My tastes are richer than my wallet
June 2, 2015 5:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to start to budget more and I periodically have these a-ha moments where I realize I have been spending waaaay too much money on things that I shouldn't. Help me figure out what else I'm missing.

I'm trying to really tighten my budget and I had a big a-ha moment a few weeks ago when I realized I was paying over $5 for Tom's of Maine toothpaste at the local health food store, and the supermarket had Crest for $1. I think I've gotten into bad habits with unnecessarily fancy tastes that I really can't afford. Can you help me figure out what other things I'm wasting my money on? What are some common mistakes people make when making the shift to a tighter budget?

I'm familiar with the reddit groups that address budgeting, but haven't found that they address this issue in particular.
posted by Toddles to Shopping (49 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
There's a good chance you're wasting money on coffee every day. Just plunge that shit, buddy.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:52 PM on June 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Buying coffee vs. making it?
(haha jinx!)
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 5:52 PM on June 2, 2015


(On preview: heh.)
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:53 PM on June 2, 2015

Have you been writing down every single penny you're spending? Doing so for a month (or even a week or a few days) would be a great start and help you determine where to cut back.
posted by smorgasbord at 5:53 PM on June 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

Toothpaste is not an area where you bleed money.

You bleed money by doing dumb shit like being too lazy to pack a lunch to work so you drop $7+ every day for a meal. You bleed money by stopping at the coffee shop instead of brewing your own. You bleed money by going out for drinks with friends instead of hanging out on the porch with a 6 pack. You bleed money by getting thirsty while you're out and stopping in a shop to buy a $3 bottle of water instead of just carrying a bottle with you. That sort of thing.

Dropping $5 on toothpaste (what, maybe every other month?) is not something that you're throwing gobs of money at. (That said, you can get Tom's of Maine toothpaste cheaper online.)

Go through and evaluate your daily life and see where your actual day to day money goes. That's where you'll find the stuff that really makes a difference.

Also, use a light touch on your thermostat.
posted by phunniemee at 5:56 PM on June 2, 2015 [58 favorites]

Eating out.
Drinking out.
Paying for monthly services that you don't use, for example on your phone, cable or subscription services.

To me, examining regular monthly expenses is usually the place I can find savings that repeats with no impact on my happiness. I'd continue to buy the Tom's, personally.
posted by vunder at 5:59 PM on June 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Drinks with dinner. Going out for dinner at all. Eating meat or cheese daily or buying organic. Buying lunch instead of packing it. Buying things new instead of used (new furniture, new clothes, new pots and pans, etc).
posted by wrabbit at 6:02 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's easier on your clothes, and uses a lot less electricity/fossil fuels, and can cool (in summer) or humidify (in winter) your house, to air-dry some of your clothes rather than running them through a clothes dryer.

You don't need to order a drink with your restaurant meal. You will save an _amazing_ amount of money (and health) by drinking just water.

You also don't need to have breakfast cereal for breakfast. You can have a few pieces of cheese, or some leftover dinner, and you'll probably feel much better.

***People do survive without drinking any coffee at all.
posted by amtho at 6:04 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you tried /r/Frugal? They love this kind of topic.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:05 PM on June 2, 2015

I budget my money such that I have a finite amount of money for groceries ($50 per week for one person) and miscellaneous expenses.

Start by figuring out how much money you are taking home and then decide how you want to allocate it. Cut yourself off when you have spent all of the money in a category. If Tom's toothpaste is something your heart and soul really needs, look at your $10 per week (or however much) personal care budget and decide if the leftover six is enough to cover other stuff you want to buy. And make trade offs where necessary (sometimes I spend $40 per week at Food Lion and the other $10 at Whole Foods on the eggs of joyful free range chicken-massaged chickens).
posted by mermily at 6:06 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have Grocery Outlet, or similar overstock/closeout grocery near you? They have both closeout/one-off sales of products and everyday low prices which are generally are the cost-leader for the area I live in. As an example, perfectly good, fresh non-rBGH milk is $2.40 at Grocery Outlet, versus $3.49 at Target or Trader Joe's, versus $4.20 at the grocery store, versus $4.99 at the bodega, versus $6-7 for fancy organic milk at Whole Foods. You can shop there first, and then fill in the gaps from the more expensive stores.

