31 Ways to Save in 2011: Make a budget!



One of my goals in creating this blog has always been to help people find ways to save more money, cut their budgets, and if needed, get out of debt!  My goal this year is to bring you a different “themed” series each month with ideas for cutting your expenses in specific areas.  This month, my focus will be on “31 Ways to Save in 2011” and I’ll give you simple ideas for making a little extra money on the side along with ideas for how you can cut your current expenses.  I hope you’ll join me on this journey.  Start tracking what you’re saving right now – there is a great free downloadable spreadsheet here that you can use to track your shopping savings!  If you’ve got ideas about how you can save more this year, please link up below and share.

My first suggestion on your journey to savings is to create a budget.  When you create a budget, you know exactly where your money is going which also helps you to pinpoint where your “leaks” are so you know exactly where you need to make cuts.

My husband and I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class almost two years ago and it was truly life-changing.  If you are able to, I recommend checking it out.  It’s often offered at local churches and the fee is normally $99, which includes all of the materials and thirteen classes.

Here are some of the things that have worked for us in creating a budget!

Find out where your money is going

Spend a few weeks or even a month tracking EVERY penny you spend (yes, that’s right EVERY penny…even that change you spend here and there at the vending machines at work should be included). This will help put you back in touch with your finances and will help you understand where your are spending your money. Many times, it is pretty shocking to realize how much you have been spending and what you have been spending it on.

Create a budget

Once you have an idea about where your money is going, you can begin to create your budget.  I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when they are creating a budget is that they don’t account for all of the categories where they actually spend money, which inevitably leads to a budget crisis.

People typically remember the “big” things when creating their budget like: mortgage/rent, car payments, utility bills, groceries, and eating out, but often forget the “little” things like gifts, hair cuts, clothing, entertainment money, and auto or home repairs. I have heard people say that they don’t “need” some of those things, which may be true, but sooner or later, you will have to buy a birthday gift or a baby gift or a Christmas gift. Unless you cut your own hair, at some point, you will need a hair cut. Unless you sew your own clothing, you’ll probably want or need something new. And…inevitably, something will go wrong with your home or car and you’ll have expenses there. It’s better to be prepared for these things ahead of time than to be scrambling trying to find the money when the need actually arises because chances are at that point, you won’t have the money.
Some people prefer to create an Excel spreadsheet to track their budget.  Others just write it on a piece of paper.  There are some great free tools online to help you create a budget. Here are a few:

*Basic Budgeting Worksheet from BetterBudgeting.com

*Quickie budget and Monthly Cash Flow Planning from DaveRamsey.com (I personally use his “Gazelle budget program” for planning our budget. You can access a “lite” version or sign up for a free trial here.)

*Easy Budgeting Tools from Mint.com (you do have to register)

*Create a budget and manage your online envelope system at MySpendingPlan.com (you do have to register)

Once you’ve created your budget, stick to it!

Creating a budget isn’t the “hard” part. The hard part comes in actually sticking to the budget you’ve created. Dave Ramsey recommends a “cash only” system.  For our family, one of the best moves we have made was going to a cash envelope system. Research shows that the average person spends 12-18% more when they are using “plastic” to pay for things. From personal experience, I can tell you that this is true. When you’re using plastic rather than cash you have a tendency to remove yourself from what you’re actually spending…until the bill comes in the mail, of course!

When our family switched to a cash envelope system, it was surprising that we actually had money left at the end of the month most of the time. Suddenly expenses that had seemed “important” in the past really weren’t as important when we were spending real money to pay for them.

