How to Make a Budget

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The most important thing we did when deciding to get out of debt and take over our finances was to make a budget. Right after making a list of all of our debts and posting it up in a central location, looking at it every day and marinating on it for a while. Now that we’ve had an updated, working budget, I have no idea how we were functioning (or trying to) without one.

If you want to get out of debt and have savings goals, you. Need. A. Budget. No lie. No way around it.

But when we were first starting out, actually MAKING one was the hardest part. This isn’t a skill taught in school anymore, and judging by, not only my personal experience, but the recent report from the Federal Reserve that states that Americans now carry more credit card debt than ever, even before the Recession of 2009, people are not seeing responsible financial behavior modeled in their homes or other relationships. What do you actually do? Pen to paper, what do I need?

  1. Gather your bills, receipts and pay stubs for 3-4 months. As with anything, you have to start with a good foundation. Income and bills can fluctuate, especially utilities and grocery spending, or income if you’re an hourly employee like myself. The rest of your budget is based on what you observe yourself bringing in and spending, so those numbers need to be accurate, and one month’s worth of info isn’t going to cut it. Grab 3-4 months worth to start.
  2. Figure out your monthly take-home pay. Whether you get paid monthly, weekly or bi-weekly, total up all of your paychecks for each of 3 months and get your total income for each month. Then add them all together and divide by 3 (or 4 if you’re using 4 months of data). This gives you your average monthly income. If you are self employed or have an otherwise irregular income, read Dave Ramsey’s guide here, on how to make a budget with irregular income. (This is the fun part where you say “Yay! Look at the money I make!”)
  3. Figure out your monthly expenses. This part takes some work, especially in regards to the time you put into it. To track your spending monthly, get all your bills together for one month. This is just going to help you create categories for your budget, and you’ll be surprised at how many there are when they’re all out there on the table. Don’t forget to track things like groceries and housewares. There is a worksheet here from consumer.gov for a visual aide.
    Then, get the bills from the other two or three months you’re using for your baseline data to make your budget, add the number for each category and divide by how many months. Example, for category Electric Bill, go back and find your electric bills from May, June and July (if those are the months you’re referencing), add them together and divide by 3 to give you your average expected electric bill.

    Tip: For utilities that fluctuate throughout the year, such as oil in the winter or electric in the summer when AC’s are running, use the months where these numbers are highest to create your budget to avoid running over your budget for an entire season. You might not spend all of the money allowed for your oil budget in August, but you’ll be thankful for the cushion come February. If you are running a tighter budget and aggressively paying off debts and not keeping a big cushion in your utilities account, redo your budget every few months using current or more relevant data and make your adjustments accordingly.

    The most important expense to include in your list here are your savings goals. These can include your starter emergency fund of $1,000 if you’re doing the Baby Steps, Christmas gifts, or medical bills that are upcoming. As Dave Ramsey says, “Pay yourself first.” After all, a budget is how you tell your money where to go to avoid wondering where it went (another Dave-ism), and every singe dollar of your income needs a purpose.

  4. Figure out the difference between the two. Very easy step but a very difficult one. Total up all of your monthly expenses (including your savings goals that we described earlier as a necessary expense). Then subtract that number from your total monthly income.
    Take a deep breath.
    Is that number positive? Then woo hoo!! Nice job, you make more money than you spend. You have met all your monthly expense requirements and savings goals and have money left over to service your debts.
    Is it negative? You then are in the majority of people who spend more money than they make. Proceed to step number 5.
  5. Make adjustments. If you spend more than you make, you will need to make adjustments to your budget. You can’t keep on running deeper and deeper into the red every month. You’re not Congress after all.
    Look back over each category of your monthly expenses. What surprised you? Were there a few things that cost a lot more than what you had been telling yourself there do in your mind? What we did when we were in this very same position a few years ago was to rank our expenses from most to least important, and then lop off a few at the bottom of the “important” list. This is called prioritization. It is absolutely essential. If you can’t meet your monthly expenses with your income, some things have to go.
    So what can you cut or reduce? This will be a mindset that will carry you through. Every month I’m thinking “what can I cut? What can I reduce?” Check out my post about What Do You NEED Really? for inspiration. For starters, the first things to go for us were:

