Are You Overspending? Simple Steps To Get Back Into The Black

Are you guilty of buying things you don’t need or do you find yourself resorting to a credit card at the end of the month? If you’re overspending, it can be difficult to keep control of your finances. If you’ve slipped into the red, it’s advisable to try and take action as quickly as possible. We all have months that are a little more expensive than others, but if you’re consistently reaching for your card or going over your overdraft limit, it’s time to make some changes. Here are some simple steps you can take to get back into the black.

[Photo courtesy of Steven Depolo/flickr.com]

Living by a budget

It may not seem like the most thrilling use of your time, but making a budget is so important. It’s virtually impossible to keep track of what you spend when you’re shopping online, making contactless payments or taking cash out of an ATM. If you’re not aware of how much you’re spending, your estimate of your account balance may be way off. If you’re familiar with the scenario of checking your balance and being greeted with numbers that are way below what you thought, now is the time to start living according to a budget.

Budgeting is very simple, and it can really make a difference to your financial situation. The aim is to work out how much you can afford to spend or save based on what you’ve got coming in and what is going out of your account. If you’re not familiar with these figures, there’s every chance that you’ll overspend.

When you’re budgeting, there are various methods you can employ. You can go rustic and get a pen and a notepad and jot down the numbers, you can use an app, or you can draw up a spreadsheet. Some people prefer the old-fashioned techniques, but it is often useful to have a computerized version, as this will enable you to adjust and adapt your budget as you go. Start by writing down all the payments you expect to come into your account, for example, your salary and any tax credits or benefits you receive. In another column, write down all the payments you expect to go out, for example, bills and insurance payments. Then note down any other expenses you incur on a regular basis, for example, gas and groceries. Finally, add one-off expenses that will affect your balance that month, such as a vacation deposit or your partner’s birthday gifts. Once you’ve got all the numbers in front of you, this will enable you to determine how much money you’ve got left. If you have a figure in mind, this will reduce the risk of overspending.

[Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Taylor Crul]

Reducing household costs

Do you struggle to afford your electricity bill or are you spending too much on your cell phone? If your household costs are too high, there may be ways of bringing them down. One of the best ways to do this is to compare prices charged by different providers. Take your energy bills as an example. You may find that if you switch electricity provider, you could save a lot of money. Many of us tend to stick with the same companies for years because it’s easier, but actually, if you take the time to do some research, you may find much better deals. Energy providers often save the best discounts and incentives for new customers, so if your loyalty isn’t rewarded, don’t hesitate to check prices online and consider switching. Apply the same logic to any other regular payments you make, such as car and health insurance and your TV and broadband package.

If energy bills are your main concern, it’s also worth considering how you could reduce usage. Are you spending a fortune on heating, for example? If so, look for ways you can make your home warmer without relying on radiators 24-hours a day. Plug gaps in the window frames, add brushes to the bottom of the door and use draught excluders to keep the heat in. It’s also advisable to replace traditional bulbs with energy-efficient light bulbs and to use a smart meter to enable you to see how much energy you’re using and how much you’re spending.

[Photo courtesy of  Michael Smith/flickr.com]

Cutting down on non-essentials

We all like to treat ourselves, but it’s essential to learn to live within your means. If you’ve got a credit card and you’re tempted to use it for non-essentials, try and be more disciplined. We need food and a warm home, but if you’re struggling to pay the bills, it’s not a good idea to make your financial situation worse by buying clothes or taking your card on a night out with you. Ask yourself if you need to make every purchase. Avoid impulse buys and eliminate temptations. If you find it hard to resist, switch up your social activities. Instead of going to a restaurant or taking a trip to the mall, organize a movie night or supper club at home or do a clothes swap with your girlfriends. If you really can’t control your urges, ask somebody you trust to look after your card for you or consider cutting it up. This may seem drastic, but you’ll soon get used to a new, more frugal way of life and you won’t regret taking steps to avoid adding to existing debts.

background, bags, black

[Photo courtesy of Porapak Apichodilok/pexels.com]

Do you spend too much every month? Are you paying out more than you’re earning? Many of us go through periods when it’s difficult to balance the books, but if you’re consistently going over budget, you could end up in a difficult situation. Now is the time to start taking steps towards a more positive, stable financial future. Start by drawing up and sticking to a budget and taking more control over what you spend. Think carefully about what you actually need versus what you want. If you’re struggling to afford bills, there are ways to drive down costs. Compare prices online, try and negotiate better deals and resist the temptation to automatically renew contracts and policies. Even the simplest changes can make a big difference.

[ Tagged In ] , , , , ,

10 Penny Pinching Tactics You Should Skip

In these times of economic woe, ideas for trimming your budget abound. However, unless you’ve got unlimited amounts of time, you’re not going to be able to implement every single money saving idea you come across. And honestly, some money saving ideas are just not worth the time or the effort or the feeling of deprivation they bring.

So, here are 10 penny pinching tactics you should skip, along with 10 things you should do instead.

  1. Taking extra condiments and napkins from restaurants

If you’ve getting takeout and you’ve got extra soy sauce or ketchup, then by all means, use those up.  But for goodness’ sake, don’t take extra from the restaurant when you’re eating out.  Not only is it in poor taste, it’s also pointless.

