2015 Challenge Week 1: Plug the Small Leaks!

Managing your money effectively starts with a thorough review of your spending habits—so that’s our first challenge! You can do your review by looking at your debit card transactions on your online bank statement or other spending records such as your check register and/or receipts.

Look back over your purchases for the last few weeks and write down two to three things you could have done without, then answer our online poll and post a comment about what you discovered. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Coffee
  • New pair of shoes
  • Music downloads
  • New purse
  • Dinner out

Some of these purchases may seem insignificant, but remember what Benjamin Franklin said: “Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”

Don’t forget to post a comment about what you found right here on $tart with Change to be automatically entered for a chance to win a $25 gift card! No purchase necessary. See official rules.

What’s the Difference Between a Want and a Need?

When reviewing your spending, it’s helpful to consider the differences between real needs and mere wants. When you think about it, people really only need four things to survive: shelter, enough food and water to remain healthy, basic health care and hygiene items, and just enough clothing to remain comfortable and warm. Everything beyond that is a want.

But let’s face it—few of us want to live that frugally, and good money management doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of all the things you desire. It’s really about finding the right balance between what you want to spend your money on and what you can afford after you have taken care of your basic needs. Everyone has different goals and priorities, so what works for you may not work for someone else. Asking yourself some of these questions may help:

  • What are the things that I never regret spending money on?
  • What are the things that would be nice to have, but really are not that important to me?
  • What are my fixed expenses each month, such as rent, car payments, health and car insurance, or cell phone charges?
  • Is there a way to decrease my fixed expenses each month (i.e., choosing a cheaper cell phone plan) so I have more money for saving and/or spending on the things I really enjoy?
  • How can I reduce the amount I spend on groceries each week and still maintain a healthy diet?
  • Are there ways to reduce my commuting costs (i.e., take the bus or carpool)?
  • What is the amount I can comfortably afford to spend each month on dining out and/or entertainment?

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Showing 18 comments
  • AlexisElac18

    After going over various purchases over the last month and after calculating my spending costs, I’ve come to realize that that my recent purchases were just impulse purchases. I tend to disregard my spending limit when it comes to buying art and crafts supplies. The most recent purchases that I have made that i could have done without were:
    1) Gift Cards
    2) Art supplies
    3) Junk food
    4) Phone Accessories
    However, the things I don’t regret spending my money are for transportation costs such as riding the bus and train, paying my cable and internet bills and groceries. There were a variety of helpful tips that I have come across on the Start with Change website and I believe that following these money tips will help me lessen my spending habits and help me begin the small steps in saving money towards necessary essentials.

  • Robert Smith

    I came to realize the lesser importance of intimate relations of which has become a greater expense compared to my minimum requirements of daily living. To curb this spending, i now focus on long-term more meaningful relationships where the other party get to share the expense with a combined total income, decreasing our expenses by eliminating the cost of two of each in providing for two residences of which is the main reason for excessive spending. A new passion for religious study and salvation has provided for some control in spending when following the suggested method by the scriptures in providing for our daily needs.

  • Shondra

    The tips shared in this article are great. I know the biggest spending area for me is EATING OUT by far. I buy groceries with good intentions but I rarely cook. I generally eat out 2-3 times a day. If I could break that bad habit, I could easily keep $400 in my account each month.

  • Jessica Tugman

    After reviewing the items that I may have spent too much money on I narrowed it down to two main things, dining out and personal items. I use dining out as an excuse but if I allotted a little more time to preparing meals instead of flipping through menus I will be better off. I realized that saving money comes from managing your time better and also comparing the costs of daily activities towards what you need. For example if I am spending $15 to eat out I can spend that same $15 to get multiple meals that can last a few days. If I spend more time managing my time I will not have to rush to find food or spend money in a hurry. Thanks $tart With Change! I wish this was something that they taught us in middle and high school so that I would have been better prepared! It is never too late to start!! :)

  • Shanita Thomas

    The tips above really help me out. It makes you pay attention to your spending and this helps to save you money too. We do have to pay attention to our needs and our wants and make a decision if we really need it or just simply want just because it is there.

  • leroy barrow

    The information is great and very much needed, it would be even more powerful if you could target high school student regarding these money matters. If I could have acquired this knowledge earlier e.g.my teen years, I would be better off than I presently am. In America we have made it all about the acquisitioning of money and not about how to manage and or cause the money to work for the individual.

