Family Finances, Personal Finance, Uncategorized

Spend or Save?

money bagThe age-old question…to spend or save? It’s so hard to save and so easy to spend! But what do you do when you have over-spent yourself into debt? What do you do if you aren’t finance-minded and you aren’t good with numbers? Is there a way to manage your money so that you can be responsible and prepared even though numbers just aren’t your thing? I think the answer is yes! (NOTE: This post may contain affiliate links)

Before we get started, be sure you know that I am not a financial counselor! I am a mom and a wife with twenty+ years experience managing my money. I found something that works for me so I’m sharing it with you. So take a read and see if it sounds like something you’re interested in trying.

Where to start?

save money houseSo, your finances aren’t looking all that pretty and you just want the madness to stop but you don’t know where to begin. First, you have to take inventory. This isn’t pretty and it hurts to put it all down on a piece of paper in front of you. But you have to do it. It’s ugly but it’s necessary. Make a list of all of your necessary expenses. By “necessary” at this point I mean that these are the bills that are due every month. These are all the vendors to whom you owe money:

  • Mortgage or rent
  • Electric, water, cable, phone, etc
  • Credit card(s)
  • Student loan
  • Car payment
  • Insurance, etc

What you owe other people. Get all of this written down on a list…an ugly list- the names and the monthly amounts due.

Now, for the really hard part…you need to look at your bank statement and any credit cards that you actively use over the course of a month and write down your expenses along with the general category those expenses would fall under. So, things like:

  • Groceries
  • Eating out
  • Gasoline
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment, etc.

If you pay a vendor from your first list with one of these accounts, don’t list that expense because you already did earlier. This list is for all the “extra” stuff you pay. The things you buy, the things you enjoy, the things that you eat.

In front of you should be all the things that bleed you dry each month. It’s not pretty, but it’s reality. Now, how do you get control over this?

Assess the damage

debt credit cardsLet’s leave the first list alone for now and look at the second list. There’s lots to talk about here, isn’t there? All that eating out, coffee in the morning, that new pretty dress? None of it’s necessary. Going out for lunch every work day? Nope…not necessary. Beautifully manicured nails? Unless you’re a hand model, nope. It’s not necessary. This list is a great opportunity to change. But you have to really want to do this or it just won’t work. You’ve got to cross out every unnecessary item from this list and only buy things that are planned.

Now, let’s head back to that first list. This might sting a bit…but bear with me. Cable? You know it’s not necessary, right? Sorry. Your cell phone plan? You don’t need a huge data plan. You really don’t. Your electric bill…you don’t need to keep your house at 70F…you can bump it up to 73F. Really take a look at those mandatory expenses because there’s places to trim.

Like I said, it’s going to be tough but it can be done. We’ve been without cable for close to five years now. We use an Amazon Fire (if you buy it using this link, I’ll get a little payment but don’t worry…your price doesn’t go up. Help me out!) along with a Hulu and a Netflix subscription. Even better, we purchased the Amazon Fire using American Express points we had collected.

We use our American Express card for all budgeted purchases (groceries, gas, etc.) so that we can get the points for those purchases. This card is paid in full every single month so there’s no debt carry-over. (It’s a method that takes a huge amount of discipline and even still, we fall short at times so beware if you are considering using a credit card to carry all of your monthly expenses.)

Search through all of your expenses to find ways to eliminate payments you have to make.You’ll need to make some tough decisions, but once you take the plunge on swapping the expensive comforts in your life with more economical ones you’ll adjust quickly. You’ll probably even feel better about how you are spending your time, too!

Take the next step toward controlling your money

Now that you’ve faced the ugly that’s been lurking in your checkbook, let’s get down to business on organizing your finances. You need a way to watch your money but you aren’t into budgeting, you aren’t a numbers person, etc. That’s fine. You still need to meet your obligations and you also need to start saving as well as paying down debt. This is the biggest area where people fail in their money management. It’s the failure to see that even though you have money right now, that it’s not necessarily “spendable”. You’ve got obligations down the road that you need to consider before you spend that extra money now.

