Updated on 08.10.07

Six Habits I’ve Given Up In Order To Save Money – And How Much It’s Saved Me This Year

Trent Hamm

When most people think of giving up a habit, they think of quitting smoking or something to that effect. However, there are a lot of little habits that people pick up in their daily routines that they rarely even think about.

At the start of the year, I made a concerted effort to give up some of my regular habits, and I found that I made very good progress in giving up six of them. Here they are, along with how I did it and how much I saved.

The daily breakfast at the coffee shop – bagel and large drink This would set me back about $7 every single morning. I still have this on rare occasion, but now it feels like a treat instead of a necessity. Instead, I drink some water in the morning and eat breakfast at home, usually some toast. Healthier and far, far cheaper. Savings: $25 a week.

Three or four music albums a week I used to download and buy music like crazy. Over the last six months, I committed myself to listening only to the huge amount of music I already had, going through it and discovering what I really liked and what I didn’t. That cut my music purchases down to about an album a month. Savings: $9 a week.

Wandering around the bookstore three nights a week I replaced this with about two sessions at the library and a heavy use of their “wait list” for various books. Since I’d buy a new book about once a week, this is saving quite a lot. Savings: $10 a week.

Golf It’s been pretty easy to trim this nearly-weekly habit to nothing at all. I haven’t actually played a round this year, which is unbelievable compared to previous summers. I have been hanging out with the usual people I golf with, though, so no real social loss. Savings: $45 a week

Vacation Every summer for the last several, I went on an expensive vacation (London, Seattle, Las Vegas, northern Minnesota). It began to seem completely routine. This summer, I moved into a house – much less expensive – and am taking some time off to spend time with visiting family. Savings: $1,000 or so

Road trips Part of my routine used to be multiple long road trips each month, several hours in length. I’ve made a concerted effort to cut down on these this year and the gas savings alone has been tremendous. Savings: $100 a month

Doing the math on those numbers puts me in the range of saving about $4,000 so far this year, enough to fully fund a Roth IRA.

What’s the key here? Look at the things you regularly do and try to trim or eliminate the ones that gobble money.

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  1. Million Dollar Journey says:

    Great post Trent. Very similar to my savings strategies. It always surprises people how the little things can really add up, esp those coffees (or cigarettes). Congrats on having the discipline.

  2. Andrew says:

    It was nice to see some fresh money saving tips that applied to your situation, Trent. I fully expected to see several of the usual finance tips or general budget trimming ideas. As always, the personal touch makes this post stand out.

  3. Punny Money says:

    I’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment, if you don’t mind.

    Sounds like you’re cutting out some fun stuff here. Isn’t one of the points of making lots of money being able to use it to enjoy life to its fullest? Sure you can save that money until you’re older, but doesn’t it become harder to have fun the older you get?

    Just a thought from someone who spends way too much on videogames and anime.

  4. Eric says:

    I have found it you visit the book store enough, you don’t really buy as much. Pick up and read the parts of the books you like and read all the magazines cover to cover. I even take in a pen and paper and write down stuff I like. Of course I do buy maybe a magazine every 3-4 visit when I don’t have a lot of time, but I think that helps my cover hahaha

  5. s says:

    I bought a house instead of vacation this year as well, but the process of buying/moving was much more than the cost of even my fanciest vacation. Did you not include extra expenses for closing costs, movers, etc in this “cheaper than vacation” analysis? (I’m ignoring the down payment as a “cost” since that goes straight towards equity).

  6. junger says:

    I gave up Dunkin Donuts every morning. It’s a wise investment.

    Also, we started playing tennis at the public courts. One time investment in the equipment (except for new balls at $2 every so often) and we have fun doing it.

  7. Jake Smith says:

    Punny Money you make a great point – what is the point of saving for retirement if that means giving up living life in the short term? I think this is where Trent in general goes overboard – while it is certainly admirable and desirable that we learn to save and not be expansive in our spending habits, we should not sacrifice the present for the future. As the noted economist John Keynes said in the long run we are all dead.

  8. jason says:

    Hey – refreshing to hear these comments about cutting back on living to increase the size of a bank balance.

    There somethings of a rash of this ‘hyper efficiency , hyper-productivity” around. I’m overwhelemed by the pap blogs extolling the virutes of cutting 5 mins off you’re lunch break to make more of your work day….. just enjoy your lunch !!

    Unless you have very specific financial goals I cannot recommend this advice.

    Even if you’re in a hole financially – you would probably have thought of this stuf.

  9. Joe says:

    What’s the point of living if all you do is deny yourself of every little thing you enjoy just to accumulate money? The goal of life is not to accumulate money, but to enjoy yourself while you’re here.

