Special thanks to David Bakke of Money Crashers Personal Finance – one of the top personal finance blogs – for contributing this post. In addition to writing about money-saving tips, David runs an online business and lives in Atlanta with his son.
As we approach the middle of the year, it’s time to forget about the mistakes you made and start fresh by focusing on what you can do now to improve your financial situation. For most people, a better quality of life translates to more money. It may be unlikely you’ll see a raise anytime soon – especially in this economy. Fortunately, there are a number of tried-and-true tips for making the most of the money you have:
1. Create a Budget A budget can seem overwhelming, but if you make a monthly budget and stick to it, you can identify areas where you overspend and save big by controlling spending or simply by using your money more wisely. Write down your monthly income (after taxes) and itemize your monthly bills and other expenses. And don’t forget about the “little” things like daily coffee or your fast food lunch – they add up.
Look at redirecting your funds to eliminate credit card debt so you can save on interest, and find ways to save on gas and other necessities. Adjusting your spending habits by bagging your lunch instead of eating out can take a little work, but the payoff is well worth it.
2. “Spring Clean” Your Finances You can approach this in two ways: You can dedicate an hour over the weekend to review all your current bills, or, you can thoroughly review bills as you receive them, keeping an eye out for hidden fees and services you don’t need or want. If you find questionable charges, investigate them.
Next, contact your cell phone, Internet, and cable TV providers to see if there are any current discounts available, and remove services or features you don’t use or that aren’t worth the cost. Remember, your providers aren’t going to tell you how to reduce your bills – it’s up to you to find out about promotions and streamline your services.
3. Maximize the Value of Coupons If you’ve never used coupons before, learn about the potential savings associated with extreme couponing. Pick up a Sunday paper and browse through all the ads to find coupons on items you regularly buy. But don’t stop there. Keep an eye out for store sales on items you buy the most, and incorporate your coupons to increase the savings.
Next, find out which day of the week is double coupon day at your favorite grocer, and plan your trip accordingly. Food is typically the second greatest expense in any household budget behind mortgage or rent, so the longterm savings here can be significant.
Also, if you use credit cards responsibly and pay off your entire balance every month, there are some credit cards, such as the American Express Blue Cash Everyday credit card, that offer a cash-back incentive when shopping at supermarkets. As long as you don’t incur interest charges, the savings can be significant.
4. Reduce Entertainment Expenses Entertainment is a necessary expense. However, it’s also necessary to avoid overspending in this area, especially because it’s easy to get carried away.
Take a look at one of the many daily deal websites, such as Groupon or LivingSocial, and see if you can find discounts on places that you visit or would like to. You can often save 50 percent on dining and local activities simply by planning ahead and printing a voucher.
Otherwise, look for free activities in your area. Free music is fairly easy to come by and your local park won’t charge you (or won’t charge you much) to enjoy a picnic lunch or dinner in natural surroundings. When it comes to having a good time, a little creativity goes a long way towards saving a lot of money.
5. Commit to Fresh Foods Sure, buying processed foods is more convenient, but buying fresh will save you money and improve your health. You may need to schedule more time in the kitchen, but if you make meals in bulk and freeze for later use, you can enjoy the health benefits and savings of eating fresh without “slaving over the stove” everyday. Search your area for local farmers markets and make it a point to visit them weekly. You’ll find the highest quality of fruits and veggies at low prices.