Logical Progress Advancing a Little Bit Every Day

22Jan/120

My Quest to Save More Money

I don't budget. I tried to do it, but it was difficult to track and balance, and I never really spent beyond what I set aside. Budgets never worked for me because I never really needed a budget. Most of my saving is automatic, and whatever is left becomes my living expenses. Beyond that, if there is excess, I typically dump that into the savings account or stock market.

So why am I trying to save more? I feel like it, that's why. I've realised that over the last year I've gotten less disciplined with my spending. Yes, I still put away a set minimum amount into savings every month, but in some respects my spending has gotten out of control. Also, as a single male American living in the UK, I have additional expenses that crop up from time to time. Even if you aren't an ex-pat like me, you might find yourself spending a bit too much on some of these things:

  • Eating Lunch Out: I eat out every day at lunch. I try to keep the cost down by shopping for cheap stuff at the grocery store or limiting my portions, but either way I find it practically impossible to bring my own lunch. Average expense £5.00 per lunch. At a sit-down place with maybe one pint involved, £10-12 per lunch.
  • Drinks after work: Since I work really hard I need to blow off some steam with my workmates at the pub. And since this is London, it's much easier to find drinking buddies on any given day of the week, whereas in the US I'd be hard up to find someone willing to have a few jars on a Tuesday night. Sometimes it becomes very frequent, especially around the holidays when, for various reasons, I find myself going out five or six nights a week. On top of that, the larger the crowd the larger the expense: when it's just me and one mate, we buy rounds back and forth in even numbers, but when you add a third or a fourth it starts to add up because an asymmetrical distribution begins to occur. Average cost £25 per night out
  • Spontaneous / unplanned dinners: Most likely I'm out for a drinks and a few of us decide to get some dinner, a nice sit-down place might be relatively inexpensive, but add in drinks and we could be looking at £20 per person, or in the case of last Friday night, £40 per person. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, it may be too late in the evening to cook at home or I simply may not have the energy; enter kebabs, sandwiches, and even McDonald's (I love you MCD!). This isn't that bad, less than £5 usually. On average the spontaneous dinner might cost about £15 per event.
  • Other random stuff: Taxi fares are usually the result of being out after midnight, when the tube shuts down and bus routes might not be optimal from my location. I usually try to get a night bus, but in some cases it's totally inconvenient and a cab will have to do. This could be anywhere from £10 to £30 depending on where I find myself. Or what about spoilage, which is also highly correlated to the number of times I go out in a week. If I buy fresh fruit or other quickly perishable fresh foods and don't finish them all before they go bad, I've just wasted money. I recently threw out half a tub of grapes worth £1.50 because they were well past the "use by" date. I suppose we could debate the merits of those dates, but after a while they look OK but I'm uncomfortable with the prospect of what half-fermented grapes are going to do to my bowels.

So the goal here is simple: minimise those expense events. Recognise when these are going to happen or when they are in the making. It's not necessary to eliminate them entirely, in fact I need time to hang out with my friends, drink a few beers, eat out, and get away from the house. There is a certain amount of utility derived from these activities. Yes I am spending money, but I'm also getting satisfaction of blowing off steam with my mates over some pints and a curry dish. Plus I can't really make my own curry, so if I really want it I'm going to pay for it at a restaurant.

The point here is that I need not make drastic changes, I just don't need to overindulge. On top of the expense, I think the utility is actually diminishing as I increase the frequency. Being at the pub every night of the week can be less and less therapeutic as the week goes on, and it's not healthy. Being even mildly hungover at work the next day is not pleasant.

So what now, and why should you care? Well I'm not asking you to care, all I'm saying is that you might have some of the same experiences as me; i.e. you make good money and save most of it, but would like to cut out these unnecessary and potentially utility-neutral/negative expenses. I think that by paying more attention to these things, and writing about it, can help me to identify and reduce their frequency. So for the next few weeks I'm going to track my expenses and note where I have actively taken steps to avoid or reduce them. I will continuously reflect on this to make improvements, and measure my results with money in the bank. It's not altogether easily measured, but I'll take my best shot. I hope that the readers of this experience will get some benefit, and hopefully share their own experiences in similar endeavours.

As it stands right now, I've procured about £11 worth of groceries to cover me for at least three or four days, but I've also got plans to go to a curry house tonight. I'll probably spend about £20, but I'm seeing friends and having a good time out of my flat. I'll probably make up for it next week by avoiding pubs and packing a lunch two or three days, or maybe I'll fall back into my prior routine. We'll see, but my hope is that by documenting it I can reflect better on the true impact of my behaviour.
Do you have a similar experience, please comment below!

 

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