Have you ever looked at a year’s worth of your spending in one place? It’s an eye-opening thing.
If you have a system for tracking your money (I use Quicken), you can use the report feature to see what I mean. Or sometimes credit cards will send you an annual statement by category, so if you put a lot of your spending on your card, that’s a good snapshot too.
In January I pulled up a Quicken category report to see how we had spent our money in 2014. Having this bird’s-eye view helped me quickly see areas where I thought we could do better, and I found four of them to focus on this year.
To put it bluntly, our food expenses had gotten out of control. With Grant going off to college (and even during his senior year) we’d fallen into the habit of eating out and ordering takeout way too often.
Since the first of the year we’ve been making a point to eat at home more, and earlier this month I put together a super simple meal plan that we’ve been following with a lot of success.
The effect on our finances has been dramatic. In the last month we’ve easily cut our food costs (grocery store + eating out) in half and I expect this to be the area where we save the most this year.
Toward the end of last year I decided to try my hand at travel hacking. Generally speaking, travel hacking means acquiring as many points or miles as you can in order to travel more cheaply. One of the most common ways to do this is to take advantage of signup bonuses from travel credit cards.
We opened two Southwest Airlines Visas (the Premier and the Plus), and met the minimum spending requirements on each in order to earn 100,000 Southwest miles for me. Earning that many miles also qualified me for a free Southwest companion pass, so that anytime I fly on Southwest in 2015, someone goes with me for free.
We have four trips planned for this year, all to places that Southwest flies, and I’ll be flying on my points with Tom flying on my companion pass. The only cost we’ll have for those flights are the required government fees and taxes, about $11 per ticket.
Home Decor & Improvements
I’m a house person. Luckily Tom and I are on the same page about that. We both get a lot of satisfaction from our home and maintaining and improving it are important to us.
Last year was an especially expensive year for us, house-wise: We had a new patio built and bought some furniture for it. We replaced our family room couch and loveseat. I bought some chairs at an estate sale and had them recovered. We replaced the floor and bought a new desk for my office. And we replaced our 29-year-old bedroom set with Craigslist finds.
That’s a lot, even for me, so we’ll be taking a bit of a breather this year. We have some painting and ceiling work planned, and I’m sure I’ll do a little decorating (I’d love some new artwork), but we’ll be spending significantly less.
Admittedly, medical costs are mostly out of our control. But we expect to spend a lot less this year because I don’t plan to break my wrist and need two surgeries and physical therapy again. Then again, I didn’t plan on that last year either, but here’s hoping.
Do you have a plan to save money this year? What are you focused on?