Boom - then I got my own place and realized that often things cost more than you think they are going to, and dollars can start disappearing pretty quickly. I started planning my spending out a lot more in advance and being diligent about "extras" (such as shopping, going out to eat, etc).
Having a budget has become even more imperative with my new job because I get paid only once a month. That means I have to organize all my spending for the entire month out of one paycheque.
This. Requires. Planning.
The biggest thing I have learned in this journey is that living on a tight budget doesn't necessarily have to be difficult. Trust me I am NOT an accountant, not even close. I hate math and I am not particularly good at it. I find numbers and equations very confusing. I was never taught how to keep a proper budget or balance a checkbook or anything like that.
That doesn't mean that I can't budget - it just means I have to keep it simple (stupid). Here are some (very easy) ways that I stay on track with my spending:
Use Coupons and Discounts Whenever Possible
Ok, I'm nothing like those crazy dedicated folks on Extreme Couponing or anything but I do like a good discount. I pretty much only buy things that are on sale (although there are certain things I always buy regardless, such as milk, eggs and bananas) and I grab discount codes and coupons from various spots on the Internet whenever I can. My boyfriend I have found hotel deals through online coupon codes that are right there, ready for the taking for anyone who looks for them (a quick Google search is often all that is needed).
Some good sites for finding online coupons:
- FRUGAL DAD - He has a great section for coupons from bn.com right now (Barnes and Noble). Book discounts?! YES PLEASE!
- CHEAP SALLY - Check out her coupon codes for Target purchases!
- SMART CANUCKS - I especially like their Grocery section - food prices seem to be rising all the time so these coupons are especially useful.
Get It Down On Paper
I don't know about you, but I am a visual person. I need to SEE something laid out in front of my eyes to really get a full understanding of it. Therefore, keeping numbers in my head is no good - I need to write/type it out.
I keep my budget in a super-simple Excel spreadsheet - I have a tab for each month then within that tab I have a section for "Projected Budget" - this lists each monthly expense that I have and the amount of my paycheque that I am allocating to that expense. This helps me have an idea of how much I have to "set aside" for my fixed expenses, and in turn how much I have leftover for spending money. I also list the date each expense or bill is due to keep myself on track.
Next to this I have an "Actual Budget" section where I fill in how much each expense actually cost me in the end, as well as the date I paid the bill. Most of my bills are the same amount or at least close each month, but obviously with things like power, cell phone and groceries, the cost can depend on the usage. This helps me track what bills I have paid, and see what areas were off from my projections (this allows me to see where I have more or less money that can be added/taken away from other things). Best of all? It takes like 5 minutes to update each time I pay a bill or meet a goal.
Make Putting Money Into Savings Automatic
About six months ago, I signed up for a particular program through my bank that rounds each of my debit purchases up to the nearest dollar and deposits that extra money in my savings account. This means if I make a purchase of $20.55 on my debit card, $0.45 gets deposited in my savings account. This obviously takes a while to add up but it does over time if you use your debit on a regular basis. Plus it's completely automatic - I don't have to think about it at all. That's the key for me, and I am sure lots of others, when it comes to saving money - make. it. simple. This method does not save me huge amounts of money but it gives me at least some peace-of-mind that I am putting a little bit away. And even if I only have another $5 by the end of the month, sometimes those few dollars can be really helpful (like recently when I was a few bucks short on my credit card to buy an e-book I really wanted - I took a few bucks accumulated from my debit deductions and put that towards it!).
Everybody has to find what works for them when it comes to saving money - what works for me might not work for you. But it is definitely important to make it a priority. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can!
(Just don't be SO frugal that you never treat yourself! Everybody deserves a new outfit or a nice dinner once in a while.)