Have you ever had those times where it seemed events conspired to spend your money for you before you even had it in your hand? Maybe your water heater stopped working…..or your car broke down….or any number of things that tend to go wrong…. Do you have a little ‘cushion’ in your budget for those times when these things happen?
One dimension of our overall wellness is Financial Wellness, and part of the formula for financial wellness is being able to successfully manage your expenses.
Although we can’t foresee every possible catastrophe. — like the pandemic we’re still dealing with — we can do some small things to help us make sure we can weather any financial storms.
One way of doing that is to build a ‘cushion’ into our budget. Having a cushion (ie, a savings account, or at least some of our money that doesn’t have to go to our living expenses) in our budget is really important when those unexpected expenses pop up, but many times, people just don’t see where they have any “wiggle room” in their budget to build up that cushion.
To help with that, I decided to check out some really easy, practically painless ways to save money.
15 (Almost) Painless Ways to Save Money
1. Make a budget.
We have to tell our money where to go. If we don’t plan how we’re going to spend it, our hard-earned money has a way of disappearing before our eyes. Budgeting doesn’t have to be some huge, involved process. You just need to make a plan for your money so it goes where you want/need it to go.
2. Use cash.
You may not want to use cash for everything, but it can be helpful to use it for things like eating out, groceries, etc.. When you have to actually pull out that cash, it can make you think about whether you really need what you’re buying.
You can even use what Dave Ramsey calls the Envelope System. You put the money you’ve budgeted for certain budget categories in their own envelope. Once the money is gone from that envelope, you don’t spend anymore money on that item.
For instance, we use this for a few of our categories, such as eating out, or home and yard. Once we’ve spent all our eating out money, yours truly here cooks for the rest of the month. You’d be surprised how much this helps you stay on track with your spending.
3. Save your change.
If you do use cash, empty your pockets (or purse) and put the change in your bank (or jar). As your piggy bank gets full, take the change to the bank and put it in your savings account.
4. Track your spending.
Know where your money is going – those small amounts we spend daily add up over time. This goes along with the budgeting process when you’re first starting your budget — you want to see what you’re going to need to budget in each category — but it can also be extremely helpful to do this every couple of months.
Sometimes we just kind of slide into spending a lot more on our Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts than we thought. If we’re tracking our spending and realize we’ve done that, we can choose to pass on by those places, or at least limit our stops.
5. Eat at home.
Cooking your own meals can save you lots of money. You can feed a family of four at home for the price of a restaurant meal. The price of groceries has really skyrocketed over this last year or so, but restaurants are paying more for them too, and they pass that increase on to you.
Taking your lunch to work can also add up to big savings. Just think — the average price of a lunch out is around $10. That’s around $200 a month if you eat out every workday! Even if you don’t really like to cook, you have options. Many grocery stores now offer meal kits that include everything you need for a meal. All you have to do is take it home and follow the directions.
6. Make a meal plan.
As we talked about last week, this helps you know what foods you need to have on hand. Once you know what you’re going to be eating for the week, you’ll know what you need to buy when you go to the grocery store. This can keep you from making unnecessary purchases.
7. Make a grocery list and stick to it.
Using your meal plan, construct your grocery list to make sure you pick up everything you need. Be sure to check your pantry and fridge as you make your list so you don’t buy duplicates.
8. Sign up for store loyalty cards.
Many grocery store loyalty cards allow you to go online and download digital coupons to your card. One of the stores we shop at, Kroger, also sends us paper coupons based on our purchases, so they’re always coupons we’ll use. In addition, we get fuel points, which give us ten cents off per gallon at their pumps for each 100 points we’ve earned. These little savings can really add up over time.
9. Avoid using shopping trips as entertainment.
Many people enjoy going out for a day of shopping and people-watching at the mall, but if you’re trying to save money, this can be dangerous for your wallet. It’s too easy to see something that you absolutely must have or that sale that’s just too good to pass up.
10. Master the 30-Day Rule.
According to The Simple Dollar, “avoiding instant gratification is one of the most important rules of personal finance, and waiting 30 days to decide on a purchase is an excellent way to implement that rule.”
11. Find free entertainment.
Community calendars are a great resource for this. Many communities offer free or reduced-price activities each month, and with a little planning you can fill up your calendar with lots of fun activities that don’t cost anything.
12. Double-check your subscriptions.
Are you using all those subscriptions you’re paying for each month? Often, we pay for things we don’t even use because we signed up for them and then just forgot about them. Are there any you find you don’t really need anymore?
13. Drink more water.
We all know water is good for our health, but it’s also good for our wallet. If you’re drinking water, you’re not drinking that expensive coffee drink or over-priced glass of iced tea at your favorite restaurant.
14. Give store brands a try.
Many store brands are just as good as the name brands, but it may take a little trial and error to know which ones are comparable.
15. Make savings automatic.
Pay yourself before you even see your paycheck. When you make it automatic, you don’t have the chance to miss the money you’re putting into your savings. Many banks will let you set up an automatic transfer to your savings account each month. This is a great way to save, because you’re not tempted to spend that money you had budgeted for savings because you didn’t even see it.
You may think you don’t have enough extra money to put any into savings, but some banks make it super-easy to save. Some even have a program where you can choose to round up to the nearest dollar every time you use your card to make a purchase. The extra change that is “rounded up” automatically goes into your savings account.
Every Little Bit Counts
Maybe you don’t have a lot of discretionary income, especially since the pandemic, but every little bit really does count. You’d be surprised how quickly your extra change can add up, or how the money you saved at the grocery store gives you a little extra wiggle room in your budget.
We’ve talked so many times about starting small, and building on those small steps. It’s the same thing with our Financial Wellness. A step forward is a step forward, no matter how small it is.
I’m sure many of these suggestions aren’t really anything new, but they’re some that I’ve found most helpful over the years. Saving money doesn’t have to be painful and you don’t have to start out big. Finding those small, painless ways to save can snowball and allow you to save more and improve your financial wellness over time.
What are some of your top tips for saving money? Please share!
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