So how do you do it? You’ve got to find something that works for you, first and foremost. The biggest issue I see with folks I’ve helped over the years is that I can throw solutions their way all day long. But if the method doesn’t click with them, they will not succeed in managing their money. So you have to find something that works for you. It can be an app, a help guru or old fashioned pencil and paper. You can even use the tried and true envelope system!

What we’ve done (I’ll preface this part by saying I’m a huge numbers girl!) is utilize Microsoft Excel to show us how our money moves through a dynamic budget. That means a budget that’s constantly responding to current changes in our spending. So we can see a year from now what our money is doing, what we need, what we can safely pay off, etc. We can see how an expense now affects our goals in the future. Whatever method you choose, it has to be something you’re comfortable using and one that you’ll stick with.

Save or pay off debt?

I think most financial counselors will say the same thing. Manage your debt until you have successfully saved $1,000 as an emergency fund. Then go after debt, smallest first and snowball into bigger debt. What that means is once you’ve paid off the first debt, use the money you used to pay each month to the debt that’s no longer there and add it to the next debt you’re starting to work on. The snowball effect is that you’ll have more money to throw at each bigger debt as you pay off the smaller ones. It’s tough work, it requires a ton of patience and discipline but it’s completely possible to accomplish.

Sign-up To Access Free Budget Tool!

budget tool mainCreating an elaborate budget can be kind of complicated for someone who’s not all that into Excel and formulas, so I thought I would create a little tool to help you manage your month- just one paycheck at a time. In essence, you’re living paycheck to paycheck but this little tool also shows you when you can and when you shouldn’t move money to savings. The key for this to work for you is to be honest and complete with your answers. You can subscribe here and once you’ve confirmed your subscription, you can work through this mini-lesson called ‘The Little Budget Tool That Could’ on budgeting using the tool (you’ll need to have MS Excel in order to use it since it is a spreadsheet).

Basically this will take you through a quick set-up of your month. Then it’ll give you a place to put what actually happens in the course of a month next to what you planned, so you can see how you did compared to your budgeted amounts by category. At the end of your pay period (if you entered your information correctly) it will tell you if you can move some money into savings and if so, how much you can safely move.

The tool will also tell you how much you need to hold on to so you can be prepared for the rest of the month. So if you have some money left over in one pay check but you have a lot of expenses due in the next pay check, the tool will not tell you to move money into savings since you’ll need it to help you pay the next pay period’s expenses.

It’s a simplistic approach to living within your paycheck and your month while still allowing you to start saving. Once you have your goal amount in savings, you can then start working on paying down your debt using the snowball effect I mentioned above.

If you’re ready to get serious about your finances, give this mini-lesson a try and use the budget tool. You may find that you’re able to make headway toward financial stability.

Good luck to you on your financial journey!


Family Finances, Personal Finance, Uncategorized

Top Ten Money Saving Ideas

top ten money saving ideas(This post may contain affiliate links.) So you’re on the way to managing your money but maybe you just need some extra cash. Or you’re still kind of struggling a bit and need to pay your rent with money you don’t seem to have.

No judgment here…for those times when you need to wring out some extra money from your budget, here are a few ways to find some extra money. In fact, it’s our top ten money saving ideas!

1. Buy store brand instead of name brand

Some people seem to think store brand stuff is nasty or maybe they’re just loyal to the brands they grew up on. Not this gal…show me a low price and I will show you the way to my grocery cart. And with store brand, there’s often a 10 for $10 deal, buy 1 get 2 free or something similar. (Side note…10 for $10 doesn’t mean you have to buy 10 to get the deal. You can buy 3 for $3.) So yes, as a matter of fact I will buy you, store brand items and all your little friends who qualify to jump in the cart for free!

2. Buy meat from the grocery store in bulk, then portion and package it for the freezer

top ten savingWhile we’re hanging out at the grocery store, let’s head on over to the meat section. Sometimes there’s big piles of meat or fish that’s discounted because it’s almost at it’s freshness date or sell-by date. I’m looking at you, big long piece of sockeye salmon!! Sell by tomorrow? Ha! By this time tomorrow, you’ll be cut up into serving sizes encased in a freezer burn-safe, vacuum sealed bag thanks to my FoodSaver (which you can buy by clicking here…if you do, I’ll get a little payment but don’t worry, your price doesn’t go up!) This works great for hamburger meat, fish, chicken…whatever. Get a deal, cut it up, vacuum seal it and freeze it!

