How have you ever spent money in a way that makes you feel good every time you think of it?
When I ask that question at conferences, participants come up with an incredible range of answers, such as "paying for my parents' trip to Hawaii for their 50th anniversary" to "buying this great pen for two dollars." They have also mentioned very practical and serious things such as "putting money in my kids' education account every payday" to very impractical, fun things like "buying leopard seat covers for my car."
Whether it's buying a book you love or contributing to your favorite charity, it's important to identify what brings you lasting value and happiness. Frequently, we get caught up in spending money on things that don't mean a thing to us simply out of habit. For example, if you stop buying that $2 coffee everyday and bring a cup from home, you will save about $10 a week and $500 a year. That savings could be used for something that has more value for you. If you stop to pick up a quick hamburger twice a week that adds up to $100 a month, does that make you happier than spending the $100 for a night out? Would you rather shop in the nicest department stores or buy clothes at discount and thrift stores, and use the money you saved to pay bills or go on a vacation - which would have more value for you?
There are no right or wrong answers, just lots of choices. Most of us can't do it all, so we have to make choices, lots of choices, every day. At home, we are always making little choices about how we spend our money. For example, every time you leave the lights and TV on when no one is in the room, you choose to spend money. Is the savings worth it to turn them off and minimize the electric bill? Will it make a significant difference in your utility bill to grill outside in the summer? Or cook soup and casseroles in the winter for extra warmth without turning the thermostat up?
And there are more choices about how you spend your money to have a good time. Can you enjoy take-out pizza at home with beer or soda from the store as much as eating in a pizzeria and paying significantly more for drinks? Would you rather get the cheap seats and be able to go to more concerts or get the best seats and only go to one? Will you invite friends to share the cost of a vacation house or are you willing to pay more because you value the time alone with your family?
There are also really big choices. Do you choose to own a property that builds equity or provides a rental income or do you choose to continue renting for the convenience and to minimize the risk of losing money if you have to relocate?
Saving money is not about sacrificing and giving up things. It's about making the choices that add value and by making those choices you will have a sense of control and pride. By knowing what you really care about, you can make intentional choices and get the biggest bang for your buck.