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Spending Money With Peace of Mind

Living generously, being able to save or invest a portion of all income, and enjoying financial breathing space, requires smart spending.

Here are some of the most important ways to get the most for your money in the major spending categories. As you read these ideas, keep in mind that they aren’t about obsessive frugality; they’re about spending smart.

Maintenance

Two keys here: First, make sure you actually budget some money for the maintenance and repair of your home and car. Not doing so is one of the most common budgeting mistakes people make.

Second, be willing to spend some money on preventative maintenance. It’s a lot cheaper to pay for oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles than it is to replace an engine. By the same token, it’s less expensive to keep your sink drains clear or unclog them yourself than paying for a plumber. The best drain-clearing product I’ve ever found is Thrift.

Utilities

You’ve heard these tips before, but they work. Switch to LED lights. Consider going with just a cell phone and eliminating your landline.

Transportation

You’ll see on my Cash Flow Plan that a monthly vehicle payment is not listed under Transportation. An important key to financial success is not having a vehicle payment.

The biggest true transportation cost is insurance. If you have an adequate emergency fund, consider raising your collision and comprehensive deductibles. If your car is not worth very much, consider dropping them altogether and only carrying liability insurance.

Taxes

If you’re among the 80 percent of taxpayers that gets a refund each year, you’re in the unfortunate habit of giving Uncle Sam a no-interest loan. I’m a big fan of generosity, but not toward an organization that can print its own money!

I’d rather see you estimate your taxes with the help of the IRS withholding calculator and have your withholding adjusted accordingly.

Food

You don’t have to be a super couponer to save at the grocery store, but a little couponing with the help of a site like Coupon Mom can go a long way toward helping you save on groceries. There’s credible research showing that cherry picking is worth our time as well.

Clothing

You can get some great clothing at stores like Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and especially Nordstrom Rack, although that last one is still a bit of a splurge. It’s also amazing what people drop off at Goodwill and other second hand stores.

Gifts

A big key here is budgeting a monthly amount for gifts and then letting the money build up in a special savings account for the big gift-giving months like December. In our household, we maintain two gift budgets—one for monthly gifts (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) and one for Christmas. Plus, our kids have to contribute to the cost of gifts when they go to friends’ birthday parties.

Entertainment

With sites like Groupon and Restaurant.com, you never need to pay full price for restaurant meals.  Just make sure the availability of so many “deals” doesn’t tempt you to overspend. Financial death by discount is not a good deal!

We also use SlingTV instead of cable, which costs a lot less.

Health

At the risk of sounding parental, take care of yourself. It is absolutely the best way to save on healthcare costs.

For a long time, I aspired to be a consistent runner, and strangely enough I think I’ve actually become one. You don’t need to run to maintain good health, but you do need to move. Walk on a regular basis or ride your bike.

Oh, and eating healthy is a good idea, too. One of the many blessings my wife brings to our family is her insistence on healthy eating. She has gone a long way toward taming, or at least counter-balancing, my sweet tooth.

Surf For Savings

For just about anything you need or want to buy these days, there are discounts to be had. Many times you can even double or triple dip on discounts.

What are some of your favorite ways to spend smart?

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8 Responses to Spending Money With Peace of Mind

  1. Jon May 12, 2013 at 2:10 AM #

    I agree with Kurt , you should always keep in mind that there are a lot of expenses that you might not expect, and start budgeting for those !

  2. hannah April 6, 2012 at 7:06 AM #

    I like everything here, but have one concern about food. It can be seen as “elitist” or posh to buy local, organic food…but that is better for our health, our communities and our earth–do you think this is a worthwhile investment though it might not might not immediately benefit our bank accounts? We are trying to balance being thrifty with being responsible in a way that supporting local/organic food is.

    • Matt Bell April 6, 2012 at 9:13 AM #

      Hannah – Great question. This is exactly why I’m not crazy about the word “frugal.” Frugal seems to imply always going with the lowest cost item. “Spending Smart” is about making spending choices that take more factors than cost into consideration, like quality, labor practices, and health.

      Long way of saying I do believe in buying organic products. But here, too, we can go overboard and buy the organic version of everything, thinking it’s the healthiest choice.

      The article at the following link may help you decide which organic products are worth buying and also find ways to save on the cost of those you do decide to buy:

      https://www.mattaboutmoney.com/2011/06/22/how-to-be-a-smart-organic-food-shopper/

  3. Kurt @ Money Counselor April 3, 2012 at 1:24 PM #

    Nice write-up Matt. As you note in a couple areas, a key I think is budgeting and setting aside money for unpredictable, but inevitable, expenses like maintenance & repairs, large appliance replacements, etc. and planned expenses like vacations. This way we can pay cash for these items and avoid the high-interest debt trap (aka credit cards!), the interest on which then tightens the budget and makes saving even more of a challenge.

    Thanks.

  4. Miriam Kearney April 3, 2012 at 10:00 AM #

    Since food is one of the largest discretionary yet essential spending items I have been focussing on how to cut down my spending in this category and still eat well. One of the things I have started doing is to buy meat when it’s on the last ‘sell by’ day. It is usually discounted by 30-50%. I buy whatever is there and bring it home, cut it into portions and freeze it that day. I usually always have a freezer with lots of meal ready meat and I rarely pay full or even so-called ‘sale prices’.

    • Matt Bell April 3, 2012 at 10:06 AM #

      That’s a great strategy, Miriam. It works well with other food items as well, like bread and milk. You can’t freeze the milk, but it usually stays fresh for several days after the expiration date and at the rate our kids drink milk, it usually works out fine.

  5. Jim Jackson April 3, 2012 at 9:55 AM #

    As always Matt, I love the sound advice. I’m wondering today what you think of Medishare or the other medical sharing alternatives to typical health insurance? We’re finding the cost to be far lower for similar benefits, but through a more tightly controlled community of people who share our value of a healthy lifestyle. We’ve not bought in yet, but it looks very appealing on many fronts. Your thoughts?

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