Being Good With Money is More Than Simply Spending Less – Insights from Tracking 3 Years of Spending

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For years, I have struggled to change my spending habits. 

I tried many times to fill those savings buckets. Cutting back on things I had grown to enjoy was always a challenge.

But in 2017, something finally clicked. I suddenly felt this strong urge to take control of my money and, in turn, my life. 

Ever since I’ve been slowly chipping away at my spending. 

It’s been a journey. 

And thanks to YNAB (budgeting software), when 2019 came to a close, I had three years of spending data to help tell the story of this journey. 

It was beyond exciting. I could not wait to see what categories I spent less in over the years and share my savings strategies with others. 

But as I was wading through 1095 days of spending, I began to realize that highlighting the individual tactics I used to reduce my spending wasn’t the full story I wanted to tell.

There was more beyond finding ways to cut spending that helped me feel good about my finances. And that is the story I really wanted to share.

With that said, I do believe it’s helpful for others to see the details of how someone cut back on their spending.

I’ll share my spending data over the past three years and the tactics I used to reduce my expenses.

But what I’m really excited about is sharing the insight I gained by truly understanding my new approach to money, and how it lead me to spend less. 

Three Years of Spending Data

2017 was a year of transformation formation for me. I was newly single and ready to take on the world.  

It was also the year I became motivated to improve my finances and started my journey to financial independence. With this newly-formed vision in sight, I started to track my expenses and cut back on my spending.

And slowly but surely my spending decreased, which gave me more money to commit to new priorities. 

Spending over the years

The Spending Details

Notes for transparency:  

  • Income increased by a 2-3% cost of living raise from my employer each year
  • 2018 Increase in Home Ownership due to making extra payments to remove private mortgage insurance and 2019 increase due to air conditioning/furnace repairs
  • $4,200 of 2017 medical due to Lasik surgery
  • 2018 Transportation increase due to purchasing a new car. Decrease in 2019 due to low fuel costs and minimal car maintenance costs


How I Reduced My Spending

As you can see, there were several categories where I spent less over the years.

Below you’ll see how much less in each category I spent from 2017 to 2019 and what I did to help bring that spending down. 

Monthly Bills

Spent $1,924 less

Monthly bills include cell phone, internet, subscriptions, water, gas/electric.

Saving Tactics:

  • Switched to a prepaid cell phone plan with Verizon 
  • Didn’t purchase the latest and greatest cell phone (this used to be a weakness of mine)
  • Negotiated lower internet rate (this has since gone up again)

Note:  The majority of the savings in this category is due to Mr. Taco and I sharing these expenses starting in October 2018. 


Spent $2,000 less 

This category includes all groceries and household supplies such as dish soap, garbage bags and light bulbs.  

Saving Tactics:

  • Started making more meals from scratch at home
  • Stopped buying take-out several times a week (The spending data shows that I may have had a slight pizza addiction in 2017)
  • Starting shopping at lower-cost grocery stores such as ALDI more often

Spending Money/Dining Out

Spent $2,405 less

Saving Tactics:

  • When dining out during the week, find happy hour deals 
  • When out, only have a drink if I want to have a drink, not just because I’m out with friends or at a bar
  • Find low cost date night ideas such as free museum nights or free live music


Spent $1,394 less 

I have been travel hacking with credit cards for several years before 2017, so I can’t attribute the savings to just using credit card points. But I won’t deny that travel hacking has helped me keep vacation costs down every year. 

Saving Tactics:

  • Find lower-cost vacation options like taking road trips and visiting national and state parks
  • Cut down on food costs by staying at Airbnbs with a kitchen and making our own food some of the time, and by staying at hotels with free breakfast

Personal Care

Spent $1,058 less 

Personal care includes clothing, salon visits, and gym memberships

Saving Tactics:

  • Started cleaning the yoga studio in exchange for unlimited yoga
  • Reduced non-hair salon appointments
  • Paid for gym membership for entire year, instead of monthly

How much did I trim from my spending in just two years’ time?

By making a few small, conscious changes I spent $8,781 less in 2019 than in 2017. 

Note: The first graph in the article shows I spent about $13,000 less in 2019 than in 2017. That is because in 2017 I spent $4,200 on Lasik. The surgery should pay for itself in 5 years since I will no longer be buying contacts and glasses, so I chose not to include that expense in my overall savings noted above.  

As you can see,  there is nothing I did that was earth-shattering here. There wasn’t one particular thing that helped me save a ton of money. It was a bunch of little intentional changes that turned into habits and started to add up. 

And even though all of these tactics helped me to actually spend less money, it’s really not the whole story. 

Improving your finances is More Than Savings Strategies

Yes, figuring out where I could cut back in order to spend less played a role in my feeling in control of my money. But those tactics alone weren’t the reason I cut my spending by nearly $9,000 in two years.

My spending habits changed because I decided I wanted my money to take on a different role. I wanted it to do more for me.

Instead of my money being something that simply came in and out of my life, I wanted it to help me create a life that I love.

And in order for my money to help me create a life I love, I had to start spending it intentionally. 

I had to make an effort to figure out what was important to me and then allocate my money appropriately. 

This was taking control of money.

Sounds like an easy task doesn’t it?  

It was, at first, but then it got tricky.

Related Post: Take Control of Your Money: What it Means and How to Get Started

Determine Priorities

Figuring out what my priorities were was the easy part.

I wanted to improve my financial stability.

I wanted to work towards financial independence in order to create new possibilities for my current life and the future.

I wanted to spend every one of my vacation days exploring the world, not running errands or watching TV on the couch.

I wanted to spend time hanging out with friends and family.

I wanted to go to my favorite gym.

I wanted to go to that fancy restaurant.

The list goes on and on. 

There were a lot of things that were important to me. 

But now came the difficult part—figuring out how to balance all of these wants and allocate money to try to fulfill them.

Finding a Balance

Finding a balance is the hard and frustrating part of personal finance. 

Our money is limited, which means every spending/saving choice we make has a trade-off. 

We can’t have it all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do our best with what we have. 

Accepting this truth helped me cut out what I considered “fluff” from my spending—things that weren’t a priority to me. 

And by cutting out my own spending fluff, I could make sure my money was allocated to things that were true priority for me. 

My money was no longer flowing in and out of my life without much thought.

It was now intentionally helping me create a life I loved by aligning with my priorities.

Intentionality is What Improved My Finances  

This is the real story that my reduction in spending  tells.

I spent less money because I intentionally used my money for my current priorities. And those priorities just so happened to include things that required me to save money instead of spend it.

Someday things may change. I may find that my spending increased because my priority was going on a trip to Japan or buying a campervan.  Only time will tell.  

You Got This

If you want to be good with money, the key isn’t to find the best hacks to spend less money. The key is to be intentional with the money that you have. 

And being intentional means that you simply use your money for things that are important to you. 

In doing so, you will create the best life you can with what you have, whether this means spending less money or not. 

In the end, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend or save, what matters is that you are proud of how you choose to do with that money.

That’s what makes you good at money. 

If you are looking to start being intentional with your money and need a guide to get you started, check out How to Finally Start Meeting Your Savings Goals: A 5-step Plan

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Picture of Melody Creator of Cash for Tacos

Hi! I’m Melody and I want to help you create a vision for your life and provide you the necessary tools to use your money to make your vision a reality. 

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