Saving Money in 2017 – or, the Stop, Start, Continue activity for Resolutionists

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, for a few reasons. Mostly, because they are trite and done only because other people are doing it, and then they fail when people stop talking about them like they are a “thing.” Also, because I’m stubborn and fail to see how a date set on a calendar made by such a small subset of the universe is reason to change your life. However, it is a good time to reflect and make small life changes that are easily and realistically attained. The end of the holidays signals for many a return to normalcy, and it’s a perfect time to redefine what your normal is.

So, though I don’t make resolutions, I do like to make plans for how to live after the holidays. And I am not alone when I focus on changing my financial situation – in 2015, Spending Less and Saving More was 3rd highest resolution, beat out by losing weight and getting organized. It seems we all want to see our bank accounts change in some way or another. As I age, I’ve noticed my view on money and spending has become less about the sticker price of things, and more about the cost in terms of what I’m giving up – eg. is this item worth the 2 hours I’d have to spend at work – and away from my family and my hobbies – to pay for it?

At any rate, this time of year has be reevaluating what I spend my money on, and where I could stop spending it. Bleeding my work life into my home life (don’t you hate when that happens?) I’ve created a Start/Stop/Continue analysis for my wallet.

You could do a similar effort easily by making a list of activities you’d like to stop, activities you’d like to start, and activities you’d like to continue. It’s a good way to make some simple changes in life that add up, while recognizing what you already do that’s great. Below is my list – feel free to use it completely as your own or as a starting place to do your own spending analysis.

START

  • Go to the library more often to borrow books, movies, or for kid-play time
  • Buy USED – use Poshmark to buy used clothes, Letgo/Craigslist/Sale sites to buy items locally, and other items that can safely and reasonably be purchased secondhand.
  • Open a new ETSY/Online store to sell some of the crafts I make that sit around the house
  • Have At-Home date nights: make dinner & drinks and watch a movie or play a board game. Dressing up optional – no reason not to put on a nice dress!
  • Shopping ALDI – I’ve recently learned about shopping at Aldi, and while I’m not yet an expert, I’m getting there. After you get over the intimidation, it’s a really good place to shop for groceries. Also, since it supports my husband’s income through his new job after being laid off from Con Agra, I’m really supporting the household’s budget by doing my shopping there. Score!
  • Shopping seasonally. I would like to really learn how to shop seasonally to save money on produce. Not only as a cost savings, but as a way to incorporate fresh, healthy foods into my diet more easily.
  • Canning! I’d love to learn how to preserve my own food, which in combination with the above step of shopping seasonally, could truly result in some cost savings down the road. Once I get over my fear of botulism, that is.
  • Reviewing all bills for potential savings. There are some costs and charges that you just can’t fight – the electric bill, the water bill, the garbage bill… But others, you can. One of my former colleagues used to astound me with her ability to call up a company that she had contracted with – such as Direct TV – and tell them that she didn’t want to pay them as much as she was, AND GET A DISCOUNT FROM THEM! She must have been an amazing customer for them to not want to lose. The lesson I learned from her is that it’s worth a shot to call and ask these companies how you can lower your bills. You never know what discounts you are missing out on just because you aren’t asking. And what’s the worst that could happen?

