Archives for September 22, 2014

How to save more money. Create your individualized plan.

How to save more money. Create your individualized plan.


Like most of us, Catalina lives on a budget.  Recently her budget shrank dramatically, when she and her husband decided to end their marriage.  Luckily, during her marriage, she had taken time to invest in her education.  Even with her new career as an interior decorator, the loss of her husband’s income and adding a new household, Catalina was finding it hard to make ends meet.

She borrowed some books from the library about personal finance.  She expected the personal finance books to talk mostly about making more money.   She read books by Suze Orman, Steven Silbiger and Vick Robin.  Surprisingly, the books explained how to spend less more than how to make more money.

All the books made suggestions for where to invest money for the future.  But how could she invest, if she didn’t have anything left over at the end of the month?  She began asking her friends, relatives, and colleagues for advice.  Not surprisingly, their answers ranged from things like, “grow your own vegetables” to “cut coupons” to “limit your manicures to once a month”.  These people were well intentioned but their solutions just didn’t work for her.

She decided to follow some of the exercises in the books from the library.  To start with, she had to track where her money was actually going.  She put them into categories and figured out what percentage of her money went into each category.  The result looked like this.

Rent ……..35%

TV, phone, internet ……. 6%

Gym membership…. 3%

Kid’s afterschool activities and childcare ….8%

Groceries …. 15%

Entertainment …. 4%

Eating out …5%

Utilities …. 10%

Purchases …7%

Repaying loans ….7%


Next she examined her values to see if anything was out of alignment with her spending habits.  She was spending more money on rent than she wanted.  She liked that her apartments offered her children a safe neighborhood, walking distance to the school, and close to her their father.  The amenities were nice too. It had swimming pool, work out area and clubhouse. Catalina decided that moving was stressful and she didn’t want another disruption to her kids life.  She decided to stay in her apartment and keep that expense.

She had rationalized the gym membership. It was a social outlet and kept her in shape.  After thinking more about it, she decided she could skip the gym and work out at home, in the parks or at the apartment clubhouse.  She would miss her favorite spin class, but she admitted to herself that the gym was a luxury she could no longer afford. She actually felt relieved when she cancelled the gym membership and reduced her expenses by 3%.

She decided she did not need a premium cable service or high speed internet.  She knew the kids would complain, but eventually would get used to it.  They needed to spend more time reading anyway.  Within a month, the kids hardly noticed the difference.  Their reading scores went up and Catalina had an extra 2% savings.

The kids’ daycare arrangement helped Catalina work late when she needed to.  She considered that a professional investment.  However, she thought her ex -husband could help out more.  She approached him and he agreed to taking the kids a few extra hours once in a week.  The kids enjoyed soccer and Karate and she did not want to take that from them.  She reduced childcare and activities from 8% to 7%.  It wasn’t much, but every bit helps.

Catalina analyzed grocery receipts from 4 different trips.  They revealed that she spent a significant amount of money on organic meat and fruits and vegetables.  Deciding that eating organic food was important, she chose to only eat meat 4 times a week, but that it would continue to be organic.  She choose to keep the fruits and vegetables the same or even increase them.  The shock came when she totaled up how much money she paid for convenient snack food for the kids.  Buying individually packaged drinks, crackers and cheeses was really adding up.  She noted that not only was it expensive, it did not coincide with her values of healthy eating and reducing waste.  She invested in some reusable water bottles and snack bags and stopped buying individually packaged foods.  She made back the value of the investment within 4 shopping trips.  In total, she shaved 3% off her grocery bill.

Life can’t be all work and no play.  Catalina wondered if going out to eat and then a movie once a week was an extravagance she couldn’t afford.  She and her best friend really enjoyed seeing each other and it was like therapy.  Catalina brought this up to her friend.  Her friend suggested that they keep the out to dinner portion and then only go to the movie once a month.  The other weeks, they could do free activities like going for a walk or going to a book store.  They ended up having more fun and Catalina reduced expenses by another percent.

By now, she was on a roll and every new penny saved felt like an Olympic medal.  She began handing out financial advice to anyone that would listen.  At the end of the analysis, Catalina had an extra 12% per month.  She finally understood the saying “a penny saved is a penny earned.”  The funny thing was that she had dreaded slashing her budget using other people’s advice. When she used her own criteria, she actually improved her life and enjoyed it.

What did she do with the extra 12%?  She put some of it in 10% IRA, for her future.  She also started saving toward a trip to Hawaii.  At this rate it would take her two years, but just dreaming about it made her happy.

If you want to save a little extra money, do the hard work of analysis first.  Just slashing expenses feels like a punishment.  Think about your values and if you are putting your money towards those values.  Your outcome will look very different from Catalina’s or anyone else.  You are unique.  Make your budget reflect your target lifestyle.


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