Last year was a big year for my hubby and I in terms of our finances. We decided to get our heads out of the sand and watch where our money’s going when we tell it where to go. This of course affected our daily lives by changing the way we make decisions and communicate to each other. I’ve read many how-to articles and lists to get ideas to save a few bucks here and there. Budgeting is the most important aspect, so I’ll just state that here and not include it in the list. Here’s what we ended up doing to change our habits and some had bigger impact than others, but they all helped in how we did last year and will continue in 2014.
1. Home cooked dinner – This helped us with our finances as well as with our health. I know I don’t use some disgustingly used oil for my food and I definitely know I don’t use MSG. I know exactly what’s in the food that we’re eating and roaches aren’t one of them. Of course there were many nights when I didn’t want to lift a finger after work other than to call a carry out place. But the number of nights we ate home cook dinners increased greatly. This leads to number 2 on the list.
2. Bring lunch from home – When I’m cooking dinner, I usually cook enough food to have left overs that we can take to work for lunch the next day. This not only saves money eating out for lunch, but save time as well. I don’t have to look through menus to try to figure out where to go and what to get. I certainly don’t have to drive out to pick up the food or pay extra for delivery. I didn’t get to bring lunch every work day, but I tried to bring lunch 3 times a week average.
3. No window shopping – When my hubby and I were dating, we used to go to the mall all the time. We didn’t have things to buy, we just went there when we didn’t have any special date planned which was most of the time. We’d get coffee there and window shop, but always ended up coming home with few purchases. We’d eat dinner at one of the restaurants there and sometimes go watch a movie there. It was our one stop date spot where we can do multiple things without driving to different places. But we stopped going to the mall for “window shopping”. Since there’s always some sale going on that trick us into thinking it’s a great deal and we needed those stuff anyway even though those items never entered our mind until we went there. This kept our impulse buying to minimum since we cut ourselves from the environment.
4. Meet for lunch or just drinks – I felt really cheap when I started this in the beginning, but now I feel smarter doing this. When my allowance fund isn’t enough to have dinner and drinks with my girlfriends, I’d suggest to meet up for lunch or just for drinks after dinner time. If they want to meet up for dinner, that’s fine. I can grab something to eat from home and join them afterwards.
5. Share your entrée and skip the soda– If you’ve been outside the U.S., you probably already noticed that food portions outside the U.S. is much smaller. Unless you want left over for next day’s lunch, you can always order a dish and share with your friend or your significant other. You can share a dessert after if you have some room left in your stomach. I used to be a cokeaholic. I’d drink 4-5 cans of coca cola classic every day without a single drop of water. I think I mentioned that before to explain how my skin went crazy after that. So not ordering a soda at a restaurant was crazy talk to me. But aside from trying to hydrate my skin better, I have another reason to try to drink more water which is to save money. I don’t like the taste of tap water, so I just ask for a slice of lemon. It makes it easier for me to drink water.
6. Check your account and budget regularly – You don’t have to check it every day as long as you know exactly where you are with your money and how much you have left to spend in your budget. But I did, because to be honest, it was fun looking at the numbers and tweak it here and there and see my numbers match up. What’s the point of making a budget if you don’t use it or let it go off the radar?
7. Plan ahead – This is part of budgeting, but I learned it throughout last year that in order for your budget to work, you have to really think ahead and plan well. If you don’t budget for things ahead, you’re going to end up using your credit card or savings or end up with some kind of fees associated with it. Look back to previous years and figure out who’s birthday’s when, how much you pay for your registration, how much for your taxes, maybe for your out of town wedding trip, and etc. But you have to be able to cut things that you can’t afford. My priority was to pay down our student loans and save some for hubby’s tuition, so vacation wasn’t planned at all last year and this year.
8. Use coupons and check your receipts – I started using coupons and signed up for e-coupons to just use my phone. I didn’t save thousands of dollars or something, but I saved some money and I realized how much of a mistake grocery stores make when you check your receipt. I had to go get my money back many times by checking my receipt. Most of times their error happened when I used the e-coupons and it didn’t take off the correct amount. One time I bought a bundle of scallion which came out to be like $6.00 and I can tell from the receipt that the clerk entered 12 instead of 1. I also make sure I check the bill at restaurants too since it’s entirely possible that someone else’s bill can end up at my table. I don’t care if I end up paying less or more, I just want to pay for what I consumed.
9. Decrease special occasion budget – I love getting red roses and I’m very particular about my roses. I like huge blooms with deep velvety red roses that I get from this one florist. And Yes, they are quite expensive. My hubby used to order from them all the time for my birthday, Valentine’s day, and our anniversary. But I asked him to stop buying those roses for me. As much as I love those roses, it’s not in our budget and I’m not going to increase my budget to fit this luxury item. I can wait until our debt payment plan is over or for something more special that’s not happening every year. We decided to not buy presents for each other on Valentine’s day or anniversary day. We still go out for dinner and make it special, but no more expensive gifts. Don’t get me wrong. I love celebrating Valentine’s day and other special days. I’m just not ready to indulge in those things yet financially. They will be celebrated bigger later on when we’re debt free.
10. Budgeted shopping trips – I mentioned above that I don’t window shop as much as I used to. But I still need clothes and other items throughout the year. So last year, I decided to save up certain amount by certain time and have a shopping day. I’d bring cash and only spend what’s in my wallet. I kind of thought of it as a game where I’d win if I don’t go over budget and snag great deals. I timed these shopping trips around big holiday sale weekends.
11. Buy presents ahead of time – I started Christmas shopping in September last year and was done by early December. But I’m not just talking about Christmas presents. You know when your family and close friends’ birthdays are. If you see a great deal or find something for someone specific that fits your budget, by all means don’t wait until the week of and buy it. When I had 20% coupon from Sephora, I bought a few gifts for my girlfriends several months before their actual birthdays. When you wait to buy presents, you end up buying out of desperation. You have no time to wait for sale or new shipment, and etc. This helps you with your money since you’re getting good deals on things that you already need to buy and it puts your mind at ease being prepared.
12. Use your coffeemaker – We got our coffeemaker as a wedding gift 3 years ago. But we didn’t really use it until last year. We used to buy coffee at coffee shops around 5 times a week. Assuming $3.00 per drink, my hubby and I basically spent $30.00 on coffee per week. Now we go out to buy coffee once a week or once every other week and that’s mostly when we’re out with other people. We drink coffee that’s provided by our employers in the morning and we try not to drink coffee at night since it’s starting to affect us going to sleep since we’re not “young” anymore.
These are some of the noticeable changes that my hubby and I applied in our lives to reach our 2013 goals. I will be continuing to practice these and hopefully get better at them. I hope I find more habits that’ll transform us even more and someday I want to be able to call myself frugal with pride.
What habits helped you to save more and spend less?