Have you had a chance to review your January budget? Take a look and decide where you need to cut back a little or be more conscious when shopping. If you have already spent the whole year’s budget for clothes in January you should consider clothes shopping a weakness for you. Food shopping and gift giving have always been my two problem spots. I love good food and I love to try new things. And who doesn’t love to give gifts? This isn’t always a great combination for saving money. You can make a dent in saving the budget by cleaning the closets and keeping a list of what you already have around the house.
I was able to save money last month just because I was conscious of what I had in the pantry. I took an inventory of the pantry and now I’m working my way through the impulse purchases of the past. I can now play Iron Chef every night for a month. Tonight’s secret ingredient is millet. For the rest of the week it will be quinoa because my impulse shopping last year resulted in 7 cups of quinoa. That’s a lot of grain to use!! (Do you have a good quinoa recipe to share?) By using up the items in the pantry I will significantly cut down on food spending for the next few months. That money can be saved to make more expensive purchases later or if there is enough I will carry it into next year’s budget when my pantry is bare.
Don’t stop at the pantry! Pile up the boxes of Band-Aids, shampoo, office supplies, hardware and clothes. Sort everything out and make a list. Did you know that you had seven pairs of gloves floating around the house? Did you realize that you had a great black dress which was next to three other cute black dresses? Do your spring cleaning early and discover the treasures lost in your house.
When you have finished the spring cleaning take a look at your budget. Are you spending too much on coffee out or buying books? Can you adjust your budget to reflect your needs a little better or do you just need to cut back? Maybe you need to use the coffee maker you found in the closet and check out a library book about making a perfect cup of coffee. Maybe you should allocate more to coffee out and less to shoes if that is what makes you happy. I’m not a clothes person so I have almost eliminated my clothing budget but I have increased my garden supply budget.
The point of the budget isn’t to suffer. It is to bring you the most joy possible with the paycheck that you already have!
Many people associate budgeting with having a low income. Some people associate budgeting with having a lot of money. Some people just don’t think about budgeting. You should. Money stress has nothing to do with income or wealth. Both the rich and the poor worry about having enough money to support their lifestyle and pay their bills. Budgeting helps you balance your dreams with the reality of your paycheck. This is not always something you want to think about but it is important if you have long term financial goals like putting your children through college or going on a fabulous family vacation.
Bring on the reality check! You cannot have everything you want. Seriously. I know you know that but do you really KNOW that you can’t have everything you want? Break out that budgeting sheet from the January 20th post and start budgeting. Can you live the way you think you deserve on the income you have? If the end of the budget gives you a negative number it is time to think again. This may be hard news during hard times but it is so important for your future. Take a moment to be angry and sad and all the other emotions that come with not getting your way and move on. Make it work!
Here is a list of things I have given up or reduced to make it work:
Coffee out (now once a month)
Dining out (now once a month)
Cable/satellite (completely gone)
Vacation (no flying or hotels)
Crafts (reduced amount spent)
Meat (meat is expensive so we eat less)
Books (reduced amount – we go to the library)
Magazines (down to one subscription)
Newspaper (we only get the Sunday paper now)
Gym (we purchased home equipment and started going outside this will save money over several years)
Movies at the theater (about two a year)
Gifts (I make gifts or send cards)
Life can be fabulous no matter what your budget looks like! First fix your budget. Then make your life fabulous!
It is actually easier to make the budget than it is to stick to it. I know you’re not surprised by that! These three things help me stay on budget.
1. Write everything down. Make sure that you keep track of every penny you spend using a check register (use a separate one for cash), an excel spreadsheet or a form like this. When you see how quickly you are spending money you might start rethinking your purchases. I prefer the paper forms because I just leave it on my desk as a constant reminder.
2. Don’t buy anything you don’t have on your shopping list. Even if you have things you don’t need on the list you have spent more time thinking about it than when you make an impulse purchase at the store. I look at everything in the store and then when I see something I want I look at the list. If it isn’t on the list it stays out of the cart. (Unless you forgot to write down toilet paper or eggs obviously!) I can always add the item to the list when I get home to give me some more time to think about it.
3. Avoid the store as much as possible. It sounds boring but it really isn’t! I have a couple of craft projects ready to work on all the time both for me and the kids. I also have a list of things to do hanging up so I can look at choices that don’t include shopping.
4. Always check your receipt before you leave the store! Being over charged two or three dollars every time you are the store can really add up. If I plan to buy more than I think I can keep track of in my head I write it down. If I buy 15 boxes of mac & cheese and I get charged for 16 I am sure to get my $1 back at the customer service desk on my way out. When I fail to check my receipt (like I did yesterday) I decide if it is worth a trip back to fix the mistake. Yesterday it was worth sending my husband back to the store because we were over charged $15. Scanners might make check out faster but they seem to have increased the mistakes and I frequently end up being charged twice for one item.
The advantage of buying less and going shopping less often is that you will have less to keep track of! One way to make money tracking easier (and then more successful in the long run) is to combine categories as needed. I combine my ‘household necessities’ and my ‘grocery’ budget after I have figured out what they should be. I often buy toilet paper at the grocery store and food at stores like Target. Reading through the receipts and separating the expenses caused home budgeting to be too tedious for me. I don’t want to make this a full time job; I just want to save some money!
Budget, track, save.