When people are first starting out using the envelope system, I often have them ask which categories we use. We actually have quite a few envelopes, and it took some trial and error to get to the point where we are at now, but I like to know exactly where our money is going and this is what worked out best for us. Here are the categories we use:

*Allowance (this is money my kids can earn for completing weekly jobs)
*Auto repairs/maintenance (this is for things like oil changes and minor things that come up…if there is money left at the end of the month, it goes into our “sinking fund”)
*Blow money (this is money that my husband and I each get to spend on anything we want, no questions asked)
*Clothing (any money left goes into our “sinking fund’)
*Eating out/restaurants
*Gifts (anything left goes into our “sinking fund”)
*Hair care
*Home repairs/maintenance (this is for things like replacing light bulbs, AC filters, etc…if there is money left at the end of the month, it goes into our “sinking fund”)
*Miscellaneous (this is for paper goods, diapers, etc. I look at this as my “CVS” and “Walgreens” filler money)
*Pet Care (this is for dog food and dog treats, anything left goes into the “sinking fund”)
*Prescriptions and over the counter medications
*Toiletries (this is for those little “extras” that come up ~ toothpaste, toilet paper, contact solution, etc.)

If you’re wondering what a “sinking fund” is, it’s basically money that you save for an expense that you know is going to come up. For us, we have sinking funds for things like auto registration/repairs, Christmas, vacation, clothing, escrow/property taxes/home owner’s association fees, and home repairs.

We do not pay for our gas using cash. We use our debit cards for this for convenience (it’s no fun to drag two small kids into the gas station and wait in line to pay cash and then drag them back out and get them strapped back into the car).  We also use a rewards credit card to pay for our routine monthly expenses (utilities, etc.) and then we pay it off at the end of the month.

We do not carry our envelopes with us all of the time. We keep them locked up and only pull cash out when we know that we’re going somewhere and will need it. If we don’t have enough cash for something, we either go home and get more (it’s amazing, though, how you start to re-evaluate whether you really “need” something when you’re making that extra trip) or we don’t buy it.

If you’re looking to make some really trendy envelopes for yourself, there’s a really awesome template and tutorial here.

Revisit your budget

At the end of a budgeting period (we budget from the 15th to the 14th of each month rather than from the start of a month because that’s what worked out best with the way we get paid), make sure that you revisit your budget, especially in the beginning, so you can figure out what works and doesn’t work.  As you create your budget each month, make sure you consider special circumstances that may take place during that month (for example, school supplies during August or September).

I promise you that knowing where your money is going and accounting for every penny really will make a difference!  It’s amazing how you become more conscientious about your spending when you know where your money is going!

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.

Eating out on a budget

Being on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t it out. It just means that you have to be a bit creative. We usually like to eat out for lunch or dinner on Saturdays. It’s not a “must do” and I usually try to plan something to make just in case, but it’s nice to have a break from cooking every now and then.

Here’s a few ideas of how we make it work:

This weekend, we decide to eat at Friday’s. We had a BOGO free entree coupon (see below) and a $25 gift card I had gotten through MyPoints (if you haven’t signed up yet, e-mail me if you’d like a referral!). Our total out of pocket for two adult entrees, two kids meals, and tip was $11.

Click here to access the BOGO free entree coupon (it expires on 7/5/09) – thanks Couponing Craze!

Last weekend, we went to Firehouse Subs for lunch. I love their food and my kids love eating there because they get a free fire hat! They have a punch card for frequent diners (buy 6 combo meals, get your 7th free). I had a completed punch card. I also had signed up for their online newsletter and they sent me a coupon for a free kids meal with the purchase of medium (or larger) sub. So, we got two combos and two kids meals for $11.79 out of pocket. You can sign up for their online newsletter here.

For more tips on dining out on a budget, check out this article here.

Tip of the Day Tuesday: Dining out on a Budget

During the holiday season, many of us are constantly on the go and we aren’t home long enough to cook a meal or sit down to eat it. This time of year, budgets are already stretched thin. Just because you’re on the go and eating out more often than usual doesn’t mean that you have to kill your budget.

You can find some practical tips for eating out and staying within your budget here.

Thrifty Thursday: Christmas on a Budget

Each year, I start budgeting for Christmas in January. This enables me to buy things throughout the year when they go on sale. I was a little stressed this year because I really hadn’t come across many exciting deals, but then the Amazon deals came along and I made up for lost time.

