July 11 2016
Saving Money

Things Add Up

saving and spending, numbers add upI stumbled upon a great Cashville Skyline blog post recently that pondered the question “why is it that as a society, we are so enamored of the idea of frugality,  yet we are not actually saving? ” I started thinking about it, and I realized, it doesn’t stop there.

We are obsessed with cooking shows, but we don’t cook.  We mainline information about health and fitness, but we don’t exercise and we’re getting fatter.  We devour articles and blogs about mindfulness and meditation, yet most of us do not meditate daily.  I know there are people out there who stockpile books on minimalism and de-cluttering and then struggle to throw away even one piece of artwork their child has produced.

The fact is, from the moment you decide that it would be a good idea for you to do something that is hard, to the moment of actually doing it – something needs to fundamentally change in your brain to alter your entire thought process.  This is *Not Easy*.  In fact, it is painfully hard, especially for a generation that is pretty conditioned to looking for the short-cut, the path of least resistance, and a way to make the smallest possible amount of effort that requires the least amount of focus.

I’m guilty of all these things to varying degrees at different times.  But for the first time in my life, I have begun making real progress with saving. Not including my 401K, which I just rolled into an IRA (to delightful results) and college savings for my children, I went from saving an embarrassing 1% or less of my take home salary to 15% or higher in about five months.  This still needs to improve a lot, but it is exciting to behold the climb.

What changed?

Not how much money I have, that’s for sure.  It was my brain.  After getting all riled up reading a bunch of sassy money blogs, which coincided with finishing off the last of our debt, I decided that I had to save a lot more money.  Once I really delved into the (shocking) numbers and committed to the idea in my brain, I worked to put as many things into place as I could to set myself up for success.

My husband and I both signed up for YNAB, which has dramatically helped us get our heads around where our money is going.  Revelations were had, such as the staggering combined $1500 per month we were spending on groceries and household necessities between the two of us.  The wasted money on gym memberships.  The obscene amount we were spending on gifts.  Hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars wasted because I was inexplicably signed up for New Jersey EZ Pass instead of New York EZPass — for YEARS! — and not getting the proper discounts available to NYC residents.  I think have single-handedly funded all upkeep of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  (This is called “what happens when you do not look at your statements.”)

Once my brain had the opportunity to really absorb and visualize the numbers, it spurred me to change the way I think, which had to happen before I could change the way I act. It can be so hard to see the fundamental essence of how money grows (or diminishes) but when you do, it’s stunning.

Seeing Numbers

A great example – one of the rewards websites we use goes into our children’s college savings account. I try to remember to shop through it when I shop online. The rebates are 2% here, 5% there – small amounts. But the lifetime tally is always visible on my account: it’s over $1000 after 8 years.  Those piddling amounts added up to a thousand bucks that I wouldn’t have otherwise had in my child’s college accounts. Not including compounding.

I also signed up for a good rewards credit card that I pay off every pay period.  Again, 1% here, 4% there – blueberry sized bundles of money.  But I can see the totality on my account and I am saving all my rewards for Christmas shopping.  With the sign-up bonus, I should have a $500 bounce just in time for the financial Armageddon that is Thanksgiving/Christmas/My Children’s Ill-timed Birthdays. Of course, everything in your bank account works this way – the long-term implications are just hidden from daily view.  Until they hit you over the head with a frying pan.  But if you look at everything like this, all the time, you’ve taken the first step to changing the way you think.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

Once you are enlightened about your own situation, you will have some inspiration and fortitude to do a few tough one-time things (i.e. cancel gym membership, or for some, canceling cable).  Next, you realize that you need to arrange things so that you are not set up to fail.  Get a budget framework or app that works for you, automate your savings, set up some reasonable goals, communicate with your spouse about what in God’s name you are both spending $1500 a month on at the deli.

But the most important thing is to keep that clear vision with you at all  times so that you are motivated to stick with the change in your daily behavior.  This is where it usually will all go to hell in a Pottery Barn basket.  A small purchase here, a little something for the kids there.  It’s a work in progress.  I still find myself wandering into Banana Republic during lunch in a daze, only to find myself with yet another pair chinos in my hands before I run out in a cold sweat.  These things might seem small, but whether you’re talking about saving or spending, it adds up – you know it does.

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  • That’s a really cool point I hadn’t really thought about– we’re so enamored with self-help and reforming our lives in novel ways but we never actually do it! No wonder the self-help section in the bookstrore is always huge. I think the trouble is that we never decide to start.

    In my own life I’ll read something that I want to try and say, “I’ll start doing that…tomorrow.” Another thing I’ve learned about myself through meditation is that my mind tends to live in the future but my body tends to want to avoid all possible discomfort in the present. The result is a complete lack of action due to fear.

