James and I have been cutting cost left and right,especially after taking the financial peace classes, which we recommend EVERYONE to take, whether you are currently in debt or not. We also are saving up for my maternity leave pay cut and our big move. We have helped tons of family and friends get on the right track financially and I thought I would offer some advice as to what works for us. Keep in mind, this might not work for everyone, below is just what our family does to keep cost down.
Here are some tips that we have used to help us get more financially fit.
1. WRITE A BUDGET. This is the most important thing to do. Have your budget written out and planned ahead of time. Even if your paychecks are sporadic, writing down bills that need to be paid, there typical monthly cost and the time they are due will help keep you on track. Seeing how much you pay for things might get you to notice some overspending that you haven't seen before. Our class taught us to first keep receipts of everything we do for one month. Then create categories such as food, clothing, shelter, utilities, entertainment, auto, etc... and add up how much you spent in each category. Then figure out where you can slim down on. I keep our budget on an excel time sheet that has hidden formulas. That way if our checks ever vary, I just have to put in the check amount and it will change everything else according to. I plan our whole year in advance with our budget so that way we can plan adequately for family vacations, etc...
2. ENVELOPE SYSTEM. Allocate where each dollar is going every paycheck. James and I have been doing this for 3 years now and we have saved thousands of dollars. We never realized how much we were spending on random things until we did this. We even have an envelope for spur of the moment items. Once the money you allocated for the paycheck runs out, you stop spending. It helped us get our priorities straight as to what we really want to spend our money on. This system has helped us save money for tattoos, a laptop and a camera. Talk about savings! We started out using the cash method in the envelopes, but after we got ourselves on track and in habit of only spending what is in our envelopes, we now use our debit card. I created card stock cards that have a register for each envelope we used to have and subtract what we spend immediately so it still keeps us in check on what amounts we are using and when to stop. It also helps if we forget our envelopes at home and makes me feel better knowing I am not carrying around so much cash. Although, I would suggest doing the cash only method first to really help instill the habit.
3. STOP PAYING FOR CABLE. James and I haven't had cable in 3 years and we have never regretted it. We only have internet and it really is pretty much the same thing. We used to subscribe to NETFLIX for $9.99 a month and it had almost all the television shows we would want to watch, with NO commercials and are on watch instantly, so you won't have to wait for the shows to be put on dvd. We actually, cut the cost of Netflix too and just watch shows on Hulu or shows that are posted on the broadcasters wesbites. Now it takes about a week until after the show has aired to post it, but we don't have the time to watch shows very often, so it doesn't really matter to us. We will wait until 2-3 episodes are available and just watch them back to back. As far as getting news from cable, all important news information can be found on the internet. This saves us about $50 a month.
4. BUY IN BULK. Buying certain foods or items in bulk, especially frozen foods can help save tons in the long run. James and I buy bulk frozen meats that last a month, which ends up being cheaper per pound. We separate the meat into the appropriate proportions before we put into the freezer. We buy toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, etc. in bulk too. We also buy the big packages of items we go through fast, like cheese. We used to do one HUGE shopping trip once a month or every three weeks and purchased a lot of frozen food or canned items. However, James and I wanted to start eating healthier and incorporate more fresh food items into our diet. We now go to the grocery store once a week or every week and a half on our way home from work to purchase fresh fruit and veggies. We found that going more often and buying less quantity at a time (for items that have a short shelf life) saved us from throwing out food that would spoil quickly. We had gone through a lot of bad bananas before we finally decided to try to go more often and it has been great every since. Try to not buy any more food items (except the necessities of milk, bread, eggs, etc..) until your pantry is pretty close to gone. That way there is not certain items that are forgotten and wasted. This strategy also helps you become creative with your food items to create new dishes from the same items and can be fun. Also, Make sure you write a list and STICK TO IT! This can save you TONS on spur of the moment items. Costco has been an awesome investment for us. Sure it's 50 bucks up front, but it has saved us so much money overall, it has been well worth it for us.
5. QUIT THE GYM! I had to cancel my gym membership long ago because we needed the money and I never found time to go anymore. There are plenty of things to do outside. San Diego has the best weather year round to go running, play sports, and do any other outside activity. We should live it up! Find new places like different parks that you could walk to and spend a day there playing with your pets and kids or get your friends together for a game of capture the flag. Try walking to places that are close to you, a 10 minute walk here and there really adds up! I have saved $30 a month not going to the gym. Plus, being outside is so invigorating. And if you live in an area where weather is bad, make a fun game of tag with the kids or have fun doing an exercise or dance video inside the house. We put on music and dance around the house, it's tons of fun.
