I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of paying off debt and investing for long-term goals. I preach it to my high school personal finance class every day. However, the real struggle for most Americans is making room in their monthly budget to pay for it. The “pay yourself first” strategy is helpful, but still involves making room for saving or paying off debt in your budget. In the end, it always seems to come back to earning more money and spending less of it.
Both are easier said than done. Asking for a raise is a joke in many industries, and there are only so many hours in a week that you can spend laboring. When it comes to spending, almost everyone could read off a list of things he or she would like to have or even need to have but sacrifice to keep the budget in line.
For me, I don’t pay for television. I mooch off a family member’s account for one subscription service, and I buy an occasional DVD. That’s it. I have never paid for live or on-demand video entertainment of any kind. I watch an occasional sporting event or PBS series, and the rest of the time I spend reading. This is one of many things I do to keep excess expenses down.
Despite that and many other efforts I make to save money, I still feel like Sisyphus pushing student loan payments up the hill, only to have the next statement roll down over me, showing that at age 32 I’m nowhere near done paying for the college degree I finished at age 22. And I still feel like I need to save more for retirement and for a downpayment on a house.
If you feel that way too, here are 2 easy tips that have helped me recently:
- If you can’t make a huge increase in debt repayment, at least round up what you pay on your higher-interest debt payments. Within a few months, you will notice improvement in your statements and even see the minimum statement payments decrease. It gets quick results, and that feels good.
- Track your spending by recording it, using your bank’s expense-tracker for your debit card, or using an app like Mint, Personal Capital, Tiller, or Wally.
Consumer sector corporations are brilliant at getting you to develop bad spending habits: café coffee, gas station soda and candy, eating out too much, not sticking to your grocery list, or impulse-buying at discount stores, department stores, or online. You can probably relate to more than one of those. I certainly can.
For my wife and I, the biggest spending problem right now is food. We are both teachers, and we both have some health problems that rob us of energy. At the end of the school day, we often feel too tired to cook, and are tempted to eat an easy processed meal, grab a pizza, or stop at a quick service restaurant, all of which are usually more expensive than a home-cooked meal, and not great for your health either. To make matters worse, I have a gluten allergy. Those easy processed meals like mac-n-cheese, TV dinners, or frozen pizza cost about 3 times as much when you have to get them gluten free. Putting together 5 gluten-free sack lunches per week is not cheap or easy for me either.
This summer, we came up with a plan to solve our food spending issues, and we were able to get most of it done in one weekend. Continue reading “Bringing Spending Down to a Low Boil”