A wise parent tells their children, “It’s not how much money you can earn, what matters is how much you can save.” We can all remember the first time we started making more money and had discretionary spending power for the first time. Did you buy a new car, clothes you wanted or take a vacation? Did you start an IRA and start skimming off the top of your paycheck for a rainy day? Most of us spend money on things that make us feel good, and experts say we make most of our purchase decisions based on emotion and later we justify them with logic. While saving money and going without new things may not seem very exciting at first glance, the financial security that comes along with good habits is something that we can all use to not only protect us from loss, but also to propel ourselves into financial success in the future.
The best part of the following frugal life tips is that you do not have to change your lifestyle to save money and be ready for life’s curveballs.
10 ways to spend less and live well:
- Make a budget. If someone put you on the spot and asked how much of your monthly income you spend on food, transportation or entertainment, would you be able to answer the question? Many of us budget by spending until we run out of money and hope we can make it to the next paycheck. Some of us run low on money and buy out half the grocery store, and end up with more food than we need. It takes time and practice to make a budget and stick to it. Even if it takes a dozen tries, keep working on figuring out exactly how much we really need for monthly expenses and learning how much we really have to put away and save for the future.
- Use a grocery-shopping list. Those impulse buys are tempting! Food also looks better when you go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Never go to the grocery store hungry because you are more likely to buy more than you need and everything looks good. Spending the time to make a grocery store list before you head to the market will help you buy what you really need and avoid coming home with too much produce that could spoil. Sticking to your grocery list is a good exercise in financial discipline.
- Get into the coupon game. Cutting coupons can be a fun game when you pretend each piece of paper is money. If you receive a newspaper, even a Sunday paper, full of coupons, flip through them, compare them to your grocery list, and see where you can save some money. Be careful however, and do not use the excuse of cost-savings to buy more than you need. Similarly, just because a jacket at the mall is 50 percent off, does not mean you need to buy it if you already have several good jackets at home.
- Buy cost-saving alternatives. We often buy the items we like and that which we are accustomed. If we look around and try new things, it is possible there are other options out there that cost less and are just as good. Take buying salmon, for example, a grocery store chain brand of frozen wild salmon can be just as tasty and healthy as the fresh salmon in the deli. If you can develop the habit of pulling a salmon steak from the freezer and defrosting it in the refrigerator overnight, your grocery store dollar is worth more money.
- Pack a lunch. If you spend money eating out for lunch every day, not only are you spending extra money, you also have less control over what you are eating. Saving money by bringing a lunch to work is a frugal win and can be healthier too. Forget the soggy sandwiches in a paper sack and invest in good containers and portable lunch items because you will save money quickly by bringing your lunch. By the way, this does not mean you have to be chained to your desk; find somewhere you enjoy to relax and enjoy your lunch-break.
- Buy used items. Plenty of folks buy used furniture on Craigslist and find great pieces while saving money. Buying used cars on eBay is another way to avoid the overhead of a retail store/dealer. When the alternative is to buy new from a store and put it on a credit card, gently used items can be twice as affordable. If you can save a decent down payment, consider an auto loan from a local credit union, buy a used car from a private party, and get more for your money.
- Shop and save on utilities. With the deregulation of electric companies, there is more competition on the marketplace than ever. There are several consumer websites helping consumers find the best deals on the utilities and services. Doing some research and making phone calls to the cable, Internet and television providers can lead to significant savings, even if it means changing providers.
- Make your own popcorn and get into Netflix. Going to the movies is fun, but it is also a habit, often an expensive one. For the price of a small box of popcorn at most theatres, you can sign up for Netflix or a similar streaming video service, assuming you have the right technology to play Internet on your television. Buying popcorn at the grocery store and saving gas money and avoiding the high price of movie theatre tickets is a good way to save money and relax in the convenience of your home, which you probably spend good money keeping up.
- Host get-togethers with friends and family. Easy and affordable entertainment options include inviting people over to your home for a game, movie or simply social occasion. If you suggest your guests please bring either something to eat or drink you really do not have to spend much money, and your contribution is the use of your home and the effort to clean before and after. We do not need an expensive restaurant to enjoy one the good company of others.
- Set cost savings goals and reward your success. When you consciously work on these frugal financial success techniques, estimate the money you would have otherwise spent on the expensive alternatives. You might be surprised how much more you have and the fun times you enjoy on less money. Consider your success in savings and treat yourself to a night out at a new restaurant or go to a movie at the new theatre in town, and you may notice, when you do so less frequently, it is even more fun. Nevertheless, you also might want to treat yourself by taking the money you saved and invest it in your future!
Joseph Wrobel, Ltd. helps people get control of their finances and a fresh start at financial freedom. The firm’s website contains informative videos about financial issues as well as bankruptcy protection for families who want a fresh start.