Most of us worry about money -- how to earn it, how to save it, how to manage it, how to get as much as we can while spending as little as possible. Often, the most straight-forward and simple money-saving tricks work well but, at some point, “just spend less money” isn’t helpful advice. How do you spend less money when you’re spending it on essentials? What if you can’t tighten the monthly budget?
Here are a few things to try:
- Use credit cards wisely. Most get-out-of-debt experts urge you to freeze your credit cards (often literally, by putting them in a zip-top bag filled with water and stowing them in your freezer, so you have time to rethink your impulse purchase while you wait for the plastic to thaw). It’s great advice if you’re stuck in a deficit-spending rut, but if you choose a credit card with some sort of bonus — cash back, points, frequent flyer miles — and you pay the bill in full each month, you’re getting more for your money than just the stuff you had to buy anyway.
- Buy the bargains. You know you'll have to buy presents for people at some point; you might as well buy them when you find them at a great price. The Work It, Mom! Daily Deal can help you find the best bargains out there!
- Clip only certain coupons. Why spend $4.99 on something when you can buy the same item for $3.99? But only clip coupons for things you're buying anyway; you don't save money if you buy something you normally wouldn't, no matter how great the sale price.
- Take advantage of pre-tax opportunities. Any time your employer offers you the chance to put money aside (dependent-care or medical spending accounts, for instance) or pay for something (like your health-care premiums) on a pre-tax basis, do it. It lowers your taxable income, for one thing and, for another, you end up paying less out-of-pocket in the long run. Think of it this way: If you’re in the 28-percent tax bracket, you have to earn about $139 in order to spend $100 in post-tax dollars. Wouldn’t you rather put that “extra” $39 to good use?
- Keep track of your spending. You need to do more than simply balance your checkbook these days. Tracking your spending can help you stick to your budget, and it also helps you understand where your money is going, so you can adjust when you need to and plan when you’re able. The tools at Mint.com are great for this. After tracking four months worth of our credit card spending, I discovered that we’ve actually been spending more money on gas lately than we have on food. Time to figure out a way to start saving up for that hybrid!