STOP

  • Buying Calendars! (oops, too late for this year). There are so many options out there for printing your own calendars, including this adorable one I downloaded and printed myself. Vintage Botanical Printable Calendar – Live Laugh Rowe Granted, I paid for the paper and ink, but that is peanuts compared to what I would spend on a calendar from a store. It’s also supporting an artisan directly – if not monetarily since it was free, at least with my appreciation.
  • Buying books! I love supporting writers and local bookstores, but I have done that quite indiscriminately over the years, so it’s time I take a break.This is a two parter-
    • My ‘to read’ pile is GINORMOUS! I don’t need any new books for at least the 2 years it will take me to get through this.
    • Books can be borrowed from the public library for free.
  • No more gym membership! This one was painful, not because I will miss going to the gym to work out (I never did), but because my daughter will miss the swimming lessons that were free with membership and the once a month kids’ parties at the gym. However, when I compared the cost I was paying to be a member each month to the value I was getting out of it (26 or so swimming lessons a year + 8 or so nights of kid fun), it’s not worth it in the least! I went so far to see what it would cost to terminate my contract, and it was less than half of the cost of a month worth of membership, so I paid the fee and got out of my contract 9 months early. Totally worth it. I may go back someday, but it’s going to be after I’ve done enough gym-free working out that it will be a place I want to go more than once or twice a month. Time to dust off that treadmill in my basement, or the bikes in the garage, or my walking shoes and take a walk around the block. I can get just as great of a workout from home as I can at the gym (minus the hot tub- I will miss the hot tub).
  • Weekend Breakfasts Out. My family has gotten into this habit where once or twice a month, one of us will call the others on Saturday night and ask if we all want to do breakfast the next morning. And, after we argue for a good 45 minutes about where to eat (my stepdad doesn’t like places that are ‘fancy’ or ‘expensive’, and I don’t like the places he likes…) we finally decide on a place that isn’t spectacular, healthy, and can’t do anything I couldn’t do at home (more realistically, what my husband can do at home- I can’t cook an egg to save my life!). So from now on, if we want to do breakfast together, I’m cooking and anyone can come and join me. I like to cook and host, and this way I can do it more affordable and health-fully while I don’t have to worry about if the wait will be long.
  • Buying DVDs. Similar to the book situation, evaluating how often I pay $20 or more for a new DVD or Blu-Ray compared to how often I watch it just doesn’t add up. Not trying to short the movie industry here, but enough is enough!  There will be certain movies I buy regardless (Star Wars (anything but ep. 1 – 3), but otherwise, there’s Netflix, the public library, and friends that can loan me movies.
  • Paying for a smartphone. Yes – I said it. Once my current phone is paid off, I’m going back to a dumb phone. Hear me out. Since my husband is the bill payer in the household, I have a general idea of things, but not specifics. So imagine my shock when I found out that for two cell phone lines, including the lines themselves, phone payments, and phone insurance, we were sending the cell phone company OVER $200 A MONTH! Lots of shock. Lots and lots of shock. I couldn’t believe it! That’s how they get you though – new phones, data, taxes and fees… When I started to really think about how I could lower that bill, it dawned on me – I don’t need a smart phone. I need a phone to make calls from and send and receive text messages, but I can’t think of a life or death situation where if I don’t have google at my fingertips, I’m going to regret it. Most places anymore have wifi, and I will still be able to use that on my existing device once it’s paid off and no longer connected to the cell service. Additionally, I can still keep the device to use as a camera so I don’t have to carry my DSLR with me everywhere I go. And when I get home and on my wifi network, I can upload pics to instagram or twitter or whatever I’d like to do with them. So call me old, or un-cool, or whatever you’d like, but I for one CANNOT WAIT until I can go back to a slider phone with a qwerty keyboard for texting (sorry Mom, but flip phones are still a no-go for me) and send the phone company that much less money each month.
  • Subscription boxes. This was a tough one for me, since a subscription box is like getting a special gift once a month in the mail. Who doesn’t love getting gifts in the mail? But when you stop to think about if you’d actually spend the money you spent to go out and purchase the items, and if that answer is no, you should probably not have the subscriptions. Take a look at what you can live without, and then live without it.

