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One thing you learn in web development and as you progress to higher positions is that you want “actionable insights”. Here’s an example: You build a website selling digital marketing services and your boss/partner asks you how to the site to get more business. You then start to speculate that service A is popular and service B requires more promotion because you think it’s not prominent enough. All of what you’re doing is just guessing. No data or facts are offered. You may be wrong with your assumptions and you may not be making good use of your time as well.
Had you installed Google Analytics or any tracking software, you can see data to dis/prove your ideas and then with those data you can eventually draw insights off of it that you can act on. Maybe you find out that service B is actually getting a lot of traffic. If it’s getting lots of traffic to those pages and no one’s asking you about that service, you’re close to concluding that there isn’t much demand for service B then.
Travelling is obviously one of my love and passion and I need to regularly save money especially if I want to keep on doing this long-term. By leveraging the knowledge I have in my day job, I can further improve my day trips (ha).
In this article I’ll talk about my experience with saving money and travelling and how I formed some sort of system and habit around them so I can keep on doing the things I love. Of course this article is still applicable to anyone if your goal is to save money even if you don’t intend to travel.
Surveillance and Monitoring
Backstory: Believe it or not, I learned this VERY important concept from Starcraft, a strategy game. In this game you’re not controlling one character but rather an entire army. Think of it as chess (with an awesome sci-fi backstory), but it’s not turn-based so you can make multiple moves and also your opponents simultaneously. Unlike chess you cannot see the “side” of your opponent. You don’t know what he’s doing, what he’s constructing and producing, etc. If you want to play the game well, one important concept is that you would want to scout the opponent, meaning you send an army/unit to see the base and see what’s going on. This way you can react and plan accordingly.
This concept applies to your finances as well, believe it or not. You want to be able to track how much money comes in, goes, where it gets spent on, etc to the dollar. Your bank probably has online banking and you can access your transactions there. This is a good start but it doesn’t even reach what I would classify as minimum effort. It’s hard to understand large amounts of data and derive useful information from it especially if you don’t apply data visualization to it. I would suggest using budget tracker and planner apps like Mint on top of your bank’s online services. You can securely integrate your bank accounts so you don’t have to manually retype again your transactions.
When I started using it, I was able to see charts and graphs of the total amount I earned the previous months and how much I spent. In that spending category I can further break it down (again, data visualized) to the categories of those expenses, until I can further break it down to individual expenses. Seeing those charts, you can see right away the categories that’s eating most of your money. Apartment yes, car expenses, yes, they’re big and understandable. I found out that the third was “food and restaurants”. Yea I used to eat out a lot especially during lunch times at work; not proud lol. That’s when you know you can’t deny it anymore when facts are staring you in the face hahaha! The app literally answers and shows how to save money for me!
I was spending X much $ and I found out that the average is $Y so I’m paying $Z more. If I save that $Z amount, I can buy a roundtrip ticket to Europe in 2-3months! Those are expenses I don’t need, not to mention it’s just giving me a Thor body (post-Endgame) instead of the Thor body I want (pre-Endgame).
The “food” category is just one of the many things I realized after using Mint. Here are the other good things that happened/I realized after using mint and when things are visualized. You see:
Transactions that you’ve forgotten
–and that you should discontinue. Some example are: ongoing gym memberships which you never go to, or softwares that you never use that have monthly bills.
How much a category/transaction eats up
It gives you a quick feedback on how much chunk of money a category is eating up vs. what it should be. Now obviously after knowing all these, you should be able to act on these. If you’re leaking money with useless things, stop it. If you’re paying for something that could be cut down, why not lessen or cut it out completely? Remember, the more you cut down on lattes and Pad Thai on weeknights, the closer you are to having actual and proper lattes in Italy or France and Pad Thai in Thailand. Actionable insights!
Progress over time
With a quick look, you can see if you’re doing well or not. For example, the graph for your expenses should be going down per month. Conversely, your assets should be trending upwards.
In life in general, it’s hard to decide on things when you don’t know what you have, you can do, what does what. That’s why knowing how much you have, how much you spend, and where all things go is important. In essence, this is actually what you call “budgeting”. Now that you have a full grasp (you should) of your assets and expenses, you’re now ready to go to the next step.
I would actually say this is one of the most challenging things in your life. You’ll be up against the greatest opponent of all time: You. Now that you have all the information at hand to command your soldiers (money), you now have to set a pattern, a habit for yourself so that you stay lean with your finances. Saying no to unnecessary spending is good but it would be for nothing if you lapse back and continue with your habits. It takes time and repetition on how to save money. If you’re not a fan of setting financial habits, that’s fine! I wasn’t too and I’m here to tell you it’s still possible!
When I was a kid, the idea of saving up was explained to me conventionally: “you want to save so that when you’re old, you’ll have money”. I think this is a generational thing and I found so many holes in this logic. You could die early, you can offset saving with increasing income, etc. I was turned off with the idea of saving. Maybe that’s why it never stuck around with me. (It changed now but for different reasons)
The concept behind ‘forming habits’ is dead-simple: You know what to do with your money (where to save, what not to spend on, etc). All you have to do is to do it consistently over time. That’s it.
