Two years ago, I posted the following tips. I’m making a few edits based on what we do now. Ha ha, and editing a bit of my grammar. Oy Jen, oy!
I received a request for some budgeting tips, so here you go! Some are easy, some are really hard. But if you’re serious about paying off your debt, the temporary difficulty will be worth it in the end. One of our favorites sayings is roughly, live now like people couldn’t believe so in the future you can live a life people couldn’t dream of.
Mint.com I’m sure there are a ton of apps like this, but this is the one we use. It syncs up with all of your bank accounts and credit cards. It can take a little work to get things set up, but once it is, it’s fantastic. My advice with this is to link your accounts RIGHT NOW. It starts tracking from the day you sign up (when last I checked). Then in a month or two, take a peek at what your habits are. I would be willing to bet you spend more on things than you thought. When I looked at our spending on gas, I was absolutely shocked! It was at least $100+ more I thought we spent. You can set up budgets and notifications for when you go over or are getting close to exceeding that budget. This has been a very helpful tool for us.
Create a budget One thing that helped us was creating a budget for the current year, the next and sometimes the one after that. I have an extensive spreadsheet that includes all income and bills. I can quickly see our current standing. Over the three and a half years it took us to pay off the $30,000 in debt, I think we lived at the “going in the hole” 3 months out about 90% of the time. Bonus tip – you get 26 pays (if you have a typical bi-weekly pay) a year, so that’s two pays you probably aren’t thinking about in your budgeting.
Coupons There are a TON of ways you can save with coupons! I’m not a HUGE couponer, but I picked up a few things. First, Target (and other businesses) take coupons from their website AND manufacturer coupons. If you can wait for a sale, some of the prices are crazy good. They have deals where if you buy X of a product, you get a gift card…even better. I also use an app for some cash towards rebates, it’s called Ibotta. It’s slow moving money, but if you can get money for things you’re already buying, why not?
Change your diet One of the things we had to sacrifice for a little while was cutting out organic foods. I will say, this was the first thing to change when we had more breathing room. You can add new recipes into the mix…there are tons of random combinations that are super cheap. For example, you could start with a Hamburger helper meal, add canned chicken and a few bags of frozen veggies. I made one recently and I think it worked out to be about $1 per serving…
Stop going out to eat There are no excuses on this one. Just don’t do it. If this is something that’s important to you, add it into your budget…but only do this AFTER you’ve put a good chunk towards paying down your bills. Take the food you made from a random combination above to work. Hungry on the drive home? Be hungry until you get home….or pack snacks for the car so you’re not tempted.
Compare the purchase to how long you’d have to work for it Gotta have that new gaming system? New shoes? If you think about it in terms of your hourly wage, this becomes a much easier battle. If you’re making $10 an hour, you’d have to work over 40 hours for a PS4.
Stop giving gifts…or seriously cut back This is where it gets hard. I know Christmas is coming up and you want to give those you love gifts…but this can be a serious drain on your cash flow. Honestly, one of the best gifts you can give most people these days is your time. As “cliche” as it sounds, give coupons for your time. “Movie night at my place,” “Making you dinner at your place,” etc. We stayed home a LOT during that time and we had people over.
Use the library You can get most books and movies from the library. Make use of the request feature. We never rent anymore. We get all of the new releases and TV shows we want to see from the library. Do we have to wait, sure, but it’s saved us a ton of money. If there’s something you really want to see, put in your request as soon as you can. I have a calendar reminder to check on a few titles when they’re released. A new thing at our local library is video games. I haven’t bought a new Lego game for a while…except for Lego Dimensions (but that’s a totally different animal).
Combine driving trips as much as possible Don’t get the groceries when you feel like it. Don’t return the movie now. Think through your to-do list of drives….what can you do all together? What can wait? Drive with your spouse/etc whenever possible. This can be hard if you have to wait, but again, be looking at the long term. If you have to sit and wait for something (maybe you and your spouse are taking the car into the shop while running errands), take one of those books from the library! 🙂
Pay as much as you can on the bills With the money you’re saving, attack your smallest bills and/or the highest interest rate cards first. Bonus tip – pay once a week on credits cards to keep the interest down. We have only paid finance charges on our Southwest cards a few times….mostly after we overspent on a summer trip. (lol, the Gaitans are not good at summer budgeting).
Reward yourself, from time to time This is really hard stuff. I know. But you do want to reward yourself as you go. Add rewards into your budget too. We did go out to eat a few times over the years, and each time it was such a blessing and so much fun. Make sure you shut off the “we don’t have the money for this” side of your brain! If you’ve saved for it, enjoy it! Even if you give yourself small rewards like getting a cup of coffee with a friend.
Hopefully, this will help you pay off your debt so you can jump for joy like this!