  10. kim says:

    Based on just this post, it may seem like Trent is denying himself pleasure to save money. I don’t think that is really the case. If you read back through his blog, he has substituted a myriad of inexpensive activities for the activities listed above. I am guessing there is a free concert, trip to the park, or public supper taking the place of just about every round of golf. Trent puts his family very high in his priorities, If you look closely at the list in his post, most of those activities are not family activities. He has changed his life activities to serve his priorities. He scaled down the cost of those activities at the same time. The vacation? The man bought a house this year. I don’t know too many people who take a big trip in the same time period as making a major purchase like a house.

  11. Punny Money says:

    there is a free concert, trip to the park, or public supper…

    Ooh, what’s a public supper, and why don’t we have any around here? (P.S. I like food.)

  12. kim says:

    “Ooh, what’s a public supper, and why don’t we have any around here?”

    A public supper is a group meal put on by an organization. The meal is usually free, available for a small set price, or for a suggested donation. Many organizations will hold them as fundraisers. Often, churches will hold them as a type of open house. That’s what we call them here in Maine. I’m sure you have them, but maybe under another name.

  13. KS says:

    I don’t think Trent is putting an end to his hedonistic days. He’s just separating the needs from the wants.

    Do you really need three or four albums a week? Do you really need one a month? Probably not, but it’ll keep you sane and still keep your financial goals on target.

  14. Henry Bemis says:

    As a frugal person, books are the only thing I spend on. And, I’m not giving that up. I buy clothes at consignment stores, buy furniture used or get it free, eat at home, etc. But nobody touches my books. Try Edward R. Hamilton. They stock remainders, closeouts, overstocks, etc., for up to 80% off and shipping is just $3.50 per order, no matter how many books you buy. Excellent, excellent mail order company.

  15. SAHM-CFO says:

    OT hijack on the public suppers: you may not have them in your area. A few years ago, a law was passed in my state restricting these events unless all food came from a licensed commercial kitchen. the license had to be renewed yearly. Often the license cost so much as to nearly cancel out the profit. So they are few and far between anymore.

    It’s a shame b/c not only could you get a meal and help out an organization in their fundraising, but you got to meet and socialize with members of your community.

  16. vh says:

    Great post, IMHO. Doesn’t look to me like Trent is setting himself up to live life as a monastic. All the things mentioned here are things we can do without and not suffer too much, especially…as is clearly the case for Trent…we have lots of other things going on in our lives that we enjoy.

    One middle ground between the library and Borders is your local used bookstore. Usually there’s at least one near a university or college campus, and most big cities support one or two good, large used bookstores. In fact, there’s a chain called Bookman’s where you can get second-hand music & videos as well as books, tho’ personally I think a big old used bookstore run by an owner who just loves books is far better. You can build your book collection for a fraction of the price you’d pay for the same books new.

    Also, for terrific cookbooks, check out estate sales! Estate-saling can be a heck of a lot of fun (but you DO have to keep a grip, know what you’re looking for, and firmly restrain yourself from buying everything in sight). Every now and then you’ll find someone’s wonderful cookbook collection…a few months ago, my pal and I hit the Mother Lode. In addition to the usual suspects (like Julia Child, which I got for my son), I nabbed Molly O’Neil’s _Well-Seasoned Appetite_ (!!!), the Chez Panisse cookbook, a fantastic pasta cookbook, one devoted to REAL Mexican food (dare to move beyond tacos and burros!), one on country Italian cooking, and one on traditional Provencal cooking. Most are expensive hardbacks, essentially unused, and I got them for 50 cents or a buck apiece.

    Wow! Any day I’d rather sit back at my own kitchen table and have a piece of good toast or a bagel slathered with my own easy-to-make homemade peach butter & accompanied by a cup delicious French-press coffee than trudge through the traffic to a miserable, noisy Starbuck’s for a paper cup of icky coffee whose battery-acid flavor has to be disguised with a ton of sugar and cream. This is depriving yourself? Don’t think sooo.

  17. Deila says:

    You know, there IS one good resource you are overlooking for used books. The local Goodwill store!

    You can kill time looking(since most of the books won’t be in any type of order), there are always a ton of different types of books and you can most often pick up books ranging from $.49 to $1.50. Plus, if you pick up the 50% off ticketed books, it can be even cheaper! I am there constantly in search of new authors to try out in hopes of broadening myself mentally. Then, when you’re done, you can always donate the books back to Goodwill.

    I would also like to add that my husband has that ‘denying yourself’ mentality. If I would rather stay at home and cook a meal, than go out to a restaurant for a meal, he sees this as not having fun, or that I am depriving myself of little luxuries. He definitely has a ‘keeping-up-with-the-Joneses’ mentality that I am breaking him of.

    We are military and ~I~ don’t see it as depriving myself if I have a Wal-Mart pressboard desk instead of the $400 oak one I want to have. WHY? 60 pounds versus 260 pounds. Which would YOU rather move? Which one could I throw out in a pinch if need be?

