Help, I need to become more frugal. Immediately.
August 30, 2013 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I am a lot poorer since February, due to my ex leaving me (he was splitting the bills with me, so I am down about $500/month from where I was). I have some savings but I've been blowing through it because I haven't been able to get myself to stay on a monthly budget. Help me be frugal!

I keep buying things I know I shouldn't, like eating out, or too much / fancy groceries, or books that I then fail to make the time to read. I could use any tips or tricks you might have to help me rein in my spending. I need to do this right now.

I have plans to get rid of / reduce some spending on recurring monthly expenses, but I need to work on my mindset about buying myself frequent "treats" and other things that I just don't need. I have stopped buying things on Amazon lately, which I am proud of. I used to have a very bad Amazon habit. But I still have powerful urges to just buy anything that I have a whim to buy, and I need to try to out-think myself on this, or just develop new mental habits. I recently did a big purge of material possessions, and it really brought into stark focus how I have issues acquiring Things, many of which just languish in a bin that I don't touch for years. This is madness.

I am 90% sure I will have to move at the end of the year, so my savings is reserved for moving expenses. I will be looking for a cheaper apartment, but it will probably be further from work so I will need more gas. I have credit cards, with a balance only on one of them, and I can make the payments ok. If I am able to reduce various expenses as planned, I will have approx $150 to cover incidental expenses, including doctor visits, and anything fun per month. This makes me nervous that it is so little. I have to go to the doctor a lot, and copays are $25 or $40. My parents help me with prescription expenses a little, but I do not want to ask my family for additional money. They could and would help me in a crisis, but I really need to take care of myself month-to-month. I am 41 years old, I should be responsible enough to handle this.

My job doesn't pay much, and I am topped out as far as promotions are concerned (I work for the government). We are getting a very tiny raise starting October 1st, which I will see maybe $30/month of after deductions. Getting another job is not really an option - I do not have a degree, and I need really good health insurance due to my many medical problems. I have some things I can sell, which will help a little, but I can't rely on that as a regular source of income.

I have thought about trying to proofread a little for students or something (there is a large university in my town), but I don't know how viable a plan that might be. Please don't be mean about any possible typos in this question. I am pretty nervous about even putting myself out there for that, and I would only be able to do it in my off hours so maybe nobody would settle for that type of turnaround time.

So basically things are tight, but I still have spendthrift habits. I need to change. Do you have tips / recommendations of things to read that will help me break bad habits and be able to live within my budget? I have the book All Your Worth, but I just don't have the income to follow those recommendations.
posted by sock puppetron on wheels to Work & Money (26 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Now is the time to try the Apparel Diet: lots of benefits, only one of which is not spending money!
posted by Sara Anne at 5:36 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make yourself busier with non-cost activities. I tend to buy more when I have time on my hands. Volunteering somewhere that will truly need you will be good in both personal satisfaction and in moving your time to a different focus.

Try to stick to a one-in one-out rule. You buy a shirt, a shirt has to go.

Get a library card. Only buy books you've already read once and know you'll want to read repeatedly, or at library and garage sales/under $1 pricing.

Tell yourself there's a 48- or 72-hour delay on buying non-essentials. A lot of things just live in my eBay watch list and won't ever make the transition to my house.

See if you can buddy up on some expenses - two people can share Netflix easily, there are family discounts on phones, etc.

See if you qualify for discounts on some expenses. Many phone companies have government employee discounts.

See if you qualify for assistance (medical, SNAP, etc.).
posted by vegartanipla at 5:36 PM on August 30, 2013

Write down everything you spend, as soon as you spend it, and deduct that amount from your balance immediately. You tend to spend less when you see the money making a nosedive.
posted by xingcat at 5:41 PM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Everyone I know who's tried the envelope method has had good results. At the beginning of each month, withdraw your spending money for the month in cash. Divide it up into envelopes: "food", "gas", "entertainment", etc. Then for the rest of the month you aren't allowed to pay for anything on your cards -- give them to a friend, freeze them, whatever.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:47 PM on August 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

Envelope system. It really does help to physically pull out cash for small incidentals.

