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Cut The Crap

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Oh yeah. I went there.
Oh yeah. I went there.

 

As I was writing my post about income for the Ultimate Budget Series, I started to think about why people need more and more income to “just get by”. There seems to be a common agreement among those who are struggling with money that their problems would be solved with just a little (or a lot) more money. It’s the same old refrain of “If I just had a better job”, or “If I won the lottery”, or “If I could just get that raiseโ€ฆ” and this mindset is what is keeping middle class America broke (you can read what I mean by the word “broke” here). I don’t know if it a fear of responsibility, or just plain ignorance, but the last thing on their mind is to look at their own financial situation as ask the question, “Is there anything I could do differently to improve this?”

Figure Out What You Care About

I’ve written about this before in a much nicer fashion, but sometimes your finances need a jump start with a good ol’ fashioned slap in the face! And if you find yourself constantly struggling with getting through the month, but you don’t know exactly where all your money is going, you probably have a spending problem, not an earning problem. And most likely you have a budget leakier than the NSA (ZING!).

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you actually care about in life. Write down all those things you care about, and set that list to the side. If you’re having trouble figuring out what you care about, then you may have some soul searching to do, and should probably take a long walk and get to the bottom of what is really important to you. You MUST have some sort of priorities list before you can EVER improve your finances in a meaningful way, because you can’t tell your money where to go if you don’t know where you want to send it.

I Bet You $10

The motto here is “Just because you make money, doesn’t mean you know what to do with it”. And for those who constantly feel the need for more money, I bet you $10 that you spend money every month on crap you don’t care about. Seriously. If you wrote down everything you spent last month, I bet that you spent more money than you care to talk about on random junk that isn’t important to you at all! How do I know this? Because that was me 5 years ago.

When I first started tracking my income, I saw that I had spent over $600 on mall food in just one month. Now, we all need food to live, but I had already spent up enough food money at home to live on for the month, so the mall food was all extra. Is this because I have an overwhelming love for the shopping centers of America, culminating in an outpouring of cash to keep the food court afloat single-handedly? Hardly. Mostly, I was just being lazy and stupid with my money (and health!), and I didn’t want to be inconvenienced.

So I kept spending and spending on mall food, because it was so easy, and if I just ignored it, I didn’t feel the pain of how much I actually wasted. Once I saw it on paper, though, I realized I was ridiculously wasteful, and that I needed to stop that terribly expensive habit. Mall food wasn’t even in my top 100 “things that are important to me”, so I quickly removed it from my budget, planned just a little more for meals, and eliminated a $600 vice, just like that. And the key to the whole thing was finding out what was important to me. In that instance, it was getting married, and saving every penny for the wedding/honeymoon.

Cut The Crap

Remember the list of priorities I had you write down earlier? (just look up). Good. Now, look through all of last month’s spending, and beside every transaction, write down which priority that transaction falls under. If it isn’t one of your priorities, just label it “CRAP“. Once you get through the entire list, you will now see all of the unnecessary and wasteful spending that happened last month. It’s easy to find, just look for all the “CRAP” in your budget ๐Ÿ™‚

How much money on crap that you don’t actually care about did you spend last month? $10? $50? More? Back in my day, I was spending the $600 just on mall food, not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of dollars on other junk I didn’t need (extra clothing, electronics, DVD’s and CD’s, etcโ€ฆ). Once I had my priorities in front of my face (my fiancรฉ), I quickly went through and cut ALL of the crap out of my spending, which freed up a TON of cash flow.

Now, I could have whined and complained that I was undervalued at work, and if I just made $2 more an hour, I would have enough money. I could have pointed fingers and blamed and moaned and bellyached until my face turned blue. I could have talked about how it was impossible to get ahead and how there was no way I could save anything unless someone stepped in and gave me what I deserved (BARF!), but I did not do those things. Instead, I looked at what I had control of (my spending), I made some tough choices and cut my budget down to only the stuff I cared about. And you know what? I saved a few thousand dollars in a few months to help pay for my own wedding and honeymoon, and it. felt. awesome!

Why Keep Wasting?