    1. The cell phone bill. This saved us hundreds of dollars and was a huge motivator. This seems like a big shake up, and some people might stop right here and abandon this whole budget mindset because as a society were are addicted to our phones and cannot even remember how we survived just a few years ago without them. But sometimes a big shake up is exactly what you need. We have honestly not suffered at all without our phones. Jeff has a work phone that his company pays for, and I use my phone just like I used to except only when wifi is available. In the great scheme of priorities, the latest and greatest phone out there with the fastest internet were not even close to the top.
    2. Subscription box. I used to subscribe to Citrus Lane, a subscription box of kids stuff I used to get for $20 a month. I liked getting it, but it was an easy thing to cut. There are so many more subscription services on the market now than when we started; it seems like the industry has kind of exploded, whether its dog treats or kids stuff or new clothes and accessories or makeup or whatever. What seemed like a trifle to me then might be very relatable to people now. None of these are necessary for sustaining your existence.
    3. Weight Watchers app and Gym Memberships. The WW app was another $20 a month, and I don’t even remember what our gym memberships were. I like the WW app, but I had successfully done the program using pen and paper for free before. Cutting the account and going back to this low tech method was a pain in the butt, but I felt like it was worth it. There was a time we had gone to the gym regularly, but that was long ago. Both of us working and having kids at home, it was easier for us to work out at home, and the monthly gym payments had to go.
    4. Reduce grocery spending. When we first started out we were spending over $1,000/month on groceries and eating out. This is obviously outrageous and unsustainable. Since then, keeping food costs down has been my constant hobby. Read all of my thoughts on Surviving the Grocery Stores and Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It. And check out my Week of Budget Dinners.
    5. Reduce heating and electric. Even up until this week I’m still working this. A budget isn’t an iron clad soul surrender that guarantees everything is going to go perfectly. You continuously will have to recommit to your goal. Look at my post Little Things for ideas on how to cut utilities. Turn down the heat, turn up the AC’s or turn them off. Line dry clothes, shorten showers and go to cold water washing. Wring every penny out of your budget to work closer and closer to your goals.
    6. Increase income. Another thing that you can do to get things moving aside from cutting expenses is to add some income. I have a crochet goods side business. I have a friend that drives for Uber. Pick up a few shifts at a second job. One of my favorite things to do for more income is to sell stuff we don’t like/want/need/use anymore. Check out my post 7 Things You Can Do to Save Money This Week! for more information and ideas.

Thats it really. Finances are just numbers, and not even hard math, just addition and subtraction. Ok and division when you figure out the average in the very beginning.

Frequently revisit your budget to make sure that it continues to work for you. Adjust your expected monthly expenses and savings goals. A budget isn’t useful if its not accurate.

And a budget will change your life. You will feel more in control. You will see the change not only in your finances, but over time, in your outlook on spending, saving and what your goals are.

Just try it for six months and see where it takes you.

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Behind the Scenes

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Recently I finished paying off one of my remaining two (at the time) student loans. I wanted to celebrate in a big way, so I brought my debt payoff chart out to the backyard and burnt it in the fire pit. The video brought me the most comments on Instagram and the most daily views of this blog of anything else I’ve posted so far.

The day you finally get to burn those loan documents or that mortgage is a HUGE day and I’m so grateful for everyone’s words of encouragement and congratulations. But I do want to remind people who may be struggling, or just starting out on their debt free journey, that the one big day is the result of. So. Many. Small days. So many small choices. There were so many little things going on behind the scenes of that video that were the reasons I was able to pay off $3,200 in 30 days.

So this post is all about “behind the scenes,” so show that it’s not all sunshine and bonfires and precipitously dropping loan balances over here. When I was new at this whole debt paying thing, it was nice to think about getting that “Paid in Full” letter, but like.. what do you actually DO to get there? This is what we DO.

We don’t have huge incomes, we didn’t hit PowerBall, no one died and left us an inheritance. And none of those things have to happen for you either. What we do have to have is determination, a goal, and patience.

Get on the Same Page, Make Goals, and Make a Budget. Everyone in the house that has the power to spend money has to be on the same page with saving it. Jeff knows my game plan: pay off my loans from smallest to biggest, then tackle his smallest to largest. He supports me, me encourages me. Every month when he finishes paying the bills, he lets me know “Babe, we have $xyz left over in the joint account, how much do you want me to send you for your loans?” Or “I got my tuition reimbursement” or travel expenses approved or whatever it may be. We review our budget frequently and make adjustments as we go along (read how we made our budget here). It just wouldn’t work if one of us was pinching pennies and the other one was buying a new iPhone or trinkets and trifles off of Amazon.

