What Happens to the Money We Don’t Spend?

Ever had one of those moments when you are in a store poised to make a spontaneous purchase, but stayed strong, put the item back on the shelf and pocketed the savings? I recently had this same experience and wondered how I could better track that “saved” money.

clearing out by schizoform on Flickr

For the last several weeks I have been saving the money in my “Fun” category. Instead of having fun, I had my eyes on a different kind of prize – a new Xbox 360 video game. I’m not much of a gamer, but after receiving the game system as a gift last year I have found myself enjoying the occasional game. My son likes to play along, too.

Back to my shopping experience. I found the game I wanted while strolling through the electronics section of our local Target store (this is where my son and I often kill time while my wife does other shopping). Armed with enough cash to pay for the game ($49.99 plus tax – ouch!), I stopped to perform my usual pre-purchase routine:

  • How often will I really play this game?
  • Is this adding to the quality of my life, or those around me?
  • Is there something more important I could spend this money on?

After some internal reflection, I decided that I didn’t really want the game. There were other things I wanted to do around the house that I could put that money towards – things that would add value to our home and provide a more lasting benefit. I walked away.

These types of “I’ll pass” transactions, as I like to call them, really add up! And we perform them all the time. Every time we skip take out and go home to cook a meal, or share a meal with a spouse instead of ordering two entrees, we are forgoing an expense we would have otherwise incurred.

Tracking the Value of “I’ll Pass” Transactions

We spend a lot of time (and money) finding ways to track our expenses, from elaborate home-made budgets to fancy personal finance software. However, we often fail to account for the money we don’t spend, something I think is more important when trying to become more financially mature. The money we don’t spend becomes money available to help get out of debt, save for retirement, and give to others. The money we do spend, well, it is just gone.

I am not very good at tracking the money I don’t spend, because often it is the result of a seemingly insignificant decision (like taking leftovers for lunch instead of grabbing fast food). Fortunately, a new service called Piggymojo (free trial info below) is now available to help you keep track of that money you don’t spend.

Piggymojo allows users to text (you can also use Twitter, or enter directly on their website) the details of their every day savings to an account that tracks the total amount saved, and allows you to save towards specific goals. I recently created a goal for a “Family Mountain Vacation” we’d like to take this fall. To fund this trip, I plan to use these everyday savings. I’ll transfer the money Piggymojo states I “saved” from my checking account into our Vacation targeted savings account each week.

Whether you sign up to use a service like Piggymojo, or you opt to try to keep up with the savings in your head, the idea is to find a way to capture these little savings each day. It becomes sort of a game. “If I put this game back, that’s $50 saved towards our vacation this fall! If we cancel the cable for the next few months, that’s another $45 a month that can go towards vacation.”

*Piggmojo has offered readers a free, 6-month trial of their service. Redeem the gift code “springpiggy” when creating your account.


  1. Steven and Jason, that reminds me of this story:

    Husband goes to a big box supermarket warehouse store. Comes home with many items in bulk, including a case of dog food. “Honey, look at how inexpensive this dog food was; I just couldn’t pass it up!”

    “But sweetie,” says the wife, “we don’t have a dog.”

  2. Cool thoughts, though I wonder if people won’t consider money “saved” when they purchase something on sale that they don’t really need. I hate it when I am in a store buying something and the cashier or receipt tells me how much I “saved”. No. I didn’t SAVE anything, I just spent money…funny how they try to confuse and make us feel good about spending our money. “JUST LOOK AT HOW MUCH I SAVED!!!” Yeah, but how much did you spend???

    • Good point. Like I often tell my wife when she says, “I saved 20% on this new (insert item we didn’t really need)!.” Yeah, but you could have saved 100% if you just stayed at home. Warning: This type of smart response is not good for marital relations.

  3. I think it is really dangerous to “kill time” in any retail setting. I used to fall into that trap alot while kids were at activities — I would drop them off and then head to the mall to kill time. Pretty tough on the “I gotta haves” — So I now made up an arsenal for those times — I learned to knit for the winter months — I bring my knitting along and do that so I don’t get bored waiting for them. I’ve actually taught quite a few of the other moms how to knit in the process — they are always intrigued with what I am doing. And in the spring/summer, I load my bike on the rack and get some mileage in — or I bring my running shoes — that way I get exercise instead of just sitting there.

  4. I’m cracking up at the wife and dog food comments. I think I have enough stuff to track already, but it would be interesting to see how many purchases I pass up and how much that adds up to.

