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Best way to start the saving journey

January 21st, 2008 at 04:04 am

Ten years ago, I had about $15000 worth of credit card debt, and about $10000 worth of student loan debt. Still, while I was frugal, and I was slooowly paying off my debts, I realized that I was missing one ingredient - my routine.

Oh I had one. I'd drive to work, maybe drive to a lunch spot, visit a couple of friends, come back and work, then decompress by driving to the Barnes & Noble and read and have a decaf and a sweet. Yikes! I had a routine, but that routine involved leaking cash.

Routines are one of the most powerful tools that the saver has while non-stop novelties KILL saving. Sure, we all like: fun surprises; dinners out; new things to read, eat, think about; the chance to meet new people and have new experiences. Every once in awhile these things add spice to our lives. But those surprise vacations are often are white elephants when the plane ticket, gas, meals, incidentals are figured in; extra tasty calories allow you to gain weight and trash your credit at the same time; books and media are great to experience, but if you use them only once, well, what do you have? The memory of what your floor used to look like. Smile

A routine is a powerful tool because: (1) you hone your budget to it, (2) you pursue in your routine only the things that are meaningful to you, (3) in assessing your routine you know why those things are important to you, and (4) you've put a price on those things. When the price of some of the elements of your routine goes up, then instead of cursing it, you either find a way to cheapen that element to compensate, or you drop the element entirely.

The first step in developing a routine with an eye toward saving is to write it down. This goes in tandem with you writing down everything you spend. Well, where did you spend your $ and what were you doing? And don't forget the weekends because that's where most of your frivolous spending occurs.

Now that you have your daily and weekend routine. For each of those tasks, what makes it something that you like or you have to do? Work, of course, is a big part of your routine during the week day. You probably have to do it to earn money, so you might like your job or not, but you know why you are doing it.

Another example, a classic in the frugal literature. Maybe you like a cup of coffee on the way to work or the first thing as you get in. How do you feel about this task in your routine? Do you think its a waste? What elements do you like about it?

Now that you have your feelings about your tasks in your routine. How can I maximize a particular task's value?

Take the coffee example. It could be that you love coffee and caffeine. Buy a decent cup of coffee, the cheapest size that you can drink, or if you find that making coffee has value to you, make coffee to take in. It could be that you have coffee with the boss or coffee has value to you because its a way to socialize with spouse or co workers. Time to think about a token order of something cheap(er) so you minimize the cost, but maximize the info you get from spouse or co worker coffee time. Do you finish your coffee? If you don't - time to definitely think about getting the smaller size!

The next step. Are there tasks in your routine that no matter how much you've thought and tried to maximize their value but you find you can't? Drop those completely. Don't spend a dime on those!

The final step. Are there tasks in your routine that even maximized, you can replace with something cheaper? We'll switch examples here with cable, the other great frugal example. Why do you have cable? Like a specific show or sporting event? Afraid that network TV doesn't have enough choices? You can get TV shows from Netflix, Amazon or the public library. You can go a sports bar or a friend's house for the sporting event.

Closing the loop. As you start streamlining your routine, honing your tasks by maximizing all their values, and eliminating spending tasks you don't like, your spending should smooth out.

Start saving!

5 Responses to “Best way to start the saving journey”

  1. Broken Arrow Says:

    Superb write-up! Perhaps talking about routine isn't the ah... most glamorous of topics out there, but I agree that it too is either one my greatest enemies or my greatest allies in my fight against debt. As you have aptly put, if one is not careful, it's the white elephant in the room that no one seems to notice as it quietly nickels and dimes its way into your poor coffer.

    On the other hand, Hannibal has harness the elephants for greatness (granted, in conquering), and I like to think that it can do the same for me, er, but not in those literal terms. My routine is a rather drab one now, with one streamlined towards frugality... but it is a routine that, for the most part, I am quite content with. There are some days where I am fortunate enough to slip through the days in relative comfort I think, while in the end, save quite a bit in the end from not leaking the money.

    Anyway, I'm rambling, but I like this post quite a bit, and I hope more people will take notice. This is an extremely important point but can be easy to miss if we are not careful?

  2. monkeymama Says:


    It is amazing what routines I have gotten out of this last year or 2. Slowly, but surely. It didn't happen overnight. But I look back at some of my more expensive routines and I hadn't even missed them. Big Grin
    Very well written!

  3. mom-sense Says:

    Hi Baselle - I really liked this post because it is the philosophy I've been instituting since January. I had to analyze the motive for shopping and it tended to be from boredom (having to kill and hour before picking up kids from school or an activitiy) or the feeling I was wasting a coupon from Michael's or Hobby Lobby (40% off IS 40% isn't it?) Poor planning, too.

    I now have a plan on what we are eating for the week (shopping one time and reducing the additional spent on unneeded items). I have church offerings built into the budget and already have checks made out. I am trying to drive one day a week to take care of errands.

    This retraining of my behavior has offered me structure. And I have money I am saving. Saving gas and time and money has freed up my energy to tackkle my junk (and I made $7 one week $2 for returning a spatula - spent some on groceries as it was an expensive spatula - and $5.25 to consignment store) I also found some missing rebate and settlement forms to file ($40 there) and the missing receipt for $42 returned items to Sam's Club. By being more organized I'm more efficient in my money management.

    Right on, I liked this post!!

  4. scfr Says:

    Thanks for a good post --- It's a great reminder to be mindful about our spending habits.

  5. baselle Says:

    Broken Arrow - well, yoke that elephant! Some elephants form a routine on their own. Christmas, for example, always comes once/yr and at the same date. All those strategies for surviving Christmas revolve around planning and maximizing value for yourself, family, and friends. Other elephants roam wild and free. If its one or two, prepare for a trampling. If its a herd, something has to be done. Elephant repellent, anyone?

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