personal finances — June 21, 2016

How to Start Saving Part IV

by Susannah McQuitty

Last week we talked about underspending your budget by targeting Wants and Comforts. Here are the steps we took:

  1. Break your budget into daily spending limitsSave big by living light icon
  2. Give UP one thing that is within your budget every day
  3. Get emotional: use cash for purchases or check balance every time
  4. Put savings out of reach

Are you ready to begin the last week of Budget Bootcamp? Let’s do this!

Week 4: Saving Big by Living Light

Time to take your biggest step yet: Underspend your Survival budget.

Yeah, we just went there, but we wouldn’t ask you to do something that’s impossible. In fact, once you realize how much money you can save in the Survival category, you’ll find that it’s well worth the effort.
We’re going to look at the big three Survival items—gas, groceries, and bills—and dig up some ways to save on all of them.

This week’s challenge is to take a couple ideas from each category and try them out. You get to pick and choose! You may already be following some of these tips, so be brave: try something new. See where you can save and take note.

Buckle in: Week 4 is underway!

GroceriesGreen beans and almonds simmer in a wok on the stove.

Cook.

I know, I know. It is, after all, a four-letter word. It’s messy, takes time, and, let’s face it, we’ve all set off the smoke alarms at some point – and most of the time it was just microwave popcorn. Forget trying to cook a full meal, right?

Put this down as one of those urban myths. You can do this, and better yet, you can do it and save money.

  • Hit up some food blogs: There are thousands to choose from! Find two or three, check out recipes, and learn about the ingredients. Need a tutorial? Head over to YouTube. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about cooking—and how easy it is not to burn the house down.
  • Plan out your meals: Figure out what you want to eat over the week and write down the ingredients so you know what to buy. I’ve made the mistake of buying a bunch of random basic ingredients and only realizing later that I have no way to combine them (there’s only so much you can do with a bag of onions and a spice rack).
  • Buy ingredients efficiently: You’ve got to learn where to cut corners and where you can splurge a little. You may want to buy some really nice spices, or you could get cheaper seasoning and go with a nice cut of meat. It’s up to you! Just remember to stay within the amount that you’re used to spending. You’ll be surprised how easy that is!

Gas

Driving on a winding road in the sunshineThere’s only so much you can do to control what you spend on gas, but don’t lose hope! Here are some tips to point you in the right direction.

  • Carpool: If you have roommates, you can coordinate grocery trips and alternate who drives. Do any coworkers live near you? Work out a driving schedule. For the newlyweds with two cars, ride together as often as possible (hey, more time together!).
  • Slow and steady: Try to make sure the tachometer on your dashboard reads below 2,000 RPM as much as possible. When you’re accelerating after a red light, take your time. Leave a bit earlier and drive slower; you’ll save gas and drive more safely – definitely a win-win.
  • Walk or bike: This may not be an option for everyone (I mean, I live in the mountains—you won’t find me hiking to work any time soon), but if it’s doable, give it a try! You could even combine this with carpooling by walking to a friend’s workplace for a ride after work.

And as a bonus, if you’ve been cooking and packing lunch, that’s less gas to spend driving to a restaurant on lunchbreaks! Homemade turkey sandwich for the win.

BillsGirl wipes tears with cash before paying bills

These will take longer to show results, but let me tell you, little things add up! Being efficient with your water and electricity is a long-term investment that really pays off.

Electricity

  • Hit the lights when you aren’t using them.
  • Unplug devices and appliances that aren’t in use. Weird? Believe it or not, electronics that are plugged in still sap energy, even if they’re turned off. Look out for TVs and computers in particular.
  • Charge your phone in the car, at work, or at school instead of overnight.
  • Adjust the air conditioner and buy fans if warm or a sweater if cold.

Water

  • Only wash full loads of laundry and dishes.
  • Use the sink disposal less, since it requires running water.
  • Fill the sink with water to wash dishes instead of using running water.
  • Reuse bath towels before washing them.

Wants and Comforts

  • Video streaming: How often do you use it? Could you afford to downgrade?
  • Cable or satellite TV: Is it necessary? Do you need all the channels you pay for?

Look for other services you pay for on a monthly basis. Can you give anything up? It can be hard to let go, especially if you’ve had these sneaky Wants and Comforts for a long time, but think about it this way: wouldn’t you rather have the channels when you’re retired and can actually use them?

At the End of the Week

Since bills are harder to track over the course of one week, simply keep a list of everything you gave up this week. Take note of how often you checked to see if the lights were out, how many times you carpooled, and so on. Once you get your bills again, compare the amounts with past months to see how much you saved!

For your groceries, compare how much you spent when you were cooking to how much you spent going out to eat. Put the money you saved with your savings from Week 3.

The Last Step

You’ve sacrificed a lot of time and energy for this moment!

Pull out that jar you’ve put your savings in and count the money you saved on Wants, Comforts, and Survival during Week 3 and Week 4. Let’s say that, altogether, you saved $50.

Now you know you can save at least $50 every month!

Every time you pay your bills from now on, treat your savings account as a bill, too. You have to pay at least $50 into a savings account each month, but remember, you’re paying it forward. As time passes, your savings will grow, and the rainy days ahead will thank you for that.

There are several different kinds of savings accounts to look into, from the basic savings account to certificates of deposits (CDs) and money market deposit accounts. Talk to your banker to see which type of account is the best suited for your needs.

And there you have it! You’ve started saving.

The four Budget Bootcamp icons together

The Budget Bootcamp Breakdown

You’ve learned to face your old spending habits, practiced self-control to build good ones, and learned how to make life less expensive so you can put some money away.

Our Budget Bootcamp all comes down to these five steps:

  1. Record what you spend money on
  2. Analyze your spending
  3. Get a game plan
  4. Don’t overspend your budget
  5. Try to underspend your budget a little bit every day

We hope you’ve learned a lot and had a great experience. Personal finance takes hard work, but no one said it couldn’t be fun along the way!

Next Week: Heads up, newlyweds!

It’s well into June and the wedding bells are ringing off their hinges! Marriage is a huge, wonderful change—and some of the areas that are going to be new include managing your finances, taxes, bank accounts, and these newfound savings you’ve been working on. How do you begin?

We’ll give you the insider’s scoop next week!

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