Yesterday, I was doing an interview with a newspaper when the interviewer asked me “What’s your single best tip for saving money?”
You would think this would be a “softball” question for me, something I should be able to answer with nearly-automatic ease, but it wasn’t. I paused for quite a while, then came up with a pretty ordinary tip.
After the interview, that singular question stuck in my mind.
What’s your single best tip for saving money?
What does that question really mean?
My first reaction was to offer up a basic platitude like “spend less than you earn,” but that’s not something you go out and do. That’s more of a state of mind, not something you can directly take action with.
On the other hand, I believe that “stop spending to impress other people” is essential advice, but again, it’s more of a change in mindset than a direct action one can take.
What I’m really looking for isn’t merely my best money saving tip, but something else…
What single action was the most effective in your life for saving money?
What one thing have you actually done or specific change have you actually made, in an effort to save money, that has been the most effective in your life?
After all, psychological tips like “stop spending to impress other people” are powerful, but when they’re coupled with direct action, they become transformative.
For me, the single action that has had the strongest positive effect on my spending over the last few years has been discovering my public library.
Before I began to turn my financial life around, I used to spend tons of money on books and DVDs. I would often stop at the bookstore two or three times a week, I’d buy more books off of Amazon. Reading was a deeply fundamental part of my life, just as it is now.
When things started to turn around for me, I knew that my reading hobby was one that I’d really have to get under control. I also had a very negative impression of public libraries – in my mind, they were smelly places with poor book selections, and even if they did have your book, it would be beat up and almost disgusting to the touch.
That image, happily, was largely untrue. I was very happy to discover the Ames Public Library, which not only has an amazing book selection, they also have a powerful interlibrary loan system and a great online reservation system, too. I can pick out the books I want to read online and stop by and pick them up when it’s convenient for me.
The library – and I’m now member of several local ones – has saved me a tremendous amount of money over the last few years. Let’s say, hypothetically, it saved me the cost of two books a week (say, $20) the cost of storing those books – the shelves, the additional square footage, and so on.
That money seriously added up for me, and it’s drastically changed my spending over the last couple years. Saving $80 or so a month on an expensive book habit turns into $1,000 a year. Just on books.
So I turn the question to you: what single action was the most effective in your life for saving money? It might be something really momentous. It might be something seemingly small and trivial. Whatever it is, please share your tactic in the comments.