Do you have a post-paid cell phone plan? Cricket and Straight Talk offer $35-$45 plans on virtually any network that provide unlimited talk, text, and healthy amounts of LTE data.

Do you have cable or satellite? Cancel it. You can always get it back. If you find you don't need it, perhaps because you're using less expensive Internet services like Netflix or SlingTV to supplant it, savings accomplished. If you find you do need it, as long as you wait 3-6 months before you resubscribe you can often get back in on new subscriber deals.

Do you have a home phone line, don't use it, but don't want to lose your number? Transfer it to an inexpensive VoIP provider (I use this one), and set up forwarding to transfer calls to the number of your $35 unlimited post-paid cell phone.

If you pay for electricity, replace your lightbulbs with LEDs (Cree and Philips make inexpensive and high quality bulbs). If you rent, keep the incandescents around to swap back in, then take the LEDs with you when you leave. If you pay for heat, install (or see if your landlord will install or let you install) a programmable thermostat, and have it turn down the heat when you're not around.

There are also the old standbys: look for a cheaper place, eat out less, make your own coffee, drink water instead, take public transportation instead of driving or cabs, re-evaluate car insurance quotes, wait for sales, and never, ever pay retail.
posted by eschatfische at 6:19 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not taking advantage of easy money. For example, my supermarket has a customer loyalty card where you can load electronic coupons on it from their app for stuff you're probably buying anyway since they know your buying habits. That same card gets me 20¢ off per gallon if a drive an extra two miles to a participating gas station.

My Amex card has rewards in their app where if you select the offer and use your card at the store in the offer, you get money added to your card. Things like gas, the hardware store, restaurants. They are places I would have gone anyway.
posted by cecic at 6:21 PM on June 2, 2015

Booze and meat are both really expensive. Eating out is really expensive (and alcohol, appetizers, and desserts are REALLY expensive.) Shop at secondhand stores for clothes, simple electronics, and furniture before going to the mall.

If you don't use your car as often as most people, call your insurance company and ask if there's a deal for, say, not driving to work. My husband once mentioned this in an off-hand way and we saved like a hundred bucks a year. Likewise, taking a hard look at any electric bill/data plan/cable bill and seeing if there is a less expensive option. No, I don't need 2GB/month, and off-hours reduction in electricity rate works great for our family, as we're not usually home during the day and can set a timer on the dishwasher.

Heating and cooling are beasts. Put on a sweater, or take off your pants, depending on your location and time of year.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:22 PM on June 2, 2015

Go through your bank statement, check for bank fees, stuff like ATM fees because you are too lazy to walk a block add up. Check for weird monthly subscriptions you've forgotten about or fees for services you don't use very much.
posted by wwax at 6:31 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to feel super guilty about the cabs I take until I started tracking them and realised I spent the same amount on them as I do on birthday gifts each month for random kids (I have to get 3-4 gifts each month, it adds up fast). Not that I don't love birthdays, I do, but by planning ahead with sales and being thoughtful, I can get just as great and appreciated presents for the kids, as the last-minute "crap, grab that Lego box and wrap it fast" gift runs, and the cabs I take free up hours of time and add flexibility to my schedule I need. So now I budget way less for gifts, and feel okay about cabs. What you spend money on needs to make sense to you and what you value. Groceries are super-easy to save money on if you go college student or cook ahead or cut out meat.

I cannot say enough good things about tracking your expenses. YNAB is great but Excel works just fine too.

Also look out for subscriptions - I suspended my subscriptions for three months (most places have a "holiday" feature so you don't get penalties) and then at the end of the three months, cancelled those I didn't miss and happily paid for those I had missed.

