Last Updated on June 22, 2022 by Alex
Learning how to save money by turning into a game can be a lot of fun and much more rewarding than spending money and watching your debts pile up.
Part of the answer is physiological. Spending gives us an instant dopamine blast but it doesn’t last, taking us on a high and then into a low. That’s why that amazing new laptop that you didn’t really need to buy has lost all its special appeal two weeks after you bought it and now looks like every other laptop you have owned or still own.
But the pain of the credit card bill will last and last.
Dopamine can act like a drug, and like a regrettable alcohol fueled hookup, when it wears off the reality is kind of dreary.
On the other hand, frugality is a lower key but sustainable source of real satisfaction and fun. You get a calm sense of control over your life. You feel stronger because you are no longer a slave to impulses. You enjoy seeing your savings grow instead of always stressing about debt.
The game consists of find many small ways to cut down on spending and watching them slowly but surely add up into big gains over time. No amount of money saved is too small if the savings are rational and don’t hurt any of your core interests (like your health) or values (like buying factory farmed meat over grass fed, if you care about animal welfare).
So here are some simple and useful ways to immediately begin saving money.
1. Replace 90% of your paper towels with unpaper towels.
The first option is to go to a used clothes store—preferably one where you can buy by weight. Fill a bag with nice, absorbable shirts like thick flannel and cotton.
Create squares—at least a few dozen, but it’s best if you have 50 or more. Now store these somewhere where they are easily accessible in the kitchen, like under the sink.
Use these for everything from cleaning up counter messes to cleaning the stovetop.
You may still want to keep some paper towels on hand but you’ll be amazed at how few you use.
Don’t want to make your own unpaper towels? Then make a simple purchase of suitable unpaper towels from Amazon.
2. Batch cook for the better part of the week on Sundays.
Start by writing down three basic recipes of staple foods you love (think bean burritos, spaghetti and marina sauce, ratatouille, etc.). Work with these for the first three weeks and see how it goes. These have to be foods that 1. You can cook in bulk and 2. Like a lot so you won’t get sick of eating them easily.
Each week make a large batch of one of these recipes, perhaps with a side recipe. For instance, you can make 20 bean burritos and a smaller amount of ratatouille so you get your veggies in.
The trick is to store these in a convenient way so you can grab what you need easily, including when you are on the go or taking food for lunch at work. So wrap the burritos up in aluminum foil and store them in the fridge.
Put the ratatouille in small plastic containers next to the burritos.
This might not last you the whole week but it can get you through the good part of it, and that alone will save a lot of money by cutting out stops at your favorite fast food joint.
Finally, up your game by combining batch cooking for a few days or a week with larger scale batch cooking that includes freezing portions. It’s fun, tasty and saves both time and money over the long term.
3. Use leftovers for lunches.
This is related to the last one. On evenings when you cook (and inevitably you will, even if you implement the bulk cooking strategy) immediately put the leftovers in small containers that you can take with you for lunch. (I’m writing this during the COVID-19 lockdown but clearly this situation isn’t going to last and it won’t be too long before most of us are back at work.)
If the food is packed and ready to go, you’ll use it. Don’t wait until the next morning because chances are you won’t have the time to deal with it, or the inclination.
Eating out is expensive. You can save a ton of money just by eliminating the average restaurant bought workday lunch.
7. Get a water bottle you like and keep it with you wherever you go.
Everyone should have a water bottle. For one thing, most of us don’t get enough water. For another, it saves money by preventing you from buying expensive bottled water or, ugh, soda.
Come on, if you still drink any of that diabetes causing garbage, please stop!
An ancillary to this one: if you need to drink a lot of coffee, get yourself a thermos and bring your own coffee with you for the day. If you can replace all those lattes and cappuccinos you will save a ton of money.
5. Buy food and household supplies in bulk.
This is a no-brainer and yet very few people do it. There are bulk stores all over the place. Not just mega stores but also little dispensaries where you can fill up on detergents and shampoo and other household supplies with either bottles of various sizes supplied by the store or by bringing your own recycled containers.
We get our legumes, rice and millet from a small bulk store down the street that sells red lentils in 2 kilogram bags—about 4.4 pounds. The prices is about half of what people pay at a regular store.
Keep dry food in a pantry—I’m talking beans, rice, quinoa, etc. Your pantry can be a large cardboard box in the corner of your one room apartment if you have little space.
6. Think about what you can buy used instead of new.
My wife loves used clothing stores and I understand why. If you find a good one, the variety is greater than what’s in a regular store and pretty much everything you find is an original.
You can find amazing quality items for very little money.
Same goes for many, many other things.
We were all swept away by the first really brilliant smartphones but at this point I can’t even begin to see the point of buying a new one. I don’t care if they put twenty cameras in the next version of the iPhone, I’m perfectly satisfied with my three year old iPhone…
And when it goes I’ll get my next phone on ebay. Seriously, my life has never, and I mean, never improved by getting the latest smartphone. I’ve learned that and will never unlearn it.
Whenever you’re going to buy something, think about whether you can get it used.
Your wallet will thank you and so will the planet.
7. Behave in a way that is in your financial interests in 10 years.
Most of us think about what we can afford now.
That’s not very smart. It lacks perspective.
Instead, think about what would make sense to the future you—ten years in the future. Think and act as though you are serving that person.
Ten years from now you won’t care if you drank craft beer or a Bud with your friends. You won’t care if you got your casual t-shirts new or used.
You will care if you are happy, debt-free, financially independent. Save money now and work relentlessly for your financial interests 10 years in the future and you will be more confident in your decisions today and healthier and happier tomorrow.