Anything you have an impulse to buy needs a 48-72 hour waiting period. Tell yourself you can buy it if you still want it in 3 days.

Make use of free resources. Want a book? See if you can get it at the library before you pull the trigger. I've found that maintaining a healthy reserve list means a steady stream of books--sure, often several weeks (or even months, for popular books) later, but once you're in a groove you're getting something new every week (that often I've forgotten I reserved and am pleasantly surprised by).

Plan your meals and grocery shop with a list. You don't have to be an extreme couponer or anything, but having a list and sticking to it will keep you from impulse-buying fancy cheese. Do plan to buy some treats though or this will seem like punishment. Maybe make a game of figuring out how to buy the wine or the heirloom tomatoes and still stay within the budget.

If you shop for fun, do it somewhere really cheap like a garage sale or a thrift shop, and only bring a certain amount of cash.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:59 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

The problem is the emotional belief that spending the money will make you feel better, that you deserve the "treat", that not spending is to deprive yourself or make yourself unhappy. If you think about it logically, you probably agree that buying unnecessary things doesn't make you happy, in fact, it makes you unhappy in the long run. The problem is that your subconscious/ emotional/child self just wants want she wants, she wants it now and doesn't care about logic or later. The first priority is how to help your logical/adult self win these arguments.

1. Focus on the big picture. What is the big picture reward for being frugal? Be positive ("not bankrupt" is a negative. "financial free and beholden to none" is positive) Find the one that really motivates you. In dieting (which is emotionally similar) there is say "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" Find your own version "Wasting money just makes me feel lousy later. Saving makes feel free and strong."

2. Find ways to track what you spend and then get excited about your success. Make one of those fundraising charts where you add a sticker for every dollar you save. If you eliminate a monthly expense, give yourself credit for 12 months of what you just saved. (You might have one chart for this month and one cumulative, you want even a dollar saved to noticeable, $100 to be an clear win)

3. Find ways to reward yourself that don't cost money or cost very little. You DO deserve a treat sometime - just a satisfying treat that saves money is a double win (satisfying plus the virtue of saving) Make a list. When you are struggling with spending, make yourself a deal (don't do this unnecessary expense now, reward yourself with that later) It can hard to think of these things in the moment, so writing them down really helps.

4. Find blogs and other sources that celebrate the frugal mindset. My current favorite is Start with this one where he describes the difference between how a saver and a spender react they decide NOT to buy something
Spender: “Hey! I wanted this thing and I don’t get to have it! Waaaaah, Waaah!!”
Saver: “I just avoided a purchase, and I am richer because of it. Cha-CHING!!”
Once you get this mindset, everything else will be much, much easier to follow through on. Good luck - learning to do this now will produce life long benefits
posted by metahawk at 6:00 PM on August 30, 2013 [31 favorites]

One thing that's not clear from this question is whether you've gone through and totaled up how much you're spending. If you mostly use credit cards, go through your old statements and see how much you're spending in various categories (I think Mint might even be able to pull old data for you but I'm not sure). It sounds like you feel bad/ashamed about your spending habits, but if they're not adding up to pretty close to $500, changing them isn't going to help you right now.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 6:01 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make a spreadsheet that plans out your income and outcome. Mine has a row every two weeks, with the beginning total (last weeks remaining balance + salary), columns for regular expenditures and one for "me money", and a column at the end that adds up all the expenses for that pay period so I can see how much I've spent, and another that shows me how much is left in the bank after.
When I need to be good about my spending, I plan out a few months in advance, making sure I put in everything I need to pay, and a regular amount of petty cash that covers everything from cigarettes to lattes to frivolity. The petty cash amount is calculated to make sure that it's always the same, always realistic, and - most importantly - is balanced against what I see in the final balance column, to make sure I never go in the red.
This way you know you have some fun money, but you also know how much fun you can have before a negative balance is no fun.

