Summer is just around the corner, and while some are worrying about sculpting their summer physiques, my concern focuses more on trimming up my summer budget. Summer is a spend-heavy season, synonymous with vacations, road trips, and even smaller-ticket items like ice cream trips that can still really add up.
I want to enjoy all of that, but I want to be able to do it guilt free. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to cut down spending before summer, so that your savings won’t take a hit when it’s time to get up and get out. The money you save can help you pay off debt using the debt snowball spreadsheet.
Enjoy What You Have
It may seem like a trivial bit of advice, but psychological evidence is stacking up to suggest that creating a positive mindset when it comes to what’s already in your life can help you control larger habits, including spending.
The underlying ideology is that creating contentment with what one has counteracts the need to refresh or replace; a need that’s constantly fed to us, because the free market is only as good as its ability to sell in the marketplace.
Think about the mania surrounding the iPhone as an example. We all know someone who lines up at midnight to be one of the first to get their hands on a new generation, even when they had a perfectly functional piece of technology beforehand.
We want the new phone because it’s supposed to be better, more capable, and have a more rewarding user experience. At the end of the day, though, a new phone might alter our mood for a few hours, but what does it do for us long-term that one generation previous couldn’t?
Small things like simply writing down a few things you appreciate in your life and taking the time to do things you can enjoy for free can get your mind off of spending and help you focus on the material items in your life that are truly, functionally worth the cost of addition or replacement.
Here are a few free things worth trying that might just lead to a pretty great time:
- Going for a walk through a nice part of town
- Checking online for free neighborhood activities or festivals
- Finding a museum with a free admission day
- Organizing a game night or fantasy sports league
- Using sites like Meetup.com to meet people who share similar interests
You’d be surprised at how many fun ways there are to pass the time that don’t cost a penny, especially during the summer season.
Set No-Spend Goals
Once your head is in the right place, challenge yourself to not spend outside of necessity. The Budget Diet ran the numbers, and if you cut down spending by $13 a day, you could save $400 a month, which comes out to around $4,800 a year.
Living completely no-spend is difficult, but going no-spend for short bursts can help cut out those unnecessary costs, such as impulse buys, entertainment costs, and even things like clothes and shoes that are eating up thousands of dollars of savings a year. Spending only on necessities such as bills, groceries, and gas for even a week can add up.
Take me, for example. I have a set food budget every month that gets me more than enough at the store to get by. For the sake of convenience, though, I rarely bring lunch and thus spend about $10 five days a week grabbing a bite. If I went no-spend for one week, my lunch expenses alone would save me $50.
The idea of no-spend is not to get you to give up all spending, but rather to create short savings bursts that can help you better evaluate what is really worth your time and cash. Free apps like GoodBudget and Mint can even help you keep track of your spending easily and on the go.
Minimalism is as hot a trend in finance as it is in design, and believe it or not, the two actually kind of pair. This is a big and small change coupling, where you need to go through both your current space, expenses and see what you can cut.
Minimizing things like clothing, furniture, and home décor is a cent-on-the-dollar kind of change that can not only help with creating a clear headspace when it comes to cash, but will also save you a little bit each time you downsize since there is less that has to be cleaned and maintained, meaning less spending on things that aren’t that important.
The next step is go through and financially clean up those things that you’re actively paying for, but don’t really need. If you’re paying for a cable package, for example, but spend most of your time binge watching Netflix, cutting your package down to just internet could be a savings of $100+ a month.
Go through your services, utilities, insurance, etc., and see what can be cut down based on what you actually use. Pay specific attention to services like car insurance, cable and internet, cell phone plans, and anything that comes in bundles. You may be able to cut it down to just the services you need and save in the process.
Change Your Transportation
There are a lot of ways to save on transportation, especially if you drive yourself. Taking advantage of even one of these even once a week can cut some major fat from the gas budget:
- Take public transportation
- Walk or bike to work
- Participate in a commuter carpool
- Take advantage of pretax commute payment options
Changing the way you get to work can greatly impact the way you save. Paying with pretax dollars, alone, can save commuters hundreds a year without even having to change the way they get around, and the American Public Transit Association estimates that by switching from driving to transit, commuters could save between $8,960 and $14,612 annually. I was actually very surprised when I saw this.
Cut Back On Inflating Items
A good beer is one of the great indulgences in my daily life, but did you know that between July and August of 2018, the average cost of alcohol and tobacco products went up by 1%? Considering that’s just one month, that’s a climb worth noting.
The good news is, these things tend to move in cycles, and prices both rise and fall over time. Keeping track of what’s on an upswing (such as alcohol) and where deals are good (such as gas) can help you prioritize your spending so that you can focus more money on what will get you further.
