Making Small Sacrifices Count

November 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Spending

You hear and read a lot of debate about the value in making small sacrifices in your spending. Many habitual spenders resist the call to cut out their discretionary purchases of small items, e.g., that morning latte’ or lunchtime meal out. It’s part of their enjoyment of life, they say, and the costs are insignificant compared to their finances as a whole. To them, not having that daily treat is more than saving money – it’s sacrificing something of value.

There is some merit to that position. But perhaps it’s mostly superficial. Maybe there is a benefit to be obtained from the small sacrifices, a benefit that can exceed what is perceived to be lost.

The key to finding out is making those small sacrifices count.

Let me give you an example.

I was driving back from a client meeting on Friday and happened to tune in to the Dave Ramsey Show. A caller was complaining to Dave about their family budget. They couldn’t save and often lived paycheck-to-paycheck or worse. The caller said that she had eliminated a few small expenditures from her personal spending. She had stopped buying coffee on the way to work and was brown-bagging her lunch. The problem was that her husband was not on the same program. He was big-time into the “latter factor,” showing no hesitation in spending money on frequent snacks and meals purchased at restaurants, drive-thru’s, and vending machines. She could mentally picture every dollar she saved from her small sacrifices being piddled away by her husband. (I could mentally picture a husband walking around with an extra fifty-pounds or more around his gut, which I used to do.)

I can understand why that would bother her. It would bother me.

But does that mean she should give up?

I don’t think so.

I have a simple idea for how to convert those small sacrifices into important ones and perhaps get hubby on board at the same time.

1. Make the small sacrifices visible. To do this, I would create a cash fund representing the little things that I would have enjoyed (briefly) buying but chose not to. Each time I passed that Starbucks or said “no thanks, I brought my lunch”, I would stuff the cash I didn’t spend into that fund. That fund would be visible to me and to others in the household whom I thought could be positively influenced by my sacrifices. Maybe the “small sacrifice fund” is stored in a large, clear bottle or jug on the kitchen counter. Over time, it gets filled with dollar bills (for the coffee I didn’t buy) and five dollar bills (for each drive-thru I bypassed or workday lunch I brown-bagged).

As that bottle turns green with cash, the people that you are trying to influence will notice. More important, you will notice. You will see a real, positive correlation between your small sacrifices and cash accumulation.

2. Make the small sacrifices pay-off. Visibility is nice but you also need a payoff from your non-spending. What happens to that “small sacrifices” cash? There are several approaches you can take to achieving a satisfactory pay-off on your small financial sacrifices. To me, the best motivator is to start with a specific goal.

Before you start dropping cash into the “small sacrifices” jar, have something in mind that you will spend that cash on.  This can be to save for something special or to pay your cable bill – anything that will allow you to appreciate why the small sacrifices count and to give you the satisfaction of success. In fact, you could write that goal each month on the side of the jar in very large letters. (Just leave enough visible area so you can watch that growing green mound of cash!)

I did something analogous to this in 2008 when I wanted to lose weight. I used my steady measurement of dropping weight as a proxy for the money I was saving from bringing my lunch every day. I even wrote about the money I saved while dropping that weight as a guest post at Lazy Man and Health.

Trust me, if you do it right, the small sacrifices do count. Don’t let the unmotivated naysayers tell you otherwise.

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10 Responses to “Making Small Sacrifices Count”
  1. MasterPo says:

    If they really are in such a financial squeeze and she can’t get her hubby on the same page then they have much deeper problems as a married couple.

    IMO she doesn’t want to cause an argument. Bad move. This is something worth arguing over.

    ps- So when is *government* going to make “small sacrafices”? They seem to act more like this woman’s husband. :-(

  2. Snowy Heron says:

    I agree with MasterPo – if she and hubby aren’t on the same page, then they have bigger problems than just spending money. And I would also say that making the small sacrifices more visible can just cause the hubby to think he has that money to spend. Just not a good scene at all. She either needs to have a lot more serious conversations with hubby about his spending habits, not confrontational, just forthright and to the point, or the two of them need to see a marriage counselor, or she needs a divorce attorney. If he doesn’t learn to spend his money wisely, eventually it will cause the family big problems, so figure out what is the ultimate solution.

