Family Budget Guide
Think saving over $1,200 a year is impossible? What if we told you that merely saying “No” to that morning latte could do just that? We talked to money-saving pros to find quick and simple ways to help you pad your bank account. From eating leftovers to trading toys, you’ll be amazed at how much money you can save by following these tips. Got a great idea that didn’t make it on our list? Head to our message boards and tell us about it.
Buy Cards at the Dollar Store. Birthdays can be super expensive. Take a list of everyone on your list and buy a card for them. Or make your own if you have a good printer and computer. Consider Ecards where appropriate. For invitations, check out Evite, which keeps track of all your guests and lets them post notes to each other. Some may think it’s tacky, but who cares, you have money in your wallet and you sent a card that can dance the Macarena. You’ve done your duty.
You’ll save: about $90 a year from the dollar store, or $120 + a year if you send them online.
Save your Change. Whenever you receive change, put it in a separate part of your wallet or purse, suggests Suze Orman, personal finance expert and author of Suze Orman’s Financial Guidebook. Transfer it to a piggy bank or special jar at the end of the day and promise not to touch it until you put it in the bank every few months or so.
You’ll save: about $30 to $60 a month or $360 to $720 a year.
Skip the Fancy Coffee and the Little Bottle of Soda. “When we spend money on ‘small things’ every day, that money adds up to a big amount,” writes David Bach in The Automatic Millionaire Workbook. A daily latte, for instance, costs about $3.50. That’s $105 a month. Instead, buy coffee grinds and milk from the grocery store (about $10 for a month’s worth) and bring your own cup to work with you. And as for those 20 ounce soda bottles? How did they ever convince us that it’s OK to spend money on a little bottle of soda when a 2 liter bottle actually costs the same or less? Whomever came up with that plan deserves a promotion.
You’ll save: about $1,140 a year. Drink the freebee coffee at work and you can save $1,260 a year.
Don’t Waste. Aim to never throw food out again – especially unused, untouched food. While it’s great that we live in a country where there’s enough food to go around, that doesn’t mean we should allow that head of broccoli to shrivel up in the crisper. Have a “use everything in the fridge” dinner night once a week to make use of vegetables before they go bad. Serve your children smaller portions and encourage them to get a second helping if needed to avoid waste. Keep track of snacks and if they don’t eat all of that granola bar one day, put it in the fridge for the next. Make batches of food on the weekends and freeze it for later in appropriate dinner sizes so you’re guaranteed to use it all. If you are tight on space, use freezer bags that can bend to fit better. Once you get the hang of it, try planning your menus for the week and then go grocery shopping. That’s what the chefs do to keep their expenses under control and they feed a lot more people than you.
You’ll save: about $20 – $40 a month depending on how much you were wasting.
Pay At Least your Credit Card’s Minimum. According to Orman, the average interest rate on credit cards is 15 percent. “And the average consumer has a $9,000 balance,” she says. “By paying the monthly minimum due and getting the rate down to 10 percent, you can save about $150 a year during the shorter payback period,” she adds. Shop around and transfer your balance to a card that offers a zero percent rate for one year and 10% after that, and you’ll be well on your way to getting rid of the debt all together.
You’ll save: about $150 to $1,163 a year, depending on your debt.
Delay your Pampering. Do you enjoy regular manicures, massages and bimonthly haircuts? It’s time to push each of these back by a week or two. Or, better yet, skip one session all together. “Get a haircut every eight weeks, instead of six,” Orman says. “At an average of $50 per cut, that can save you $150 a year.” Or, ditch your massage this month. You’ll save $50 to $100. You can also save by doing an at-home manicure.
You save: $250 a year or more, depending on your services of choice.
Get Organized. Hire an organizer, buy software, make a trip to the container store, get a dumpster and clear out your basement. Do whatever it takes to give yourself the boost you need to finally get your life in order. Not knowing what’s coming in or going out, and missing opportunities because you can barely think straight will only keep you down.
You save: time, money, and aggravation.
Run Your House Like You Are CEO. Don’t poo poo things that may seem like a luxury—such as hiring a cleaning service twice a month, or dropping off your laundry. Or having groceries delivered—maybe even having meals made and delivered. Delegate some of these tasks to someone who does it for a living. It may cost a little upfront, but they can do it faster and probably better than you, and the time you save may save you money. If you use that time to do a little freelance work, or pay bills so you don’t pay late payments, or research better insurance rates, it pays for itself. Feel guilty? Do you think the CEO feels guilty because he wasn’t answering the phones and cleaning the bathroom while he was trying to run the company? Don’t feel you need to be a martyr just because you have a family now. Think of your family and home as a business that needs to operate like a well-oiled machine.
You save: ditto on the time, money, and aggravation.
Quit Smoking. Say you smoke a pack a day at $5 a pack, that’s over $18,000 in ten years. And if you smoke two packs, you spend—$36,000—on cigarettes? What’s the matter with you? Imagine how much you’d have to retire on if you invested that over ten years. And if you used it as a down-payment on a house, you wouldn’t need the extra room for your oxygen tanks.
You’ll save: about $152 a month or $1,825 a year if you’re a pack-a-day smoker.
Host a Toy, Sports Equipment or Clothes Trading Party. Kelly Krumenacker, mother of one from New York, loves to attend clothes trading parties. Here’s how they work: Invite a bunch of girlfriends and tell them all to bring clothes that they like but are sick of wearing. Then swap. “It’s a fun get together,” she says. “And a good way to save a lot of money.” You can also have a kids’ clothes exchange (this works better if the kids are different ages and sizes) or a toy trade. “Even if the toys are good and age appropriate, kids get bored with them,” Krumenacker says. Hosting a toy trading party will ensure they are always stimulated with new things while keeping your budget in check. As for sports equipment, things like skis and ice skates are quickly outgrown, so there’s usually a swap going on at your local ski center or rink. Just ask.
You’ll save: about $50 to hundreds of dollars, depending on the trades. Good luck!
Take Advantage of Free Days and Memberships. Many cultural institutions (galleries, museums, etc), zoos and science centers have a free or pay-what-you-wish day, especially in big cities. Some of them also have memberships. “I only paid $2 to go to the Bronx Zoo a few Wednesdays ago,” says Krumenacker (admission costs $14 to $25 for an adult or $10 to $19 for kids over 2), “because it was a special admission day.” Check out your favourite attraction’s Web Check with your library to see if they have passes to local venues. The Moffat Library in Washingtonville, NY for example has free passes to everything from the American Museum of Natural History, to the Botanical Gardens.
You’ll save: about $15 to $100 each trip, depending on the venue and number of people you take.
Cut your Phone Line. Sick of dishing out $35 or more for your home phone? Why not get rid of it and use your cell phone instead? It’ll only cost an extra $10 or so to add an extended minutes plan to your cell phone, Orman says. And, having a cell phone that’s always on, means you’ll never miss an important phone call again. Or get a cable modem, or skype number. Or use other internet phone resources. Just make sure that the 911 emergency service center will be able to find you if you call from that number. There are also online fax services so that you don’t need a separate phone line to receive faxes anymore.
You’ll save: about $300 a year.
Host a Potluck. Instead of dishing out cash on a fancy meal out, host a potluck at your place instead. You won’t have to pay for a babysitter and whatever wine you choose is sure to be at least $10 cheaper than what you’d pay at a restaurant. Plus, by having everyone bring a dish, you’re saving on food costs (and preparation time). If you do this every other month, you’ll save at least $50 each time.
You’ll save: about $300 a year.