Have you ever lived paycheck to paycheck? If you’re nodding your head, you’re not alone — I’ve done it too. As of January 2019, as many as 78 percent of workers are in the same situation. One thing that helped to pull me out of the cycle involved learning how to budget my income correctly. While it’s not a foolproof solution, it can help keep your head above water while you work toward bigger and better things.
Here are six of the budgeting tips I picked up along the way.
Start by Writing Your Budget Down
Keeping a budget isn’t tricky — unless you attempt to do it in your head. I don’t care how good you are with numbers. It takes forgetting one thing before you’re over your budget and scrambling to keep up with your bills.
Write your budget down. Take an in-depth look at your income and your expenses — everything from bills and groceries to the money you spend on movie tickets and fast food. Account for everything that comes in, and everything that goes out.
Just having it down on paper can help you keep track of everything, so you don’t make any mistakes or forget something important. If you prefer to go digital, there is an app for that. I found the budgeting app ‘Mint by Intuit’ helpful, but you can find multiple budgeting app options if you prefer to try another.
Pay With Cash
It’s easy to overspend when you swipe your debit or credit card. Whenever possible, carry cash on you and skip the cards when at the register. If taking a trip to the grocery store, take with you only the money you budgeted for food. This will keep you to your grocery list and prevent you from picking up extras you don’t need or can’t afford.
I know that paying in cash isn’t always an option — most utility companies have online bill-pay options, and online shopping doesn’t offer a pay-in-cash option unless you have your items delivered to Wal-Mart or other similar retailers, but wherever it’s possible, opt for cash instead of cards.
Plan Your Meals
Now, how can you carry the perfect amount of money for your grocery shopping if you don’t know what you plan to go in for? This is where meal planning comes in to help.
Instead of walking into the store and picking up whatever catches your eye — or God forbid, shopping hungry! — take some time to plan out your meals for the week. Include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on your list, and figure out what you want to eat each day. Then build your grocery list from that meal plan, and stick to it.
Once you do this for a few weeks, you’ll have a better idea of how much money you’ll need to complete your shopping every week, and you can more accurately plan your budget.
Prepare for Big Expenditures
There are times of the year when we all spend more money than we have. Christmas is one of these — hundreds of thousands of people put all of their holiday spendings on a credit card and spend January scrambling to pay it off. Instead of relying on credit, plan for significant expenditures like Christmas shopping by putting money away throughout the year and setting a strict budget.
Emergencies will remain unavoidable, which cut into any budget — like flat tires or broken teeth — but for things like Christmas that you can plan for, you don’t need to stress out if you plan and keep the credit cards in your wallet.
Change Your Vacation Plans
If you take a vacation with the family every year, it’s probably one of your most significant annual expenditures. Instead of saving your pennies to spend a day at the local amusement park, why not look a little bit closer to home. Look into planning a staycation with the family and take advantage of what your hometown offers. State parks and museums usually offer no-admission days, but even when they charge for entry, it’s infinitely less expensive than the $150 per person you’d spend on a Disney ticket.
Now, I’m not saying you should skip Disney altogether, but if you’re looking for ways to save money, maybe spread the expensive amusement park trips or vacations out a little bit instead of trying to do it every year.
Do Some Work Around the House
Budgeting isn’t just about counting your pennies — it’s about finding ways to reduce your expenses, so you have more funds to work with, whether you’re planning a big vacation or trying to pad your emergency fund. There are plenty of things you can do around the house to reduce your electric bill. Start small — swap out old incandescent light bulbs in favor of LEDs. These newer bulbs are more affordable and use less energy because of their efficiency.
Have you ever touched an old incandescent bulb after it’s been left on for a while? They get pretty hot because they waste nearly 90 percent of the energy they use. Instead of becoming light, that energy turns into heat.
Other suggestions might include installing a programmable thermostat and shutting off your AC when no one is in the house. Setting your AC to 78 during the summer and your heater to 68 during the winter can help save money as well by using less energy to heat or cool your home. If you have the means, adding insulation to your attic or crawl space, and switching to double-pane windows can also help reduce the cost of maintaining the interior temperature of your home.
Stick to It — and Be Patient
Budgeting can save you a lot of money in the long run, but it’s not something that comes easily or quickly. Once you set up your budget, stick to it — and remain patient. While you become accustomed to it, you will screw up. You will make mistakes, and you will overspend. Don’t look at these as bad things though — you can’t learn unless you make mistakes. So make mistakes, and make sure you learn from them. It took me nearly six months before I figured out the best budget for my household. See if you can beat my time!