    Also, I feel, the less we spend NOW, the more we save NOW, the more we invest NOW, the more room we will have to wiggle with when he retires from the Army. To me, 10 years from now, being in a home we built together, paid for in full, means a LOT more to me than getting that new couch because our old one is 5 years old and has a small hole in it.

  18. Gayle says:

    Punny Munny, one of the points of making (or saving)lots of money is that it can buy time or experiences. That is money saved now is money you don’t have to earn later, which frees up time to do really fun things like world travel. And yes you can really have fun when you are older.

  19. Margaret says:

    I second Gayle about having fun when you are older. Maybe you guys are all really young or something, but 35 year old me likes just as many luxuries as 25 year old me did, and I wish 25 year old me had been a litte more frugal so I could enjoy more things now. True, my 94 year old grandmother isn’t spending a lot on entertainment for herself (although she has been doing lots of home renovations and making significant charitable donations, which give her pleasure). However, my 60 ish aunts and uncles, having lived frugal lives, are now TRULY enjoying their financial freedom, with trips and dining out and buying “toys” (e.g. my just retired uncle bought a remote comtrol plane, and oh yeah, a 20 foot fancy motor boat). Their tastes have changed, but they certainly want to have fun just as much as they did when they were young. Saying you should spend it all now on fun because you won’t care when you are older is like saying you should eat a bucket of ice cream a day now because it is tasty because you won’t care if you are obese and diabetic and arthritic when you are 60.

    Enjoy life, but as has been said before, you need a little balance. You are not two years old.

  20. Kristi says:

    I thought you said you were going to stop buying your daily candy bar. Did you quit that one?

  21. Brooke says:

    Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the things he cut out were replaced with the exact same thing, only cheaper, or were the same thing, only less frequently. Also, as a side note, when I get distracted and start thinking “I should be living it up, who cares if my credit cards aren’t paid off, I’m young, I want adventure and vacations and STUFF!”…. I think to myself that no matter how much fun it is NOW, if later I’m retired, and ill, and can’t afford food or rent, or if I’m in a horrible nursing home dirty and lying alone, I’m not going to think “well, this is okay because I had that great trip when I was 25, and had those cool cars, I can handle being neglected/poverty stricken/not taken care of for the last 20 years of my life”.

    No, I’m probably going to wish I could go back in time and knock the young me upside the head.

  22. js says:

    People who are retired now have it pretty good, I’m a little sceptical if the future will be so bright. Alas, I am a pessimist, but hopefully saving will prevent my having to eat catfood. :)

  23. Kate says:

    Great post, although I wonder how you can go to London for “$1,000 or so”–if that was possible I would go often–expense be d*mned!
    Salting money away now gives one the ability later on to make choices–spending much and saving little limits those choices. It’s all about delayed gratification.
    I used to spend lots of money on new books–money that I wish that I had back because a number of those books went to library sales and the local thrift store when we moved–books are heavy! I hardly every buy new books anymore but I still frequently go to bookstores. While I’m there I write down titles, do some research (Amazon is a great place to get professional and reader reviews), and look for them at my public library. If the public library doesn’t have a book they often will purchase it if it got good reviews. If it is an older book you can often get it through inter-library loan. I have done this for so long that it is second nature–I don’t even have that tingling feeling in my fingers that says “buy me now.”

  24. Kim Bentz says:

    As one who has lived foolishly and now has to make up for it, the choices by frugal friends are not harsh and depriving. Would you rather have a
    $5-$10 a day Starbucks habit or money in the bank wwhen your dryer goes kaput. Let me tell you, the $5 spent at a nursery “closing for the season” sale was a far better investment than the same at Starbucks. What Trent often talks about are PERSONAL choices. What works for him, so that the rest of us can take a look at our own habits in a new way.

    I have friends who think nothing of spending $50/month on their fingernails (gasp!). They would no more go around with unadorned nails than I would go around without clothes! I don’t know what they give up (I suspect they live on credit cards), but I think about what I would have to give up.

    I have re-created many of my favorite Starbucks drinks at home, and am saving $90/month doing so. This doesn’t mean that I never go anymore…but now it is a deliberate choice, not a habit.

    I need to look for more ways to save, and this post has inspired me to look for them!!!

    How about this for one? I had my living room furniture selected. High quality, purchase to last 30 years or more. At $5000, it would cost approximately $167 a year for the PERFECT furniture. Instead, I bought a couch off Craigslist for $30 and intend to use it until I either find exactly what I’m looking for used, or until I have saved enough that it is not a struggle to buy what I really want.

