There are 2 ways to have extra money for the things you want or need – make more money or spend less. The first one? Not so easy. But spending less money may be easier than you think. Three years ago, we made the very difficult decision to start our middle child at a private school. For a variety of medical and education reasons, it’s necessary for her. Two years later, we moved our oldest to the Montessori school as well. Since making those decisions, our income has actually gone down – twice!
Yet, we’ve found room in our budget for the panic inducing tuition costs we were committed to.
It starts with taking a line by line look at where your money is going. If you’ve never calculated every, single penny that comes out of your checkbook, you’re likely way overspending in surprising areas. A detailed look at our finances showed we were spending close to $100 per month on fast food. That’s $1,200 each year at McDonald’s! Not only is this type of diet unhealthy for your wallet, it’s not good nutrition either. Seeing that number in black & white made it much easier to forgo the drive thru.
Once you know where your money is being spent, it’s time to figure out how to lower the amounts. Discretionary spending is highly subjective. Most people don’t see cable television as expendable, yet we live happily without it every day. I will, however, touch on a few flexible categories and provide specific examples for reducing expenses.
Food: Yes, food is not an option. At all. But, take a closer look at the type of food you’re buying. Do you spend a lot of money dining out when you could cook for less at home? Do you end up in the drive thru or ordering pizza when you haven’t planned your meals? Is your grocery cart full of expensive convenience foods or overpriced junk? Careful planning, and a strict budget, can cut your food expenses in half rather quickly.
Entertainment: I’m not about to tell you to give up fun just to save a few bucks! There’s always room in the budget for free entertainment. If you’re going out every weekend or spending money on books, movies and games, you’ll be able to free up plenty of money by visiting your local library. Check with your area parks for free activities & events as well. Coffee shops & bookstores often host free music, poetry readings or open mic nights that make for an interesting evening.
Clothing: Yes, another necessity, but think about how you are spending your money on clothes. Consider thrift store shopping, hand me downs or re-purposing items to expand your wardrobe. If you must buy new, sign up with your favorite stores for their newsletters & mailings, which often come with coupons. Buying clothes for kids, shoes & accessories online can also save a good bit of money. You can even try things on in a store first, to be sure of your fit & style.
You can truly find ways to save money on just about everything – including absolutely necessary utilities. It just takes a little advanced planning, research and creativity. Track your expenses for a month or so, then dig deep to see where you can start to lower your budget. You may be surprised at how much extra money you can find to pay off debt, take a vacation or save for retirement!
Heather Sokol is sweating the big stuff for 3 beautiful, active girls. She helps people lower their budget, without lowering their standards at Inexpensively.com.