This year, I am starting a Save in September challenge to encourage you (and myself!) to spend less for 30 days, starting on September 1st. It’s easy to lose track of where your money goes every month. Especially with all of our other life obligations getting in the way, spending a few dollars extra here and there on convenience items and services, like takeout, cable tv, Starbucks or clothing can add up quickly without us realizing it.
This Save in September Challenge is meant to be a reset button, in which we take stock of our personal financial goals and evaluate how we can adjust our lives to help us meet those goals more efficiently. I can’t think of a better way to meet those goals than to save money.
Who can argue with saving money? Saving money on things we don’t really need frees up money to spend on things we do need. If your goal is to be debt-free, an extra $100 not spent on ordering takeout, for example, can be put toward your loan payments. If debt is not an issue for you, that extra money you found by cutting out the excess can help you to reach your retirement or college savings account goals faster, or provide some capital for you to fund your small business.
The actual amount you can save this September, and ideally for the months that follow, depends on your personal spending habits. If you are already a penny-pincher, this challenge is just a great way to be intentional, check in and see how you’re doing. We can all benefit from taking a step back, looking deeper at our financial situation and optimizing for the future.
The Challenge Explained
This Save in September Challenge begins September 1st and lasts for 30 days until September 30th. It is not necessary to start right at the beginning of the month because any of us can benefit from even one day of reducing our spending. However, the exercise of encouraging yourself to think about where your money is going everyday for a month will help us to transform this mindset into a habit. If you are ready to give this challenge a try, share the hashtag #saveinseptemberchallenge on Instagram or Facebook to connect with others who are also joining in on the challenge, including myself.
At the end of September, take note of how much extra money you saved compared to your usual monthly savings, and what your plans are for your savings. That’s it! If you can’t save this September, that’s okay. Give yourself some grace. Money is really tight these days for many of us. This is just a fun way for us to come together and take a look at where our money is going each month.
Because this can be a daunting task, below I have shared some tips for finding some ways to save money if you are unsure where to start. Everyone’s financial situation is different, so don’t feel pressured to be very extreme with this challenge.
Take Stock of Your Budget and Your Goals
The first thing on your Save in September Challenge to-do list would be to understand what your financial goals are. Knowing what your goals are and taking the time to write them down will help you to take your financial dreams from idea to reality. How? Concrete SMART goals that are actionable and attainable are more likely to be met than vague ones, especially if those goals are living in your head and are not fully fleshed out. Additionally, clarifying goals will give you some motivation for following through on your savings plan. Knowing that I will be saving money this September to help fund my online boutique’s inventory and advertising costs is extremely motivating to me, for example.
Once you have your SMART goal in mind, adjust your budget to make room for savings. Look at how much money is coming in and how much is going out. If there is already a surplus (more money coming in than out), then what are your plans for that money? If you’re breaking even, where can you cut in your monthly expenses? Check your statements for automatic payments towards things you no longer use, like a magazine subscription. Check for things you didn’t realize you were paying every month. We went over six months double-paying our HOA fees because I accidentally set up two auto-draft accounts. Thank goodness we were checking our accounts and caught this. We got refunded the difference and now we have a little more money on hand that we can use to meet our financial goals.
Next, check your accounts to see if you can reduce what you are intentionally spending on. Can you do without Netflix or Cable this month? Can you make your coffees at home? Perhaps there are home decor items that you can DIY to reduce your shopping expenses for the season. Consider taking public transit to save on parking expenses. Cut your hair at home, and paint your own nails, if these are major expenses in your monthly budget. These don’t have to be permanent cuts to your budget, unless you want them to. Cutting these expenses can show you whether or not you can happily enjoy life without them.
Now that you have cut out some convenience spending from your budget. Try to spend as little as possible on things you do count as needs every month, like groceries. If a sale encourages you to buy something you would not have purchased otherwise, is it really saving you money? I am a sucker for a good sale. But if you only need some eggs and some veggies, just grab those and see how low your grocery bill can go.
Eat What’s in your Pantry and Freezer
This requires some preparation beforehand. If you’re all stocked up, you shouldn’t need to spend too much at the store each week. When times are good, stock up your pantry and freezer with items that you buy in bulk. Some pantry goods that store well are beans (dried and canned), pasta, rice, whole grains, oatmeal, and flour. Some products that freeze well include meats, cheese, butter, bread, yeast for baking, and leftovers. When we could, we bought in bulk and placed those food items in the chest freezer in our garage. If you have space you should definitely invest in one.
Because we bought in bulk and we don’t eat too much meat to begin with, we have a stockpile. We have chicken, beef, pork, frozen leftovers, and bread that went on sale. Now that we are strapped for cash, we eat the food we stored in the freezer and pantry. We spend a minimal amount at the grocery store on fresh produce, eggs and almond milk to create our meals. It feels good to know you don’t have to run to the store as often, which means less money spent.
How to Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk is not just limited to BJ’s and Costco anymore. If you live by a local farm, they may offer a deal if you buy a bulk order of meat, for example. This is great if you have a freezer to store the meat, or a network of friends and family to share with. If you are looking for bulk pricing on dried goods, check out Webstaurant. You don’t have to be a restaurant to use this service, they deliver to residences. We get good deals on dried beans, lentils, seasoning spices, and cooking supplies from them. Just make sure to compare prices. Some of their pricing is a good deal when compared to grocery store prices. However, like every other wholesale retailer, they also sell things that can be as much or more than at the grocery store. Always, always compare prices.
