When it comes to saving money, a lot of experts lack creativity. Their advice is always about drastically changing your habits, as if it works like magic, and cutting your spending to the bare minimum.
Spending too much on lunch? Brown bag it every day.
Spending too much on gasoline? Carpool and drive less.
While that's all good advice, it's not always that simple. Why do you think New Year's resolutions often fail by February?
Carpooling is nice, until you have to work late or you have an appointment in the middle of the day.
Bringing your lunch into work every day sounds good, until you get home late the night before and are too tired to make your lunch. Will buying it tomorrow kill you? No...
If saving money just means cutting back on everything, we might as well find a nice cave to live in to save on rent and some animal skins to wear to save on clothing, and we could hunt and gather for our food because nothing beats roasted squirrel over a roaring fire, right? Plus think of all you'd save on haircuts alone.
That's ridiculous, of course, but more importantly, it also won't work. Habits must be changed gradually and over a long period of time, not drastically, quickly and with a line in the sand.
I have a better way.
1. Invest in your luxuries.
Let's take a topic that money experts love to talk about: coffee. A lot of money experts will chastise you for buying a cup of coffee every morning. They say it will lead to financial ruin.
The reality is that $2 cup of freshly brewed coffee won't break your budget. If you need a cup of coffee to jump-start morning or help you make that drive into work, I think you should keep getting it.
But what if you could brew yourself an even better cup of coffee, save time, save money and not give up any of the enjoyment? Treat yourself to a fancy high-end coffee maker. Invest in your coffee routine.
I call it the Upgrade and Save Strategy. I bought a high-end espresso machine a few years ago, spending more on it than I'd ever spent on an appliance. This little machine makes an espresso in less than 30 seconds, costs less than 70 cents a shot, and I save myself a trip to the coffeehouse to get my coffee fix.
The machine cost me a little more than $100, and I'll save that within the first year. An espresso costs about two bucks at the local coffee place, so I save a dollar every single day. I'll recoup my investment within a year and get to enjoy delicious coffee within 30 seconds of wanting it.
There are so many areas in your life where you can invest in your luxuries, get a better experience and even save money in the long run. Look around at all the things you do on a regular basis and see where you can apply this logic.
2. Keep a log of your subscriptions.
When Talia shared three ways to save $100, one of them was cutting subscriptions you don't use.
What if you don't know if you use them? Or you feel you use them so much you couldn't live without them?
Would you be surprised to learn that you often don't use your subscriptions as often as you think you do? Start a log, and keep track of how often and how long you use certain services. (Get a time journal worksheet.)
I did this with the two cable boxes we rent from Verizon. We pay about $15 per month, per box. Absurd, I know. I soon realized that we spent about 90 percent of our TV-watching hours on just one single box. We were paying $15 per month for a box we were hardly using. I sent the cable box back about two months ago and haven't even noticed it was gone.
If you have any subscriptions that have levels of service, such as cable TV, internet or your cell phone service; consider downgrading your package to one that fits your needs. You may have signed up under one plan but now your usage habits may fit a cheaper one. When I first signed up for my cell phone service, I needed 500 minutes each month. Years later, after reviewing my bill, which has its own time log, I realized I was using far fewer minutes each month and downgraded my plan.
A log can show you how often you really use something and not just how often you think you use it. Downgrade or cancel plans that you don't use and you can save money with zero sacrifice.
3. Comparison-shop all monthly expenses.
I only discovered the $15 per month rental charge because I was comparison shopping our cable TV service.
We often subscribe to something, lock in a great deal for a couple years, and never comparison shop those services again even if the rate goes up. I do this all the time for my cable TV and Internet, satellite radio, auto/home insurance, etc.
What if I told you that comparison shopping is the key to saving money? When you make lunch each day, you have to work every single time you save money. You have to prepare your lunch, remember to bring it with you, and then fight temptation when your co-workers or friends ask you out to lunch.
Saving money is easier than that. Comparison shop your fixed expenses, the ones you pay every single month, just once and you'll reap the savings every single month without lifting a finger. It may not sound like fun, chatting up a cable TV representative for 15 minutes, but make that investment today and reap the benefits for the duration of your contract.
If you've never negotiated a service before, our guide to ruthlessly negotiating your cable bill contains scripts you can use to negotiate practically anything. It's written for the cable bill, but you can use the same principles for any service that locks you into a contract.
These are just three ways you can save big money without sacrificing a lot. Remember: gradual change.