Get Sweaty: Do Sweat the Small Stuff and Find Out How Much You Can Save!

By Lila Quintiliani, AFC
Military Saves Assistant Coordinator

A while ago I read a personal finance article, and the gist of it was “don’t sweat the small stuff.”  That people needed to pay attention to saving on big ticket items, like houses, cars, rent, and so on and to stop wasting their time nit picking over the minute details of their spending.  Well, I couldn’t disagree more.  I think most people get into difficulties because they don’t pay sufficient attention to what they are spending their money on daily.  They are literally nickling and diming themselves into financial difficulties.

One of the exercises I give people who come  to me for help with creating a spending plan is to have them track exactly what they spend their money on each day.  People generally know how much their rent, car payment and their cell phone bills cost, but when it comes to how much they might spend at the shoppette or the food court, they don’t have as clear a picture.  One airman I talked to was startled to discover that she and her husband spent over ten dollars EACH DAY at Starbucks, since they stopped both on the way to and from work.  Taking into account weekends and some leave time, that’s roughly $1200 a year.   If they only cut back on ONE of their trips each day, they could have had $600 more to pay down their debts or put into savings.  If they made their coffee at home, even with rising coffee prices, they could easily save $1000 each year.

A friend of mine was recently giving a “lunch and learn” budgeting class to a group of people.  As she emphasized the importance of building an emergency fund, several members of the class said that there was no way that they could save ANYthing given their current income level.  She looked around the room and virtually everyone in the class had a bag of fast food sitting in front of them.  “There’s your savings,” she said, pointing to the bags.  “That’s how much you could save each day if you had packed your lunch.”

So, while I don’t think people should forget about  planning for their big purchases, I do tell people to take note of all the little things they spend their money on over the course of a couple of weeks.   Get “sweaty” and see how much you can save.

Little ways to cut back:

For tips on tracking expenses, check out SaveandInvest.org
For more ways to find money to save, check out Americasaves.org