The Living On A Dime Series is designed to help those with a "ramen noodle every meal" kind of budget still live well and get things done.
The Need for Money Management
While good money management skills are good for pretty much everyone to have, it's a vital skill to have when you're living paycheck to paycheck—or even less.
At first glance, "managing" your money and "saving" money may seem to be similar or even the same, and it's true they are closely related. To me, the key difference between the two has to do with mindset—"saving" money ensures you have more to spend, and 'managing' your money means you'll have an easier time getting it to do what you need it to do for you.
In that spirit, I've compiled a list of my top money managing (and saving) tips to share with you and help you out. As long as every person who reads this article can take away one useful tip, I'll be a very happy writer!
1. Reviews and Comparisons
Regardless of where your budget sits, no one wants to waste their money or time when making purchases or using services. The top way to combat this: Do your homework!
Research everything. Okay, well, maybe not that $10 coffee maker you're eyeballing, you already know what you're getting into there, but you get my point. I'm not saying you have to whip out your phone while you're in the store and google every single item you pick up, that would be too time-consuming and frustrating. It would be a fantastic idea to do some general research for good, inexpensive brands to keep an eye out for when you're shopping at local stores, though! This is also a must for all major, high-ticket purchases. Know what you're buying BEFORE you buy it!
Do you know what I love best about Amazon—besides Japanese gummies? All those lovely little customer reviews most products have. Customer reviews are VITAL when you're doing any online shopping—you're not able to physically hold the product in your hands and inspect it, so you have no idea what you're getting into, essentially. Customer reviews tell you not only how well the product holds up—and whether it's actually what it claims to be or not—but they also can give you heads up on any defects or issues and how to possibly fix them yourself without returning the product, how returns are handled, whatever you can think of.
A good rule I follow is: if the product has less than 70% good reviews, I generally don't buy it. Depending on what it is, I may go as low as 60%—I don't expect things to be perfect, and some issues I may be able to live with. The key here is to make sure you read reviews on the products you're buying online before you buy them, so you know what you're getting into and not wasting money on poor quality. If your preferred website doesn't have customer reviews, do a google search on the product! If it's sold anywhere else, you'll find it, trust me.
That also brings me to the sites themselves—do reviews on them as well! Review everything! Review all the things! Okay, I'm done now. Seriously though, any site you're going to either be spending money or making money or anything to do with money? Review it, research it, and make sure it's a good investment of your time, as well as your money.
I didn't forget services either—there are a lot of sites available now that make it super easy to read reviews on all kinds of service providers. Car repair, electrical work, plumbing, heating, and cooling, you name it, you can find reviews for it somewhere. In fact, it would be a great idea to use these reviews to create a go-to list of all the local companies you'd be most inclined to use, so that you're not scrambling at the last minute when the poop hits the fan, figuratively speaking.
2. Bargain Shopping/Shopping Smart/Coupons
This may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, at first: Only buying certain things when they’re on sale, stocking up on staples when they’re dirt cheap, using coupons for everything you buy—you know, the typical money-saving spiel. I’m not saying you should dismiss it just because you know it, however. Buying in bulk, stocking up when it’s 1/3rd of the usual price, digging through the clearance, and going nuts with your coupons is one of the best ways to save money when you’re buying everyday things.
Don’t forget about thrift stores, flea markets, antique malls, and yard/garage sales, however. These are also great ways to get gently used items for a lot less than they would be at full price and brand new. Just make sure they ARE in good shape before you buy them—no sense in buying a bookcase that’s going to fall apart the second you put more than three books on it. Thrift stores are perfect places to get dishes super cheap! The only thing I’d be iffy about getting from any of these places would be used electronics. You never know if that laptop is like the car that little old granny only drove to church on Sunday . . . or if it’s the one some toddler spilled his sippy cup all over.
