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Staying Sane While Shopping on a Budget

Updated on June 19, 2013

What to do?

Ever crave lunch out during your work day, but can’t go because you’re on a budget? Ladies, have you seen a great dress in a catalogue but had to refrain from acquiring it because you already splurged on a professional manicure that week? Guys, need a beer and a burger out with your buddies, but have to grill at home because your extra income this month went to fixing the lawn mower? What do you do when you want to indulge on certain purchases, but need to stay in your monthly budget to achieve your financial goals?

Every household has items it can’t function well without. Moreover, every person has a desire now and again to acquire something that’s not necessary, but fun. How to manage the needs and the wants AND keep the household budget in line…now that’s a challenge most everybody faces on a daily basis. Here’re some ideas on how to succeed in this challenging endeavor.

Steps To Success

First, make sure your current income is mapped out as comfortably as you can within some sort of budget reference. From your net income, your unavoidable living expenses, your retirement savings contributions, if applicable, your slush fund for entertainment splurges, whatever you have, it must all be catalogued so you have a clear picture of your current spending tendency. I’m not going to endorse any one way to do this. For me, a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet helps me see all my expenses more clearly so that I can stay on track with my purchases on a monthly basis. Maybe you need more assistance. Maybe you need a daily reminder tool to be sure you can afford that take-out tonight. In contrast, maybe you can mentally track the exact amount you can afford at the hardware store this week. However you balance your expenses with your income, use a method that works for you. How will you know it works…you stay on budget flawlessly and you don’t feel lost about how much you can afford as you spend your income week to week.

Second, be ready and able to correctly classify each purchase that cannot be captured in your budget reference as either a necessity or a perk. Depending on how tight your budget is, through necessity or your design, you will have to differentiate between a must have and a nice-to-have. Do you really need that trip to the salon? Can you purchase some groceries staples instead of going to the mall? With every purchase, the decision to redirect your money toward a more sensible, necessary item is entirely yours. Though everyone has different spending freedom, no one should have to go through life without treating themselves to some fun. If you research a bit, you’ll find you can do things you want to do and stay on budget.

Helpful Tips:

Avoid feeling deprived of what you want just because you’re on a budget.

Books: Again, your local library is a gold mine. Make sure you can’t find what you want there for free. If not, then look into half price book resellers. Or try looking at yard sales.

Clothes: Try Goodwill or local thrift stores for the essentials, like t-shirts, jackets, jeans, skirts, belts, neckties, etc. Then, anything you still need, go to a retailer on a sale week-end, or during the off season clearance events. Second-hand kids clothiers are great to keep costs down when keeping up with growth spurts.

Coffee/Tea: Starbucks is tasty, but can add up the more you indulge. Some retailers (e.g. Barnes & Noble or Target) have Starbucks in their stores. You could use that stocking stuffer gift card for a coffee and get your books free at the library. Or, invest in a quality home coffee maker. Or learn to make the specialty drink at home. For example, buy Tazo Chai latte tea concentrate at the grocery store, add it to milk and you’re done.

Gasoline: Bundle your errands when possible. Choose a grocer, library, even a dry cleaner that’s on your route to work. When prices at the pump are low, fill an extra gas can or two so you can use that when the pump price rises. Or invest in a hybrid vehicle. Or walk whenever you have that option. Or use a bicycle or carpool. Also, try shopping at grocers that apply your bill to a fuel point system.

Grocery: Buy as many grocery items on sale as possible. For example, if cream cheese is on sale one week, get a few extra bricks to last you when they go off sale. Cutting your juice with water saves your tooth enamel while making the juice last a bit longer in the fridge. Pack your work/school meals to bring with you. Stock non-perishable snacks/drinks in your car trunk. Check your grocer’s bakery, meat and produce sections for quick sell items.

Gym Membership: Have you done all your house cleaning and property upkeep without breaking a sweat? You burn serious calories lugging your vacuum upstairs. Get a push mower (better yet an old school, non-motorized mower). Trade the electric trimmer for a conventional hand trimmer. Run, bike, skate, etc. outdoors for free any time! Play sports with friends or a league. In the winter, go ice skating or snow shoeing or skiing or bowling. You don’t need to pay to be a hamster on a treadmill. On the other hand, if you like the gym and consider it a perk, go for it! You can trade off junk food buys to pay for your membership.

Household items: Did you know most consignment stores also have a home goods section? They resell kitchen gadgets, furniture, wall art, books, jewelry, small appliances/accessories, and more. Take a look and you’ll be amazed. Then go to flea markets and garage sales. Whatever you can’t find, then you can hit your local retailers.

Movies: If you want to go out to see a movie, check if the theater offers a discount admission night. If they don’t, save going to the theater for movies you really want to experience on the big screen, leaving others for a free rental from your local library.

Meals Out: Craving authentic Mexican food? Try making the recipes at home for a fun culinary adventure night. If cooking in doesn't appeal to you, save the outing for a special occasion. You can even fund the meal by packing your lunch for a few days before or after the excursion. Sign up to receive local ad circulars that distribute dining coupons. Try restaurants that offer specials, like kids eating free with every adult meal purchase. Don’t buy as much alcohol with your meal. You can get a glass of wine out for the same price as a whole bottle at the store, in some cases. Avoid overpriced vending machines and mini marts. Eat at home before going out for an activity, especially a fair or festival. Don’t add on a drink and fries if you can enjoy water with your take out order.

Pets: Want a puppy or a cat? Check the shelters first. Better yet, keep your eyes peeled for someone giving animals away. "Free to a good home" signs are very common these days. To leave money for quality vet care, get your pet toys, leash, beds, etc. at a garage sale. Sometimes shelters even offer discounted vet care if you've adopted a stray.

Salon Services: You can go to a Great Clips type venue for frequent needs, splurging on fancy salon visits as a treat. Try doing your nails yourself, or have a friend help you. If you have low maintenance short hair in the house, try cutting hair with a home clipper set. Or ask for a salon gift card for your birthday instead of a big fancy cake.

Seasonal Buys: Buy in the off season whenever possible. Everything from bug repellent and sunscreen to clothes and home/garden items, like snow shovels, can be purchased at the end of each season at a discount.

Get the idea? Not to mention there are a plethora of coupon service websites you can try. For example, Groupon offers discounts on popular services with reasonable conditions. Or go to the website of the product seller you’re interested in. They usually advertise deals right from their homepage.

And finally...

Third, stick to your budget as best you can while prioritizing your sanity. It’s worth the effort to reap the rewards of staying on track financially. But life can get to you sometimes, to the point where you need to care for yourself more than you need to be sure stick to the budget. If you want to do something that’s not in the budget, build it in somehow. Cut a cost elsewhere, or take a hit on the budget that you’ll make up with the next paycheck. If it’s a choice between ordering a pizza or going nuts cooking dinner a long day at work, order the pizza. Life’s too short to go crazy being financially responsible every single moment morning, noon and night.


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