How Paying Attention Can Pay Off

How Paying Attention Can Pay Off - Butch on a Budget

Half of the battle when it comes to saving money is often just paying attention. To keep it short and simple, here’s a list of things you could do to save some cash if you spend a little extra time paying attention.

1. Checking your accounts for mistaken or double charges

I am always a proponent of tracking your spending. When it comes to trying to align your spending with your priorities, nothing can beat the awareness and familiarity tracking your spending gives you. Plus, it would be hard to consistently track your spending without naturally lowering your spending in some areas.

But checking your accounts regularly doesn’t just help with the awareness of your spending, it also lets you catch the times you didn’t spend even though your account is telling a different story (yikes).

Just in the past month alone, I noticed two instances where I was double charged for something on my card. Since I categorize my charges daily as they come in through my YNAB, I noticed fairly immediately and was able to get them refunded (one easily, and one with a little bit of effort).

2. Long-forgotten (or dormant) subscriptions

If you don’t regularly check in on your charges, odds are you have a subscription or two that charges you every month that you have either completely forgotten about or curse to yourself each month when you get the “payment processed” email. And then life goes on and you promptly ignore the unused subscription until the same scene repeats the following month.

It’s okay, we’ve all been there, but you too can escape the billing cycle.

If your mind immediately thought of a certain monthly fee when you read this one, I highly suggest you stop reading this now and go and cancel that subscription before it takes more of your hard-earned cash. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

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Back? Great! Now, where was I? Right, paying attention!

3. Watching your energy usage

One of my favorite stories about how paying attention saved us money happened around this time last year.

Cassie and I were holding out on turning on the heat to save on electricity and enjoy the short amount of cold weather we get here in Florida (it’s 72 degrees today, but last year we had a couple of cold spells that left us waking up to a house with an inside temperature from the high 40s to the low 50s). We’d put the flannel sheets on our bed, layer up in cozy clothes, and drink hot chocolate to stay warm for the few days of cold weather.

It had become a sort of game to see how low we could get our electric bill for the month, and our electric company has an online feature that lets you check out each day’s usage and see what your predicted bill is based on the average.

A graph depicting the daily breakdown of our energy usage in February.
This is the breakdown of our energy usage from one week in February 2020. We were out of town from 2/13-2/16.

We would check the site a few times a week and update each other with gloved high fives and shivering congratulations (that’s a joke, we were fine). We could see that we were averaging between $1 and $1.50 worth of electricity each day for our area’s rates.

Near the end of the month, we noticed our average was creeping up to $3, then $4, and then $5 and $6 each day despite the fact that we hadn’t been doing anything different. The first day I figured, “well we cooked a lot and did a couple of loads of laundry so maybe that’s why,” but when I saw it continue to go up, I knew something had to be off.

I ran around the house looking for a stadium light that we hadn’t noticed was plugged into the wall, but alas, could not find one.

After some quick research online, I realized the probable culprit was a slow leaking water heater. After inspecting our water heater (which is outside of our house) I found that to be true. I called my landlord and she had it replaced the next day.

If I hadn’t been paying attention and it took me a full month to find the leak, we would have ended up with an electric bill that pushed $350, instead of the $50 one we would have been expecting.

4. Knowing what your staples cost

Whether it’s dry goods at the grocery store or your favorite shampoo or deodorant, if you know the price of things that won’t go bad (and that you know you’ll be buying eventually anyway), you can recognize when they are on super sale and stock up at the low price.

Remember that the important thing here is that this is for items you regularly buy. Something is only a good deal if you were already planning to buy it even without the sale, otherwise, they’re just tricking you.

5. Checking for sneaky (and avoidable) service fees

I recently increased my deductible by a little bit on my car insurance in order to lower my payment a little, and in the process, I noticed that they were charging me an extra $1.50 every month because I had my autopay hooked up to my debit card rather than directly to my bank account.

This was a quick fix and ultimately saved me $18 over the next year. It’s not a treasure trove, sure, but hell, that’s two delicious burritos this year. Or if I invest that $1.50 every month for the next ten years, I could expect to be $261 richer.

Lots of companies have sneaky, added service charges like this and it’s worth spending a few minutes poking around to see if there’s a simple way to avoid them. Some checking and savings accounts may waive fees if you have direct deposit set up, and some subscriptions may reward you for using tools like two-factor authentication.

You also want to watch out for high fees when making your investment choices! But, that’s another article for another day.

Anyway, I hope you start to notice other areas where you can save with just a little bit more attention, and if you have any good examples leave them in the comments!

PS — The YNAB link is a referral link, which means that if you sign up for a subscription at the end of your free trial, I’ll get a bonus free month. I wouldn’t recommend YNAB if I weren’t enthusiastic about it, and I think you will be, too! You can sign up for your free trial of You Need a Budget here.

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