When times are really tight, I print it out and keep it in my pocket, so I can pull it out and look at it whenever I want to spend fun money. It really helps you get a sense of the consequences of that cash register moment - if I get this, I can't get a latte later; if I get this, I won't be able to cover rent. Add in a column with the amount you'll need to spend on moving at the time you'll be doing it so you can see how much you'll need to be putting aside. You might want to get a second savings bank account to put this money into so it's not available for spending.
(if you're not an excel person I can send you my template, it's really easy to use!)

Another tactic I've learned is to look at whatever I'm buying and think, where will this be in my home in a year, honestly? Once I started doing that, a LOT of unnecessary purchases got put back down, because I couldn't really see a future for the item beyond being a home for dust in a corner somewhere.

Sometimes I go fake-shopping; I go through a store and pick out stuff, try stuff on, yadda yadda; then I get to the end and say "naaaah," put it all down and leave. I've still been shopping, but I have no junk to bring home and money left in the bank.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:37 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I keep a list of things I want. When I find something I am interested in, it goes on the list immediately, and that way, when I *do* have a bit of disposable income and want/need a "treat" I can spend money on something I know I want/need instead of just an impulse item.

I use Gnucash to track my money, I have it set up in a way that is pretty painless. When I first started tracking things it was super overwhelming, so I made it as easy as I could, and that worked for me really well.

If you have any interest in Gnucash, it does have a bit of a learning curve, but I would be HAPPY to help you learn how to set it up and get you started. I've done it for several people via teamviewer/skype. Just memail me and I'd love to help.

What helps me the most is being able to look ahead a few MONTHS at a time, because seeing "hey, I have $50 extra this week, awesome! Oh wait, if I spend that $50, in a month (with all estimated values for income/bills), I'll have -$20, so I only actually have $30" helps a TON with avoiding impulse buys and whatnot.
posted by HermitDog at 6:59 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

YNAB is excellent for this. If you have a smartphone they also have free apps for it.

I embargo all my purchases. Basically, I say to myself "Wait a month and if after a month I still feel that I actually need it then buy it". When I am honest with myself I never buy things because very few things actually improve your life as much as they cost.

Cut your cable and switch to netflix. Take books out from the library and look into their ebook lending. Take recipe books out from the library and teach yourself to cook. Sell the stuff you are not using and put the money you make against your credit card (eliminating credit card debt frees up a lot of money). Also call you credit card company and ask for a better rate. If they are not game then apply elsewhere and ask for a balance transfer deal. Beware of the transfer fee though and make sure you never miss a payment. Switch to store brands rather than namebrands. Cancel you gym member and jog and do bodyweight training instead. If you want to lose weight being short of cash is a great time to calorie count - it's a twofer.

I use an excel spreedsheet with my debt total and my repayment plan to calculate out how much every dollar I spend will cost over the lifetime of my debt (The real actual cost of spending now when you are in debt). When you find out how much spending a dollar now costs over 5 years of debt repayment you will be much less inclined to be a spendthrift as long as you face up to it.

Find something inexpensive that can bring you some joy. I grow plants and will have a cat soon and I exercise with my wife - jogging and an evening walk every day.
posted by srboisvert at 7:02 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've asked a similar question here, there are some neat tips there. You are probably going to get a lot more budgeting tips than you will mindset tips. This is a method I find a bit helpful in changing my attitudes:

Write down my emotions and thoughts and justifications, no holding back, when I'm doing the behaviour I don't want to want to do

Then write down a counter point to each point- a substitute attitude I want instead.

Then decide that I want to be the second person more than I want to be the first. I don't know how to explain how to set this in your brain. It's neccessary, I think, to give yourself the choice- to look at both possibilities and definitively select one instead of wishy-washy-weasling your way around and fighting yourself. And it's important to have your eyes open and know what those decisions mean.

Then, when Old Self starts with the "well, this time it's ok because I'm tired, and also I'm sad and I hate everything, and also convoluted mathematics whereby it's somehow actually more expensive not to spend money, etc", I can mentally look her straight in the eye and say "I made a choice, and you are not the choice that I made. You are not welcome here. I am a self-controlled adult who is responsible with money", and then ignore her and deliberately smother those thoughts with the replacement thoughts that I wrote down earlier. If I have to look at the paper to remember them, that's fine.

