Spending without planning can lead to a loss of control of your finances, creating a host of avoidable financial problems. Planning your spending in advance and keeping track of your expenses doesn’t mean you have to live without any of the finer things in life.
Knowing your financial position at any given time will help you make better spending decisions and help you buy what you really want or need, rather than blowing your money on impulse purchases.
A budget doesn’t have to handcuff you when it comes to lifestyle.
Run Some Numbers
It can be hard to take savings seriously when you think in terms of a $5 cup of coffee or a $10 lunch. Skipping a cup of Joe or a burger with your co-workers might not seem like a serious way to significantly improve your bottom line.
Look at your discretionary spending and run some numbers to see how much unplanned or casual spending can cost you to help you develop better self-control. For example, if you skip one trip to the movies per month, per couple, that can save you $40 or more each month by the time you’re done with tickets and refreshments.
While $40 might not seem like it will help you reduce your spending, multiply that by 12 months and you realize you’ll cut your spending by more than $500 annually by the time you’re finished with credit card fees. Put that into your 401(k) and with your company’s match, you can end up more than $1,000 in the black by the end of the year.
Cut one cup of coffee per week and you end up with another $500. Skipping lunch one time per week can net you another $1,000. Running these types of scenarios can show you how to painlessly reduce — but not eliminate — your casual spending and increase your savings by thousands of dollars each year.
Create a Comprehensive Annual Budget
Another way to stop spending so much is to plan your spending. Impulse purchases often happen because you think you need something, such as groceries, household items or clothing, when you don’t. If you plan your spending, you’ll be much less likely to buy on the fly and overspend. Get last year’s bank and credit card statements and list the recurring monthly expenses you have.
Add one-time or semi-regular expenses, such as an insurance premium or holiday gifts. Determine your average monthly spending and subtract it from your take-home pay to see how much you have left over. If you have extra money, budget for an emergency fund and other goals you have.
These might include retirement contributions, a house down payment, debt reduction, vacation or new car. Review and adjust your budget each month based on your spending, income and savings.
Reduce your Household Expenses
In addition to cutting your casual spending, look for ways to reduce your home expenses. Buy a programmable thermostat so you’re comfortable when you’re home but aren’t spending hundreds of dollars each year heating and cooling your house when you’re away or asleep.
Install low-flow shower heads or toilets or put a soda bottle filled with water in your standard toilet tank to reduce water use. Turn down the thermostat on your water heater one or two degrees at a time to find the right temperature for you and save on your gas bill. Wash only full loads when you do dishes or clothes.
Buy products such as soap, toilet paper, detergent, paper towels and canned goods in bulk, when they’re on sale and you have digital and paper coupons for them, and try generics — and never go grocery shopping without a list. Look for non-expensive household purchases such as lawn care items, tools, exercise equipment and home furnishings on local, online classified boards for bargains. Purchase new goods and clothing during the off-season to cut your spending in half or more.
Manage your Credit Use
Managing your credit on a regular basis helps you spot unnecessary spending habits and helps you reduce the amount of money sucked out of your bank account by interest payments and fees.
List your credit cards, their interest rates and your balances and determine how much you’ll pay in interest this year based on your current debt levels. Look at last year’s car loan, student loan and credit card statements to spot other fees, such as late penalties or annual fees, you might have this year. Re-examine your budget and determine how much of your excess income you can put toward reducing your debt.
Finding low-interest cards and balance transfers can can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars on reduced interest payments. Calculate the amount of interest payments you’ll eliminate to further motivate yourself to manage your credit each month.