October 05, 2017

The 3 Habits That Make the Biggest Impact on Our Savings

I'm preparing this post ahead of time, because if all goes as planned, I should be in Seattle right now :)

For "Thrifty Thursday", I thought that I would just do a short list of some things we've done to save money over the last few months. We've made lots of changes, but I think these three things have had the largest impact on our savings. People obviously spend their money on different things, depending on what is important to them, so these may or may not be relevant. They have helped us save a TON, though.

I'm truly amazed at how much spending we did before, and we didn't even realize it. When we saw our pay stubs from last year, I was shocked--because we had nothing to show for it. We were still in debt, and we couldn't even tell you where the money went.

Now that I am writing everything down and keeping track of our money, I can clearly see where the money was going. We've developed some new habits, which will be helpful to KEEP us out of debt once we pay off our final credit card. So, here are a few minor things that add up big over time...

Giving each family member an "allowance" each month

This has probably been the biggest factor in saving money. We budget money for all of the necessities, but if there are things we want to buy for ourselves, we have to use our allowances. Shopping this way has made me very conscious of what I want versus what I need, and I've been much pickier about the things that I buy.

Even though I've always shopped at Salvation Army for clothes, for example, now I am very picky about what I buy there. Before our budget, I would just throw things in the cart and not worry about it, because they were cheap anyway. Now, since I'm using my allowance (that only goes so far), I ask myself very carefully if I'm going to wear it. I've put back several things that I really wanted but just didn't think I would wear much.

When I stopped drinking wine, I started drinking Perrier flavored water (one can a day) which is very expensive--$6 for a 10-pack of 8-oz cans. I justified buying it because I wasn't buying wine anymore. But after we started budgeting, because the water was something that was just for me, I would have to use my allowance for it if I still wanted to drink it. That just isn't worth it to me! Now, I just stick with plain old tap water, and I'm totally fine with that. Sometimes I'll add some True Lime to it (or I'll even have tonic water with True Lime when I want to feel like I'm drinking a cocktail, haha).

Our general rule of thumb is that if the item is for the family, then it would come out of our budget; but if it's for just one of us, we have to use our allowances. Jerry buys beer with his (craft beer is so expensive! Totally not worth it to me, but it's like gold to him). I save mine, mostly, but last month I bought some clothes and Jerry's birthday present.

When grocery shopping, I buy only what we will use that week

This is a tough one! When there is a good sale on something, I'm tempted to stock up. But I've realized that in the long run, we save more money by buying just what we need for the week. I don't buy in bulk anymore (actually, I got a refund on my Sam's Club membership!). Things may cost a few pennies more per pound, but our grocery bill is much cheaper--and I don't throw food away, because we use it all!

I wrote a whole post about grocery shopping on a budget; but in general, I write out a menu on Thursday (trying to base it on sales ads and coupons, but I don't obsess over that--my time is valuable, too). On Friday, I buy the groceries for the week, and then I do my best not to go to the store in between. The menu isn't carved in stone; rather, it's just a list of seven dinners that I choose from each day. Once in a while, we'll even do a cereal-for-dinner night when we're busy.

We don't eat out anymore

We used to go out to eat about once a week, maybe twice a week. I know there are people who go out every day, and I thought I was being thrifty by just going a handful of times per month (this is counting fast food as well as sit-down restaurants or take-out). However, for a family of four to go out to dinner at an average-priced restaurant costs about the same as filling up both Jerry's and my  cars with gas for the week ($50). When you look at it that way, dining out seems crazy.

The first couple of months on our budget, I didn't dine out for a single meal. After a few weeks, I didn't even think about it anymore. We finally went out to dinner for Jerry's and my anniversary in August, and it was really enjoyable. It felt special, because we just don't do that anymore. And we all appreciated the meal out. But paying the bill (about $65) was kind of shocking.

We did decide last month to budget $100 per month for "family stuff"--whether it's going out to eat, going bowling, to a movie, a baseball game, whatever it may be--we have $100 to spend. I think spending money this way is valuable. We are "buying memories" in a sense. Yes, we can do free things together, but it doesn't kill us to budget for something that costs money.

The list could go on, but these three habits are the biggest things that have been money savers for us. We've been treating this whole budget thing like a game, and even the kids enjoy it. They like having their own money to do what they want with, instead of asking for things (and of course, Jerry and I like that, too!). I actually haven't felt at all bitter about our money diet.

It's been a HUGE relief to not feel like we're living paycheck to paycheck. That alone is enough to make the budgeting and spending diet worth it!


  1. Great tips! What do you track your spending in? Or how? I'm working on digging out of debt and I'm not great at....it. And I don't know how to post un-anonymously. Sorry. (Embarrassed)

    1. There are several free apps out there for tracking spending -- one of the business classes at my university really pushes an app called "mint" where you can link your bank accounts for real tracking updates and set budgets for different categories.

      I've tried it and it's not bad!

  2. It's interesting to me how habits that are healthy for budgets also end up being healthy for my waistline!

  3. Getting finances under control and paying off debt is so important to mental health. I used to have anxiety all the time... now it is a rare and fleeting thing. Posting about how you have changed your financial habits is really valuable and I'm sure you have helped a lot of people. My daughter uses the Dave Ramsey "envelope" method. There are a number of Dave Ramsey groups on Facebook and they post some excellent tips and advice. Enjoy Seattle and Portland. Hope you get to the Coast too sometime!

  4. Great tips. My DH & I have been doing the allowance thing for years. That way we can each spend the money on whatever we want guilt free.


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