3. Consignment shops for kids clothes (also try selling kids clothes and gear you don’t use anymore!)

save money clothingI can’t say enough about consignment shops…whether they be year-round stores or pop-up spots like at a church, consignment shopping is the way to go. Imagine paying about $2.99 for a shirt instead of $7 for a child who, let’s face it, is going to smear spaghetti down the front of it. Plus, it’s only going to fit for maybe a single season? Yes, consignment shops…YES!!! Plus, your kid won’t look exactly like everyone else because everyone else shops at all the same places. How many times do I see a little girl wearing a pink shirt with a print of a dog wearing smart glasses and that says “Smarty Pants” across the top?

Consignment shops are also a good place to offload the crap your kids don’t fit or use anymore. Strollers? High Chairs? Bouncy things? Clothing (if it doesn’t look like it’s been through a disaster area)? Those adorable shoes you bought but your kid refuses to wear because they don’t have enough blue on them? Sell it!! You’ll get on average 1/4 of the value of similar items but that’s 1/4 more than you had before you sold it. Bonus: you get extra space in your house!!

4. Can I get that at the Dollar Store??

That’s right…the Dollar Store. A mecca of random crap that, if you plan right, can help you shave money off your grocery bill, your birthday party budget, or your organization attempt spending in general. They always have gift wrap, little kids party paper supplies, goodie bag items, decorations, gift boxes, fake flowers, craft supplies…if you can dream a party, Dollar Store can probably (mostly) make it happen for you. Most of my decorations for my daughter’s recent Tea Party birthday party  came from Dollar Store.

You can also get things like Halloween candy and supplies, dish towels, seasonal items, Christmas decorations, kids puzzles, coloring books, school supplies…the list is endless. Don’t forget about Dollar Store when you’re about to buy stuff. Always ask yourself, “Can I get that at the Dollar Store?” Make it your mantra. Save some cash!

5. Eat at home…use a meal plan and stick to it.

save money eat at homeI cannot stress this enough. Write out what you’re gonna eat for every meal for the week. This helps in several ways, actually. First, you’ve got a game plan that keeps you from saying, “I have no idea what to make for dinner. Eh…let’s just go out to eat.” This is a money suck. You know this. If you have a menu planned and you find yourself saying, “I have no idea what to make for dinner. Eh…let’s just go out to eat.”, you’ll be able to say, “Oh wait, let me look at my handy-dandy menu plan and see what’s for dinner.”

Using a meal plan also gives you a list of what to buy at the grocery store. And this keeps you from buying crap you don’t actually need. Like pumpkin spice snack cakes. So you’re saving money by not going out to eat and you’re saving money by having a game plan when you head to the grocery store. Stick to your meal plan, stick to your budget!

6. Pack your lunch for work.

save money sandwichThat’s right…pack your lunch. You spend anywhere from $8- $15 a day for lunches plus you’re driving your gas-guzzling sport utility to the restaurant and back. A loaf of bread, a package of sliced cheese and a package of deli meat…$9. $9 for the week. Not $75 plus gas money for the week. Heck, you can even dress that sandwich up with mayo, lettuce and tomato. If you’re tight on time, see if you can get one of your kids to make your sandwich. That’s what I do and the kids are happy to “get to make” Momma’s sandwich. That’s right, I’ve somehow stumbled upon making them actually WANT to make my sandwich for me. I know…it’s only a matter of time but I’ll take the help while I can.

Bonus Tip: Make your “morning ride into work” coffee at home. You can even be all organized and crap by setting your coffee pot the night before to start brewing that liquid energy so it’s just waiting for you to pour it into your adorable, REUSABLE (saving money here, too!) coffee travel mug! Look Ma, no hands! I’m being efficient and frugal!!

