Liz has spent the last year on a journey of doing more with less.
Money is a resource like water and fuel. This resource enables people to pay for things they want and need, but it is finite. People only have so much money, and you can only spend what you have (unless you want to accumulate debt).
There is a Japanese proverb that says, "Getting money is like digging with a needle; spending it is like water soaking into sand." That is where making budgets and sticking to them comes into play. In this article, I share five tips to help control your budget and stretch your money further so that you can start saving more for the things you really want.
Getting money is like digging with a needle; spending it is like water soaking into sand.
— Japanese Proverb
1. Identify All of the Items in Your Budget
The first step in saving money is making a budget and being realistic about every item in it. Put the items into two basic categories—needs and wants.
Needs are things like the roof over your head (rent/mortgage, insurance, taxes), transportation (public transportation, private automobile with fuel and insurance), food, and utilities (water, sewer, gas, electric, telecom, trash removal). Wants include entertainment (television, movies, books, hobbies) and add-ons (higher speed internet, a better car, eating out). Don't forget about expenses for your pets!
2. Negotiate Lower Rates for Services
Once you have set a budget and have a list of your utility providers, do a little research on their current plans and those of the competition, and then give them a call. Be polite, and mention to the representative that you are shopping around in an attempt to lower your bill. The rep may have some promotions available or may need to transfer you to the retention department, which may offer special deals to "save" customers (prevent them from canceling).
Be honest with yourself about your usage. Do you need unlimited high-speed internet, or could you get by with a cheaper plan? Would switching to a cheaper plan cause you to incur overage fees? Reviewing your previous bills ahead of time or asking the rep to do so with you will help see trends and ensure you are on the best plan for your needs. This tactic can be used for phone and internet plans, television packages, and even trash removal services!
Does your trash removal company offer both a monthly billed plan and a sticker-based pay as you use it plan? Do they offer free recycling to cut down on the amount of garbage waste? Use these to your advantage!
3. Identify Items That Can Be Cut
As you review your budget, you will probably notice items that you no longer need or that you can scale back on. A common example is television service. According to an article on Move.org, the average starter television package is "about $60 per month," with premium plans ranging to over $100.
Many providers lure customers with free trials of additional channels or special rates that expire after a year or two and cause rates to jump. To combat this, many consumers have resorted to "cord-cutting," or canceling paid television services like cable or satellite in favor of free over-the-air broadcasts using an antenna and/or streaming services (videos or music played from the internet) like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.
Streaming service offerings are now expanding, causing many consumers to use more than one. If you choose to be a cord-cutter, periodically review what content is available, and cancel or suspend services that are rarely used.
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Free Streaming Services
- YouTube (free version only)
- Roku (free channels only)
- IMDB TV
- Pluto TV
- Peacock (free version with ads only)
Paid Streaming Services
- Amazon Prime Video
- HBO Max
4. Shop Sales and Compare Prices Between Stores
While it may not always feel like it, shopping is one of the easiest things to control. Sit down with the ads (this can be from the paper or on the web), and look at the sales and coupons to plan your list. Compare prices between stores. Have you noticed that certain items go on sale at certain times of year, like taco fixings around Cinco de Mayo, sodas and burgers around summer holidays, school supplies in the late summer, and televisions around the Super Bowl and Christmas? Use this to your advantage!
Compare the commonalities between multiple stores, and shop at the store or stores with the best prices. Stock up on items that you need and will use, but don't overdo it. As an example, if hotdogs are on an unbelievable sale and you will eat them, buy extras to freeze for later. If you will not be able to use the whole thing before it goes bad, like a giant tub of strawberries, save money by purchasing only what you need. If your television has been acting up and needs to be replaced soon, feel free to investigate the television ads, but if you only want to buy one because it is a "good deal," hold back for now.
If possible, leave anyone with little impulse control at home (children, spouses, friends, etc.). Have you ever noticed items that seem to appear in your cart as if by magic (I'm looking at you, extra-sugary cereal with a cartoon mascot!), or do you have a friend that always encourages you to buy things (usually with an exclamation of "You look good in that!" or "You deserve it!")? If possible, transition your shopping trips away from social time with friends and turn shopping into a solo activity to avoid destructive outside influences.
If you are your own budget-saboteur, ask yourself before making impulse purchases, "Is this really something I need? What purpose does it serve? Do I already have something like it? Is it worth the number of hours I would have to work to pay for it?"
5. Work Toward Defined Goals
Nothing helps motivate more than a goal, except perhaps a series of short and long-term goals. Rather than tell yourself "No, I don't need that gadget," say, "I would rather have this bigger thing down the road." Designate part of your budget as money to be put in savings that you will not touch until your goal is reached.
Make this automatic so that you always put at least your designated amount to the side. You can always add more, but should never add less.
Common Short-Term Goals
- Big purchases (electronics, cars, etc.)
- Home improvements
- New pets
Common Long-Term Goals
- Higher education
- A new home
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Liz Woodward