  3. cjbr549 says:

    Hey MasterPo, the government does make “small sacrifices” to save your tax money. Remember the millions that were saved by copying on both sides of the paper? Of course those small savings are like .0000000000000001% of total expenditure so they aren’t noticeable.

    I think the small sacrifices idea of savings is good if you can get into the habit of it, but living below your means starts with the big expenditures: house, transportation and technology. These are the areas that can easily take up 50% or more of a person’s budget. I grew up so poor that I was 14 before I found out that you could eat more of a chicken than just the neck, so I have actively resisted buying a house bigger than I actually need. We have bought a couple of new cars (we probably won’t again) but we tend to drive them until they are ready for the scrap yard. My wife is from a family that was better off than mine was, but she went through the college years with me and now appreciates not eating ramen noodles and beanie weenies (she was too stubborn to take money from them). Our resistance to temptation to buy an expensive (read large) house and trade our car every other year allows us to stop at Starbucks if we want or eat out.

  4. MasterPo says:

    CJ- That’s a joke, right?

    Saving a couple of million on photocopies when the Federal deficit is $12 TRILLION is like putting acne cream on a shot gun wound!

    And just how much of a “sacrafice” was it really to have to read both sides of a paper instead of one???

    I hope you were being sarcastic…

  5. cjbr549 says:

    In the imortal words of Foghorn Leghorn “That was a joke, son”….

  6. Rick Beagle says:


    Supporting two wars and the Bush tax cuts while bemoaning the Federal Deficit puts you firmly in the corner with this husband. Time to withdraw from two wars that we can’t afford, reinstate our revenue stream and then rethink our expenditures. Much like the couple above.

    Rick Beagle

  7. MasterPo says:

    Two wars that kept my family and yours SAFE for 7 years. Always remember that my friend.

    As for the tax cuts, just wait until the latter half of 2010 when the reality of the sunsetting cuts sinks in on people and business. Double dip? Try double crash!

    And this one takes the cake!

    Quote “reinstate our revenue stream” – ROTFLMAO!!!!

    Where in Heaven’s name will this “reinstate[ed] revenue stream” come from? In case you haven’t noticed we have 10.2% unemployment and rising!! You yourself said your own state’s unemp is 16-17%!!

    Do you *seriously* THINK high paying jobs are going to be created by RAISING taxes?! Can you (or anyone!) give me an example of how significant and lasting high paying jobs have EVER been created by tax increases?!?!?!

    Just *THINK* for once: 10.2% unemployment. Just to get that number down to 7.8% where it was when Obama PROMISED back in February (I’ve posted the link to his promise made in the Washington Post on 2/9/09 here before) imagine aaaaallllll the jobs that would have to be crerated – never happen in 1 year!!!! ESPECIALLY with a looming tax increase!

    And don’t forget the lovely tax increases from Obamacare, cap&trade, VAT, etc etc.

    Oh yea. A really strong and fertile environment for high-paying job growth to reinstate a revenue stream!!

    ps- Just to let you in on a little news: Revenue does NOT belong to the government! It belongs to ME and YOU who *EARN IT*!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    pps- Why don’t you lead by example? Take up my offer from months ago and send a check to the U.S. Treasury right now!! It’s all for a good cause, right?

  8. Rick Beagle says:

    “Two wars that kept my family and yours SAFE for 7 years. Always remember that my friend.”
    “Where in Heaven’s name will this “reinstate[ed] revenue stream” come from?”

    Wow. Way to fail.

  9. MasterPo says:

    So tell me, how’s all that ‘hope’ and ‘change’ working out for you so far?

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