I Cut 5 Unnecessary Spending Habits for 30 Days and This is What Happened

Financial experts note that people tend to fall into two categories: savers and spenders. I’m the latter; I have a habit of making purchases based on what I want instead of what I need. To curb my impulsive “I can afford everything” buying mentality, I tracked my spending decisions over the past 30 days. Here’s what I learned—and how you can use these strategies to allow your dollars to add up in a more impactful way over time.

 

1. I stopped buying coffee every morning.

I’m a self-proclaimed coffee junkie. I love the smell of freshly ground beans, the first hot sip of french roast on a blustery winter day, the icy jolt from a tall glass of cold brew. I also love the ritual of stopping at a coffee shop on my way to work. It feels like a special treat, just for me, before diving into the hurried tasks of my day. Oh, and I’m a mom to an nine-month-old for whom sleep is optional, so there’s that.

However, the cost of each barista visit adds up quickly. I realized that I was easily spending around $2-6 a day. On a beverage! If you do the basic math, that is something like $500-1500 a year. Considering that is the cost of a super sweet vacation, I challenged myself to stop buying coffee for 30 days and simply make it at home.

The first week sucked. I longingly stared out the window at my favorite cafe every time I drove past, and then took a sip out of my to-go mug of coffee made at home, which was…fine. It still got the job done; I mostly experienced the natural lows that occur from being disciplined (sigh) instead of spontaneous (yay!). Instead, I saved coffee purchases for meetings or dates with other people—moments when I could linger, chat, and truly enjoy my beverage with great company. This resulted in many upsides, such as a reduced caffeine reliance, more money in my pocket, and a better appreciation for treat yo’ self days. (Hint: it’s not a treat when you get it every day!)

Monthly savings: $60-180

 

2. I limited dining out to special occasions.

Growing up, my family usually went out to dinner to celebrate specific events: birthdays, relatives in town, Christmas Eve after late night mass. We ordered pizza a few times a year on Friday nights, complete with watching new episodes on ABC’s TGIF and drinking Pepsi out of the can. If that sounds lame, it wasn’t—because I knew that dining out marked a special occasion. Somewhere along the way I forgot that, and eating out became the norm due to a hectic schedule, lackluster cooking skills, and a taste for convenience.

Typically, I eat out for lunch 1-2 times a week, and my husband and I either pick up dinner or visit a restaurant 1-3 times, mostly on the weekend. That can cost anywhere from $8-15 for a single lunchtime outing and $20-75 for take-out or a sit-down meal, not to mention the fact that labor costs are rising, which has led to restaurant prices inching up. To save money for 30 days, I made a conservative choice to limit weekly dining out to one lunchtime outing on my own and one weekend dinner out as as couple. I wanted to see if I could retrain myself to view dining out as a special, cherished event, rather than an everyday occasion.

The result? I didn’t notice much of a difference; I simply needed to do a bit more meal planning for work and home. I also felt better health-wise and had more energy. Sure, pulling out a tuna sandwich and an apple at my desk felt less exciting than the Whole Foods salad bar—but spending the extra cash on a nice steak dinner with my husband and our favorite bottle of pinot noir later that week was worth every penny.

Monthly savings: $32-60 (by dropping one individual lunch per week) and $80-300 (by dropping one dinner for two per week)

 

3. I stuck to a damn list.

Otherwise known as, “how I avoided accidentally spending $100 at Target on shit I don’t need.” Even though the dollar section always calls my name and insists I need new notepads or decorative candles, I’m learning that if I actually stick to a legitimate list of items, I end up saving money. This approach proved useful at any store; before going on errands, I wrote down my list of items and then did my very best to only purchase those specific things. If I walked down an aisle and thought, “Oh! I forgot that I needed shampoo!” I asked myself if I was legitimately out of shampoo or if I was just running low. I discovered it was often the latter, and realized I could put shampoo, for instance, on my next shopping list. And at the grocery store, I learned that having a list kept me from buying (usually unhealthy) splurge items (like large packages of sour gummy worms).