If you really do have a bar you’re seeking to stock, fear not. There are plenty of Apps that can help you compare prices both in store and online to help you make sure you’re getting the best deal on those things you just can’t do without.
Sell Before You Buy
If spending really must be on the table, you might as well get a return on it, even if it’s small. Look at selling earlier versions of the items you’re looking to purchase, especially for larger items like new technology, household appliances, or anything that’s going to take three or four figures out of your account.
Selling off your old wares won’t cover the full cost of the new one, but it will help recoup some of the budget, and mitigate overall costs by tens of percentages at a time. Items with the highest resale value on private listing online marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist include:
- Cell phones
- Power tools
- Yard equipment
- Gently used furniture
- Motorcycles and scooters
- Large household appliances
Through a mix of cutting expenses, smart spending, and a healthy mental attitude when it comes to money, getting your budget in line before summer is completely possible. Of course, these things are good year-round, but now’s the time to rake in the savings so that you can enjoy fun in the sun without any added financial stress.
I was a lucky kid when I was in high school. The car I inherited came with, among other things, a little DVD player in the glove compartment and a screen which flipped down from the ceiling. When I was feeling less than studious, I would sneak out to my car and watch a movie instead of going to another weary study hall.
It was a fun distraction, but it was murder on my battery, and replacing a car battery when you’re earning minimum-wage from a part-time job isn’t the easiest task. Even as you get older, those little car expenses can quickly add up. They don’t have to, though. In fact, there are a bunch of things you can do to save money on your car, and they really don’t require a great deal of time or effort.
Check Your Fluid Levels
It doesn’t take a mechanic to do this, and if your mechanic tells you it does, don’t go back to their garage. Checking a few basic fluids on your own comes with two-fold savings. First, by checking yourself, you’re saving the cost of having someone else do it for you. Second, by regularly checking your fluids, you know when something might need to be replenished or replaced, saving you from damaging parts down the road.
You don’t need to be a mechanical whiz to check your car. There are an endless number of guides to teach you what to look for, including:
- Engine oil
- Transmission fluid
- Brake fluid
- Windshield washer fluid
- Power steering fluid
You can replenish some of these fluids yourself without any hassle beyond locating a cap. How awesome is that?
Check Your Filter
This is another incredibly easy DIY operation. Your car’s air filter can weigh down your engine efficiency, with some estimates saying you can lose up to 10% of your gas mileage with a dirty filter. Spare yourself the extra cents at the gas pump and check your filter once a month. It’s not something that necessarily requires replacing, either. You can clean it with an air hose, reducing the number of replacements you have to pay for while still helping you maintain the best fuel economy.
Keep Your Tires Inflated
You know it’s good to not drive on a flat, but don’t just eyeball it when it comes to your tires. You can check and fill them in a few seconds at the gas station (often for free). Plus, keeping your tires properly inflated can increase your gas mileage by a few percentage points per tire. Meaning, you can get more value out of what you put in at the pump. Proper inflation also helps the tires last longer, so you won’t be spending money replacing them on a regular basis.
Check for Insurance Discounts
You don’t have to change your whole policy to save on your car insurance. Many providers offer discounts or incentive programs you can take advantage of simply by being a good driver. See if your insurance company gives an accident-free bonus for safe driving. If you are a student driver or you have one on your policy, ask about the good student discount. You can motivate yourself to study while you save.
Take Public Transit or Carpool
An easy way to save money on your car is to not drive it as often. If you live in an area where public transportation is available, consider taking it on occasion. Avoid parking nightmares by taking the bus or train to a show or event, or enjoy your night out a bit more without worrying about driving home impaired.
Another easy option is to carpool. Yeah, you might have a few extra people in your car every once in a while, but you’ll be reducing the distance you’re driving on a regular basis, which means you’re spending less on gas, putting less costly wear on the car, and even being a bit environmentally conscious in the process.
Don’t Idle Unless Necessary
You’re going to have to run your engine if you’re stuck in traffic, but if it’s a cold winter day, you don’t need to let your car warm up before you head out. Newer cars are built to run efficiently a few seconds after ignition, so sitting around waiting for your car to warm up is wasting gas.
Instead, give your vehicle long enough for you to put on your seatbelt and adjust the radio, and then don’t be afraid to get going. If you find your new car is having trouble turning over in the cold, don’t be afraid to seek out a mechanic’s help before you end up with a much larger, more expensive problem.
Pay for the Help You Need
There are a lot of simple things you can do on your own when it comes to your car, but one of the most costly mistakes you can make when it comes to maintaining your vehicle is to assume being able to do some things means being able to do them all. Like anything else, your car will experience wear and tear and at some point, you’ll need to get the lights checked, investigate some noises, or have real maintenance completed by a professional.
