Stay Strong and on Budget

This is one of the hardest times of the year for me to continue setting money aside. For one, the money we earmarked for gifts has been spent, which makes the total in our account look smaller than usual.

I’ve learned some techniques to stay on the savings course from my dear mother. She went back to college as an older student almost 35 years ago.

When I started Kindergarten, it seemed like the perfect time for Mom to go back to college, finish her Bachelor’s degree and get a teaching certificate. This involved securing a student loan, choosing the school, finding a place to live across the state, finding schools for children, and finally mothering while completing a full load.

Money was tight, of course, but my parents developed several tricks to make things not seem miserable. Applying these tricks to my life today has helped me in times of financial temptation.

Review your budget: Review your budget with your financial partner to reinforce what you’re doing with your money. Discuss your goals for savings and decide if your current actions are still relevant. If you’ve had any modification in the flow of money because of jobs or housing changes, this is the time to update your financial figures as well.

My husband and I went over our numbers and found we were still on target for our spending despite the noticeable increases in food and the spike in gas this past year. That was a happy surprise and reinforced us that our new goal of building our savings to cover six months of expenses is within our capabilities.

Cash or credit? It is wise to know which spending method works best for you. For me, I am not trustworthy with cash in my wallet. It is far too easy for it to seep mysteriously out of my wallet. By restricting myself to only using a debit card, I feel more in control. I can track my purchases online through my bank and keep a record updated in our financial software.

Others, like my in-laws, have a lot more self-control with cash. My mother-in-law puts all the cash for each variable bill in envelopes at the start of the month — one for groceries, one for gifts, etc. When the envelope is empty, no more is purchased in that category. This trick works for her because she has the visual reminder of her stack of cash getting smaller as the month proceeds.

Treat yourself…carefully: The trick here is to have a mental list of several things you like to do that are inexpensive. During Mom’s college days, we would get ice-cream. It cost only a few dollars in those days for us each to get a scoop. Today, I continue the comforting ritual of ice-cream, with just a little modification – we get the box of popsicles on sale at the store.

Visit free stuff: It was great living in a college town when I was little. There were a lot of master’s music students who had to perform a final concert and other musicians who gave concerts for fun. Most of these concerts were free to the public and we spent many weekends evenings listening to these aspiring musicians.

At this point in time, I can’t persuade my small, active children to sit through a classical music concert, but I can take them to our local museums the first Friday of the month when admission is waived. This often coincides with the time the museums change their exhibits. We get a new experience, and it costs just the gas in the car to get there.

Way off the rack: Nothing cheers me up like a new (to me) sweater on a wintry day. I visit the second hand stores first because of the incredibly low prices and high-quality offerings. If I can’t find something there, I’ll browse through ultra-discount retailers like Old Navy. Thanks the nasty economy, their prices are even lower as they try to reduce their inventory.

Turn off the advertising: Whether I’m watching television, browsing the Internet, or driving in the car, advertising is everywhere. It really hit me one day when my children were watching Saturday morning cartoons. They excitedly told each other after a particularly good commercial, “I’ll get that for you next time we’re at the store!” While I had no plan to complete such purchases, it struck me how a mere television commercial could inspire such want in my brood.

Now if I hear my kids start that discussion, I’ll turn off the television and steer them onto some other activity.

I wish the best of luck to you in 2009 in meeting your financial goals. Controlling your desires is as important as making more money. It is good to treat yourself a little; just don’t ruin your budget

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One Response to Stay Strong and on Budget

  1. I love that idea about putting cash in labeled envelopes. That’s such a wonderful idea! I may have to give that one a try, I would just worry about losing my wallet or it getting stolen. Hmmm…perhaps a personal modification is in order.

    I prefer to use debit over credit myself, as it forces me to ask the question, “Can I afford this right now?” But the problem with the card is that I have a harder time tracking what I have and what I’ve spent because I don’t tend to go into my bank statements.

    Great ideas! Thanks for the info!

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