Keeping a budget – that is, staying within it consistently over a long period of time – can be challenging. If keeping to your budget seems like an insurmountable task, you’ll be happy to know that there are ways to stretch your budget and still enjoy a quality lifestyle. I promise – you can live well without crying over your high credit card bills.
Some budgets may work well with your lifestyle, while others may not. If you find that one technique is difficult, all is not lost! Other techniques may be a better fit, which can then lead to the financial freedom you desire. Staying within a budget really is possible. The first step, though, is to realize that it’s possible and, just as importantly, that you can do it.
Even people who dislike me (yup, we all have them) admit that I “can convince a dime that it’s a quarter”, so read on for some of my best tips for keeping a budget.
Put Your Credit Cards Away
You can even freeze your cards in water if it’ll deter you from using them!
It’s so easy to forget the true costs of the things you buy when you just swipe your card. Don’t feel guilty about falling for this trick; the easiest way to combat it is to keep your cards hidden away. Only bring them out when they’re truly needed.
You don’t HAVE to get rid of them entirely if this works. But if freezing or putting them away doesn’t stop you from using them, it might be safer to just cut them up and get rid of them. Yes, your credit will take a hit for a while but nothing like what will happen if you end up bankrupt from credit card debt!
Grab a stack of envelopes, mark each one with a designated expense, and put in your allotted allowance for each expense. It’s easy to stay on track when the money for your bills is pre-counted and away from reach.
The trick to doing this, though, is to be very strict with yourself. Once you have spent the money in your envelope, there is no more. If there is some left over, though, that can be carried forward to the next month. It’s an extremely simple simple that works.
This includes categories like household supplies. As we’re settling into a century-old Victorian home, I’m bit with the redecorating bug. A few days ago, at Winners, I examined, wished for and ultimately put back, several items because, as much as I knew I could and would use them – and oh, wouldn’t they look good – they simply weren’t in the budget this month.
It’ll help you see the true value of what you’re spending if you only use cash. Yes, some of us really dislike handling money. Unfortunately, if you dislike handling money and you distance yourself from it by only using credit cards, you will spend more.
Years ago, in order to get our finances completely under control and pay down debt, we went 100% cash. It was an interesting experience, especially when we bought two computers.
Truthfully, there are going to be things that are more difficult if you go cash only. I know – I did it for years. It means not shopping online or renting a car, or planning carefully to do these things with the help of someone else. But if money disappears each month because “I never spent more than $20 at a time!”, you are having difficulty envisioning the drip-drip-drip loss of your money.
The best way to do that is to lose the credit cards and go cash only.
Believe it or not, there are usually ways you can cut back without even feeling much of a difference.
Take some time out of your weekend to call up the cable company, the phone company, or your cell phone company. Discuss different lower cost plans. Maybe you don’t use all of your cell phone minutes each month or perhaps you can live without that huge television package.
As we were setting up our new house, I discovered that there is a $50 difference between the the three internet service providers. I picked the best option, and then asked around among my friends until someone had a direct contact at that company. Having a person you can call directly is always best. A short conversation with him took care of the hookup fee and dropped my monthly cost by another $15!
Make those calls!
There are certain luxury items that some people choose to place in their budgets, while others won’t. However, a grocery bill, though, is something that everyone shares. Analyze how much you spend each week at the grocery store and see if you can bring down the average amount.
Coupon clipping (if you’re American) and warehouse shopping are great places to start. We have an amazing butcher shop in our nearby city, which sells local meat and keeps the prices very low. By planning trips to take advantage of their monthly sales, we can fill the pantry (or freezer) without breaking the bank. No matter where you shop, take advantage of those loss leaders and stock up on drastically reduced items.
If you’re interested in following along as I keep to a $540/month budget for six people (in Canada!), you can catch up here. (If you’re American, realize that our prices are generally between 1/3 and two times as high as yours)
Budget for a Splurge Item
Treat yourself to something special every once in awhile while still staying in your budget. While you may not be able to afford it too often, you can save up some money for a special treat for yourself.
It may be something you’ve been meaning to get or maybe you just want some money to hit up the town or go to a movie. The point is, if you’ve budgeted for this it won’t be a shock when you balance the books later.
But beware – this must be planned for ahead of time and worked into the budget. If you are feeling too constrained and start spending “Because I deserve this!” all of your hard work can quickly go out the window.
And don’t forget that you can earn gift cards and awards through programs like Swagbucks. (That’s my affiliate link – if you sign up and participate, I earn points!) I recently purchased a journalling Bible that I really wanted and I used my Swagbucks earnings.
There are always many holidays throughout the year where you’re expected to deliver gifts for your loved ones. If you’re tight with cash, don’t forget about homemade gifts. These gifts are most often considered more thoughtful than anything you could have purchased.
For example, make a scrapbook or photo album. While there’s some cost involved, the finished product will be priceless – yet far less than the latest gadget. For many more great ideas, check out my friend Danielle’s Grab and Go DIY Gifts series.
And don’t overlook the simple pleasure of baked goods. Someone who doesn’t bake might really appreciate a trio of pies for the freezer, for example.
If you’re still having trouble balancing the budget, it’s important to keep trying new things until you have a system that makes you feel comfortable. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
With the right techniques, a budget can be the tool that brings you freedom!