So this is my question to you. Why keep wasting money on stuff you don’t even give a crap about? Why throw hundreds a month down to drain to feed your addiction to convenience? How about you realize that you are not a victim, but have the power to change you financial future by cutting the crap, and start putting your money toward what you really care about in life. Be honest with yourself here, realize that you have made some financial mistakes (I know I have!), and move on. Once you cut the crap, there’s a much brighter future ahead, and I think you’ll enjoy it ๐Ÿ™‚

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites.ย 
Heโ€™s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

50 thoughts on “Cut The Crap”

  1. Hey Jacob, GREAT post! I too, was in a similar situation a few years ago, and I thought that I never made enough money until I took a hard look at where my money was going.

    I agree too many people spend mindlessly on things that are not important, and if they just took time to examine their finances and focus on the important items they would be in a better place.

    It’s not easy, but nothing that is worth doing ever came easy. Thanks again for sharing!

    Reply
    • Thanks Gary. It really is a shame to see people struggling who don’t have to. I try to shed light on problems in a nice way, but sometimes just have to light a fire to get any attention ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  2. Awesome post Jacob. Nicely done and I agree with you here. People need to understand that money is just a tool. It is all in how you use it. While having more of it would make life easier for some, really the reality is that more money usually just causes people to spend more. They are not using the money in the appropriate manner.

    Reply
    • As Dave Ramsey used to say “Having more money just means your financial mistakes have more 0’s on the end of them!” It’s so true, more money doesn’t fix bad spending habits.

      Reply
  3. Wow, a true slap to my financial face. I agree with you that the complaining about a raise is very common, I do it all the time, and I hear my coworkers do it all the time. The truth is that instead of asking for more money, we should be asking for how to spend less. Great post.

    Reply
    • Thanks Francieidy. I’m glad I could call out some of the misnomers that seem to be rampant in the corporate world. More money doesn’t fix you, YOU fix you. It’s like aiming a fire hose at the wrong house. More water isn’t going to put the fire out, redirecting the hose will.

      Reply
  4. Slap us up, Jacob! We all need it. I’ve encouraged by some of this advice and will be taking a deep dive into my own personal expenses pretty soon here. There’s a lot of things in there I’m sure I could do without.

    Reply
    • I like to do a monthly check-up to see where I have wasted money, and try to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again. I truly hate waste, so this exercise is a great way to spell it out plainly where I am throwing money away. Hope it can do the same for you!

      Reply
  5. I got a lot more conscious about spending after I read Your Money or Your Life. I think people (myself included) don’t always realize how little crap adds up to big spending over time. People think, “ah what’s one latte?” but one adds to two and so on…it’s a good reminder!

    Reply
    • I need to get that on my reading list. I had a similar reaction to Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover”. Learned to take responsibility for my financial decisions and tell my money where to go. Been at it ever since!

      Reply
    • The trifecta of financial winning, huh? ๐Ÿ™‚ It would be nice, but focusing on the things we CAN control will net us bugger returns than anything else, guaranteed! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  6. I think we just get into bad habits like buying lunch or shopping for things you don’t really need just want. It take a conscious effort to break a bad habit or create a better habit.

    Reply
    • And I think the key to breaking a bad habit is exposing it for what it really is! By writing “crap” next to each line item that is a waste, there’s no lying to yourself about your wasted money. There’s just reality, and a decision to be made about what you are going to do about it ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  7. Most people do need to cut the crap rather than just make more money. I’ve done a pretty good job of cutting the crap although there is always room for improvement. Making more money is what I really need to do though.

    Reply
  8. Well said. Throwing more money at a problem doesn’t solve the problem, it just makes it a more expensive problem. Learning to live on what I make (and better yet being happy with that lifestyle) was pretty hard at first (compared to living a life I couldn’t afford). Now I’ve realized that I’d much rather live my life than pretend to be someone or something I’m not.

    Reply
  9. We have a dear friend of ours who lives pay to pay and can hardly make ends meet. She complains about gas to and from work and not making enough money BUT she has up to 3 extra-large coffees per day and she smokes. Now I know smoking is a hard habit to kick,I did it myself, but she has no inclination to do so.At one pack a day we hope one day she will consider it. Those 2 habits alone cost her a fortune not to mention the fast food she buys with the coffee from time to time. The good part is that she is brilliant at cooking a meal every night.We can’t change the world but people can change their habits by taking a look at where their money is going and like you say, cut the crap. If there is no crap to cut.. the alternatives are make more or spend less somehow. Great post mate

    Reply
  10. Great stuff here. I couldn’t agree more that the very first step towards good financial habits is identifying the things that truly matter to you. Money is just a tool, nothing more, and its usefulness comes from allowing us to enjoy life, whatever that means for each of us individually. If we’re not using it for that purpose, then what’s the point?