CONTINUE

  • Saving $10/week for Christmas shopping. This is something I started a few years ago to help make the shopping at December easier on the budget, and I’ve never regretted it! That $520 at the end of the year covers all of my shopping so that I don’t feel a strain from it. I also don’t notice the $10 gone each week since I’ve been doing it for so long. Additionally, I start my shopping early in Aug/Sept when I see things on sale/clearance that I think my gift recipients would love and store them in my closet. When I do this, I just do it from my regular budget, so that when it does come time to shop, I find that the more done I am, the more I have of that $520 to put toward whatever else I’d like to put it toward. It’s a fun little bonus for me in December.
  • Listing unnecessary items for sale on sale sites. While I’m no millionaire as a result of it, I’ve made a nice little stack of cash from selling things on sites like Poshmark and Letgo to help pay for the new computer I needed in the fall. This is a great way to not only minimize the stuff and clutter in my house, but also to keep items out of landfills, help others buy used at a discount, and put an extra few dollars in my pocket. The little things all add up!
  • Meal Planning & Prepping. Saying that I spend nights on the weekend planning out what my family and I will eat for the coming weeks isn’t that glamorous or exciting, but it pays off in spades. Planning the meals out for the week decreases the odds that I will come home from work, stand in the pantry for five minutes staring blankly at 7 cans of random vegetables and 8 cans of tomato sauce, only to then shout, “Shoes on! We’re going out for dinner!” Additionally, taking time on Sunday to actually prep what I can for the week in advance further decreases those odds. Notice that they are only decreased? Yeah – I still have days where when I get home, the last thing on my mind is cooking – or warming up – food. But baby steps – it’s all about baby steps. I’d like to get even better at this in 2017 (uh oh- did this just turn into a resolution)?
  • Online Grocery Shopping & Curbside Pickup. Technically, this does cost a bit of money depending on what store you shop. But the advantages are absolutely worth it! Firstly, by doing your shopping online, you aren’t going to browse or wander past those bakery fresh croissants that are full of warm, buttery, flaky (fatty) goodness and find them somehow jumping into your shopping cart. There are no impulse buys when you do your grocery shopping online (side note – Hy Vee – PLEASE don’t add a function that tells me what other people are buying like Amazon does. I don’t think I can control myself). Secondly, it saves me so much time! I can sit on the couch Saturday night with a coffee (cocktail) while watching a TV show (for free) in the background as I order my groceries, as opposed to spending up to 2 hours Sunday morning/afternoon going through the store, picking the items, standing in line to pay, trudging through the parking lot… Seriously – have you not tried online shopping yet? It’s life changing! I give it less than a decade before there are grocery stores that have no actual store and are made only for online shoppers. Wait – that’s my idea. You saw it here first, people, so let’s give credit when that comes around 😉
  • Cut the Cable Cord. I struggled to put this in the continue bucket as I don’t think it needs to be said. My husband and I cut cable a few years ago when our daughter was getting old enough to move around and seriously limit the amount of time we were actually able to sit and watch a show. And we went through the same thing other families do when they consider getting rid of cable. What will I watch? Netflix. Hulu. DVDs. But won’t I get bored? No. Read a book if you can’t find anything to watch. But I’ll miss (insert show title here). No, you won’t. You’ll miss it the first season. After that, it will come out on Netflix or Hulu or DVD that you can borrow from the library or a friend and you’ll be caught up again. It only takes one season to cycle through and feel like you’re not missing out. Not only will you save so much money each month (I think my household saved over $100 a month when we cut the cord – how sad is it looking back that we spent that much on a bunch of channels that still had nothing on them), but you’ll start to find yourself with the TV on less and less, making the time to actually sit down and watch a show more purposeful. It’s amazing how much more time you have in life when you turn off the “idiot box.”
  • Home Movie Nights. I LOVE going to the movies! It’s so fun – the movie is on a huge screen, you aren’t distracted by all the things at home, the popcorn is DELICIOUS, and for 2 hours, your only job is to sit back and be entertained. But, they are so expensive. Half the time, the movie isn’t that great. And how many calories did I just eat in that $10 bucket of popcorn? Especially now that I have a child old enough to see the movies – as much fun as it is to take her, I also need to consider taking out a loan each time I do! I’m going to start to incorporate more at home movie nights, complete with healthier, movie-themed snack & dinner menus, comfy pillows & blankets, and a strict no-distraction rule to make it seem more movie theater like. And saving movie theaters for more special occasions will make it even more enjoyable when the time comes to head to the theater.