If saving or spending less money tops your 2011 resolution list, we’re here to help. Here are my top 10 tips to get started:
- 1. Set a budget. Start by listing the money you spent and what you spent it on over the past three months to get a monthly average. Compare that to what you bring home. You should be spending less than what you earn, with a healthy chunk (think 20%) dedicated to a retirement plan, an emergency fund and paying off any debt. Cut, trim and shave your non-essential expenses to make your money work hard for you.
2. Move more. If you’re like 75% of Americans, losing weight or getting fit also made your resolution list. Remember that being healthy can be a very budget-conscious move. You don’t have to join expensive gyms to get in shape, especially in California where we have a more moderate climate. Meet friends at a local park, lake or trail. Exercising with a group is a great way to get motivated and get outside!
3. Pay yourself first. You are your most important asset. This year, try increasing the contribution you make to your 401k or other tax-advantaged savings account, like an IRA. Increasing your contribution by even 1% makes a small difference in your paycheck, but your retirement will thank you. Next year and every year thereafter, do the same. Your savings will grow quickly.
4. Eat cheap. Cooking at home and choosing healthy options can be very pocket- and family- friendly. Be adventurous and find new recipes online that are simple and healthy! You may even have food leftover to pack for lunch, saving you even more money. At $5-10 a day, brown bagging could save you nearly $2,000 a year!
5. The rolling vacation. This year instead of traveling by airplane and staying in hotels, my family is renting an RV and heading to the mountains! We’ll spend money on gas and the rental, but save money on hotels, airplanes and eating out.
6. Automatic Transfers. Using BranchLine, you can schedule automatic transfers to a savings account with Pacific Service CU or at another financial institution. Set it and forget it to see your savings add up quickly.
7. Date night exchange. Instead of paying that babysitter, how about a date night exchange? You can swap nights out with another couple. Your kids will love the adventure and at today’s babysitting costs, you’ll save a bundle.
8. Rent it. How about a movie rental instead of the movie theatre? The movie kiosk rentals (like RedBox) offer rentals for as little as $1. Better yet, have you been to your local library lately? For a very minimal cost, you have a year’s worth of books and movies for the whole family – even books on CD!
9. Reuse It. Invest in a stylish $5 water bottle and refill it instead of using a plastic bottled water. It’s not only budget friendly, but environment friendly, too. And, you look good doing it!
10. Stop impulse spending. Sounds easy, right? I know it’s not. Try to avoid using your credit card for routine small purchases in order to pay down your debt without adding to it. Sit down with your three-month assessment and see where you can trim. Cutting costs doesn’t have to be dramatic. Small cuts to your expenses can add up to big savings. Do you need that magazine subscription or second latte? How about that gym membership you don’t use? Could you cut down your energy bill by shutting off lights, your computer or turning your thermostat down a couple degrees?
With a little effort and a lot of commitment, you’ll see positive changes in you and your wallet in no time. Happy New Year and good luck!