A few weeks ago, my little girls and I decided to have a “Daddy/Daughter Day.” After making our way to the the park for an hour, we thought it would be fun to take in a movie. So, we jumped into the car and drove over to the local cinema. There wasn’t a lot showing that day, so we got three tickets to the movie “Pan,” a new adaptation about the coming of age of Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

The movie starts off OK. It begins in an orphanage circa 1940’s London. It’s the middle of World War II, and the Nazis are bombing the heck out of the Brits. At that point, we see a flying pirate ship dodging the British Air Force and whisk the orphans (including Peter) away to Neverland.

I can buy that. I mean, it is a film about Peter Pan, so I expect to see some magic involved. What happens next is another story.

Going Off the Rails

So, this flying boat full of orphans lands in the middle of a giant arena-like structure. That’s when things get a bit…well…weird.

The entire crowd – of what appears to be 60,000 people or more – starts singing in unison. Oooookkkkkaaaaayyyy. At that point, Blackbeard (the villian) appears and sings with them, essentially acting as a choir director for his legion of minions. Far fetched, but I’m trying to stick with it.

Still, there’s something about the song that continues to wrestle with my suspension of disbelief. I finally put my finger on it. The song they’re singing is “Smells Like Teen Spirit“!

Instantly, I found myself jettisoned from the world that they had already created. I’d become comfortable, first with 1940’s London, then with flying to Neverland. But, transporting me to Seattle circa 1991 – I’m done.

The crowd went on to sing other songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” but by that point, I was out. I no longer bought into their world. The little things had killed it for me.

What Does this Have to Do With Money?

And so it is with money. You can buy into the big ideas. You can believe in the concepts of frugality and living below your means. You may even buy into the fact that a budget is your most powerful financial tool. You can buy into all of this. But, if you don’t take care of the details, you’ll find yourself struggling to stay engaged.

Yes, all the big ideas matter. Ultimately, it’s those big ideas that drive action. The big ideas give us goals to shoot for. But, taking care of the details is what makes the big ideas possible. It is the little things that truly matter.

Things to Watch Out For

Although you may have every intention of doing things the right way, sometimes the little things can torpedo your best laid financial plans. In fact, we all fall victim to losing sight of the details sometimes. That is why it is important to remember that, by taking care of your pennies, you’ll never have to worry about your dollars. Here are some common traps that might be tripping you up:

  • The Upsell – If you constantly hear yourself saying “It’s only another $5,” chances are that you’re giving in to upselling. Doing this once or twice a month isn’t a big deal. However, this can easily happen several times a day. Just think, if you take that attitude just 20 times a month, you’ve spent an extra $1,200 a year and barely realized it.
  • The Latte Factor – In his book, The Automatic Millionaire, David Bach describes what he calls the “Latte Factor.” Essentially, that’s something that you buy almost every day without thinking about the financial consequences. For instance, if you buy a $5 coffee each day from Starbucks, you’ve spent an extra $150/month ($1,800/year) on coffee alone. That’s enough money to take a vacation! Perhaps your Latte Factor is eating out for lunch each day or buying bottled soda from the gas station. Maybe its smoking cigarettes or attending happy hour every Friday. Whatever it is, find it and eliminate it. If you take care of the details, the bigger picture will take care of itself.
  • The Technology Trap – The technology trap is a relatively recent phenomenon. If you think about it, up until about 15 years ago, very few people actually had a cell phone. Now, you might be paying more than a hundred dollars a month just to keep yours on. The same goes for cable television, internet plans, and all the rest. We’ve lived for thousands of years without these things. Now, we are willing to spend hundreds a month just to have access to them. Don’t fall into the trap. You can easily pay far less. Try cutting the cord and moving to streaming channels like Netflix and Hulu Plus. Look into discount cell phone carriers like Ting or Republic Wireless who provide the same services you already have for far less.
  • The Grocery Trap – Buying groceries can be expensive, but it can be a lot cheaper if you are flexible. Consider buying store brand instead of name brand products. Use coupons, shop sales, and go meatless for some meals. You’ll find your grocery bill dropping in no time at all.

Final Thoughts

The little things add up. And, when you combine several little things together, they can add up quickly.

While you’re bound to give into these spending traps on occasion, the key is to know that you are doing it. Being aware of your habits is the first step to fixing any spending issue. So, keep an eye out. Track your spending and be aware of your splurges. That way, you can shut them down quickly and take back control of your money.