So I sort of create two "people" having this dialogue- a little kid, and me, the adult, responding to that kid. When I do it and actually mean it, it works pretty good.
posted by windykites at 7:06 PM on August 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

Making lists of stuff to buy later can help with impulse buying. It reassures you that you won't lose track of the thing you were trying to accomplish if you decide it's still important after a few days weeks or months.

You can do a lot with surprisingly inexpensive and simple food at home. Get a cheap wok if you don't have one and make a game of it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:12 PM on August 30, 2013

Deal in cash as much as possible. The "envelopes" system is very effective for a lot of people and the only thing that stops my non budget friendly husband from spending hundreds on games and eating lunches each month.

If you want to buy yourself something as a treat that's fine, but you have to save for it or take the money from another envelope, so if you want to eat out you take the bus to work for a week. You want a new pair of shoes, you save $20 from your food budget each pay until you have enough. You can have things, you just have to pay the price and do the time to get them. If you can't be bothered doing without something else then you don't really want it. You are not denying yourself anything, you just have to know how you are going to pay for it before you buy it, no credit allowed. I find it a wonderfully focusing way to know how much I want something compared to how much I just think I want the new shiny thing.
posted by wwax at 7:38 PM on August 30, 2013

I've been cutting down on my expenses lately too. Some of my new habits:

- Most weekends I ride my bike out to my city's big wholesale green markets. The fruit and vegetables there cost about half what they would at a retail store. The nice thing is that because everything is so cheap I can afford a few little luxuries like nice cheese, nuts or fresh flowers. This makes my general frugality feel a little less grim.

- I ride my bike everywhere. This saves me about $160 a month in public transport fares. The savings mean that if I need to take a short trip sans bike, paying for a cab is no big deal. I don't own a car; I know they're a necessity in some cities but it's worth thinking carefully about whether you could do without yours.

- I invested in good plastic lunch boxes and drink bottles. I make my own lunch and carry a little box of nuts and other snacks in my bag so I'm not tempted to buy junk food.

- I limit my exposure to advertising. Companies spend millions trying to make you feel exactly the way you're feeling now - they are manufacturing your urge to buy things you don't need. It's poison. The less TV and other ads you consume, the more absurd consumption for consumption's sake will seem.

- If I "need" something new, I write it down in a list which also contains a budget of my more pressing needs - food, rent, toiletries, medical care, etc. Sometimes seeing the Shiny New Thing next to the necessities I might have to sacrifice to buy it is enough to make me not want it anymore. Other times I think on it for a week or so and if I still "need" it I try to find it secondhand online.

- I do my best to maintain a level of savings that allows me to be "pound wise, penny foolish". By that I mean, what's cheapest in the short term often works out more expensive in the long run. Buying things you need in bulk when they're on sale is worthwhile, but only if you have enough of a savings cushion - otherwise you end up with a month's worth of toilet paper and no food. It's the same with durable goods like shoes - a moderately expensive pair will cost less than multiple cheap pairs over several years, but only if you can afford them in the first place. It's worth the sacrifice in the short term to build up a few hundred dollars of wiggle room.

- I log everything I spend. For me this works better than a making a budget ahead of time - instead of "failing" to keep to my limit in each category, I get to look back over what I actually spent and think carefully about what was worthwhile and what was not. Over time, this has shifted my spending behaviour a lot without ever feeling punitive or restrictive.
posted by embrangled at 8:50 PM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thrift shopping gives the fun of "something new" without the hefty pricetag. Also, if you get tired of your new thing after awhile, which always happens to me, you can donate it back guilt-free.

