Spending Filters – How I Save Money On Just About Everything

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A few new financial concepts and practices are being ushered into the Jabs household as of late.  Today I will briefly touch on a few of these but will be focusing on laying out several nifty little tricks that help save me money on just about everything.  I use these nuggets of wisdom every time I even think about spending money.  The good news is… these “spending filters” as I call them, are completely free and can be used by anyone that wishes to start saving money… and they can be used right away!

What are Spending Filters?

A spending filter is a concept or idea that can be employed in various ways to help save you money in almost any spending circumstance.

For me, any decision that involves spending money is run through at least one of these filters – usually several.  You can employ different filters for different situations at different times.  What you are purchasing is not nearly as important as how you are purchasing it.

Spending Filters I use on a daily basis

  • Do I need it? – Ask yourself… “Would proceeding with this purchase be a good exercise in stewardship, and a proper use of the money God has blessed me with?”  Stop to consider needs vs. wants.  Sounds simple right?  But are you actually using this age-old, tried and true method before opening your wallet?  Taking a few seconds to deliberate with yourself on this matter may very well be your best bet to saving money.  Yes you will have to sacrifice a few wants from time to time… but if you are reading this post chances are that is EXACTLY what you need to do.
  • Ask for a discount – I do it everywhere I go, every time I buy.  It use to embarrass my wife, but after watching me get discount after discount she finally jumped on board the “ask-train” and tries it herself when she can muster up the courage.  This “filter” is easier for the extrovert, but can just as easily be employed by the introvert if they just live outside the box for a minute or two.  A related technique I employ that will yield similar results is the art of negotiating price.
  • Consider alternative products/services – This is a broad filter and can cover anything from buying store-brand items to deciding to scale down a home project.  Next time you are grocery shopping, skip the name brand products in favor of a few store brand options… chances are you’ll never notice the difference.  Is the purchase you are about to make necessary?  Is it the best purchase you can make for your situation?  Consider your needs, make sure to do some research on alternative options, then adjust your purchasing decisions accordingly.
  • Compare prices– Just yesterday I needed to scan a 5 page document into digital format.  I did not have the means to do this at work so I began calling around for prices.  Instead of just picking the first store I thought of — FedEx Kinko’s — I kept digging for a better deal.
    1. Kinko’s = $0.99/page
    2. OfficeMax = $0.25/page
    3. My sister’s office next door = $0.00/page

    In the end I chose option number three and saved as much as $5.  Not too shabby eh?

  • Be productive instead of spending – Next time your friends are going out to overindulge in whatever… take a rain check and choose to go home and work on your goals and passions.  Sure, going out to eat with friends is fun, but sometimes it can be a waste of both time and money.  This determination will be unique for each of us, but once we clearly define “time well spent” it will be a powerful agent for change in our financial lives.  This concept will help save you money, accomplish more, and achieve goals more quickly.
  • Use a spending ledger – Simple record keeping fosters personal accountability that simply does not exist otherwise.  Going through the exercise of tracking every purchase will instantly help you curb extraneous spending. This is one of our newly adopted  financial practices that I mentioned above.  It all started by keeping a grocery ledger and has now morphed into spending ledgers for both me and my wife.  We continue to keep a grocery ledger — and most likely always will — but now each of us keeps a personal ledger that we use to track any personal spending that does not already have a fixed monthly amount in our budget.  For example, we track daily spending for gas, misc., irregular expenses, variable expenses and anything else that could cause an unforeseen “spending leak.”

Sound overwhelming?

Start by using just a couple of these filters.  I recommend you start with the first and the last bullet points — successfully implementing these into your life will help breed the others into existence.

Also remember that not all of these example are going to be a perfect fit for everyone in every situation, so take them and make them your own.  Just remember…

Thinking through each purchase WILL save you a lot of money.

photo credit to adamadam

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1 Tasha

I don’t think I have commented here before now, but I wanted to say I really enjoy reading your blog and learning new ways to be financially responsible. I’ve spent far too many years being irresponsible with our money, and now I need to correct this issue in our lives.

