How Banishing the Words 'It's Only' Will Save me Over $1,000 in 2024

Most of us fall into the “it’s only” spending trap once in a while. It might be that you need cash and there are no in-network ATMs nearby. You think, “It’s only $4 to use the one right in front of me.” Or there’s a half-price discount trial period on a subscription service that’ll “only” cost you $6 a month. Or the barista in a coffee shop offers you a chocolate brownie and you think, “It’s only a couple of dollars.”

Don’t panic, this is not going to be another article that tells you to skip the store-bought coffee (or even the brownie). It’s about how the words “it’s only” can derail your personal finances, sometimes without you even noticing it.

My small purchases added up to over $1,000 in 2023

Last year did not go to plan for me. Some big life changes upended my financial plans, and I felt like I spent most of the year in crisis mode. It happens. One consequence was that I took my eye off the ball financially. When I reviewed my spending, I saw how much I’d spent on small purchases, in part because I was running just to stand still.

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This year, I set out to be more conscious about my spending. I wanted to understand my habits and the thinking patterns that cause me to waste money. I realized that I frequently use the words “it’s only” when I spend money unnecessarily.

My “it’s only” traps are things like a chocolate bar here, a slightly more expensive bottle of wine because it’s on offer, takeouts, grocery delivery, pre-made food, an Uber or three…the list goes on. None of them are bad in and of themselves. But I spent about $20 a week on little extras that I didn’t really need and that didn’t add much to my life. If I’d saved that $20 a week, I’d have an extra $1,000 in my bank account right now.

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I’m not going to cut out all the costs listed above in 2024. It’s just that when I treat myself or pay for delivery, it will be a conscious decision. I have a budget, and it includes money for things that give me joy. Now, when I catch myself thinking “it’s only,” I stop and ask myself if this is something I want and am willing to spend my fun money on.

How to avoid regretting your small purchases

There are many reasons people put off making a budget. It might be because they aren’t sure where to start, they don’t enjoy tracking their spending, or they don’t want to change their spending habits. Perhaps there’s too much else going on and budgeting always gets pushed to another day.

All those are understandable. Even so, the best way to avoid money regrets is to know how much you can spend on different parts of your life. Consider a broad money system like the 50-30-20 budget, where you put 50% of your income toward essentials like housing and utilities, 30% toward the fun stuff, and 20% toward savings and investments. If you aren’t a fan of spreadsheets, test drive a few budgeting apps to see which ones work for you.

Here are a few moves that can help you keep your spending on track.

  • Practice mindful spending: Cutting back on unnecessary spending means you’ll have more money for the things that matter to you. For example, I love jewelry making. Last year, I couldn’t buy the tools I wanted because I’d spent that money on things I didn’t really care about.
  • Set up automatic transfers: I was initially reluctant to set up automatic monthly transfers to my savings and investments because I get nervous about accidentally overdrawing my checking account. The flip side is that once that money’s gone into my investment account without any action on my part, it’s gone. I can’t spend it on unnecessary purchases or forget to make the transfer.
  • Use different accounts: Multiple checking or savings accounts can make it easier to manage your money — especially if you’ve allocated a percentage of your income to different categories. For example, you might have one account for your spending money, one for essential bills, a savings account for your emergency fund, and another for your vacation savings.

Key takeaway

We all have unhelpful ways of thinking that can upset our financial plans. Identifying them and implementing strategies to overcome them differently can be a powerful tool. This year, when I catch myself thinking, “It’s only $5,” I’ll change my tune. Instead, I’ll tell myself, “That $5 could add up to $1,000 this year.” And I already know what I want to do with that $1,000.

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