Don’t wait too long when it comes to routine maintenance, or it could end up leading to more costly damage. Instead, find a mechanic you can trust, and work with him or her to make sure your car is properly maintained at regular intervals. It might not seem like the cheapest option upfront, but it’s a lot cheaper than having to pay for a new, non-damaged car.
Let’s face it – you could always use another money-saving strategy. While looking for loose change in your couch cushions is all well and good, you are trying to make serious progress towards paying off your debt or saving up to reach a goal. Unfortunately, you’ll barely make a dent with a roll of dimes.
I’m not knocking penny collection as a valid way to meet your financial objectives, but you should also think big-picture. To construct a budget that will withstand surprise costs, you’re going to have to plan ahead. Calculate how much money you’re going to spend unexpectedly in the coming year. If you read that last sentence slowly, you’ll see the problem. How could anyone possibly predict when they’re going to need a bunch of cash on hand?
The truth is, nobody has a crystal ball, but there are five distinct ways you can take action now in order to avoid going into debt in the future.
1. Pay Attention to Your Home and Vehicle
When was the last time you checked your car’s tire pressure? When was the last time your home’s HVAC system was serviced? These are questions you should know the answer to, because they can save you hundreds of dollars every year not only by preventing repairs, but by making both your vehicle and your home run smoother and more efficiently. Here are some specific ways to prevent high repair costs:
Regularly Service Your HVAC System
In the summer months, you can lower your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 15% if you regularly change the air filters. The system will not have to work as hard, resulting in a longer life span. You can also make sure no grass, weeds, or leaves get within two feet of the outdoor unit by doing regular yard work – making it easier for the system to draw in air from the outside.
Each year, make sure you have a professional clean the HVAC system’s drain and make sure no ducts are blocked. The cleaning will cost you an annual fee, but the amount can be scheduled into your budget far ahead of time – better than paying up to $500 plus labor for a new HVAC fan motor, because the old one was overtaxed and under-serviced.
Check Your Car’s Tire Pressure
While it’s a matter of debate whether cars need an oil change every 3,000 miles, you can bet your tires need to be filled at regular intervals. Every time you lose 3.0 PSI, you also lose 1% of your fuel efficiency. You won’t believe what deflation does to your actual tires! If you keep your tires properly inflated, they can last an additional 1,143 miles. With worn-out tires as one of the top vehicle maintenance costs, why not part with a few quarters to delay paying for a whole new set?
2. Schedule Regular Doctor Visits and Live Well
When it comes to your health, nothing can be gained from putting off your annual physical. Catching diseases before they escalate is a sure way to both live longer and not pay as much in medical bills, and regular health screenings are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Want to know how much the average American family pays in out-of-pocket healthcare expenses? $9,144! You should be proactive about getting a physical, as well as actively budget for prescriptions and co-pays.
Chances are, you’re paying for your healthcare plan whether you use it regularly or not. Why not make it a point to get screened? Then, you could potentially avoid ten of the most common, most expensive medical conditions, as reported by Forbes.com.
Here are a few:
- Cancer – $49,000
- Hemophilia – $62,000
- Coronary Artery Disease – $75,000
If you have a cost-share plan with your medical insurance company, you might end up paying for almost half the total cost of treatment. Believing you’ll never get seriously ill is not a good outlook – most people have this mindset until something happens to them. See your doctor on the regular and stick to a healthy diet and fitness plan.
3. Plan Out Your Meals
You might not be Julia Child, but you can follow directions. You’re reading this article, aren’t you? Shopping and cooking (or microwaving) for yourself will not only result in a healthier you (see #2 on this list) but can save you hundreds – possibly thousands – in the future.
Before you buy the latest and greatest cookbook, invest in these two items:
- Crock-pot slow cooker
- Plastic bins to freeze food
There are two main benefits these items will provide: you can easily make your food ahead of time and have it cook while you are gone, and you can make it in bulk. Now on to the execution of your food proactivity.
First, devote one day of the week to meal preparation. Then, follow these steps:
- Pick out a few recipes that have less than five ingredients.
- Make a list of ingredients to buy.
- Go to the store and stick to a budget.
- Go home and start cooking.
- Freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions for future fast reheat.
Your dinners are set for the week, or weeks, depending on how much you cooked. When you come home from work starving, tired, and ready to switch on Netflix and pass out, you will no longer be tempted to drop $20 on Chinese takeout. Not only that, you’ll have set a grocery budget and stuck to it.