I also read somewhere, probably on MetaFilter, about cultivating a mindset where all the stores with cute things are just your own off-site storage closets...they hold those cute things for you, you could grab them any time, but for now you're just having them held. There's no urgency to snap it all up!
posted by Pomo at 9:50 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I limit my exposure to advertising. Companies spend millions trying to make you feel exactly the way you're feeling now - they are manufacturing your urge to buy things you don't need. It's poison. The less TV and other ads you consume, the more absurd consumption for consumption's sake will seem.

This. So much. See if you can find hobbies that take you away from the TV, internet (OK OK, you can still read metafilter) and especially glossy magazines.

Look out for free concerts, free entry to museums/art galleries or whatever you have in your area. Catch up with friends while walking around a park rather than going out for a meal or drinks. Borrow books, CDs, ebooks, audiobooks, dvds etc from the library.

Think hard before you take on another job. It might be that you'll be too busy to spend money as saturdaymornings says. Or it may be quite a lot of extra stress for not much gain - eg if you're too busy, you won't have the time or incination to pack lunches and cook dinner. Also, if you're tired, you'll probably make poorer decisions and it will be harder to be frugal if that's not natural for you.
posted by pianissimo at 11:12 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few years ago I had similar problems, though I am a college student so your situation is quite a bit different than mine. is great - it's the best budgeting software I've found anywhere.

First, as others have mentioned, you need to figure out how much you are spending and how much you are earning on a monthly basis. Income should be pretty simple if you work consistent hours. If you tie your bank account to Mint, it will go through and find old transactions (as many as show up on online banking, as far as I know).

For example, if you earn $x per month, set your overall budget to be $x. Break the spending down into categories. It is quite a bit easier than using a spreadsheet or pen and paper as most things are categorized automatically for you, and if Mint gets something wrong you can correct it and make it automatically change the category for that vendor - for example, Costco shows up as Groceries for me, Costco Gas shows up as Gas & Fuel, etc. I recommend going through the past months (August and July probably) and categorize your spending so you know where you are, spending-wise.

Categories I have: Groceries, Rent, Utilities, Gas & Fuel, Savings, Haircuts, Laundry (I go to a laundromat), and Shopping (a generic category I use for spending money on fun stuff). You would also probably want to set up a Health category too.

The first step is simply knowledge. You need to know how much you are spending. Only by facing the truth about how much you spend (and trust me, this is tougher than it seems) can you develop a system and discipline yourself. You need to be honest with yourself first.

Personally, I don't care for cash as I find it easier to track spending with a debit card using Mint. That's just my personal preference though - you may find it harder to fork over cold hard cash than swiping your card, which gives you a psychological edge in the battle for self-discipline.
posted by o310362 at 11:56 PM on August 30, 2013

I'll limit my suggestion to one subject: housing. If I was in your position--with no children and hopefully no pets--and desperately needing to reduce expenses, I would try to rent a room in someone's home. Not a roommate situation, but actually renting a room in a private household. It's sometimes furnished, and typically includes shared common space, kitchen, laundry, parking. Whatever rent you pay is likely to include utilities and access to wifi. It's one very good way to save a lot of money.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 1:06 AM on August 31, 2013

I am weird with money, in that I'm amazing at saving money a lot of the time and I rarely buy things. Sometimes I get obsessed with a hobby though, and think I need ALL THE THINGS. I think it might be a similar thing here. However, I rarely blow through my savings.

I'm with everyone who says it's psychological. You gotta figure out why you think retail therapy will 'fix' anything, and kind of put in mental shortcuts to distract yourself from spending.

In general this is what works for me:

- Figure out your budget. Work out what you need for bills, gas, rent etc, relative to what you make-- then put the entirety of that (+20% in case it fluctuates between bills) aside every month without fail. What's left is what you can spend on you. Take half of that, and put it aside for food. Take 3/4s of what's left, and put that in the bank. What's left, is for 'treats' -- entertainment or going out.

- I have a regular account for my paycheck, and a savings account. It's got the best interest my bank offers. I only let myself spend what's in my regular account. My savings has better rates. I will aim to put at least 100 into savings a month, usually more. Once I transfer money over to my savings, I am loathe to touch those savings. I will only dip into it in emergencies. I will put money aside, even if I'm not saving for anything in particular at the time. However, I usually think of a end goal in mind. I like to travel, so for me it's usually a trip-- even if I haven't planned it yet. It's my 'someday trip'. So try and save, even if $50 a month.

