One of the things that makes it hard when you’re trying to save money is the feeling that you’re not getting anywhere. You make some changes in your lifestyle or you stop spending on unnecessary things and you know you’re saving money, but you just don’t feel like it’s adding up. When people start feeling like this they are more likely to give up. After all, if you don’t feel like you’re making any progress, what’s the point? Why make sacrifices if it’s just a couple of bucks here and there that never add up to anything?
I know this feeling. When I first started really saving money, I was frustrated. Here I was being frugal, couponing, and doing all these things to cut expenses and yet I was feeling like nothing was adding up (I’m also an impatient person, which doesn’t help). I was tracking my expenses every day, like the experts said I should, and then bingo! I realized that was part of the problem. Tracking my expenses was helping me see where my money was going out, but it wasn’t helping me see what was staying in. It sounds simple, but it’s a big difference. It’s one thing to see that you spent $100 on the power bill, $75 at the grocery store, or $10 on party treats. That’s nice information to have and it does point out areas where you can cut spending. It’s nice to see fewer entries on the page every week as you cut out unnecessary spending. But it doesn’t tell me how much I am saving. If my goal is to save up money, knowing how much I’m saving is an important piece of information.
So I changed my tracking system a little bit. I kept tracking my spending but I also started tracking my savings. Every time I did something that saved money, no matter how small or ridiculous, I wrote it down. When I used coupons, I calculated the savings from the receipt (if the computer didn’t do it for me) and entered that amount on my chart, even if it was only twenty-five cents. When I found money in the laundry, I tossed it into our change jar and wrote it down, even if it was only a penny or two. When I found something I needed on sale, I wrote down the savings. If I saw results from some other cost cutting activity, like a lower power bill due to being more vigilant with the lights, I wrote down that savings, too. When my garden started producing in the summer, I wrote down how much I saved by not having to buy those tomatoes or peppers at the store. I also wrote down things that I did not buy. If I talked myself out of buying something I didn’t need, I wrote the savings down.
It only took a week before I was feeling a lot better about things. Once I saw how my efforts to save were paying off, I got motivated to do more. Sure, I liked seeing my spending decrease, but I liked seeing my savings increase even more. Seeing every little penny that I was saving got me fired up to try more money saving activities to make those numbers on my chart grow. Here’s what just one simple week looked like in my log book:
- Used coupon at Target for soap: $0.25
- Soap was on sale: $1.00
- Money found in the laundry: $0.20
- Found change in parking lot: $0.15
- Coupons (big grocery trip): $22.00
- Made my own all purpose cleanser instead of buying: $3.00
- Used grocery loyalty program rewards to buy gas: $1.80
- Used a coupon at the vet’s office: $10.00
- Did not buy the holiday decoration I wanted because I didn’t need it, even though it was on sale: $4.00
- Packed my own lunch for a week: $25.00
- Rebate check received: $5.00
Total savings for the week: $72.40
There were weeks where the successes were bigger, like the week I shopped our insurance and saved $300. And there were weeks where all I had to show was a $0.40 cent coupon and a dollar I rescued from my husband’s coat pocket. But most weeks were full of savings. I think on average I found a way to save about $50 per week through found money, coupons, sales, doing things for myself, and not spending on things I didn’t need.
I no longer write my savings down on a regular basis because we are where we want to be financially and I no longer need the motivation as much. But when times get a little tough or I’m feeling bad about the way things are going, I pull out my little log book and start writing down my savings again. It doesn’t take long to reaffirm my efforts and reassure me that we’re on the right track.
I think tracking both expenses and savings is far more useful than just tracking expenses. If you just track expenses, an off week where you spend a lot can make you depressed and want to give up. But if you’re also tracking savings, that off week may also reveal that you saved $50 in other ways and boost your motivation. Tracking both savings and expenses gives you a clearer picture of your progress.