Was it less fun to shop that way? Well, yes. It feels limiting to buy what’s on your list rather than view a store as your oyster; however, I’m not made of money and need to stick to a budget. This helped, immensely. One surprising perk: I also saved a lot of time by sticking to a list because I didn’t aimlessly wander around the store every time; I got in and got out with the things that I needed.

Monthly savings: $10-100

 

4. I remembered how to have old-school fun.

Once I became an independent adult, my idea of fun shifted to events that pretty much always cost money: drinks, dinners, concerts, plays, vacations, classes, parties…it all had a price, and I wanted to see if I remembered how to have fun the old-school way. You know, for free. Turns out there were plenty of things to do, like walking around the local art museum with a girlfriend, or running an informal 5k with my sister instead of signing up for an official race, or watching Netflix at home with stovetop popcorn.

At first, it felt a little boring, but mostly because my expectations were accustomed to thinking about activities as being Instagram-able first and foremost. I also felt a little self-conscious and lame by offering up alternative suggestions to friends who wanted to go out. But I got over it, and my friends never honestly seemed to mind because they just wanted to spend time together.

There’s joy in the simple things, like hanging out with the people you love with no agenda or timetable or required five-course meal. At the end of the 30-day period, I desperately felt ready for a nice glass of wine at a fancy bar; I wanted to fill up my calendar with everything fun. However, this exercise taught me to be more creative, more present, and more appreciative of people instead of things.

Monthly savings: $15-200

 

5. I took a break from my phone.

Earlier this year, I received a serious lecture from my husband about the fact that I went over our data plan pretty much every single month. This had become a massive habit of mine, and an expensive one since most cell phone carriers charge $5-15 for each GB of overage. To mitigate these unexpected costs, I forced myself to shut off cellular service for all applications unless I had access to Wi-Fi.

I soon noticed that I absent-mindedly checked my phone alllll the damn time. Usually for no good reason whatsoever. Additionally, I used GPS when I didn’t need to (I mean…I know how to get from my sister’s house to my apartment) and browsed Spotify to my heart’s content during long car rides. And social media? I opened those apps constantly, just to look and basically distract myself from real life whenever I felt bored, lonely, or anxious. I also, gulp, came face-to-face with my penchant for grabbing my phone while driving, which is incredibly unsafe. I thought I was being quick at a stop light to glance down at my email, when I was really just making life on the road unsafe for myself and others.

By putting my phone down, leaving it in my purse, or setting it aside, I not only saved money each month, I also had the opportunity to be much more aware on a daily basis. My emotional state improved, since I wasn’t continuously comparing my life to virtual reality. The data savings were great, but I felt grateful to kick a bad habit along the way.

Monthly savings: $5-20

 

The bottom line: Cutting these five items from my monthly budget taught me valuable lessons and put hundreds of dollars back into my bank account. Most importantly, it reminded me to make more meaningful, thoughtful financial choices, such as making extra student loan payments, money saved for a down payment on a house, and more bulk to my savings.

 

What are simple ways you’ve learned to save money on a daily basis? Where do you still struggle with want vs. need?

 

This article was originally published on November 1, 2016

  • Taylor Kim

    I loved all these ideas! They really do make such a big difference since all the little things add up! I definitely have a love/hate relationship with Target, so I a thousand percent agree with sticking to a list. If there is something on sale that I know I will need in the near future (like body wash or lotion) I will stock up ahead of time and that saves me money in the long run.

    • Julia

      Great suggestion about sales on things you always buy – I do that as well! Definitely makes a huge difference.

  • Felicia

    This is so relatable and inspired me to be much more conscious of sticking to a list when shopping and having a specific goal of how much i eat out all week. Awesome article!

    • Julia

      Thanks so much! Glad it helped, and good luck!

