Every day we make small purchases that can seem insignificant. Do these type of expenses have a significant impact on our budget? Is it worth cutting them?
If we focus on the wrong things, we might not save as much money as we could have. We want to learn about the areas that will give us the most value, without feeling miserable. It takes a lot of digging deep to understand what is worth the cost, and what we can cut or reduce.
First, I want to look at the numbers and the psychology of small purchases.
Let’s Look at the Numbers
Let’s assume a latte at the local coffee shop costs about $3.50. If we purchase this every day, how do the numbers come out?
- After 1 Week: $24.50
- 1 Month: $98
- 1 Year: $1,277.50
- 10 Years: $12,277.50
If we cut this back to three times a week:
- After 1 Week: $10.50
- 1 Month: $42
- 1 Year: $425.83
- 10 Years: $4,258.33
Looking at the number for our re-occurring small purchase can give us an idea of the true cost for that habit. The goal here is not to make anyone feel guilty about this type of purchase, but to educate yourself on how you spend your hard-earned money.
Is it worth the true cost?
I’m not going to tell you it is wrong to purchase a latte every day, or that cutting that expense is going to change your life. The fact of the matter is that buying one latte is not a big deal. But as we can see, purchasing a latte every day can quickly add up.
Whether or not the cost brings you true value, is something only you can decide. When looking at whether cutting an expense is worth it, I like to ask myself these questions:
- Is this cost giving me true value?
- If the answer to #1 is yes, is there a way I can get the same thing for less money?
- Can I replace this purchase with a cheaper alternative?
- At the end of my life will I have wished I purchased more of this item?
Working through these questions with all of our expenses can help determine what is worth reducing or eliminating.
With that said, looking at the bigger picture, purchases like this do not tend to use up large amounts of money compared to other expenses, if they are not done daily.
The Expenses that Can Save the Most Money
I suggest looking at all expenses, but focusing on the more significant items can bear more fruit. Let’s take a look at those categories.
Our housing expense can take a considerable amount from our budget. If the cost is more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay, it might be worth considering finding a cheaper option. There are going to be things that give us more value than others. Two things I’ve learned that I don’t want to cut back on too much: having a nice kitchen and having a bathtub where I can take baths. These things help me relax and also make cutting back on other categories easier. When I like working in my kitchen, I’m more likely to cook more.
Buying food varies significantly between families, but there are ways in saving on your grocery bill. I’ve seen some budgets that went from $1,000/mo grocery budget to $300/mo. I’ve saved a large amount of money learning to create huge batches of freezer meals, which ends up saving money and time. Learning to cook can not only be fun, but you can make things that are tastier than what you can get at most restaurants. Learning to be a master of the kitchen gives me a lot of real value.
Eating out is expensive — if you go out four times a week, that could end up being $800/mo. Cutting down to going out once or twice a week can save a large amount of money. We’ve recently tried cutting back to once or twice a week most of the time, and have determined this is the sweet spot for us. What I’ve noticed is that when we do go out now, we are more intentional and we enjoy it more, since it becomes more special.
It may not be worth cutting down this expense, because healthcare can be expensive. But if you are paying a lot out of pocket already, it might be worth downgrading to a high deductible plan that has a lower monthly premium. I do not recommend getting rid of health insurance altogether, as that could lead to a massive catastrophe that even your emergency fund can’t cover.
Having a car payment for a new car can not only be expensive, but you are holding a depreciating asset. Driving older vehicles can save a ton of money. We also can look at fuel economy, how much fuel we use based on how much we drive, and whether we could get by on one vehicle. Vehicle costs are one category that effects many other categories (gas costs, insurance costs, maintenance costs), so it is worth taking a close look.
If you have a partner, prioritizing date nights is essential. It is a great time to see how things are going and talk about the future without having to deal with your rugrats (and we love our kids). But do you need to have $150+ meals every time you go on a date night? We shoot to go on a date night every other week and try to do different things. Some nights we might go to a movie or go dancing. Other nights we stay in and cuddle while watching a movie. You don’t necessarily always have to spend money to have quality time with the person you love, but having some cash available does open up your options.
Some people hate the idea of having an “allowance” budgeted for you and your partner. They think this is not the proper way to handle it. You can call it whatever you want, but the idea is that both Andrea and I have a set amount of cash we can spend each month on whatever we want. If purchasing a latte every day gives us value, this is where we would spend the money. Eventually, I would like to increase this number in our budget, but we figured out a comfortable amount that works while we are shooting to be debt free and start investing in our dreams.
Purchasing high-quality clothing that lasts a long time can be worth spending extra money. But it can be easy to justify things to purchase, just because they are awesome. If you will use it a lot and if it will last a while, the cost can be worth it. Our employment can also influence what kind of dress code we need to meet. We want to be smart in looking at what things we need, versus the things we want. And figure out what we should do from there. Often you can find high-quality clothing at discount retailers, like Ross, TJ Max, etc. Andrea finds slightly used clothing on Craigslist or Facebook.
Looking at what you purchased in the last year can show if large amounts are being spent on other items. For example, buying a $2,500 4K OLED TV is like buying a latte every day for two years! A new TV is something I have wanted for a while, but I learned these types of large purchases were causing me to rack up credit card debt, and we were paying a lot on credit card interest. Again, some of these purchases might be worth the cost. But I have learned that even though I might want a new iPhone every year, the extra cost is not worth it for me.
Looking at small purchases is worth doing, as they can add up over time. However, if you are looking to cut spending as much as possible, taking a close look at larger budget items can save more money.
But the goal isn’t all about money; it is about figuring out what gives you true value and what is worth the cost. Often we can get the same amount of value with cheaper or free alternatives. It will take a good amount of communication with your partner, if you have one, to make sure you are on the same page.
If you decide something is worth the cost, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about that purchase. Everyone will have a different idea on what is worth it. We need to focus on our budget and pursuing what matters most.
What expenses have you cut or reduced from your budget? Have you discovered ways reducing spending, without feeling like you are living without?
Chris is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.