Top 5 Ways to Trim the Family Budget

Monday, August 2nd, 2010 by Charles Mayfield, CFP®


I’ve always been one to focus my attention on the silver lining of any cloud.  In times of economic struggle, many of us look to tighten our belts to weather the storm.  This is an incredible opportunity to build some healthy spending habits that can be used in good times and bad.  No matter what size or shape your family’s budget, there are always steps that you can take to build healthy spending protocols for the future.  Here are my top 5 recommendations:

#5. Retire the Debt

I’m always amazed at how many people carry at least one credit card with a balance.  While the reasons vary from person to person, there is one common denominator: INTEREST.

You may have noticed that your statements look a bit different these days. Credit card companies are now required to show you how long it will take you to retire your debt making just the minimum payments, and the numbers are staggering.  No balance is too small…or small enough. Retiring a $1000 credit card balance might save you as much as $20-$30 per month, which certainly adds up over time.  If you have multiple balances, pick the one with the highest interest rate and devote all your free cash to knocking it down.

#4. Cut back on the little things

Coffees and lattés are quite the staple in our society these days.  It’s an easy example for me to use for several reasons:  1) you can make your own coffee and 2) regular consumption means that the costs really add up fast.  A $3 latte every morning comes to a whopping $1095/year.  Look at your spending and try to identify a few items that can be mitigated by doing it yourself, significantly decreasing consumption or going without (which, in the case of a latté, can also trim your waistline!).

#3. Shop your Services/Needs

Whether it’s your lawn, maid service or your auto/homeowners Insurance, there are savings to be found.  In economic times like these, you are likely to find some real deals from businesses hungry to make you a client. Many service providers may not come outright and offer discounts, but will be more than happy to work with you after you inquire—it never hurts to ask! A few friendly phone calls could net you more money in your pocket every month.

#2. Curb your Impulse Buying

We all have them, large & small.  Smaller impulse buys tend to come in larger numbers and therefore can be just as damaging as the big toys we crave.  There are a few strategies here.  For the big-ticket items (set your own standards), try to save the money to buy the item instead of buying it that very moment.  Banking is inexpensive…and you can probably start a “toy” savings account for little money at any bank.  Start depositing funds in there until you have amassed a sum to purchase that new phone/laptop/power drill.  On the ‘smaller’ side of impulse buying, practice asking yourself the following questions: “Do I REALLY need this?”  “Will I be able to get it next week?” “When will I use this?”

Another great way to curb smaller impulse buys is to pay with cash.  We don’t associate as much financial burden with swiping cards.  Once you have to open the wallet and pull out cash to put that new toy in our cart…it somehow becomes less important.  To that end, don’t carry too much cash…problem solved!

#1. Develop your Budget

How can we know if we are spending too much if there is nothing to which we can compare our spending?  One of the first exercises we go through for all of our financial planning clients is filling out a monthly cash flow spreadsheet.  We ask that they document every dollar coming in/out of their coffers.  This is a tremendous exercise and one that can truly empower you to make better decisions related to your spending.  Take a weekend and get everything in order.  There are countless software programs to assist you…or just build your own.  Once you have your budget in place, review it periodically to find areas of concern and celebrate your victories. 

**Important to Note – if you do come in under budget, don’t run out and spend those extra nickels “just because.” We all have the unexpected or emergency expenses that arise – better to have a cushion for those than to have to panic and/or add more debt.**

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