Trivial expenses add up

SMALL CHANGE MATTERS: Masters of frugality weigh up each and every purchase before they make it.
SMALL CHANGE MATTERS: Masters of frugality weigh up each and every purchase before they make it.

The Budget Buster message can prove quite challenging to those who have been stuck in their ways for years: "But I've got a half-million dollar mortgage - this kind of penny-pinching isn't going to make a jot of difference."

And so they shrug their shoulders and go back to the same lifestyle of café breakfasts, pay TV marathons, the latest gadgets, designer jeans and Waiheke getaways.

At first glance, some of the expenses we tackle each week do seem pretty trivial.

When you're up to your eyeballs in debt, is cutting your own hair really going to be the answer to all your troubles?

The answer is a resounding "YES!"- especially when combined with a raft of other minor lifestyle tweaks.

As my Scottish-born grandfather used to say, "many a mickle makes a muckle".

Or in English: Many strokes fell great oaks.

If you're not convinced that tinkering around the edges is worthwhile, chew on this:

We've officially been fighting debt and smashing expenses for a solid six months - you're currently reading the 26th column.

In that time, we've worked out how to save the average household a total of $13,513 each and every year, and we're only just getting warmed up.

We've already discussed how annual savings grow larger and larger until your money is earning money all by itself - the magic of compounding interest.

Now we've got another rule - the magic of thinking small.

There'll always be some money stresses which can't simply be bludgeoned into submission - health problems, losing your job, the unexpected patter of tiny feet.

It's much easier to do nothing and blame others - the Government, society - than it is to do something about it.

But whatever big stuff happens, you still have a big influence over how you choose to spend your money in small ways.

To re-cap: there are some categories of spending which are so mind-blowingly wasteful, they have no place in your budget.

These are the likes of overdraft fees, credit card surcharges, parking tickets, bottled water and lotto tickets - all money down the drain.

Then there are the essential spending categories you can't do without - food, clothes, power, transport, and yes, entertainment.

Already we've worked out how you can easily halve most of these by comparing prices, buying second-hand, and finding free alternatives.

The mark of the true Budget Buster is the DIY mindset - making your own household cleaners, cutting your own hair or even brewing your own booze.

Not only are you saving a fortune, you're also learning new skills which will come in handy and impress your friends for the rest of your life.

To finish up, here's a secret that flies in the face of stock-standard money advice.

Some of the most financially successful people - like those who have managed to retire in their 30s - don't bother with budgets in the conventional sense.

Instead, the grand masters of frugality weigh up each and every purchase before they make it - right down to the late-night gas station pie, or stick of chewing gum.

Ongoing expenses get reviewed regularly - say twice a year - and nothing is too minor to escape scrutiny.

Think small, and you'll be a big winner in no time.

Sunday News