Tips for Budgeting When You Really Don’t Want To

This economy sucks.  It’s rotten.  I’ve come to accept that now.  I’ve come to see that things aren’t going to change any time soon.  And I’m not all that happy about it.  I’m single and independent, which means that my own income is the only income coming in.  In the last few years I have drastically changed the way I spend money, not because I want to, but because I have to.  But it’s been this year that I’ve made several changes that I’m actually finding to be incredibly helpful in the bigger picture.  Here are some of them.

1. The biggest and best thing I have done to fix my finances was cutting up credit cards.  I had three credit cards.  That in itself is a long, stupid story.  I got rid of two of them.  How did I do this?  I took out a personal loan and paid two of them off.  Why did I do that? Well, the interest rate on those two cards was embarrassing.  The interest rate on the loan is not.  Credit cards enable you to spend more money.  Loans do not.  Then there’s the whole thing with compound interest that I don’t quite understand.

But you know how credit card invoices have to include all that information about how long it would take you to pay things off and what dollar amount you would actually be paying these days?  It would have taken 27 years for me to pay off those cards.  My loan is for 4 years.  And I’m paying the exact same amount per month that I was paying towards the cards.  AND the amount of the loan that I took out is LESS than the total amount of interest alone that I would have paid on those cards if I’d kept them.  Why didn’t I do that sooner?  I kept one credit card for emergencies.

2. I only spend the money I have.  That means taking cash out of the ATM on payday and ONLY using that cash to buy things (except gas).  When it’s gone it’s gone.  This, by the way, is really hard to get into the habit of doing when you’re so used to being in a plastic culture.

3. I grocery shop like the French now.  Cooking for one is hard.  Grocery shopping for one is even harder.  I waste so much food because I just can’t eat it all before it goes bad.  So I stopped shopping on the weekends and stocking up for the week.  Instead I buy what I want to eat on the day I’m going to eat it.  And guess what?  I rarely go shopping anymore at all.  Partially because when you limit your choices you think more simply and partially because the café where I work allows us to take leftovers home if they’re still in the refrigerator the next morning.  Also, if I go out to a restaurant and spend some of my cash (I love going out to eat, so…) then I usually take some of it home and have a second meal.  I’ve saved a lot of money on food.

4. I bought more underwear.  No, seriously!  I hear you laughing and saying “what?” but because I have just a few more pairs of underwear now I don’t have to do laundry as often.  Every other week instead of every week.  I live in an apartment.  I have to use quarters to have clean clothes.  I’m saving about $10 a month doing this, which is $120 or so a year, which is actually very helpful.

5. I bargain-shop for entertainment.  I don’t have cable or even a tv.  I watch things online or from Netflix.  Movies are definitely out unless it’s a friend-date thing.  Also, my company offers free tickets to sporting events, as I’m sure a lot do, and I take advantage of that.  I also am involved in cricket in Philadelphia, which means I go to matches and participate on the weekend, and that’s free.  And I’m taking this 10 week Yoga class as part of the Hatboro-Horsham Adult Evening School, which cost me a whopping $50.  That’s an incredible bargain AND exercise!

6. I only clothes shop at thrift stores.  Actually, this isn’t new for me.  Call me nutty, but I have always liked thrift stores more than retail stores.  I like having a smaller selection to choose from arranged in a section of my size instead of an enormous store full of tons of choices that may or may not be in my size.  And maybe I have an eye for spotting just the right things, but I have found more awesome clothes at thrift stores than anywhere else.

7. I have learned the difference between “want” and “need”.  This was and continues to be the hardest thing to learn.  There are a lot of things out there that I want.  If I was a millionaire I would keep certain stores in business.  But I don’t actually need any of that.  Sometimes it’s a supreme effort of will to remind myself of that and to hold back, but I have to do it.  Stupid example:  My kettle recently died.  I want very badly to go out and buy a pretty new kettle to boil water for my morning tea.  However, the saucepan that I’m using now boils water just as well as a kettle.  And a kettle is something I can ask for as a Christmas present.  It’s little things like that that add up to big savings. [update: since writing this I actually did buy a new kettle]

So there are just a few things I’ve been doing to fight this economy.  I think I’m also going to have to move to a cheaper apartment, but since I hate moving I don’t want to think about it.  Hopefully some of these suggestions will work for other people out there.

