There's so much advice available about how to save money that sometimes it is easy to lose focus on the big picture. While that's usually not a problem, sometimes it causes people to make bad decisions. It's human nature - we can only focus on so many things at one time - and I definitely do it, too. Making a special trip to the Rite Aid across town to get free razors may be perfectly sensible, but not if it means that I don't have time to make dinner and we end up ordering pizza. How can we all make sure we're focusing on the really important stuff? There are a couple of things that can help.
Be Aware of Your Spending Plan, and Your Spending, TooA lot of people don't like to think about their money, but awareness is the greatest tool for success. Taking the time to plan where you're going to spend your money, then keeping tabs on spending as it happens, makes it easier to see when the effort for savings is smart or, um, not-so-smart.
Be Realistic About Your LifeIt's normal to want to do more than you can reasonably accomplish. Having high goals is great, until it distracts you from the things that are important. What's really important to you, and what's worth your time?
I want to be an extreme couponer, work full-time, make every bit of food we eat from scratch, walk everywhere, grow a vegetable garden and put up all our vegetables for the entire year, and be the world's best wife and mother, too. I've tried, and I pretty much failed at all of it. With the focus from keeping track of my money (see above,) I know that eating at home provides the biggest bang-for-our-buck, even if I'm not baking my own bread and canning my own green beans, and that the biggest coupon savings is on toiletries. I focus on those two money-savers, plus being a good mom and wife, and squeeze in the other stuff when I can without feeling guilty for not doing it all.
Weigh The Savings Against The CostsIt's easy to get focused on the wrong things. For example, we needed to buy a new car when we had our fourth child. At first, I was tied up in looking for a car that would fit my double stroller. Eventually, I came to my senses and realized that even a $300 new stroller was a small cost compared to the cost of a car, and I was able to expand my car search and save money in the process. Yes, I had to buy a new stroller (thankfully, not $300,) but I still saved money overall.
I see this kind of logic happening all the time when military families consider where to live. In order to save money on housing, they might live somewhere with an expensive commute or that requires them to send their kids to private schools. These aren't bad choices, but they are choices that need to be thought thoroughly through. (Say that three times fast!)
Choosing where to allocate your time and money can have a big impact on your life. When considering all your options for saving and earning money, be aware of your situation and your limitations, and look at the big picture to make sure you're not missing anything.