One of the things that gets people into trouble financially (and in a lot of other areas, too) is failing to actually think about what they’re doing. We’re all guilty of putting our lives on autopilot. We buy the brands we always have because they’re what we know. We shop in the same stores we always do because we know the layout, or the salespeople, or it’s just convenient. We eat the same foods because they’re what we always get. We bank at the same bank we always have because it’s easier than switching. We subscribe to things because we’ve done it for years. And we stop for coffee on the way to work, or go out to lunch because we’ve always done it. It certainly makes life easier to go through life this if you don’t have to put much thought into things. But failing to think through your options can cost you.
I’m just as bad about this as most people. Last year, though, I found myself having to really apply some thought to one area of my life, which was watching what I ate. I got hurt and couldn’t exercise for a while. Since I’m one of those unlucky people who can quickly gain weight if I don’t exercise, I really worried about this. I didn’t want to come off of my injury with an extra thirty pounds tacked on.
For the first time, I was really thinking about what I ate. Every meal and every day. Every time I wanted to eat, I asked myself if I was really hungry. Had I already had too many calories that day? Did I need chips with my sandwich at Subway? Did I need sweet tea, or would unsweet tea, diet soda, or water do just as well? It was tiring to have to think about everything I put in my mouth, but the payoff was huge. I not only didn’t gain any weight, but thanks to better eating and an aggressive rehab schedule, I actually lost ten pounds.
All this thinking about food reminded me that I should be thinking about other areas of my life more, including money. While I try not to sink into money ruts, I know that I do. I know that I’m guilty of running into a store sometimes and just getting the brand of ketchup I always do rather than looking for a sale or comparison shopping. I know I’m guilty of shopping the same retailers because I just can’t be bothered to look for someplace new. So I vowed to apply the same amount of thinking to my money as I had to my food.
It made a difference. While I thought that we were already pretty cost-conscious and frugal, I realized that there were a lot of areas where we’d started to slip. I tightened up on my grocery shopping, paying more attention to per ounce prices and doing diligent comparisons. I really looked at our banks and insurance carriers and actively compared them with others to see if there were better deals. When I needed to buy something, I made sure to look at several retailers instead of just going to my default shops. Any time a spending or saving question arose, I put some thought into it. And I questioned everything we spent money on, from meals out, to stuff for the home, to our subscriptions.
All of that thinking meant that we increased our savings account by another $5,000 last year, over and above what we normally save. I was surprised because, like I said, we were doing pretty well as it was. But really thinking meant that a lot of things got left on store shelves, that better deals were found, and some subscriptions were cut or changed.
While I know that I’ll never be able to keep up that level of vigilance forever (it does take up a lot of mental space), doing it for a year or so reminded me just how dangerous autopilot can be. I know I’ll probably slip back into some ruts, but I know that this experience will remind me to periodically apply more thought to my money. If you want to save money, try really putting some thought into your day to day life. You might be surprised at what changes you make.
(Photo courtesy of Colin_K)