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Take Control of Your Finances

By: Financial Hotline
Summer 2018 (Vol. 36, No. 2)

Use the monthly planner to get a snapshot of your finances. Most will know the exact amount for our fixed expenses like mortgage, car payments or a gym membership. But you may not realize just how much you spend on discretionary spending like dining out, entertainment and personal care. If you are struggling with those totals, try filling in the amount of only those expenses that you are sure of the exact cost each month. Then add those expenses and subtract from your monthly income. The difference is what you spend on varying expenses.

If you are struggling to break even each month then it’s time to take a closer look at your spending. Chances are you can save at least a hundred a month with very little effort. That’s $1200 a year. Hold $100 cash in your hand. Now consider just tossing it in the trash. Unthinkable, right? $1200 is “no way”! But, that’s what you may already be doing every month!

If you pay for non-essentials with a debit or credit card you can track your spending through your statements. For cash purchases, you will need to track every penny you spend for the next month to see where your money is going. Keep a running list on your phone and keep every receipt. If you put a quarter in a parking meter, make a note of it.

Once you have the totals for every monthly expense, you can start looking at where to cut back. Rank each expense with a 1, 2 or 3, with one being the items you would miss the most. Two being an “only if you can afford it” and three being the products or services you could eliminate painlessly. Here are a few more ways to save:

  • Contact your insurance providers. Tell them you want to lower your insurance premiums without compromising the terms of your policies. Ask if there are any discounts you may qualify for or if you have any duplicate or unnecessary coverages. Comparison shop for lower rates if necessary.

  • Contact cell phone, cable and other service providers. Check for promotions and eliminate any services you can do without. Cell phone and cable/internet companies have become increasingly competitive. On average, you can get non-contract phone service for as low as $42 per month without sacrificing quality and services. Consumers are saving an average of $92 per month just by calling in and updating their cable / internet package.

  • Use a savings app like Gas Buddy or local discount card to be sure you are keeping your gas costs as low as possible. Avoid tolls when you can get there as easily without them.

  • Contact your utilities providers and ask for a free energy audit and other tips on how to cut your electric, water and gas bills.

  • Cancel any auto ship, auto debit subscriptions or gym memberships that are going unused.

  • Ask your doctor for free samples or less costly generics for your prescriptions. Check with the pharmacist for discount cards or coupons that may apply.

  • Contact your loan servicers and credit card companies to ask for a lower interest rate or any other interest saving options they offer.

  • Ask your bank to lower your banking fees and pay ATM fees only for emergencies. If you use a competing banks ATM just twice a month, that adds up to $84 per year.

  • Do whatever is needed to stop tossing away money on late fees and overdraft fees.

  • The average family of four has a grocery budget of $600 to $1300 per month. Coupons, store cards and buying in bulk are just a few of the many ways to save on groceries. Check the local store ads for inspiration on this week’s meals. If you save just $5 per week with coupons – that adds up to $262 in a year.

  • Ditto for dining out, travel and entertainment. Watch for coupons, daily specials and other discounts.

  • Stopping for a specialty beverage every week day for a year (261 days) adds up to $1,028.34 per year. Decide if the little luxuries are a priority.

  • Can you afford your hobbies or are they just taking up space and draining your finances? The biggest question is: Can you afford it?

  • Do not pay for storage or maintenance on anything you haven’t used in the past 6 months and don’t have concrete plans to use in the next six months.

  • If you qualify for discounts like military, senior or student – Speak Up! Before you buy ask the clerk “Is there a discount code or coupon I should be aware of? Download online apps like RetailMeNot for automatic alerts on savings while you shop.