  • Loved this article! I’ve been cutting out my beloved coffee runs from my morning routine for the last month and it was so hard at first now I don’t even think about it!

    Xo, Nina
    Law of Fashion Blog

    • Julia

      What a great point. I did notice that after cutting out coffee runs, I thought about them less and less as the days went by. It was truly just a habit rather than a necessity 🙂

  • I definitely need to implement a couple of these things – I just moved to a new city (hello, Chicago! And Everygirl ;)) – and the costs keep piling up, especially now that the holidays are hitting! One thing I do in addition to trying to keep to a list is to shop around. Chances are your product may be cheaper at a different store, and some will even price match if you ask!

    • Julia

      Hello right back to you <3 Yesssss to price matching!

  • Nikki Laraja

    Great post, I especially love the ‘old school fun’ idea.. I am having a few gf’s over for a girls night in to drink wine (in our sweats) and do $3 face masks! I think ill make some popcorn too ; )

    http://www.shopthecoconutroom.com

    • Julia

      That sounds like a perfect night! Thanks for sharing.

    • Beverly

      LOVE that idea. Thank you for mentioning it.

  • Pizza Blonde

    Eating out is always my downfall!

    http://www.pizzablonde.com

    • Julia

      Seriously. Why is eating out so FUN? 🙂

  • Marijana Miljkovic

    Definitely worth-while considering a few of your tips, especially the dining out thing. When I used to live in the countryside, it was only natural to cook at home and go out only a few times a month, but ever since I moved into a big city with beautiful restaurants literally only seconds from my apartment it’s become a weekly habit to eat out. Would be so much wiser to spend the money elsewhere and cook healthier food at home. Thanks for the inspirational post!
    PS: If you fancy some healthy recipes, check out my blog at http://www.merry-green.com

    • Julia

      You are so welcome! Thank you for reading and commenting <3

  • Great article! I’ve been working from home for about a year and a half and I think that’s helped me save on eating out for lunch, coffee and tea breaks, data usage on my phone and even driving! Despite the fact that working from can get lonely, there are so many perks and I enjoy not having to make my lunch every evening.

    • Julia

      Oh, how interesting! That’s great to hear some of those perks.

  • Daryl

    This is a fabulous article. I know giving up the coffee shop experience is an effective way to save money –– it’s always one of the first things budget experts recommend should go, but I can’t let go hahaha. I’m like, THERE’S GOTTA BE ANOTHER WAY *sips latte*

    • Julia

      Thanks, lady! Haha – I like my money where I can see it, in my… coffee cup every morning 😉 DELICIOUS

    • Same here! I pick certain days to treat myself (like my days off or Friday to celebrate a successful week) that helps me not go overboard. Other suggestions I’ve read were to find something else you don’t care as much about and cut that instead, or negotiate your rates on bills (phones, internet, credit card interest, etc) to make up the difference so you can keep enjoying those lattes!

      • Julia

        Negotiating rates – I never thought of that! Thanks for sharing!

        • You’re welcome! 🙂 It’s worked out for me on my cell phone bill and a couple credit card interest rates so certainly worth a try!

  • Great post! We don’t realize how much we spend money on useless or unnecessary stuff everyday until we sit down and think about them. I do not spend a lot of money, but I still loved your post. 🙂

    gorgeouslyflawed.com

    • Julia

      Thank you! Yes, I completely agree – reducing mindless spending is such a good habit to instill, whatever your budget or money situation.

  • That’s really awesome! Not even for saving money but it’s also very healthy to drop these habits 🙂 I like it!

  • hheh

    I recently applied some of these to my every day life.

    For a while I was getting a grande coffee from Starbucks in the morning AND afternoon. I’ve cut out the afternoon and noticed the $$ adding up in my bank account. Instead I drink powdered organic coffee (which I bought in bulk from Costco) in the afternoon (it doesn’t dehydrate you as much as normal coffee, apparently).

