If you’re still recovering from an unexpectedly high tax bill this year (or a smaller refund than you’d hoped for), that doesn’t mean that your 2013 budget is without hope for savings and extra spending cash. Organization can go a long way when it comes to sorting out where your money is going and allowing your household or business to meet its needs and wants.
Here are some ways to cut back on everyday expenses and recover from a hit to your wallet, without making any drastic lifestyle changes.
Sorting through all the financial paperwork
Bills, receipts, bank statements; the constant onslaught of financial paperwork can be overwhelming. Time is money and you don’t want to repeatedly waste it by sifting through pile after pile of clutter.
Filing is your greatest friend in this situation, and it just comes down to creating a folder system you can easily stick with. Separate bills that have been paid from bills that need to be paid. Designate an envelope for receipts, and another for statements and invoices. Have one folder that holds only your work W-2 or W-9 forms. This will also help you be able to quickly access your tax records from previous years to know how much more (or less) you’re going to be paying the IRS and adjust your budget accordingly.
Stick to your budget
The goal here is simple: make a budget and don’t budge from it. Make a category for housing, car payments, insurance, food, entertainment, clothing, etc. The key here is to designate a percentage of the budget for unforeseen circumstances such as car repairs and medical bills. For each month where nothing unexpected happens, put that unspent money into savings. Document everything you spend and make a note of when each bill is due. At the end of the month, look at the difference between your goals and how much you spent, and think of ways to make cuts for the next month.
Organizing your home
You most likely have a lot of stuff in your house that you don’t use. Group everything that’s just taking up space and sell what you can on eBay or Craigslist, or make a tax deductible donation to a local thrift store. If you have belongings you are not using but think you will want in the future (family heirlooms, for example), consider renting an affordable storage unit — oftentimes, the clarity of a clutter-free home can increase productivity and thus, boost your budget.
Plan ahead for your trip to the grocery store
You can save a lot on your grocery bill simply by planning what all the meals will be during the week and charting out what ingredients you’ll need for each one. This will prevent making multiple trips to the grocery store because you didn’t plan ahead, and help to avoid ordering out when there appears to be ‘nothing to eat’ in the fridge.
For each item, chart out the price difference between the brand name and generic options. You’ll definitely want to go with the generic or grocery store brand for the ones with the biggest differences in price. Figure out which local grocery store has the best weekly deals, either with their loyalty card or in regular sales. Remember, the most expensive items are usually placed at eye level on the shelf. Just look down for lower prices.
Don’t settle for the sticker price when shopping
You’re most likely accustomed to paying the listed price for items in retail stores, but you’d be surprised how much you can save with a little haggling. Before you begin bargaining, make sure you’ve done your homework and know how much competitors are offering for the item. Believe it or not, many big box like stores are willing to give you a discounted price. Also, make sure you have cash on hand. A great way to get a lower price is to offer to pay in cash instead of credit if you get the seller down to the price point you’re shooting for.
Remember, your attitude is key to getting a deal made. Don’t be too aggressive or demanding. Build rapport for the salesman before you start talking numbers.
Give your wallet a vacation
If possible, plan your vacation time around when you can find the cheapest flights and hotel rates. Flying in the middle of the week and during overnight hours can save you big bucks.
For lodging, stay in fewer places and stay for more than one night. You can usually get cheaper rates for an extended stay in most spots. You’ll also really want to organize your bags and pack only what you’ll really need on the trip, to avoid checked bag fees. If you can, try to fit everything into a single carry-on bag.
When searching for deals online, make separate folders on your computer for sites where you found the best flight deals and hotel deals so you can easily compare and match which ones fall in the same time period.
Do you have any other suggestions for keeping your finances organized?
Garret Stembridge runs marketing programs and helps customers organize and store their “stuff” for www.extraspace.com. For example, household goods can be stored off-site at the Sacramento self storage facility on Perry Avenue.
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