Sunday, September 18, 2011

Saving Money One Unpurchased Item At A Time

I have a list. A list of things, high ticket items, that I would like one day to do or own or provide. On that list are things like European castle tour, vacation home, private school. The list once included (for 9 years) renovate kitchen. Yes, that's right, it took 9 years to get that one off the list. And if you asked my husband, he would say that the list topper is a sailboat... between you and me, I will put it on the top of list to avoid the discussion but it will always get bumped ;-)

My husband has a very good job and provides well for us. I have several part-time jobs so I can keep my mommy schedule. We are not short on income. Unfortunately, we are not short on out-go either. At it's core, our spending habits have not changed much since our twenties, pre-marriage, pre-house, pre-children. Old habits die hard and we are spenders.

If I was to take a hard look at everything we have, weed out what hasn't been used or touched or seen in years, boxed it all up and sold it or gave it away, you probably couldn't tell anything was missing because we would still have a house full of stuff. I'm guessing that's probably standard policy for most Americans. We are consumers and we all have too much - most certainly way more than we need.

Here's a question: How many people are in your immediate family, the people who eat in your house everyday? For us, it's 3. How many plates do you have? For us, it's 12 dinner, 12 salad, assorted plastic, assorted holiday themed... do you see where I'm going with this? We only NEED 3. And while I appreciate not having to do the dishes after every meal or having extra plates for guests, different courses, the dog's scraps, we do not need more than the one plate in front of each of us for each meal.

That little exercise aside, we (my little family and the global American 'we') yearn for more. I've seen it over and over again and not just on my own bank statement but in the spending habits of others. We have a goal in mind, we begin to save, perhaps something happens that requires we dip into that savings to take care of it, we're back to square one and we have nothing to show for it. Now we are feeling a bit pent up like we "need" to shop, some quick satisfaction, some prize for our non-spending and responsible ways... yes, I am fully aware that I sound like an addict.

So we go out and buy. Let me give you a random example of a typical day in my life prior to my newly discovered ability to save. Here goes:
Let's start with a trip to Starbucks where I tell myself, I don't really have a daily habit so every once in a while couldn't hurt and if I get the Tall instead of the Venti, I will have saved a buck or more. With cappuccino in hand, I pass a Payless Shoes. It's not Nordstrom I tell myself. I can buy 10 pairs of shoes in here for the cost of one at the department store. But I don't need 10 I'll just buy 3 (that I didn't need either). Shopping bag in hand and coffee cup drained, I'm ready for lunch. I have plenty of food at home in my newly renovated kitchen, but look, there's a Panera right here, why not pick up some soup and a salad, just this once. Two hours and $50+ dollars spent later, I'm home again feeling not quite guilty but also not quite satisfied. I just threw away $50 on a whim that didn't really fulfill me; but the worst part is, I didn't notice either. This done daily for decades is why I don't currently have a vacation home.

So, enter my friend, K. She and her husband and two kids have 3 houses including one at the beach, 3 cars, and they just came back from two weeks in Alaska where they dog sled and took helicopter rides over glaciers. She wants for nothing, in fact, she always looking to downsize what she has. How does she do it? By "Saving Money One Unpurchased Item At A Time".

In the last year, I have prescribed to her philosophy and it has paid off. No, I still am not planning that European castle tour but when the AC blew in June, I didn't think twice about the multi-thousand dollar bill, because I had the money. I had been squirreling it away.

"How" you ask? By not spending it in the first place. And surprisingly enough, it's actually fun! Not only have I found new ways to spend time I would have spent spending, but I've found an extra income in selling all those purchases that didn't really give me any satisfaction.

I know you're telling yourself, "Oh she was way worse than me. I never spent like her." Yes, yes you did/do. In a million little ways.

It has gotten to the point were the idea of spending even $3 here and $7 there makes me uncomfortable. I want to save and only then spend on the big things. But here's the kicker. When I do allow myself to spend, it is that much more satisfying. It doesn't get watered down with all the other meaningless purchases. It's special.

How about that?

So as I build my little nest egg for future fun and fore go the useless purchases and choose wisely where my money does go in the meantime, I am more secure, more focused, and more satisfied. And certainly happier.

And when there comes a week, like this last one, where every dinner turned out being take out, I chastise myself for not planning my days better, but rest easy in the knowledge that I crave being back on my "stinge binge" and will be soon.

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