Monday, April 2, 2012

If you do one thing this week...


Use less - of EVERYTHING.

If you’re looking to save money, there are some obvious solutions; you might want to track your spending, avoid impulse buys or try going cash-only. But have you ever thought that you might be throwing savings down the drain, literally? Do you know how much you really need of things of consumable goods like like shampoo and dish soap?

Sierra Black of Get Rich Slowly recommends using half of what you normally would. The idea is to reduce half the amount of these things you use by doling out smaller portions. Normally use a quarter-size dollop of shampoo? Try cutting back to a dime.

There’s no need to stop at half, actually. You can keep scaling back your usage gradually until you hit a point where you actually don’t have enough, and then creep back up to the last place it felt good. Maybe that dime-size drop of shampoo isn’t enough for your hair, but a nickel-size portion gets the job done nicely.

This approach  - he calls the 50% solution - works. Stock up at Costco and it will take you forever to run out. Try this next time you come home from Costco - Pour your bulk product into smaller containers — at half strength. For example, fill the soap container next to the kitchen sink with half water and half soap. You'll use the same amount when washing the dishes, but go through the soap at half the rate.

In addition to basic consumables, you can apply the 50% solution to:
  • Shopping for clothes.  Ask yourself - Do I need two of these? Stop buying multiples of the same things! (A problem of mine.)

  • Going out to bars and restaurants. This is often another trouble spot for me, since I love going out. Scaling back that type of social activity by half lets me stay close to the people I care about without busting my budget.

  • Over the counter medications. Take one instead of two. Or two instead of four. I wouldn’t suggest trying this with your prescription meds, but for simple over-the-counter stuff like headache medicine, I’ve found that a half dose is often perfectly effective.

  • Groceries. Kids will eat a near infinite amount of fresh fruit, pretzels, and yogurt. How much is enough? The only way to tell is to gradually buy less until you run out and they complain. Cut your grocery budget in half by combining this with other grocery savings hacks.  This way too you won't waste any food. 

  • Therapeutic appointments. Scale back on wellness appointments from twice a week to only twice a month. This saves time and money. As with all these measures though, the key is to get to enough. Cutting back too much on these appointments (massage, physical therapy, chiropractor) could cause pain and interfere with life. The balancing act is to be sure you get what you need, without over-committing resources that could be better used elsewhere.

Basically, try tapering off anything you routinely spend money on where you have some control over the amount you use. In general, this approach will save you money. But the more important thing isn’t how you save the money, it’s what you do with it. A dollar saved is only really saved if you don’t immediately spend it on something else. The savings from these gradual reductions in consumption are often harder to see than the clear figures one gets from canceling a subscription and saving the monthly fee.

I love the 50% solution because it acts as a checkpoint for purchases. Do I really need this? Do I need all of this? Could I make do with less? Being in the habit of asking myself those questions has saved me a lot more money than just cutting my shampoo with water does. It helps me stay in a frugal mindset when I’m shopping. That’s not easy to do. Stores are designed to push you towards impulse buys, and being armed with mental money hacks helps me fight back against their subtle (and not so subtle) marketing.

I also love this approach because it helps me find balance. It’s not about committing to a life of extreme austerity, it’s about avoiding waste. I often think of the curve at the beginning of Your Money or Your Life that shows a person’s happiness increasing as they have the resources to supply their basic needs, and then some comforts and finally a few luxuries. Beyond that magic point of "enough," the curve falls off as more and more luxuries are piled on but fail to satisfy. The 50-percent solution helps me know what my personal "enough" is. What’s enough soap? Enough entertainment? Enough snack food?

Scaling back incrementally lets me find those magic points on the curve and stay close to them. I get to have enough to be happy, without wasting resources like money, time and energy on acquiring more of something than I need or want.

Now it's your turn. Give it a try.

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