Turn off Amazon instant ordering if you have it. Oh and make your online shopping passwords something mnemonic that reminds you of a saving goal like "ThisWillDelayMyTripToSpain" and don't autosave the password.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:59 PM on June 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

How often to wear clothes before washing

Also, you can steam clean with a $15 clothes steamer to avoid the dry cleaner and extend jackets and cardigans past that 4-5 wearings.
posted by estelahe at 7:05 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

After a decade+ of reading AskMe these are usually the places where people have wiggle room

Habits: smoking, drinking, coffee drinks, recreational drugs, eating lunch out
Subscriptions: cable, phone, internet, magazines. You can get all of these for less than you are paying.
Paying Retail: look for coupons, sales, discount places, comparison shop
Regular routines: space out or cut down dry cleaning, haircuts, manicures, other "splurge" things
Culture Fit: resist new clothes every season, new outfits for every wedding, new accessories, holiday decorating
Tech: Don't replace it until it breaks
Fees: Check interest rates, overage fees, ATM fees, late fees
Food: buy more ingredients and less pre-prepared stuff. Make multiple servings and save/freeze and bring to work

There are several levels of frugal. As people have said, it's fine to spend more on toothpaste if it's the stuff you want and you're not paying a shit ton for it. And it comes out in the wash if you're paying $3 in ATM fees once a week for example
posted by jessamyn at 7:23 PM on June 2, 2015 [33 favorites]

Jessamyn's list covers the typical things that are small individually, but total to a significant amount of money. But don't forget to look at the big-ticket items: rent and transportation, for example. Insurance (car and health) can be a big ticket item, too. And I know people whose vacation and holiday spending exceeds what I spend on rent, by a significant margin.

In other words, don't miss the forest for the trees.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:29 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's a mindset I find interesting amongst some of my friends where they must have the best quality of everything. So they buy the $5000 bed, the fastest laptop, the uber fashionable furniture and stay at the luxury hotel. Sometimes, the money may have been worth it, but all these people seem to struggle with money, even though they are on really good wages. Knowing what splurges are worth it to you is important, along with the realisation that it's got to fit in your budget.

Writing everything down for awhile is the best way to catch the small things that add up.
posted by kjs4 at 7:48 PM on June 2, 2015

Brand names. As with your Tom's of Maine example, brand loyalty can cost you a TON of money, and you are probably far more brand loyal than you think you are. Next time you go shopping, buy the store brand of everything on your list. Not everything will match up to the brand name items in quality, but a surprising number will, and that will save you some money. Things I've found that are as good (or better) than the popular name brands include

* baby wipes (Kirkland Signature)
* diapers (Target brand)
* condiments
* dry cereal
* most canned and frozen vegetables
* paper goods
* some salad dressings
* baking ingredients (sugar, salt, nuts, flour, etc) and many spices
* OTC medications
* some cleaning products
* feminine hygiene products
* shelf-stable staples like rice, pasta, sauces, stock

If you have the time to do couponing or play the CVS game, being brand-fickle can save you even more than just defaulting to the store brand, since you'll be pairing coupons with sales and BOGOs, which aren't often available on store brand merchandise.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:55 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I see people routinely blowing their cash by not paying attention to where they buy. Shopping at CVS or Walgreens is insane if you are buying things that are not on sale. Their regular price markups are huge. For example a 12 pack of coca-cola is between 4.50 to 5.50 regular price. On sale you can a case for 3.00 if you buy three ( and cola is almost always on sale somewhere and Walmart will price match so you can buy as much you want even if other places have limits because walmart has no loyalty card to track you by ). Yet I routinely see people buying single cases of cola. What point is having your IRA earn 10% when your spending habits cost you 50%?

Avoid brands, avoid whole foods, pay attention to store flyers for things you buy regularly. Regularly try low end or generic brands now and then to see if you can comfortably downgrade. Switching to a cheaper single ply toilet paper saves us almost $25 a month (luxury toilet paper is ridiculous - the rolls are expensive and run out almost instantly. Going single ply means the rolls are both far cheaper and last a lot longer). Generic medicines and OTC remedies are at least half the price of brand names and just as effective.

And remember the best way to save is to not spend at all. Don't buy things that don't bring you joy.

