I have always admired legendary basketball coach John Wooden. However, the older I get, the more I look up to Wooden for his contributions off the basketball court. He was an amazing person: hardworking, charitable, gracious, wise.
He was also frugal, living simply in the same modest Encino condo until his death in 2010. He has inspired me to find joy in the simple things in life that don’t cost much money: a beautiful sunrise, a hot mug of tea, a good book, the happy thump of my dog’s tail against the carpet.
In many ways, Coach Wooden’s teachings have helped me cut back on my own spending and increase my savings. Here are some tips that have worked for me that might help you, too—along with some inspirational quotes from “The Wizard of Westwood” himself!
“Failure is not fatal—but failure to change might be.” – John Wooden
1. This is a really simple action that you can do right now! Create a “spare change jar.” I use a small glass bottle that once held Snapple tea. It lives on the round hall table where I also keep my car keys and mail. Instead of pocketing spare change to spend somewhere else, drop it into the jar. I began this a few months ago and have already saved more than $30 in change. It adds up!
When the jar is full, resist the urge to spend all the nickels and dimes you have accumulated. Instead, empty out the jar and deposit the money into your savings account at the bank. I’m on track to save an extra $100 this year with this one small change in my habits.
“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden
2. Keep track of where you spend your money—even small amounts, like that Starbucks pick-me-up or that small impulse drugstore purchase. Then, take one of your weekly discretionary purchases and drop the money into your spare-change jar instead. For example, maybe swap one of your Starbucks lattes for a mug of the home-brewed stuff. Or instead of joining a friend for lunch at a restaurant, meet up for something free like a walk at a park.
An important note: start small, so as not to get overwhelmed. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The point here isn’t to make you feel deprived. The point is to become more aware of how and where you are spending your money, and begin to spend it more intentionally.
My advice is to start with just ONE weekly purchase, and build from there. It’s similar to going to the gym and slowly but steadily increasing the amount of time you run on the treadmill, or the amount of weight you lift on the machines. If you go from zero-to-sixty right away, you are much more likely to run out of energy and motivation to maintain the positive change.
So don’t cut out everything all at once. Make a small habit of swapping one discretionary purchase each week—I bet you won’t even miss it, AND you’ll be growing your savings little by little!
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden
3. Deposit money directly into your savings/investment account. When I was working as a graduate student teacher, my paycheck was deposited into my checking account automatically each month. The more money that was in my checking account, the more money I was likely to spend. So I began immediately transferring a couple hundred dollars into my savings account, knowing that I could always transfer it back to my checking account if I needed it to pay bills. But, guess what? I never even missed it. And as a result, my savings grew steadily each month.
Now that I’ve started blogging on the side, I don’t have blog income automatically deposited—my income fluctuates month-to-month. But I still make a point to deposit a quarter of my blog income into my savings/investment account instead of my checking account.
“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden
4. Make a financial goal that you want to accomplish this year. Break your bigger goal down into a monthly and weekly goal: this is your action plan! For example, my goal is to put $1,000 into my Roth IRA by the end of the year, which means I need to save $20 a week, or about $85 a month. Having this concrete figure in mind makes it easier for me to forgo that new pair of shoes I don’t need or say “No thanks” to a fancy desert at a restaurant.
“Build a shelter against a rainy day.” – John Wooden
5. Use what you have, instead of going out and buying something new. Identify what things you tend to spend your discretionary money on. What are your spending weaknesses? They might be random items that surprise you! For example, I have a weakness for buying tea, books, and stationery. My bookshelf is filled with books I have yet to read, my cabinet is stocked full of a variety of teas, and my desk drawer is a stash of stationary. Yet, it can be difficult for me to pass by a cute new stationary design or to leave a bookstore without purchasing a new book.
My solution? Avoid the temptation! I made a vow to not purchase any new tea, books, or stationary until I use up what I have. To make it easier to keep this promise, I don’t tempt myself by browsing bookstores and stationary stores aimlessly, and I avoid the tea aisle in the grocery store. An extra benefit has been that I feel more grateful for what I do have, instead of focusing on accumulating more and more.
“The best competition I have is against myself, to become better.” — John Wooden
6. Be creative! Sometimes you can upcycle or repurpose an existing item instead of buying something new. One small recent example: I really love the aesthetic of using Mason jars as drinking glasses. My first thought was to browse around for Mason jars to purchase, but then I noticed that my glass peanut butter jar looked very similar to a Mason jar. So instead of buying new drinking glasses, I washed out the peanut butter jar when I was done with it, scrubbed off the label, and—Ta Da!—I had a brand-new upcycled drinking glass, for no extra cost.
“Make each day your masterpiece.” – John Wooden
Readers, aren’t you motivated? Don’t you feel like saving more of your precious money for the rainy days?