7. Coupons! Paper and digital. Strategize on sales and BOGO opportunities to stock your pantry (don’t go nuts, though!)

groceriesOk, let me just say I’m not looking for you to be the next extreme guru. But coupons are important in the grocery money-saving strategy. Firstly, it’s just leaving money on the table to not take advantage of coupons for things you normally buy. Secondly, most grocery stores double coupons up to $.50 so there’s even more incentive to try using coupons. Coordinate your coupon usage with store sales to rake in even more discounts and deals on the products you buy. Consider buying more than you need in an effort to stock your pantry. Now, I don’t mean stock your pantry in such as way that you park your car in the driveway because your garage is now your “pantry”. Moderation is key…but having some extra stock on hand is good.

Also, now that we are in the digital era, don’t forget digital coupons! There are some grocery stores that have apps that include their own store-wide coupons that you can load onto your frequent shopper card. Do that! You don’t even need to mess with a newspaper or scissors. Clip coupons while you’re on the potty if you can’t find other time to do it. It’s saved money! Plus, using digital coupons and a frequent shopper card enables the store to see what you like and what you don’t like. Once you move past the invasiveness of this data transfer, you’ll come to realize that the store is now sending you “best customer” coupons and literally every coupon they send is one you can use!

8. If you go out to eat, only do it with a coupon and order water for your drink.

This one’s an interesting one. We started doing this and it really does make a difference! Only go with a coupon. It may be a free cheese dip at your favorite Mexican restaurant. It may be a free combo when you buy a combo. Whatever, it’s saved money. Sometimes you “have to” go out to eat…like with the in-laws, with church friends who want to “after-glow”…sometimes it’s just necessary. At least save while you spend. Use a coupon!

Also…get water. I’m telling you, the biggest restaurant racket is the drink situation. Soda actually only costs like $.10 but that restaurant is charging you $2.99…at least! What the crap?! Get water. It’s free. Our family of five saves almost $15 by drinking the liquid intended for hydrating our bodies. If you want to be a rebel…bring along a water flavor and use that in your FREE water.

9. Turn off the lights, bump up the thermostat, unplug unused appliances

save money houseI can still hear my dad upon coming home from a long day of work. Coming home to literally every light on in the house. “You got the place lit up like a Christmas tree, for crying out loud! Turn some of the lights off!” I can now hear myself saying The.Same.Thing. to my family.

Turn off the lights!!!!! I understand his irritation.

Especially when I am taking trash to the garbage can, which is conveniently located next to the electric meter for the house. I see that little wand spinning and spinning and pinning…Make it stop!! well, you can’t make it stop but you sure can slow it down. Turn off lights when you’re leaving the room. Bump up the thermostat a few degrees. It’s just a few degrees…you can handle it. Unplug appliances you aren’t using…believe it or not, there’s a little bit of juice flowing and just being wasted on those items. Your coffee pot tells time…that’s great. So does the stove top, so does the microwave, so does the phone in your pocket and the watch on your wrist. Unless you’re using the coffee pot for it’s timed brew feature, unplug it.

10. Look at all your existing subscriptions and ditch the ones you don’t use. Hello Barnes and Noble??

Are you using your gym membership? lol probably not. Ditch it! Barnes and Noble? When was the last time you bought an actual book? Does that membership save you enough money to justify having it? Because otherwise it’s just like flushing $25 a year down the toilet. How’s that Netflix membership? You actually using it? If not, let it go. Do you have a monthly subscription to a premium job finding service to help you find that awesome job that you never find? Time to cancel it. $5  here, $7 there…it starts to add up. Really inventory all the money leaks in your budget and patch them up where you can. Keep what you need, ditch the rest. You won’t miss it, I promise.

So, there you go. Some ideas to get your cheapskate juices flowing. Look for money that’s not being spent wisely and take it back. You’ll start to notice it in your budget, the more you find. And the more you find, the more you can keep. Save it! Put it in a safe place and watch it start to grow. You’ll love the feeling of success, no matter how small.

Happy saving!


Do you have any smart saving ideas to share? Let us know in the comments!