Only use coupons for things you already buy and if it is something you buy regularly think about buying coupons on ebay to bulk purchase if it is a good savings and you have storage space. Remember that coupons try to trick you into developing brand loyalty so don't start buying brands if you don't need/want to.

Pay for convenience only when convenience really matters. Don't pay for convenience because you are being lazy or thoughtless.

Don't buy high end vodka.
posted by srboisvert at 8:01 PM on June 2, 2015

My husband eats a Zone bar every day for breakfast. These are 1.39 at the fancy grocery store and .80 or so on sale with coupons at Target.

$1.39 * 365 = $507.35
$0.80 * 365 = $292.00
Difference = $215.35

Apply that to every food item you eat and it can add up to thousands per year.
posted by TheClonusHorror at 8:10 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

For me, the easiest and most effective rule for getting by in budget times is "don't buy anything you don't need." It also helps with clutter.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:12 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've mentioned this here before: I sometimes play a game with myself where the goal is to go for an entire day (or weekend) without spending any money.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:32 PM on June 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

My biggest financial leaks are special things that I think of as "just this one time" treats, clothes, and prepared food/drink. Everything else pales in comparison.

The "just this one time" expenses are the most pernicious, for me.
posted by grudgebgon at 8:47 PM on June 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

You need to examine where you're spending money, using whatever tool works well for you (YNAB,, doing it by hand) because until you have visibility into where your money is going, you can't be sure you're targeting the problem areas.
posted by Candleman at 9:05 PM on June 2, 2015

YNAB, YNAB, YNAB. Set spending and saving goals for yourself; check your budget, not your bank balance, before you spend; and track your expenses. It's the best way to realize all the trade-offs you end up making when you spend too much in one category and have to make it up by cutting spending in other categories.
posted by amicus at 9:25 PM on June 2, 2015

See if there's an ethnic grocery in your area. The Mexican grocery routinely has apples, pears, grapes, zucchini, broccoli all for 50-80c/lb in my area. The big grocery store, $1.00/lb is a big sale. This also encourages me to eat healthier, which is a savings in the long run ( I know it's a cliche. It's also true.)

And try bulk bins for rice, beans, etc. Often quite a bit cheaper (though if you don't get a good airtight container for storage, you can lose stuff to spoilage/bugs).

Don't drink. Including soda and juice. Tap water is cheap.
posted by Lady Li at 1:03 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

What you need to do is, for a week, document EVERY penny you spent. Some are obvious... take a photo of the receipt. Others are less obvious, like the stuff you whip out wallet or loose change without thinking.

Spend a couple hours and figure out WHERE are your money going. THEN you can figure out cheaper substitutes like the toothpaste examples you found.

Instead of $3 Palmolive dishwashing liquid you can try the $1 Dollar store brand...

Look up the discount places like DollarTree / Dollar General, Big Lots!, and so on. Keep in mind those may not be of the same quality, so it's how cheap can you stand kind of deal. "Broccoli" in DollarTree sucks compared to the same sort of package in Safeway or Target (cheap stuff is full of stems, not florets) for example. But if it's something generic like cooked and breaded chicken patties, who cares if it's Stouffers or no-name brand?

Learn where to find the clearance stuff in Target, Staples, etc. if you need other types of stuff.

Use Favado or other coupon trackers / discount trackers to track sales of the stuff you want to buy.
posted by kschang at 1:54 AM on June 3, 2015

Do one full grocery shopping trip at the "health food store."

Do another one at the "supermarket," buying similar items.

Save those two receipts. Compare the prices. See which store offers better prices on which kinds of products. Take into account not just the price on the receipt, but also freshness and volume — the health food store might charge higher prices for food that lasts longer, which could save money in the long run.

From then on, when you go to either store, only buy the things that are cheaper at that store (aside from things you need right away).
posted by John Cohen at 4:44 AM on June 3, 2015

One huge way to save money: cell phone plan. I buy reconditioned, unlocked GSM phones form ~$200, get a $30 SIM card from T-Mobile, and use the pay-as-you-go plan with no data; I end up spending $10-$15/month, and that's it. Over 12 months, that's $120-$180. (if you're paying $50/month, that's $600/year).

