In today’s world, prices are high, but money is tight. Consequently, it’s more important than ever for many families to create and follow a monthly budget. In recent months, I’ve learned this lesson well. With two young children to raise and student loans looming over our heads, my fiancé and I have had to implement many changes to make ends meet. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Cash flow tracking is a must! Probably the hardest lesson my family had to learn was that you must know exactly where your money ends up every month. Before our student loans went into repayment, life was easier. We never worried about where our money was going. Our bills were paid, and we didn’t splurge much. Thus, we felt we were doing fine.
However, once we began paying hundreds of dollars in loan payments every month, we suddenly found ourselves short before the month’s end with no idea why. Therefore, I’ve now decided to start tracking our family finances each month on my computer using a Microsoft Works spreadsheet. I love the pre-designed monthly home budget template. It has plenty of room for all of my family’s income and expenses and shows clearly if we remain on target.
There are also plenty of helpful budgeting tools online. The important thing is finding a tool that fits you and making sure you gather all monthly receipts and bills in an organized fashion so you will know exactly where your money goes each month.
Cutting back on non-essentials is vital. Once you know exactly where your money goes each month, it’s important to reduce unnecessary spending. This is probably the most painful part of the process. It certainly was for my family, but when a budget is tight sacrifices have to be made. One of the first extras to go for my family was cable TV. Instead of wasting almost a $100 each month on cable, we decided to cancel our service and watch only what our antenna and Internet streaming could offer us. At first, it was difficult, but then we began to realize that cable isn’t worth the price, and living without it opened up valuable family time away from the TV (i.e., hiking, board games, and crafts).
Another nonessential expense that we decided to cut back on was eating out. Restaurant visits, take-out dinners, and fast food were consuming a large chunk of our income every month. School, work, and the daily rush of life were making it difficult for me to cook. It was often easier simply to order food. Yet, as I watched my waistline expand and our wallets shrink after months of relying on these convenient meals, we decided it had to stop.
Instead of reaching for the phone or the car keys, we’ve learned to make use of something that had remained dormant in our kitchen for months: our slow cooker. In the morning, when I’m getting my children breakfast, I also prepare our dinner and place it in the slow cooker on low. By dinner time, we now have a delicious and healthy meal waiting for us to enjoy together with little or no effort at the end of a long day. I’ve learned to make a variety of meals in our slow cooker from chili and meatloaf to pasta and rice dishes. I’ve discovered that the Internet is full of wonderful slow cooker recipes to experiment with and the variety is almost limitless.
Coupons aren’t just for the miserly or the poor. Most of my life I avoided using coupons. In fact, I was actually embarrassed by them. I was afraid that people would label me as stingy or think I was poor. After some of my friends began showing me their amazing savings from using coupons, though, I’ve become an avid coupon user. In an average shopping trip, I can save $10-$20 without even trying simply by using coupons I’ve clipped, requested online, or received through a coupon clipping service. If you are new to the couponing world, I encourage you to explore and give it a try. It offers so many wonderful rewards for such a small sacrifice of time.