We’ve all heard it from the time we were kids. You wanted the toy or book, and your parents said, “Either save your allowance, or go mow some lawns.” Okay, maybe they didn’t say that, but back in the old days, we were always mowing lawns on the weekends, bagging groceries, pocketing the money and saving for the new toy or treat.
Fast-forward a lot of years and, while we can’t go mowing lawns anymore, there are a lot of easy ways to cut your expenses that won’t hurt. Whether you’re single or have a family, nearly all of these can be useful and help you to make the money last, and even to put more than you thought away in savings.
First and foremost, establish a doable budget. Most experts out there agree with what’s called the “50/30/20” plan. Whatever category we’re in (single, married, family), we all have basically the same type of expenses, and this division works great. The first 50% of your take-home income gets put to absolute necessities—housing, utilities, and food. The next 30% goes to necessary, but flexible and not always a “must-have,” items—clothing, Internet, cable, phone, eating out. See what I mean by flexible? Lastly, the remaining 20% goes to any loans you may have and/or put directly into savings.
Easy, right? No, of course not. But flexibility and reality is key here. Everything depends on your take-home income and your needs. Having a budget doesn’t mean you never get to have an occasional treat or splurge. They are fine, and even encouraged within a good budget. But the keyword here is occasional.
A few other things within the budget discussion are neither unheard of nor oh-this-is-new. Coffee. Having coffee out and spending $4, $5, $6 on a single-double-light-frappe-whipped cream-whatever coffee. Add that up times 20 average workdays and you’ve got enough to buy a fancy coffeemaker that you can make those neat coffee concoctions at home, put them into a to-go cup, and even put a fun little label on the cup!
Another big one is eating out. We love it. We all do. But it’s not something we need to do all the time. Unless you have no stove or oven, of course. Eat at home as much as you can. Pack lunches for work—you can get seriously creative with some thought, and take a veritable gourmet feast for lunch that you’ve made at home. One of your treats could be a cooking class for preparing everyday-meals, with local and regional ingredients you’ve found at farmer’s markets. Your partner, family, children can all get involved and make awesome meals and snacks, and be the envy of everyone who looks at what you brought and says “leftovers from xyz-fancy-place?”
We know in our hearts we don’t have to be the icon of fashion heights or eat out constantly. It’s fun, but eats into our funds.
Coupons. They’re not just for your mom’s and grandma’s generation anymore. On Sundays with the newspaper inserts, or what you find inside a supermarket, take the time to go through them and clip them! But don’t just put them away. Use them…and use them often! Every time you go to the market and buy food or even gas. You would be amazed at how much you’ll save using coupons and rebates. Two-for-ones, dollars off, half off—you could do some serious stocking up while ending up savings hundreds of dollars over a month’s time.
We know that it can seem a hassle and time-waster, cutting them out, putting them into groups, scanning at the check-outs. But there are other ways to “do couponing”…check out the Internet for coupon phone apps that will save you a lot of time and effort. Some to check out are Ibotta, SnipSnap, Coupons.com, and Yowza. Check your phone’s app directory for others specific to your area also.
A word about couponing: be attentive with the coupons that are wanting you to spend more to get some type of deal. You may be required to spend $100 to get $5 off (quite the exaggeration, but we’re sure you get the picture), or even to buy four loaves of bread to get a discount. While many would say no, I don’t need four loaves of bread, remember that you have a freezer. Use it! Take out what you need daily, but remember that you’ve put three loaves of bread in there.
Magazine subscriptions. Take a good look at any magazine subscriptions you are paying for. Do you really need them all in physical form? Can you find them online, perhaps paying a much lower cost, or even only paying for what you really read? Do you really need that magazine or club?
Utilize community resources and check out local thrift stores. Many balk at purchasing goods or clothing from a thrift store, but you really needn’t be. It may not be brand new, but it will be in good condition. The great thing about this is that you’re shopping local and using local goods—the thrift shops are generally always run by a community resource, and you’ll be purchasing “recycled” from your own community. What could be better than that?
Don’t neglect online community market pages, where you can find great deals on used clothing, appliance, electronics, pretty much anything, on community market pages, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace. Craigslist is another good one, but always be attentive.
Those pesky utilities. Absolutely necessary, but many can just suck your money right out the window. Unless you live in the perfect climate that has no need for heat or air conditioning and amazing temperature year-round (if you find that, please let me know where that paradise is!), then these are absolute necessities for your comfort and well-being. Remember what you’ve probably heard from the time you were knee-high to a grasshopper: turn off the lights you aren’t using and in other rooms; block off heating/air vents in rooms you aren’t using; hand-wash your dishes (yes, hand-wash and dry them); hang your clothes outside to dry even if it’s cold out (it may take longer, but it does work). Inspect everywhere for leaks or cracks to make sure nothing is flowing out. Thick curtains on your windows does wonders year-round to keep your place warm or cool; humidity is uncomfortable and a killer for sucking money out through your air having work harder, so invest in a humidifier. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
Check your insurance policy. While you may think you can get by on “the minimum and the cheapest,” this can easily cost you everything in the long run. Consider giving us a call and letting one of our licensed insurance agents take a look at your policy(ies) to make sure all is well. We work with multiple carriers to find you the best coverage for the best price, and one of our Paradiso Promises is to help you understand all of your insurance options. Even if you maintain a clean driving record and pay your bills on time, sometimes your insurance premium can go up unexpectedly due to carrier rate increases. If you feel your insurance rate isn’t within your budget, speak with one of our agents and we can help you.
Final thoughts. Combatting debt, living within your means but still letting yourself have some treats, never seem to jive with the word “budget.” But it can, with careful thought and planning, allowing you to create a health nest egg to protect your future, while still living your best life!
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below about tricks you’ve learned over time to help with financial planning and budgeting. We’d love to hear them!