8 Questions to Help You Save More

This is a guest post by Fiona Lippey. Fiona is the author of the bestselling book The $21 Challenge and founder of Australia's largest frugal website, SimpleSavings.net.

If you want to save money, and I mean really save money, then you're going to have to stop buying Stuff. You have reduce the amount you consume. Today I want to share the system I've been using for the last 15 years to reduce my spending and make sure I don't get tricked out of my hard-earned cash.

Question 1: Stop! Is this a good decision?
Before you reach for your cash, before you grab your credit card, before you pick up the item up from the sales rack, pause for just a minute. Stop yourself and think about whether or not you are about to make a good or a bad decision. A marketer or salesperson's job is to make you think you need something that five minutes earlier you didn't know existed. Find a way to trigger your internal alarm bell, so you can stop for a second and move on to question number two.

Question 2: Are you hungry?
If your belly is empty then your decision making is impaired. Our bodies get confused between the desire for food and inedible objects. So if you are hungry, step away, eat something, then wait for 15 minutes before moving on to question three.

Question 3: Is there something else?
There are so many other things you could buy. Is this item really the one you want to spend your hard-earned money on? There are other things you could achieve with this money. Will you be limiting yourself by making the purchase? If you have decided that this is the only thing you want, go to question four.

Question 4: Is it worth the effort?
Every time you reach for your cash, ask yourself if it is really worth the effort. If every $15 you spend is an hour you're going to have to work, is it worth the effort? Or should you leave your money in your wallet? (It's so much easier than having to earn extra money!) Now, if you have decided the purchase is really is worth the bother, move on to the fifth question.

Question 5: What will you gain?
Next, work out what you or your family will gain by buying the item. What are the longterm consequences? Will it improve your health and happiness or genuinely give you more free time? How? If you cannot answer these questions positively, then leave your money in your wallet. It is important that you be really skeptical when you answer this question. Now move to question six.

Question 6: What will you lose?
When you buy an item, you both gain something and lose something. If you are lucky, the only thing you lose is cash and the time it took you to earn that money. But this is not always the case. A great example of this is a computer game. You gain entertainment, but you might lose quality time with your family. Once you are certain you have accounted for everything you could lose, move on to the next question.

Question 7: Is there a better way?
Now it is time to shop around for a better price and work out the smartest way to buy it. How can you get the best value for your dollar in the minimum time possible? Occasionally, working it out for yourself will take more time than you save (when calculating your time as an hourly wage), but you will get satisfaction in knowing that you've found a great deal and are doing the best for your family. Once you have researched your purchase and found the best way to buy it, go to question eight.

Question 8: Do you have the cash to spare?
Most of the time, buying things on credit is stupid. So if you don't have the cash, remain free, walk away, and live happily ever after. Consumer purchases aren't worth burdening yourself with debt. This means you should avoid credit cards, layaways, interest-free loans, mortgage refinancing facilities, etc. Only buy something if you have the spare cash — and if you don't, go home and save until you do.

If want to save yourself some money, write down the eight steps and put them in your wallet! Every penny you save is one you don't have to earn!

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SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

When spend is smaller we generally either don’t question or think a little. When you see a good shoe on the rack, you probably don’t go through all 8 questions standing in front of it. All these are great tips to control impulse buying. One thing I learned to do now is, when every strategy fails, I plan to buy it tomorrow instead of today. And that extra one day could bring a whole new perspective on your need-to-buy feeling. So in front of that shoe rack, I will only tell myself “let’s buy it tomorrow”. And who goes to… Read more »

MoneyforCollegePro
MoneyforCollegePro
8 years ago

I agree SB — Often times the one day waiting period makes a world of difference. I have found that I generally talk myself out of 90% of those types of purchases, and I realize it would have been a waste anyway.

jack foley
jack foley
8 years ago

Good question

this is why the richer get richer and the poorer get poorer

the rich look after it – the poor – it leaves their hands

Brian @ Progressive Transformation
Brian @ Progressive Transformation
8 years ago

How about, “Can I put it in the money jar?!”

