March seems to be the month of Budget posts from me (maybe it’s the thoughts of a tax returns). For those of you who don’t know I’m always up for helping friends start budgeting and I have to say my number one frustration that people have is their expenses. The first time they ever track how much of their money is going towards things like eating out or even just their groceries is frustrating. Especially when you look at them and say you are spending 25-40% of your income on food. Btw food is the true weakness of my generation! Plus buying “experiences” like traveling, concerts, and other events. I digress, in this post I just wanted to give you the way I help all of them (and myself) cut expenses down to achieve financial goals.
Know your Expenses
It is just about impossible to do anything until you track your expenses. Think of you and your family as a business. You know how much you bring in, but why don’t you know how much is going out? I am always recommending Everydollar because it works for me, but I don’t care how you track them so long as you do it. There is about a billion and one pinterest pins on the topic and I’m certainly not reinventing the wheel on this one. As long as you track everything from the four quarters you scraped up for that $1 coffee to the hundreds you spend on bills. I also don’t want you to just say what you spent, I want you to say where you spent it and what on. This is the quickest way for you to see places where you are A) most likely to splurge and B) the easiest way for you to turn down impulse buying. Once you have a month’s worth of expenses counted up it will be the easiest way to see where you can reduce. If you are looking to cut expenses immediately do this in combination with the rules down below.
Cut Down to the Basics:
Any financial/budget blogger will tell you to cut down and negotiate on your consistent bills. Basically call your insurance representative and talk about the plan you have. Talk to your phone company to see if there is a better plan for your needs. Shop around for the best deals for you and don’t be afraid to ask your current company to match them to keep your business. Cut the cable and go to netflix, hulu, or Amazon video. The goal here is not to get rid of all the things you need or use consistently that bring you joy. It is to bring those costs down and have you living within your means. A true barebones budget would say you don’t need cable or a phone, but personally I think if you are living a life that isn’t fulfilling while achieving your financial goals then it isn’t worth it. Balance is key, but a strict budget will help you appreciate both the splurges you do allow yourself and the fact that you are working towards a better life. The next tip will be for any of your purchases after you pay your consistent bills (fixed expenses).
Ask yourself these 3 questions on EVERY purchase:
Is this a true necessity for me to survive? Think gas to get to work, groceries, and other variable expenses that are important.
- Does this item/service bring me true joy? If you are thinking that “when I lose 5lbs this shirt will be so cute” or “if it just was tailored here it would be perfect!” then that means you don’t love it there and then. Skip and wait for the perfect piece to come to you.
- Is it worth the hours I worked for it? This is my favorite one. Translates you salary to an hourly rate and think about how much money you actually get after tax per hour. If you bring home $8 after tax per hour is that $40+ 1 hour lunch really worth the 5 hours you worked for it? You will quickly realize that everytime you are spending $60+ on a purchase you are spending an entire day’s work (at $8 an hour) and all of a sudden a lot of things just are not worth that price.
If you get through all these questions and you still want to make the purchase and it is in your budget then go for it. If it is not in the budget step away for a moment if it isn’t an emergency. Most the time you can save for the item you want and the anticipation will make you even happier with that item or it will turn out to be something you really didn’t want. Plus if you like to shop online a lot of times they will send a discount to your email in hopes of securing your purchase.
These three tips are how I start everyone who is looking to get on the budget train. Regardless of whether they want to save more, invest, pay off debt, etc. This is the best way to start. If you can track your expense and put them in percentages you will quickly realize that you are spending way more than you want on different things in life. When you find yourself making the realizations, you will find the best way for you to cut back in your life. Asking these questions were things that just put my feelings about money into a checklist for my purchases. I rarely have the buyers regret that I use to have after going to the mall. Cutting your expense doesn’t mean giving up everything you enjoy doing, it means realizing exactly how much work you are putting in to afford that latte every morning or that trip you want to take. You will come to appreciate the things you are spending your money on because you know exactly how hard you worked for it and you will likely find yourself saving money.
So what is the one thing you are going to cut back on today?