You can also save money by packing your lunch. Go to your local deli and look at the sandwich prices – $6, maybe $9 for a combo. Instead, buy a loaf of bread – $3. Buy a pound of chicken breast – $5. Buy a pound of cheese – $5. For only about double the price of eating one sandwich, you get six to eight sandwiches. Even if math isn’t your strong suit, you can see the payoff here.
4. Budget for Holiday Shopping
In 2018, holiday shoppers spent an average of $801 each. That is a giant number for your budget to absorb in one month. What if you spread that cost out over the course of a year? Even as a monthly expense, your holiday shopping budget will cost you around $66 per month.
If you’re the type of family member who likes to spoil their relatives, that number could get even higher. And that’s only counting the gifts that you’re purchasing for friends and family. What about wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and bags? What about travel expenses to visit distant family? What about hosting a holiday party at your own residence and buying food, alcohol, and decorations?
The costs can rise quickly and you might find yourself tempted to just “put a little on the credit card.” If you WANT to be paying off last year’s holiday gifts until next summer, be my guest. However, if you want to get ahead of the game and have plenty of money to enjoy yourself and be Santa Clause to everyone else, start planning for next year’s holiday right away.
Put money aside monthly, after you get your tax return, or after another windfall of cash. Recognize the holiday season is something to save for in order to keep your budget intact.
5. Anticipate Family and Friends’ Life Events
If you thought your gift-giving stopped at the holidays, you were wrong. Birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers, weddings, funerals, anniversaries, christenings, baptisms, and more cause you to shop until you drop.
You’ll know your parents’ golden wedding anniversary is coming up well in advance – so plan for it. You might not know your sister is planning on getting married – but once she gets engaged, plan for it. It’s not just the holidays that require thought and preparation, but caring for everyone else in your life too.
Here’s a suggestion: don’t just save blindly. You’re not restricted to one savings account. You can have multiple accounts at no charge just by meeting a minimum balance. Make sure one of your savings accounts is geared specially toward events requiring you to spend money. You’ll feel awesome when you’re able to contribute to someone else’s happiness, especially since it doesn’t require you to swipe that credit card or take out a loan.
After reading this list, you’re probably exhausted. Being proactive takes work! Now you’re getting the point. By putting in extra thought, extra care, and extra time, you can and will avoid major expenses that could seriously rock your budget, your plans, and your life.
Whether you’re saving for a wedding, an exotic vacation, or you simply want to establish an emergency fund after a financial crisis, you need a plan in order to achieve your big goal. Saving money isn’t always easy and if you don’t already have a habit of socking away a portion of your savings from each paycheck, now is a great time to start.
According to Bankrate.com’s June 2018 Financial Security Index, 27% of Americans surveyed do not have any money set aside in an emergency savings account. However, 72% of those surveyed who made more than $75,000 per year had at least three months’ in an emergency savings account compared to just 35% of those who made less.
Adopting and sticking to a gradual savings plan can help you set aside money for bigger goals while securing your financial future.
Use these tips to gradually save for a future purchase:
Set Weekly Goals
When you’re just getting into the savings mindset, it’s important to set small goals which will eventually lead to bigger goals. Try to save a certain amount of money each week and slowly build up from there, so you can stick with your plan and stay motivated. Give yourself some time to reach your smaller goals, so you avoid feeling overwhelmed before setting larger ones.
Use a Smartphone App
If you have a hard time keeping track of your money, download a smartphone app. Apps make it easy to visualize your savings goals and monitor your accounts at the touch of a button. You can keep costs in check and put together a realistic budget with the help of apps like Mint.com, Budget Ease, and LearnVest. Our personal finance app can also keep your finances in order.
Try Online Banking
One of the great things about setting up an online savings or checking account is being able to organize your funds easily, as well as create savings categories for different purchases. If you have a hard time keeping track of your goals and prefer to manage your finances online, consider opening an online savings account.
Shop around to find a bank that offers an online savings account with high interest rates and low fees. To help you get started, here is a list of some of the best online savings accounts for 2019.
Operate on a Cash-Only Basis
Make things easier on yourself and maximize your hard-earned dollars by making sure you are only spending a portion of what you have – and socking away the rest. Avoid using credit cards or loans in order to keep your finances in line and maintain realistic budget parameters.
Breaking the credit habit may be difficult at first, but it will be much easier to bolster your cash reserves when you are no longer relying on credit.
Be Very Specific About Your Goals
Sometimes you may lose the motivation to save money simply because you do not have a concrete goal. Not surprisingly, if you aren’t inspired, you will have a hard time staying the course. Write down at least two or three major savings goals and imagine how it would feel to achieve them.
Visualize going on the vacation you’ve always dreamed of, buying the car you’ve always wanted, or paying for your fairy-tale wedding without blowing your budget. Write down your estimated costs, so you can work with a clear goal in mind.