What a great post. I will have to keep these filters in mind and start incorporating them into our daily lives.

Thank you again!

2 Matt Jabs

Awesome Tasha! I’m glad you ended up here and I’m really happy to know that my experiences could be helpful to you. Please come back often and remember to use these filters throughout your day.

3 Miranda

Another spending filter I use is this: Will I still want it in a couple of months? Then I figure out a plan to save up for it so I can pay with money I actually have for the purpose. If I change my mind in a couple of months, then I have some money that I can use for something else — or that I can invest in some way.

4 Matt Jabs

This concept is incredibly important too! Firstly because you are saving for what you want. Secondly, because you are providing yourself a window of time to truly consider whether or not you truly NEED or want the purchase. Bravo.

5 Peter

Love the idea of a spending filter. I use my filters all the time, for example when i just bought my new TV. I asked myself if I was getting a good deal, if I could get further discounts, how else I could save, whether we really needed the TV, etc. In the end because I sent my decision through my own set of filters we ended up saving almost $500.

Great post!

6 Paul @ FiscalGeek

I also ask myself, can I spend about 20+ hours making it myself for “cheaper?” Maybe I should use some of your filters :-).

7 David@DINKS Finance

Yeah it does sound overwhelming! I usually use a couple of the filters you described. Sometimes I overdo the “Be productive instead of spending” at times because I always think about what I COULD be doing instead of sitting around just hanging out.

8 Matt Jabs

The filter to “be productive instead of spending” was one that my wife suggested. It is a concept that is new to me, but has been incredibly useful since I started using it (over 8 months ago now.)

9 Kevin@OutOfYourRut

The “3.My sister’s office next door = $0.00/page” makes me think about adding “check with a friend” to the list! Before you buy anything that you only use occasionally, see if anyone you know already has it, so you don’t have to go out and buy it.

That might be the start of an informal barter club!

Good post Matt!

10 Matt Jabs

Great point Kevin!

11 Save Money Hound

I like the needs vs wants filter. Running your potential purchase through this filter usually results in most purchases not being a need. The question then is how badly you want something.

Shopping around to save a few cents is not always worth the time involved.
So getting good value at a reasonable price for what you are looking for is usually my general approach. I also like to purchase good quality products that last longer.

12 Matt Jabs

Purchasing quality is one of my musts Mr. Hound… thanks for bringing it up. I figure it’s better to be like Albert Einstein and only wear one quality pair of pants rather than be a mannequin for tons of low quality Old Navy type clothing. 😉

13 kenyantykoon

filters. i like the sound of that. i have been using them for some time now and take it from me they work only if you border on the ascetic. its hard at first particularly if you have bad spending habits but gaining control of them is highly rewarding. great post. i should retweet it

14 Veronica

I need to print the general principles on a wallet-sized laminated card to remind myself of these tips each time I reach into my wallet!

In regard to the asking for a discount – I’ve got a saying that helps me through those awkward situations: “The worst they can say is no!”.

Thanks for the tips, Matt.


15 Matt Jabs

Ha ha, I should create that small wallet sized .pdf version of these tips & attach it to this post! 🙂

Thanks for stopping by V.

16 Jason @ One Money Design

Another filter can be limiting what we read, where we go, etc. I’ve found this to be key, if trying to control spending. Avoiding the malls and reading certain media limits potential wants from dangling before our eyes.

17 Matt Jabs

Oh man, I can’t believe I didn’t list that in there! I don’t watch TV, and don’t listen to the radio while in the car because I cannot stand the constant bombardment of commercial material… so my media exposure is very, very low – and I KNOW this is also a positive filter.

Great point Jason, thanks.

18 Kristy

Just wanted to say what a great post! And thank you for saying out loud what I’ve been thinking for years about going out with friends! Using up an entire evening and spending $25 isn’t always relaxing or fun. Sometimes it is, but a lot of times, it is not :).

