I don’t know about you, but I had a boatload of food over the fourth of July weekend. The peak of it was at lunch on Saturday when I ate just under 3500 calories for lunch alone. I felt terrible and didn’t eat dinner.
That has motivated me to slim down quite a bit. I haven’t exactly put on weight (after all I’m still about 20 pounds down from where I was when I got married back in 2005) but I am trying to lose the bit I have left to go and just eat healthy to have more energy. Have you been there before?
This got me thinking about Personal Finance and how much it is like getting in shape. Similar to how portion control can help with your financial well-being, exercising your financial knowledge and using that knowledge to trim down can do wonders for your budget.
Continuing the comparison to getting fit, slimming down your monthly bills will give you more energy (read: money) to be able to do what you want, whether it be saving for retirement, or if you’re already saving a lot, being able to save up for that new outdoor living space you’ve been talking about.
If you aren’t even in that position yet where you are able to save even a little bit each month, then slimming down your finances will allow you to live more comfortably, without having to worry about something unexpected coming up as an emergency.
So how do you slim down? Here are four things you can do.
Take a long, hard look at what your actual needs are
Do you really need that $200 dollar a month, 400 channel Cable TV package? My wife and I gave up cable a number of years ago in favor of Netflix and Hulu Plus, each for $7.99 a month. That’s chump change compared to a cable bill.
It’s also a good idea to evaluate your Cellular Date Usage needs. Sure it may be comforting to know that you still have 9 Gigabytes left of data left over each month “just in case,” but after a few months of using less than 2 Gigabytes, I think it’s safe to say that you aren’t going to need it.
Take a long, hard look at your credit card situation
If you had to put a lot of money on a credit card at some point just to meet basic needs, I know how you feel. A few years into marriage, I severely underestimated our taxes. We ended up having to put over $3000 on a credit card to pay off the government right away. Thankfully, we were able to secure a low rate, but it wasn’t interest free.
If you were silly at one point and used your credit card even though you had enough money to pay outright for whatever it is you bought, I know how you feel on that one, too. There have been times when I just didn’t want to “part with that much money at once.” Have you been there before?
The truth is, all of us don’t make the smartest decisions with our money at certain times. If you are in the former category and are struggling to make ends meet, any little bit extra that you have each month should be going to paying off a credit card. It feels so great when you finally do, trust me.
If you are in the latter camp and have the money to pay for things outright then stop using the credit cards. And in that situation start with the card that has the highest interest rate and pay the heck out of it. Get it over with in a few months and move on to the next one. If you are like me and all your credit debt is 0% interest, then I recommend developing a strategy for paying it off that has the highest impact on your monthly bills. The good old “Debt Snowball” method is a good choice as well.
Don’t go out to eat so much
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Have you been in a new relationship where going out to eat is all you do? It’s harder to say no than it looks.
My wife and I did a terrible job of this when we first got married, especially when friends or family want to go out to eat. It was hard to say no for us, too! This is why it’s important for you to budget. If someone invites you out to eat, you can quickly look at your budget. If there is money there, then it’s no problem to go out! If you don’t? “Nope, can’t do it tonight, but thanks for the invite!”
What tipped me over the edge on this was a trip to McDonald’s, ironically. For my wife and I and our older daughter, this particular trip was $19 in cost. That was for one unsatisfying meal at McDonald’s for us. That’s money that could have been spent on multiple meals at the grocery store.
My average breakfast cost at the grocery store is incredibly cheap. Most days I have two whole-grain waffles and peanut butter (see? Healthy! ;)). The entire 10 pack of whole-grain waffles is under $2 and a small thing of peanut butter is about $2.50. So one pack of waffles and one small container of peanut butter lasts me many breakfasts!
Again, it’s ok to go out to eat. Just be sure to budget for it.
Just like when you are slimming down and eating healthy and need an occasional “fat day” so you don’t go crazy, the same thing applies to slimming down your finances. For example, if you pay off a credit card that has been costing you $60 a month, that first month you no longer have that payment do something for YOU with that extra money.
You can take yourself (or you and your spouse) out for a nice dinner, buy that new blu ray you have been eyeing, or treat yourself to a nice massage. Whatever you want to do with that extra $60 you can do. After all it takes hard work and discipline to pay off a credit card and you deserve it. Besides, when the second month comes around and you don’t have that payment , you’ll be putting it either in savings or using it to pay off the next debt.
Just utilizing one of these four tips will help get you out of debt quicker. I would recommend using all of them, though, to really get going. Just don’t use number four by itself. 😉
Just like with eating healthy and living right, financially slimming down is a constant battle. You can be obsessive like me and look at your finances and budget every few days (I’m trying to kick the habit), but I would recommend for the average person to look at it once a month.
A great way to remember this is to do it the first of every month. I like to do it at the end of the month. Once a month also has the added effect of allowing you to think about decisions before making them as well as see how decisions pan out before changing them.
Remember, just like with slimming down physically, slimming down financially will allow for a healthier, more comfortable lifestyle. You will be living below your means, saving for your future, and not having to worry about any emergencies coming up.
Question for you
What are some things that you have used in the past to slim down your budget? And which one do you plan on using now? I’d love to hear!