During the years, my finances have followed an uneven pattern. If I had to draw a graph, such as those used in the stock exchange world, it would probably look like a mountain range with steep peaks and scary deep valleys. Up to some years ago, I wasn’t too good at managing money. Funny how I just realized it when my earnings started to rise. Having a better cash flow into my bank account didn’t translate into ending up with more savings at the end of the month. It was frustrating. That’s when I started to think about some strategies to improve money management.
It’s a free market we are living in, right? Advertising chases us and reaches us almost everywhere; on our smartphones, on TV, on large billboards, and tiny web pages pop-ups. In the last three years, I’ve saved nearly $400 per year just by taking advantage of phone companies’ special deals and discounts. Of course, you always have to check the terms and conditions. When I have to modify or terminate a contract, I avoid doing it entirely online, without any interaction with a customer service representative, to avoid scams and nasty surprises.
I, like most of you, have a busy life. That’s why I’m expecting some eyebrows raised at the end of this paragraph. But, believe me, it’s just a matter of time management. In fact, you will only save on food expenses if you buy fresh food (almost) every day. I used to go to the supermarket once a week. My philosophy, pushing a king-size trolley around the aisles of shop shelves, was, “I’m going to buy this, and I’ll probably eat it sometime.”
Coming back home, the unpacking of the shopping bags was sometimes disappointing; among dozens of other items, I may have picked up three boxes of cake mixes, the latest model of titanium kitchenware, and two giant frozen squids on special price. And I still didn’t know what to eat for lunch. So, here’s my secret; each day (or so), I plan what I will have for lunch and dinner, and then I buy just what I need. No leftovers, no rotten food, and no weird objects in the fridge that you don’t even dare to smell before quickly throwing them away in the trash.
This is a strategy that I’ve learned from an experienced finance specialist, who didn’t make it to Wall Street but had the talent to feed a family of eight during World War II; my grandmother. What she did was simple and very effective. Each month, she would distribute the money that she and her husband had gained into several envelopes. Each envelope was named depending on the purpose; bills, food, mortgage, children’s needs, medical expenses, savings, and, yes, books. My grandmother was a serial reader. Even if I do not use cash much nowadays, this system always works. I simply divide my income into the various items of expenditure, and I try to keep track of where the money is going. In time, this strategy works and, if sometimes I spend too much on, say, food, at least I’m aware of it.
Credit cards, online payments, and tons of automatically renewed subscriptions; everything is one click away, included unwanted expenses. Even the most apparently harmless ten-dollar-a-month software upgrade may lead you to spend a consistent amount of money at the end of the year. That’s why, every year, I have set a reminder, and I spend an entire day going through all my current subscriptions. The last time I undertook this tedious but cash-saving endeavor, I found out that I had bought two different VPN services, one for my son’s PC and the other for a Mac. After checking both contracts’ terms and conditions, I found out that one VPN granted a considerable discount on a second computer. So I simply terminated one of the contracts, saving about fifty dollars for the rest of the year. It may seem like a small drop in the ocean, but if you save here and there, you may end up with some nice extra cash. So that you can, finally, buy yourself a well-deserved gift for being such a careful saver!