Identifying the difference between the things you want and what you really need is a key aspect to sticking to your budget, but there are plenty of clever “lifehacks” to make the process a whole lot more rewarding and less daunting.
Who knows, these little tricks may also change your current perspective of “want” and “need” entirely.
Here are a few simple ideas to help you get started.
Place a dollar value to your time.
Your base salary is one thing. Your actual salary is another.
To determine your actual salary, you should account for taxes, the cost of other employer-sponsored benefits (like health insurance), the time you spend answering emails after hours, and even your commute.
This makes up the “all in” value of your time spent working that ultimately results in your expendable hourly “wage.”
Though calculating this figure may leave you wishing for a raise, it can also help you change your perspective on how badly you need certain items when considering the value of the item and how many hours you need to work to fund the purchase.
When you can put a solid number on the hourly value of your time, it can even help you to prioritize the commitments you make in your personal life, how you spend your free time, and how those choices contribute to your overall quality of life.
Identify one expense you can bring “in-house.”
Your time has a tangible value, but most of us also have at least one task we could probably take on ourselves to cut costs.
If you spend a lot of money on dry cleaning each month, for example, you may determine that it’s worth continuing to pay for professional cleaning of your treasured, fragile, and extremely soiled items, but you can also clean the items that don’t mandate frequent professional treatment with an at-home dry cleaning kit (one box typically costs less than $15).
The same tactic can go for car maintenance. Perhaps you pay someone to take care of your car’s technical nuances, but you decide to handle its basic maintenance, like changing windshield wiper blades and air filters on your own.
Maybe you continue to pay a pet sitter to come to your home when you’re away, but take care of your animal’s basic grooming, like bathing, brushing, and nail trimming on your own.
Andre Pinantoan, a 28-year old living in Sydney, Australia recently realized the value of the DIY approach. “I learned leatherwork over two weekends to make a leather belt. The materials cost me $35; the belt would have cost me $150 if I bought it retail,” says Pinantoan.
Further, he points out the intangible future value the DIY approach provided: “You tend to love and be proud of things you make. In the future, I can even do projects on my own time and sell them as a hobby.”
Compare yourself to the right Joneses.
Keeping up with the proverbial Joneses is often cited as a reason people overspend and develop skewed perspectives of wants and needs.
You can turn that same idea into financial inspiration that works to your benefit—if you choose your Joneses carefully.
Mint user Magda Walczak, a 33-year old living in Chicago, Illinois says she leverages Mint’s user spending data to keep herself in check.
She says, “I look at the feature that compares my spending in a category with the rest of the Mint population; it gives me a sobering insight into my own spending. If I feel like I’m being excessive in a category, it gives me a reality check to spend less.”
Take a declutter challenge.
“Too much” in your home, desk, closet, and car has a tendency to clutter your mental perspective of wants and needs.
Before you buy one more item, certified professional organizer Bonnie Joy Dewkett and founder of The Joyful Organizer says new items you think you need may already be under your nose.
“So often people just need to know what they own in order not buy more,” she says.
She advises shopping in your closet with no judgment or expectations and make sure you get to the back corners where things tend to get hidden. Try everything on just as you would at a store.
As for all the miscellaneous items you don’t need, motivate yourself with a challenge that makes decluttering less daunting.
Commit to rid yourself of just three unwanted items a day for 30 days and vow not to buy anything new (other than true needs, like food), until it’s complete.
Not only will your realize just how much unnecessary stuff you already have, you might also find you’ve got more items you could put to use than you realized.
Pretend you’re moving to a place half the size of where you are.
The more space you have, the easier it is to accumulate unnecessary items.
Over time, you’ll keep right on spending either in the form of “more house” and/or more organizational needs to keep from drowning amidst all that stuff.
Instead of writing your current digs off as “too small” or spending a boatload on more storage bins and furniture, try simulating what it would be like to live with half the amount of space to determine what it is that you really need to live a full life.
For 57-year old Diane Dobry losing her job in 2009 and moving several times to and from areas including in Long Island, Manhattan, Hungary, and eventually to Cobleskill, New York, caused her to recognize how much “stuff” was weighing her life—and her wallet—down.
“Moving was an eye-opener because more stuff meant having to rent a larger vehicle, and paying someone to move items for me. Additionally, having more meant more costs to store boxes of things I was never going to ever really use,” says Dobry.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.