Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Spend Small: Put it off, Stretch it out, Reuse

I heard a quote the other day.  Actually, I read the quote on a laminated place-mat at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Midland, Texas, where I was holed up doing some work.  My co-worker elbowed me and gestured:

"The fastest way to double your money is to fold it once and put it back in your pocket."

Ah, the wisdom.  Thank you, Midland.  And thank you, Coworker, for alerting me to how public my penny-pinching has become.

But really!  This quote hits the nail.  And as lately I've been doing a lot of folding-my-money-and-putting-it-back-into-my-pocket, I want to share some of the ways I've been doing that.  In a nutshell, it comes down to three basic rules: Put it off, stretch it out, and reuse.

Stategy #1: Put it off.

Putting it off works because when you put off buying, you usually end up buying less over time.  Follow me through a little metaphor, please:  If I imagine my wants (we're talking purely commercial, here) as an empty jar, then when I buy something, that jar fills up.  When I buy enough things in a period, the jar is full, and I don't want anything anymore.  Over time, the jar slowly empties until I desire again.

Well, I used to think that if I bought whatever-it-was now then my jar would stay full later.  But honestly... it doesn't.  Next month, no matter how full it had been, my jar is empty all over again and I find myself lusting after something new -- a snazzy pair of hiking boots or a chandelier #currentlusts.  If I buy something now I'll still want something later -- I just grow new wants.

So I put it off.  I don't buy those boots this month, I wait until next.  And while you might think that by keeping my jar empty this month it would be twice as large next month, the cool thing is that it's not!  I'm just as fulfilled by buying my boots -- and only my boots -- next month as I would have been today.  Even moreso, because of the happiness that is delayed gratification.

Putting off spending is effective when you do it with small spending, too!  Try these:
  1. Hold off on buying new shampoo/lotion/soap until all your hotel samples and gifts are used up. 
  2. Don't buy bobby pins and other knick knacks until you've cleaned.   
  3. Read books you already own.
  4. Plan your meals for the week based on ingredients you already have.  Use up staples like rice, quinoa, and canned beans.
  5. Turn veggies and fruit that are going south into juice.
  6. Freeze herbs in olive oil for future use.
  7. If you can, borrow anything you're not sure you have to own.  You can figure out if you need to make the purchase later.  ;)  

Strategy #2: Stretch it out.


Oh, you already own it?  Stretch. it. out.  Use it slow like molasses.  Use it all until the very last drop.  Then -- when you can see through that shampoo bottle to the other side, or when you've really rolled every last microliter of toothpaste out of that tube -- then, and only then are you allowed to drag yourself to CVS and make a few new purchases.

Like putting off purchases, stretching out what you already own feels really good.  And when it comes to stretching out what you have, I'm not just talking about toothpaste and shampoo: The best thing to stretch out is anything that needs to be maintainedI'm talking haircuts, manicures, car washes, the frequency the maid visits... anything that needs to be kept up on a regular basis. 

The thing about maintenance spending is that, once you do the spending, whatever-it-was immediately starts to retreat into its former state.  Hair grows back, nail polish chips, cars get dirty and apartments gather clutter.  So the earlier you get that haircut, the earlier you’ll have to get the next one.  If you get your car washed today instead of tomorrow, then it has the rest of today to start getting dirty again.  …You get my point.

You can wait another week to get a haircut... stretch it out.

Strategy #3: Reuse!


You used it once.  Now take the extra step, clean it, and use it again.  Then give the environmentalist in you a pat on the back.  This applies to:

  1. Ziploc bags (the sturdier the better)
  2. Plastic containers you get from restaurant to-go orders, from buying pre-cut fruit at the grocery store, etc.
  3. Gift bags/ribbon/bows
  4. Printer cartridges (if you actually own a printer)
  5. Coffee filters... just kidding.  (I think that was a joke from Friends circa 1998.)

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