6. CUT DOWN ON CELL PHONE USAGE. We use to have a 2 separate plans totally about $150. We got a new plan together as a family and started sharing less amount of minutes and cut our texting down from unlimited. We also shopped around for the best plan. Use the internet to email and catch up, many people have a Facebook or Twitter account where you can catch up on as well. This has saved us at least $50 a month.
7. BUY ON CLEARANCE AND USE COUPONS. James and I won't usually go out to eat unless we have coupons and we always check the ads BEFORE we go grocery shopping. When I go shopping for clothes or home decor, I always hit the clearance and sales racks first. I shop at outlet or discount stores like ROSS. I found satin sheet sets for our queen bed for $13! I mainly shop online and when I do, I always scout the internet for coupon codes before purchasing. I usually use Retail Me Not for coupon codes. I typically don't buy things unless they are on sale. I also don't purchase clothes unless I am really in love with it. The reason being is because I will buy it then I will wear it once or twice then forget about it or find something that I don't like about it and it will just sit there in my closet, wasting space and money.
8. CRAIGSLIST. We are huge advocates of buying,selling and trading locally. Especially our big ticket items. You never know who may be selling something exactly or pretty close to what you are looking for at a fraction of the cost. And you are helping keep that item from a landfill and helping the planet out, go you! We have bought and sold numerous things on Craigslist, mainly furniture. We like to frequent Ikea a lot and find things we want then search for weeks to find them on Craigslist. 90% of the time we get the same item on Craigslist. Also, don't forget that you can also re purpose items. You can find something that is okay, but pretty cheap and then repaint it, or re upholster it and voile, it looks pretty awesome and new. Just be willing to put a little elbow grease into it. Then you can take the money you would have spent on the brand new version and go on a date or something. :)
9. RESELL UNUSED/UNWANTED ITEMS. I make sure to try and sell clothes that I haven't worn in 3 or 4 months (depending on if it is weather related) so that way I can make more space for new items and use the money I sell my older clothes for to buy new ones, then it is like an even exchange. :) When we want to get something new, that we don't absolutely need but really want, we see if there are things in our house that we do not use/want anymore and see if we can resell it to put that money toward what we want. For instance, we want to make a play area for Chloe on our little side porch, so we are selling our grill and outside bench that we hardly ever use on craigslist and using that money to purchase a kitchenette set for her with a toy grocery cart and a little table set (which we will look for on craigslist, btw). We like to decrease the clutter at our house so we try to stick with the advice of take one leave one, or in this case, buy something and get rid of something.
10. REMEMBER YOU DON'T ALWAYS NEED IT. James and I love cool vintage things. And modern things as well. And woodland things. And 50's style things. and and... tons of stuff. Just because we like all this super cool stuff, doesn't necessarily mean that we need it. We use to collect tons of stuff like house decor and had shelves and shelves of eclectic cool things. However, just because we like it doesn't mean that it needs to be ours. We have learned to appreciate something, even love something (take a picture and put it as your backdrop on your phone or computer kinda love) and not end up taking it home with us. It also helps with the decreased clutter and saving money.
11. FIND THINGS TO DO FOR FREE. Seriously, people say this all the time. But there are so many things you can do around your city that cost you nothing. Go explore! Look for new parks you haven't visited yet. Look on your city website to see if there are street fairs coming to town. Go to the farmers market just to browse and be outdoors. Find a new hiking trail, ride your bike. Go on a picnic. I know in San Diego, you can visit various websites that show free things to do in SD. They also have Family magazine (the free magazine that you can pick up practically anywhere) and it also list free things to do in your city. Take a walk downtown or become a tourist in your own city and go site seeing!
12. HAVE FUN MONEY. James and I make sure to save about $20 (it used to be more before we really started going low for the savings for maternity leave) every paycheck just to have fun with. Whether it be for a date night or for a new dvd that just came out that we want. You need to be able to enjoy your money and have some fun as well as be responsible and save. Fun money is what has kept us from going insane when we have a strict budget. It is what helps us actually get through knowing all our money is already allotted to go somewhere else before we even touch it.
James and I find creative ways to save money. We try hard to stay away from using our credit card and we are really working on being strong enough to say no to things we want but don't need. You really have to stay in the mindset that material things don't always make you happy. It's hard to cut back on everything at once, so take it step by step, little by little and you'll be able to do it. As long as you stick to it, it will become a habit and you will be able to save more money in the long run (meaning actually going on your dream vacation you always wanted!)
Anyways, hope this helps at least one of you readers!