"Often times we find ourselves sitting down across the table from our spouses with a stack of bills between us and and a worksheet for our budget and we bicker, talk, cry and even yell about how we're going to get everything paid. What I want to know is, how do we go about trimming our budget when there is seemingly nothing else left to cut?? We've already discontinued our satellite tv service, no longer rent movies or pay for internet services (due to citywide free wifi), so what do you recommend?"
This sentiment is one that we frequently receive from members that are just joining the site and it's one that we've been addressing for over a decade. It always makes my heart feel heavy in my chest each time we receive an email like this because I distinctly remember exactly what it was like to pay a little on this or not have the money for that and have to deal with bill collectors nasty comments and rude "suggestions". When you're backed into a corner, the only place you can go is forward. Here's a little advice on how to get started. . .
1. Stay Focused on the Positives
It's really easy to get sucked into feeling overwhelmed and even dreading the day knowing that the phone will be ringing with creditors. Avoid giving into the hopeless feeling which will only continue to make you feel powerless and instead focus on each of those little money saving victories that you attain. Chances are you probably did not get into debt overnight, and you won't get out of debt overnight either, but you CAN get ahead. Put your energy and focus into what you CAN Control, such as adjusting your grocery budget, taking online surveys to earn additional money, etc.
2. Play the Real Life Grocery Game
Yes, coupons can save you money, a lot of money; However, despite what many will claim, it will cost you a significant amount of your time. We've gone through stages over the years of clipping coupons, organizing them into binders and traveling to stores multiple times per week for various shopping experiences to "save" money and get "nearly free" groceries. For our family, it was difficult to find coupons, we would frequently have to travel to several different areas to buy multiple papers because people would steal the coupons out of them. When we did find them, we would travel to multiple stores to use them, often being treated like a crook by inexperienced cashiers who were frustrated by the "deals" we found and on more than one occasion I left the store in near tears of frustration.
While we did frequently get bags full using coupons, the problem with this scenario was that we typically ended up with "food-like" items, not Real Foods (If it has more than 4 ingredients, it's probably a "food-like" item, particularly if you cannot pronounce it!), which have a tendency to increase weight gain, decrease health and have little to no real nutrients to them.
The real life Grocery Game is learning how to get back to basics, to stop spending hundreds of dollars per month on food and to learn to use the resources that you have available to you in your own area.
The average family of four spends more than $800 per MONTH on groceries alone, with the majority of that allotment on prepackaged foods. Reducing that amount to $500 per month would give that family a savings of $3,600 per year to apply towards other debts without having to go without. That's an extra $300 per month in savings that you're already accustomed to spending, that you would have to apply to other bills/debts, or even to put into savings for your future. Look at your most recent grocery store receipt to see where the majority of your money is going. For more on playing the Real Life Grocery Game, read our "2012 Family Guide to Groceries under $250 a Month".
3. Manage Your Time Effectively
Frequently we hear from folks that they don't have time to make their own convenience foods and mixes, that they HAVE to buy prepackaged meals or dine out because they don't have time to cook real meals, etc. Trimming the budget often means making changes to your schedule and managing your time more effectively. Spending an hour a week after grocery shopping to wash, cut and prepare vegetables will save you hundreds of dollars per year. Here's one method of produce storage that has literally saved us thousands of dollars.
4. Seek out Ways to Earn Additional Income (Temporarily)
If you're truly in a bind and you have considerably more money going out then you have coming in, it may be time to consider taking on some part-time jobs such as
- Housecleaning for others
- If you have young children, provide childcare services for another family
- Freelance Writing (there are several paid sites online that will pay per article)
- Become a Mystery Shopper
- Pet Sitting
- Make Crafts and Sell them at Craft Shows or on Etsy
- Become an Online Tutor
Sell Used/Unwanted Items on Craigslist/Ebay
- Sell Unwanted Books, clothing, tools, etc that you have lying around the home/garage
In short, take heart, little things do add up quickly and even changing a few minor habits will make an impact on your budget. Remember to celebrate small victories and stay positive by finding a decent support system of like-minded friends.
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