Simple Plan: Part 4 of The Year of Simplicity.
We find ourselves with excess when we end up spending our money purchasing it. Here’s my 12 step program to stop the spending that’s resulting in the excess.
Budget and Track ~ Meaning simply know your income, know your expenses. I do this through utilizing Mint.com. When I set up my Mint account I went through our past bank statements via online and tallied up costs. I took those costs and divided them into the following categories with sub categories when devising our budget: Auto & Transport Bills & Utilities, Education, Food & Dining, Home and Kids. Subcategories consisted of examples such as Gas & Fuel, Babysitting, Mortgage, Nicor Gas and so on. Every other day I log on to review our transactions checking that our budgets are in line with where we are spending. Mint offers a wide array of uses for managing your funds as well as providing information on ways to save and achieve money goals. Once you are aware of your budget and spending, stay accountable through the habit of reviewing your transactions on a regular basis.
A.B.P.A (Always Be Planning Ahead) ~We all know the birth dates of our loved ones and the holidays that require gift giving and entertaining. To avoid spending excess amounts of money on guests and entertainment, plan ahead. Buy candy on clearance after Valentine’s Day for Easter baskets. Hit the after Halloween sales for stocking stuffers. School supplies are always needed in the month of September it’s just a matter of A.B.P.A in order to not spend a load of cash on pencils and paper. Think ahead to what you’ll need throughout the year, always planning leaves you prepared to save cash. I knew I would be doing a Mickey and Minnie birthday cake for my twins, when Aldi had black cake frosting on clearance after Halloween for $0.49 it was the perfect buy. Always be planning ahead to save money but also be reminded to not get carried away and buy EXCESS of an item, think simple not extravagant.
C.Y.D.I.M. When going through your expenses ask yourself “Can I do it myself?” ~Rather than paying someone to mow our lawn or tend to our landscaping we do it ourselves. Instead of taking our vehicles to the car wash we make it a family event and wash them in the driveway. Rather than paying someone to clean your carpets head over to Loews or Menards and rent a Rug Doctor and burn some calories doing it yourself. Though I love a good manicure and pedicure, it’s something that I now treat as a special outing since I’m pretty good at doing these myself. These are just a few examples of C.Y.D.I.M, each is different for each family depending on your talents and abilities. I know that coloring my hair lays in the hands of a professional so I spend the money on it but hemming pants is something that I can handle rather than paying an outsider. Local libraries also provide speakers, answers and assistance for issues dealing with government, tax, health, business and automotive, just to name a few. Pinpoint what you can do and what you NEED to spend money on, adjust your spending to match.
Unknown Benefits ~ many savings can be hidden right in your wallet and home. Take a look at what your credit companies offer in regards to partnerships with retail and restaurants for savings on your spending. Check your memberships as well, I discovered discounts unknown on our AAA membership for all sorts of items and entertainment just by logging on to the website and taking a peek. A subcategory of unknown benefits is Loyalty Programs ~ almost every company seems to have a loyalty program, it’s just a matter of signing up for them, utilizing them and then cashing in on your rewards. As I shared in Trick or Treat,Whatdaya Know Joe? Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks have reward programs that offer free coffee, the same applies to Walgreens, CVS, grocery stores and other service providers giving away money and goods for just swiping a tiny card when checking out. Even my massage therapist offers a reward program where when you receive 10 punches on your visit card a free massage is rewarded. The same goes for hair salons, many offer a loyalty program for free or discounted services. Often “loyalty programs” go beyond what is advertised, sometimes building a relationship with a provider or retailer will result in savings in the long run so be sure to smile at, bake up some holiday cookies for or refer to them by name when visiting your favorite establishment.
The Three F’s, Fun For Free ~ Get imaginative and informative. Having fun doesn’t need to cost money. Start using your biggest expense, your home, as the ground center for fun and experiences with your family. Pinterest offers an endless black hole of craft ideas and DIY projects to do at home with your kids or just your honey. I’m a huge fan of the library. Look into your local library for story times, craft hours, speakers and the endless amount of free books, ebooks, music, DVDs and other media at your fingertips. My library also offers the Museum Adventure Pass, using your library card to receive admission or a special discount at participating area cultural destinations. Start thinking not only out of the box but also back to the basics. Just last night we had a picnic in front of the fireplace with the kids, checked out a free movie from the library and popped a bowl of popcorn for our own personal family night entertainment.