Just… No.  The most effective tool we use to reach our goals is just saying no. No I don’t want to go out to eat, no we can’t buy that new toy, no we don’t need a new car. We won’t go on vacation this year, or to Great Wolf Lodge or Davis Farmland or Six Flags. We absolutely will not be at Disney World or on a tropical get away. My kids don’t have a trove of brand new clothes and a hundred pairs of shoes every season and nor do we. We won’t be doing swim lessons and soccer and tee ball and dance class and karate.

Find Free Fun. All these No’s seem like a life sentence of boo-riiinnggggg, but we have plenty of fun. During the summer we use Jeff’s veteran status to go to Blue Star Museums free of charge. The Highland Street Foundation in our state sponsors Free Fun Fridays, where local zoos and parks have one day that is free of admission. We also play outside, set up the kiddie pool and have a “pool day,” go to local playgrounds, have movie nights, set up play dates, visit the lake in town if its not too busy, or do art projects. I might plan a cupcake decorating day or a make your own sundae night and include the supplies into the grocery budget. Kids have fun wherever they are. You don’t need to whip out the plastic to enchant their youth.

Priority 1: Food. I plan the meals and the grocery list for two weeks and buy our groceries from the discount grocery store Aldi (read my other posts about grocery stores here). Actually, edit that: I TRY to. Food (also include here personal care items and household supplies) is the thing that changes the fastest and is the easiest to either reign in or to go completely out of control.
In summary of my other posts, my perfect plan is to 1.) plan out all three meals and snacks and school lunches and all supplies for two weeks, 2.) make the shopping list from that plan, 3.) search for online deals or coupons to get this cost down as much as possible, 4.) try to get as much as I can from Aldi or generic and clearance items at Walmart, 5.) stick with the plan over the two weeks using my meal plan and keeping that actual piece of paper handy to remember what the plan is.
If everything goes perfectly, we don’t get any take out or fast food items.

Utilities and stuff. The idea is pretty easy, the less you have to pay in bills, the less of your income goes to utility companies, the more you have left over to service your debt. We keep the heat at 62 in the winter. We have window unit AC’s that are only on during heat waves and are only on as cool as 70. Some days I feel like all I do is follow people in and out of rooms and turn off light switches. And sinks. Some of this stuff I’ve written before in Little Things.
The best thing we’ve ever done for our monthly bottom line is cancel our cell plans. Yup. We don’t have cell phones. Weird, right? Except it saves hundreds of dollars a month. When I tell people this they get this terrified look in their eyes. “What do you mean you don’t have a cellphone??” Recently I asked the receptionist at my optometrist’s office if I could use the phone. “Um… for what purpose?” she asked.
I still have my iPhone and I use it on wifi. Exactly zero of our dollars go to Verizon or AT&T or Sprint or whatever. At one point I loved my phone. I had totally fallen into the consumerist trap. They told me I NEEDED it and I believed them. It was hard giving it up but I’m so happy I did. And now I fell like I could live the rest of my life without the latest gadget.
Not long ago I was at a party and heard someone totally freaking out about the new phone they had just gotten. Like completely 100% FREAKING out about how amazing it is. It was clear this person wanted everyone to jump right on board and tell her how they have no idea she survived without it for so long. I couldn’t help but feel sad for her. The phone is over $800, or about the same as a month of rent.

Do it (all) Yourself. We don’t have a staff over here. Theres no housekeeper “helping me out” one day per week. There’s no baby sitter so we can go out on a date night. There aren’t any personal training sessions. There’s no hair stylist, no waxer no manicurist. If the kids were old enough for sports, there wouldn’t be any private coaches or trainers multiple times per week. If something in the house needs fixing, we fix it and if we don’t know how, we learn. If a button falls off or a new shirt (or even an old shirt) gets a tear, I fix it. Am I a pioneer woman? Not even close.
A while ago I read an article written by someone recounting how their grandparents lived on basically nothing. Part of it spoke about repairing things as soon as they were broke, not tossing them in a junk drawer to be forgotten, and keeping things in clean working order. These efforts reduce your want for things and keep you on budget. I tried to find it but I can’t remember the name. The tone of it was really simple and inspirational.
A huge part of us staying on track with debt repayment has been learning how to do basic things ourselves. Jeff learned how to do all of our basic home repairs, and some big remodeling projects. He also changes our oil right in the driveway which has saved us consistently. I’ve developed a basic understanding of hand and machine sewing. I can reattach a button, repair a small hole, add a hem. I even made Sam a pair of sweatpants out of green fleece when I refused to pay rush shipping for a Halloween costume. Instead of throwing that buttonless shirt in the donate bin and buying a new one, or doubling the price of the pants by rushing them to the house, we keep everything “in-house.” You can do it too, I promise. Check out YouTube for how to and beginner videos. Be resourceful. And have a little faith.

