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Lessons I Have Learned From Using MyMoneyPicture

When I began using MyMoneyPicture, had had virtually no idea where my money went every month or why it was so hard for me to get ahead financially.   After three years, here are some lessons I have learned.

Pause before spending to be sure it is something you really want

MyMoneyPicture helped me realize my biggest issue is thoughtless and impulse spending.   In fact, as I write this, I have something in my shopping cart at Amazon.   I will leave it there, and if I still want to buy it tomorrow or the next day, or even next weekend, then I will complete my purchase.

Travel on a Budget

I happen to enjoy road trips, however I couldn't afford to take them very often.   I finally realized that I can get the same enjoyment from a road trip for a lot less money with a few small changes.   For example, I always try to eat a large breakfast.  It is often the least expensive meal to eat out, and you have all day to burn the calories.   Also, and I am not getting paid to say this, I save a bundle by bidding on hotels through Priceline.  And I try to travel on shoulder seasons, to avoid the crowds and prices of the high season.

Avoid add-ons with a high markup

Service stations make most of their profits from the convenience store, not by selling you gasoline.  There is quite a large markup on those drinks and snacks that are so tempting when you are on the road.   Now I save money by stocking up on drinks and snacks before I leave, instead of buying them along the way when I fill up the tank or stop to use the restroom.  

Similarly, if I go to the movies, I try to eat beforehand, so I am not temped to buy overpriced snacks and drinks at the cinema.   Like service stations, cinemas make most of their profits from the snack bar, since they pass most of the ticket price on to the movie studios.   That $7 bag of popcorn may be good for their bottom line, but it is bad for mine.

And I have stopped buying hair products at the hair salon.   Hairdressers promote products each time I sit in their chairs, but they are often overpriced, and I am frequently so disappointed after I buy them that I may end up using them only once or twice.   Turns out many conditioners are loaded with chemicals like resins, plastics, waxes and silicones that make hair look good in the short term, but build up over time to ruin hair.   I have found simple things work best.    What has worked well for me, for example, is to replace hair conditioner with a leave-in mix of aloe-vera with a few drops of oil from The Body Shop.  An old folk remedy that works well to close the cuticles and increase shine is an occasional apple cider vinegar hair rinse.   My hair looks better now than it did when I used expensive salon products.  Everyone's hair is different, but with some experimentation, you may also find alternatives to high priced salon products.

Buying in bulk is not always best

MyMoneyPicture also helped me recognize that I waste far too much money at grocery stores.   I do not like to grocery shop very often, so I sometimes buy in quantity.   That makes sense ... in theory.   In practice for my personal situation, it was not working.   Produce was spoiling before I had a chance to eat it all.   But even more costly, I would often see some cool new product, and buy enough so that if I loved it, I didn't have to return to the store right away to buy more.   Unfortunately, what often happened is I would not like what I tried, and then I would have to throw or give away the rest of what I bought.   I have changed my habits to grocery shop more often and only buy a couple of days worth of food at a time, and my grocery bill has been cut in half.   That is not a solution that would work or be needed for everyone, but for me, it was the answer.

More ways to save on food

When I was in college, I worked as a cashier in a grocery store.    It didn't take long for me to notice that the people who spent the most on groceries usually bought a lot of beer, soft-drinks, cigarettes, chips and other processed snacks.   These were often the lower-income groups as well.   The seemingly wealthier people often had a very modest grocery bill.   They would buy more fresh produce and a small amount of quality meat.   

After a long hard day at work, many times we just want to get takeout for dinner.  But that can quickly drain your wallet.  One woman I worked with explained how she and her husband found cooking dinner so easy they rarely eat out.  They simply saute, grill or bake some fish, chicken breasts, beef, or pork, and steam some vegetables.    That is both healthy and economical.   There are lots of recipes available for quick and easy to make meals.   Americans spend on average $151 dollars a week on food, which makes it a easy target for eliminating wasteful spending.

Paying more for quality can be cheaper in the long run

I have had to learn that I can't decide if something is a waste of money or not simply by looking at the price tag.   For example, I own a single winter coat that I bought in 2006.  I have not replaced it because I think it still looks quite good.   It is a name brand coat, North Face, and it was not on sale when I bought it.   I think it was $250, and while that is not terribly expensive, it is more than I usually spend on coats.   I had my eye on it for several weeks and finally purchased it.   Before buying that coat, I used to buy a new coat every year, sometimes even more than one a year.  Wearing the same North Face coat for nine years has cost me less than $30 a year - quite a value!

Conversely, one year I bought a designer coat on sale from a department store that was white with a dark lining.   When I washed it according to the instructions, the dark linking bled and made the white coat a very uneven grey.  I washed it over and over with all kinds of dye removal products and eventually threw the coat away.  Buying that coat was a waste of money, even though it was on sale and I got it at a great discount.

Paying more for a quality item can sometimes be cheaper in the long run.   Hence the saying "the poor man pays twice".  However, I don't think it always makes sense to pay more for quality.   If you don't plan on keeping something for a long time, do you care how long it lasts?

Many years ago I read the book "Dress For Success", and it suggested spending time comparison shopping in higher priced or higher quality stores.  Even if you can't actually afford to buy anything there, go ahead and try things on and carefully check out the fit and fabrics.   That way you will be able to identify bargains available in lower priced stores.

Take the time to try on clothes before you buy them

I am sure many of you have done the same thing I have done.  I will see something cute on the rack, usually on sale, and buy it without trying it on.   Then when I get it home, it doesn't look nearly as good on me as it did on the hangar.   Often I will keep it anyway because it is not worth the effort to return.  Now, no matter how tired I am, if I want to buy clothing, I try it on first.

Make saving money a game

The goal of MyMoneyPicture is to enjoy money without wasting it.  If you approach it in the right way, it can be a fun exercise to eliminate the "fat" in your budget.  For me it is a work in progress.