5 Ways to Tighten Your Budget Belt
Last week, I wrote about my life as a couponer, from reluctant to ridiculous to relaxed. Many of you could relate, sharing your own stories and observations. Oh, and a big shout out to Chip! Thanks for the reminder that there are guys putting the cool back in coupon boxes, too. I’m thinking you need a shirt, with something like “Real Men Coupon” splashed across the front.
Anyway, I loved reading all of your comments. It reminded me of the great amount of wisdom hanging out in this virtual community every day. You are some seriously smart shoppers.
It also reminded me of the many options we have to cut back our spending in ordinary, everyday areas. Spending less can be tough. However, it is possible to make simple cuts that will still allow you to live well. Today I’m going to share a few from my family. This is not rocket science. Most of these cuts are common sense. This also is not anything new. It’s good to remember that our grandparents were making wise financial decisions long before our generation started taking credit for it.
Here are a few of the simple changes, apart from couponing, that we made in our spending habits:
Cut back services to reflect actual usage.
Again, it’s not rocket science, but when you’re living on a tight budget every penny helps. By composting and recycling, we were able to decrease the garbage we generated. Less garbage, smaller garbage can. This simple change saved us over $60 per year.
We are also one of the few remaining American households who don’t have cable television. *gasp!* That’s right. No Dish Network. No Tivo. We use rabbit ear antennas. Remember those? Yeah, they still work. We’ve also pared down our phone and internet plans to match our needs.
Small changes? Yes. But they all add up to equal a significant savings over the course of a year.
Remember that kids don’t need to look like they just stepped out of a Hanna Andersson catalog.
You know those vows you make before you have children? The ones that involved effortless obedience and no high fructose corn syrup? Well, mine also included toting around cutely clothed miniature people. Guess what? My kids’ clothes now come from consignment shops, killer clothing sales, and clearance racks. If an image of two little mismatched urchins pops into your head, think again. I would say they’re pretty darn cute, clothing included.
Some of you have this down to a science, utilizing e-Bay, Craigslist, and/or consignment sales to clothe your children for little to nothing out of pocket. Who cares if it’s “last season’s” line? They’re kids. It’s going to have a ketchup stain on it in five seconds flat anyway.
Start menu planning.
Confession: I think about food more than the average human being. I love reading and talking about food, not to mention cooking, serving, and eating it. So it may seem strange that I really dragged my feet on the whole menu planning idea. I fought it for weeks. I liked being spontaneous. I wanted to cook what sounded good at the moment.
That was all good and fine when I had the ingredients to match the cravings. More often than not, though, it meant a ridiculous number of trips to the grocery store. Before I became a couponer, I didn’t shop sales cycles or loss leaders, making for a high grocery bill. I still like to mix things up, throw caution to the wind, and serve lasagna instead of meatloaf if I so desire. The great majority of the time, though, I stick to my menu plan which helps me stick to my shopping list which helps me stick to my grocery budget.
Use the library.
Like many of you, my husband and I live in Multnomah County, Oregon, where a percentage of our property taxes support the public library system. Since we already pay for the service, we figure we might as well use it to our advantage. We make trips to the library at least once a week, checking out a crazy number of resources.
I know what you’re thinking : I have a whopping fine from 1986, and I don’t have a clue where my card is. Plus, the thought of keeping track of more books does not appeal to me. Wait! Give it another shot. The library is a free, friendly resource just waiting for you to walk through its doors. Also, by accessing your account online, you can renew and reserve from the comfort of your own couch which also helps cut down on those pesky overdue fines.
Not a big reader? Think outside the box:
- Movies & Music. From new DVD releases, complete tv seasons, documentaries, workout systems, and chidren’s selections, the library is a great place to find some free entertainment.
- Events & Classes. Children’s Storytime. Book Discussions. Craft Workshops. Author Lectures. Competitive Chess or Scrabble. Knitting Groups. Computer Classes. Puppet Shows. Homework Help. Reading to Therapy Dogs… Seriously, larger libraries have everything you can think of and more. Explore yours!
- Passes to the Children’s Museum. The Multnomah County system has 19 passes. Each one is good for up to three individuals for three days. Obviously popular, they usually have around 400-600 holds on them at any given time. We just alternate holds between our cards. As soon as we use the pass, we renew the hold. It allows us to visit the Children’s Museum several times a year free of charge. And, honestly, that’s about as much as I want to go there anyway.
- Back to books. The library is a great place to preview cookbooks, check out resources for your teenager’s research project, discover new authors, or keep your rotation of children’s books interesting. Just in case you need a break from Knuffle Bunny. What? You’ve never read about Knuffle Bunny?! Huh. I have. At least 3 billion times.
Avoid your budget kryptonite.
In other words, figure out what kills your budget and learn how to control and/or avoid it. For me it is stores like Target and Fred Meyer, those handy one-stop shops. Maybe this just goes to show that I have essentially no self-control. I go in armed with coupons for free dental floss and cheap razors and come out an hour later with two shirts, one set of kitchen towels, a box of fruit snacks, and three bags of clearanced Halloween candy. Wait. What just happened in there? They are budgeting black holes for me. I know that and steel myself against their powerful pull.
Last year, my husband and I did a one-month experiment where we cut out all extra spending. I quickly realized the only way I was going to be successful was to avoid the one-stop shops so I didn’t set foot in them for an entire month. I couldn’t believe how much I saved by completely avoiding clearance racks and end caps. Those orange stickers are so tantalizing, but the whole “spend more, save more” line of thinking gets so many of us in trouble in a hurry.
If you are struggling to cut back on extra spending, take a look at your weak areas and tighten things up. Is it online shopping? Costco? The mall? Starbucks? A little self-control goes a long way on a tight budget.
Well, there you have it. My family’s top five simple ways to cut spending. Now it’s your turn. Share your wisdom!
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