If you are anything like me, you have champagne taste on a beer budget. So many of us have a side hustle (for me, it’s my lovely blog) where we devote our “downtime,” in hopes that it may turn into something bigger at some point. But with the burden of student loans and general adult things like bills (being an adult is really no fun sometimes), my husband and I still have to deal with a significant amount of financial strain. For this reason, I’ve been trying to tighten my budget and find rules I can actually stick to. As I try to balance my work and my blog, I’ve been making it my goal to cut corners whenever possible and put an overall budgeting strategy into place.
Here are my eight best tips if you’re trying to get your finances in order:
1. Write down everything you spend
Yes, I know. This is a royal pain in the ass. But trust me, it will help. And even better, if you have a Google account, you can use a monthly budget and expenses tracking spreadsheet from their templates. If you have a smart phone, you can access these templates from anywhere and enter your purchases into them while you’re on-the-go. Google spreadsheets will house the updated document on your drive – so you will always see the most up-to-date info, no matter whether you enter it on your phone, iPad, tablet or computer.
While nothing will completely get rid of the suckiness that is writing down all your expenses, being able to do it remotely and on-the-go will make it much easier.Some of the highest rated budgeting & expense spreadsheets can be found here, here, and here.
2. Calculate your monthly expenses
Using the same templates I mentioned above, look back at the past two months of your life and see where your money has been going – obviously, a large chunk will be bills, but where else has it trickled out to?
Once you see where the money has been going, you can better create a budget that’s on par with what your expenses are likely to be. This will also allow for you to know where you can cut excess expenses (i.e. shopping, meals out) and use the money you’re saving to pay off any debt you may have, or save for something you may want in the future.
3. Write down the due date of each bill on your calendar
Regardless of whether you use a wall calendar, a planner or an online calendar, be sure to write down every single bill and when it is due. I write ours both on our wall calendar (in red) as well as in my planner in green (red was already taken). This helps both the hubby and I know exactly when the bills are due and which ones have been paid (by checking them off). This method means that everyone knows when things are coming up and what exactly has been paid. The most important reason to pay your bill on time is because when you don’t, you can incur a wide range of fees. Fees have dragged me further into debt and away from my maintaining my monthly budget, and I don’t want to fall into that trap again.
4. Unsubscribe from flash sale emails
When I was organizing our budget, I realized that I have a pretty consistent habit of impulse buying. I would be moving along, doing well with my budget, and then BAM! impulse by would knock me off track. Where was it all coming from? The “ONE DAY SALE! FLASH SALE!” type of emails. I couldn’t resist the temptation. And the couponer in me thought, oh, it’s such a great deal and I will miss out if I don’t get it right now!
But that kind of thinking leads to overbuying. It makes you feel competitive and like you “MUST PURCHASE NOW,” without a lot of time for really thinking about whether you need it or not. The solution? Unsubscribe from these emails. Now, I visit sites like RetailMeNot (which provides coupon codes) sparingly and only when I really need something.
5. Ask yourself: does this purchase fit your lifestyle?
I have an absolute love for fall and winter clothing. I have no idea why, though maybe because when I was little, I lived in Florida, and there wasn’t really a need for it. Who knows? Point being, I am a sucker for a great coat or some killer jeans. However, right now I live in one of the warmest states in the country. Last winter, I think it got below freezing once. So my love of coats and jeans is superfluous and I shouldn’t buy them. Make sure that whatever you’re buying, you are doing it because it actually fits a need in your life.
6. Use Pinterest as a shopping substitute.
I feel the same way about shopping as I do about looking at attractive men, even though I am married: Just because I’ve made the selection doesn’t mean I can’t look at the menu. However, I’m only allowed to browse when I know I won’t spend which means I now stifle my love of shopping by creating a Pinterest board of all of the items I find particularly stunning. This allows me to satisfy my need to look and enjoy the clothing, without spending a dime.
7. Don’t go cold turkey.
Do you know someone who has ever gone on a really restrictive diet or tried to quit smoking cold turkey? How quickly did those resolutions go off the deep end because they completely cut themselves off? The same goes for me and budgeting. If I try to completely pull myself back, and not allow a little indulgence here and there, I feel SO restricted and end up slipping into bad shopping behaviors. Instead, I’ll allow myself a treat at the grocery store, or will save up if I know I want to buy a new dress to attend a wedding, so I’m not cutting myself off completely.
8. Ask for help if you need it.
You can call or write your creditors and ask for specific due dates if you think it will help. Most creditors – especially credit card companies – will allow you to change your due date if it can help you pay on time. (Sadly, Sallie Mae is a b*tch and hasn’t given me any relief, but other companies might.)
I haven’t done this with our credit card companies, but I have had to do this with other unexpected expenses. Last year, we incurred a surprise, budget-busting expense when our pup had to visit the animal hospital. This added expense might not have been an issue, had we not also had to put down a $2,000 deposit for my husband’s medical school seat that same week. Since the hospital bill was $1,000, there was just no way we could afford to pay both of those at once. I went into the vet’s office and asked if it was possible to break the payments into installments and pay half from my current paycheck, and half from the next paycheck. I explained our situation, and why I was asking them for this. They were super agreeable and said it was no problem.
I’m not saying that everywhere is going to be like this – but it never hurts to ask.
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