We are living on a fixed retirement income and still have a dependent child at home, so living on a budget is simply a way of life for us. It isn’t necessarily easy, and there is a degree of stress involved when events not budgeted occur, so this is not a magic message to solve budget woes.
However, there are steps to living on a budget, that if embraced whole-heartedly, can make a difference in anybody’s standard of living. The first is to never buy anything unless it’s on sale. A subscription to a local newspaper is not a luxury. It’s a necessity that actually pays for itself, quite easily. Locally, the ads arrive in this community in both the Wednesday and Saturday papers. Those ads include inserts from local grocery stores with coupons in them.
Shopping ads means stock-piling items that are on sale when they are available at a great price, so reserve someplace in your home for a storage pantry. It can be a spare closet on bedroom, or plastic totes under the bed if your living accommodations are cozy, but it’s a ‘have-to-have’.
Create a meal planner. Most computers have a calendar software program now, and your meals should be created around those aforementioned grocery store ads. Never go to the grocery store hungry, if you have to grab a one dollar cheese burger at the local drive-thru. If a quart of strawberries is on sale, then make strawberry jello with fresh strawberries, cool whip, and marshmallows, or if bananas are also on sale, ad bananas to it. Or treat the family to strawberry short cake.
Most of us eat more meat than the food pyramid recommends anyway, so we don’t have to do without treats like a Rib Eye or New York Strip. Again, abide by the rule, ‘if it isn’t on sale, don’t buy it,’ but summer grilling season is upon us, and it will be on sale, and that’s a guarantee you can take to the bank. So pick a good cut of meat, and plan on sharing it. Add some foil wrapped potatoes, and your favorite vegetable to the grill, a lettuce salad, and some garlic bread, and nobody is going to walk away hungry.
If you can buy a three-pack of your favorite toothpaste and save a couple of dollars, then do it. Coupons are offered regularly for these items, for shampoos, soaps, sunscreens. Use them.
Check with your local utilities about budget plans for water, gas, and electricity. Most budgets end in August, but the utility companies are going to make adjustments for you if they see you’re going to be short or long in your payment schedule, probably more than one time in the fiscal year. They make it easy to use the budget plan, and as long as you have some kind of reasonable payment history, they are more than willing to accommodate you.
There are local establishments that offer discounts on gas with the day’s receipt if you have shopped at their store in the last twenty-four hours. These can add up significantly, as much as twelve to fifteen cents off each gallon of gas on occasion. If you’re not getting your gas at a discounted price, start looking for businesses that offer the discounts, and take advantage of them.
Shop thrift stores. A pair of blue jeans shorts may cost $2.99 cents at the local Good Will, versus $15.99 to $19.99 at the local discount store. Need a lamp? Buy a $150.00 lamp for $12.99 at the Salvation Army Store? Need drapes, a comforter? You can redecorate a whole bedroom for under $40.00 if you’re that lucky person who walks into a thrift store five minutes after somebody else’s designer bedroom was put out on the display floor for sale.
Do you need a new dining-room table and chairs or a bedroom set, or a refrigerator? Spend a day at an auction. Be prepared to be an aggressive bidder if you really want an item, but there are times an appliance is sold for as little as $50.00, one that was running when you did a walk-through of the house before the sale started. That dining-room table and chairs may cost $300.00, but compare that to the retail cost of $1,500 to $2,000 somebody may have originally paid for it, and you’re still walking away with money in your pocket.
There is no way to scrimp on doctor bills, pharmaceuticals, a water pump for the car, but there are corners to cut if you manage a limited income armed with a plan.
P.S. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. We live in a world of impulse shoppers, hoarders who take items home, then wonder what they are going to do with them. Treat yourself to a mocha frappe, and take Pooch to the ‘free’ local dog park for an afternoon of fun in the sun.