    I’ve also limited myself to one lunch out during the work week and one meal out on the weekend. Is it boring to stay in the office? Yes. But I’ve also used the opportunity to catch up on some reading.
    It’s crazy how much you can save.

    • Julia

      That is so interesting about powdered coffee – I’ll have to try! And good job giving some of these a go and saving $$ along the way!

  • Mandy G

    This is a great list! I’m going to give quite a few of these things a try – especially 2, 3 and 5 (luckily I already do the coffee thing at home:).

    Does anyone else notice the constant phone checking also sometimes leads to impulse purchases…. Any additional tips for giving up the phone addiction? I’m all ears?

    • Beverly

      When I get home at the end of a work day, I leave the phone in another room. I look at it less. I only pick it up when I hear my ringtone instead of checking every tweet or message

  • Beverly

    I recently had an eye opening experience with the overdraft protection loan on my checking account. My bank charged me $35 for going over drawn after a # of times PLUS my loan charged my $10 for borrowing the loan money PLUS 18% interest!!!! WTH? NOW, I do the math in a simple checkbook register BEFORE I do errands. Your idea to stick to a list is also my new controller. NO it did NOT feel good shopping with a list and dare I say, a budget. Happily I had money left in my checking account at the end of the month to pay off that Overdraft protection loan! Well, some of it anyway. I am a work in progress.

  • Sara Lugo

    Such good ideas! The list-making before shopping is a really good one, and I find it helpful when considering clothing shopping, too. I have a list on my phone where everything I want is split into “Need” (new winter gloves because it gets mega cold here and mine have torn), “Nice to have” (mules for summer because I’m intrigued by the trend), and “Dare to dream” (a super expensive, anniversary-worthy piece of jewelry I’ve had my eye on), and I try to go through the “Need” list first before even thinking of touching the other two lists (though not always successfully). It helps me avoid impulse buys that I’ll only wear once because I’ve already considered what I’d get the most use out of.

  • I read past bedtime

    I definitely need to take heed of the eating out advice… I find that shopping online massively saved me impulse buying chocolate – going shopping when you’re full helps too!

  • Island_girl

    The coffee and keeping to a shopping list is key for me.

  • It’s so hard for me to stick to the list! But it’s such a money saver when I succeed. Especially on trips to target haha

    https://dreamofadventures.com/

  • Daeyz

    I need to take of this advice! Specially eating out, and the unexpected purchases at Target! lol

    xx,
    Daeyz
    http://www.daeyz.com

  • I hemorrhaged money but last year I needed to save up a lot of money and had to assess my spending. I was so guilty of buying coffee to often and buying food when I was supposed to be “window shopping” during my lunch break. Cut those two habits out and saved hundreds in a few months! I ate a lot…

    Nicolette | http://www.nicolette.co

  • Cutting bought lunches and giant coffees from Starbucks did so much to save me money I am kind of ashamed that it took me so long to do so – how much money could I have saved over the years? More than I’d like to admit.

    xx Bry Jaimea || https://bryjaimea.com

  • I am guilty of most of the list. i will definitely try to stick to the list and take a break from my phone more frequently!

    xx
    Cheryl
    http://daisycandle.com

  • I am guilty of most of the list. i will definitely try to stick to the list and take a break from my phone more frequently!

    xx
    Cheryl
    http://daisycandle.com

  • I’m going to try the no-coffee rule. I dread to think how much I end up spending on drinks!