  5. I don’t keep up with all the stuff I didn’t buy since the number wouldn’t matter unless it ended up in the cart. It’s not like I’m actually saving that money…I’m just not wasting it.

    Anything I do splurge on comes out of my fun money and I try not to splurge again for a little while. If I overthink this kind of stuff, I won’t have any brain left for personal finance blogs. 🙂

  6. It’s an interesting psychological exercise.
    I often try to ‘save’ as much as possible by not buying stuff that I don’t need. However, I often fall victim to buying things that are great deals I believe I can re-sell on Craig’s list or another classified site to make money. Sometimes they sell and other times they don’t. Now I have a box full of stuff I don’t need and can’t seem to sell. Time for a trip to the Salvation Army.

  7. Text #1: Saved money by NOT signing up for Piggymojo. LOL.

    I’m sure that it’s a nice website with lots of features, but I can send txts to myself (all of my txts are free!). I can likely keep track of everything myself.

    • Anthony: I was wondering how long it would be before someone suggested that! I sort of agree, but have to admit sometimes I’ll pay a minimal fee for someone else to do the tracking, reporting, etc.

    • Hi Anthony,
      I appreciate your humor. But to be clear, piggymojo is free for the time being. Once we’re confident it is truly helpful to our users we’ll charge for it, but only $4/month for a couple or $3/month for an individual. And it’s guaranteed. If a couple doesn’t save more than $45 together in one month then the next month is free. So, for the price of a fancy cup of coffee at starbucks you can use a service that could help you and your spouse save a bunch of money together and have some fun doing it.

      Granted, it’s not for everyone, but if you and your spouse want help saving for a specific goal by cutting back on unnecessary spending, then this might be just the thing for you.

  8. What a great idea. I often get caught by the point of purchase sale and I have been making an effort to really say no. I would love to see the amount of money that I am saving when I do this…

  9. Frugal Dad,
    What game were you looking to buy? $49.99 for a new game tells me that the game either has been out for a little bit or not that popular. I shop at GameStop or other like stores that have used games for sale. There is one such shop near me that I can trade in old games towards new ones as well. I just bough Modern Warfare 2 for $39.99 used and the new copy is still selling for $59.99. I would also recommend Blockbuster to rent games you are interested in before buying them. Some games out there are advertised as awesome games but the reality is that they aren’t all that fun.

  10. I’ve been an attorney working in private bank trust departments for almost 20 years. I’ve seen how people with money acquired it and how they retained it. They are smart enough to know that you can never acquire money by spending it. They would sooner die than go into debt to buy consumer goods. They’ll go into debt but only to purchase property likely to appreciate.

    These are the people who, instead of buying iphone after iphone and ipad after ipad, bought the stock of Apple when it was selling for about $7 early in 2003. Today, July 1, 2010, it sells around $260.

    People with money don’t care about consumer goods, cars, big-screen TV’s or anything else that the masses “must have”. They know all this stuff is junk and that to buy it simply wastes money better deployed otherwise. In short, people with money got and kept it not by buying things but by buying the stocks of companies that sell things to other people…you for example.

    I’ll leave you with this unsettling thought. Suppose you’d had $15,000 in October 1980 and that you’d been of a mind to “invest it”. You might have been lured to purchase jewelry, say a diamond ring, on the utterly untrue but long spread lie that diamonds are rare. Any jewelry store would have been happy to lure you in with a lot of special lighting over plush counters served by shills who are trained in how to try to induce you to put reason on hold and think romantically about how happy you would be if only you had a $15,000 diamond ring. They’d tell you it would be “AN INVESTMENT”. God help you if you fell for the scam. The ring you’d have bought on Friday, October 10th, 1980 for $15,000 would have been worth about $3,000 on Saturday, October 11th if you’d tried to sell it. It might not be worth even that today.

    On Friday, October 10th, 1980, stock of Johnson & Johnson traded around $83 per share; you could have bought 180 shares for $15,000. That investment, a REAL INVSTMENT, would today, July 1, 2010, be worth over $500,000. After 48:1 stock splits, you would have over 8,600 shares of Johnson & Johnson paying annual cash dividends of almost $19,000.

    You can be young in this country and be without money but this is no country in which to be old and without money. If you have no money you have no power. If you want to end up parking cars for a high school kid who owns a parking lot, keep doing what you’ve been doing. Keep buying “diamond rings”. If you want to have some say about where and how you live and on what terms, leave the consumer good on the shelves and buy the stocks of companies that sell things to other people. Just make sure you’re not the “other person”..

    Good luck.