When you’re ready to get your finances in order, you’re in luck. The internet has you covered with about three bazillion tips on how you can spend less, save more, and whip your checkbook into shape. But what if you’re not ready to dive head-first into the deep end? What if the thoughts of intense budgeting, cloth diapering, growing your own food, bulk purchasing, once-a-month freezer meal cooking, making your own laundry detergent, and extreme couponing have you so overwhelmed that you’re reaching for your credit card for some good old-fashioned retail therapy?
Then these tips are for you.
Here are five simple, painless ways to reduce your expenses. Try one, or try them all – a step in the right direction is better than none at all.
- UNSUBSCRIBE. Stop me if this sounds familiar. You order something online, buy a fabulous group-deal discount, or try to save the Earth by agreeing to an electronic receipt instead of a paper one. And then you start getting emails from the company. And then your in-box starts getting cluttered with weekly, twice-weekly, or sometimes daily marketing emails from a number of different places. They’re tempting, aren’t they? You weren’t thinking of buying a dress but now they’re 30% off! A vacation wasn’t even on your radar but now you can get 3 nights for only $249! You didn’t really want to try that restaurant until you found out you could buy a $40 credit for only $20! I’m not saying that these aren’t great deals or that vacations are bad, restaurants are evil, or you don’t need a few pretty things in your closet. But the problem with these emails is that they tempt you to spend money that you weren’t even planning to spend in the first place. So get rid of the temptation. For one week, commit to unsubscribing from every marketing email you get.
- SPEND NOTHING. I promised these were painless, and this one is too. You’re not ready to join one of those “year-of-no-spending” groups. Me neither. But dip your toe into the water and figure out what amount of time would be do-able for you to try. Maybe it’s three days. A week. A month. For that time, commit to spending nothing outside of necessities. No mid-week trips to the grocery store to pick up forgotten items, no lunches out, no surprise treats for the kids. Gas and basic groceries only. Make it a brief enough time that it feels more like a challenge than deprivation, and see if it keeps money from disappearing from your checking account.
- ASSIGN PERSONAL MONEY. There are some budget categories that are unpredictable or cause tension in a marriage – those trips to the coffee stand add up, I don’t need a new outfit but I want one, I sure could use a manicure, I didn’t want to eat leftovers so I picked up lunch… A few bucks here, a few bucks there, and $400 later you’re both trying to figure out where your money went. Instead of trying to predict the unpredictable, assign each adult “personal money.” Get it out in cash each month, put it in your wallet, and spend without worry or guilt. But here’s the deal – when it’s gone, it’s gone. Seeing the actual cash helps each of you budget and prioritize your spending, lets you spend money on things your spouse might not necessarily understand, and it keeps those unpredictable budget categories to one, predetermined number. For some people it might be $5, for others it might be $500. There is no amount too small or too large – what matters is that you agree on the amount, it’s reasonable for your family’s income, and it helps you eliminate those budget surprises.
- RAID THE FREEZER. Take inventory of your freezer (and pantry). You know there’s stuff in there that you forgot about. For one week, plan your meals around things that you already have. Get creative and give yourself some grace around providing completely balanced meals. Purchase things you need to help your meals come together, but try to keep your grocery list to a minimum. Besides saving money, you’re also preventing waste. You should feel extra good about your efforts this week!
- PAUSE BEFORE YOU BUY. Never buy anything online without doing a quick internet search for a coupon code. I can’t remember the last time I bought something and didn’t get at least 10% off. The best site for finding coupon codes is retailmenot.com but you can also plug the company name and “coupon code” into any search engine and usually find something. I’ve also had success doing this in-store using my smartphone, but it’s not as easy. I’m definitely not a couponer – and if you’re not either, I hear you – but if you can save a few bucks with a painless 2-minute internet search, it’s worth the brief pause!
Taking steps to better your financial circumstances doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. If you’re not ready to do something drastic, don’t worry – there are plenty of small things you can do. What other painless money-saving tips do you have?