What I Learned Trying To Save $50/Mo

By Garrett

Jul 15, 2015


Growing up (which I’m still doing), I’d been taught the best way to increase my net monthly fun fund was to reduce spending in other places.

This summer I’ve been struggling to balance my own budget with a recent transition in my income and several unexpected expenses. So when faced with a declining fun fund, I defaulted to ‘penny pinching’ by purchasing a pay-as-you-go subway card for $70 at the beginning of each month instead of my normal monthly unlimited card (which they recently jacked up to $116.50!). It seemed like an easy enough task – I’d simply be more conscious of how many trips I was taking and probably cut $40-$50 a month out, no problem.

However, as soon as I loaded the money onto the card, I suddenly scrutinized EVERY trip I took. Case-in-point: the second week of my non-unlimited subway adventure I caught myself thinking “Okay, so I have this networking event after work. It’s only a 10-minute bike ride away, meaning I could get there easily enough, but then I couldn’t get drunk at the open bar or else I’d have to pay $2.75 to get home. I’m riding this streak of 3 days not using my card, I don’t wanna break that!!”

It got to the point where $2.75 could determine my day… that’s a little ridiculous. I’m thinking back to this and want to scream at myself and say “DUDE! It’s just $2.75, JACKASS!”

You see, it takes up a lot of brainpower to have to debate with yourself and actively say “no” every day to something. There’s a name for it – decision fatigue – meaning the more decisions you make throughout the day, the worse your subsequent decisions will be. That meant every time I said “no” to the subway I had to decide and plan out what my other option would be, making me dumber the rest of the day. Not really worth $2.75.

Yet – for all of the lost brainpower and time I spent agonizing over these small spending decisions, some good did come of it.

  • I started biking everywhere and got my ass into shape. And what’s interesting is that now I don’t even consider the subway as my first transportation option. I just realized I haven’t used my Metrocard in over two weeks. Yay! To boot, I found out that I really effing love to bike. And that I need a new seat, because I have an incredibly bony ass and papa needs some more cushion.
  • Since I’d already cut out any frivolous expenses from my budget, I was spending a lot of brainpower trying to save a relatively small amount of money. That energy could be better spent working an extra day a month, rather than taxing my brain with those minuscule savings decisions every day.
  • ON THE OTHER HAND…I found a great use for the subway $$ I’m saving: I’m finally making consistent monthly contributions to an investment account! Before I always had excuses as to why I couldn’t, but I realized something: if I simply made myself start, then make it a habit (or better yet automate it), then I’d adjust to this new reality.

So, want to give this a shot yourself? Here’s what you can do:

  1. Think of something you’d like to do with some extra money
  2. Identify one area of your daily life where you could try spending less
  3. Take action and see what happens!

For those who take this challenge, let me know what you discover. Does spending less on that certain thing hit the mark for you or get tedious? Do you ultimately end up missing what you’ve given up or does it now feel normal? I look forward to hearing from you!

Gaire Danes

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