Budgeting is hard work, but it’s necessary work if you want to stay on top of your family’s finances and be sure that there is money available for all of the things you want to do now and in the future.
If you’re frustrated by the limits of your budget, look for these easy ways to make your budget do more for you – with less money, of course!
1. Use Flash Deals for Entertainment
If you’re not already on the mailing list for your area’s flash deals – LivingSocial, Groupon, etc – sign up. You might have a handful of emails to delete in the mornings, but you’ll also have the offers available so that you can pick out a few things to do over the weekend for far less than you’d normally spend. Waiting until Friday to pick out something to do in the evening can mean paying full price for a meal or a movie. With the right flash deal, however, you can score a movie ticket for $5 – including popcorn – and then head out to dinner for a fraction of what it might cost normally.
It’s not just movies and meals on these sites. You can also find all sorts of spa offers, special activities like hikes, boat rentals and adventure sports as well as kid deals for things like putt-putt golf or family adventures. If you’re really looking for something fun, but don’t want to spend a lot, you can arrange a fast getaway for a fraction of what you’d normally spend with some of the travel deals as well. Many of the travel deals come with room or hotel credits to help pay for incidentals on the travel.
2. Skip the Grocery Store for a Week
If you really want to stretch your food budget, create a bit of a contest where you see how long you can go without going to the grocery store, or make it a point to skip the first or last week in the month. Most of us have a huge amount of extra food in the freezer and pantry that we never really get around to using.
If you’re not buying fresh fixings at the grocery store, you’re going to have to dig deep in your pantry and get a bit creative around mealtimes to use up those odds and ends. The good news, however, is that by skipping the grocery store for a week, you’ll save potentially hundreds per month if that’s what you normally spend.
3. Buy in Bulk
Many of us skip membership in bulk stores because it seems like paying a fee to save is counterproductive. But it’s not when you stop to think about how much you spend on some of the basics in your household. Toilet paper and paper towels, for example, are always in use in a household, and there’s no sense buying a small pack once per week when you can buy a mega bundle for a just a bit more that will last for months.
Shopping at the bulk retailers like Costco and Sams Club can be huge budget-savers, but they can also be harmful to a budget. When you shop at Sams, you expect to shell out quite a bit because you’re buying so much of everything at once. You’ll wind up saving money in the long run so long as you use all of those items. But if you find yourself throwing out stale food or lots of produce that’s gone bad, you may be wasting money buying the wrong things in bulk. Stick to dry goods that last forever and you can’t go wrong.
4. Use Cash for Discretionary Spending
Once you’ve paid all of the bills and bought all of the groceries, swing by the ATM and take out your set amount of cash for the week. You might grab $100 out of the ATM to get you through the week with lunches out and coffees after lunch. Having the money in hand will let you keep careful track of your spending and make it much more visual when you make a choice like buying a $30 sweater because it’s so cute and it’s on sale! You might have a great sweater, but you’ve put a hole in your budget for the end of the week’s happy hour with friends.
Setting yourself up with a set amount will avoid the ease of swiping a credit or debit card and it will also make it almost impossible to go over limit and ring up overdraft fees on your bank cards as well. Working with cash will also make it very clear exactly how much you’re spending every week, and that is a number that is often a bit shocking to those of us who are used to simply swiping a card without actually handling the bills.