Part 4 in a 4-part series on how to save money and make your dreams come true.
We have come to the end of my 4-part series about saving money. Yay! I bet you’re happy you won’t have to hear me ramble on about savings accounts and selling my plasma for extra money. Okay, I didn’t actually do that, but it’s always an option.
In part 1 of this series I wrote about saving money to fund your dreams. In part 2 I wrote about saving money at home. Last week, part 3, I wrote about saving money on bills. And today, finally, I write about saving money by using less stuff.
I have to warn you, consumption is one of my favorite topics. What I mean is, I’m really passionate about the role that “stuff” plays in our lives and how, if we aren’t careful, we stop owning our stuff and our stuff starts owning us. The best job I ever had was as a Waste Reduction Coordinator. Yep, you read that right, Waste Reduction Coordinator. I got paid to talk to people about reducing waste, which meant talking to them about over-consumption, because the easiest way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.
The obviously correlation here between owning stuff and saving money is that stuff costs money! It costs money to buy stuff, power stuff, maintain stuff, and even to throw stuff away. And I won’t get in to it here but there is a huge environmental impact associated with buying stuff. People freak out about whether something can be recycled or thrown away but here’s a little industry secret: it barely matters. Almost all of the environmental impact of that thing you’re worried about throwing away already happened when the materials that made it were mined, manufactured, and then shipped to the store so that you could easily purchase it. I’m not saying that recycling isn’t important, it is! But what’s more important is making sure you don’t buy any more stuff than you have to.
So, what can I say about using less stuff to save money? It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? But for those who aren’t natural minimalists, here are three tips for getting rid of your excess stuff and ultimately saving money.
Step 1: Declutter
The first step towards having and using less stuff is decluttering. Tackle one room at a time and systematically sort through all the stuff you have. Do you use the stuff or does it sit there taking up space? Did you forget you even owned it? If you don’t use (or rarely use) the stuff then get rid of it! Make one pile of items you can sell on craigslist or eBay and one pile to give away to friends or to a thrift store. Any money that you make from selling your unused stuff can go towards funding your dream.
Step 2: Don’t shop
Now that you’ve decluttered your space and own only what you use, the next step is to stop shopping. Okay, you can shop occasionally but only if you buy what you need. The key is learning to determine what you really need versus what you want. Many people think they need that new pair of shoes or need that strawberry slicer. The truth is, those people probably already have 40 pairs of shoes in their walk-in closet and a fancy set of kitchen knives that can slice those strawberries just fine. Determining what you really need is actually kind of a hard thing to do at first. To begin the practice, ask yourself every single time you want to purchase something if you really need it to survive and thrive. Do you need the bananas? Yes. Do you need the faux-zebra print mini wallet with nickle plated change purse and extra photo pockets? No.
Step 3: One thing in the door, one thing out
An easy way to determine if you really need something is to follow the ‘one thing in the door, one thing out the door’ rule. It is, basically, as it sounds. If your socks have holes and are unwearable, throw them away and buy new ones. If your running shoes are making your knees hurt, replace them. It’s okay to use something until the end of its life and then replace it. It’s not okay to continue to add to your collection of things when you already have perfectly good things that serve the same purpose.
Websites to Inspire
There are quite a few blogs and websites out there that address this problem that we have of owning too much and still thinking we need more. Here are a two sites that I recommend.
The 100 Thing Challenge
Both sites speak to the issue addressed in one of my favorite quotes: “Until you make peace with who you are, you’ll never be content with what you have.” – Doris Mortman
The Bottom Line
There is a bottom line in all of this. It’s that each and every day we make choices about how we spend our money. We can either choose to watch cable television, buy another pair of jeans and drop $50 bucks at dinner or we can choose to read a book from the library, wear the clothes we already own, and cook a meal at home. We’re lucky to have a choice. Saving money is also a choice. Even tight budgets can be squeezed tighter. Sometimes it feels as though saving $5 a week doesn’t matter, but I’m telling you it does matter. Every small thing adds up. Saving towards your dream not only puts you on the path towards achieving it but it also teaches you about sacrifice, discipline and patience (oh lord, does it teach you patience).
Remember, you sold hours of your life for that money. Use it for something that matters. Use it to fund your dream.