Easy and Fun Ways to Scrimp and Save on a Reduced Budget
Have you, like so many others, recently lost your job or taken a pay cut? Or are you just trying to live more within your means (like maybe you should have been doing for a while)? It doesn't have to be torture! You don't have to hate every minute of it. You can save money on a daily basis--and earn it--with very little effort, by following these ten basic tips:
Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy...
1. Don't leave your house. Okay, at first, this was meant to be a joke tip. But really... it's not a bad idea. Especially if you're an impulse spender, staying home for a few days until you break that nasty habit is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. Obviously, if you have a job outside the home, you can't call in sick just so you'll have fewer opportunities for nickeling and diming yourself to debt (ahem, Mr. $5.00 Drive-Thru Latte), but becoming a voluntary hermit on the weekend is a good start. If nothing else, you'll save money on transportation costs, because you won't be transporting yourself anywhere.
2. Turn off your computer. That's right, Sneaky. Just because you're at home doesn't mean there aren't plenty of temptations. I, the former Queen of Internet Shopping, know this all too well. The same concept applies here as in tip #1. Send your over-inflated budget to the guillotine by distancing yourself from temptations. If you're an infomercial addict, keep the TV off, as well. In addition to not buying things from your electronic devices, think of all the electricity you'll be saving!
3. Go generic. Stop being such a snob. It's very likely if you're reading this right now that you can't afford to be picky, anyway. At least try some of the cheaper brands. But don't take the attitude, "I only eat name-brand bread," just because that's what you've always eaten. The same holds true for personal hygiene products (although I don't advocate eating them--shampoo tastes awful); try the cheaper stuff once. You may be surprised that you can't tell the difference, or it doesn't make enough of a difference to shell out the extra money for the name brand. Target has some especially nice store-brand items that I actually now prefer over the name brands.
4. Sell some stuff. Since when has being a pack rat paid off? Never. It clutters your home and collects dust. And it could be that you're sitting on some major potential payola. I'm not encouraging anyone to sell priceless family heirlooms with sentimental value, but take some time (maybe some of the time you're not out with your friends spending money on the weekend) to evaluate the possibility of profiting from the things in your life that don't add any value to it by sitting in the garage or the attic.
"Oh, but garage sales are such a hassle!" you might be moaning. Forget that! I detest them, too. When you've successfully broken your free-spending online habits, venture back onto the World Wide Web and check out a site like eBay or Craigslist. Or find some secondhand stores in your area that will buy your stuff from you. Books are especially easy to re-sell at secondhand bookstores. Just make sure you get your possibly-pricey items appraised before you sell them to just any schmoe. Again, the Internet is a good, quick first resource for such research. Look up similar items online and see what the going rate is. If you still need a professional opinion, find an appraiser in your area. Protect yourself. And if you're crafty, you can sell handmade items on a site such as Etsy (see links at right).
5. Roll some coins. If you're anything like me, you tend to throw change all over the place during your daily rush through life. Don't be ashamed to be a living cliché: dig in your couch cushions for those nickels, dimes, pennies, and quarters. Stick your arm under your car seats (watch out for moving parts, though). Root around in the glove box and console of your car. Dump out your purse and see what kind of cash is lurking at the bottom. If you're more organized than that and actually have a jar in which you collect your spare coinage, what are you waiting for? Roll that metal! You may be surprised how much you've collected without even trying. This is also one of those activities in which you can get the kids involved. They'll think it's fun, and you shouldn't disabuse them of that notion. The more hands involved, the better.
6. Use less... of just about everything. When things started to get financially tight in our household, I noticed one overarching theme among my family members and myself: wild, thoughtless consumerism the likes of which usually is seen only in termite colonies. Food, batteries, utilities, gasoline, laundry detergent, soap, shampoo, toothpaste... you name it, we used it to excess. Not all of us offended with the same resources, but each of us had our weaknesses. My kids used batteries like we had a grove of battery trees in the backyard (wouldn't that be nice??). They also used three times as much toothpaste as necessary each time they brushed their teeth. My husband and I drove everywhere and didn't put any limits on how many dollars we put into our gas tanks each week. We all did a poor job of turning off lights after we exited a room. The list went on and on... until I started looking at our usage habits with new eyes. It was shocking. I suddenly saw everything as what it truly is: money. Going down the drain in an undissolved glob. Or lighting up unoccupied rooms. Or flying out our tailpipes.