Often I find that instead of buying that candy bar or soda, if i put my dollar into the money jar, I have vacation money. Over time, you have all your spending money in the caribbean.

Money is a part of who we are. It is psychologically important that we learn to restrain our use of one just as we restrain our daily food intake. Save it. Save those weight watchers points. One day you get to eat a whole chocolate cake!

-Brian

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

but as far as WW, hopefully by the time you got enough points saved for a whole cake…you would have evolved past wanting to eat a whole cake.

Brian
Brian
8 years ago

One can only hope.

Paul @ The Frugal Toad
Paul @ The Frugal Toad
8 years ago

I like to ask myself what am I willing to give up in return for making a purchase. Am I willing to take funds from my entertainment budget for the month to pay for this? If it is a major purchase I consider looking at the opportunity cost of investing that money against my desire to have that item. Puts purchases in a whole new perspective!

getagrip
getagrip
8 years ago

I guess my take on this is first off, why are you even in the store wasting time unless you went there to buy something specifically? I guess if you are prone to oppotunity shop, then the above really helps. If you don’t enter stores unless you need something specific or already have a list of the specifics you need and tend not to stray, the above is a big time suck when you should have already made many of these decisions before you even entered the store (e.g do you need it (wouldn’t have come if I didn’t), is… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

Other than groceries (where I’m not going to ask these questions), the vast majority of my family’s shopping is done online.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

I guess my take on this is first off, why are you even in the store wasting time unless you went there to buy something specifically?

YESSSS. 1000 points.

CincyCat
CincyCat
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

I agree! Only if I’m in the market for something specific do I waste time going to a store. One question she doesn’t have on her list is “is this the best quality that I can get for the money?” (I guess #5 and 7 sort of dance around this point.) Good example: A winter coat. In the past, I would have just bought any coat, and then when it fell apart in two years, I would have to spend the money and buy another one. Then, I got smart & learned that taking time to research quality for things… Read more »

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  CincyCat

Sometimes even buying quality works out cheap. When I first moved to NYC 12 years ago, from the tropics of NC (in the fall), I thought I could make my “NC winter coat” make do for a while. NOT. One day shivering to the midtown subway from work, I noticed a 3-week only surplus, “everything $99-200” sale of winter coats setting up in a vacant store front and, freezing, I made an immediate detour inside simply because at that point anything was better than the unlined thing I had. Got a Jones New York classic black wool trench for $99.… Read more »

aib
aib
8 years ago

The goods that come with the 100% satisfaction or your money back guarantee really rock. I new JanSport backpacks has it.

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago

I have to laugh at the question, “Are you hungry?” That is so true for me. Here’s my coping mechanism – If I’m hungry, I will sit in the parking lot and eat a pack of peanut butter crackers and drink a bottle of water before I go into a store. (I keep them in the back of my van for quick snacks for all of us).

I could do these questions with most of my purchases, but most weeks I’m on autopilot when I do the grocery shopping. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

PFM
PFM
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

awesome point for grocery shopping Mom of Five, I make sure I eat a big meal right before going to the store, it makes me less likely to buy any “junk” food and I want to leave the store sooner

Jill @ Dollars-or-Cents
Jill @ Dollars-or-Cents
8 years ago
Reply to  PFM

I actually try to go to the grocery store hungry otherwise I have a hard time buying anything because nothing seems appetizing!

