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You’ve seen the medical dramas on TV… We’re in the emergency room with tall, dark, and handsome doctors and nondescript nurses all crowded around a motionless victim. Loud noises tell us the heart rate is flat-lining and we’re short on time. “Get me a crash cart, now!!” Said crash cart arrives a split second later – almost like it was part of the script – and as the doc grabs the paddles and rubs them together he yells, “Clear!” The electric current lifts this victim up off the table and then leaves, slamming the body back to the gurney. This is touch-and-go, and we’re on the edge of our seats because we honestly don’t know if these breaths may be this guy’s last… Cut to commercial. “Let H&R Block he…”
Let’s pretend you are the doctor in this scenario and I’ll ask you a question. Have you ever felt that the motionless victim resembles your seemingly stagnant vacation fund, retirement savings, or monthly budget? If ‘yes’ – or some derivative – is your answer then I hear ya. I know from personal experience that it can be extremely difficult to get ahead with savings, especially whey you’re first starting out. Expenses always seem to match or outweigh the income, and saving for a vacation becomes a punch line rather than a tangible goal. Well my friends, I
like love vacations, so this can’t stand. We need something to revive the fund before it flatlines. We need to get ahead and earn some breathing room.
The spending freeze is exactly what we need. This is a guerrilla tactic not for the faint of heart but it’s just what you need to jump start your budget or savings. You’ll need discipline, maybe a good book to keep you occupied, and a certain resourcefulness.
What are we doing? We are eliminating all non-essential spending for a set period of time. I don’t mean some spending. I mean all extra spending. This may be difficult to sustain in the long-term but for a short burst I argue you can save hundreds, if not more, depending on your spending habits and the timeframe.
Step 1 – Choose your timeframe. If a spending freeze is new to you I would recommend trying a week and then reevaluating. If you have some level of experience with ‘frugal’ behavior, maybe 2 weeks or a month would be in order. Once you determine your timeframe though, it’s not adjustable so choose wisely.
Step 2 – Identify the absolute necessities in the budget (food, water, and shelter). Rent/mortgage, utilities (I put phone in here), car payment, gas, and insurance. If you have kids we’ll add daycare and a small number for milk/groceries (there are some things we can’t sacrifice).
We need to eat and drink, have electricity/running water, communicate, transport ourselves to work, and provide for our kids. It’s not glamorous but it is effective.
Step 3 – Determine the expected amount of money you will be able to save. Take your income for the chosen time frame and subtract the dollar amounts for all essentials above – what figure do you have left over? If push comes to shove you should be able to save that money for a vacation fund, your budget, retirement, an emergency fund, student loans, or whatever else you choose.
How does that number compare to what you actually put aside for savings each month? I’d bet for most of us it looks like a solid alternative.
I didn’t list groceries in ‘necessities’ and that wasn’t an error. “Dude, I gotta eat…” I hear you. I too enjoy a good 4-6 meals/day.
I’m big on questions though, so let me ask another. Do you think that if you looked in your freezer, cupboard, and wherever else you keep the goods that you would be able to scrounge up enough to get you through a week? I tend to think that most of us could. You could do rice and beans for a week – make a challenge out of it. At least 3-4 days. If you could stay away from the grocery store for a week that’s at least $50-$100 right there.
I don’t advocate starving, so when you’re truly out of food go and do what you gotta do.
What is getting cut in this spending freeze? This one makes me sad but Chipotle gets the axe. So does date night, happy hour, my beach volleyball league, fantasy football league, the morning Starbucks run, any online shopping, fun, good times, and generally all impulse spending… But remember 2 things, 1) this will help us in the long term (delayed gratification has been studied and is typically viewed as a good thing), and 2) there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This thing will end after the week or other time we’ve chosen, so hang in there.
Who knows, maybe this process will help you to realize that there are some things you spend money on that you don’t really miss.
Pesky contracts and other monthly bills. I understand you may have committed to a cable contract, phone bill, or other monthly drain on the income, and those can’t just stop all of a sudden. Heck, you may not want them to stop. We’ve been trying to pull the plug on our cable bill for a while now, but we can’t find the strength to forfeit all our sports channels (yes, Monica loves sports too – win, I know).
Maybe you’re locked in for a while. C’est la vie. Whenever that contract is up though, I’m sure you could either complain for a lesser price or totally switch companies to save money. Some cell phone providers have significantly reduced prices for similar services. If you found your perfect cocktail of options, you could use streaming services in place of cable or dish. Fertilize your lawn rather than pay one of the big companies… You understand, right? Oh, almost forgot my favorite. Packing lunch for yourself every day can have significant health and financial benefits. If the average lunch costs $5-$10 every day, that’s $25-$50 in a work week. Also, you know all the ingredients going into your meal (well at least your wife may), so you have control over portions and content of your lunch. Definitely worth the extra 5 minutes to pack.
The little things add up to big savings.
If we’re able to be disciplined, use our imaginations, and work a bit up front, the spending freeze can help us to save some serious coin. In just a week’s time (with a conservative estimate) we could save $50 from the grocery store, $25 from a daily lunch out, and at least $25 from random impulse purchases. That’s $100 easy… In a week…
What could we do if we really took the gloves off or if we went after a longer time frame? I’d argue it’s worth finding out.
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