There are so many things I could write about here. Family finance in a culture of consumerism is a complex animal. Spending without regard to our income is part of our norm now. Friends and relatives will look at you like you’re crazy for being on this journey, and spending for the fun of it is part of our fabric. When we first started it took a lot for me to be able to examine each area of our spending and deem it necessary or extravagant. It’s ok. Good things take time. As does scrapping everything you know about managing money and starting fresh. These points are a good start, and I’ll keep writing. From behind the scenes.

Time Management

I really need to learn how to manage my time better.

There are so many things I want to do with my days, but I just seem to get clutter of the brain and I don’t get to do as much as I plan.

I have books I want to start or finish, including the Seamless Bible study, I want to keep my personal resolution to keep my house clean enough for drop in guests, I want to work on this blog more (I have so many ideas!), I have my crochet side business that has kept me pretty busy lately, and then of course this whole wife/ mother thing 😉

I’m thinking maybe writing a schedule out for my week could be helpful. Like Monday could be a crochet day, Tuesday for reading, Wednesday a blog day etc etc…

I also have an update to write on my baby weight loss plan; as of yesterday I’m down 25 lbs! I’m officially wearing my first pair of ‘goal jeans’ around and out of the house and they’re comfortable.

As far as writing goes, because I always get a flood of ideas whenever I start typing, here’s a list of things I’m dying to write about:

  • Baby weight update obv.
  • Books I plan to read
  • Seamless post on the first few chapters
  • Ben’s First Birthday!! And how to stay on budget with a child’s birthday party
  • I also want to start writing “New Home Ec,” a guide to how to do things. Things I think SHOULD have been taught in high school home ec but weren’t, like how to do laundry, how to clean your house, how to plan meals and budget for groceries etc etc… Just real basic basics that I didn’t know when we got married and was suddenly responsible for a household.

No time like the present I guess, today can be a cleaning day (since the house needs it) and tomorrow I guess I’ll do some reading?

Little Things

I’ve been working on this post for a few months trying to collect all of the ideas I incorporate into our daily life that have minimal effort but can save you some money.

It’s not all about big huge sacrifices that can effect you financially. There’s a million little things you can do everyday that don’t seem like much but can add up over the course of a month or a year. Not to mention that starting off with the mindset of reducing your bills and saving money can have way further reaching effects in your finances than the immediately apparent numbers as listed below.

Line Drying Clothes

The Saving Energy website estimates that the average dryer uses 3.3 kWh, and that one kWh costs about 11 cents. So counting that out, line drying a load of laundry saves 36 cents. Seems like nothing, so let’s march it out.

I do four loads of laundry a week. Line drying in the northeast is really only feasible from mid-April to September. So we’ll say 24 weeks.

24 weeks x (36 cents per load x 4 loads per week)= $34.56

Cool right? That’s like a free tank of gas a year. In warm sunny places where it’s hot and sunny year rounds, it’s more like $75.

Turn Down (or Up) the Heat

According to the I Will Teach You to be Rich blog, turning the thermostat down one degree takes 3% off your heating bill. So if you drop even 3-4 degrees, thats approximately $10-20 per month depending on where you live.

Also under this heading is air conditioning, which according to How Stuff Works, consumes 2,000 kWh per year on average, or about $220 using the same 11 cents per kWh.

We have a super old (about 200 years old) house that’s drafty and has high ceilings. We keep our thermostat at 65 in the winter. When we were renting a utilities included apartment… it was more like 72-75. It was an adjustment to cool it off at first, but this is way easier for me than losing the AC. I hate being hot. I’d rather put on a sweater then sweat even a little bit.

Turn Off the Lights

I feel like I spend half my day walking around my house shutting lights off. Its a habit left over from my childhood when my parents (especially my dad) would freak out if a light was left on when you aren’t in the room or if there were too many on in the house at once.

I also hate the yellow glow of incandescent bulbs. I just don’t get why lights have to be on in the daytime when we have perfectly good sunlight for free.

Using the number we’ve been using at 11 cents per kWh, running a 60 watt bulb for five hours a day can cost over $12 per year. Typing that out I just got up and turned out four lights burning in the house. In rooms I’m not even sitting in. FOUR. Two were in the same room. And its 9:30 am on a perfectly bright although overcast day.