Zella
Zella
8 years ago

Ugh, I have this problem too. Half the time I walk through the supermarket and think “Yuck. Why would I buy any of this crap?” Thank god for produce stands.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

All good questions! Right now my question is “is this item worth more to me than $x towards my down payment?” I figure that every $10 I put aside now saves me about $5 in interest in the long run. (Yes, I know that’s a rough estimate — but when its me versus the clothing store I find it helps to keep the math simple!) I think you could adapt that question to other goals — like retirement savings or debt repayment. Five dollars now could be worth much more than that in the future, if it saves you interest… Read more »

Becka
Becka
8 years ago

In answer to #8: No, because I virtually never carry cash. I actually am much more likely to make small purchases when I have cash on me (candy bar: credit card? no. cash? hmm, maybe!). I find it a little odd that this article takes the overly simplistic view that credit cards are a no! bad! avoid! Especially when aimed at a target audience savvy enough that, on the whole, they’re likely to treat credit cards as a great way to earn rewards and track spending, rather than free money with no potential consequences. Otherwise, I really liked the article.… Read more »

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Becka

Some of us have to carry cash aside from personal preference. If the subway drops me off at an unfamiliar neighborhood because of switching problems, I need cash to hire a car service and I won’t want to be walking around inner brooklyn looking for an ATM–especially at night. Lots of small subway stations don’t have debit machines, or they are out of service. Due to budget cuts most of these small stations no longer have agents or booths. Also due to budget cuts, many regular machines do not get immediate service and it is not unusual to see “no… Read more »

Becka
Becka
8 years ago

I’m sorry if my comment seemed to imply any sort of judgment on the carrying cash vs. credit issue — I didn’t mean any at all. It just struck me as odd in the original article that having cash was to be a prereq for any purchase.

I do carry cash if I’m in an unfamiliar area, but fortunately I haven’t needed cash for my most used transit system since 2005, and I don’t really consider an event like NY’s insane power outage worth planning for (fortunately I left the city the day before it happened).

SAHMama
SAHMama
8 years ago

How about: “Would I be embarrassed to announce to the world that I spent $$$ on this?”

That “world” could be your religious leader, mother in law, spouse, boss, etc.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

ouch.

rene
rene
8 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

Sometimes the opposite happens: “How gleeful will I be if I smile and stay quiet while people are talking about how ridiculous it is to buy XYZ, when I know I have it waiting at home for me right now…”
Sometimes other people’s disapproval is a great way to help one not spend money needlessly, but sometimes, it makes a purchase a little more special.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago

Usually I don’t buy things just because the amount would be so small and I hate using my credit card (with my main fear that my number will be stolen, because this has happened over 10 times).

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

Whenever I see something I might like for my house I ask myself, “Am I going to sell this for a quarter at a tag sale someday?” Usually the answer is yes and I don’t buy it. But there are the few times the answer is yes and I buy it anyway because it will make me happy until I sell it for a quarter. Really, that last option happens so rarely because for me, having a tag sale is a giant pain in the ass and I would rather have less stuff.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

My currently litmus test is “is this worth packing and unpacking when I move?” 😉

When it comes to home decor, right now the answer is no!

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

that’s my mother’s reason “to buy” something/anything:

“do I really need this? well no, but I can always sell it at a yard sale if I can’t find a place for it/doesn’t match/change my mind later/pick a reason.”

To give her credit, she does have yard sales so there is turnover but…sometimes I think she’s just looking for a reason for her and her girlfriends to hold another sale.

Brenton
Brenton
8 years ago

Im naturally indecisive, and its much easier to not overspend when you agonize over the possible oppurtunity costs of any purchase.

Maureen
Maureen
8 years ago

Great questions. It would be good to attach them to your credit card.

My favourtite is: Would I be willing to work x hours to acquire this?

Russell
Russell
8 years ago

Of course, given income taxes, every penny you save is worth more than every penny you earn!

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

I’m confused as to why number 8 isn’t number 1? Best way to avoid deficit spending is to not spend money you don’t have…

doug_eike
doug_eike
8 years ago

Controlling spending is probably more important than increasing earnings. We all know folks whose salaries are fine but who are always in debt. Thanks for the tips!

PB
PB
8 years ago
Reply to  doug_eike

There’s an old saying, if you’ll excuse the implied sexism: “A woman can throw out more with a spoon than a man can bring in with a shovel.”

