- Emmie Martin/Business Insider
After accounting for rent, utilities, and all my other fixed costs for the month, I was left with roughly $140 per week to spend on food and entertainment. While that’s certainly more than enough money to live comfortably on, I had an out of town trip planned for the end of the month and didn’t want to spend it worrying about my budget, so I aimed to save as much as I could up front.
My inclination to save aggressively at the beginning of the month worked, and I ended up only $20 over-budget – a win in my book.
The most effective strategy I used to save money throughout the experiment is simple and straightforward: I made a list of everything I wanted to buy.
Whenever I realized I needed (or wanted) something, whether it was a new pair of shoes, shampoo, or rice, I wrote it down and waited at least a day. The waiting period gave me time to decide if it was something I really needed or something I could pass on.
Some purchases are no-brainers: When you run out of shampoo, you indisputably need more. But I realized there are other items I considered “needs” that aren’t actually necessary or could be postponed until I had room in my budget for them.
Contemplating each purchase before handing over my credit card worked for a multitude of reasons:
It forced me to evaluate the true value of each purchase.
Creating a “to buy” list not only showed me which purchases were completely unnecessary, it also helped me differentiate between investment items and things I could live without.
For example, as summer turned to autumn, my “to buy” list began to overflow with fun items, from a new fall coat to seasonal decorations for my apartment. While neither thing is truly necessary, I recognized that I wouldn’t regret investing in a new coat, but could skip loading up on decorations with no real purpose. Without taking the time to marinate on the decision, it would have been easy to jump on both purchases.
It eliminated impulse buys.
At places like CVS and Target, it’s easy to grab semi-useful items and throw them in my cart. New socks? Could always use more! A bag of M&Ms? Why not, it’s only $4!
But more often than not, the things I grab on impulse are far from necessary and I’m better off reallocating those funds to something worthwhile.
It taught me to live with less.
I never entered a store without my list in tow, which kept each shopping trip quick and efficient. Instead of wandering the aisles lusting after random things, I beelined straight to the items on my list and bypassed the rest. I never left a store wishing I had picked up a new color of nail polish or wondering if maybe I do need a knife made specifically to cut avocados, because the answer is, I don’t.
Writing out lists and then going back over them might seem like an extraneous task when you just need to pick up some toothpaste at CVS. But when you’re forced to see exactly where your money’s going, it turns every credit card swipe into a conscious decision.