Money Matters Monday: Tips on Stretching Your Budget for Everyday Needs
A key part of establishing a budget is to be honest with yourself about where your money is being spent. Nobody loves spending hundreds upon hundreds of dollars per month to put food in the refrigerator, pump heat into the house or insure a vehicle against possible loss or damage scenarios. Nevertheless, all of these items are part of basic necessities and therefore have to be addressed in a budget. Many people find themselves in the situation of establishing a budget just to find out that the amount of money coming in is not enough to cover all of the expenses. Faced with this situation, you can either find a way to bring in more money or stretch the money that you do have in your budget to try and cover more expenses. Below are a few ideas on how to stretch your budget a bit further.
Depending on what part of the country you live in, you will find that your utility bill fluctuates month to month, as air conditioners and heaters are being turned up or down. It is often difficult to budget for these bills because you don’t know how much they will be from month to month. In this case, it is a good idea to contact your utility company and see if they have a budget plan available. While this plan will not save you money, it will spread your bill out over a twelve month period so that you pay the same amount every money. A budget plan will allow you to know what to pay each month so that an unexpected, large bill does not cause a budget crunch. While you are looking at utilities, consider ways to save on electricity or gas. For example, you can change to more energy efficient light bulbs, or turn down your water heater by a few degrees. Ask your utility company if they have an energy assessment program where they can provide ways for you to save money on utilities. Also, be sure that you know the poverty guidelines for your area; often utility companies cannot legally shut off your source of heat during cold months especially if you have an infant or an elderly family member in the home.
A large part of many budgets are food and toiletry expensives, which can become very costly month to month. One way to save in this department is to consider buying generic brands for items that you are not brand sensitive. In many cases you will find that the generic brand is as good or better than the name brand that you are paying a premium for. If you are a little leary about buying generic brands, start with just a few items, even that will help you start saving money. For example, a parent may prefer a certain overnight brand of diapers for their kids, instead of putting expensive diapers on the kids all day, they opt to buy a generic brand for daytime usage and reserve the more durable diapers for overnight use. Take a look at the items that you are using regularly and consider if you can afford to be brand specific on every item. Make a list of products that you would consider buying in a generic brand and then take a look at the pricing differences.
Along the same lines of buying generic, consider using coupons for brand names if you must buy a particular brand. If you can bring the cost of a name brand down to be slightly more or equal to a generic brand, then you can afford to continue to be brand sensitive on that item. Couponing is a good way to save some money at the grocery store or big box stores. Our article next week will go into more details on couponing. You want to look for coupons for items that you already buy and strive to save money on those basics (paper towels, toilet paper, cleaners, prepared foods, snacks).
The last suggestion for stretching your budget is to learn and to take advantage of any frequent buyer programs at your grocery store or big box store. For example, my local grocery store has a gas points program. For every dollar spent, I get one point to use for gas. For each 100 points, I get $.10 cents off per gallon of gas on one fill up. My store often has promotions aligned to the gas points, such as buy $50 in groceries, present this coupon and get 300 gas points. Through careful planning of my gas fill ups and paying attention to the various promotions at this store, I am able to stretch my gas budget much further and still stay within my grocery budget. Certainly a win-win situation!
These are just a few small ways to save money within your day to day budget. The challenge is to look carefully at where your money is going and then ask yourself if those items are necessities. After you have reduced your purchases to the necessities, you can research ways to save on those items.
Did you miss out on the earlier Money Matters Monday articles? Click HERE to see them!
Also, make sure you check out my party page to see where I am linking up at.
Have a great week! I’d love to hear the things that you do to stretch your budget.