Living with credit

How a DIY mentality adds up to savings

Erica Sandberg

A couple of weeks ago I was nearly $800 poorer. I had gone to the doctor to ask about getting a pesky little skin tag removed. However, since he deemed it a cosmetic procedure, insurance wouldn’t cover the bill.

So I did a little checking online. Turns out there are several over-the-counter remedies for such things, none costing more than a cup of quality coffee. Done!

I’m telling you this because opting for the DIY solution made me feel instantly richer.

Why, you ask? See, when I got the estimate to remove my skin tag, I mentally extracted that sum from my bank account. Now what I could have spent is back in the account, putting me ahead by nearly a grand.

Such a change of perspective is a great way to think about expenses you suddenly escape or manage to avoid. Consider the multitude of potential “get-rich-quick” opportunities:

  • $25 if you change the oil in your car instead of having it done at a shop or car dealer.
  • $40 if you do your own mani-pedi rather than going to a nail spa.
  • $100 per month if you switch out your pricey health club membership for a home-based exercise routine.
  • $500 if you stick with your old (but fine) smartphone instead of upgrading to the newest model.

Additionally, these are expenses you might have paid for with a credit card or a loan. That means you’re also flush by the amount of interest that would have been added if you didn’t pay off the entire balance quickly.

What can you do with all that sudden wealth? Spend it on something you value or use it to build an emergency fund. Remember, you’re using free (well, freed-up) money. That’s exciting!

Now that you’ve shifted to a savings mindset, switch your mental gears again to live in the real world, not your financial day dreams. Ignore these common phantom gains:

  • A big bonus or inheritance. Too often these don’t pan out.
  • That awesome, higher-paying position. The job could be eliminated or go to someone else.
  • Your sister who owes you $2,000 and keeps promising she’ll have it for you in two weeks. Until she stacks the bills into your outstretched hand, that day won’t come.

In your imagination, though, you’ve already used the bonus, inheritance, pay raise or owed money for a vacation, home down payment or as a lump sum to finally repay your debt. When that extra money doesn’t come in, you feel short by that amount, even though your circumstances haven’t actually changed.

We’ve all fallen into that trap, including me. Offers of wildly well-compensated work have been dangled before my eyes, and I’ve taken the bait. Yet when the deals evaporated, I’ve cried: “I almost had it!”

But no. Close doesn’t count.

To avoid crushing disappointment, live within your current financial reality. Then you’ll be wonderfully surprised when (or more accurately, if) the proverbial check clears.

In the meantime, I’m making plans for that extra $800…

What’s your savings strategy and what are your tips to keep out of debt? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at or tweet me your tips at @EricaJSandberg.

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