Financial Basics: Expert Tips for Smarter Spending

We want to let you in on a little personal finance secret: Spending less is great, but you can only take control of your financial future by spending smarter, too.

Since April is National Financial Literacy Month, we’ve been writing a series of posts that all focus on the basic building blocks of personal finance. For this article on smarter spending, we reached out to a whole host of financial experts to get their tips and advice. Here’s what they had to say!

Build a budget.

Christian Stewart, Ramsey Preferred Financial Coach for Do Better Financial:

“Create a monthly budget. Managed money goes farther, so the best thing you can do is give every dollar a job using zero-based budgeting. You’ll feel like you got a raise when you tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

Todd Huettner, President of residential mortgage bank Huettner Capital (@HuettnerCapital):

“If you don’t have a monthly budget, you simply can’t ‘spend smarter’ because you can’t define smart or stupid without knowing how much money you have and what expenses you have.”

Track your expenses.

Marc Andre, personal finance blogger at (@vital_dollar):

“One of the most important things you can do to improve your spending habits is to track your expenses. Creating a budget is common advice (and good advice), but a budget won’t do you any good unless you know you are actually sticking to the budget.

“In order to know that, you’ll need to record your expenses. It’s not difficult, but it does take a little bit of effort. You can use a spreadsheet or paper, but take a few minutes at the end of each day to record everything that you spent that day.

“You should also check your bank and credit card statements at the end of the month for any automated payments or anything else that you might have missed. Give each expense a category (food, gas, housing, etc.) and then you can add up the totals for each category, as well as the overall total.

“Tracking your expenses can be a really eye-opening experience, and you’ll probably see a few areas right away that are higher than you expected. It’s a simple way to get information that you can use to know where you need to cut back. And there are also some apps, like Mint, that help to make it more of an automated process and can save you some time.”

Use cash rather than plastic.

Todd R. Christensen, author, Accredited Financial Counselor®, and education manager at Money Fit by DRS, Inc. (@MoneyFitbyDRS):

“Use cash rather than plastic (credit, debit, store, and pre-paid). You will spend on average almost 15 percent less because of the physical nature of cash and the requirement to actually count it out.

“Take only the amount of cash into the store that you plan to spend. Leave store, debit, prepaid, and credit cards at home. You can’t overspend if you only have the budgeted cash.”

Stephanie Schill, personal finance blogger at Wynning in Life (@wynninginlife):

“Pay with cash, and save the change. Pull out the amount of money from an ATM that you aim to spend in a week. Any change you receive put it into a piggy bank or jar. Any money left over at the end of the week put aside. You can use that for future savings, the start of an emergency fund, or a slush fund to pull from if you have a week where you run out of money early.

“Only take into a store how much you intend to spend. If you’re heading to the grocery store and only want to spend $40, bring in $40. cash Are you going to the salon for a haircut and know you always get talked into add-on services? Only take in as much as the service and tip will cost, and nothing more. It’s easy to turn down upselling of product or services when you only have a set amount of money in your pocket.”

Pay yourself first.

Amy White, personal finance blogger at Daily Successful Living (@amysdailyliving):

“My number one tip for anyone trying to improve their financial life is to start by paying themselves first.  Every single time you get paid or receive money you should be setting aside a small portion of it for yourself.  I personally recommend 10 percent of your income, but if you are just getting started you may need to start with a smaller percentage.

“When many people hear this advice, their first reaction is that they don’t have any extra money.  They probably don’t, but I’ve found that regardless of your income when you prioritize setting aside money for yourself you’ll find a way to pay the rest of your bills.

“As soon as you begin paying yourself first and putting yourself first in your financial life something changes inside of you.  That money becomes your future and you are willing to sacrifice in other areas so that you can continue to save and grow your money.

“Once you begin paying yourself you are finally free to begin saving for retirement, your emergency fund or using it to reduce your debt. “

Make a list.

Christian Stewart:

“Don’t become of a victim of the ‘Bullseye Effect’. Ever been into a certain store for one or two items, and walk out $250 wondering what happened? Making a list of the things you need, whether shopping for groceries or clothes, can keep you on track with your money.”

Consider quality over quantity.

Personal finance blogger Kelan Kline of The Savvy Couple (@TheSavvyCouple):

“Always seek the best value. Whether it’s a new pair of sneakers or a meal from the grocery store frugal people always seek the most value. Frugal living is all about getting the most value out of your money.

“Instead of buying quantity, start thinking about quality. You want your purchases to continue to work and provide value years down the road.”

Stephanie Schill:

“Consider quality over quantity. In many cases, spending is an impulse. You are spending because you want something, not because you really need it. Consider, before you buy, if you own something already that can do the job.

“Is there already something to eat for dinner in the refrigerator or pantry?  Do you own a similar sweater? Does your child already have a toy that is close to this one? Try to walk away from the purchase! You’ll likely forget about it by tomorrow anyway.”

Look for places to cut back.

Todd Huettner:

“Monthly subscriptions have become so popular, we lose track of how much we’re actually spending on things. Add them up every month and see what you can cut.

“Make a list of the top 10 things you could cut out from your budget to save a few bucks periodically or for several months in an emergency.”

Pay for services upfront.

Doug Keller, marketing manager at Payless Power (@paylesspower):

“Often when payment is completed after a service is received, individuals are inclined to pay more than desired, especially if careful attention is not paid beforehand. This is the case for dining out or other services such as utilities. When possible, it is advised that you pay upfront in order to protect yourself from overspending based on your budget.

“There are a number of plans and services you may not be aware of that offer this, such as prepaid electricity which requires no deposit or credit check and allows consumers to pay whatever they want and subsequently receive the corresponding amount of electricity.”

