Smartly’s Nerdiest Saving Hack

I’ve finally decided it’s time to share one of my most effective frugality habits. I think we know each other well enough at this point for me to trust you with this one. On the nerdy-ness scale it ranks ‘Extreme’, on the effectiveness scale it ranks ‘Maximal’ and on the ease of execution scale it ranks ‘moderate’. That means it requires just the teensiest bit of foresight and effort. But I know you’re up for it, because you are a determined and focused creative looking for effective ways to support your art practice, right? And finding extra funds to save and invest will only help you in the long run.

And this won’t hurt — have no fear — it’s something any of you can do, no matter what your situation. I used this trick consistently for a couple of years and boosted my investments by THOUSANDS of dollars — so I hope you’ll give it a try.

The idea came to me while back when I had an epiphany — that saving is a 2-part process. We all know part one: refrain from spending. But the less obvious part two is equally, if not more important: take the money you just refrained from using and put it somewhere so it won’t get spent.

If you only do part one, that money you refrained from spending is likely still in your pocket, and while it jingles away with your keys and your smart phone it can easily jump out and spend itself the next time you’re faced with a buying decision. If you’ve only refrained from spending, you haven’t yet saved, you have to complete the process by moving that money out of reach.

Our fragile human minds aren’t naturally programmed for self-deprivation, so if you have a few precious dollars in your hot little hand whispering ‘spend me’ into your ear, it can take nerves of steel to silence the siren’s song and do something much more powerful. And as unlikely as it sounds, living below your means (i.e. spending less that you make, then saving and investing the rest) is indeed a truly powerful thing.

But the draw of spending is exceptionally alluring, and in my experience, I’m actually more likely to spend after I’ve deprived myself a little. My typical self-defeating move is to celebrate a saving triumph, by treating myself to a little spending — using the money I just saved. Ridiculous right?

How successful do you think a dieter would be if they refrained from eating a cookie by taking it off the plate and putting it in their pocket? It isn’t hard to imagine that without even realizing it the poor, deprived soul would soon unknowingly find their fingers clutching the object of their desire and without a thought shove that pocketed cookie straight down their gullet — diet be damned. The moral of the story: If you want to diet, you don’t walk around with cookies in your pocket.

And if you’re trying to save it makes as little sense to walk around with your hard-won savings in your wallet.


Enter stage right: small notebook, or note-taking app.

Here’s what I do to go from refraining from spending to actually saving. When I find myself out and about with something to buy in my hand, a sweater, a new cutting board, a bauble that I could easily talk myself into, I’ll ask myself, ‘Wait, do I really need this?’ If I catch myself before buying it, and put it back on the shelf, I’ll jot down the price (you can use whatever method you prefer — I use my handy expense tracking notebook) and when I get home I’ll transfer that same amount of money from my checking account to my savings account. If I’m feeling extra revolutionary, I’ll add in the sales tax.

There have been so many ‘things’ that I’ve bought over the years, which have had absolutely no impact on my life — no benefit whatsoever beyond the cheap thrill of the purchase. And now that I can identify those things before I’ve bought them, I can measure that win by instead setting the money I was about to waste aside and give it back to myself. If the amount is over $50, then I’ll transfer it right into my investment account. Now, when I do decide to buy something for myself, it feels well deserved.

Try it yourself — it isn’t hard. This super-effective hack just takes two small actions for BIG long-term results. Go for it, and happy savings!

I’d love to hear what your favorite savings hack is, and what you think of mine. Please leave a comment below, or send me a note directly at

2 Responses to “Smartly’s Nerdiest Saving Hack”

  1. Grace June 22, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    This is brilliant. I have also celebrated a savings win with a little bit of spending — how dumb is that? Thanks for the continued great content, I always love a new Sm*artly post!

  2. Millie Turner June 19, 2015 at 7:21 am #

    I am in Portugal as I write on a lovely trip. Should I buy that cork umbrella for my daughter or that cork baseball hat for my son-in- law????
    Or just save my money and put it into a college fund??? I can picture the joy in their faces when I show up with my cork gifts – and it’s not so hard to put it in the school account. Now that cookie, on the other hand, is a different story…

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