Many of us live from paycheck to paycheck. It can be a hard cycle to break. But whether you're saving up for a downpayment on a home, a much needed vacation, or simply beginning to build a savings, all it takes is a few smart decisions to keep more money in the bank.
When looking for ways to save money, the first place to start is at home. It may seem daunting, but it's actually quite easy if you know where to start. You will be surprised what you are spending and where. If you don't already have one, now's the time to make a budget.
Calculate Basic Expenses
First, make a list of your basic monthly expenses. This includes items such as utilities, rent, groceries and car payments. This gives you the total you are responsible for every month. In addition, write down all the variable expenses.
Variable expenses would include eating out, going to the movies or unforeseen repairs. It is important to keep track of all expenses for a few months to get a picture of your spending habits. Once you have a picture of your monthly spending, you can start to look at where and how to save money.
Review Your Utilities
How much are your phone and cable bills? A quick call to the service provider can often get you promotional rates. Shop around. Switching to the competition could be the cheaper option. Better yet, cancel your cable altogether.
How much is your electric bill? LED bulbs can save fifty dollars a year or more. Air conditioning is a huge expense for many. Turn your air conditioner off when you leave for the day. All of these little things add up each month, so cutting these costs can make a big difference over time.
One of the easiest ways to save costs is to cook meals yourself. We are all short on time, but cooking at home is doable. When you cook, make extra for the next day. You can also freeze portions to eat for lunch at work. When shopping for groceries, stick to your list. Compare brands and buy on sale. You can buy dry goods online for big savings. Use the food you have already bought. Throwing away unused food is essentially throwing away money.
We all like eating out, but it is a huge expense. Decide how many times a month you will eat out, and stick to that. When you do eat out, don't get the appetizer or fancy drinks. This cuts the bill by a third. Restaurants make a huge profit on alcoholic drinks; don't give them your hard-earned money. Buy a six-pack or make cocktails at home instead.
The first rule with clothing is only buy what you need. Just because it is on sale doesn't mean you need to buy it. Also, sell any clothing you no longer want online or at a garage sale. Take care of your clothing and do simple repairs. This will make your wardrobe last longer. It is better to buy higher quality items that will last forever, than cheap items that will have to be replaced after a few months. Garage sales and thrift stores also have clothes for a few dollars. You will be surprised by what you find. There are often new items and designer brands for a fraction of the price.
Debt and Credit Cards
Stick to your budget. Don't buy something on your credit card you cannot afford. Using credit is fine, especially if you get cash back. However, don't use credit cards to live outside your means. If you have debt, come up with a plan to pay it off. Don't just pay the minimums.
Often we spend money as an activity. Find something you enjoy such as reading, exercising or spending time with friends and family. You will be surprised how easy it is to change your habits. Once you reduce your monthly expenses and learn how to save money, you will be on your way to financial freedom.
This guest post is written by Kara Masterson, a freelance writer from West Jordan, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah and enjoys writing and spending time with her dog, Max.