So, today's post is admittedly not as fun as before & after pictures. I don't really like talking about money, probably because we have very little of it! As college students who are financially independent and parents to (almost) two kids, money is tight. We have to make sacrifices and things are difficult from time to time (like living without central heat for 8 weeks this winter...during which time we had TWO snows in Georgia). But having less inspires us to be resourceful in many ways, from decorating to grocery shopping, and we try to make the most of it.
One of my 21 Before 21 goals was to make a budget and follow it. With the start of the new year, it was a good time for us to sit down, pull out the calculator, and analyze our bank statements from the previous year and make changes for this next year. What we found was quite shocking, and many of our pre-concieved ideas were way off track.
Myth # 1: If we go out to eat more, then we spend less on groceries that month.
-Simply not true! There was very little correlation between going out to eat verses how much we spent on groceries. Which means that if we spent a lot on going out to eat, it was just costing us more, period.
Myth # 2: We both made guesses on how much we thought we spent on going out to eat each month.
-Several months we spent nearly DOUBLE what the lowest guess was. Ouch.
Myth #3: Most of what we spend is "necessary" and there are not very many opportunities to cut spending.
-There are definitely places we can cut spending! Primarily in our household spending and going out to eat.
So here are our strategies and goals when it comes to budgeting and cutting spending this year:
1. Limit eating out to once a week: This is especially a challenge for us during midterms/finals, and on nights when we don't get home from classes until nearly 7 PM. So far, we have kept this goal in January. What helps us make this possible is:
-Keeping easy and fast meals on hand, like spaghetti, soup, grilled cheese, and sandwiches
-Plan when we go out to eat. If we look ahead at our schedule, we can decide which night we need to eat out most. For instance, we have to travel to the midwife's house for an appointment this week, so that will be our out to eat night since it requires us to be gone about five hours after being in classes all morning and afternoon.
-Pack snacks for the car. Sometimes I feel like we live in our car. Because we only have one car, and we don't have a parking spot on campus, there is a lot of driving and dropping each other off at classes and work every day. Bringing snacks and water helps with the munchies and keeps us from stopping somewhere.
2. Skip the dessert: While neither of us would usually order dessert out, ever since I have been pregnant/breast feeding, sometimes it's hard for me get full. To cut down on our dessert intake, I am making sure that I order an extra filling entree or order a small side to go with it.
3. Couponing: One of my New Year's goals was to become better at couponing, while I'm no expert, I am definitely obsessed!!! I can already see how much money it is helping us save on household items and toiletries. A few sites that helped me a lot are: Couponing 101 & Organic Deals.I buy two copies of the Sunday paper every week and I have a big binder in which I organize all of my inserts. I also print a lot of coupons online. I have been able to save around 50% on household items like toilet paper, razors, mouthwash, etc.and I expect to save more the better I get at it.
4. Shop gas prices: So this one is not a major saver, but every little bit adds up. Thanks to the website Gas Buddy, I found out that by stopping at the most convenient gas station to us (which we pass on our way out of our neighborhood, basically) we were spending 10-15 cents/gallon more than if we stopped at a gas station a little ways away from us. Now, we don't drive out of our way. That would seem wasteful too...but when we are near a cheaper gas station, we make sure to fill up as opposed to waiting for the empty light to come on and feeling forced to stop at the nearest station. (An added perk, there is less chance of running out of gas!)
A few other steps we've taken:
-I analyzed our phone bill usage over a several month period and switched plans to avoid overages
-We keep the thermostat dialed down (64 actually feels quite warm compared to 50-55..which is what our house was at when we did not have heat)
-Fixing simpler meals with less ingredients to cut down on groceries
So do you follow a budget? What steps do you take to save money?
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