Appreciate More, Spend Less

Owen Winkelmolen

Advice-only financial planner, CFP, and founder of

Work With Owen

It’s hard to truly appreciate things until they’re gone. It could be something as simple as the electricity going out. When the power goes out you start to truly appreciate those little electrons that used to flow around your house.  At the flip of a switch you could create light but now your power is gone. Food is getting warm in the fridge. Your cell phone is running out of power. At that moment, you really appreciate electricity.

Or maybe it’s the internet. This is one thing few of us could live without. Information at your fingertips. Instant updates from friends and family. At the press of a button you have thousands of shows available for streaming. When the internet goes down you really appreciate its value.

How does this relate to personal finance? Isn’t it obvious? Everything we spend money on has value to us. Some of these things will have more value to us than others. Unless you’re super rich you need to make decisions when you budget. What stays and what gets cut? The easiest things to cut are those things you value least.

Two things can cost us the same amount of money but one will be more valuable to us. Like paying for internet vs paying for a gym membership. Personally, I’m going to pick the internet. If push came to shove the internet would win, hands down. They might cost the same per month but I value internet more.

Now scale this up to look at ALL your monthly spending.

Every month there is one thing that you value the least. Something that you buy, maybe on a regular basis, that is not worth the money you spend on it. Maybe for someone else its worth more, but for you it’s the lowest on the list.

This is the thing that you need to cut from your budget. This thing you care least about. When you stop spending money on this thing you’ll hardly notice. You never cared much for it anyway. This is how budgeting becomes easy.

The problem is…. we are inherently bad at appreciating somethings value. We don’t truly appreciate things until they’re gone. Like electricity or the internet, we take things for granted.

So, what do you do? How do you go about budgeting if you can’t truly weigh somethings value against its cost? How do you find the right things to cut from your budget? The things you value least? I’ve got a few suggestions for you. Tricks to help you understand somethings true value.

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First Budgeting Trick: Track You Spending

The first trap we fall into is that we don’t really know how much we spend on things. You can’t evaluate somethings value against its cost unless you know how much it actually costs you every month.

You need to track your spending for a while before you can really know where your money goes.

Take coffee. When I first started budgeting I was AMAZED at how much I spent on coffee each year. Sure, every day it was negligible, $1.50, maybe $2.50 with a donut. But track that over a few weeks and suddenly you see it’s costing you about $50 per month or $600 per year!

My morning coffee wasn’t worth $600 to me. It was nice. It was convenient. But I would much rather buy a new bike or gadget every year than buy a coffee every day. Instantly coffee was dropped from my budget and replaced with making coffee at home or at work.

To truly understand somethings value, first you have to understand how much it’s costing you.

Track your spending using apps like Mint, or keep receipts, or just do it the old fashioned way and write it down.

You won’t have to do it for long. After about a month you’ll get a good picture of where your money is going.

Second Budgeting Trick: Visualize Your Life Without Something

This is a neat little trick called negative visualization. Basically you picture your life without a particular item. The idea is that you don’t need to lose something to appreciate its value, you just have to mentally visualize your life without it.

Picture your life without your house/apartment. REALLY VISUALIZE IT. Visualize your daily life living in a car or living on the street. That would be difficult. Sure, you could do it if you had no other choice. We’re adaptable. We can survive. But paying for your house/apartment definitely has value and it’s not something you’d choose to cut from your budget (unless you’re into van dwelling or something).

Now picture your life without that magazine subscription. The one you keep renewing but only have time to read occasionally. Is your life drastically different? Are you terribly sad? Was it a great hardship to lose that subscription? If you never had a magazine subscription would you go out and spend $30/year to eliminate that hardship? If not then cancel it and save yourself $30.

Do this for all the things you spend money on. Visualize your life without that thing. This will help you find out if you truly appreciate it OR if you can cut it from your budget and save some money.

“Every month there is ONE THING you buy that you value the least.”

Third Budgeting Trick: Stop Buying Stuff (At Least For A Short Period Of Time)

If you don’t truly appreciate things until they’re gone, then make them go away, at least for a short while.

Do a “no spend” challenge.

A “no spend” challenge is a great way to help you appreciate things. Stop spending on everything but essentials. Food, shelter, safety. That’s it. Cancel memberships (if there’s no penalty). Cancel subscriptions (even Netflix). Cut ALL discretionary spending. Find no-spend alternatives.

Do this for a month. See how it feels. What things did you miss? What things are worth the money? Add those things back into your budget. Cut the rest. You don’t really care about them anyway.

Doing a “no spend” challenge from time to time is a great way to evaluate your regular spending. It’s like fasting for your budget. Spending money after a no-spend challenge will never taste so sweet.


Appreciate More and Spend Less:

Use these three budget tricks to help you appreciate your daily spending.

Without these tricks it can be hard to truly evaluate your monthly spending, and this makes it very difficult to budget. Decisions on what to cut and what to keep become very hard.

Make things easier. Use one, two or all three of these budgeting tricks to help appreciate your spending. Use them on a regular basis to continuously improve your spending. You will always find something at the bottom of your list.

Your budget and your finances will thank you.

Owen Winkelmolen

Advice-only financial planner, CFP, and founder of

Work With Owen


Join over 250,000 people reading each year. New blog posts weekly!

Tax planning, benefit optimization, budgeting, family planning, retirement planning and more...



Join over 250,000 people reading each year. New blog posts weekly!

Tax planning, benefit optimization, budgeting, family planning, retirement planning and more...



  1. Erik

    Prioritization of spending is crucial for financial success and happiness. I love your thoughts on the topic. Why should people spend money on things they don’t enjoy? It’s almost obvious, but not everyone thinks critically on this subject.

    • Owen

      Thanks for your comment Erik! Prioritizing spending can be hard but its the only way to get the most value out of every dollar.

  2. DC @ Young Adult Money

    Really solid advice. If you can identify one – or more – things that you really do not value but you regularly purchase, it’s a good target for reducing expenses.

    • Owen


  3. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Awesome tips, Owen!! I used to have a tough time prioritizing until I started spend tracking and saw exactly how much money we were spending on things like drive-thru runs and restaurants. I was worried that we’d feel deprived after cutting way back, but we didn’t! We were glad to be eating less junk, and it made the rare times we hit restaurants now feel more valuable.

    This stuff really works!

    • Owen

      It really does! It’s amazing how these simple things can lead to big changes. Thanks for the comment Laurie.


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