Several months ago, after our credit card bill started to inexplicably creep, my husband and I were forced to sit down and take a good hard look at our monthly spending, and, feeling especially grown up, even went so far as to develop a reasonable monthly budget.
Three months later we sat down again to figure out how to actually stick to said reasonable monthly budget.
Like many Americans, we found ourselves blowing through our discretionary funds about half way through the month and pulling out the credit card to tide us over until our next paycheck. We were left scratching our heads, because from the 10,000 foot view we couldn’t figure out how we kept falling short.
It turns out there was no big “a-ha” revelation; it was a culmination of a new shirt here, a few dozen tins of cheese popcorn there (don’t judge)… not giving any consideration to ways to cut back.
After a few months of following some simple rules, we’ve found ways to make a paycheck stretch farther, as well as have a little left over at the end of the month for a tin of cheese popcorn or two. Or five.
1. Set a realistic weekly budget. Sticking to a budget is a lot like sticking to a diet. Unrealistic expectations lead to failure and before you know it you’re hiding in the bathroom eating a bucket of fried chicken.
2. Get your weekly budget in cash. The part of my brain that knows how to do accurate subtraction falls asleep when I browse the baby clothing section at Target. Looking in my wallet and knowing exactly how much I have left for the week wakes it up and helps me move on.
3. Take your cash budget out of the ATM on Sunday. If you’re running low by the end of the week, it’s a lot easier to come up with creative, inexpensive (or free) entertainment options for the weekend than figuring out how to buy diapers on Tuesday.
4. Plan your meals for the entire week on Sunday. I was always justifying eating out because it was cheaper than cooking. I realize now that I just wasn’t planning very well. First of all, I was making recipes like shrimp and scallop pasta. I had little regard for how much something was going to cost. Also, now I take inventory of what I have at home before I go to the grocery store and make acceptable substitutions. For instance, if something calls for Gorgonzola but I have ½ container of open feta in the fridge, I use the feta.
5. Use recipes that share ingredients. My 2-year-old and 8-month-old have very discriminating palates. And by discriminating palates I mean they will only eat toast and orange slices. If I bought anything perishable I was usually throwing away what we didn’t use after a couple of days. Recipematcher.com is a great site that allows you to get recipes using existing ingredients that you have laying around, creating less waste.
6. Shop local farmers’ markets. This is the perfect time of year for fresh and affordable produce close to home. My favorite go-to is the Sappington Farmer’s Market because they’re open year-round, and they also sell local, hormone-free meat and eggs. We also have a great market right at the edge of our neighborhood during the summer months – the only downside is that the girls usually eat what I buy by the time we get home. Click here to find a farmer’s market near you.
7. Shop local discount superstores. Okay okay… get off my lawn with your torches and pitchforks already. I know how most of you feel about discount superstores. And for the most part I agree. But for packaged goods like mac and cheese, cereal, diapers, baby formula, etc. – their prices can’t be beat. Especially when you buy the private label brand. Yeah, the private label peanut butter tastes like gravel that’s been sitting in someone’s sweaty arm pit for a couple of days, but my 2-year-old likes it just the same. And it keeps me from standing over the sink shoveling spoonfuls into my trap.
8. Develop a coupon task force. I got out of the habit of clipping coupons because I felt like they pushed me into buying things that I didn’t need, buying more of something that I ended up throwing away, or buying the more expensive brand of something that was still more expensive than my usual cheap brand even with the coupon. But lately my friends and I have been on the lookout for each other when we browse coupons. For instance, I have several friends whose children have outgrown diapers and formula, but they still get awesome coupons that they pass along to me. I don’t have a dog, but the previous owners of my house did so in return I pass along the dog food and grooming coupons that I get in the mail to my dog loving friends. That’s legal, right?
What about you? Any tips that keep your family in budget each week?
Image credit: justindupre.com