Being an adult is hard on so many levels. For me, one of the most trying tasks of adulthood is investing my time and energy into activities that bore me to death. Insurance, meetings that should be phone calls, small talk, expense reports, vacuuming — all necessary activities in the grand scheme of being a GD adult, and all utterly snooze-worthy, in my book.
Let’s face it, I’m not a miracle worker: I can’t make all of these mundane activities exciting. But I’ve recently realized that not all of these chores are monotonous, especially when it comes to money management. In fact, certain money management To-Dos on my checklist bring a smile to my face and put pep in my step. These seemingly-tedious tasks appeal to my competitive spirit, and allow me to challenge myself to research the best prices, best investments, and best practices. With the opportunity to best myself each month, I find that I’m not only achieving personal fiscal victories, but I’m saving money without being bored senseless.
1. Become A 401(k) Whiz Kid.
I love tracking my 401(k) contributions. If that’s not the most adult phrase you’ve ever heard, then I don’t know what is. And to be honest, it used to be instinctively yawn-inducing. In the first few weeks of a new job, you sign up for so much shit and go through so many tedious processes that your 401(k) plan becomes another leaflet in your stack of paperwork from HR. However, after recently logging into my retirement account, I was astounded to see that my personal contributions had nearly doubled based on the thoughtless and uneducated decisions I had made a year earlier. If I had doubled my portfolio by checking a few random boxes during my company’s HR orientation, I realized that if I began to understand the potential for growth and actually make research-based decisions regarding my retirement fund, it could grow even more.
And from there, I was hooked. I read about large cap vs. mid cap and did research on risk levels and my estimated retirement date. I soon began to view my retirement contributions as a game and was in constant competition with myself to get the most return on my investment. While it’s advisable to check-in with your investments quarterly basis, I find myself tracking my contributions on a monthly basis, if not weekly basis, so that I can make sound assessments in the game of investment allocation.
2. Deal Or No Deal.
I should preface this by saying that I’m one of those crazy people who will shop at different places for different grocery items. Now, I’m not going to visit three different grocery stores in a day, but I’m certainly going to seek out the best deal when possible and convenient. For example, I usually make a big trip once a month to stock up on various canned and dry goods, which are cheaper at some stores than others. Typically, I stop by the local co-op or farmer’s market for weekly produce. And I’ve learned that hygienic products are normally cheapest at pharmacies. Sure, it’s sometimes annoying to visit multiple stores, but knowing that I didn’t overpay for paper towels leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy. Does that make me a weirdo? Maybe, but at least I’m a fiscally responsible weirdo — don’t judge.
Additionally, to make sure that I’m getting the lowest price possible, I’ve become a rewards member at my go-to stores and have literally saved hundreds of dollars this year alone. My eyes light up when I see the price cuts that are only available to rewards members; I am eligible for this exclusive benefit that does not apply to everyone. Although in actuality I’m a deal-seeking opportunist, these member-only sales instill a sense of superiority in me, leaving me feeling like the queen of bargains.
3. Play the energy game.
I recently moved to a new apartment and received my first gas & electric bill. Let me tell you, I was supremely disappointed to find that two months’ worth of data was needed to compare my monthly energy usage to that of my neighbors. I love seeing the statistical proof that I’m superior to my neighbors (in terms of energy conservation). The sheer bliss that I get from beating them in this competition that they have no idea exists is immeasurable.
Now, to be honest, I’m not the top dog every month, but seeing the side-by-side comparison of my energy usage to my neighbors or others with the same size apartment motivates me to do better. I become conscious of when I leave the TV on, or keep an unused appliance plugged in, or forget to turn a light off. Along with the bill, many energy companies will send tips and tricks to lower your monthly energy costs. I take these helpful hints and adopt those I find most successful to conserve electricity, save money, and beat my neighbors at the energy game. Because even though they don’t know that they’re playing the game, I want to win.
4. Get personal with your personal spending habits.
I used to do this by hand, taking note of all my purchases in a little notebook, categorizing them, color-coding them, then determining the various percentages associated with my monthly spending. I swear, if someone found that notebook with all the tiny arrows, squished handwriting, and hyper-detailed notes and charts, they would’ve thought that I was either a serial killer or the next John Nash. I’ve since graduated from the notebook system and now use Mint, a web-based money management tool that syncs all your financial information, categorizes your spending, and allows you to build budgets. I’m a data freak, and Mint is my new religion.
I’m certainly happy to be joining the digital age, and I’m ecstatic to see the visual representations of my spending that Mint provides. With graphs and charts, I’m able to forecast my spending, compare it to previous months, and even break down my purchases into categories that dive deeper than I had with my handy-dandy notebook. Whereas I used to label all food and beverages purchases as “eating out,” Mint breaks it down into restaurants and coffee and bars and alcohol and fast food. Naturally, I was delighted to see a program that was more OCD about spending categorizations than I was; however, I was simultaneously appalled at the dollars I’d dished out on coffee that month. Seeing the stats around my spending motivated me to be better. I started giving myself monthly challenges to lower certain categories of spending, even if only by $10. As I met these goals month after month, my savings account became larger and larger and I became more and more motivated to be financially prudent and find unique places to cut spending.
A Chicago native, Laura is a lover of travel, fun fitness, and eating all the foods.
Image via Unsplash