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- Frugal Living
Easy Ways to Cut Expenses
These days it seems our money needs to go further to make ends meet. Many of us have seen our expenses rise over the last several years and yet our incomes have risen only slightly. To avoid getting into a debt trap expenses must be managed and reduced. Here are some easy ways to cut expenses and stretch every dollar.
First, take a look at your monthly expenses. Gather your monthly bills so you can examine whether you can make any reductions. Electric/Natural Gas Bill – do the seasonal price spikes wreak havoc on your budget? If you have a fixed monthly budget, you may want to consider switching your bill to a flat rate that does not fluctuate throughout the year. The back side of the bill usually details the amount of your bill if you accept this option. In addition, do you leave a lot of appliances and items plugged in to the outlets when they are not in use? Start getting into the habit of unplugging items when they are not in use, all items that are plugged in continue to use energy, even when they are turned off.
Phone bills are next, are you using all the minutes/data you are paying for? Or conversely, are you constantly going over the minutes/data provided for in your plan? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, contact your provider and see if there is another plan available better suited to your needs. Now look to your cable or satellite service. Television watching is not a true necessity so if you need to make adjustments to your package, be realistic and take the plunge. Make the call to reduce service. If you want to see the game you might enjoy watching it with a friend, at their house. Also, many programs are now available over the internet.
Another good place to look for savings is when shopping for groceries. Sign up for the loyalty programs for all the stores you shop at, keep all the loyalty cards in a key ring together, this way they are all in one place. If you read the Sunday paper, take a look at the coupons section, clip whatever coupons you can use and set them aside. Gather the sale circulars from at least two of the supermarkets in your area (the circulars are usually available online, check the supermarket website) and take some time to review what is on sale that week. Plan your weekly meals around what is happening in the sales circulars and use your loyalty card and the clipped coupons. You may have to visit different supermarkets to take advantage of specific sales, but the savings can be significant. Before you get defensive, “I do not want to be a coupon lady”, take it easy, checking the coupons and circulars does not take a lot of time. No one is saying you need to devote a lot of time to coupons, 30 minutes a week is probably all you need to take full advantage of sales. Create a shopping list before heading out and stick to it. If you are also using a coupon, indicate on your shopping list that there is a coupon and how much it is for. This way you can quickly compare prices at the store to determine whether you are truly getting a good deal.
You can also cut your food related expenses by planning your meals. Try to make dishes that serve double duty. For example, prepare roasted chicken and vegetables on Day One, use the leftovers with some fresh veggies and seasonings to make a delicious chicken soup on Day Two. Now, imagine if you also managed to get that chicken and some of those vegetables on sale, you just saved yourself a lot of money. Sometimes the left over meal is not enough to serve an entire family, in that case, use it to pack lunches, or serve small portions as an appetizer. Meats are usually the most expensive food item, so take advantage of family-sized or bulk-sized sales on meats, once you are home you can divide and freeze smaller portions. Add more vegetables to your diet, try to serve at least two types of vegetables at each meal, it is not only healthful but it saves money since vegetables are generally more inexpensive than meats.
Reducing food waste is another way to save money. A 2004 University of Arizona study found that nearly 40% of all food purchased in the United States ends up in the garbage. That is money being thrown away. Get into a regular habit of checking the expiration dates of the food in your cupboards and look at the foods in your fridge to see if things are near spoiling. Plan your next meals around these soon-to-spoil items to avoid throwing them away.
There are also many ways to save money while being entertained. If you have not done so go to your local public library and get a library card. Did you know you could borrow (for free) books, magazines, DVDs and even music CDs? Take a look at what your library offers, you might even be able to cancel a subscription to a magazine or a service.
Take turns hosting friends at each other’s homes. Have everyone bring a dish. Make these nights fun by having different themes, for example a monthly poker night or other game night or girls’ beauty night, or if someone is always complimenting a particular dish you make, why not have everyone bring certain ingredients and host a cooking class? Finally, become aware about what is happening in your town or city. Most cities have free concerts and activities throughout the year there is such a variety of things to do that you are surely going to find something that interests you.
Avoid unplanned budget busters. I don’t know about you, but I have gone shopping with friends, not to buy anything for me, but to help them find an outfit for some event and somehow I manage to leave with a bag full of things for myself. I find I am not consciously thinking about my budget, I’m just holding up an item and the voice in my head starts “this is cute” “oh, it’s on sale too” or “I have been looking for something in this color” or “this is perfect with my fill in the blank” “I’m going to get it”. At the end of the month when the bill comes due I am kicking myself for getting off track. So do yourself a favor and avoid the drama, if you have not budgeted money for shopping, do not visit the mall. Stay away from it, do not meet your friends there, do not hang around the mall or any place that can cause you to break your budget.
The final and best way to cut expenses and save money is to change your perspective. Think about material things in terms of needs and wants. For example, ask yourself, do you need this thing or do you just want it? Your needs are non-negotiable, things like food, water and shelter are on the non-negotiable list. The wants are negotiable, you may not need new shoes, a new phone or that new DVD.
When you start cutting expenses you may start to feel a bit deprived and sorry for yourself. When those feelings come change your thoughts, start by taking a look around you. Look at all the things you do have. Look at the things you already own. Look at the things you have accomplished in your life. Think about the challenges and obstacles that you have overcome. If you see all that you have and done it helps you feel content with what you have. These types of thoughts create a feeling of contentment and gratitude and help you get past those negative feelings quickly. The more expenses you cut the more orderly and balanced you will feel. You might discover you think about cutting expenses and saving differently, it is not a chore at all. It is a good thing to do, good for you and your family.