Does your monthly budget have you scrounging around looking for ways to meet your basic bills? Then it’s time to take serious action. Whether you have too much debt or too little income, it can be really frustrating when you know you don’t have enough money to pay for things. It also can put stress on your marriage and family when there’s not enough money to go around.
Throughout my own marriage, I’ve experienced times of feeling financially secure and financially broke, depending on our income at the time. So, I know what it feels like to “go without”. It’s even worse when your friends and family are going on nice vacations and buying new cars.
Budgeting can be something that conjures up thoughts of lack, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If the word “budgeting” makes you cringe and think about living on peanut butter sandwiches and ramen noodles, think again.
Here are some clever ways to budget and curb your overspending habits.
- Make a spreadsheet of all your monthly expenses and income. Your budget should include housing, utilities, food, loan payment, credit card bills, auto expenses like gasoline and all other monthly occurring expenses. Tally up the total and record what your monthly income is. This simple exercise will give you an idea of what your basic expense “nut” is each month versus income.
- Be sure to include miscellaneous personal expenses in your budget. Included in your budget should be a list of expenses that are part of your personal lifestyle like dues for your children’s sporting events and clubs, or snacks for your monthly book club. Also, add in birthdays and an allocated amount for gifts which will vary from month to month.
- Prioritize important bills and due dates. Along with logging your expenses and income into a spreadsheet, take the actual bills that you get in the mail, open them up and stack them in a pile by payment date. Next, get a calendar and write the due date down for each bill as it comes in, along with the amount due. This will not only keep you on track for payment dates but will make you super-aware of what your expenses are.
- Look for ways to lower non-priority bills. Whether it’s a cell phone plan or a cable TV bill, these are bills that have service plans which can be changed to reduce your monthly costs. Also look for ways to lower fees on gym memberships, online book clubs, and weight-loss membership services.
- Use a spending journal to flag impulse purchases. Are you spending $50 a week at coffee shops in the morning or for drinks at happy hour each week? Do you love ice cream sundaes? Or, are you obsessed with buying lottery tickets or expensive makeup? We all have our weaknesses for certain things and want to treat ourselves once in a while. But, if you begin to jot these purchases down in a spending journal, you will see how much these things can add up and impact your budget. Journaling impulse buys will also help you see spending habits that need to be curbed so that they can become periodic treats and not habits.
- Talk to your credit card providers about lowering interest rates. Many banks and credit card providers will work with you and lower your interest rate, just by picking up the phone and talking with them. If you know of other credit cards that are offering better rates and perks, be sure to do your homework before you call so that you have negotiating power. With so many credit card providers out there, there’s sure to be a better deal if your bank won’t cooperate, so speak confidently and be prepared to make a switch if they won’t help you out.
- Try a spend-free week. If you want a real challenge that will help you budget, try a no-spend week. This means cooking meals from food in your freezer or pantry, no eating out, and brown-bagging lunches. This also means no trips to the store for anything. If you and your family don’t think you’ll make it through an entire week, start with a weekend or one day when everyone is home and can focus on the challenge. This is not a lifestyle change but rather a way to become less dependent on spending money every day.
- Take action to reduce monthly expenses. If you want to reduce monthly expenses, start with one bill at a time. For instance, you can focus on paying off a small department store bill like Kohl’s that you normally pay $25 a month to. Or, shop for better car insurance rates to save hundreds a year. By starting with one bill at a time, you will be less overwhelmed and begin to make progress with your budget.
- Find ways to make extra income. Once you have done as much as possible to curb overspending, you may want to find ways to make extra income. You can do this by changing your job or taking on a part-time job. If that’s not an option for you, then selling personal items through Craig’s List, eBay, or at a yard sale is always a great way to make extra income whenever you need it.
- Create an off-budget for family fun and entertaining. Creating an off-budget is something I like to do to ensure we always get a chance to go out during the month. One way to do this is to stick a small amount of cash aside each month in a sealed envelope. You can also save gift cards that you may get as gifts throughout the year and put them towards a fun night out. If you want to earn gift cards online, try out a shopping rewards site like My Points or Swagbucks. Both these sites allow you to earn credits to put towards restaurant and store gift cards.
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