If You Have to Spend, Pay Less
See What You Can Get at the Dollar Store
The dollar store is massively underrated. There are more than just cheap knickknacks at the dollar store. Many dollar stores, like Family Dollar, have baby clothes, diapers, brand name personal care items and home decor. I personally like the simplicity of Dollar Tree because everything is one dollar or less. We buy our consumables at Dollar Tree because it is so much cheaper than the grocery store. We buy foil, cling wrap, paper towels, greeting cards and office supplies at Dollar Tree.
They also have eggs, milk and bread. If you go through those things pretty quickly, I would check out what your local Dollar Tree can offer. Dollar Tree carries home decor as well. This Fall season, they have a wide array of decor including wreaths, floral picks and ornamental pumpkins. All are at least two dollars less than what you can get at the Target Dollar Spot. If you haven’t already checked out your local dollar stores, pop your head in and see what they have. Don’t spend more money than you have to.
Buy Second Hand
Try going without buying clothes this month and wearing what you already have. If you need some clothes for work or for the new school year, check out your local thrift store. Goodwill is our personal favorite thrift store. Here in the city of Chicago, there is so much variety. We bought our dining table and chairs, Banana Republic dress shirts for Mark to wear to work and a beautiful dresser from Goodwill. I also found a Michael Kors coat in perfect condition for around $20. I really dislike the stereotype that paints thrift stores as places where you buy raggedy, worn out clothing and furniture.
Most of what we got was barely used. Because we paid so little, we were able to get a few more items and still be within our budget. You don’t need to venture out to a physical thrift store, or even go to a yard sale. Visit websites like ThredUp or Mercari to buy second hand, and have those items shipped to you. It’s like having all the thrill of online shopping but without the large impact on your bank account. Check out my post on how to never pay full price here for more ideas. This is such an easy, and fun, way to reduce spending on things you actually need.
Shop Around for Cheaper Rates
Shopping around for cheaper rates is such an easy way to save money. Periodically compare your mobile phone and internet service provider’s prices with competitors and call your company to see if they can match or beat that price. You never know what you can get if you don’t ask. This tactic is especially important for insurance rates. Most policies only last about six months, and then sometimes the price changes. Shop around for quotes with other insurance providers and make sure you are paying the absolute lowest price for what your needs are. It only takes a few minutes to request a quote, and you can save a lot of money.
Never assume that a company is looking out for your best interest and is giving you the best deal. They may have been the best in town when you first signed up with them, but things change all the time. This also goes for your banking. If you are getting charged lots of fees every month, switch to a bank that charges no fees, or offers a higher interest rate on your savings accounts. Don’t leave money on the table.
Make Some Phone Calls
Call the bank to reverse your overdraft fees, if you are ever hit with those. You would be surprised what a bank will do for you if you just ask. This also goes for delaying mortgage payments or credit card payments if you are falling on hard times. Banks are more than willing to work with you if you reach out to them, especially if you reach out as soon as you know you might have some issues. You can negotiate reduced monthly payments or deferred payments. Just call and ask.
Don’t rush to throw things away out of habit. Reusing a container or a plastic bag again for something else can help you save some money. We reuse all of our grocery store plastic bags as trash liners for our small bins. We reuse old jars to store other kinds of food that we make, or use them as vases for flowers. Save your veggie trimmings to make vegetable stock instead of buying it at the store. You can even save some of your scraps to make compost to fertilize your garden. The principle of reusing, I think, also applies to food leftovers. We waste so much money buying food at the grocery store, then letting it go bad and throwing it out.
Those blueberries that are about to get soft can be frozen to be used for smoothies later, or cooked down to make a delicious jam. Use stale bread to make stuffing or breadcrumbs. My favorite is to make a soup with all of the veggies in your fridge that are about to turn. The vegetable soup becomes a batch meal that can be enjoyed for several days. This saves you from spending money on takeout or scrambling for last minute dinner ideas. Use this challenge to be mindful of what you do with the things you do buy or use so as not to waste precious resources. Having food to eat at all is a privilege that we take for granted in the developed world. We should honor that privilege by being wise with what we have been given.
Reduce your Utility Bills
Utility bills run about the same every month, on average, but may change depending on the season. For example, you might run up your electric bill running the Air Conditioner in the summer when it’s hot outside. We can all take steps to reduce our energy and water consumption. It will save us money and reduce our burden on the environment.
Try opening the windows on a mild day instead of turning on the A/C. Layer your clothing in the winter to stay warm and reduce your usage of central heating. Dry your clothes on a drying rack and turn off electronics and lights when not in use. To save water, reduce the amount of time you spend showering and save laundry day for when you have a larger load to wash. How much you save here may depend on how efficient your home is. If your home is older, you can make upgrades over time on your appliances and insulation to optimize your energy usage as well to save more in the future.
I am so excited to have you join me in this Save in September Challenge this year! I hope these tips for saving money help you reach your goals. If you have any tips or advice you want to share, please comment below so that everyone can learn from you! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #saveinseptemberchallenge to join the community this month. I can’t wait to see what we can do with our money.