So working the math backwards from how much something costs to how much I can save with my efforts (because I’m all about that), if my daily light killing walk throughs can prevent all four of those lights from being on for not as much as 5 hours a day, because that seems like a lot, but lets say one hour per day, I’d save about $10 in one year. For really nothing. Would you use a $10 coupon off your grocery bill? Of course you would. You can play with energy usage math here, at energyusecalculator.com.

$10 is $10 all day.

Get the Last Drop of Detergent

This is another one I remember from growing up. Having poor parents can really pay off later in life lol. My mom used to get so mad at how much detergent was left in the jug that wouldn’t pour out on its own and refused to throw it away. And when you really think about it, look down into the bottle next time you do laundry. There’s no way to get ALL the liquid you paid for, and according to ConsumerReport.org, 7-16% of what you bought can be trapped in the bottle to be thrown out!

So the brand used to calculate this difference was Tide, lets do some math. I get tide at Walmart (one of the few things I still buy there), and a 64 load jug costs $11.97. 7% of that is 83 cents, 16% is $1.92! I typically go through a bottle a month, sometimes more. But lets say that at 1 bottle per month, with the max of 16% lost in the bottle at the tail end, I’d be losing $22.98 a year. That’s two whole jugs of detergent!

Would you grab up a deal for 2 FREE bottles of Tide? Of course you would. How do you get it? Just rinse out your jug when you think its gone. Thats it. Fill it with hot water and you’re good for another 1-2 loads.

Let’s add up all of our (minimal efforts) for an entire year: So if we line dry our clothes for 24 weeks in Massachusetts ($34.56), turn our thermostat down 3 degrees ($10), our off our lights for an hour per day in rooms we’re not even in ($10), and make sure to use up all the detergent trapped int he bottle ($22.98), we’ve saved $77.54.

$77 bucks for doing basically nothing, right back in your pocket. Whats better than that?

Throwback

Since I’m feeling all nostalgic today, here’s a screenshot of the very first New Year’s financial goals list we wrote out in 2014.

Look how small the goals we set were. One of them was for a 5 year old debt of $100. Another was a $155 payment to replenish a savings account of my moms that my name was on and I had been over drafting from for my debit account. But the truth is, we couldn’t move on in our journey to financial freedom until we hit these goals.

And I have to say, finding that $100, that $155, that $170 in our already tight budget was HARD. Really hard. But now we’re able to save up for thousands of dollars of anticipated expenses and pay for things in cash BECAUSE we got these little hangers on out of the way first. Dave Ramsey calls this the snowball effect; sure we weren’t making payments on these debts, but paying off small loans first gives you a boost of confidence and motivates you into continuing on.

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But First, Coffee

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I love coffee. So much. Especially now that it’s fall in New England, a delicious hot pumpkin spice Great One with skim and sugar from Dunk’s would be an ideal start to my morning.

It’s not even really for the caffeine (ok maybe a little bit). I just love how it tastes. It’s nice and warm. Perfect way to wake up.

But its SOOOoooo expensive! I just can’t justify spending a couple of bucks every day on coffee. Plus, with that delicious coffee always comes a beautiful muffin… or an egg white flatbread.. donut for the kids… It ends up being $5-7 every. Day. Thats $35 a week.. $140 a month? Think of what you could do with that. I’ve written before about how I gave up drive-through coffee and bought a new couch. What Do You NEED Really?

Thankfully there’s a way to have your coffee AND meet your financial goals.

Most major coffee house chains have a take-home version that cost $6-10 a bag. My favorite is Boston’s Best, which at around $4 is so reasonable. A bag lasts me about 2 weeks and according to the lines on my pot, that’s 5 cups (I know, FIVE) per day.

There’s also a million different kinds of creamers in every flavor under the sun. Seasonal ones, classic ones, Dunkin Donuts even has a line out that mimics how you order at the window. International Delight is $3.19 a bottle and I get 2 for 2 weeks.

So I can have my coffee every day, a 5 cup large size, flavored exactly like or better than the window, for 74 cents per day. CENTS. A commercial cup is over $2.

Not convinced? This may be the one time you ever hear me say this but: Treat Yourself.

Buy a cute mug. A new coffee maker. A mug cozy. If you don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself you’ll be less likely to give up. I pour my iced coffee in a big mason jar all summer and drink it with a reusable straw. Frugal doesn’t have to be boring.

