Nothing was as revolutionary for my daily savings as getting on a realistic budget. I say a "realistic budget" because far too often in the past I have tried to buckle down and succumb to other people's prescribed "ideal budget" scenarios only to fail when putting it into practice. I needed a budget that reflected my lifestyle, goals, and income. The only way to get there was to sit down and take a good long look at my bank statements, spending habits, and ultimate savings goals. I did this with my boyfriend, who is a great accountant and a great accountability partner.
Though we both had very different ideas what was realistic for my monthly makeup budget (p.s. this is why it is my budget and not his), we were able to talk through the budget and find a happy medium.
We looked at our bills and accounted for them first. This includes all the good things like rent, water, electricity, groceries, student loans, cable, internet, and the gas to get to and from work in a month. You know, the items you can't live without? Then, we looked at my reoccurring expenses like my subscriptions to Birchbox, Netflix, Squarespace, Microsoft, and Adobe Cloud. Next, we looked at spaces in my life where I liked to spend money such as going out to eat lunch, going to the movies, shopping, etc. Lastly, we looked at my savings and debt repayment goals.
Then we got to budgeting! We talked through how much was reasonable to spend on things like makeup and clothing per month and how much I needed to put into savings for various things like a future home, wedding, or vacation. We looked at places where we could cut spending (BYE Birchbox! BYE Cable!) and agreed that every dollar of income should have a purpose whether spending, saving, repayment, or gifting.
I started using Every Dollar to keep up with my budget and have not looked back since! I love the format better than Mint (but there are some great things about Mint - bill reminders and connecting your bank account for free) and I feel like it gives me a great at-a-glance picture of where I am spending money and where I have money left to spend. It also makes it easy to split up my budget by category and see which category I'm spending the most in percentage wise. It really has helped me keep a more balanced budget. Every person is different though, so I really encourage you to find a system that works for you. My boyfriend isn't as visual as me and prefers just keeping a really detailed excel spreadsheet. Other, more tactile, people may find keeping physical cash in an envelope will help them stick to their own budgets! Whatever it is, find your best budgeting system and make it work.
Regardless, setting realistic goals and making a realistic budget has helped me make saving more of a part of my lifestyle. It also has helped me eliminate guilt when it comes to spending. Having a budget gives me permission to spend and as long as it is in my budget, I know I can comfortably afford it. It also helps me to evaluate my priorities for items that exceed my budget. For example, am I willing to give up $20 of my lunch budget to throw at a new pair of shoes?
Coupons & Cash Back
There definitely is no shame in my coupon game! As someone who loves to shop and go out to eat regularly, I'm always on the hunt for a way to save money on something I was already going to buy or do anyways. Though I am nowhere near as advanced as some of the exteme-couponers you see on TV, I do believe that a little effort and research can result in serious long-term savings.
One great source for coupons for us has been "Student" coupon books. We happen to live in a college town, so stocking up on these bad boys is never hard to do. These coupon books are filled to the brim with special deals that are usually good for the entirety of a semester. Everything from discounted tanning, pet visits, eye-care, and free appetizers can be found. Sure, every year there are some major duds, but the good coupons are worth their weight in gold. We can stock up on quite a few of these since they are literally given out in droves at the beginning of each semester around town, so if there's a coupon we love (I'm looking at you "Free Cheese Dip" coupon) we can use it repeatedly with no consequence. I've never been asked for a Student ID when using one of the coupons, so really it's more like a "community" coupon book.
BUT, if you do have a student ID and happen to live in or near a college town definitely keep it even once you're post-grad! There are SO many businesses that offer student discounts around our college town. Most of the time telling the cashier you're a student is good enough, but if they do ask for ID a quick flash usually does the trick. Presenting my old Student ID has easily saved me a ton of money (mostly on food joints)!
Back to coupon books, though. Maybe you don't live in a college town - don't sweat it! Often schools or organizations will sell coupon books as a fund-raising endeavor. Feel good about fronting the $10-$15 and in exchange you could save big. Also, great places to keep on your radar for coupons are local magazines, the back of high school football programs, and your local newspaper.
I've just recently started taking up "couponing" for groceries and it is quite the ordeal. However, the pride I feel after saving as little as $5 after a grocery trip is worth the time and effort for scouring online circulars and Coupons.com. To get started, make your grocery list for the week so you know what you need. This is an important step because as you start looking through the pages and pages of coupons, you might be tempted to shop for products you don't need because they are on sale. Avoid this trap at all costs.
I usually visit Krazy Coupon Lady, Ibotta, Coupons.com, and any websites or apps for the stores I'll be visiting. If I'm able to "stack" coupons I find I get the most bang for my buck. Keep an eye out for the same product with multiple coupons or rebates for bigger savings. If you want, I'll dedicate a more in depth look at my process in another post.
