We’re pretty sure we’ve covered the importance of putting yourself on a budget as well as paying down debt…extensively. But one of the things we’ve noticed about ourselves (and our friends) is that many of us could be stewarding our financial resources better.
Maybe we are not in debt, but some of us aren’t doing anything to build emergency funds or investing for retirement. Others are living month to month within their means, but they’re only one catastrophe away from a dismal financial situation. Then there are those who have quite a bit of discretionary income and spend it all every month as they increase their living expenses.
It’s not that things are dire; it’s simply that they could be better than they are. But where to begin? Well, we put together a list of ways you could make incremental improvements in your financial situation, no matter where you are at the present time.
1. Start saving. Like…now.
People often think they need to save a large amount each month in order to actually start saving money. But that’s simply untrue. Even the smallest amount will add up at the end of a 12-month period. Have you considered that you would have $1200 at the end of the year if you put back $100 a month? Even if you just put $84 a month into savings, you’d have an extra $1000 at the end of one year. Or maybe you saw the 52 week savings challenge photo circulating in your Facebook feed earlier this year. It’s a simple and great idea for beginning a savings account. Whatever method or amount you choose, actually doing something is the important part.
2. Eat at home. Yes, yours.
We’ve shared various Recipes for One, but those will only last you so long. A lot of times we try to be more frugal (and healthy) and plan meals, but many of us are too busy to keep up with them, so it falls into the category of “Good Intentions.” We really like Emeals, a meal-planning website. Basically, for a small monthly fee ($5-9/month, depending on how many months you pay in advance), Emeals will plan your dinner menu for the week based on whichever diet plan you choose. They have everything from classic meals to Paleo to low carb, gluten-free, vegetarian, slow-cooker meals, and more. Emeals will give you a menu for the week, along with an organized shopping list for the grocery store of your choice. The reason we like Emeals so much is they have a planning option for 1-2 people, so it’s just right for a single and leaves leftovers for lunch. We know it sounds funny to spend money in order to improve your finances, but we’re pretty sure if you were to analyze how much you spend per month on eating out, having a system that works for cooking at home will help you save money in the long run.
3. Get rid of little fee suckers.
It’s time, friends–time to go through your monthly bank statement and evaluate those little money sucking charges that you’re no longer using. Did you have every intention of going to the gym, but now you’re simply paying to absolve your guilt? What about that Netflix account? So you use streaming, but you have the DVD option and can’t remember the last time you actually watched one? Time to downgrade the account and save a few bucks. $1.29 per song at iTunes seems oh-so-cheap, but after analyzing your statement more closely, you find you’re spending at least $20 a month on music when you could’ve had the full Spotify catalog on your phone for $10 a month. That’s $120 a year you could’ve saved. Do you still have a home phone? Unless your cell reception is sketchy at your house or you need it for your home security system, there really isn’t much of a need for that expense anymore. Just saying. What else could you eliminate? It adds up after a while. (And yes, we know #2 above could easily become a “little money sucker” if you don’t use it–so don’t let that happen!)
4. Round up.
Here’s an easy little idea that will add to your overall savings account at the end of each year: round up. Each time you record transactions, round up to the nearest dollar. If you spent $45.36 at Target, record it as $46.00 instead. You charged $4.68 at Starbucks? Record it as $5.00. Of course this could mess up your record-keeping if you’re not careful to record the actual transaction correctly elsewhere, but it’s a small, smart way to try to put a little extra money aside each time. At the end of each month, move the surplus over into your savings account.
5. Dedicate yourself to one thing.
Choose one money-saving pursuit and dedicate yourself to it for the year. You know, baby steps. Maybe you’ve wanted to get into couponing. We don’t mean you have to throw yourself into Extreme Couponing, but learn all you can about it, and commit to coupon for one year in order to spend less money. Or maybe you have a problem with the amount of money you’re spending on all those books, CDs, and DVDs you purchase. Commit to a year of only getting those things from the library. You’ll also be training yourself in patience and compromise because there will certainly be days you’ll have to wait on the latest books. Ultimately, though, while you may be spending less from couponing or going to the library, unless you are disciplined about placing what you’ve saved into some sort of savings account, all you’ve done is worked hard to have more money to spend.
6. Share your space.
If you’re truly cramped for money or if you need to pay off large amounts of debt, it’s time to get more radical than coupons. The good thing about being single is that you can easily add a roommate to your home and get some extra money. Some people don’t like the idea of living with a roommate after they reach a certain age, but if it’s a matter of financial freedom or even just temporarily building up an emergency fund, finding a roommate is a small sacrifice to make.
7. Stop the one-click shopping.
Yes, it’s awful kind of Amazon to allow you the option of one-click shopping. And yes, it surely does save you time, but do it long enough and it will kill your budget. A $10 Kindle eBook here or there adds up to $30 or $40 by the end of the month. Other websites offer you the “courtesy” of storing your credit card information so that you are able to shop without being inconvenienced. That works out nicely for the companies, and they know it. But there’s something that happens when you have to pause to find your wallet and then enter credit card numbers: it makes you think about what you’re doing and lessens the spontaneity of the purchase. It makes you consider whether or not you really need to spend the money you’re about to spend.
8. Travel for free.
Speaking of credit cards, as much as we preach against debt, we are not credit card teetotalers. We believe that it is possible to own a credit card and use it well. (Translation: Make monthly charges and pay your balance at the end of each month.) And if you’re using a credit card on a regular basis, then we’re fans of credit card rewards programs that allow you to get points for things such as travel. We’ve used hotel and airline points for many of our vacations. If travel is as important to you as it is to us, finding ways to travel for free keeps your budget happy.
9. Change banks.
We know it can be a pain to change banks, but have you noticed how many fees your bank is charging lately? And they’re only going to get worse. If you don’t keep a certain balance in your account, many banks will charge you around $12-15 a month ($150 a year). And that’s not counting ATM withdrawal fees, check fees, or safety deposit box fees. Shopping for banks takes a little time and switching things over to a new account takes even more, but if your bank is killing you on fees, you can go elsewhere. Smaller banks and credit unions offer a lot of perks, including lesser fees, in order to compete with the big ones. It might be worth checking out.
10. Give generously.
Many people, ourselves included, can tell testify about giving away money and resources only to be blessed in return. And while that certainly could happen, it’s not a guarantee. We’re not about the “give more in order to get more” line of thinking. What we are about is stewarding our resources well. And by “our” resources, we mean the ones God has given us to manage (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). They’re His, and we should hold them loosely, use them wisely, and give them generously. If you’re not doing that already, it really is the best financial improvement you can possibly make.
What other “little” things have you done to help improve your finances?
Photo credit: tax credits