I wrote this just about the time everyone paid their income taxes in April, so, it just ‘makes cents’ to try and stretch those dollars we have left to us as far as we can.

Make the plan.   If you have a computer you can use a spreadsheet to map out all of your fixed expenses for the coming year.  If not, get a piece of freezer paper and make a chart of the fixed expenses you need to pay each month.  Hang it up someplace where you can see it every single day.  Some folks hang theirs in the bedroom (they can see it, guests cannot).

Rent:
$_______

Telephone or cell phone(s) if you have more than one in the family:
$______
Cable or Satellite services:
$______

Electricity:
$_____

Heat – if non-electric, set aside a monthly sum for your fuel oil or propane year around:
$______

Household supplies – laundry soap, dish soap, cleaning supplies, toilet tissue, paper towels, etc.:
$______

Groceries – make a list of what you need and only go shopping every week or two.  Any extra trips to the market means you will be more likely to spend money on extra unplanned items that are ‘budget busters’. This way, you can monitor you daily spending more easily:
$______
(I like to keep household supplies and groceries separate. I’ve listened to a lot of people in the supermarket gripe about their ‘grocery bill’ when there was precious little food in the buggy when they checked out.)

Think ‘outside of the box’.  Don’t go shopping just to be shopping.  You will spend money you don’t have for things you don’t really need – its called IMPULSE SHOPPING and is much encouraged by retailers. 

Just ask yourself these questions:
  • Do I really need this item?  
  • Do I have something at home that I can use that will do the job without me spending this money?
  • Does my daughter ‘really need’ that latest ‘fashion item’ that will be out of style next week?
  • Does my son really need that new $40 game for his player?

When push comes to shove, probably not.

Balance your life daily.  Use a notebook to record any money spent.  Balance your checkbook every day if possible, or at least every couple of days so you don’t run over budget, and bank account!   Bank fees are on the way up and it’s not ‘small change’ any more.  $20 is the cheapest I’ve seen for a bounced check fee and most of them are around $40 per check now.  If you have 3 outstanding checks, this amounts to $120 in bank fees you didn’t plan on, PLUS the store charges of the same or more!  Just three $10 checks can add up to $240 in fees – not a wise use of your money.

Readers offer these tips:

Plan before you spend.  If you need new clothing, set aside a few dollars ($17.50 is my limit) each paycheck to pay for the items you need, and never pay full price!  I buy all of our clothing (husband, myself and three children) only on clearance, or at a thrift store or yard sale.  We’ve saved many, many dollars with this one trick. – MH, WA

Don’t buy soda, flavored tea or water.  With gas prices over $4 in my area, we do not buy anything to drink away from home.  My son figured out that I was spending $12 a gallon for my iced tea that I always bought in that 16-ounce glass bottle.  He presented me with a ‘to-go’ bottle and I make my own at home now.  The kids prefer water and it didn’t take them long to figure out how much a gallon we were paying for bottled water – they now have their own ‘to-go’ bottles and we drink filtered tap water.
Just figure up how much you spend on impulse drinks and snacks every time you stop. It’s a real eye opener! – MJK, NV