I am still receiving boxes. I don’t think I will give the kids all of this for Christmas (I will probably put some of it away for their birthdays), but I just wanted to share that a little bit can go a LONG way and you don’t have to spend a lot of money for Christmas. I actually came in under budget for Christmas this year and will have money to start out my Christmas fund for next year.

Total OOP: $113.78 (before rebates), $108.79 after rebates
Total retail value: $380.78

Disney Bike – Total OOP was $6 exactly, regularly $79.99. On sale for $20 off at Toys ‘R us. Used 20% off coupon. Used $10 off Toys ‘R Us gift card. Used $30 Toys ‘R Us gift card (did a prescription transfer @ Randalls and got it for free).

Leapster – Total OOP was $3.88, regularly $49.99. On sale for $28.88 at Target.com. Used $25 e-certificate earned from Britax carseat deal that fell through, earned $2.02 back from Ebates.

Leapster games: Dora Pinata Party (regularly $17.99), Letterpillar (regularly $17.99), Kindergarten (regularly $24.99), Scooby Doo (regularly $17.99), and Numbers Raiders (regularly $17.99), total regular price $96.95. Purchased during Leap Frog 50% off sale , spend $49.47, earned $2.97 back from Ebates.

Leap Frog Tag reading system (regularly $49.99) and Disney Princess book (regularly $13.99) – $21.98 for both during Amazon Gold Box deal

Dr. Seuss I can Do That Game – $5.99 during Amazon deal (regularly $19.99)

Hannah Montana doll – $3.24 (purchased on clearance at Target) (regularly $9.99)

Hannah Montana Jake doll – $3.24 (purchased on clearance at Target) (regularly $9.99)

Barbie & The Diamond Castle dolls – $9.99/each (purchased through Amazon.com deals, regularly $24.95/each)

Total OOP: $110.64 (before rebates), $109.72 after rebates
Total retail value – $214.89

Fisher Price Musical Fingerpaint – regularly $19.99, purchased from Etoys for $14.99 (received .32 from Ebates)

Clipo Creativity Table – regularly $32.99, purchased for $19.99 on Amazon.com

Clipo Activity bucket – regularly $19.99, purchased for $5.99 through Amazon deal

Imaginarium blocks set – regularly $19.99, purchased for $9.99 through Toys ‘R Us deal

Mr. Potato Head Themed Value Pack – $7.99 through Amazon, regularly $19.99

Playskool Talk ‘N Scan Cash register – $5.99 through Amazon, regularly $15.99

Tonka Front loader truck – $3.99 through Amazon, regularly $12.99

Leap Frog fridge Farm – $9.99 through Leap Frog 50% off sale, regularly $19.99 (received .60 from Ebates)

Little Einsteins character set – $1.49 clearance at Target, regularly $7.99

Tonka Truck – $3.24 on clearance at Target, regularly $9.99

Fisher Price Rock, Roll & Ride trike – $26.99 on Amazon, regularly $34.99

My CVS trip for the week. I went in with the intention of buying just the Contour monitors. They are on sale for $14.99 this week and you earn a $5 ECB. I have a coupon good for up to $30 off. So, the cashier scanned my monitor and then my coupon and told me I needed $15 more in merchandise. This is NOT supposed to happen and I TOLD the cashier that she was supposed to adjust the coupon down, but she insisted she couldn’t. So, I ended up with all of these for some change OOP and earned $15.99 in ECBs.

My Walgreens trip. I lost count of how many Turtles I purchased. They are on sale for $.99 this week and there are $1.50/1 coupons. I bought them in sets of 11, used 7 coupons (you can’t use one coupon per item because then it beeps because of the overage), and paid .39/each. I went to different stores and did not clear shelves (there were still plenty left). I even shared leftover coupons with the cashiers!

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