For the past few months, I’ve been presenting 11 principles for simple, meaningful success.

Putting the first 10 principles into practice, including living generously, saving and investing wisely, and enjoying financial breathing space, requires the 11th principle, which is all about smart spending.  And since we talked about most people’s single largest expense category last time, the focus of the final principle is to Spend Smart on Everything Else.  

Here are some of the most important ways to get the most for your money in the major spending categories.  As you read these ideas, keep in mind that they aren’t about obsessive frugality; they’re about managing money well.

Maintenance

Two keys here: First, make sure you actually budget some money for the maintenance and repair your home and car.  Not doing so is one of the most common budgeting mistakes people make.

Second, be willing to spend some money on preventative maintenance.  It’s a lot cheaper to pay for oil changes every 3,000 to 5,000 miles than it is to replace an engine.

Utilities

You’ve heard these tips before, but they work.  Switch to compact fluorescent or LED lights.  Consider going with just a cell phone and eliminating your landline. We got rid of our landline recently and haven’t missed it, or its monthly bill, one bit.

Transportation

You’ll see on my Cash Flow Plan that a monthly vehicle payment is not listed under Transportation. An important key to financial success is not having a vehicle payment.

The biggest true transportation cost is insurance.  If you have an adequate emergency fund, consider raising your collision and comprehensive deductibles.  If your car is not worth very much, consider dropping them altogether and only carrying liability insurance.

Taxes

If you’re among the 80 percent of taxpayers that gets a refund each year, you’re in the unfortunate habit of giving Uncle Sam a no-interest loan.  I’m a big fan of generosity, but not toward an organization that can print its own money!

I’d rather see you estimate your taxes (go to the IRS web site and search for the withholding calculator) and have your withholding adjusted accordingly.

Food

You don’t have to be a super couponer to save at the grocery store, but a little couponing with the help of a site like Coupon Mom can go a long way toward helping you save on groceries.  There’s credible research showing that cherry picking is worth our time as well.

Clothing

You can get some great clothing at stores like Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and especially Nordstrom Rack, although that last one is still a bit of a splurge.  It’s also amazing what people drop off at Goodwill and other second hand stores.

Gifts

A big key here is budgeting a monthly amount for gifts and then letting the money build up in a special savings account for the big gift-giving months like December.

Entertainment

With sites like Groupon and Restaurant.com, you never need to pay full price for entertainment.  Just make sure the availability of so many “deals” doesn’t tempt you to overspend.  Financial death by discount is not a good deal!

Health

At the risk of sounding parental, take care of yourself. It is absolutely the best way to save on healthcare costs.

For a long time, I aspired to be a consistent runner, and strangely enough I think I’ve actually become one. You don’t need to run to maintain good health, but you do need to move.  Walk on a regular basis or ride your bike.

Oh, and eating healthy is a good idea, too.  One of the many blessings my wife brings to our family is her insistence on healthy eating.  She has gone a long way toward taming, or at least counter-balancing, my sweet tooth.

Surf For Savings

For just about anything you need or want to buy these days, there are discounts to be had.  Many times you can even double or triple dip on discounts. 

When we needed new tires for our van recently, I was able to apply three discounts to the purchase. First, I found the tires I wanted at a store offering a manufacturer’s rebate. Next, I pre-ordered the tires by visiting the store’s site by way of Ebates, which triggered a two percent rebate. And finally, I found a coupon code that created an additional discount just by searching on the name of the store and the words “coupon code.”

What are some of your favorite ways to spend smart?

Other posts in this series on the 11 principles that lead to simple, meaningful success:

Matt Bell is Associate Editor at Sound Mind Investing, publisher of the best-selling investment newsletter written from a biblical perspective.  Its core investment strategy has beaten the market in 11 of the past 13 years. He is also the author of Money and Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples.

Publication date: October 22, 2012