    Reply
  11. When I was a kid I used to work at a drugstore in a smalk town where we wouls accept utility and bill payments (power, water and phone bills) I wouldbwatch people come in with $500 power bills, past bue balances, put $50 on the bill and drop another $50 on Lotto tix and pop. Kills me.

    Reply
  12. At this point, we really do need more income ๐Ÿ™‚ We have done everything we could to cut our expenses to the bone. Of course, it comes down to choices. The ONLY place we can cut is our charity, which we choose not to do. So more income team it is for us…

    Reply
  13. What an incredibly refreshing post, Jacob – thank you! I think a huge problem here in America is that people just don’t think they should have to tell themselves “no”! They “deserve” to have whatever they want, whenever they want. It’s such a deceitful mindset though, isn’t it?

    Reply
    • We say our values are one thing, but our wallet says otherwise. I’m just asking people to put their money where there mouth is ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
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  16. Excellent post. I think we all get attached to our crap and our convenience. We don’t want to re-evaluate our life because it means that we need to acknowledge our mistakes. But, you’re 100% right, we’ve all made mistakes – the big mistake is not acknowledging them and moving on.

    Reply
    • I like how Mr. Money Mustache says to “Mock convenience” because in our society, we need to look at how ridiculous we are sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
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  18. No matter how frugal you think you are, you can always find some CRAP to cut on your budget!

    I always used to think we were pretty darn frugal but when I started budgeting I was just looking at what we spent and not really bothered about how much it all was or trying to cut anything else out. As long as we didn’t go in the red I was pretty happy.

    Then I realised I could save money and invest it, to start down the path to financial freedom, and realised there was an absolute ton of crap still that could be cut out! We’re in a much better place now only after one year of this, so cannot agree more and emphasize how effective this practice can be

    Reply
    • Honestly, it’s an ongoing process. We still run this practice in our monthly budget meetings, as life changes and spending adjusts along with it. This year we are tackling our recurring expenses and utilities to see how low we can get everything! Hoping to shave $100 or so off our already SUPER lean budget.

      Reply
  19. Hi Jacob,
    You mentioned you had a list of at least 100 things that are important to you. Is this what you mean when you say to write down things that you care about, or a priority list? Do you really get that detailed? I ask because my priority list is/was very small (when I read through your budgeting series). So, for example, “friends” is on my list, but does that mean that every time I hang out with friends, I should justify going out to eat? I know the answer is No, but was just looking for some clarification or more detailed explanation of what you mean by a priority list, or list of things I care about. Should I get so detailed that I start having 100+ things on that list? What are your thoughts?

    Thanks,
    David

    Reply
    • Johnny, thanks for reaching out. Sorry, I was being a little facetious in the post, I don’t have a 100-item long list, more like 7-10. What I meant was that Mall Food was nowhere near the top of my list, not by a long shot ๐Ÿ™‚

      For priorities, use bigger buckets like “Family”, “Friends”, or “House”, and then as you make money decisions throughout the month, make sure whatever it is you’re putting your money toward fits WITHIN one of those categories.

      The goals are what help guide your financial decisions a bit more. Priorities give you a framework to work within, goals give you a plan. I hope that makes sense.

      So if you are out with “Friends”, you are doing something within your priority list, so don’t feel bad about money spent when with them, BUT, if you are in debt, you make wise financial choices when with them, such as suggesting a potluck instead of going out, or when going out, using a coupon or ordering less, because your “getting out of debt” goal is more important than how much you eat or drink when out with friends.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
      • Thanks, Jacob! Yeah, that really does help. I appreciate you getting back to me so quickly and for the explanation. I’ll have to check out my transactions during this last month and see how they measure up against my priorities.

        I’ve been really enjoying your blog and am currently making my way through it. Your getting back to me has made this all the more fun. Thanks so much for what you do; and keep doing the good things.

        Take care,
        David

        Reply

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