It’s not always fun to cut back, but if you have a set goal in mind, then cutting back in your budget can be a game and less of a bummer. If it’s time for you to figure out where you can shave off in your expenses, here are some realistic ways of cutting your budget.
Anyone who has ever been on a diet, knows the rule that “Slow and steady wins the race”. You aren’t going to be able to stick with anything long term if you do drastic things with your budget. If you immediately cut out everything fun or stop buying toothpaste and start making your kids brush with baking soda then you are going to have some very disgruntled family members! Budget changes should feel natural and not too much like a sacrifice or you won’t be able to keep it up. It’s definitely a balancing act.
Plan Your Frivolous Purchases
You really want something. However it’s something you don’t need. Planning these kinds of frivolous purchases instead of just buying on the whim will give you the time to rethink and reevaluate whether you want to spend money on it or move on. I love to shop online because it gives me time to put things into my virtual cart, walk away and do something else. Then after thinking it over, I can either click submit or close the window.
And another thought for online shopping, if you do decide to buy always do a quick search for a promo code. Ebates is a great site to find a coupon and also earn back a percentage on your purchases (affiliate link).
Assess the Need
Before you buy it, assess the need of it in your life. Are you okay without it or do you just really want it? Before buying new clothes take a good look in the closet, clear out stuff you don’t wear and then assess what it is you really need. I realized a few years ago that I needed to do that when I assessed my closet and saw that I had six nearly-identical black tees…oops!
Before grocery shopping go through cupboards, fridge and freezer. Toss out old stuff and make note of what isn’t getting eaten (don’t buy that again!). Take a quick inventory before you buy, make a list and stick to it.
One of my pet peeves is back-to-school shopping! There is a big push in the stores to buy everything new for the first day of school. Assess the need for new clothes, a new backpack, fresh pencils and markers and only buy what is absolutely necessary. I bought a great backpack for my son three years ago from L.L. Bean and it’s still looking good and going strong…no need to buy a new one each year if you buy a quality item that lasts longer than one season. Read also my post, Top Tips for Budgeting for Back to School.
Cut it Out
There was a time that whenever I went to Target, I literally strolled down every single aisle. I would go in to buy lunch supplies and end up buying really cute (but totally unnecessary) home decor items, seasonal stuff, Dollar Spot goodies, DVDs for the kids, t-shirts, etc. I was spending $50 more than I needed to each time I stepped in the door.
I know you…you do the same thing, don’t you? *wink*
So I did something drastic. Because I had such a hard time keeping myself in check at Target, I stopped shopping there for a while. If I needed to buy lunch stuff, I only bought it at Costco or the grocery store. I didn’t die from not have those adorable (but totally unnecessary) items and I had a lot more money in my account.
If you can’t make it through Target without picking up cute (but totally unnecessary) home decor like me, maybe you need to resist the Target urge and shop somewhere else for a little bit. I have done the same thing with other stores, simply cutting them out of my routine. I recycle my unused Kohl’s 30% coupons, delete my Gymboree emails about a sale before I start adding things to my online cart and absolutely, never-ever go to the mall!
Buy it Used
Someone else’s family outgrew it and now you can own it for pennies on the dollar. We have a large family and tend to trade clothes, books and toys between the cousins. Most of my kids clothes come from ThredUp (affiliate link) and I’ve started buying clothes for myself here too. Clothes from ThredUp are all in like-new condition so I know I’m getting clothes that are only gently worn (some still have the tags on them). I just bought some gorgeous dresses for less than $13 each and they would have easily been around the $100 mark at full-price!
Keep it at Home
Eating out costs more than cooking at home. Taking the entire family to the movie theater is way pricier than pulling out a favorite DVD and having movie night in your living room. When you’re watching your budget, try to minimize those “out on the town” times and enjoy a fun evening at home…where it’s free and you can hang out in your pajamas! Instead of going to the ice cream shop and getting scoops all around, hit the store, buy a few fun toppings and a big tub of vanilla bean and make sundaes at home. Put the money you would have spent on a night out in your Vacation Bank!
Do it at Home
If you can make it at home instead of buying it at the store, you should! Some things are easy and more cost effective to make at home, like popsicles, smoothies, salad dressing and birthday cards. Need your morning coffee fix? Make it at home and take it to-go in a thermos. Handy with a sewing machine? You can quickly whip up your own pillowcases, shorts or skirts and of course, Halloween costumes. Need a car wash? Get a bucket and sponge and do it in your own driveway. We minimize water use with a pressure washer. Why pay a premium price for having someone else do something that you can easily do yourself at home.
Bring it from Home
Planning a day out? Don’t forget to bring stuff from home so you’ll resist spending money while you’re out. Maybe that means packing lunch in a cooler for a mid-day picnic between errands, filling bottles of water so you aren’t stopping for drinks on the go or toting a few snacks in your purse to appease kids when they see treats in the check-out line. If it’s sunny don’t forget the sunglasses, hat and sunscreen. A first aid kit in the trunk, stocked with bandages and pain reliever can be a life saver. And I always keep a bag in my car with a clean shirt for everyone in case someone has a run-in with a bottle of ketchup (hey, that happens!). If you already have it all with you in the car, there’s no need to buy it when you’re out.
Take a look at your larger expenses or rotating bills and see if there is any way of cutting back. As much as I enjoy going to the gym, I can get just as good of a work out walking around the block and lifting my kettle bell at home, so I cancelled my $10 a month gym membership. We hardly ever watch TV outside of the local news, so bye-bye pricey cable bill. Check with your utility departments and see if the rate that you have is the best they can offer. Sometimes just threatening to leave will be enough for them to offer you a better rate.
If you shop at a grocery store that doubles coupons, this can be a great savings…however, it’s only practical if these are items you already buy! Don’t buy unnecessary items just because you have a coupon! I recall when I was coupon shopping and decided to stop. I was driving all over town to shop at several stores and had enough shampoo in my closet to soap up a small army! I very rarely coupon shop anymore because most of my purchases are in bulk from Costco.
Get Everyone on Board
Families need to be united with the same goal in mind if you want to be successful in your budget trimming. That goes for the kids too. Our kids know that if it’s not their birthday and it’s not Christmas, that they can look but not ask for toys when we go to the store. When they really want something they have the option of using their own money (which we have to approve) or doing without. Generally they make the choice to do without. Our kids know that we’re saving up for a Disney trip so it’s easier to tell them that is where our money is going. And they are saving along too in their own bank accounts.
It Gets Easier
I know, even small changes can be an adjustment if you’re used to doing things a certain way. Before I remarried, my son and I had Disneyland Annual Passes along with the San Diego Zoo, Sea World and Legoland! We were eating out a lot, shopping whenever we wanted to and sadly, spending money I didn’t have. I was in debt and though we were “having fun”, I was stressed out about money. When I remarried, my cutback was drastic and it was very hard at first. However now that we’ve been doing this for a few years, it’s very easy for me to see where we can continually improve on our budget. I’m having a lot more fun now, knowing I have minimal debt (one car and our home mortgage) and I’m much less stressed now that we have money in a savings account!
Having your set goals (ex. being debt-free, developing a savings account, saving up for a dream vacation) will help keep the spotlight focused. Don’t look at your neighbors and what they are buying. Buy what you can afford and make do without. Keep your eyes on the prize and make saving lighthearted. Take your focus off what you aren’t doing (ie: spending) and look at what you are doing instead, like spending more time at home with your family and saving up for that big vacation, of course!