So we started to re-train ourselves. No more trips to the grocery store two, three, or four times a week. Once a week only. We eat what we have; if all the "good" food is gone before the next week's trip, we're stuck with whatever's left. We learned surprisingly quickly how to ration the "good" food. The same held true for gasoline. We set a limit on how much we could spend on gas each week, and if we used all that up during the work/school week, then we went nowhere on the weekend or only to places within walking distance. We invested in rechargeable batteries. And then I ran across an article about the unnecessary nature of laundry detergent, and it revolutionized the way I washed clothes (see link at right). So I started thinking about other products I use without even considering how necessary they really are, and it was a revelation: my lifestyle had become even higher-maintenance than I'd realized. And expensive. But the craziest thing about simplifying my lifestyle is this: no one can tell the difference. I don't look (or smell) any worse for wear. I just have more money in my pockets (well, my wallet... because I emptied my pockets when looking for loose change).
7. Stop killing yourself. Now that I have your attention, I'm going to state one of the most obvious tips of all... put the kibosh on fast food. Blah, blah, yeah, yeah. You all know it needs ot be done, but you just can't kick the habit, right? Because it IS a habit. Whether you're addicted to the actual food or just the convenience of it, it's something that's so imbedded in our society, many of us can't fathom what it means to live without it. Let me tell you what it's like... when you get through your initial withdrawals, it's amazing. I mean, it's truly life-saving! You won't believe how much better you feel, physically, until you just do it for yourself, so there's no point in my going on and on about it. Just try it. Really. If you need more convincing, collect your fast food receipts for an average week and multiply that by 52. Then recalculate it (because you probably won't believe it... you won't want to believe it, anyway). Now imagine that money still sitting in your bank account... or imagine what ELSE that money could have bought you or your kids or your special someone. Yeah. Kick the habit. You'll be so glad you did.
8. Share your new lifestyle with your friends and family. Tell other people what you're trying to accomplish. Don't be embarrassed. Don't hide it. Don't try to be one way around them and another way privately. It won't work. The more people you tell, the fewer distractions and temptations will come your way. Your friends will know not to ask you to go shoe shopping. Your family will understand when you say the next birthday gathering will be simple and hosted at your house, as opposed to a catered affair at a restaurant. Refrain, however, from telling complete strangers. They don't need to know, and they don't care. You'll just be dubbed the crazy guy/lady on the bus who overshares.
Another benefit to telling your friends and family about your money-saving journey is that they may want to join the fun. You can share ideas with each other--what works? what doesn't?-- and if you're competitive sorts, you can even make a contest out of it. Instead of the Biggest Loser, you can find out who can be the Biggest Saver.
9. Prioritize. To avoid setting yourself up for failure with your discretionary spending, identify the things in your life that you feel--rightly or wrongly--that you can't live without. Choose two luxuries (or three, if they're relatively inexpensive) and allow yourself to hang onto those. It may be a cut and color at your favorite salon. Or a manicure. Or maybe you really can't live without your fancy coffee. Build that into your budget. But set a limit. Allow yourself one or two coffees a week, instead of one everyday on your way to work. It may also be helpful to balance your discretionary spending this way: for every one luxury you keep, cut out two others. It's basic, no-brainer stuff, but you have to be deliberate with your choices. (Big, important hint: health care is not discretionary. Don't neglect your body or mind so you can continue to go paint-balling with your buddies once a month. It doesn't quite work that way.)
10. Cut yourself some slack. As with anything else involving major lifestyle reform, you need to be forgiving. If you fall off the frugal bandwagon, don't throw your hands in the air and say, "Well, there goes that!" One $5.00 latte in a moment of weakness doesn't mean you have to start hemorrhaging funds. With all the money you'll be saving everywhere else in your life, it won't be the end of the world if you have a slip-up now and then. The real trick is to see slips as just that and not let them become your everyday way of life.
Sorry for the Trickery...
I know the title of this article contains the word, "fun," but let's face it: saving money generally isn't. Especially when you're not used to having to squeeze every penny until it begs for mercy. The use of the "f" word was a blatant trick to get you to open your mind to the possibility of ending the outgoing gush that is your current budgeting strategy (although I did try to inject some fun into it with my Biggest Saver competition idea). But I didn't even scratch the surface on all the "fun" things you can do that involve energy savings, growing your own food, or clipping coupons. The tips above are merely the ones I've tried and have had the most success with. And there's some personal satisfaction to be gained from living within your means.
One thing I do know: it's time for many of us to put instant gratification on a shelf and leave it there for as long as some of our "priceless mementos" have been sitting gathering dust. We're living in a new world now. Let's stop being in denial about it and switch to being proactive and fiscally responsible!