What about your rent, though? How about that phone bill? Is your cable bill looking good? Do you cringe every time you pay for your car insurance? If you’re going to truly bargain shop and get the best deal you can, why should it stop with your groceries and incidentals? Check EVERYTHING to make sure you’re getting the best deal you possibly can while making sure you still meet your needs.
3. Monthly vs. Yearly
This is a fun topic! It also may seem a little bit obvious, but I still feel it’s pretty important. With some things it certainly might be easier to pay monthly rather than yearly- for example, your car insurance charges you by the year but will let you pay monthly. That’s an awesome way to not stress over a huge amount all at once.
What I’m looking at though is more along the lines of services like Amazon Prime or Hulu, for example. I know Amazon offers the option to pay every month or once a year for its Prime membership. $12 a month, or $99 a year? (rough estimates, may or may not be actual prices.) I think it’s pretty easy to see here that it would save you at least $24 if you went with the yearly option. It may not seem like much, but that does add up.
So, check all of your services and do some math here. If they offer you monthly or yearly, figure out what you’ll be paying each way. A lot of sites do offer yearly options, and they usually are cheaper, but how much cheaper depends on the site and the service. Also, you have to ask yourself if it’s something you’re going to be using for a whole year, or just a couple of months. Save that money!
4. No Rent-a-Center
I’m sure you’re probably scratching your head on this one, but stick with me. There are a lot of retail rental centers and places you can get items on payment with—the commercials are everywhere! As tempting as the idea is, DON’T. Just walk away. Seriously. Put the website down and walk away.
In the case of a rental or rent-to-own place, unless it’s something you will truly only need for a couple of weeks—say your washer or dryer broke down and you need a replacement until it’s fixed—this is a really bad idea.
Here’s why: If you read the fine print, you’ll see that they’re making you pay through the nose. The interest they charge is usually freaking insane—they’ll take something that’s $300 and by the time it’s all said and done you’ll end up paying somewhere around $2,000 for it. You think I’m kidding? Research a product you might be interested in getting, and then go to one of these places and see what you’ll be paying. Do a little math, and you’ll see what I mean. The same goes for Fingerhut and all of them. The concept is good—buy things on payments that you probably can’t afford to buy outright. It’s just the execution that sucks.
I mean, I understand it’s a business and they have to make money, and a lot of things you finance will have interest rates, that’s just part of life and money. You should not, however, be forced to pay $1,000 for something that’s worth $100. That’s just ridiculous.
5. No Pay Day Loans, Either
You heard me. This falls under the same principle.
The lesson here is really to read the fine print. There are places where you can make monthly payments for just the item price or just a little bit of financing and that’s fine, go for it if you need it. Just don’t pay for one item what you could use to furnish a whole room with, or pay several months' rent, unless it’s really that price.
This also applies to leasing/buying a car—it’s cheaper to just buy it outright than to lease it for however long, and THEN pay more just to buy it if you want to keep it. Think smart!
You can’t talk about money management without talking about a budget. Creating a budget will help you get a good grasp on just exactly how your money is flowing, and will give you an insight on where your financial strengths and weaknesses are. Planning your money flow will help your life go a lot smoother. Making sure you have the money to pay your bills on time will help you save on late fees!
Sticking to your budget will also help you save money—we all know how banks just love to charge those overdraft fees! Ouch.
So plan, plan, plan, stick to it, and check it often! If you’re having trouble keeping up with your budget, you might try thinking of your money as if it were a toddler. You have to set rigid guidelines and routines for it, then watch it constantly to make sure it doesn’t swallow something it shouldn’t! Or something like that, anyway. You get the idea. Don’t look at me like that.
7. Don't Let Others Handle Your Money
I mean it!
All you have to do is look at all of the pop stars and actors and athletes who let other people manage and handle their money to see examples of what I’m talking about. Whether it’s a spend-happy spouse, an oblivious roommate, or for you teenagers and youngsters out there, a parent who ‘will handle it all for you don’t worry about a thing’, unless you’re hands on with your money at every turn you have no idea what’s going on. You’ll have no idea where it’s going, what you have, and what’s happening with it.