- I used to get buyers remorse too, after impulse buys. So now, I'm a little more critical. When I'm faced with something I want, I ask myself: Do I need it? Will I actually wear it/read it/use it? Do I really love it? Is it a good deal? Is it good value for money? Do I need it right now? Can I get it later? Why do I want it? These are all things I ask myself before I buy anything. If the answer is "no" I will not buy it. In terms of clothes, I will not buy it unless I absolutely adore it, or it's a super bargain. I also prefer to spend on outings (going out with friends to the movies) instead of 'things'.

- I do not buy anything on credit. At all. Ever. If I don't have enough money to buy the thing, it doesn't get bought. I only take a credit card on holiday and only use it for emergencies. But right now I don't even have a credit card.

- Plan your meals week by week, and buy groceries 'on special'. I rarely buy full price. Make a shopping list and write down what you need and how much it is in advance. Give yourself an upper limit, according to your budget, and do not stray from it. If your find yourself, 'ooh I didn't know I wanted this,' like gimmicky items, and adding things to your cart while shopping, opt to grocery shop online instead, sticking to your list that way.

Also sell some stuff. Sell those books on Ebay or trade them in or whatever. I'm sure there's a bunch of weird quirky things you can sell, too. It's a pain, but start doing it now, so that when you move it will be easier. Take that money you make from selling your things and add them to that savings account where it can accumulate interest. Since you've already cleaned out once, you're already aware of how much stuff you don't need. But you'll be surprised how much more you can simplify.

Good luck!
posted by Dimes at 3:31 AM on August 31, 2013

Save first. Transfer your savings to a separate account that is less accessible than checking.

Look at your habits and ask yourself how you can make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. I started to write several paragraphs on delving into what is going on in your mind when you overspend, which is worthwhile, but the first thing to do is just set up hurdles. Everyone is different - but figure out what hurdles will work best for you.

Start reading frugality blogs and maybe join a frugal forum. It really helps when you have a buddy supporting your goals, and if you are regularly reading about frugality it will help you keep this new value in mind.

Start thrift shopping. Finding something great for $2 can be incredibly exciting.

Look for a support group.

AND START RETURNING THINGS. If you get home with a pile of books or shoes or whatever and realize that you got carried away, take them back.
posted by bunderful at 7:53 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tell yourself what you can't do. Then you'll figure out how to make up for it. For instance:

You can't eat out anymore at all unless it's a special social occasion. No grabbing fast food or muffins or any shit like that. This also includes grabbing fast food and taking it home. No going with everyone from work to the usual fast food place -- that's not a special social occasion. You now do all your own cooking. Maybe that throws a wrench in your usual morning snack or work lunch, so you have to make up for it by making food at home and bringing it in. So you need to buy some sensible reusable plastic containers for the food you're going to be taking to work, maybe freezable for storage and microwavable for heating up at lunchtime. You need some good recipes for food you can make in large batches and freeze in small containers, so you can pull out a homemade chili to microwave for lunch.

You can't shop at the overpriced corner grocery. You have to do all your shopping once or twice a week (figure out the exact days it's going to be) at the big store with the low prices. That means you now have to start planning your grocery shopping a little better. You need to make lists, think ahead a few days, so you can shop Sunday night for everything you need until next Sunday except for maybe some perishables.

You can't drive anywhere you could bike or walk in reasonable time. You have to leave the car parked, maybe put on sneakers and a small backpack, and use your legs.

posted by pracowity at 9:18 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a pretty hardcore cheap-ass, and I didn't use to be. (At all.) It's a tendency you can develop over time.

My main piece of advice is to work a lot on your budget. Try to make a very detailed one -- including money for fun stuff, monthly savings for big annual expenses, monthly savings for things you can expect to go wrong eventually (vehicle maintenance, big health care expenses, etc). Then track every penny you spend, and use that information to refine the budget.

