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If you’re not great at budgeting, you’re not alone. A survey by Mint.com suggests that 65 percent of people don’t know what they spend in any given month. A survey by PennyHoarder.com shows that as much as 55 percent of Americans do not use a budget to track spending and that those who don’t use a budget typically have $5,000 or more in credit card debt. It’s understandable that some people don’t think they need a budget. “I just spend as little as I can,” is a common sentiment. But…do you really spend as little as you can?
Sitting down to review every single expenditure you made in a month can be eye-opening. Some people don’t realize where their dollars go. And if you’re on a fixed and limited income, the only way to save more money is to spend less money. A penny saved is a penny earned. Here are daily changes you can make to your routine to put more money aside.
Set A Daily Budget. Yup, Daily.
Many Americans have a monthly budget, but if you’re struggling to stick to that, you need a daily budget. Monthly budgets are too loose. It’s easy to overspend one day because you say, “I can make up for it later this month.” And then, you don’t. Create a daily budget. You can use a financial app (we detail several great ones here) that will notify you when you’ve met your limit. Check it throughout the day to see where you’re at. Then you can know whether or not you can afford that latte. Or you might know that doing so means you have to walk rather than Uber to your plans later that night.
Get Crafty With Leftovers
Here’s one mistake people make when repurposing leftovers: they think the meal has to make sense. It does not. You’re not trying to impress guests. You’re trying to make sure you don’t put your hard-earned dollars in the trash can in the form of food. You can make a meal out of one leftover chicken thigh, one or two spoons of three different leftover sides and half a cup of leftover salad. Just dump all of the odds and ends in your fridge out on a plate. That’s dinner. And you just saved yourself anywhere from $10 to $30 on takeout/delivery by accepting an admittedly weird dinner.
Give Yourself Time To Find Free Parking
If you drive a car, paying for parking adds up. You pay a dollar at a meter here, 75 cents there, another $2 there. You use the pay-per-hour garage over here. Suddenly, you’re paying $5 to $15 a day to park your car around town. That can amount to hundreds a month. You pay for parking because you’re in a hurry. One thing that you have that is free is a little extra time. Make a point to arrive at your destinations 10 to 15 minutes early so you have time to circle and find free parking. Maybe you have to park just a few blocks away and walk. Do it (so long as it feels safe).
Pack Lunch *And* Snacks *And* Drinks
Maybe you’re already packing a lunch every day. That’s a great start. But that’s not everything. You hit the vending machine for $2 chips when you’re feeling snackish. You pop into a café on your break for a pricey ice tea. Then it’s a cookie from a bakery later. That can easily account for $5 to $10 per day. Get yourself a big, insulated lunchbox and pack all of the nourishment you’ll need while you’re away. Be honest with yourself about what you’ll want. If you know you want a cookie every afternoon, then make some at home and pack those. Buy your favorite ice tea bottles in bulk from the grocery store and pack those.
Arrange A Carpool
Gas is at a near all-time high right now. It’s creeping up to $5 per gallon, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration. You’ve had that moment at the pump when you’re just watching that dollar figure go up and up and your tank is only half full. It could be time to arrange a carpool. You likely know others – between friends, neighbors, coworkers and family – who live nearby and travel a similar route to you each day. You can invite everyone to join a Google spreadsheet where they can post their schedules and destinations every week. From there, you can all check it and see if and when carpooling makes sense.
Convert Credit Card Rewards Into Useful Gift Cards
If you are using credit cards, then you are likely earning points. Be smart about how you use them. You usually have three options: you can deposit the cash back into your checking account, you can credit it to your credit card bill to reduce your balance or you can use the rewards in the online shopping portal. That last part is tricky. When you’re in there, you want gift cards for some tempting but useless vendors. Be strategic. Typically, your points go further in the online portal. So while 50,000 points would be $50 in cashback, it might be $75 when used in the online portal. Review all of the deals. Buy a card for a place where you get essentials. Sometimes vendors like Target, Best Buy and Home Depot pop up.
Make All Coffee At Home
You’ve heard this one over the years, but it’s time for a refresher. At this very moment, a Grande of most of Starbucks’ more popular drinks is creeping up to $5. Some are more than that. Not even mentioning tax and tip, you could spend $5 per day which is roughly $140 per month on coffee if you pick it up outside of your home. Meanwhile, a 12-ounce bag of ground coffee from the store yields around 22 cups of coffee and will only run you between $3 and $10 depending on the brand. Making this one switch can easily save you over $100 per month.
Find Free Ways To Have Fun
Bankrate.com reports that the average American household spends over $3,000 on entertainment per year. When you want to see friends or have fun on a weekend, it’s normal to think about activities outside of the home. You go out to dinner, you go to the movies, you go to a bar for drinks, you go to a live show or you go to a museum. But three grand a year is substantial and there are so many ways to have fun for free or very little. We listed inexpensive date night ideas during the quarantine that still apply today. There are plenty of classic kids’ games that are free, too, which we listed here.
Only Spend Cash
You don’t have to do this forever, but it’s a useful experiment to try for a week. When you buy things on a credit card, it can feel like free money. You don’t see the funds leave your checking account in the moment. You only face the consequences of your actions at the end of the month when that credit card statement arrives. When you only buy things in cash, there comes a point when you run out of cash. Set a daily budget, take out enough cash for each day and only spend that. Hitting that moment of being out of cash can really show you how fast you spend money.
Check Your Account Perks
Familiarize yourself with all of the perks included with your many subscriptions and accounts. Some credit cards, for example, get you free access to VIP lounges in airports or include insurance for rental cars. If you have a library card, then you have access to thousands of audiobooks you can download for free – no need to buy those downloads elsewhere. If you have an Amazon Prime account, you have access to thousands of movies, TV shows and games that are included in your membership. Want to take a yoga class? The gym membership you already pay for might include free yoga classes.