If I'm going somewhere new, I read and mostly memorize the directions, and also ask someone at the destination if there are landmarks to look for or tricky parking situations. It's really a lot safer, too.
posted by amtho at 4:54 AM on June 3, 2015

My biggest financial leaks are special things that I think of as "just this one time" treats, clothes, and prepared food/drink. Everything else pales in comparison.

The "just this one time" expenses are the most pernicious, for me.

The killers in our budget are the $100 to $400 items, not the mocha at the coffee shop. Things like vet bills, a trip to the beauty salon, or a new pair of shoes add up to serious money in a heartbeat, especially because each one alone tends to feel very necessary. (I mean, your shoes are falling apart! The rabies shot is due!) And at the same time, one pair of shoes is the same as months and months of mochas.

Watching spending through the year is what allows you to anticipate and budget for those kinds of things, rather than having them always be unexpected blows to the budget. They are predictable, but intermittent, which makes it easy to fail to include when working up a weekly or monthly budget.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:12 AM on June 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Kitchen management skills can eliminate waste if you find yourself throwing out spoiled food.

At our house, we plan menus, make a grocery list and buy nothing that is not on the list (unless it can be frozen or stored, and then it goes on next week's menus).

Similarly, we try to use everything. Chicken bones and carcasses go in the freezer for stock making. One leftover grilled sausage can be cut up into bits and added to scrambled eggs for two. For lunch today, I'll be making gravy, for poutine, from the saved pot liquor from the braised beef we made last month.

Buy the select-a-size paper towels so you're not using a whole one when half will do.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:36 AM on June 3, 2015

Some tips:

* Reduce meals eaten out. (This is a BIG one for me.) Make lunch and bring it to work whenever possible. Do meal planning whenever possible.
* Stop buying "organic" produce at the grocery store. "Organic" is merely grocery store code for "we can charge twice as much and the gullible hippies will pay it!"
* Do you have an Aldi near you? If so, great. Use them. They stock primarily store brands (and buy overstock of brand names from grocery suppliers), so their prices are cheap cheap cheap and I've so far been very impressed by the quality. Here's an article on how they stay cheap. If not, try to buy store brands wherever possible. They're cheaper, and usually (with some exceptions, which you'll discover on trying them) as good as (and sometimes better than) brand names.
* Stop going to Starbucks or ${expensiveLocalMomandPopCoffeeShop} instead of making coffee/tea yourself.
* Stop buying clothes that don't fit as a motivation to lose weight (I'm trying desperately to rid my wife of THIS money waster).
* Start making your own laundry detergent. It's so easy, and cheap. We grate Fells-Naptha soap and mix it with Borax, Washing Soda, and Baking Soda. You can Google how to do this.
* Does your state have competitive electricity suppliers? Shop them for the lowest electric rates. Electricity is electricity, unless you care about the way it is generated and its effect on the environment.
* Do you have a land line phone? You don't need it, and you're spending too much on it. I have a VoIP phone, which isn't technically land line, but I only keep it because my wife has family overseas and can call them for free that way. If not for that, I'd drop the VoIP phone in a heartbeat.
posted by tckma at 6:11 AM on June 3, 2015

Oh, and you won't get rich doing any of these things, but for a little extra money, consider:

* Taking surveys for points you can redeem for PayPal deposits or gift cards (MeMail me with your e-mail address for a referral link to one I use).
* This company that will pay you to send them your junk mail (I signed up for this but haven't started yet)
* This company will pay you to test websites for usability. (I haven't signed up for this because I'm a software engineer and sometimes do website stuff, so I don't really have the point of view they are looking for.)
* This company will pay you to do mystery shopping and/or business inspections. (Can't quite work this around my day job, so I haven't signed up.)
posted by tckma at 6:18 AM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Don't drink. Including soda and juice.