  • Such a great idea, definitely need to try this! I always end up scrolling through random websites and buying unnecessary bits and pieces out of boredom :/ x
    http://www.thelifestyledit.com

  • These are great! I’m so glad I don’t drink coffee or I don’t even want to know how much money I would spend. I am also going to try ‘sticking to a list’ because I really think that will help! thanks for the tips 🙂

    xx, Kara // http://www.fcnextdoor.com

  • Evelina

    I work for an estate sale company and now have the hardest time spending money for full price items – for instance – furniture can be 90% cheaper (and better quality) than purchasing at a store, cleaning supplies usually run .50-1.00 instead of full price, clothing – brand names – sometimes designer – with tags still on can be $5-10! I’ve found cashmere sweaters for $10 and taken to the cleaners and its like new! Granted, I don’t usually bring much of my pay check home with me, but I save our family so much money!!!
    My other saving plan is to never spend a $5 bill. We have a separate savings account for money I make at my jobs (I’m also a photographer), for items I sell on Virtual Yard Sales (also amazing – you can probably find one near you through Facebook) and my $5’s – this pays for our winter vacation without blinking an eye!
    Its taken me a looooong time to become a saver, but once you start it becomes kind of addicting 🙂
    Great post! Loved seeing your perspective 🙂

  • As Italian living in California, I often ask myself how can you – Americans – spend so much at coffee shops and restaurants!

  • Life.stylespiration

    I love this. One of the ways I save money is by sticking to a list at the grocery store, it does work.
    http://www.lifestylespiration.com

  • Emma Hill

    Great feature! x

  • Jamie Lees

    I already do all this and I’m still skint 🙁 Good advice, but even when being careful many of us are left with shrinking real wages and disposable incomes 🙁

  • 🙂 Thanks for the good advice!
    I’ve started taking my own coffee to work for a couple of months now. This way I get the coffee I really like. It’s better, bigger and a lot cheaper!
    Have a HAPPY weekend 🙂

    http://happyface313.com

    • Katia

      I’ve actually brought my own french press into the office! 🙂

  • Natalie Redman

    Great post! I recently cut out some of my direct debits and it’s such a good money saver.

    http://www.upyourvlog.com

  • Moosechick

    I am fortunate(?) enough that my “job” does not require dressy clothing, or attention to hair and make-up. So, in a push to save every dollar I have cut my own hair, given up movies, we gave up “cable” TV, I put together meals from scraps of other meals (a couple bites of cheeseburger, some scrambled egg, ramen and soup for example), even stopped routinely giving to panhandlers. (Couldn’t stop entirely, though. I am lucky to have enough to save!) I’ve also taken to wearing “indoor clothes” (pajamas or sweats) and not automatically washing jeans & T’s after one outing. That, washing my sheets every other week and consolidating laundry to use one large machine at Laundromat, has saved me $20/mo. I also changed from coffee shop coffee to store bought flavored teas. No cute notepads, even if on sale, instead using both sides of paper. It’s the little things. Also, I LOVE the lighting in this blog post photo!

  • This is a great post. We are on a really tight budget and I really want to reign that in. Thankfully where we’ve moved limits overspending. There are no restaurants to eat at anymore, a lot of what you can do is free. That will help me a lot in saving money.

  • I love this & I love saving. It puts things into perspective as well. Because so many times we can spend mindlessly and never make ourselves accountable.

    xx
    The Felicia Renee | a minimalist lifestyle & beauty blog

  • I could relate to each and every one of these! Going to try to put these recommendations to good use. Thank you for an excellent article!

    xo, Heather
    http://golddippedchaos.com

  • I’m financially at a place where I can’t even think about buying things I “want” vs what I need. I might take advantage of Goodwill sales a little too often though…

  • love this post! I could definitely could stop buying coffee ever morning, but starbucks just taste so good.

    http://Fatima8450.blogspot.com

  • Katia

    1. Every time I’m at Target and have $50 worth of items in my cart and only NEED $10 worth. I put the rest back and move $40 in to my savings or student loan payment. It helps with the instant gratification and those little amounts are really adding up!

    2. I didn’t realize how often I check my phone at work. I have the spotify chrome extension or just login to pandora or podcast site on my computer. Turn my phone off and turn it over. Every time I catch myself trying to check, I chug water… Now getting 100oz a day!!

    • Katia

      oh and I bring my own french press into the office. We have hot water or can heat up water in the microwave.