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Getting your family on a budget can be really hard. Keeping your family on a budget is even harder! Over the years I’ve learned lots of budget hacks to help my family stay on track.
This blog is all about helping parents win with their money by getting out of debt and saving their cash. Below are some of the best budgeting hacks that I know of. Some of these tips are things that we do in our household and some are things that our friends to to stay on budget.
My Top Budgeting Hacks
Freeze your credit card
If you struggle with spending too much on your credit card, but don’t want to cut it up, freeze it. Put your card in an empty tupperware container or ice cream bucket, fill it full of water and put it in the freezer. This will ensure that you have your card if you really need it for travel etc, but can’t make impulse purchases.
Keep savings in separate account
Resist the temptation to spend your savings by putting it in a separate account. Doing this adds a layer of complexity to getting the money out. I recommend making this account at a different institution from where you do your day to day banking.
Separate your cash budget weekly
I like the envelope system, but I’ve found that sometimes you run out of cash before your pay period is over. You can avoid this by using multiple envelopes. Separate your budget by week, and then when you run out, you’ve only got a couple of days to wait before your cash is replenished.
Buy in bulk, and separate food/items into weeks
I like to buy at Costco, but hate going to Costco. My kids love the cheese strings, granola bars and other snacks so much that they usually disappear by the end of week one. The way I’ve started dealing with this is when I get home from Costco, I separate the snacks into quarters and keep them in a closet, bringing out a new supply every week. This helps ensure that our supply lasts and I’m only going to Costco once per month.
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Keep every single receipt
Keep every single receipt for review at the end of the week. This helps you keep on track with your budget and gives you another opportunity to consider your financial decisions. I know it’s easier to spend a few bucks I haven’t budgeted when I just throw the receipt in the garbage!
Have cheaper clothes tailored for $10, rather than buying $100 pants
This is an awesome hack. 90% of how a shirt looks is how it fits, rather than the cost of the item. Instead of buying expensive shirts and pants from a high-end store for $100 or more, try buying a dress shirt at Costco for $25 and having it tailored to fit you nicely for $10. Works like a charm.
Never make a purchase over $25 without telling somebody about it first
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, kick an addiction or slow down your spending, having an accountability partner will help set you up for success. After you choose an accountability partner, agree to consult that person every time you make a purchase over a certain amount. It’s good to set that threshold low enough that you’re not overspending, but high enough that you’re not calling everyday. I’ve found that $25 is a good starting point.
Buy items that you can use several different ways i.e. roast chicken
Getting the most out of your grocery money means buying things that are affordable and easy to use. I like the roasted chickens that they sell at grocery stores. For $10 you get dinner one night, sandwiches for lunch the following day, and then you can make soup from the bones on the weekend. Money well spent.
Use the library for entertainment
Have you been to a library lately? They’re way better than they were in the 90s. Now you can surf the internet, borrow DVDs and Blu-Rays, play games and of course, read books. Spending a half day at the library is a great activity for your kids that doesn’t cost a dime.
Use the library for recreation
I recently found out that our local library loans family passes for the local recreation center. All you have to do is put your name on a wait list and a couple of times per year the pass comes available for use. You pick it up and have a week to use it. It will save you $10-20 each time.
Buy last year’s phone
Phone and tablet tech has been really, really good for a few years now. Buying last years phone is just good sense. It will cost you $300-$400 less than the current model and works just the same. The only thing you’ll lose is the status of having the latest smartphone.
Make your savings, bills and investments automatic
Did you know that you can set up automatic bill payments and transfers in your online banking? A few years ago, I started automating my budget and bills. When my pay comes in, my budget for bills is automatically transferred to that account. This is particularly useful for people that have a hard time with spending and going over budget. If your money is allocated automatically the day it comes in, you’re more likely to stick to your budget.
Don’t spend money that you can’t see
This one works, but admittedly I have a hard time with it. Studies have shown that when you spend money you can actually see (cash), you are less likely to overspend.
Base your meals off of cheap but healthy staples
This is pretty self-explanatory. The more expensive proteins you eat, the more money you’re going to spend on groceries. Try making a larger portion of your meals from cheap staples. Potatoes, rice, lentils, beans and quinoa are all fairly inexpensive in bulk and are easy to make a tasty meal out of.
Keep snacks at work, in your car
I’ve got news for you – McDonalds isn’t cheap fast food anymore. A Big Mac is like $5. Every time you get hungry and hit a drive-thru you’re probably going to drop $5-10. Buy some bulk granola bars or nuts and keep them in your gym bag, your car and at your desk.
Check your bank account balance everyday before you go to bed
This might seem a little fanatical, but it works. It’s the same principle as keeping all of your receipts. You need to know where your money is going and stay on top of how much you have left. Personally, I think a cash budget is the absolute best way to make sure you don’t overspend.
Plan meals for shopping
When you plan means in advance, less food is going to rot and end up in the compost. Our shopping habits can run pretty deep. I know that I’ve bought many things out of habit, things that I had no clue how I was going to actually use that week (so long Costco 3-pack of cucumbers…).
Separate food into containers
When I buy something that I know is likely to disappear fast, I choose how many weeks I want it to last for, and then separate it into that many containers. I take this week’s portion out, and hide the rest in the back of a utility closet that our kids don’t go into.
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Budget for incidentals like Costco
I keep a percentage of our food/consumables budget in a separate account labeled ‘Costco’. This way when we go there once per month for TP, diapers and the like, there’s money set aside for it.
Turn down your hot water heater
Pretty much every hot water tank has an adjustable thermostat. You can turn this down a little to save a bit on energy.
Move holiday shopping to AFTER holidays
This takes an unusually large amount of discipline, but it’s totally worth it. The best deals are on Boxing Day, Black Friday etc…definitely not right before Christmas. Those days are the best time to make large purchases.
Learn some Starbucks hacks
Can’t give up your morning cup of Starbucks? Check out these Starbucks hacks to save you money. They’re actually really good. I’m not a huge Starbucks fan and I go there more often since I read that list.
Ask for a discount
Phone your cell phone company, cable provider (if you still haven’t discovered Netflix), internet provider, car, home and life insurance providers.Tell them that your budget is tight and you need to cut your costs. Nicely ask if there are any discounts, promotions or special packages that they can offer a loyal customer such as yourself. You will be surprised how well this can work.
Use keyword modifiers when shopping for used items
If you’re buying expensive items on the used market, try searching using modifiers such as ‘divorce’, ‘moving’, ‘urgent, and ‘must sell’. Entering into negotiations with somebody who is truly motivated to sell puts you in a good bargaining position.
Wait 30 days to make large purchases
New rule – don’t commit to a large purchase without sitting on it for 30 days first. This gives you a chance to talk it through with family and trusted friends. You might be surprised how often you end up passing on what seemed like a great deal in the moment.
Delete saved credit card numbers that make it easier to spend
This has been an incredibly effective budget hack for our family. Shopping sites (cough Amazon…cough) love to save your credit card number in their system. They know that the fewer steps you have to go through to buy, the more likely you are to commit to a purchase. By not allowing these sites to save your CC info, you’re not only keeping your card more secure, but you’re less likely to spend money on something that you could have done without.
Implementing just a few of these budgeting hacks has the power to save you a lot of money. Some of these things probably won’t suit you, but some will. Try them out with your family. See what is really helping you stay on budget and find ways to improve.
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Question for you:
What budget hacks do you use to keep your finances on-track?