You start your week off with the best intentions. After a weekend of splurging on restaurants, concert tickets, and new sneakers, you’re determined to reign in your spending. You’ll make coffee or tea at home, bring your lunch, stay for only one happy-hour drink—or none at all, and you will not succumb to any online shopping this week.
But the mid-day Monday slump hits, and before you know it, you’re on your way to the new hipster coffee joint down the street, placing your order for an iced latte and, “Oh, I’ll take that pastry, too,” you hear yourself saying as you then have no choice but to shell out nearly $10 for this impromptu afternoon snack. For what it’s worth (pun intended), your work pal has ordered a perfectly fine looking cup of hot drip coffee at a fraction of the price.
By Wednesday, to get through hump day, you find yourself browsing the magazine rack at CVS; you’re up at the register before you can register that no, you don’t actually need that $5 issue of Auto Enthusiast.
Unless you keep track of where every single cent goes, you probably give little thought to this dollar or that, but enough of those unaccounted for bills can wreak havoc on your wallet. Before you can get a real handle on your spending, you’ve got to first recognize the sneaky workday spending habits that are the reason your bank account is hyperventilating at the end of each month.
1. Over-tipping for Small Items
OK, look, I have years of restaurant experience under my belt. There was a time that I lived off of tips, so I would never suggest frugality to the point that someone who depends on receiving gratuities for a living suffers. But may I suggest being wary of all of the places that now solicit tip money on top of what used to be standard transaction? Being able to pay with a credit card quickly nearly anywhere is great, but do you really need to add 25% to that to-go breakfast sandwich?
2. Forgetting Your Lunch on a Regular Basis
Whether it’s forgetting it home or leaving it in your office fridge because Chipotle sounds like such a better option, that’s major money—not to mention waste—down the drain. Put a calendar reminder on your phone if leaving it behind when you head out the door for work is your problem. And if you absolutely must succumb to your team’s lunch run, consider the lunch you brought your new dinner. And while you’re at it, if you are headed out, skip buying a water bottle and bring a reusable one with you (this is easier if you keep one at the office).
3. Ignoring Specials and Discounts
Recently, I was out with friends, and I completely overlooked the happy hour menu! Instead, I ordered a very pricy cocktail. My friends pointed out my error as they happily sipped their $5 beers and I glumly nursed my fancy drink. On occasion, this decision to go for the cheaper option may require some self-discipline: What if you truly want the vodka gimlet and not the beer? Only you can answer that, but know that if you don’t opt for the less-expensive happy hour-selection available, it’s your bank account you’ll have to answer to.
The same goes for any other discounts that are available to you through your company—from gym memberships to tax-free commuting options to media subscription services. Take advantage!
4. Mindless Drugstore Purchases
The local pharmacy near your office may provide a wonderful afternoon break for you. List in hand, you grab deodorant, toothpaste, and dish soap. Before you make it out the door, you’re browsing the clearance section and reaching for a bag of on-sale holiday candy. You might as well get a picture frame to decorate your desk, and maybe a plant, too. Oh, and the kitten calendar is really discounted. Let’s add that to the basket. No, nope, not today. Buy what you came for and nothing more; your savings account will thank you.
5. Being a Yes Person
You want to make new friends at work, and you want to come across as amiable and agreeable, but that doesn’t mean you have to say yes to every invitation and jump on every group activity. It’s OK to say that you’ve been spending too much money on meals out and are trying to cut back. No one is going to think you’re lame. Suggest going for a walk or eating lunch (of the brown-bagged variety) outside, weather permitting. If saying yes is going to also mean taking advantage of your wallet, you better learn how to say no.
6. Buying Rounds
It can be great fun to be the big spender at the bar, but if you’re not in a position to buy the crew drinks, then you shouldn’t be flashing your card. It’s as simple as that. When you win the lottery, get a bonus or a big raise and are feeling generous, go for it, but, for now, don’t be that person who brushes aside everyone else’s cash when you really can’t afford to. And don’t say “It’s on me” if you can’t afford it this week. While you don’t want to charge your colleagues for every penny, it’s OK to ask someone to pay you back for that drink you bought him.
7. Two Words: Iced Coffee
Yes, you cut out lattes—but are you buying iced coffee every day now that it’s hot out? Ugh, I know. You love iced coffee. I love iced coffee. We all love iced coffee. You know what I really don’t love? The steep price tag. And so after several weeks of treating myself to iced coffee, I’ve returned to the hot stuff if I need an afternoon pick-up (my first cup in the morning comes from my trusty Black and Decker). I’m saving at least $1.50 per cup, and over the course of a week, that’s nearly $5 if I go out for three coffees. That’s $20 a month and $340 a year. I can think of a lot of better ways to spend that kind of money, thank you very much.
If you try to put yourself on spending lockdown, you’re probably going to fail. Total deprivation will often backfire. So, instead of putting unreasonable limitations on yourself, consider attainable goals and realistic restrictions. You don’t have to live on bananas and avocado toast, but you don’t have to go out to lunch every day just because it seems like everyone else is. And you don’t have to add an almond croissant to your coffee order on the regular. If you’re not sure where all your extra money has been going, the first place to look is at your daily, unassuming habits.