If you’re not experienced with money, I can understand being afraid of messing it up. That fear could lead you to just letting someone else handle it, but how else are you going to learn? Yes, you might make mistakes, true. Everyone makes mistakes! Do not let failure stop you—figure out where you went wrong and learn from it! Besides, what are you going to do when there’s no one else there? Best to learn early—handling your finances independently is a great way to teach yourself how to handle a lot of circumstances in life, not just money! This, of course is not to be confused with being ‘financially independent’, which is a term that is commonly used to describe wealthy people. Though, if you work really hard, it is possible!
Now, if it’s a situation where you HAVE to work with someone else that has access to the same money pool—a spouse or partner, for instance—make sure you two go over everything together. Explain the budget layout, list all of the income and expenses, lay out your plan for the money, and how you intend on making sure everything gets paid. Make sure they understand and are on the same page. Who knows, they may have a better way or see something you missed! Just make sure you’re constantly updating with each other and monitoring things. If they’re the kind of person who just can’t do it and they keep screwing things up—take that access away quick! Either they learn and you get things back on track, or they don’t and then you’ll have fights and issues—at least you won’t have to worry about the rent and lights getting paid.
Now, for financial planning such as retirement funds and investments and what not? Yeah, you’re going to probably want to work with someone else on that. But here are the keywords: 'work with." Not "just chuck your money at someone with a degree and a title and pray for the best." Work WITH them to make sure you know what’s going on, and they know your goals and what you have and don’t have to work with. Do reviews and searches on them, make sure they’re legit. Always, always, always watch your money!
This is a really good way to save money, no matter what you end up using it for. You will be amazed at the enormous amount of tutorials and how-to’s you can find on Youtube, and Google can tell you just about anything you want to know if you look hard enough. Whether it’s learning how to crochet, replace your own wiper blades, or learn a new language, doing searches will almost always come up with a way for you to learn something new for free.
There is a lot of basic car maintenance you can do yourself—that saves you a good chunk of change there. There are tons of projects you can do yourself with just a few household items or some salvage! If you don’t have the tools yourself to do some of the things you want, check with neighbors and friends! Don’t be afraid to trade services for the usage either.
For every site that wants to teach you a skill for $300, there are probably three sites that can teach it to you (or at least the basics) for free. If it is just the basics, then you’ll be able to see if it’s something you can get into before you make that investment.
There are also a lot of basic household repairs that you can do yourself that are really simple—this can also save you a ton of money. There are just so many things you have access to now, the possibilities are endless. The only things stopping you are imagination . . . and time! Okay well maybe supplies too but that can also usually be worked around, just search for substitutions!
This may seem like a bit of an oddball here, but being at least somewhat organized can indeed help save you money in the long run. We’ve all done it—went looking for something we needed, couldn’t find it, and then went out and bought another one only to come home and find the original. It’ll probably happen every once in a while, but when it’s happening constantly that gets expensive fast. Particularly if it’s something you don’t use everyday or all the time.
Now, how you organize is completely up to you—as long as your system allows you to quickly access and see what you have, you should be fine. Knowing when you’re low on cleaning supplies or exactly what you’re missing to make tomorrow night’s dinner makes life a lot easier.
Being organized can also save you money by helping to protect your stuff and keep it in good shape, meaning it will last longer and you have to replace it less often. Having your stuff put away can also save on space and allow you to see things you might otherwise miss—tiny home or furniture repairs that can be caught early and fixed a lot easier than if they are missed or left. Things to think about!
Well, here you are, I hope you found some useful tips and ideas from this list. Apply these principles to everything you can and you can make your wallet sing! Just kidding, that would be creepy. You know what I mean, though.
Remember, it's not just about saving money now, it's about managing how much money you spend in the long run, and how that money works for you!