TIP: The best day for shopping is Wednesday because the sales from the previous week are still going strong and the new week's coupons have just kicked in. Plus, many stores get their shipments in on this day.
I recently started using Ibotta and am in love! I love how it gives me "cash back" for items I already purchase. Signing up is simple and if you make a qualifying purchase within a certain number of days of signing up you get $10. They make earning money easy and often give you challenges to earn additional cash. For example, "Earn $2.00 in rebates and instantly get another $2.00 back." You also can make $5 per referral anytime someone using your referral link signs up. Though most rebates tend to be small - .25 cents or .50cents - they really do add up over time. The largest rebate I've seen is around $3.00 for a single item.
Ibotta offers cash back on a large variety of items including alcohol, food, cleaning supplies, and makeup. They support a TON of retailers too.
Other good cash back apps are Walmart Savings Catcher and the Target Cartwheel app. I find that these apps do not reward as frequently as Ibotta. However, they're great tools for letting me know when things are on sale.
Going to Two Grocery Stores
I know, I know. It sounds like a pain, right? I won't lie and say this isn't somewhat of an annoying thing to do. However, I promise you that this has been the #1 thing that helps us maximize our grocery budget and has been well worth it. We split our time between Walmart and Aldi primarily.
Aldi is a store that is very budget friendly, because they sell mainly off brand labels. The quality of food in most cases is still just as good in my opinion (we can even get Gluten Free and Organic options!) to the name brand stuff and most of the time it is way cheaper than what we would buy at Walmart. We save big on snack foods, seasonal items, produce, veggies, meat, and eggs. Some items are a close match to Walmart - like dairy, bread, canned food and some produce - so it's always worthwhile to do a little research before your shopping trip. I feel like going to Aldi first allows us to get the best deals on the bulk of our shopping. I also find Aldi is great for getting more seasonal or less needed items like hot chocolate or baking essentials because the cost is more friendly. However, be mindful that Aldi's selections are ever-changing and they have a much more limited selection compared to Walmart. For example, Walmart may have five different ketchup brands, but Aldi may have only one or two. Aldi may not be for the brand snobs among us, but I promise it's worth giving a try.
Next, we will go through Walmart and pick up anything we can't get at Aldi or things that are more brand specific. We get our deli meat at Walmart, produce we couldn't find at Aldi, some canned foods, our bread, and milk. We try to buy things on sale when possible in addition to things that have rebates or coupons. Since Aldi is not supported by Ibotta, we sometimes save items we'd usually get at Aldi for Walmart because it will have a worthwhile rebate. We always submit receipts to our Walmart Savings Catcher app after a trip to the store. It takes an extra ten seconds to do and though the pay off is typically small (or in some cases nothing), I know it will be worth it in the long run.
Splitting our time between two stores in addition to our couponing/rebate getting allows us to bring home more food for our money. We haven't upped our grocery budget at all and by doing these things, we find we get more of the things we want. Plus, we definitely don't feel like we're running to the grocery store near as often.
Use The Library
I love reading and my boyfriend and I love to curl up and watch a new movie nearly every week. These habits can be costly, but we've found a solution that saves us a lot and is totally free. Get a library card at your local library!
Our city has an exceptionally expansive library, so it's stocked full of books and a room full of DVDs free to rent. They often even have new releases and allow checking out more than one item at a time. It is true that I occasionally find myself having to get on the wait list for certain things, but I find it's well worth it. I also love the fact that I don't have to splurge actual money on a book or movie I'm only lukewarm about.
We try to make it a habit to visit our library every other week and pick out some new goodies. It makes for great quality time and I often finding myself in total disbelief that these things are free. Plus, I can easily reserve and renew my picks online if I can't quite make it to the library. It's the perfect solution for us to keep ourselves entertained on the cheap.
Just remember to bring your books and movies back on time to avoid those pesky late fees.
I know this isn't a realistic option for everyone, but if you are able to do it then let me be the first to tell you how much of a money saver it is. Luckily, my boyfriend and I work right down the street from one another so carpooling 90% of the time (some days he has to stay late) works great for us!
We save money on gas not having to fund the fuel for two cars and we alternate paying for gas/maintenance. Having someone to split gas with has been very beneficial and we are able to make our time between fill ups much longer. As an added set of bonuses, I often find we're more punctual when riding together since neither of us want to make the other person late and we get extra time with each other in the mornings and afternoons.
If you can carpool with a neighbor, co-worker, or a friend look into it as a functional and viable option for saving a good chunk of cash month over month.
, by Ashlee