    Some people think I’m crazy to think about spending that kind of money, but–hey, I’ve bought cheaper new furniture before. It doesn’t last! My parents had the same stuff for over 30 years, then passed it down to my sister who used it several more. Classic, well-built pieces last!

    but…if I don’t have my emergency funds taken care of, my debt paid down, my retirement funds taken care of regularly, what does nice furniture matter?

    Although I will usually side with quality over quantity, sometimes it is a better idea to make do for now, so that tomorrow, living is easier all around. the money I would have spent on furniture is going to pay down debt and toward some much needed home repair. It is an investment in my peace of mind.

  25. belleandthecity says:

    I discovered after I started reading your blog that my library (New York Public Library) has a wait list too. Not only that, but it allows you to look up a book online, request it, have it sent to your local branch, and then notify you via email when it’s there.

    I haven’t bought a book in months!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Gee, you’re new to this money=saving business. With the possible exception of the road trip, I never took up any of the other things. My worst habit was a daily (M-F) 12 oz. latte (purchased at the price of $2.00 after the 25 cent discount for bringing my own mug) from a favorite coffee cart (milk was rBST free but not organic; coffee wasn’t organic, either, but very good in terms of flavor). I “paid” for it by reducing going out to eat (about $20 max for me) to no more than once a month. Since making coffee at home runs me about 50 cents/day (organic, fair trade quality coffee and organic milk), I figured the “luxury” tax on the latte was $1.50/day or $7.50/week, slightly more than the cost of one alcoholic drink out at a restaurant/bar (which were canceled in favor of the latte!)
    Additionally, milk fills me up (a 12 oz latte is 10 oz of milk), so it almost always replaced some other snack I might crave, and the latte gets milk (=calcium) in me (I won’t drink it plain).

    I moved to another city this spring and haven’t found such a fantastic price on lattes and so have virtually given up the habit. I now make coffee at home (perhaps 1-2 coffees (not lattes) per week if I sit in a coffee shop and either work or read the Sunday paper (the coffee is about the same price as having to buy the paper, and I usually get multiple copies of the same coupons). $1.50 for a good quality, 16 oz coffee (bringing my own mug!) is fantastic, if you factor in the value of the “office” you get as well!

  27. Sandy says:

    My husband and I were like you in our 20’s…coffees, road trips, music, etc…with abandon. It was really fun.
    But, once we got on the savings kick (coinciding with the pregnancy and birth of our first child)it’s really not that much a big deal to “give up” these things. Other things become far more pressing….buying a home in a great school district, saving for your little ones college future, all the day-to-day costs of raising children. And because of “giving up” these things, we are on track to a very comfortable retirement and fairly easy lifestyle now. (We’re 46) We are in the process of paying our mortgage off, which should be complete less than 10 years of a 30 year mortgage, which will feel far better than lots of lattes and costly toys those 20 years…hmmm….we’ll have a lot more cash flow and maybe we’ll visit the coffeeshop more at that point!
    Habits can be very expensive, and the more one spends on them (unless they are a money making hobby, like my husband’s drumming hobby…he’s in a band and has played at our church for pay)the less you’ll have for those things in life that really start to matter the older you get.

  28. jenw says:

    Another cheap source of used books: http://www.paperbackswap.com Swap used books for the price of postage. They now have sister sites for swapping CDs and DVDs, too.

  29. NP says:

    I have given up some of the pleasures that Trent has. There was a time that I bought 2+ magazines a week. I cut myself down to one per week and then even less. Nowadays, I get along with far fewer mags. There is the internet to replace them, which costs since I subscribe to a service and must maintain a computer to have it conveniently in my home. I remember giving up fancy coffee on a daily basis. I have also turned to the library to lower my book buying habit. Never loved golf though.

  30. KarenFLA says:

    A good cheap breakfast is oatmeal made in the microwave and it lowers your chloresterol. I agree it’s important to cut out the expenses. My husband and my daughter used to stop at Starbucks for $5 each in the morning. About 6 months ago he bought a special coffee machine on ebay for $650 that makes lattes and they paid off in no time at $10 a day even with paying for coffee beans and milk. They are bringing their coffee in the car mugs I bought at Walgreens for $1 each every day. It was a splurge, but they didn’t want to give up their lattes. We also save a lot buying used cars.

  31. dolly dickinson says:

    A great way to cut expenses is to limit the use of credit cards. A financial advisor once told me: people spend about 20% more when they use a credit card instead of cash. Does the purchase seem less real?
    Once in a while I use a credit card, but I always pay off the amount when it’s due. Recently I was curious about how easy it would be to get some cash from two credit cards. In only minutes I was offered $10,000 and $13,500, for fees of $99 and $75–low introductory interest rates too. One offer was very clever to say I could have the money at 0% interest until December 24th. Who, pray tell, would have an extra $10,000 to pay up on that date? I did not take the money, but for a moment I had the heady feeling people must get when they see how easy this is. No wonder so many people are deeply in debt.

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