5 simple rules to cut unnecessary spending and save money

We all want to spend less and save more, but it can be difficult to track exactly where all that money is going. In planning my goals for the year I’ve found myself following five rules to know what I need to save, how I’m going to do it, and how well I’m doing.

Saving money can be tricky. When I started a new job, I spent a year catching up on things I wanted to buy while I was between roles. These were primarily small treats, but together they added up. One of my new year’s resolutions for 2019 is to cut out that unnecessary spending and save for something bigger. To achieve that, I’m following five simple rules that are working out quite well so far.

1. Have a goal in mind

Saving is a good habit, but it’s one that can be more difficult to form if you don’t know why you’re doing it. Perhaps there’s a certain purchase you’d like to make, a holiday you’re saving up for, or you need a deposit for your first home. Knowing your objective and keeping it in mind can be crucial when you need to resist the temptation of a great deal that you’ve just found online.

Amongst other things, my goal this year is to save for another visit to Japan. Whenever I see something I’d like to do or buy, I remind myself that the £30 I’d be spending is £30 less that I’ll be able to use to buy yen – perhaps it even would have been enough for a nice dinner out one evening on holiday. I’ve held off on quite a number of impulse buys this way in the last two months.

2. Plan your saving ahead of time

All successful projects begin with setting out your requirements. This means knowing exactly what you need – for example, using an online mortgage calculator to determine the size of the deposit you’ll require. You can then set yourself a deadline to hit that figure and work backwards from there, calculating monthly targets that take into account expected obstacles along the way.

I’ve done some research on my trip and know roughly what the flights, hotels, and other large costs will amount to. I divided this figure by the number of months until I intend to go on holiday, then made adjustments based on my planned spending – for example, saving less in months when large bills are due. I can now track my savings against my monthly targets and know how I’m doing.

3. Keep a record of what you’re spending

As with any form of data analysis, it’s impossible to know how well you’re doing or how close you are to achieving your goals if you don’t keep track of the numbers. Use some kind of system – manual or otherwise – to keep a list of every penny that leaves your bank account. This will make it easier to evaluate your progress and highlight the types of spending that are holding you back.

If it’s not obvious already, I love data, so for me this is a spreadsheet that I update on a weekly basis. I track my progress against what I’m expecting to spend in certain categories each week. For example, if I know my shopping expenditure for the month is expected to be £25 because of a friend’s birthday, I don’t need to panic when I make a £25 dent in my balance in the first week buying their present.

4. Find things to do for free

Weekends are perhaps the most challenging times when you’re trying to save money. Friends want to go out and do things, it can get boring if you’re sitting around at home too often, and with all that free time you can find yourself browsing shopping sites before you know it. Luckily, unless you live in the middle of nowhere, there are plenty of things to do that cost little more than a bus ticket or Tube fare.

Museums are a good option if you live in a city (at least in the UK, where they’re predominantly free), and if you live in an area with some scenery a walk can break up the day nicely. When I’m really pushing my budget or the weather’s bad I like to stay at home and read a book, teach myself something new in Python, or learn about cyber security with blogs and online courses.

5. Wait 30 days before buying non-critical items

Even with solid planning and the best intentions, sometimes something you didn’t budget for can seem completely necessary. Occasionally that’s really the case, but most times that sense of urgency isn’t justified. Giving yourself a 30-day cool-off period before making any unplanned purchase can really help to keep temptation at bay and cut down on unnecessary spending.

For me, this takes the form of a list. Whenever I want to buy something, I jot down what it is, when I thought of it, and its price. Every time I make an entry on the list I check the previous ones and reevaluate any that are more than 30 days old. More often than not, my enthusiasm for the item has disappeared over the month. If it hasn’t, it may be that it is needed after all and I consider it again.

On top of those, there are also some smaller tips I follow to keep spending down:

  • Make the most of what you have – It’s amazing what you might have sitting around, from forgotten cooking ingredients to discarded computer parts. Before splashing out on something new, see if you can make use of something that’s already laying around your home.
  • Try budget brands – The quality of budget brands can vary from product to product, but you can’t make a judgement until you’ve tried it once. Many budget products are similar in quality to their branded equivalents, and if they’re not then you can always switch back.
  • Make use of your loose change – If you’re anything like me, you’ve got at least one container full of small change in your home. Since I made a commitment to save more, I’ve started putting this together to make small purchases (milk, for example) without touching my bank account.

Together, those are the rules I use when I’m trying to save money – so far they’ve served me well, but there’s always room for improvement. If you have any other tips, let me know in the comments!

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