Start early, make the most out of your morning

QUEEN OF FREE: CHERIE LOWE

By Cherie Lowe

My alarm blares its annoying tone at 5:50 a.m. six out of seven days every week. My feet hit the floor and I’m off and running into a new day. Long ago, I began incorporating a handful of strategies into my morning routines to save money all day long.

I discovered that if done regularly, five simple tasks could have an incredible impact on our cash flow. On the days when I drop the ball and don’t actually get my punch list finished before 9 a.m. (I’m only human, after all), I know I’ll be much more tempted to overspend, placing small cracks in our budget.

Brew coffee at home

I love coffee. And I need coffee. I can go a morning without it now and then. But I know my eyes will be sagging like Droopy Dog’s by mid-afternoon if I don’t have my faithful cup of joe in the wee hours of the new day.

A recent study revealed that the average American spends $1,100 per year on coffee out. That’s $3 a day for those of you doing the math at home. For the coffee that I purchase (Dark Roast Fair Trade at ALDI for $3.99), I spend less than $0.50 per day to brew 12 cups that I share with my husband — so 25 cents a piece.

In case you’re worried, we rarely drink it all and I’ve been known to freeze the leftovers to make a smashing Mocha Banana Protein Smoothie. My best brewing strategy is actually to set the coffee pot the night before so it begins brewing before my alarm goes off.

I know I’ll be tempted to run out and purchase coffee for 10 times the price if I don’t brew it at home.

Eat breakfast at home

Your mom always told you it was the most important meal of the day. What she might not have mentioned was that when eaten at home, it’s always the most economical meal of the day. Even a “cheap” drive-thru option pales in comparison to what you can make and eat at home. Not only will you save money, you’ll be able to eat healthier options keeping you fuller all day long.

When you eat nutritionally dense foods, you’ll be able to avoid the vending machine or blowing your budget and your calorie count dining out.

Throw in a load of laundry

This is another of my favorite morning rituals. As soon as I get out of bed, I begin gathering and sorting laundry. As quickly as possible, I start a fresh load in the washing machine. Our new washer actually has a timer just like my coffee pot so sometimes I even set it to begin washing before I get out of bed in the morning and then switch the wet clothes over to the dryer when I get up.

Tossing in a load of dirty laundry (preferably towels, jeans or low maintenance attire) before 9 a.m. guarantees you’ll get at least one load done that day even if you don’t get any others finished. How does clean laundry save you money? For starters, you won’t rush out to purchase anything new because you “have nothing to wear.”

True story: back before we paid off $127,000 in debt, we did this once. Ouch. The truth hurts. But your entire day will flow more naturally with this household chore out of the way. You’ll be able to focus on work (essential for people like me who work from home) and ditch the distractions. Your focus results in increased productivity, which sooner or later should lead to a higher income.

Balance the checkbook

More than once, I’ve talked about the ways we hide from our finances. Quickly reconciling your spending while looking ahead to what bills must be paid should be part of every one of your mornings. Not only will you have peace of mind about the amount of money in the bank, but you’ll avoid overspending throughout the day knowing what’s really available. Your daily check-ins will also keep you from late fines and overdue bills.

Pack lunch

You knew this one was coming, right? Even the cheapest lunch purchased out on the town clocks in around $5. Multiple that by 5 days of the week, 52 weeks out of the year and you’ve spent roughly $1,300 per person per year. School lunch comes in a wee bit cheaper than that (and only 180 days out of the year).

But still, you can estimate a family of four could easily spend $3,000 per year on lunch. Wow. If you’re like me, you’d much rather put that big wad of cash toward a vacation or a household improvement. Packing your lunch isn’t completely free, but the amount of money you save by eating leftovers or a sandwich packed from home safeguards your budget.

Typically, wise choices lead to more wise choices. So if you can begin each day by setting your feet on the right path, you’ll have the wherewithal to continue down that road. Make the choice to find your own money-saving strategies to incorporate into each morning.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net