack 3: Use cash instead of card.
‘Who even uses cash anymore?’ I thought going into my third money-conscious week. Having to withdraw cash was so much more stressful than just knowing I had my card ready to wave and pay for everything my heart desired.
The idea behind this hack is it is a lot harder to part with your money if you can physically see it leaving your hand. Ten bucks might not seem like much if you’re paying for a gourmet smoothie on your debit card, but if you have to hand over a $20 bill and only get $10 back, it’s harder to justify.
At the beginning of the week, I withdrew the amount of money I had allocated myself to be allowed to spend, and then put my card in a different part of my purse so I really had to think before using it. I managed to stick within my budget for the week, with one or two dollars left over.
I realized by being more conscious of the money I was spending, I was less likely to splurge on ‘cheap’ things that add up to a significant chunk of money at the end of the seven days. I estimate I saved around $40 for the week. Depending on how you worked out a budget, this number could get even larger.
Hack 4: Have no-spend days.
Considering I was only doing this hack for a week, I tried to get the most out of a ‘no spend day’ by squeezing in two. That means there would be two whole days when I tried not to spend any money.
This involved being organized and packing my own lunch, making sure my travel card was already loaded with cash and double checking my car had enough fuel in it to last the day. It was amazingly stressful knowing I was going to try to not buy anything for a day and made me realize just how often we spend money on an everyday basis. Between public transport, meals and unexpected cravings for something other than water, I think I would buy something at least once a day, every day of the year.
Having two no-spend days a week might not seem like a big deal, but it felt strangely gratifying to know I had made it to the end of the day without spending a single cent, even if a boring sandwich will never compete with some delicious fresh sushi rolls. There is no way to tell how much this hack saved me, but it undoubtedly saved me some money, because I wasn’t buying lunch or junk food two days out of the week.
The four hacks I tried were ridiculously simple and easy – literally anyone could incorporate one, all or a variation of any of these hacks into their life and save some cash week to week.
The loose change hack showed the most obvious results because there was a physical amount of money in the bottom of my piggy bank at the end of the week I could see and count. But I actually think the most worthwhile hack was making my own coffee. If you expanded this hack to include packing your own lunches every day for work, you could save up to $20 PER DAY.
The biggest thing to take away from trying any money-saving hack is that being conscious of your spending is actually easier than you think it is, and a good thing to do even if you aren’t actually trying to save money. Using cash instead of card makes it easier to track your spending, and it can be sort of fun to see if you can go a day here and there without spending any money.
The other main thing I learned was that the little things add up a surprising amount. I would always justify my purchases by saying ‘oh, it’s only $5, so what is the harm?’. But five of these purchases adds up to $25, and happens remarkably quickly. Sure, I’m not going to lie and say I’m never going to buy a coffee from a barista again, or I will never tap-and-go another payment. But I’ll definitely think twice about it.
It is really easy to spend money, but being more aware of what you’re actually buying pays off in the end – literally.
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