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  PB

Since the domestic science ideology grew out of the truthfulness of that quote, I think we can overlook the implied sexism…

krish02
krish02
8 years ago

Really, am I going to look at this list of questions when I want to buy something? No. And I’m disappointed that when you link to the Simplesavings.net website, you have to pay to get any tips.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  krish02

sell the blog or sell the tips…can’t really argue with choosing one over the other.

CincyCat
CincyCat
8 years ago

I’m confused as to why the author thinks layaway is a bad idea…??? (I think it must mean something different in Australia.) Paying cash in small doses over time for a major purchase seems to me to be the perfect way to delay gratification on something until you can pay for it – in full – with cash. Part of the reason people spend money rashly is for things they need that they might not be able to save for ahead of time (like kids’ school clothes – in the right season & size). Also, if something goes on sale… Read more »

Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago
Reply to  CincyCat

Although layaway is better than increasing your credit card debt, most people are still spending more than they can afford when they put things on layaway. There are also sometimes fees involved for opening the layaway account and for restocking the merchandise if you don’t end up paying for it.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I’ve worked in retail and yes, some layaway plans are a pain but most are very simple. Just like anything (credit cards), if you are conscious and diligent, it can be a useful tool. It’s mid-summer, you are saving –in a jar even– for the kids’ school clothes which will cost you several hundred dollars retail. Your favorite store has a “50% off christmas in july sale” with a lot of the high dollar items you will need (and what’s more: your 13 year old loves the clothes). You take your $100 already saved and put the sales items on… Read more »

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

An excuse to take longer while shopping? My husband is going to be so mad! 🙂

Seriously though, I have gotten into the habit of walking around with an impulse buy instead of going straight to the checkout. 9 times out of 10 I end up not buying the item. This has worked especially well for kids clothing.

rene
rene
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

I do this all the time with impulse items! I *know* I don’t need it, but I really want it. So I browse the rest of the store while holding on to it, and by the time I make my way to the checkout, I’m usually ready to just put it down and go home. Especially if the line is long and it’s all I’m holding.

frugalportland
frugalportland
8 years ago

also, know thyself. If you’re the kind of person who likes to buy shoes, get out of retail stores and let yourself go crazy at Goodwill or something simliar.

Chase
Chase
8 years ago
Reply to  frugalportland

Used shoes? Not for me, I wouldn’t wear used shoes even if they were free.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

This article means well, but the process it describes is tiresome and can be easily shortened:

1). Before you leave home or work to go shopping, think about what you need
(or just want), do research if you have to, decide how much you can afford to pay and, if you are determined to acquire something, write it down.

2). At the store, stick to your list.

The end.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Andrew, I agree with you for planned purchases. I think the list in the article makes sense if one is caught in a situation of an unplanned purchase. (Unplanned purchases can be other places than a mall – they can be at a street fair where you went to watch a relative perform, at a farmers market that’s on your way home, or a funky shop that your friend wants to pop into for just a minute. In other words, unplanned purchases can occur even to the most frugal, tight-fisted shopper-by-default-only.)

Ccq
Ccq
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I am grossly frugal and in a large city, which means wonderful unplanned purchasing opportunities around every corner. New coat? There’s a cute one. Need an umbrella? What pattern? I once found a trinket shop while waiting for a friend that had silver makeup cases from 1500s India. Wtf?! I want so much of what I see ever day. Two things keep me from this: I am dead broke and with very little work. Yes I would love a thousand dollar shopping spree, or even a hundred or $10 for a new shirt. But I usually have more than enough… Read more »

lineargirl
lineargirl
8 years ago

These questions are a great way to discuss spending with your kids. When they ask for something, or even if they’re spending their allowances or earned money, teaching them that you go through these questions and encouraging them to do so will improve their spending habits for a lifetime.

bg
bg
8 years ago

As a European, where my walking(!) way from work to sports or my bus home currently includes dozens of shops, I’m often in danger of impulse buys. I have gotten better, and most buys are things that are useful or have been on my “need” list since forever, but some are just stupid (expensive shoes that don’t fit – thankfully happened only once). For clothes, I mostly buy things that are reduced in price and fit perfectly. This helped a lot. (I’m not a big fan of buying clothes online, far too often they don’t fit well and sending back… Read more »

Jill @ Dollars-or-Cents
Jill @ Dollars-or-Cents
8 years ago

lol I like the hungry tip.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

just gotta be careful not to spend the $15 you are trying not to spend on pretties, on the snack shacks.

not sayin’ i’ve done that of course…;)

Krantcents
Krantcents
8 years ago

Anything that will slow you down is a good thing. By slowing you down, you will think about the decision more. Look at alternatives.