What have you been doing to save money lately?


UPDATE:  Since writing this I also got a second job working two nights a week and Saturdays at Michael’s Crafts.  It’s a nice change of pace from my day job and having a little extra money is very helpful.  Oh, and I published a book that has sold a few copies too.

10 thoughts on “Tips for Budgeting When You Really Don’t Want To

  1. I think money is the one thing that makes me really crazy. It can turn the best day ever into the crappiest. As a quote from Meet Me in St. Louis goes:
    “I loathe, despise and abominate money!”
    “You also spend it.”

    Not having money in this culture of excess is one of the quickest ways to destroy your self-esteem. These are great tips, not only for budgeting, but for how to live well without breaking the bank.

    The way I budget actually involves a credit card. It has a limit that is about what I budgeted for per month. I have any bills I can charged to the card, then I use it for food, gas, etc. I rarely use cash. I just use the card. Then I pay it off every month. On occasion, I don’t have enough to pay it off, but that just means I have to spend less the next month. And a huge bonus for the card is that I get points for every dollar spent, and those points can be used on Amazon. So I use my Amazon points to buy things I want but don’t want to splurge on.

    • Huh. That’s an interesting theory with putting EVERYTHING on credit cards and then paying it off. I don’t know if I could do that. The temptation would be too big. My problem is all those impulse stupid things that I don’t really need but buy anyhow. =P

  2. I “windows” shop. I look around at a website/Amazon for things I want to buy and add them to my cart and then log off. I wait a few days, log back in and chances are all those things I wanted then I don’t really need. I keep doing it for a few weeks and then whittle down what I actually end up purchasing to things I’ve thought about for awhile.

  3. Well done Merry! I had similar issues when I was single. When you have a family, not much changes though, we’re still living off one income but there are three of us now (and babies are expensive). Good idea with the food. I have the same trouble with food going bad, but since I live on a cattle station, I can’t go shopping every day. I’ve decided to do a monthly shop now and I also have a vegetable garden. I’ve put stipulations on us like “Unless it’s Sunday, you can’t open a new packet of biscuits” and it seems to be working.
    It’s amazing what you can do when you have to. I used to think it was difficult to budget on double what we’re getting now, but with a bit of an effort (and not really a lot of sacrifices) we’ve managed to save $20000 in the last 12 months. Here’s how: open another bank account and set up a direct debit to put 10% of you pay directly into it on the day you get paid. I also put in everything I earned that I wasn’t expecting (such as pay for casual work). Compound interest does the rest. Do not spend until you have a deposit for a house, then buy a house.

    • Oh! You just reminded me that I do have a percentage of each paycheck automatically put in an investment account. I also have some taken out for a 401K retirement account (not sure if they have something similar over there, but probably). I’m not even counting that money.

      You’re right though. It’s amazing how much you can do when you have to do it. I’m just hoping this second job I just started will give me enough to do some serious traveling next year. =D

  4. I love this post!

    Ways I have been cutting back:

    I avoid buying meat when possible. Of course this isn’t something I would recommend to everyone because of different dietary needs, but I am finding that I do just as well on other cheaper sources of protein (such as beans, quionoa, peanut butter, eggs, etc) and I don’t need as much meat. Plus, when ever I go out to eat, it usually involves meat anyway, so it is not like I am totally depriving myself of animal protein (and it is kinda like a treat! I feel like a medieval peasant when I say that 😀 ). Not buying meat saves about 8-10 bucks per week, which could potentially add up to 416-520 bucks in savings per year (I am not extremely strict with this rule, so I don’t actually save that much, but I do save a lot).

    I freeze whatever I possibly can. I freeze pre-sliced bread and take out a piece at a time instead of letting it sit on my counter in grow mold. It lasts till the last piece instead of a week or so. When I make soup I freeze the extras.

    I could go on, but I won’t. Can’t wait to hear more about your new supplement job!



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