Some people think you need to have all sorts of tools to help you make and maintain a budget. I did it with a calculator, an empty coffee can, and the determination to do what needs to be done.
I used the can to collect all of my receipts for a month. If I didn’t get a receipt for something, like vending machines, then I made a note of what I spent and put it in the can. At the end of the month, I dumped all the receipts out and started sorting them. I was surprised at what I found.
There were lots of receipts for things like gas, groceries and household necessities. There were also lots of receipt for meals out and lunches at work and those notes from the vending machine. After organizing all of them, I prioritized them.
Gas and groceries are not really negotiable. I already shop around for what I need based on what is on sale and buy generic most of the time. I did not think that household cleaning, paper products and personal hygiene items could get much cheaper, but looking at the bottom of my receipts from the Dollar General, which is where I buy most household cleaning and paper products, I realized I can save $5 by using a printed coupon on there and shopping on Saturday.
Then I looked at the other things, like eating out, lunches at work, vending machines, clothes and entertainment. The least amount was put toward entertainment, so I decided to keep that the way it was. I was spending a lot of money on food when I wasn’t home though.
Keeping these groups separated, I sorted them into weeks. I chose the most expensive dinner, and decided that was my new weekly limit for myself. I added up what I spend on lunches at work and knew that had to change, too. I decided to take my lunch 4 days a week and buy lunch on Fridays. And, after looking at my vending machine notes, I decided to budget myself to half of what I was currently spending.
Now, this does not just happen. I had to spend more on groceries in order to take my lunches, cook dinner more at home and take drinks and snacks instead of buying them from the machines. But, it still cost less than what I was spending. By almost half. I started making dinner more, which led to me having leftovers to take to work for lunch. I started buy soda and snacks in bulk while grocery shopping and limiting how much I took to work with me so I could ration it.
This isn’t always easy. I am invited out with others for lunch, or a drink after work and have to decline sometimes because I just know that I shouldn’t do it. Sometimes I make up for it by inviting them over for dinner and showing off my cooking skills.
But, it is worth it. I save about $200 per month in comparison to what I was spending. I don’t feel like I am playing catch up anymore, and I am able to do more of the things that I want to do. It did take time for me to be comfortable with my budget. Allowing myself things like lunches on Fridays was my way of rewarding myself for sticking to my budget all week long. That reward was essential for me to stick with my plan.