Megan
Megan
8 years ago

I save money at the mall by treating it like a grocery store. I only go when I need something, I make a list beforehand, and I stick to the list. I also look out for coupons for stores beforehand, too. It makes for an emotionless shopping trip, which keeps me from wanting to buy a shirt or purse on impulse because “it’s pretty.”

I like the tips above, especially the one about calculating how long you have to work to buy something.

Jill @ Dollars-or-Cents
Jill @ Dollars-or-Cents
8 years ago

I think it’s also good to avoid dwelling on the decision too long since sometimes I end up worse off that way! For example, I have wanted to buy a new snowboarding helmet for the last couple years and intended (two years in a row) to buy one at the end of season when they go on super sale, passing up helmets along the way knowing I could get a better price. But I just never did hit up those big sales since once spring rolls around, snowboarding wasn’t on my mind. In the end I bought one at full… Read more »

Mary
Mary
8 years ago

I love this post! DH and I see it as a game and our net worth is the score. It makes being frugal fun. We only had one question (can we meet this need without spending money?) until I read this post. Whoo hoo! Game on!!

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

Good set of questions. It’s all part of having a “wealth” mentality (“how much can I add to my net worth?”) rather than an “income” mentality (“can I cut this expense?”). This helps you stay motivated.

Fiona Lippey
Fiona Lippey
8 years ago
Reply to  Joe

Thank you Joe. Your post is brilliant.

Becka
Becka
8 years ago

I’m sorry if my comment seemed to imply any sort of judgment on the carrying cash vs. credit issue – I didn’t mean any at all. It just struck me as odd in the original article that having cash was to be a prereq for any purchase.

I do carry cash if I’m in an unfamiliar area, but fortunately I haven’t needed cash for my most used transit system since 2005, and I don’t really consider an event like NY’s insane power outage worth planning for (fortunately I left the city the day before it happened).

Clara
Clara
8 years ago

I think I have — finally — evolved past having to ask any questions. I just don’t seem to want anything any more. If I find that I really do want something (rare), I put it on a list and see if I still want it later on. It isn’t just the money, it is the time as well. When I look at something to buy, I think do I want to dust that? Move it around? Pack it when I move? Haul it to the thrift store when I am done with it? Surprisingly, the answer is usually no.

Sean H
Sean H
8 years ago

I love question #4; I think in these terms all day. I’m usually talking inside my head saying things like, “I’m going to have to work for three hours tomorrow be back at even.” So I don’t usually make spur of the moment decisions because I don’t like the feeling of working and knowing I’m starting in the negatives.

Tie the Money Knot
Tie the Money Knot
8 years ago

Also, think about the way something is priced. There are creative ways that business can set prices to entice us into buying. For example, if a restaurant offers a $12 deluxe cheeseburger, but then also has a $7 cheeseburger on the menu, people might see the $7 option as a bargain. However, if the $12 one wasn’t on the menu, the $7 one might actually seem pricey. It’s important to be able to think through decisions, and see through marketing tactics, in order to save in some situations.

Carl Lassegue
Carl Lassegue
8 years ago

This article was so helpful. I particularly like questions #7. It always makes me feel a lot better when I get great deals on items I really wanted or needed.

Marica Bosell
Marica Bosell
7 years ago

This is by far my favorite post you have done on weight loss and eating right. I am reluctant on few of your points but the majority of the points you made i agree with.

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