Shaping up in the new year? Shape up your budget, too! End the year with more cash on hand using some or all of these budget tips!
Set a goal
Just like your physical shape-up, you should begin with a goal in mind. Your (SMART) goal should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Set a specific dollar amount that you think you can realistically save each week or month. Multiply that number by 12 and you have long-term amount. Start with short-term goals, though, so that the amount is fresh in your mind every time you go to make a purchase. If you have no idea what you can realistically save, consider trying the 52-week savings plan, or calculate what you can save by eliminating unnecessary expenses like these.
Cut out the fat
Plans can cost anywhere from $30 (plus equipment fees) to over $100 per month for premium satellite packages. (compare here) You’re looking at a minimum savings of $360/year. It may not sound like much now, but combined with some of these other strategies, it adds up fast! And just think of all the extra time you’ll have to read, learn new skills, and reconnect with your kids.
Cancel satellite radio+
Seriously. When did we start paying $19 every month for services that are provided for free? You’ll save $228/year.
Rethink your home and auto insurance
Our homeowner’s insurance kept creeping up for four straight years. Our mortgage company offered to check rates and gave us the top 3 offers. We saved around $250/year (about $21 per month) without any changes to our coverage or deductible. Sometimes you can even call the company with a quote from another carrier and they can match it without the hassle of switching.
Brown Bag it
Even if you order the cheapest fast food on the menu, you’ll get way too many unhealthy calories and pay out the nose for the privilege. So let’s say you order the cheapest possible, dollar meal deals at $5 every weekday for a year (I know you wouldn’t, but I also know you often spend more than $5, so just go with it.). You’re at 260 lunches for a whopping $1300! A can of Progresso soup can fill you up for around 200 calories and about $1.50 without coupons. That’s $390 on the year for a savings of $910/year.
Switch a couple of those meals to ramen noodles at twenty cents each for a little variety and you can afford to add fresh, homemade salads without changing your budget. Better yet—actually bring and eat your leftovers from dinner the night before and stash that fiver in the safe each afternoon.
$1.75-$4.65 for coffee? My Depression-era grandmother is shaking her head from Heaven if I even smell it on my way through the food court. If you’re getting the smallest, cheapest, plainest coffee even 2 days a week, you’re spending $182/year. The $11 Folgers can lasts us 3 months, and means coffee every morning for $44/year (a savings of $138).
One less dinner out
We were eating out twice a week because our kids’ sports schedules were running us ragged. I finally started packing “picnic dinners” and saved about $30 a week for a yearly savings of $1,440.
Or stop whatever vice is eating away at your budget. This website indicates a pack of cigs averages between $4.96 and $14.50 depending on your state of residence. Let’s say you’re a pack-a-day smoker in Kentucky, the cheapest state per pack. I can think of much better ways to spend $1800 a year! Nonsmokers, you should also give up habits that are detrimental to your health. It’ll save your budget and keep you from paying to see the doctor!
A gym membership?
Really? The cheapest one in our town was $24/month for $288/year. Walking and hiking are free—not to mention a family affair. For a fourth that amount you could invest in a kettle bell and work out your entire body for the rest of your life!
(I know you don’t have all these savings opportunities, but if you did, you could save $5,414!)
Generate additional revenue
Sell unwanted gifts
I know you have some weird Christmas gift you can’t return. Don’t tuck it away; sell it! Even if you don’t have an eBay account, you can list for free on Craigslist or your local “Give and Take” on Facebook.
Invent a Job
My teenage son took his truck around the back roads, knocked on doors, and offered to haul off people’s broken appliances or rusting metal for free. Then he took it to the recycling center. Cleaning up the environment and scoring some cash is a pretty good way to spend a Saturday!
Whenever possible, trade your goods or expertise for someone else’s. It saves you money and keeps Uncle Sam’s hands out of your pockets! Last summer I was looking for hard-to-find wild fruit. I advertised on Craigslist that I would do all the work to can fruit for anyone who wanted to split the harvest. Crabapples, gooseberries, and elderberries? Yes, please! I even traded a coworker for some local honey.
Maybe finally get rid of those gifts from last year. Anything your kids have outgrown, you use only once a year, or you just can’t see yourself using in the next 12 months should be sold. Whether you list it electronically or have a garage sale, turn your junk into cash.
Have a plan for each dollar
Every dollar has a purpose
If it’s set aside for something specific, you’re less likely to spend it willy-nilly. If it isn’t earmarked, you’ll probably see it as “play money.” Try putting any saved cash in an envelope with your child’s name on it and mark it “College Fund” or “Christmas Fund”. You won’t pilfer it when it feels like stealing from your kid.
Pay With Cash
Developing a cash-only habit serves a couple of purposes: 1) It forces you to stay within your budget. If you have $100 bill for the trip to the grocery store and a list, you’re not going to go over your budget. If you have a debit or credit card, you’ll suddenly find items you can leave without buying. 2) It lets you actually keep and track your savings. If that trip only cost $94 and you have the physical savings in your pocket, you can stash it away much easier than having that cheery “you saved $6.00 today” at the bottom of your card’s receipt. And physically saving it is much more satisfying, so you’re more inclined to try to do that again.
Try a loyalty card
Many grocery stores and pharmacies have cards that give you discounts or rewards toward your next purchase (even when you pay with cash). I downloaded Wal-Mart’s “Savings Catcher” app, which lets me scan QR codes on my receipts. It compares everything I bought with local competitors’ advertisements and gives me credit back as a gift card. I don’t love shopping there, but during a hectic week, it makes ad-matching a lot easier.
What else have you done to slim your budget and sculpt your savings account?
You may also be interested in reading this article about a potential scenario that will greatly affect your financial stability, Scary Scenario: The One-Hour Meltdown.
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