In this one instance, you’ll save so much money, that any new mug cup or cozy will be paid for in a week or so. Even if you buy a new mug every month, that pales in comparison to how much you’re used to paying at the counter or window.

Like a fancy drink? Get inspired with all these copy cat recipes on Pinterest. So tempting.

7 Things You Can Do to Save Money This Week!

Paying off debt and taking over your finances is a lot of work and sometimes, it can take a while to see a payoff. But a lot of us are short on cash NOW and need to make changes right away to even survive the month. Others need instant gratification to get motivated.

Here’s a couple of things you can do right NOW to stretch this week’s paycheck.

Cut Your Cable Bill

Utilities are a killer, but if you rank them from most to least important, cable is on the bottom in my opinion.

As long as you’re not locked into a “bundle” plan where it will cost an arm and a leg to change your package, call your provider and drop your package by a tier or two.

Check out the differences in package price from Comcast:

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Dropping your package by even one tier could save $10/month ($1200/year). Dropping to the lowest package could save you up to $54!

Cancel a Subscription

After my first two babies I used Weight Watchers to lose the extra weight. The app on my phone was so convenient, but also $20 a month. Now that Ben is six months old, I’m back on Weight Watchers, but I’m using an old school book and slider system that an old friend gave me and still losing weight just as fast.

There are a million subscription services now. TV ones like Hulu, food delivery ones Like HelloFresh, product ones like Birch Box, Bark Box, the list goes on and on. Nothing against any of these services, I even used to subscribe to Citrus Lane in my more frivolous days, but if you’re seriously strapped for cash, using savings or credit cards to pay for necessities, this is something you can easily cut without a huge change in lifestyle.

Picture a bucket full of holes and you trying to keep as much water in as possible. The holes are your bills and debts and the water is your hard earned money. The object is to plug as many holes in the bucket as possible. You do this by cutting unnecessary spending and using this extra money to pay off debts.

Return Something

A month or so ago I bought three oval picture frames that I was *convinced* I was going to use. Whelp they sat on top of the dryer for weeks. This month I was going to cut it close on our grocery budget and had to drum up some extra funds. Good thing I remembered those frames! I returned them (without a receipt even), put $17 back in our account and two nights worth of suppers in the freezer.

Just because you’ve bought something doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. If you have a relatively recent purchase and are running short on cash, return it!

If you don’t…

Sell or Consign Something

I do this all the time with old kids clothes and toys. Find a consignment shop or a pawn shop that pays cash up front (instead of waiting until they sell the item). My favorite is The Children’s Orchard. A lot of places will give you a cash offer on the item and offer you a certain percent more if you agree to take store credit instead. This is how you can walk into a store with a box of old clothes and walk out with new items without even opening your wallet! OR, how you walk out of a store with more cash than you had when you went in.

For other types of items, sell it directly to a cash buyer. This has gotten so easy in the world of Craig’s List and Facebook yard sale communities. Just always make sure to watch out for yourself and make the actual sale in a safe place. Find a Safe Deal Zone near you. None close? Arrange to meet in the parking lot of a local police station.

Sell a Service

Use your spare time for spare cash. My best friend drives for Uber at night or on weekends if she needs to make ends meet. Jeff helps people fix their websites on Coppermine. You even get paid to do people’s grocery shopping and deliver the groceries with Instacart. I make crochet items and sell them. You can babysit, walk dogs or do housework for other people on Care.com or privately for people you know. Play to your strengths and interests.

Fast Food Challenge

This is one of our favorites for really tightening the budget. The challenge is not to eat any food that isn’t groceries. No coffee drive through, no lunch in the caf at work, no vending machines, pizza delivery, restaurants. Nada. Framing it like a “Challenge” in your mind and getting your partner on board is more motivating than just saying “oh boy, bagged lunch all week.”

To help resist temptation, I leave my debit card at home when I leave the house. Its just too tempting to get an iced coffee on the way to work and then cruise down to the cafeteria if the morning is slow or the lunch I packed isn’t interesting enough.

Just Don’t

Just don’t go to Target if that’s your weakness (it’s mine). Just don’t go along to the mall with your friends if you KNOW you can’t resist. Don’t cruise the clearance section looking to justify spending with “but it’s on clearance!” Don’t check your favorite deal sites (mine is Zulily. Love it.).

Take a walk instead. Or go to the library and borrow the book you were going to buy (they lend movies and TV series too). Take your kids to the local playground instead of some place that charges admission like a zoo or themed park.