In honor of Financial Literacy Month, we created a microsite that offers 30 simple steps to financial wellness–one for each day of the month. To enrich the experience, we asked some amazing people to guest post during the month on a topic that is related to the day’s step. Their dedication to financial literacy is truly inspiring! Today, Bargain Babe talks about ways to reduce your day-to-day spending.
I cut my monthly spending by $2,000 by looking at the little picture - my daily spending. Each time I make a purchase, I write it down. The act of scribbling down every penny makes it a lot easier to say no to my credit card.
I start each month with a fixed amount of dollars, which varies for every person. To determine what you can afford to spend on discretionary items like coffee, clothing, and meals out, create a monthly budget.
Once you have a set amount you can spend each month, focus on ways to stretch those dollars.
1. Take a look at where you spend your money and target the three biggest areas for reduction. I like to aim for 10-15 percent less spending in 1-2 areas because slow change is more likely to stick than if you make drastic lifestyle changes.
2. Impose a 30-day waiting period for any purchases more than $100.
3. Before you buy, ask yourself if you could find the item somewhere else for cheaper - or if you can do without it at all?
4. Embrace cooking at home. Dining out and getting take out really adds up quick. Plan meals around what's on sale and make extra portions so you can re-heat leftovers.
5. Find meals you can make from leftovers on Leftoverchef.com. You tell it what you have in your freezer and pantry, and it spits out a few recipes.
6. Buy ahead of need. Start repeating this bargain hunter's mantra, especially at the grocery store. When meat goes on sale, buy two or three times as much as you will eat that week. When prices rise again, you will have enough to tide you over.
7. Stock up on items that freeze well or have a relatively long shelf life, including meat, frozen vegetables, bread, canned goods, cereal, butter, yogurt, rice, pasta, staples, nuts, baking goods, spices, and alcohol.
8. No one grocery store has the lowest prices on everything. Not even Costco. So take a good look at prices and follow the deals. In my neighborhood I like Trader Joe's, the 99 Cent Store, and a few ethnic markets for produce and staples.
9. Get a library card. At most public libraries you will find books, CDs, DVDs, and free WiFi.
10. Get online. There are dozens of fabulous Web sites that will help you save money. Retailmenot.com is great for online shopping coupons, Yapta.com will track your flight and email you about getting a refund if the price drops. BillShrink.com suggests alternatives for lower-priced cell phone plans that are similar to yours and offers tips to maximize credit card perks or lower fees and interest rates.
11. Start asking for a discount. Negotiating a lower price is all about using a friendly tone, having information that proves rivals have the item for less, and getting up the guts to ask. Be persistent and try to get the sales representative on your side, as opposed to strong arming them into cutting you a deal.
12. Encourage thriftiness. Reward yourself for finding ways to live for less.
13. Alter your mindframe. Instead of feeling restricted by spending limits, think of how you are empowering yourself by being able to do so much with little or no cash. You are not bound by money, but by your creativity.
Julia Scott writes the savvy-spending blog Bargainbabe.com. She is a cheapskate by nature and a journalist by training.