Negotiate with your creditors.

Stephanie Schill:

“If you have debt payments higher than you’d like, give the lenders or creditors a call and explain your situation. They may lower your interest rate, or reduce your payment. It’s totally worth the effort.

“Think cell phone, cable, and insurance, but it could be any debt: mortgage, student loans, etc. as well. Be brave and make the call. You’ll be happy you did.”

Try separate savings accounts.

Todd Huettner:

“A simple tip to get control of your spending is to create a separate savings account for each discretionary spending item in your budget. Automatically transfer funds each month into the account.

“Examples include gifts, vacation, groceries, entertainment, eating out, clothing, auto maintenance (oil changes and don’t forget miscellaneous repairs including tires).”

Don’t grocery shop when hungry or stressed.

Todd R. Christensen:

“With regards to grocery shopping, do not shop when you are hungry, in a hurry, stressed or have young children in tow. Studies who you will spend 10 percent to 15 percent more with children in your cart or at your side, and even more when you are hungry.”

Save up for big purchases.

Christian Stewart:

“Saving each month for a big purchase, like new furniture or a car, helps you avoid incurring debt and gives you time to find the best deal.”

Always think long-term.

Kelan Kline:

“Cheap people always look for a quick fix, something that will benefit them immediately. Frugal people are always looking for a long-term solution.

“Get into the habit of thinking long-term when making purchases, especially ‘big’ purchases. Things like appliances, cars, and houses should be thought of as a long-term investment. These are items you want to get the most value out of in the long-term.

“Being able to sacrifice your desire for instant gratification and a fast solution will save you a ton of money.”

Create a no spend day, week or month.

Stephanie Schill:

“Create a no spend day, week or month for yourself. If you’re a regular impulse shopper this may help curb your habit. Challenge yourself to eat what’s in the refrigerator and freezer. Participate in free activities, go to the park, head to the library, etc.

“Stay off your phone to avoid online shopping. Whatever the deal is, there will be another one. What you don’t spend, roll into debt payments or save!”

Be creative and know yourself.

Todd Huettner:

“A great example a lady told me yesterday at a lunch-n-learn workshop I was invited to present at a local business was as follows:

“I opened a savings account at a small credit union with only a few branches that are all 45 minutes away. It does not offer online banking and the account does not allow check writing.

“So, I can mail deposits, but I have to actually go into the branch to make a withdraw and it’s simply too time-consuming to do that without rearranging my day and I know I won’t do it.”

Ask yourself this one simple question.

Stephanie Schill:

“Ask yourself ‘Will I be happy I bought this a week from now? Will I be happy I bought this a month from now?’ A mind trick can help you curb impulse spends and put into perspective if what you’re buying is really a need or a want.”

To learn more about how you can spend less, spend smarter, and save more money, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a  personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Marc Andre is a personal finance blogger at (@vital_dollar), where he writes about saving money, managing money, and ways to make more money. His goal with Vital Dollar is to help individuals and families get the most out of the money they have and to reach their full financial potential. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and their two kids (a son and a daughter).
Author and Accredited Financial Counselor®, Todd R. Christensen, MIM, MA, is Education Manager at Money Fit by DRS, Inc. (@MoneyFitbyDRS), a nationwide nonprofit financial wellness and credit counseling agency. Todd develops educational programs and produces materials that teach personal financial skills and responsibilities to all ages. Having facilitated nearly two thousand workshops since 2004 on the fundamentals of effective money management, he based his first book, Everyday Money for Everyday People (2014), on the discussions, tips, stories and ideas shared by the tens of thousands of individuals and couples in attendance.
A recognized real estate and personal finance expert with over twenty years of experience, Todd Huettner is frequently quoted in the business press including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Credit Karma, and He is President of Huettner Capital (@HuettnerCapital), a residential mortgage bank located in Denver, CO.  In addition to earning an economics degree and an M.B.A., Todd has held his real estate license in multiple states and been an underwriter, financial analyst, and consultant.
Douglas Keller has been a financial expert for 20 years, helping people reach financial stability. He works for Payless Power (@paylesspower) where he continues to help people save money on their bills every month.
Kelan and Brittany Kline aka The Savvy Couple are two thriving millennials that are daring to live differently. They started their personal finance blog in September 2016 to help others get money $avvy so they can live a frugal and free lifestyle. Brittany is a full-time 4th-grade teacher and Kelan runs The Savvy Couple full-time and works as a digital marketer. You can follow them here: FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.
Stephanie Schill is the creator of the personal finance blog Wynning in Life (@wynninginlife). On her site, she shares how you can spend less, save more, and achieve your financial goals faster. A lifetime saver and self-proclaimed shameless couponer, she is passionate about saving intentionally,  spending deliberately, and having fun along the way. When not writing she enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband Nick and their daughter Wynn.
Christian Stewart is the founder and lead financial coach of Do Better Financial. She has always been interested in money, from saving for her first car at age six to buying her first mutual fund at 18. This passion lead her to get a Finance degree from Texas A&M University, but a lack of planning also meant student loans. She was introduced to the concepts of budgeting and the debt snowball shortly after buying her first car and proceeded to pay off $32,000 in debt in only 27 months. She founded Do Better Financial to empower people to take control of their finances and start winning with money.
Amy White, MBA is the founder of Daily Successful Living (@amysdailyliving), a website dedicated to helping people learn to manage their money.  Amy believes that with the right help anyone can become a personal finance expert.  As an entrepreneur, Amy has helped coach her readers to take control of their money, learn to create profitable side hustles and begin preparing for retirement.

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