If you do like juice or some form of milk, it can generally be watered down quite a bit without any great loss. Or you can pair a small glass of it with a large glass of water for the same general effect without taking any hit on the taste/mouthfeel. It's remarkable how much longer cartons last when you drink them this way. Definitely don't be impulse-buying little "single"-serving bottles though! A big jug often costs the same if not less.
posted by teremala at 6:19 AM on June 3, 2015

I'm going to go against the grain a bit and suggest that while you should of course minimize unnecessary spending like eating out all the time or fancy drinks etc., you should not just buy the cheapest of everything if you can avoid it. Some of those items are cheap by exploiting labor, or by being low quality, etc. etc. You don't Need fancy or expensive (expensive doesn't mean fair trade or not made my Indian children), but especially for clothes, the saying "buy cheap, buy double" is not wrong.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 6:33 AM on June 3, 2015 [12 favorites]

I forgot to mention Amazon Mechanical Turk as another possible spare change maker for you. Here's a better explanation of that than I could give here.
posted by tckma at 6:50 AM on June 3, 2015

I learned frugality from my Mom. It helps to develop a habit of frugality. Going out with friends - am I ordering an expensive mixed drink because I really want it? Okay. Or else, how about a glass of house wine. I don't always buy the cheapest, if I really want the thick cut, reduced nitrates bacon, I'll spend the money. But I've thought about it. So, think about what toothpaste you really want to use. If you look, you'll find out they have the same amount of flouride, and the store brand is probably fine. But if you really like the Tom's and can afford it, no problem.

And buy less stuff in general. You don't have to have a new car every 5 years; you can easily stretch that to 6, 7, 10. I buy used cars because the savings is huge, and cars are made a lot better.

Do keep a spending diary for a while, and try to decide what spending is worthwhile to you, and what isn't. Also set some goals. Being frugal because you're trying to get the condo paid off is easier. I've earned well at times, not at others, and I'm debt-free, owning my house. Not having a mortgage is really awesome, and being attentive to spending and saving made it happen.
posted by theora55 at 7:05 AM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Agreeing with others that the budget killers aren't toothpaste.

- Look for "small" purchases you make multiple times a week, like coffee, eating out, drinks, car washes, etc. Eliminate as many of them as you can. Those add up EXTREMELY fast and are extremely easy to correct. It can help to take the time to actually calculate exactly how much you have spent on those things over the course of a year.
- Don't spend money on liquor you didn't buy from a liquor store. The mark up on restaurant/bar liquor is ludicrous and not worth it.
- Hell, stop drinking altogether except for properly special occasions. (no, the fact that it is a weekend isn't a special occasion).
- Never pay for drinks at a restaurant. Water works just fine, and 4$ for a glass of pop is not worth it, even if it is "bottomless". Just get water.
- don't spend money on laziness. Stop paying for stuff you can easily do yourself (car washes, manicures, pedicures, housecleaning, meals (ie. stop eating out), etc.)
- start saving a set amount of money every pay and put it aside in a separate "emergency savings" account, so that when those "just this once"/unplanned expenses happen you have money to pull from.
- Stop and make sure those unplanned expenses are actually necessary. Just because something broke doesn't mean that you absolutely have to replace it, right now.
- If it does need to be replaced, it doesn't mean that it has to be replaced by something you buy new. Very often you can get something second hand for a fraction of the cost that will work just as well. Always buying everything new is a LUXURY.
- have a set amount you allow yourself to spend on discretionary items and stick to that. Discretionary is, to me, everything other than bills, groceries, and mortgage. Social activities, eating out, clothing, treats, hobbies, etc. are all discretionary. You want to go that concert? Great, but that means you won't be able to eat out at a restaurant for the rest of the month.
- have a set amount you allocate to household expenses (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, new towels, repairs, etc) and have that transfered into a separate account every pay. Some weeks you won't need to touch it, and that is good, it needs to accumulate, so that when things do come up that you "need" you will have that money.
- have a set amount you are allowing yourself to spend on groceries and stick to that. IN my house groceries are this weird black hole where money just seems to fall, never to be seen again. We now have a very specific grocery budget that we force ourselves to live within. It is actually just the grocery budget we thought we were sticking to, only now we're holding ourselves 100% accountable for it. Since we have started doing this we have become aware that we were spending probably close to 200$ a month MORE than we though on groceries, and it was largely just little "Oh I'll just pick this up" purchases or "I know we have leftover stew, but I'd really like tacos tonight" change ups.
- get rid of your cable/satellite. Everything you want is online, one way or another, and you'd be surprised at how quickly you stop caring about all those shows you watch now. Giving up tv has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
- Got a gym membership? Do you go more than once or twice a week? No? Get rid of it. Too many people pay for gym memberships out of guilt and the hope that they will suddenly start using it.
- Learn that you DON'T need the best of everything, stop paying for labels and the appearance of status. You don't need to spend 150$ on a trim when you could spend 50$ at a totally good hairstylist for the exact same cut. Other things like cosmetics, fancy food, premium services, etc.