Coupons and Groupons ~ Coupons save a ton of cash. Clip them and file them in a coupon envelope or any other easy to grab holder when menu planning and thinking about outings. Manufacturers, restaurants and many retailers send free money to our door steps through newspaper, mail inserts and online clipping. To avoid excess buys focus your couponing on items you need and buy on a regular basis, for example the items your children consume ungodly amounts of. Whenever Erik and I are planning a date night out we search sites such as Groupon, Livingsocial and Amazon Local for deals where we can save some cash since we are already paying a fortune for someone to sit on our couch while our three little spawns are fast asleep. It also gets us to try new restaurants and entertainment venues that we wouldn’t have thought of.
Amenities and Utilities ~ Figure out what you need and what may be excess. One giant leap of simplicity we have yet to make is dumping the cable provider and opting for online streaming (through Hulu Plus and Netflix) or other methods of watching the few television shows we watch regularly. I’m just trying to figure a plan to slowly wean myself off Food Network and HGTV. Once you know what you need, it may take a little work but shop around to make sure you are getting the lowest price from providers. Once you identify the lowest provider check out their customer programs. For example, Nicor is our provider of gas, going into the winter we knew that we are lovers of fireplaces and would be using ours a lot. We made a call to Nicor to educate ourselves with their programs and which offered the best incentive where we received the most but spent the least. Through some calculating we found that it would be best to sign up for a fixed rate for the year, this way we could run our fireplace all day and night not worrying about the excess costs that it might incur. We found that our cable provider has a partnership with AAA that offers a discount on service and our cell phone provider has a partnership with my husband’s employer that also offers a discount.
Grocery Shopping ~ As I touched upon in our plan for Simple Eating, first check your pantry and fridge for what you have, then build a weekly menu plan around those items, then head over to your grocer ads and coupons for which deals you can pair with manufacturer/store coupons that match items needed for your weekly menu plan. A little puzzle solving results in spending the least amount of money on your store total for what you NEED. Service providers and retailers aren’t the only companies with loyalty programs, many brands offer the same. Both Pampers and Huggies offer points for purchasing their diapers that you can later exchange for other goods such as toys, magazines and gift cards.
Think Before You Buy ~ Anything over $50 is required a week think over period. If after a week of thought and the item is still needed then the money can be spent. A week not only diminishes impulse buys but also allows for shopping around to find a better price if the item ends up being purchased. Which leads to the next rule …
Buy used or discounted when able ~ Search sites such as Craigslist, Ebay and Facebook garage sale sites for large ticket items like snow blowers, large toys and appliances. Children’s consignment sales are not only good for selling items but also for buying items. Kids run through toys and clothes like Kleenex, buying previously used keeps the spending and excess in check for little ones. Many household needs and decor can be found new or slightly used at Goodwill and local thrift/resale stores.
Use and Abuse Wisely ~ We are really bad at the common sense stuff so I’m going to go over this rule (even if you are rolling your eyes as you read it) in order to remind myself to practice what I preach. Turn the lights off in rooms you aren’t in. Don’t leave cell phone chargers plugged in when not in use. Turn off ceiling fans when not needed. Run your dryer, oven and dishwasher during the day during cold seasons while running them during the night during the warm seasons to counteract the amount of air conditioning and heat needed, which results in saving on spending. Wait till the dishwasher is completely full before running, same goes for the washer. Unplug vampire appliances that in reality don’t need to be plugged in 24/7 – like toasters, coffee makers, humidifiers,treadmills, guest room televisions or infant sound machines.
Memberships or Sneaky Money Stealers? ~ Take a long look at your memberships/subscriptions such as gym, Crossfit, food of the month clubs, online courses, food co-ops and those clever box subscriptions (such as Conscious Box, Birch Box and Stitchfix). Are you using them to their full potential? Are you and your family benefiting from them or are they just costing you more money? For example, right now a gym membership doesn’t make sense for me. I have a treadmill, an elliptical, yoga mat and plenty of workout DVDs at home and through the library as well as streamed via online. All this is for free and I don’t have to pay $50 a month to benefit from it. Plus I know the work it takes to get all three kids and myself to the gym is more stress than pleasure. We once belonged to a food co-op but it made more sense for us to head to the farmer’s market on Saturdays to pick out our own choice of fresh foods. Another fun but excess spending was my subscription to Conscious Box. Though I liked receiving it in the mail monthly, I couldn’t use most of the items that were in the box due to my Paleo lifestyle and sensitive skin … so we cancelled it. All of this stuff that we sign up for becomes excess when we don’t use it or truly benefit from it. GET BACK TO THE BASICS. I have to remind myself that the human race has survived without having groceries delivered to our doorstep, an online personal stylist that sends pricey clothing pieces or forgotten online courses that we swore we would use to better our children.