Four things I've learned about saving money

Our senior editor (and money blogger) shares what she discovered about saving her pennies this year.

What a difference a year makes.

Last January, my husband, Matt, and I were on the brink of buying a new house. Sure, we got a great price — more than asking — for our old semi. And the new place was a great deal, offering us parking (a luxury in many Toronto neighbourhoods), no more shared wall (the kids could giggle as loud as they’d like on Saturday mornings) and room for our girls to grow into teenagers (a bedroom apiece, plus a spare for our home office). Still, I worried because I knew we had fallen into some bad financial habits. No, we didn’t carry a balance on our credit cards, but we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in our monthly cash flow. Just about everything was going to the mortgage, insurance, car payments, daycare, food and…stuff. As a personal finance writer for the past decade, I knew we weren’t setting aside nearly as much money as we should.

The new year was upon us, with our move to the new house soon to come. What better time to make the most important resolution of our financial lives? Looking at our monthly spending, I figured we should try to snip $800 from that mysterious “stuff” category. And to keep myself honest, I started writing about our adventures in a blog (Todaysparent.com/savingwithsandra) . Read on for what I’ve learned since then.
Motivation helps

Do you want to save for a dream vacation? Music lessons for your talented young Mozart? Focusing on those goals will help keep your budget on track. The motivation that worked for me was getting to live in my dream house. I wasn’t going to mess up this chance by being sloppy with my new budget.

Craigslist can give you a kick-start Starting to save is so much like starting to get in shape. You want the numbers (your bank account or the scale) to register noticeable progress, and as soon as possible. Yes, it’s absolutely fantastic to trim a dollar a day from your spending (like I did by cutting out gourmet coffees). But it takes a long time to notice the benefits. So why not sell a few unwise past purchases online and stick the proceeds in the bank? Your balance will jump, making you feel great and inspiring you to build it up even more. We made more than $1,000 through Craigslist sales — first, the condo-size washer and dryer that came with the house (we brought our high-capacity machines with us from the old place), then an extra dishwasher, then Isobel’s outgrown crib, mattress and bedding.

If you mess up, don’t count yourself out We quickly identified our biggest weak spot: weekend trips to the mall “just for something to do.” Going to the mall usually means buying lunch out, and spying sale items for the girls that they may or may not really need. (At one point Isobel’s chest of drawers contained about 20 pairs of pants!) Despite a no-more-malls decree, we did find ourselves in a food court on a couple of wintry weekends. But we caught ourselves, and refused to fall back into doing it every weekend.

It’s easier than you think By the second month of our savings regimen, we’d managed to trim that mysterious $800 in extra spending from our budget. And it didn’t hurt at all. Looking back, I’m amazed how quick we were to order takeout instead of cooking a quick dinner at home. We started packing our lunches, and Matt promptly dropped 10 pounds. Far from rushing to get out of the house “for something to do” on weekends, we relish our unscheduled days at home with the girls. Since we began saving money, life has been better than ever.

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