Seriously, toothpaste isn't the issue.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:28 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Think about what is important to you. What are you spending money on that you could easily do without? The answer to this is different for nearly everyone, despite common advice.

For example, everyone in this thread - and nearly all personal finance advice you'll read - will tell you to brew your own coffee daily. I don't do this. Why? I hate futzing with coffee on the subway, and to me it's worth $2 a day to buy it by my office so I can drink it at my desk. Now, if I were in dire financial straits, I might not do this, but as is it's fine.

I also enjoy having a drink with a meal at restaurants. If I'm going out to eat, I don't want water - I want a drink. I'll usually order beer, or one of the cheaper wines, but sometimes I'll even splurge for a cocktail. This is something I legitimately enjoy. You want to be able to enjoy your life, within reason.

So, what's not important to you that you are spending money on? What convenience are you paying for that isn't really much of a convenience at all? That's what you want to to figure out. I usually bring lunch from home now, it saves money, it's healthier, and I'm not really missing out on a whole lot by not eating deli sandwiches. Once a week, I usually allow myself to buy lunch. I've never been someone who cares about buying new clothes, or new gadgets, or just buying stuff generally, so I never spent much money on that. I like to travel, but I don't see the point in spending money on nice hotels when hostels and AirBnBs exist.

I think you want to look at your spending and decide what isn't worth it, and cut that out. Maybe it's coffee. Maybe it's pants. But the answer is going to be different for you than it is for me, and for others in this thread.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:57 AM on June 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

amtho: ***People do survive without drinking any coffee at all.

Flagged for offensive content.
- - -

So you should think about which purchases you unthinkingly pay for with cash -- it's those under-$5 things, right? They add up SO FAST because you don't think about them. Try using your credit card for a month exclusively, no cash, and then review that bill when it comes to figure out who's been slyly whittling away at your wallet.

Odds are it will be something small, like coffee, as suggested above. When you see the bill showing you four weeks of five days of $3 coffees, making sixty bucks a month or $720 a year, your hair stands on end! with that kind of budget, you could buy a nice Zojirushi mug, a good French press pot, and lots of good coffee to brew at home…which is just what I did. :7)

Next month, do the same thing with your lunches. You could totally buy a nice bento box or insulated bag and yummy deli stuff, and make your own lunches. As a bonus, you can eat these at your desk without being seen to leave to buy food, and then you're free to use your lunch hour to walk vigorously around town, or relax in the park, or run errands.

Lather, rinse, repeat, economize.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:08 AM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Most online banks / credit card companies will allow you to download your monthly activity if you dig enough. When figuring out my budget I spent an hour per month downloading my activity and putting it into a spreadsheet so I knew where I was spending my money. I put each expense and its description in 2 columns, then in the rest of the columns I had categories of expenditures (rent, groceries, booze, eating out, computer stuff, gas, other care expenses, insurance, etc) so I could put each expense in a category and total how much I'm spending in each category.

So that's an easy way to get started on this sort of thing - it won't take long to get a spreadsheet going and see where your money is going. From there you can start drilling into the categories that are higher than expected. Just log any cash expenses and add them to the spreadsheet manually.
posted by Tehhund at 8:14 AM on June 3, 2015

Seriously, toothpaste isn't the issue.