Like it will be for you, it was VERY difficult for me to do this. It was not in my blood to do such a thing. So how did I do it? Well if you’re introducing the idea to someone, you have to know how to speak their language. If you’re talking to yourself (lol?), well you’re halfway there already because you know what “you” want. In my case it was like this:
*Weekend strolls by*
Me: it’s friday! Time to get pizza!
*first week attempt, thinks about it for 5 seconds then proceeds to order anyways*
*second week attempt, thinks about it for 10 seconds then proceeds to order anyways*
*third week onwards, thinks about it for 5 minutes then proceed to order anyways”
until I get to the convincing point with/from myself of:
“Hmmm…It’s friday, I had a good and heavy lunch at work and I spent already and I’m full anyways. There’s nothing to celebrate right now so there are less and less reasons to buy this pizza. Besides if I order a pizza and wings (YUP NO SHAME HA LOL), that’s more for me to burn and work out…and I hate going to the gym…You know what, I always say I want to have some tone on my body like some male celebrities do. I still won’t go to the gym, but I’ll count this one as ‘progress’. How about that? ”
So as you can see I’m using my wants and needs ‘against me’. You don’t need to lie or fool yourself. You just want to get a point of honest conversation and that you’re not lying to yourself anymore about the reality of things. Like what that book says right, “the first step is acceptance”. Même chose(fr).
You also do not need to deprive yourself and kill your current lifestyle and personality. You just have to regulate and learn how to save money. My greatest accomplishment is that I don’t buy lunch anymore each and every day. I allow myself to buy lunch 2x a week max. One of it is guaranteed friday which is somewhat my no-rules day now. The other one is for ’emergency’ purposes. Sometimes you forget your packed lunch, sometimes it’s just a tough day a work and you just want to go/eat out.
For weekends, instead of buying 4 big meals, I’ve managed to slowly scale down to 3 small treats and possibly 1 big meal. And you what, all these efforts for finances results to smaller tummy as well!!!
Do this in at least one pay cycle and you’ll see the big difference in your bank account. From this point onwards, you don’t need to do any convincing for yourself. You’ll see the advantages and all the good stuff (again, smaller tummy) and those are enough to act as incentives in your brain. You’ll want to have and keep the things you now have, and you’ll proactively work to keep it that way. And now my friend, you now have a new habit. Good job!
Know What You Want in Life (or prioritize if you have multiple)
This is definitely the most important point in the article. I was thinking of putting this as the first point since it’s the most important but this one is the least actionable. More precisely, it’s definitely actionable and you can/should answer this. It’s just hands-down not the easiest thing to answer. You’re better off doing the other two while you mull over this.
I’m sure you’ve put some effort in trying to answer this before. Everyone globally asks this question, sometimes everyday. You also need to know the answer to this because as you saw, the second point is largely tied to this one. Zooming out, it’s definitely hard to save and keep on track if you have nothing to work towards. In fact it becomes pointless, excluding saving up for the emergency situations. But again, who wants to be motivated by anticipating the worst right? That is not life worth living.
So what is it? I find it’s easier to set a short, medium, long-term goals in life:
- I want a chocolate now.
- Also, I want to cut down my debt so later on
- I can make travelling (and snowboard) a lifestyle. I don’t want it to just be 15 days of escape every 365 days. I want to go anytime anywhere, on a whim, not having to worry that my income stream is taking a hit every day I travel.
That’s mine. It took a while to verbalize and solidify it internally but thinking about it day after day helps. It evolves too by the way. Maybe a year from now I just want to plant potatoes until I die.
So yea…what’s yours?
So what’s yours? It can be material goals, but I find it more worthwhile in you aim for humanistic/experiential goals. What’s a comfortable timeline for those? Why do you like what you like? Are you sure you like it because you genuinely do and not because you’re being pressured to do so? What makes you undeniably and genuinely happy? What fulfills you? If everything disappeared tomorrow, what’s that one thing you’d be happy having/doing/being?
You can go the traditional route of “if you die tomorrow what would be the things you’re proud of/you’d regret?”. There’s lots of ways to approach this. I wish I can guide you with this but to each it’s personal and to each it’s different. One last tip I’d give is that you have to be true and genuine to yourself. Ffs, it’s you. Why lie right?
Coming back from the existential to the “how to save up money” question, you want to know what you want so you can work towards them. You get a tangible and reachable goal for your financial execution so that this said financial execution can fuel and propel you to actualizing your goals.
In the end, the money’s not the goal right? It’s what the money gives you and allows you to do. It’s just a medium as it’s always been.
If you got to this point, good job and I hope you learned and enjoyed your reading. I hope you got value and direction from these. These are the things I personally find important. These items set a structure to your financial improvements at the same time lining you up to ultimately what you want from saving up money. Hopefully this article answers the question of “how to save money” for you!