I absolutely love Christmas…the carols, the baking, and the general cheerful spirit. However, my favorite part has always been giving gifts. As one of my love languages, I show those closest to me how much they mean by finding things they never knew they needed or items they won’t buy for themselves. While this way of showing affection has been great for my personal relationships, it isn’t so great for my finances. Every year I tell myself the same thing as the holidays approach…set a budget. And yet, like clockwork I always overspend. When the bills come in January, I have to over-correct to balance my budget. Here are 5 of my budgeting and bill-cutting hacks to get my finances back on track.
Assessing the Damage
For me, the first step when dealing with any problem is to assess the situation. From there, I identify what needs to be done and make a plan of action.
Let’s start by looking at my budget. The monthly spending limit I hold myself to is $1,000. This doesn’t include utilities, bills, groceries, or other living necessities. It typically covers entertainment costs like eating out, travel, transportation, personal shopping, or any miscellaneous things that come up. I also saved an additional $1,000 this year for holiday shopping in December. That gave me a grand total of $2,000 for the month.
Although it was better than most years, I went over my budget by $300. What killed it was another unexpected expense that came up at the worst possible time. Unfortunately, my computer decided to crash. Since I use it daily for work, I had to buy the right laptop for my professional needs. But, this expense put me another $700 over budget. Now, I have to recoup $1,000 from my holiday spending. I decided the easiest way to compensate was to scale back my personal spending budget to $750. Then I could have it covered by April.
5 Budgeting and Bill-Cutting Hacks to Get Back on Track
To reach my savings goal, here are 5 budgeting and bill-cutting hacks that have worked to help me get back on track.
1. Cooking at Home
One of my biggest indulgences in getting take-out food during the week. Managing so many schedules is exhausting. And, it’s easier to not only order take-out, but also have it delivered to your door. But, if you do this regularly, then you know how expensive it can get.
Cooking at home eliminates the higher cost of the food and saves me the money I would usually spend on service tips. In December, this accounted for a quarter of my budget. For January, I cut it back to 10% by preparing my own food. In addition to saving money, I’m also eating healthier, enjoying some of my favorite meals, and learning new recipes.
2. Second-Hand and Upcycled Items
I am very close with my nieces and have always enjoyed having them spend the night. Recent circumstances and health concerns have led to one of them moving in with me temporarily. But, I don’t have a proper guestroom in my new home. So, we needed to find furniture that would make the room more functional and comfortable for her.
Instead of buying something new, we looked to upcycle items we already had or buy them second-hand. Luckily, we already had a mattress that has never been used. Then, my cousin offered a great bedroom set for free since she no longer needed it. Overall it’s in good condition, but some of the dressers needed touch-ups. With a little paint, you can hardly tell there were any dings or scratches. We also repurposed some old frames and printed personal photos. We only had to buy a few organizational and decor items which we found through online marketplaces or local thrift shops for a fraction of the cost.
3. Automated Payment
In the past, I’ve made the mistake of forgetting to pay bills on time. Those fees can really add up, especially if it becomes a habit. To ensure I don’t miss a deadline, I automate payments for all my bills. Then, I set notifications that remind me to pay the ones that can’t be automated. This way I can’t forget.
It also helps me to schedule them all for the first week of the month. First, they are grouped together so I can do it all at one time. Secondly, it prevents me from spending money on other things. Automated payments have been a budgeting game-changer.
4. Comparison Shopping
Over the years, one way I kept the holiday spending down was by comparison shopping. I start looking for deals long before the holidays as well. This year, I found a ton of sales on Black Friday that saved me nearly $2,000 on household items and a new work computer.
Unfortunately, this is where the bulk of my overspending happens. It’s hard for me to resist a good deal. Although I know it’s better to invest in quality items that last a long time, I often buy things I really don’t need just because it’s on sale. By looking around, it gives me time to think it over and find the lowest price out there.
5. Rediscovering Old Hobbies
My final and favorite of these budgeting and bill-cutting hacks has been rediscovering old hobbies. And, many of the activities I enjoy most are absolutely free. Playing games, doing puzzles, reading, and drawing don’t cost a thing.
Since we’ve been spending more time at home, I also find myself cleaning and organizing my space. This has also turned up long-forgotten projects that I never finished. Cutting my entertainment costs has given me a chance to get in touch with my creative side and finally finish those sketches, put together my design projects, or assist my husband with his construction projects. As an added bonus, I enjoy spending more time at home since it clears up space.
One of the unexpected budgeting and bill-cutting hacks I have learned is finding motivation by setting goals. Breaking bad spending habits and living on a budget is hard. However, I realize that with self-discipline and proper motivation it can be done. Setting financial goals helps me stay focused. As of now, I have only spent $425 this month. I highly doubt that I’ll spend enough this week to break my budget. If I can continue to stay under my limit, I’ll reach my goal even faster.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.