On Friday, I talked about Keeping up with the Joneses (AKA Society) and keeping Clothing purchases from breaking the bank.
To continue that theme, I want to talk a little bit about what Living Well is, to me. I suppose that “Living Well” is as subjective as you can get. It can vary drastically, even within households where everyone really has the same core values. I know that it varies for Mark and I frequently.
To me, Living Well means that I don’t have to carry a lot of money stress around with me. It means that my children are happy, provided for, and healthy. It means that our basic necessities are met, with a little extra. Are we there yet? Mostly.
The path to really living well started with a budget. And then, some discipline. There are NO easy answers or quick fixes to getting your finances in order. But, there are definitely some quick wins. For me, the first quick win was understanding that “It’s only $10” is a crappy response to buying something you don’t need.
Use a free tracking service to load all of your bank accounts, credit cards, and/or gas cards. Mint is fabulous for this! Once you get all of your transactions loaded, review the categories. Make sure they’re accurate, and take a good hard look at where you spend your money. Do you spend too much money on video games? Is dining out your weakness? Do you just HAVE to buy expensive crafting materials or the latest magazines to hit the news stands?
The first time I downloaded all of our bank account transactions into Microsoft Money, it was to prepare our taxes. When I categorized our expenditures for the previous year, I found out that we spent FOURTEEN THOUSAND dollars on eating out. That’s more than our mortgage!
If you’re married, go over the results with your spouse**. Discuss ways to compromise and make changes to your spending. Figure out how to work together to get your financial house in order. Unless everyone is on the same page, there will be sabotage. Sometimes, it’ll even be you!
** This discussion should only happen when you’re both prepared for it. Don’t ambush your partner. No good can come from that.
Once you’ve determined your spending patterns, work on your budget. Get all of your fixed and mandatory expenses in there first. House payments, rent, and utilities should be at the top of the list. Next, your fluctuating expenses. While you’re working out your budget, discuss where you can make cuts without having a negative impact on your household. This can be as simple as teaching the children to turn the lights off every single time they leave a room, to setting a timer for showers, or eating more vegetarian meals to cut meat costs.
Can’t go without cable or high speed Internet? Bundle your telephone/cable/Internet packages for big savings on those utilities. Grocery shop with coupons, and use The Grocery Game or Coupon Mom, or another coupon and sales tracking program.
Can’t go without eating out? Use the referral link from the Coupon Mom website to go to Restaurants.com. You can get a $25 gift certificate to your favorite restaurant for $10 through Restaurants.com .. and with the referral link from Coupon Mom, you get an extra 40% off. That’s a $25 gift card for $6! You can buy more than one, if you choose. Watch out for the restrictions though.
Love books and magazines too much to give up? Go to your public library. They have most of the periodicals you could ever want. There is an endless supply of books. Have kids? GREAT! Go during story time and meet other parents and kids in your neighborhood.
While you’re at it, start your own home play groups or a babysitting co-op, so nobody has to pay for sitters. If you aren’t that ambitious, look for co-ops that are already in place. Time Banking is taking hold all over the country.
Do you need a shelf or table? What about canning jars? Do you have a bunch of baby clothes taking up space? Extra furniture stashed in the attic that will never see the light of day again? Use Freecycle! There is one in practically every neighborhood. You can find a home for just about everything you have no use for. If you’re willing to put a little effort into it, you can also find just about anything you need there too. Can’t find what you need on Freecycle? How about Craig’s List?
These are just a few of the ways I’ve found to cut our costs in ways that don’t hurt our lifestyle. They do require a little more effort than going out and plopping down your debit card or credit card, but they are worth it to my peace of mind. We’re still Living Well. We’re just doing it more consciously than we were before. The rewards are growing!