Tried and True Life Hacks (For A Smart Budget)

We consulted with dozens of our recent debt program graduates to ask for some tips and tricks for building a successful budget and keeping expenses in check. Here is their list of our favorite (tested) life hacks for maintaining a smart (and successful) budget:

Tried and True Life Hacks (For A Smart Budget)
  • Envelope System: In this case, spreadsheets are over rated (I can’t believe I’m saying this either). There is something beautifully simple about the envelope system. Designate an envelope for every spending category (i.e groceries, gas, personal care, reoccurring bills, entertainment, etc). At the start of each month, put cash in each envelope according to your budget. Towards the end of the month, as you see you’re starting to run out of money in one envelope, tap the breaks on spending. If you really want to impress yourself, commit to not transferring money between envelopes to help you better plan and manage your expenses. 
  • Barter: It sounds historic, but its futuristic! We are all great at some things and not so great at other things. If you’re super organized, and do a great job organizing your home – but are not so great at handiwork, then maybe there is an opportunity for trade with a local handi-person! This works for dozens and dozens of personal services and home services. Graphic design wiz looking for a haircut or fresh look? Meet your local stylist, who happens to be looking for updated look online! No money, no problem! Will work for help! 
  • Grocery Market Discounts: Rather than toss that grocery market circular, comb through it each week and see what’s being offered at a discount. If it’s items you were planning to buy anyway that don’t expire, stock up while you can. Figure out a weekly meal plan according to whats on sale, create a shopping list around that plan, and stick to it… without a list, many of us end up spending needlessly on extra (impulse) foods that we either don’t need, or will end up letting expire (i.e. cheetos, oreos, extra cheese dip).
  • Cancel, Evaluate, Cancel: How many services are you currently subscribed to, which you could either live without or don’t use in the first place! Stay on top of evaluating your reoccurring charges! Maybe a gym membership was great for you earlier in the year, but by May you’re outside running or swimming laps – cancel the membership! Don’t pay for things you don’t value!
  • Save Your Change: Or better yet, round up! For example, if you spent $11.32 on a meal recently, challenge yourself to put $.68 or even better $3.68 into a savings account. This is a fun and easy way to put more money in the savings envelope without feeling the sting! There are also apps available for saving spare change. Do a quick search online, and find the app thats most appropriate for you.
  • Ride Share: Is ride share an option for you with a buddy at the office? If so, you’ll realize lots of savings by leaving your car parked in the garage half the week! Have you ever checked out the local bus schedule? Taking the bus to work, if feasible, is a great way to catch up on reading books, news or scanning social media… and saving money!!! Not to mention, the walk from a bus stop to your office can be both refreshing and energizing.
  • Savings Buddy: It’s almost impossible to save money when all your friends and family are spending their cash like there’s no tomorrow. But, with the help of a like minded friend, who has similar savings goals, you can inspire and encourage each other to stay on track! You might even make it interesting, where the first person to bank $500 gets treated to their favorite (inexpensive) restaurant by the other. 
  • Smart Meds: If possible, consider ordering a 90-day supply of medication that you take regularly. It could wind up being cheaper than renewing month after month. In some cases, you might pay less for a three-month supply than you would for a single month’s batch, so review your prescription benefits with your insurance provider to see what makes the most sense… and if there are any opportunities for savings! It’s worth a simple phone call. You can also consult with your doctor/pharmacist to see if there is a more cost effective generic brand available for you to take. 
  • 24 Hour Pause: When you’re considering buying something that you didn’t budget for, or wouldn’t normally buy, try waiting 24 hours before pulling the trigger. There is a good chance that 24 hour later, you won’t have the same impulse… and you’ll end up saving yourself some extra cash! 
  • Ask For A Better Price: You can’t imagine how much money is left on the table when you pass up the opportunity to ask for a better price! The best way to get a better deal is to ask for it. It can’t hurt. Many times, when ordering through an online company I can get a 20% – 50% discount code just by asking! 
  • Quarterly Budget Review: It’s not as boring as it sounds! As life progresses, so do our needs and habits. We recommend making a commitment to reviewing your budget every three months with the goal of eliminating at least one or two expenses. For example, in the warmer months, maybe you can walk to more places and have picnics with home cooked meals as opposed to ordering food in (and driving to go pick it up or paying a delivery charge). Maybe you can cancel your gym membership and exercise outside? In the colder months, plan fun nights in with your friends and family instead of shelling out money to dine and drink outside your home. There are so may options to play with, get creative and consider consulting with your family and friends for their ideas! 
  • Go Off-Peak: Most electric utility providers will advise their clients of high cost (peak) times for running your dishwasher, washing machines or plugging in other high-demand appliances. Do your laundry and run your dishwasher in the morning instead of running in the evening during high-cost times. You can stand to save $50-$100 per month depending on your usual consumption by paying attention to peak times. Nowadays you can even purchase smart outlets that run on a timer, so you will only use electricity when its outside peak hours.

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