I think the OP was using toothpaste as an example of the problem they want to solve, not claiming that they're headed to the poorhouse because they've been buying crunchy granola toothpaste rather than the mainstream brand that's on sale.

Anyway, the thing that gets me (although I still find myself doing it) is realizing at 2:00 in the afternoon that Hey, I want ________ for dinner! That means I stop at the store on the way home and by the makings for _______, and I spend $13-20, or whatever, doing so. The next day, same story. I end up spending waaaay too much at the grocery store.

I do much better if I make myself go shopping on the weekend for food I'm going to eat during the week. I don't do actual meal planning -- which is the very smartest thing to do -- but I try to get good ingredients that are flexible enough to suit whatever craving hits me on a weekday afternoon. I save a lot of money that way (when I am good).

I heard a woman on some radio interview once -- I think she was a coupon clipper -- give a piece of advice that actually makes a lot of sense to me: Buy what you use, not what you need. So, if you use canned tomatoes regularly and you see them on sale for a really good price, or you have a great coupon for them, buy them -- even if you aren't immediately planning to make something with canned tomatoes. That way you end up stocking your kitchen with the things you use regularly, for cheap, and they're there when you need them.

YNAB is also great, as mentioned above. It requires some serious discipline, but it can change your life (and your savings account) if you have that discipline.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:40 AM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

i'm working on this too. here are a few things i've been doing for the long term savings.

if you're a sodastream user or heavy seltzer buyer, switch to your own home-built machine.

if you're a Keurig user, switch to buying coffee in bulk and french pressing/cold brewing.

make your own: foaming hand soap refills, dishwasher powder, laundry detergent.

use vinegar and baking soda instead of shampoo and conditioner.

make your own makeup (i didn't go all-out with this, i just bought a few pigments and mixed them with face lotion).

shop at thrift stores/etsy vintage section instead of buying purses/accessories new. also for household items- check if a thrift store appliance plus a replacement part is cheaper than a brand new appliance.

reconsider amazon prime if you subscribe to it.

i'm also trying to pare down my hobbies to one-at-a-time, rather than just buy supplies to keep around.
posted by ghostbikes at 12:58 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

oh also: i've had some GREAT haircuts at Supercuts and the like, and i can tip over 50% there and the total is still way less than a fancy salon.
posted by ghostbikes at 1:02 PM on June 3, 2015

Perspective is important. So it's great if you don't think there's a difference between fancy toothpaste and regular toothpaste; you just saved $4 for a tube. As long as you don't think there's a difference. If you don't brush as regularly because you don't like the cheap toothpaste and you get a cavity, you just wiped out the savings from 50 tubes of toothpaste, in the least pleasant way possible. (PS: If you use half as much toothpaste, you're probably still using enough, and you just cut the cost of toothpaste in half.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:19 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out Budget Bytes if you're looking for some cheaper recipes. I've made a couple things from her site and they are really good.
posted by jabes at 2:24 PM on June 3, 2015

If you're determined to eat organic, like I am, consider joining a CSA. I get a TON of fruit and vegetables and it breaks out to about $20 a week. There's no way I'd be spending that little if I was buying this stuff piece by piece at the grocery store. During the summer months when I have my CSA, my grocery bill is cut in half. I'm still eating strawberries that I froze last August. And if you have a friend you can split it with 50/50, even better. But one rule - I'm not allowed to buy any extra stuff at the store. So if I get kale and tomatoes one week, and I'm in the mood for corn... too bad! I eat what I get and that's it!

I also research and compare every "luxury" I have. I used to pay $55 a month to exercise at my stinky neighborhood Y. Then I visited every gym in a 30 block radius, and found the city sponsored fitness center that costs $50 for SIX MONTHS. It's like they're paying me to exercise. Same with yoga. I used to pay $10-15 a pop to do yoga. Then I found a place that's $5 a class. You can still have your luxuries but you have to do a little legwork!

Also get an immersion blender. No more buying expensive smoothies. Now you can make a smoothie in ten seconds in your kitchen.
posted by silverstatue at 7:31 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

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