Did you know having a plan can save you money? What does a plan do? If you don’t have a plan for your money, it will disappear. And it will disappear to the places you have the least discipline.

Most of us think that getting a raise will solve our problems. Unfortunately, whether we get one or not is often not up to us. We can certainly work harder and make ourselves valuable, but our bosses may not be able to give us raises. However, we can in effect give our selves raises by making the money we do get last longer. The most significant way of doing this is by planning ahead. Here are three examples.

I have a long commute to work every morning, thirty miles one way. By the time I get into the city, the traffic can be bumper to bumper, especially getting off at my exit. I sit in line, stepping on the gas every time the car in front of me moves, stepping harder than I need to so that no cutters will jump in front of me. Then ten yards later I step on the brake so I don’t rear end the guy in front of me. I can travel a whole mile in this fashion, growing more frustrated by the minute.

The money saving solution is simple. Leave earlier.

When I do leave ten to fifteen minutes earlier, there is no traffic, I don’t have all the starting and stopping, and I don’t have a frustrated stress level to start the day with. And after extensive tests, my gas mileage is up two mpg each week. For my nineteen gallon tank, that is two gallons of gas saved each week. Doing the math at $2.50 a gallon, or $5 a week, that equals $250 dollars a year.

Example two is planning my meals in advance. This is one of the hardest things to do. I am always so busy, and though I love cooking, planning what I am going to eat for lunch and dinner, seven days a week can get old in hurry. I get tired of eating the same things, or making sure that all the ingredients are on hand. It is easy to be lured by the convenience and ease of a fast food restaurant. Too often I let the idea of stopping enter my head and can’t help stopping ten minutes later. The food tastes great at first, but never really satisfies like a healthy home cooked meal. And an hour later I am always thinking about the five to ten dollars I just swallowed.

Planning my meals in advance not only saves my health, it saves my money. I figure I spend twenty dollars a month on fast food, on snack machines, or on candy bars that I pass on the way through the grocery store. And honestly, probably more than that. But let’s say twenty a month to be safe and over the year that is another $250.

The way I get around the lure of fast food is by planning my meals in advance. It doesn’t take that long. Often, I can plan the week’s meals in the commercials of my favorite TV show on Sunday night. And planning my meals in advance has the strange effect of making me want those meals even more. I look forward to what I have decided to cook and my taste buds anticipate those flavors. It makes stopping at a fast food restaurant seem like a letdown. And by planning ahead, I plan on having enough for leftovers that I can take for lunch the next day. That’s a delicious way of saving time and money on lunches (the key here is that I love what I cook).

Example three is about paying cash. I hate this truth. Who uses cash anymore? And with all the rewards you can earn from a good credit card, it seems stupid to carry cash. It is easy to just swipe my card. It takes up less space, and I don’t worry about losing it. But having that little piece of plastic has a way of making my money disappear.

And I am not talking about not being able to pay my credit card. I never spend more on my credit card than I have money in the bank. But for some reason, if I don’t have to hand over the hard cash right there, it can feel like I am not spending my money. Sure, I’ll buy this book online and order that gadget for hunting season. It’s only ten dollars. But that’s the deception. I get a product without the immediate pain of getting it. I don’t have to hand over the cash right there.

On the cash plan, I go out to dinner and have to take fifty dollars out of the sixty I have in my wallet. Makes me feel like I have to watch myself for the next week until I get paid again and that sixty dollars gets replenished. But with a credit card, I don’t have to stretch that sixty dollars. I can always make it up. Only thing is, I never do and that credit card bill looks large every month. And every month, I say well, it will be smaller next month. And it never does get smaller. I can save myself at least fifty dollars a month ($600 a year) by paying in cash. That beats my 3% reward credit card.

The idea behind this is cutting back the frivolous spendings. When I have a certain amount of cash in my wallet, I think about each purchase and how much it will leave me with. Which I don’t do with a credit card.

So where does this leave me? It leaves me with at least a thousand dollars by the end of the year. I would love to have an extra thousand dollars every year. A thousand dollars can go a long way. It is three car payments. It is a five day cruise for two people. It is twenty dinners out with my spouse, a way of investing in my relationship and ultimately in my happiness. It is a shopping spree or a very generous Christmas. Or maybe it is a thousand off a bill I owe or loan I took.

A plan. That is all I need. With a plan, I can save at least a thousand dollars a year. Now, I am not saying that I don’t like to splurge. I love splurging. But I enjoy my splurging much better when I have planned for it, and have the money set aside for it.

© Seth Crossman