    I’ve been wanting to write something to the effect of “start right now” and I think you wrote it for me. My meditation guide always tells me that I can change my behavior right here, right now. I don’t have to wait until some mythical perfect moment to do what’s right. In the same way, I don’t have to wait around to feel ok. I can accept myself right here right now. Very inspiring thanks Linda

  • Thanks so much for mentioning me and writing about this, Brooklyn Bread! As I mentioned, I’m the exact same way when it comes to diet and exercise. I know what I need to do to lose weight, but actually following those steps is a constant struggle!

  • When it comes to the spending, I wish it wasn’t true but it is. Those $7 target purchases or the $3 afternoon snack really add up. Funny what even a tiny amount of cognizance does for the savings. It’s simple, just not easy. Great post Linda.

    ~Brian

  • That’s a tough experience with the EZ Pass. Here’s a story to make you feel better: my brother-in-law chose to drive through iPASS lanes here in Illinois without an iPASS becase a friend told him it would be OK. He was a college student at the time and driving a vehicle registered to my father-in-law. My father in law received several fines totaling over $1,000 due his son’s carelessness!

    I’m glad you put into words a phenomenon that I have been noticing myself recently. As a culture, we’re so aware of what good things we could and should do with our time, but that awareness doesn’t always lead to action. That disconnect is powerful in my own life, but I have had some success breaking it by identifying my values and aligning my actions with them.

    • I can’t describe the horror when I realized this EZ Pass mistake. I am honestly still smarting over it. I have gone from being charged about $120 a month to $45!! But yes, the secret sauce definitely lies somewhere between realizing what you need to do and and then figuring out what manner of brain tricks you need to employ to actually do it. That’s something that pretty much need to be custom tailored to each person.

    1. FinanceSuperhero 08:54pm 13 July - 2016 - Reply

      That’s a tough experience with the EZ Pass. Here’s a story to make you feel better: my brother-in-law chose to drive through iPASS lanes here in Illinois without an iPASS becase a friend told him it would be OK. He was a college student at the time and driving a vehicle registered to my father-in-law. My father in law received several fines totaling over $1,000 due his son’s carelessness!

      I’m glad you put into words a phenomenon that I have been noticing myself recently. As a culture, we’re so aware of what good things we could and should do with our time, but that awareness doesn’t always lead to action. That disconnect is powerful in my own life, but I have had some success breaking it by identifying my values and aligning my actions with them.

      • Brooklyn Bread 08:12am 14 July - 2016 - Reply

        I can’t describe the horror when I realized this EZ Pass mistake. I am honestly still smarting over it. I have gone from being charged about $120 a month to $45!! But yes, the secret sauce definitely lies somewhere between realizing what you need to do and and then figuring out what manner of brain tricks you need to employ to actually do it. That’s something that pretty much need to be custom tailored to each person.

    2. Brian Lund at Measured Money 09:32am 12 July - 2016 - Reply

      When it comes to the spending, I wish it wasn’t true but it is. Those $7 target purchases or the $3 afternoon snack really add up. Funny what even a tiny amount of cognizance does for the savings. It’s simple, just not easy. Great post Linda.

      ~Brian

      • Brooklyn Bread 10:52am 12 July - 2016 - Reply

        Thank you Brian. I know I’m not the only one who is looking at my paycheck and thinking, where the hell did this all go?!

        Linda

    3. Kate @ Cashville Skyline 01:35pm 11 July - 2016 - Reply

      Thanks so much for mentioning me and writing about this, Brooklyn Bread! As I mentioned, I’m the exact same way when it comes to diet and exercise. I know what I need to do to lose weight, but actually following those steps is a constant struggle!

      • Brooklyn Bread 01:45pm 11 July - 2016 - Reply

        Ah we all have the same issues – ha! At least we’re trying!

        Linda

    4. Elsie @ Gundomoney 12:29pm 11 July - 2016 - Reply

      That’s a really cool point I hadn’t really thought about– we’re so enamored with self-help and reforming our lives in novel ways but we never actually do it! No wonder the self-help section in the bookstrore is always huge. I think the trouble is that we never decide to start.

      In my own life I’ll read something that I want to try and say, “I’ll start doing that…tomorrow.” Another thing I’ve learned about myself through meditation is that my mind tends to live in the future but my body tends to want to avoid all possible discomfort in the present. The result is a complete lack of action due to fear.

      I’ve been wanting to write something to the effect of “start right now” and I think you wrote it for me. My meditation guide always tells me that I can change my behavior right here, right now. I don’t have to wait until some mythical perfect moment to do what’s right. In the same way, I don’t have to wait around to feel ok. I can accept myself right here right now. Very inspiring thanks Linda

      • Brooklyn Bread 12:38pm 11 July - 2016 - Reply

        Aw, thank you Elise. I fall into this trap as much as anyone. Trying to be mindful about it, to stick with my goals. I know I’m not the only one…

        Linda

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