19 Matt Jabs

Exactly Kristy… we need to shine like a light and be a good fiscal example for those close to us – also, using the time and resources to create your own opportunities instead is very powerful! 🙂

20 Abby

Thanks for this article! I wanted to share a great example of how Considering Alternates is working for us. My husband I both work outside the home and raise two small children. We barely have enough time for our family, much less cleaning the house, etc. He kept suggesting we hire a housekeeping service, but I balked at the $125 and up weekly price tag. Yes, we could afford it. But only by giving up other goals, and that didn’t appeal.

After much debate, I landed on an alternate. We now pay a local high school student to come play with our kids for a few hours on the weekends. This gives both of us designated time to do everything from routine housework to odds jobs. One of us can even run an errand while the other remains within earshot.

It’s also a better alternative because while the housekeeping service would’ve cleaned the floors, there are plenty of weeks when I can live with a little dirt, but really need to sit down and deal with paperwork for my older child’s school or clean out the closets for the upcoming season.

Best of all? Paying a housekeeper in cash can raise ethical issues. Handing $25 to my neighbor’s daughter a few times a month? It’s just pure feel good -and- my neighbor is thrilled that her daughter is learning responsibility and money management.

21 Matt Jabs

Another awesome story! Thanks for sharing Abby… it is amazing how the smallest decisions, made all throughout the day, can add up to very large change! Way to go, very inspirational!

22 Monevator

“Be productive instead of spending” – Right on the money Matt.

When I have friends in debt, I tell them to get second jobs. If they do they’re then too busy and tired to go shopping, and the extra income can pay down debt.

The pain of working 70 hours a week burns on to the brain better than a consolidation loan or help from a partner or a parent, too.

I know it sounds tough, but it works. And you can sometimes get a second job somewhere sociable so you don’t miss out on Friday nights, you’re just on the other side of the bar! 🙂

23 Matt Jabs

getting an additional job can be a solid option, but may times the cost spent on resources and taxes, etc can outweigh the benefits and they only end up making 60% or less of what they earn. If we can get people to cut costs, they earn 100% of every dollar saved.

24 Adam@RabbitFunds

Love the post! I have found that a spouse is often the best spending filter. Because of the emotion involved in making a purchase, I often need her (or vice versa) to ask those important questions since I’m blinded. Usually if I can walk away from something that I really want for a few hours, I can think rationally and ask those questions. Yet another reason to avoid making purchases in the moment but rather stick to planned purchases.

25 Matt Jabs

Ahhh yes… a spouse plays such a crucial and integral role in securing financial stability in our lives. Having a spouse “on board” can make or break even the best financial plans!

Thanks for stopping by Adam.

26 FrugalNYC

I think I have some built-in spending filters! 😉
Good article and very well put.

27 wb

I’ve generally practiced these except for “asking for a discount” and “keeping a ledger.” I have been blessed with a good income thanks to “be productive instead of spending” and didn’t think I needed to closely track my spending.

Then I created a Mint.com account that tracks all of my checking, credit card, savings, loans and investments. Suddenly those dollars I didn’t miss were there in black and white and green each day. I couldn’t ignore the fact I had several subscriptions I never used, was incurring needless bank fees, etc. I immediately cut about $100 a month worth of mindless expenses.

Mint.com is so automated that it eliminated any hassle I felt with checking all of my accounts. I moved my savings to accounts with better interest. I check Mint.com each day and spotted credit card fraud within hours rather than weeks.

I’d say I’ve saved/earned thousands of dollars in the past year due to just “keeping a ledger.”

28 Matt Jabs

It’s amazing isn’t it. I thought I had a really good handle on my spending habits too, but the starting the spending ledger opened my eyes and has helped make me that much more disciplined!

The simple and relatively unpopular practice of keeping a regular spending ledger is a powerful idea that makes a world of difference.

29 Kantoorpand kantoorruimte

Shopping around to save a few cents is not always worth the time involved.
So getting good value at a reasonable price for what you are looking for is usually my general approach. I also like to purchase good quality products that last longer.

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