This sounds like nothing, in itself. But spending a lot of time with the numbers really helps change the way you think about things. It makes Fun Small Purchases (which are a major temptation of mine as well) look less fun, and more like $20 that could be going into your savings that month.
posted by gerstle at 3:37 PM on August 31, 2013

I could use any tips or tricks you might have to help me rein in my spending. I need to do this right now.

Don't carry credit cards with you, and bring just enough cash to cover planned purchases while you are out.

Remove all your credit card info from shopping sites, you'll be forced to do more steps to shop online.

Hide an extra $20 or $40 somewhere difficult to get at in your car, just in case you run low on gas.

There are the obvious problems with not having access to more funds in emergencies, but if you're broke you won't have those funds anyhow.
posted by yohko at 8:10 PM on August 31, 2013

Also, and counter-intuitively, budget a certain amount of money for spending on whatever fun stuff you want, even if it's just $5 a month. Put some thought into how to most enjoy spending it.
posted by yohko at 8:12 PM on August 31, 2013

1) Get a library card. There's like a million books on personal finance, and many of them are the same advice with a different name on the cover. These typically serve as promotional material for seminars --book covers featuring the author prominently are generally a bad sign. My two favored genres for personal finance are Nolo Press and behaviorial economics / finance / psychology. Some slants institutional ("people want to save for retirement but never seem to have the personal budget for it, so companies should institute a default policy of allocating 50 percent of all raises to retirement contributions"), some slant personal ('young people have a longer investment horizon for retirement, and should favor a heavier stock portfolio').

2) From that reading, I've gathered that willpower is a thing, and it will fatigue. So do not squander it. I'm not telling you this to shame you, but to recognize that we have to spend time designing our lives because the 'reptilian brain'/'system 1'/'inner child' dictates our momentary reflexive actions.

What does that mean? Install adblock. Some might pride themselves on not clicking on Facebook ads for dresses (to pick a former roommate's vice), but the prudent never see the ad in the first place. Use Tivo or similar to skip TV ads. If you have a long commute, podcasts can help distract you from radio advertising.

3) Work on the big ticket items. If 500 dollars a month is a lot to you, then the changes you need to make are going to be big as well. Too many people are selling the Latte factor in personal finance to compensate for the relative inability to do anything else.

4) Pay in cash, or plan ahead. Studies show that credit cards correlate with higher purchase prices, and that this penalty disappears when the users plan ahead. So if you're chasing the 1-2 percent cashback, make sure it's for things you already budgeted for.
posted by pwnguin at 9:22 AM on September 1, 2013

The best advice I've seen on breaking bad habits is replacing them with new ones. Eating out too much? Think about what you want to get there, and then pick up the groceries to make it, saving money and learning to cook something better at the same time.

Buying books you don't have time to read? Add them to your wishlist instead. At the end of the month, buy the one you most want. That works for a lot of spending actually -- add things to a wishlist (either on Amazon or as a note on your phone) and evaluate at the end of the month how much you actually need it (and how much total you'll be spending on these things). The key to is to take the impulse out of impulse spending -- you'll buy way less if you change it into impulse wishlisting.

Nothing will improve your situation more quickly than reducing your rent, as it's most likely your biggest expense. Don't wait until the end of the year -- find a cheaper apartment immediately, and sub-lease your current place.

I'd bet your car is your other biggest expense. Take some time to see if you can:
1) Get a better deal on insurance.
2) Reduce the amount of driving you do - can public transport get you to work and back, or the grocery store? Can you do better at batching errands together so you're making fewer trips to and from the house? Can you adjust your schedule to avoid idling in rush hour traffic?
3) Make sure you're not doing anything dumb, like driving around a bunch of extra junk / heavy stuff in the trunk. More weight in the car = more gas used.

Also, you mention prescription expenses. Talk with your doctor, see if there's a cheaper generic alternative to anything you're taking that could work just as well.

Hope things improve!
posted by ElfWord at 9:02 AM on September 3, 2013

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