Before I started saving to travel to New York last year, I was rather useless with money. "Where did my salary GO?" I would ask in dismay, staring at my empty bank account with hundreds of transactions littering the page, resulting in a lonely little zero. Really Burr? Those second flat white coffees you really didn't need, those shoes that were on sale and didn’t-really-go-with-much-but-who-was-judging-because-hello-they-were-on-sale? Erm. Yes, OK present self, you see it now. Wake up call.
I know how hard it can be. The media convinces us that we need more *stuff* to feel good. So we mindlessly spend spend spend. The more we make? The more we spend. We make life difficult for ourselves, justifying silly purchases which don’t make us happy in the long run. I have realised that mindfulness is a huge part of saving money. It’s not one of those things that will just ‘change if you leave things alone’. Well, if you leave your wallet at home, maybe. I digress.
Here are 12 ways that helped me break out of habits and learn to save. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This is not how to save casually for funsies… this is how I actually made enough to go to New York and later how I managed to save enough to move countries.
1. Find a goal to save for. This is important. A trip is a good one, or how about something grown up, like a car or enough to quit your hateful job and start your own business? Whatever it is, sit down and work out how much you want to, or need to save to get there. Be realistic.
2. Learn to say no. This is so simple, yet so important. Practice it out loud…. deep breath, and go! This little word will help with many of these tips.
3. Work out your expenses. I know these don’t sound like fun tasks and you are all waiting for the tip that involves eating copious amounts of ice cream as a magic solution, but it’s not quite that easy. This is important because it will help you see where you have been spending money unnecessarily. What’s coming into your account, or mattress *no judgement* and what is going out? Break it into the big things: rent, electricity, food etc. Be honest. Don’t hold back.
4. Decide how much you ‘need’ for entertainment. We will come back to this, but for now, look at the amount that’s left over after you have worked out expenses and entertainment (so eating out, movies, going out) and put that into a savings account.
So for example:
Salary: £1500 EXPENSES Rent & Electricity: £350 Food: £200 Gym & Medical Aid: £120 Transport: £70 Entertainment: £100 TOTAL: £840
£1500 - £840 = £660 (Goes into savings immediately. Do it.)
It sounds pretty hardcore but I learnt very quickly how little I really needed to get by on after my expenses. Once I worked out that I could put a quarter of my salary into a savings account and still live, I became so much more aware of how much I was spending on silly things.
5. NO ‘EXTRAS'. Seriously. This may be hard at first but it is one of the most important factors in this process. If you can’t walk around the shops with your friend without feeling tortured or giving in and buying something, then don’t go. It’s that simple. Avoid the temptation until you are out of the spending habit. When you go out, I’m sorry to tell you this but you will have to stop regularly having a few drinks, or eating snacks at a bar 'just for fun'. It wasn’t always easy for me but most people were understanding when I told them that I was saving, and the ones that aren’t? Really people. Come now. How did I do it? I ordered water… a lot. It will get easier.
You will become aware of how many coffees/drinks that you find yourself having “just because” and how much it’s actually costing you.
6. Don’t LIE to yourself. “But it’s just one coffee. What difference does it make?"
Coffee = £2.50. 1 month of coffee purchases = 4 coffees a week = £40 a month! x 12 months = £480 towards your goal.
7. Ask, “Do I NEED this?” A simple question and unless the thing you are questioning is a loaf of bread, the answer is usually always “No.” When I left South Africa, I got rid of 70% of my wardrobe. I donated most of it to charity, but also had a big sale with friends. Seeing all the items I had wasted so much time and money over as a burden (picture them taking up room in that one suitcase that you will then lug around London for 3 weeks) made me realise how each purchase has been mindless. Sale!? Done. Different colour to the one I have at home?! Done. Result? Broke and a room full of clothes I didn’t really wear, or even want anymore, and certainly didn’t need. Why not have a go at The Everygirl’s latest 30 Day challenge to get started?
On that note…
8. Cut the fat. Remove any expenses that aren’t necessary. Quit the gym for a few months and take up yoga at home, running or working out with a friend instead. Small sacrifices. Big reward.
This can also mean selling that old camera that you never, ever use. Let’s get down to basics. Make sure that your bank account or insurance isn’t costing you more than it should. Check that your air con or heating isn’t set to come on automatically each day. Again, this is all about being mindful and aware. Wherever possible, walk to places to avoid parking fees or public transport costs. Do you need 50 channels on TV? Is Netflix a cheaper option?
Whenever you have moments of frustration, picture yourself driving your new car, or sipping a cappuccino in a quaint cafe in Italy *insert dream goal here*.
9. “Honey, let’s stay home.” When friends want to meet up, just for this 3 months or so, rather socialise at your place or theirs. Instant money saver! Tea at a friend’s versus a pot of tea with cake, parking money and tip at a café? Simple maths right there. This may seem hard if you are in the habit of eating out a lot, but please note the word ‘habit’. Once you are used to thinking differently it will be easier. You need to be mindful and start to appreciate the simpler things. Re-arrange your room, read those books that you have sitting by your bed gathering dust, hang out with friends on the balcony that you love but never actually use. When people come for dinner, each person can bring a plate of food. Life doesn’t have to be expensive.
10. Be creative. No i don’t mean sell your hanger sculptures online, but hey, why not?
What I actually mean is, be creative about finding things to do that don’t require money. Public garden nearby? Use it. Neighbours dogs need walking? Bonus. See, it’s like an old school video game. If only a ding ding sound and flying pixels actually happened each time we saved money.
11. Make lunch to take into work. Requires fore planning, I know. But think how much time you will have now that you don’t go out as much ;) Here are some recipe ideas to get you started. While we are talking food, shopping in bulk is a great way to save. If you can, get to a farmer’s market or order a veg box. You will also be supporting the guys who grow the veg as opposed to the supermarkets who rip them off. Also, no ready meals or take aways. Yep. You heard me.
12. Make something visual to track your progress. A simple idea would be to buy a glass jar, and put a jelly bean inside for every £50 you save. Seeing the jar fill will remind you how well you’re doing. It isn’t science, but it helps.
Be firm for a few months and the end result, as well your renewed mindfulness, will be a great reward. What are your tried and tested ways to save? Some say this method helps too.
Keep reminding yourself why you are doing this. Believe me, it’s so worth it! Less meaningless stuff, more satisfaction. And.... GO!