Saving money is almost always easier said than done. I consider myself to be a fairly frugal person. However, it’s typically not as simple as “spend less” when you want to stash away some cash. There are always going to be bills to pay, unexpected expenses that pop up, etc. Life happens! On my ongoing journey to becoming both debt-free and able to lead a location-independent life, I’ve learned a few things. (There’s a reason it’s called personal finance!) Getting to know yourself, your money habits, and attitude towards money is helpful.

Do you know how to say no?

This is the most important question to ask, and, in my opinion, the hardest to answer. Whether it’s your friends, partner, kids, coworkers, etc. there is always going to be something. It could be drinks for happy hour, a meal out, new toys – life is full of new opportunities and experiences. Oftentimes, new opportunities and experiences cost money. I am at a place in life where I feel comfortable giving a simple “no thank you”. It’s not always easy, but if you’re serious about your savings goals, you need to get more comfortable telling people you no. Offer to alternative options that are free or cheaper.

How do you define needs and wants?

We live in an age of “treat yourself” and self-care. And that’s great! There’s no denying the importance of putting yourself first, especially if you’re enduring a lot of stress or anxiety. However, how often do you find yourself thinking, “I need this” or “I had a bad day, I deserve this”? If you’re doing this a lot and then buying something, is that really solving the issue? If the answer is no, it’s time to find a new way to implement self-care without breaking the bank.

What are you saving for and why is it important?

What is life without goals? I personally love setting goals because I can use them as milestones and benchmarks of success. Saving money became so much easier for me when I started thinking of it in terms of what the money was going towards. Once I stopped putting away money for some vague, far away rainy day and instead set a goal for what that money could do, I felt much more motivated to succeed. I set an initial goal of a $10,000 “f*ck you fund” because that was more than enough for me to live off for at least 6 months in case I ever got laid off or needed to take time off work. I was saving so I could have a real sense of security and comfort, whether or not I would ever need it.

Set some goals for what you’re saving for and see if it helps you think twice before you stop in your regular coffee store on the way to work or your favorite boutique. Those everyday expenses add up and could be delaying you from reaching your goal, whether that’s an epic, round-the-world trip, a down payment for a car or home, or an emergency fund.

Do you know where your money is going?

I have a confession. In the fall of 2015, a few months after I started working full-time, I finally started budgeting. It was frustrating at first. My salary at the time was around $40,000/year and I was saving very little money. Then, I signed up for an account with Mint and everything changed. How much I was spending on food alone blew me away. In one month, I somehow managed to spend over $450 on coffee and meals out – and this did not include groceries! It was shocking! Those $3 dark roast coffees and dinners out with friends added up faster than I could ever have guessed.

Once I saw it in black and white, I felt silly because of course those daily purchases added up and of course I wasn’t saving any money because all my money was going straight into my stomach! However, when you’re not tracking your spending, it’s ridiculously easy to swipe, swipe, swipe and not notice how much damage you’re doing to your bank account.

I recommend tracking your expenses for at least one full month (don’t change your habits, just go about your life) and at the end of the month, take a good look at where your hard-earned money is going. This will give you the jumpstart you need to start mindfully managing your money and could even lead to bigger financial gains than you can imagine. I still track every single expense in a Google Sheet. I can go back month by month and see exactly where my money is going.

What’s your strategy for saving money while staying sane? 

Not long after the aforementioned realization about how much I was spending on satisfying my stomach, I became totally obsessed with tracking my finances, saving money, and paying down debt. I realized how foolish I had been with money up until that point and was furious at myself for wasting dollars that could have gone to paying off my student loans. This began a one-track minded mission to save as much money as I could, either for student loans or my emergency fund. Between October and December of 2015, I was living on an extreme bare-bones budget. I ate cheap groceries, worked almost 60 hours a week, and managed to pay off a huge amount of debt.

However, I rarely saw friends, was fairly antisocial, and usually exhausted from working 7 days a week. While I’m happy I met my goal at the time of saving for an emergency fund and paying off a student loan, I wasn’t the best version of myself that I could have been. Now, when I’m cutting costs and trying to hit a savings goal, I make sure I budget in some “fun money”. This helps me avoid any guilt around spending because there’s room in the budget.

Take a good, hard look at your lifestyle and habits. Saving money could either be extraordinarily easy or one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. Answering these five questions is a good start to learning more about yourself in order to know what works best for you and what are areas you need to work on. What are some of your biggest struggles with saving money?

Need more tips to save money? Check out this post! 

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