  • elizabethgreen

    Looking at what I spend money on, I don’t make very many necessary purchases. Almost everything I spend money on is avoidable, with the exception of groceries. With some planning and discipline, I could save almost all my earnings and then I wouldn’t have to stress about how to pay for classes this summer, or how I’m going to afford to eat next semester. Fantastic :)

  • elizabethgreen

    Looking at what I spend money on, I don’t make very many necessary purchases. Almost everything I spend money on is avoidable, with the exception of groceries. Top hits are:
    1. coffee, more times a day than I had thought
    2. dining out or at school
    3. snacks during the day or on the way home
    With some planning and discipline, I could save almost all my earnings and then I wouldn’t have to stress about how to pay for classes this summer, or how I’m going to afford to eat next semester. Fantastic :)

  • Michelle G

    I took a look over my spending habits, and I realize I spend way to much on dining out. However buying groceries and paying bills were next on the list. I learned from Starts with Change, that I should limit my dining expenses and curb what I’ve been spending at the grocery store. Starts with change gave me some useful tools I plan to utilize. Thank you.

  • Oceana Sun Plachta

    I reviewed my spending.
    I could look at the food budget and really crack down on perishables that don’t get consumed being an expensive loss.
    Otherwise, this was a Birthday week in the family, and it is always hard to be within budget when getting gifts.
    While I was getting her some things, I saw a purse that my daughter would like but that I also wanted to utilize as an upgrade from what I currently have…as I am currently interviewing, having a nice purse to accessorize with may be an asset.
    However, it is not a necessity, merely a want.
    I could certainly look at the ‘want vs need’ concept.
    Transportation to events, including driving to two nearby cities for ‘fun’ events during Spring Break/Birthday, and driving to a personal-interest class, is also a ‘want’ rather than a need. There have been certain spending areas that lie within a ‘want’ category this week.

  • Chuck Hill

    Looking over the past monyh, I noticed how much money we spend eating out after our kids ball games. The thought was simple , let’s stop and get something so we don’t have to cook when we get home. When you spend $25 a night, 4 nights a week, thats a lot of money. This made us realize that maybe we could put something in the crock pot or have breakfast for supper on game nights. It will save us a lot of money over a year by doing this.

  • Linda

    The main thing that I can live without is dining out much less. Once a month would still make me feel like I’m treating myself and would be much better on my finances. Currently I dine out quite often.

    Being single and not liking to cook, it makes this an easy way to feed myself. If I cooked at home I think I would be better off nutritionally and budget-wise.

  • Dionne Burrell

    I looked over my purchases and the last 7 transactions were for BILLS…Credit card bills and the PG&E bill. There was one entry for Burger City and I could have prepared what was ordered, right in my kitchen. I tend to spend responsibly, but have a weakness for fashion. I am going through my clothes to take inventory of what I have and donate what has not been worn in the past year.

  • William Washington

    This will be a great help to me thanks to who ever suggested this.

  • KarinaKarinaL

    In the back of my mind I always knew I was spending too much on eating out. Last week I had a casual conversation with one of my friends about how much money we would save if we didn’t eat out all of the time. We joked about how much nicer (and perhaps smaller…) our wardrobe would be if we ate more home cooked meals. Still, I didn’t dare look at my account statement until I read this article and saw the results of the accompanying poll. I guess I’m not the only one who can’t resist eating out!

    I’m definitely going to pause next time I’m deciding between going out for food vs. staying in and cooking.

  • Kimberly Boxley

    As I reviewed my spending from the last month very little was spent on things other than food and shelter. I don’t own a car, don’t eat out because of dietary restrictions. I do spend money on some online purchases but mostly for my grandchildren. I have a tight budget and don’t really ever have excess cash. But I did notice whenever I had extra instead of saving it I bought items online.

  • jamal miles

    This is very helpful what im going to start making a list of bills that need to get paid and subtract it out of my paycheck hopefully this will help me budget my money better and plan for emergencies

  • Amy

    Dining out and frivolous spending has got to be my downfall. I’m so used to instantaneous satisfaction that when I put my mind to a want rather than a need, I feel like it have to have it. Sometimes necessary bills have suffered because of it, which is a scary situation to be in.
    With kids,, sometimes it is hard to say no to something you know they’ve waited to get or have earned but when the bank account doesn’t allow for it, there has to be some frugality and discernment.