Branding Our Life

Budgeting & Saving

6 Easy Ways to Start Saving Money

Save MoneyJust shy of a year ago, I left my day job to pursue my entrepreneurial dreams full time. This meant our income was literally slashed in half. We had to cut our expenses. Fast. That’s when we really focused on creating a budget for our new circumstances.

Surprisingly, the transition went pretty smoothly. There were a few bumps along the way, but it was much easier than I thought to “trim the fat” from our budget and start saving. Here are my top six tips from our first year on a budget.

Use Cash for Weekly Expenses

I’m sure you’ve heard about the “envelope method” by now, but for those who haven’t, here’s an article explaining it. We pay our bills online, but for our groceries, fuel, and eating out, we use cash. I get a specific amount from the bank each week and once it’s gone, it’s gone. This method quickly helped me prioritize my purchases.

Meal Plan

Before our budget, our grocery expenses were out of control. To make matters worse, we would end up eating out several days a week, so all that food I spent so much money on went to waste. At the height of my spending, I think I was somewhere near $200 to $300 a week for just my husband and I. Obviously, that had to change.

To make my new (much smaller) budget stretch farther, I found meal planning to be indispensable. By plotting out my meals for the week, I can come up with several dishes that utilize the same ingredients. I make a grocery list and buy only what I need. This method means I buy less than half of what I used to, and nothing goes to waste. Now, I’m able to feed my husband and I on just $50 a week. I’m saving anywhere from $150 to $250 off what I used to spend!

Pack Lunches

When I was working full time, sometimes I would pack our lunches, sometimes I wouldn’t. Which means in addition to all of the dinners we ate out, we also ate out at lunch time. This would cost anywhere from $50 to $75 a week. In addition to meal planning for our dinners, I also buy all the lunch necessities for my husband’s lunch within my $50 a week grocery budget.

My biggest tip for this is to invest in some quality containers for packing your lunch. I bought a variety of sizes to pack sandwiches, soup, veggies, fruit, nuts, etc. It makes packing a breeze!

Skip the Latte

Go for the small cup of coffee instead! Unlike most budget-savvy folks, I won’t tell you to give up coffee altogether. I enjoy meeting with my girlfriends for coffee too much for that… So, I would be a total hypocrite to ask anyone else to do so. However, I’ve switched from that high-dollar latte to a humble cup of coffee with cream. And you know what? I enjoy it just as much! On average, I save about $20 a week this way. I still get girl’s night, but at less than half the price.

Try finding a less-expensive drink option you enjoy. Your budget will thank you.

Group Your Errands

Once my fuel budget was slashed, I realized how many unnecessary trips I would make to town. By planning and grouping my errands, I can get everything done in a more efficient manner in terms of both time and fuel. This has saved me about $20 a week.

Potluck Parties

Bear with me on this one. My husband is the most social person I know. To ask him not to eat out with our friends is like asking him not to breathe. The problem? All that eating out was costing us $150 or more a week.

We found a compromise. I can hostess a party for our friends once a month for about $100. By making food from scratch, I can save a lot of money compared to eating out. Our friends have special dishes they bring; I provide the rest. It works out beautifully. My husband gets to socialize, and we get to save money.

 

How to Create a Budget

Setting a Budget

The Importance of Setting a Budget

First of all, what is a budget? Essentially it is a comparison of how much you earn vs. how you spend your money. Why is it important? It helps you determine what you must spend money on, and where you can save or even stop spending money.

According to this article from Forbes, 63% of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $500 emergency. That’s stressful! Building a framework for your spending allows you to make adjustments as necessary to help reduce stress and reach your financial goals.

On a personal note, we didn’t set a budget until we had been married for a while. I wish we had set one sooner. It could have saved us from some financial disagreements early on. However, I’m glad we finally set one when we did! Last year I had to have a very costly and unexpected surgery. Without our savings, we’d still be paying for the procedure.

Step 1: Determining Your Financial Goals

What are your financial goals? Do you want to eliminate credit card debt or pay off student loans? Do you want to start an “emergency fund”? Or begin saving for retirement?

Whatever your goal may be, write it down! Especially if it’s a large goal. From here you can start plotting steps to get where you want to go.

Step 2: Determine Your Expenses

There are two basic types of expenses, essential and non-essential.

Essential expenses are necessities– the things we require for living. Essential expenses can be broken down in to two main categories, fixed or variable.

Fixed Expenses– Items that are billed on a regular basis- weekly, monthly, or quarterly- and cost roughly the same each time, like:

  • Mortgage Payments or Rent
  • Car Payments
  • Insurance (homeowners/renters, car, health)
  • Student Loan Payments

Variable Expenses– Bills with amounts that vary from month to month, like:

  • Groceries
  • Credit Card Payments
  • Utilities (gas, water, electricity, trash)
  • Gasoline
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Toiletries
  • Home maintenance
  • Clothing

To determine an average of how much you spend on each type of variable expense:

  1. Gather your receipts or bank statements for the past three months
  2. Use your statements to add all your expenditures in each category
  3. Divide your totals by three, and that will give you your average.

Other expenses– You may be thinking, “What about all the other things I spend money on?” Those other expenses fall into the “non-essential” category. Not that they aren’t important! They just happen to be items that one could live without.

Step 3: Compare Your Income Vs. Expenses

Once you’ve determined what your monthly expenses are, make a list with the type of expense and the amount. Add those together. Then you’ll subtract that total from your monthly income. See example below.

Once you know what you’re working with, you can start making decisions. You may choose to cut back on or eliminate some expenses entirely.

Tip: If saving is your goal, ad a “savings” line to your budget. Transfer a specified amount into savings each month.

Keep Tracking

To stay on pace toward your financial goals, it’s important to continue tracking your spending each month. Find a method that works for you. If you’re not comfortable with the method, you won’t do it! Some may prefer the old-fashioned pen and paper way, for others it’s an Excel spreadsheet. That’s great! There are also online platforms like Mint.com and EveryDollar. Around our house, we use Mint. We love how easy it is to use, and best of all, sends alerts right to our phone if we’re getting close to our spending limits.