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A lot of bad press lately about doing things mindlessly, because they tend to lead to overdoing it. Entire books have been written on mindless eating, and how it contributes to massive overeating and weight gain. In the same vein, mindless spending robs you of all your hard-earned money, and of course because you’re not paying attention, you don’t even notice. Duh.
But the best way to turn your financial situation around is to find ways to mindlessly save money (or dam the mindless spending river). This is a trick I’ve employed at several different times during my financial life, both when I was not exactly killing it in grad school and now. The trick is to have a strict “in only” policy for your savings account, and to cut a portion of every paycheck into it. In grad school, I less-wisely set up the automatic transfer while I still had some immediate debt repayment issues, so for a few months, every two weeks I’d get paid, have some go automatically into savings, and I’d immediately transfer it back to checking. It seemed like it took forever before I could leave it in savings after a payday, and oh man, when that happened, it was so great. That was a huge accomplishment for me. It was also good motivation to have that to look forward to.
It doesn’t have to be much, whatever you legitimately don’t need to use for paying bills or paying off debt, although it helps if it’s close to the amount that you should have left over at the end of every month anyway. That way you can force yourself into being more careful with your money throughout the month.
For instance, if I didn’t put anything into savings at the beginning and I stuck to my budget like someone who’s afraid of spending, I could finish each month with $180 (sadly, only 6% of my paycheck). Not terrible, considering where we live and how many of the bills I try to pay so hubs can save more of his paycheck too. So what I do is right off the bat, $100 goes into savings (I’m trying to get hubs to automate some of his savings too, but he thinks his stuff is more variable-that’s true to a certain extent, but he still always has a little bit he can add). Then I only have $80 of leeway before I have to take things back out of savings (cue epic freakout here), or ask hubs politely to cover whatever I couldn’t. (And that’s part of his problem, I seem to sometimes treat his paycheck like my “wants” fund). Until last month, I was only automating $50 a month, and could save another $30 at the end. Yeah, $80 sounds nice and all, but what the hell was happening to that extra $100 I should have been able to save? So I increased my automatic transfer in the hopes that it’ll force me to be more careful. Didn’t work out so well last month (special case) but hopefully I can do better this time.
My other mindless saving tactic is to “Oops, forgot my wallet” myself. Note, I don’t do this to other people, that’s rude. But maybe I want to go get myself some coffee (extra coffee, beyond what I make at home). Oops, darn, Starbucks card is at home. Shoot. No other money either. Damn. Well, I needed to cut back anyway. (Look at that, saved a few bucks).
My last trick, that I actually can’t call mindless, is to pre-make myself some snacks to take to work, that I will inevitably be starving for by 2 pm. And boy, do I load myself up with variety. A cheap bag of nuts, some homemade granola, some $3 yogurt, a bag of carrots, and a $5 splurge chocolate bar (the huge Trader Joe’s one) can easily replace 5 days worth of cafe pastries. That provides something like 4 snacks a day for the price of one pastry a day (now it’s obvious I’m pregnant, I bet).
I probably have more that I’m forgetting to add, but those are the biggest 3 anyway. Feel free to share your tactics too in the comments. I could stand to learn some new tricks.