Friday, December 16, 2011

Budget Bloated? Go on a Spending Diet!

After all of the spending and consumerism of the holidays, we need to cut back.  Advertisers and retailers spend a lot of money to make us believe that more is better, and that if we buy that special item, it will make our lives easier and our family happier.  Yes, sometimes things do make our lives easier.  My smartphone, in my opinion, makes my life easier.  But now is the perfect time of the year to remind ourselves what we already have and what really makes us happy.

Inspired by Rachel and her family over at Small Notebook, we are naming January "No Spend Month".  I suppose calling it a "No Spend Month" is a bit of a exaggeration, because we will be spending.  Just a lot less of it.  Let's call it a SPENDING DIET.  That sounds much less scary.

The Rules of our "Diet"...

Our family of 3 will have $450 to spend on fuel, groceries, and anything else we may buy for ourselves for the entire month. (Wow, that seems so low now that I've typed it.)  This includes clothes, shoes, household items, entertainment, gifts, and eating out.  I can tell you already that I don't think we will be buying much more than groceries or gas with that money.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can't Save? Try Prioritizing Your Goals

Most people, including myself, find it very hard to save money day in and day out.  It's difficult to not want that awesome iPad 2, or those oh-so-soft bath towels, or that cute pair of shoes.  If you don't take a moment to come down from that shopping high and really think about what you're doing, you will have that item paid for and on it's way to your house quicker than you can say, "Zoiks!"

Don't get me wrong.  It is okay to splurge and buy yourself or your family something...on occasion.  You should enjoy that money you work so hard for.  But hopefully these splurges are more of a planned event with saved funds and a budget, rather than an impulse buy.  I think the problem for so many is that we tend to get lost in our interpretation of 'enjoying our money'.  We have a lifestyle that we want to support, for whatever the reason, even if we can't afford it.  Or we just get lazy.  Too tired to cook tonight, so let's order pizza.  Don't want to drive to my own bank's ATM down the street, so I'll just use this one right here and pay $5 in fees.

Yes, I enjoy spending money on eating out and shopping and vacations, but I enjoy even more being able to pay my bills and mortgage on time and having a savings account that can get us out of a jam or keep us afloat if needed.  Financial security is far more desirable to me than that sexy Macbook.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Financial Meetings with Your Spouse--Do You Have Them?

Lots of financial 'gurus' encourage weekly financial meetings with your spouse/partner/significant other.  I can see how it would be helpful for both sides to have an updated, complete picture of the family finance.  That way you can make sure you're on the same page regarding your short and long term goals (hopefully you have some in common), your progress towards those goals, any possible changes (budget, insurance, investments), and upcoming expenses (car repairs, tuition payments, gifts to buy, etc.).  Then you can go about your week making more informed spending decisions, which moves you  more rapidly towards your goals.  For example, if you know that your husband is in need of a new shoes, you may think twice before buying that purse, or adjust the budget for the month to allow for extra spending in certain areas.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

TV Lovers CAN Live Cable-Free and Save Some Money

I never thought Hubby and I could do without cable.  We were addicted to our DVR, liked our HD channels, and had a steady rotation of shows we would watch throughout the week.  It wasn't like we were spending a fortune on cable...just over $50 is not bad at all, considering some people we knew were spending well over $100/month for similar packages.  I added it up one day and realized that over the course of the year we were spending over $600 for tv.  We weren't even watching half of our channels.  I was interested in looking further into streaming tv through our internet connection and socking that extra cash into our emergency fund.  This is what we found...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Grow Your Emergency Fund

It is so difficult to save for your emergency fund when there are so many things competing for your hard earned cash.  The bills, mortgage or rent, student loans, vacations, retirement, saving for kids' college, etc etc.  But if you don't have any sort of emergency fund, or at least 6 months expenses socked away, this should be at the top of your priority list.  Yes, even over paying down debt--especially if you have kids or a spouse depending on your income. 

The first step to growing your emergency fund is figuring out exactly how much you can contribute.  This is where I have to use that nasty little word... BUDGET.  If you don't have a budget it will be very hard to determine how much you have available to devote every week/month/year to your savings goals.  Without a budget, you're most likely just spending without a plan until your bank account is empty, or until you get your next paycheck, with absolutely nothing to show for it and little to no safety net.  You work hard for your money so you should fight to keep it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

7 Ways to Be Lazy and Still Save Money

Saving money for us definitely takes work.  We have to stay disciplined all day, every day.

For us, the less thinking and less work involved in saving that money, the better.  These are just a few of the passive saving tactics that have helped us cut our budget and continually save money (and also happen to be pretty eco-friendly.)  Most of them you only have to perform once, with a time investment of anywhere from 5 minutes to an afternoon.

1. We installed a programmable thermostat...and actually SET IT!  Programmable thermostats are a great thing because they allow you to have the best of both worlds--lower/raise the temp while you're away to save energy and money, while still being comfortable while you're home.  Pick one that will suit your family's needs and schedule--you can even set totally different schedules for every day of the week if your thermostat has that capability.  But, you have to take the time to set your desired schedule and temperatures and use the programmed settings!

Obviously there is an upfront cost for the thermostat itself.  Comparison shop online at sites like Shopzilla or Pricegrabber and be reasonable about the features you need and will use so you're not spending more than necessary.  Prices start around $20 for a basic model and go up to $150 and above for a high end touch screen version.

One tip, realistic about your temperature settings.  Don't set the temp to drop to 60 degrees at night if you know your kids will kick their covers off and freeze or the whole family will get the sniffles.  Just set it to drop (or raise) a few degrees and you still will see some savings.  I sometimes make the mistake of bumping it up or down a degree or two temporarily, then forgetting to put it back on schedule later that day.  Leave yourself a bright colored post it note if you do that!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Update: Cleaning out the Pantry

Okay, so the final grocery budget for November is...$522.  That means we went over by about $75 this past month.  In our defense, $20 of that was for Hubby to buy lunch to reward his employees at work one day.  But I'm human (I'm saying "I" and not "we" because I do almost all of the grocery shopping.) And like I said before, that is the hardest category for us to stick within and I will try and do better this month.