How to Watch Your Expenses Like a Hawk

by Marie on January 31, 2013 · 13 comments

You’ve heard it before, saving money – like losing weight – is as simple as watching your inputs and outputs. With saving, you just need more inputs than outputs and the opposite with losing weight.

Yeah right, it is never that simple. It is, however, usually easier (not easy, just easier) to cut your expenses than it is to increase your income.

But, to cut your costs, you have to watch your expenses like a hawk to keep them from creeping up. It isn’t fun or easy to reduce your standard of living, and it takes time, energy and persistence to keep things from creeping up in cost.

Expenses creep up naturally and easily on you and you have to be ever vigilant to realize that costs are rising!

How do costs creep up?

Habits change.

You start turning up the heat instead of putting on a sweater. You treat yourself each week at the grocery store with a few extra items.

Since I retired and work from home writing, I have gotten into the habit of hitting the ‘home today’ button on the energy saver thermostat we have to control heating and ac. Our bills are higher than before I retired. Hubby retired 2 years prior to me and he resisted that button by putting on extra layers indoors in the winter.

Companies sneak in extra costs on your bill.

Your bank starts charging a fee for something that used to be free or your ‘introductory’ rate lapses and your satellite TV rates bounce up. The electric company changes it’s rates.

Our bank started charging for sending us a statement (yep we are old fashioned enough to want them). $3 a month times 3 accounts is $9 or $108 a year – which invested could become much more. But, it is a pain to change banks, so I didn’t until this year. I did a trial switch with one account to a credit union and they promptly screwed up my account.

You consciously decide to up your lifestyle.

You get a raise at work and decide that now is the time to get that premium movie channel, or subscribe to Netflex or some other little luxury.

We avoided paid television for years and years and years. The year my hubby retired I got a significant raise, which would pay for many years of satellite TV in just one year. He loves watching TV and always has. The available free TV programs were pretty lame and the switch to digital was upon us. Our TV was new and we didn’t want to buy a new digital one. We consciously decided to up our lifestyle and get paid TV.

Wants turn into needs.

In your mind, or maybe even for real, things that you want somehow become absolutely positively needed!

There is a vague and ever changing definition of a need vs a want. Is indoor plumbing a need or a want? It depends. Are you an American or do you live in an aboriginal tribe in Africa?

For me a want (the internet from home) has turned into a need. I need it to do research for my writing! I need it to find goods and services no longer listed in the yellow pages! I need it to get responses from friends and family (who no longer use the paper postal service).

How to monitor and control expense creepage.

Once a year (at least) sit down together as a family (even the kids, it will help them learn personal finance) and do the following.

Review your habits.

Talk to each other about your daily routine, the things you buy regularly at the store, the subscriptions you have to websites, magazines and etc. Vow to review the consequences of ‘hitting the home today button’ or stopping at Pizza Hut for carryout every single Friday evening.

Check your recurring bills for changes.

Many people successfully negotiate lower interest rates on credit cards, lower cable/internet/phone bills and etc. Make a list of every single recurring expense that you have – whether you pay cash for it, have it deducted automatically from your account or write out a check when the bill comes. Ask if you still need the goods or services it represents. See if the cost has gone up and consider whether it is worth the increased cost.

We have subscribed to a home security monitoring service for the past several years. Each year the amount they take from our account has gone up. We need to discuss the value of the service as perceived by each person and decide if it is worth the cost!

Review your conscious lifestyle change decisions.

Have each person list the upgrades they experienced in lifestyle in the past year. Did they start shopping in a more expensive clothing store? Did they eat lunch out more or more expensively? Did the family’s entertainment or travel styles change? Did you gradually start going to the movies more or entertaining friends and family more frequently or more expensively?

The goal is to acknowledge that you are upgrading your lifestyle, not to blame each other or condemn the changes. If you and your family know that they will need to account for changes that happen, you will all be more aware when you make the decision to do the upgrade.

Understand how you spent on wants.

Have each person write down what needs were filled for them last year – on what needs did the family spend money. Then make a game of debating need vs want on each item – with maybe a prize for the member coming up with the most challenges.

Did your daughter ‘need’ the new electronic tablet or want it? What were the reasons it was needed? How did the tablet satisfy them in a way nothing else could?

Trimming expenses and lifestyles are not fun.

Watching expenses like a hawk can help you keep lifestyle and expense creep in check as you go.

How do you keep expenses under control?



{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kurt @ Money Counselor January 31, 2013 at 11:06 am

One thing we do is drag our feet like crazy before adding any fixed expense. We were among the last people I know to sign up for cable and get cell phones. (And now we’re working to get in place alternatives to costly cable so we can drop it. Don’t have smartphones, and I don’t see them in our foreseeable future) With the help of carsharing, bikes, and transit, we get by with one car, though it is less convenient than two. And we’ve not felt the urge to buy the mega-size flatscreen. In exchange for these and many other choices, we’re debt free. It all works for us!


2 Marie at Family Money Values January 31, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Good for you. We resisted paid TV for years and years and still don’t have cell phone bills.


3 eemusings February 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Yeah, I sleep on decisions as small as buying a new pair of shoes!


4 krantcents January 31, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I constantly check my expenses every time I pay the bills. I look for trends and try to find ways to reduce the expenses. I already do all the other things like raising/lowering the thermostate, replaced all the light bulbs with CFLs and keep a keen eye on spending.


5 Marie at Family Money Values January 31, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Looking for trends is a good idea.


6 Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin February 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Great and very true points. I especially like the quote “Wants turn into needs” I believe this defines over 80% of America. People forget about what they need and only think about what they want.


7 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues February 11, 2013 at 11:55 am

I don’t think the majority of folks even try to distinguish between needs and wants.


8 Jerome February 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

It is far easier to save than to earn more, BUT the potential reward of earning more is far greater as there is no upper limit to earning more but there definitively is a limit to how much you can save on your expenses. So in my opinion it is wise to spend energy on both.


9 Marie at Family Money Values February 3, 2013 at 9:19 am

That may be true for some, but this post was all about watching expenses :D


10 Greg Smith February 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm

This is a great article. For the last couple of years, my wife and I sit down every other month to re-evaluate our expenses and have came to a conclusion that many of the items that we spend money on, we could do without.


11 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues March 1, 2013 at 9:15 am

Sometimes it is hard to sit down, as you do, to talk about spending. Sometimes couples get defensive about their buys!


12 Greg February 21, 2013 at 5:48 pm


Do you know of any good automated tools to help track monthly expenses and helps create a budget? I tried and it didn’t do a good job in updating my account information.


13 Marie at FamilyMoneyValues March 1, 2013 at 9:16 am

Readers, please chime in!


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