Any condiment that’s out there free for the taking is going to be worth almost nothing (That’s why things like barbecue sauce are behind the counter but ketchup and mustard are not).  An entire bottle of ketchup costs little more than $1, and you’d need a huge pile of ketchup packets to equal what’s in the bottle.  Napkins, especially the thin type that restaurants stock, cost very little as well.

Instead:

If your budget is so tight that ketchup and napkins are difficult to afford, there’s no sensible reason for you to be eating at a restaurant.  You’ll save a whole lot more than the price of a few condiments by cooking a meal at home.

  1. Couponing for items you don’t use

Though it can be thrilling to get anything for free, if you’re looking to maximize the return on your time, you should focus on obtaining items you can actually use.  Free hair dye is awesome if you use it, but not so awesome if you don’t.

Money, Card, Business, Credit Card, Pay, Shopping

[Image courtesy of jarmoluk/pixabay.com]

On a related note, even if you’re obtaining items you can use, it doesn’t make sense to stockpile large amounts.

It’s true that you can sometimes donate free items you don’t need, but if you’re spending a whole lot of time and gas obtaining these free items, you may want to consider whether a cash donation would make more sense.

Instead:

Find deals on items you use, buy less than a lifetime supply, and then focus your efforts somewhere else.

  1. DIY-ing everything in the kitchen

While you can save big bucks by cooking at home, not every kitchen project is an effective money-saver.  If you’re making your own version of an expensive food (granola is a great example of this), then a DIY recipe makes a lot of sense.  But if you’re making your own colored sprinkles or are making a labor-intensive condiment, the return on your time will be very poor.

Instead:

Focus on savings-intensive kitchen projects and don’t worry about the rest.

  1. Eeking extra years out of a car seat

Car seats have expiration dates on them for a good reason: after sitting in a car for a number of years, the parts begin to deteriorate, making them ineffective in a crash.  A new seat is expensive, but it’s nothing compared to hospital bills or worse, losing a child.

Second-hand car seats are also an iffy option unless you know for sure the seat hasn’t been in a crash.

Instead:

Pay attention to the expiration date on seats you own, and keep an out for a sale when it’s time for a new one.

  1. Making an extra trip to save on gas

Obviously, you’ve got to use gas in order to get your car to the station, so don’t make an extra trip to find a cheaper station. It only takes a few extra miles of driving to completely negate any savings on the actual gas purchase.

Instead:

Plan to get gas when other errands take you near a gas station, and if you can’t do that, fill up at a nearby station.  This will almost always save you more than driving to another station.

  1. Sewing your own clothes

There are plenty of reasons to sew your own clothes (you can customize the fit, you can use the fabric you want, you can avoid supporting sweatshops, to name a few), but if your focus is saving money, there are better ways to go.  Fabric, thread, patterns, and notions such as elastic, buttons, and interfacing all add up quickly, and it takes time to sew as well.

Instead:

Shop thrift stores, consignment stores, yard sales and clearance racks to stretch your clothing budget.

  1. Shopping at 10 different grocery stores

Grocery stores do all tend to run great loss-leader sales each week, and it’s tempting to visit each one of them to snag their best deals.  But if the stores aren’t very close together, you’re going to be using a fair amount of gas during your bargain shopping trip.  Plus, multiple store stops take a lot of time.

Instead:

Pick a handful of stores that run the best deals and stick with them.  You’ll still be saving money, but you won’t be wasting gas and time.

  1. Nixing insurance

Life insurance, car insurance, health insurance, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance can feel like unnecessary expenses, but skipping out on them is penny-wise and pound foolish. If you ever find yourself in a place where you need the coverage, you’ll seriously regret not having it and the expenses you’ll incur will be far more than the amount you saved on premiums.

Instead:

Pick another area of your budget to trim. Call around to get quotes from different companies.  Get a high-deductible plan to reduce your premium (Just be sure to save up enough to cover your deductible.)

  1. Eating processed foods

There are always fantastic deals to be found on packaged and processed foods, and foods based on refined grains (Ramen, anyone?) are much less expensive than meats, dairy products, and produce.  But a low grocery budget is no bargain if you end up with a poorly nourished body.

Instead:

Buy produce in season, make use of frozen produce (it’s just as nutritious as fresh), stock up when you find a sale on healthy foods, and focus on naturally cheap whole foods (brown rice, oatmeal, root vegetables, legumes, chicken thighs, and eggs, for instance).

  1. Implementing frugal practices you hate

Thought we all have to do things we dislike, it’s best to pick and choose the money-saving activities that are the least painful for you.  The odds of you sticking with a habit you loathe are slim to none, and frugal habits are most helpful when you stick with them over the long haul.

Instead:

If you hate shopping at consignment stores but love cooking from scratch, focus on the cooking.  If you don’t mind using cloth napkins, washcloths and towels, but would rather die than give up your toilet paper, then just keep on throwing a pack of TP into your cart.

There are plenty of wise ways to save money without sacrificing your integrity, health, sanity, or all of your free time, and if you choose carefully, you can keep your budget and your attitude in good shape.

What penny-pinching tactics do you skip?

Kristen is an east coast wife, mom, and blogger behind The Frugal Girl. In an effort to inspire others to live frugally, Kristen contributes to the CareOne blog, a community that provides debt consolidation and money-saving advice.

[ Tagged In ] , , , ,