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4 Easy Steps to Help You Save More Money — and Time
Ever spend a whole Sunday afternoon clipping coupons?
Or maybe, like me, you’ve whiled away three hours searching for the very best deal on some fairly minor purchase.
We’re Penny Hoarders, so we admire your tenacity. But like the old adage says, time is money — and it’s not going to do you much good to save one at the expense of the other.
In fact, if anything, your time is more valuable than your money: You only get 24 hours each day. You can’t make more of it.
While we’re certainly not suggesting you shout “YOLO!” and ditch your budget and savings plan entirely, there is one way to ensure your savings tactics are as time-efficient as possible:
Figure out your biggest expenditures and focus on big-picture ways to cut them down.
Skipping lattes is great — depending on the seriousness of your caffeine addiction, you could save something like $100 a month.
But that doesn’t even come close to the kind of savings you get by, say, cutting your grocery bill in half.
Or figuring out how to do away with that monthly mortgage payment.
Ready to take your savings game to the next level? Here’s what to do.
1. Figure Out Where You Spend the Most Money
First things first: You need to know where your money’s going. That’s the only way you’ll be able to identify what areas you spend the most money in.
A fairly simple way to do this quickly is to use a budgeting app, like Mint, that lays out your total expenditures in an easy-to-read, most-likely-fear-inducing pie chart.
For example, see TPH senior writer Susan’s Mint budget below — she’s our resident travel geek, so that category is overrepresented in her case!
If you’re like most Americans, your largest spending categories will be housing, food and transportation — although your individual case will vary based on your age, income and location.
For instance, if you live in New York City or San Francisco, it’s pretty unlikely you’re sticking to the famed 30% rule when it comes to how much you budget for housing each month — although experts speculate that figure might be out-of-date anyway.
But when you see your expenses laid out, you’ll know exactly where the majority of your paycheck is going.
And you’ll also be able to notice if you have any outlier categories — say, an expensive hobby or, like Susan, a penchant for travel.
2. Figure Out What You’re Willing to Cut
Here comes the hard part.
Focusing on the biggest slices of pie in your budget chart means your sacrifices will make more of an impact… so figure out your top three to five categories where you’re willing to make serious slashes.
This advice comes with a caveat: If something’s legitimately important to you and makes you happy, by all means, spend money on it… so long as it doesn’t put you in debt or derail your longer-term money goals.
But if a huge chunk of your paycheck is going toward an expendable, unnecessary good — like new clothing — you should at least consider how much you could save by making a cut, even if only temporarily.
For instance, when I analyzed my finances, I discovered I was wasting a shocking amount of money on what felt like just a drink or two a week with friends. It was easy enough to invite them to my house for a drink instead — and besides, I make a pretty mean Old Fashioned.
But it’s up to you to weigh your options and make the call. Even something that seems frivolous, like keeping your threads trendy, might be a worthy investment if you’re a fashion blogger, for instance.
3. Make Cuts as Efficiently as Possible
All right. Know where you’re willing to make some changes?
Here’s the time-saving part: Make sure to choose cuts that make a significant difference, or ones that don’t require you to think about them more than once. Ideally, they should meet both those criteria.
Let’s start with housing, which includes utilities.
Sure, you’ll save a modest amount on your living expenses by unplugging your appliances before you leave the house each day. But that’s an extra five minutes every single morning walking around and pulling those cords.
Want to really save some cash?
Most of these options only take up your time, energy and effort once: Set it and forget it.
Next, let’s look at that grocery bill.
After all, it’s one of the most variable line items in your budget — a family of four could spend as much as $1,287 per month or as little as half that amount, according to the most recent report from the USDA.
Instead of stalking the circulars for coupons — or maybe in addition to that — you can save a ton of money on your groceries just by getting into certain habits.
For instance, choose the cheapest grocery store in your area instead of the fancy supermarket. If you live near an Aldi or a Trader Joe’s, those might be a good place to start.
Of course, which store is cheapest will depend on what you, personally, buy. I shopped for the staples on my list at three different stores and ran a comparison to see which one had the best deals overall, and I’d recommend you do the same.
It’s easy. Just make a list of the items you buy on a regular basis, and take it to whichever stores are close enough that you’d be willing to shop at them each week.
Write down the price of each item to see where it’s cheapest, and then figure out which store wins the most comparisons. Then, shop there.
There are lots of other ways to hack your grocery savings so you spend less without thinking about it.
For instance, figure out which day of the week your chosen store has sales — and shop on that day.
Oh — and although it’s a smaller savings, another quick, easy, one-time-only savings hack? Get Netflix for free.
4. Rinse and Repeat
Expenses regularly change. Your rent might go up or your favorite discount grocery store might close its doors.
Re-evaluate your spending categories regularly, and make sure your budgeting efforts are still optimized to help you reach your goals.
Once you get everything set up, it doesn’t have to take very long at all. Here’s how one of our staffers manages her finances in just 15 minutes every month.
By making big savings as efficient as possible, you can save your money while saving your time for something way better…
Like making more money.
Your Turn: What are you saving for?
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her creative writing has been featured in “DMQ Review,” “Sweet: A Literary Confection” and elsewhere.