Upon recognizing the need to rid myself of this cycle once and for all I got serious about budgeting. I started with the app Everydollar. I like this app better than others because you control what it tracks. I've had other budget apps before that you have to link to accounts, and it seemed like I spent all of my time correcting the data so it got allocated correctly. That's why Everydollar is great. I enter my income and outgoing transactions myself so it gets done in a way that is helpful to me. It really feels like a game. I enter my paycheck, allocate every dollar to a category, and if I'm overspending in a category I can start looking at ways to adjust my budget or know I have to reduce spending. But it is simple and exactly what a budget should be: a way of setting up a plan for your money and tracking it clearly and effectively before you've gotten yourself in trouble. Apps linked to your bank account show you the data after it is too late. This has you enter every transaction so you can see if you boarded a run-away train mistakenly and can hopefully course correct before it wreaks havoc on your bank account.
Next I decided to give all the home-making coupon pins I receive everyday some attention. Now, I am clutter averse. I will never be able to "stock-pile" anything. The thought makes my skin crawl. But the blogs and pins pointed me toward some coupon sites Redplum, Coupons.com, and Smartsource. These seem to cover all possible coupons you could receive in a newspaper, which feels like a healthy Sunday routine and not all the way crazy lady territory. Furthermore, I only save coupons that are on my shopping list for that week or that I predict I will need before the coupon expires. This is not about trying new items. The coupon printing and keeping track of thing is a little awkard for me, which led me to Dollar General's and Walgreens system of saving the coupons to your phone. At checkout, you simply enter your phone number and watch the magic happen to your bill. All of these places accept the same coupons but offer very different starting prices. So I got the apps Flipp and Favado next. These are useful resources for comparing prices across stores to help get the best deal.
There are also rebate sites out there, however, I found receiving a few cents back was less motivating for me to buy something than getting the price reduced upfront with a coupon, and it took more time than it was worth for me to make that a factor in my grocery shopping so those didn't last.
The best part of all of this, whether you choose to do more than I do or less is to spend a little time being aware of your money. I used to find myself looking at Pinterest, Amazon, or Target's website for the 10th time in a day bored and trying to fight the urge to spend money! I wished to myself that there was a more productive way to scratch that itch but didn't have the tools. Finally, with the new year, I got on a kick and came up with this plan. And I wanted to share some of the great resources that are out there to maybe make it a little easier and approachable.
Now anytime I get the urge to buy, I can open flipp or favado and make my shopping list. I don't have to wait for the ads to arrive at the door. If I'm antsy about getting my next paycheck, I open my Everydollar page and make sure that is all up to date and start planning where I have more wiggle room or less and whether I need to make adjustments. I like crunching numbers, and I find it thrilling to see that I'm saving money in areas that I used to spend close to double.
Finally, I should note I read a great book in the midst of all this called I Will Teach you to be Rich. I found it entertaining, and an easy read. If its not your thing, though, my most important take-away from it was to have areas that you are willing to cut from your spending in order to have the money for items really important to you. And at this no-frills point in my life the item most important to us is milk. So, every week when I am making my grocery list and looking at coupons I forego the packaged cookies, candy and salty snacks. I know I can make these items in bulk at a way reduced price if I really want them, but more importantly they aren't a need. However, in my house we average about 4 gallons of milk a week. We love milk. And I used to grind my teeth at the pace that it was consumed, then I realized two things 1) we could be consuming things a lot worse than milk and 2) this became the thing we weren't willing to give up! By cutting a lot of the frills that I didn't value but ate up my budget now we can consume all the milk we crave and it's not an issue. What a great feeling. So, feel free to make that thought process work for you, it really can be about something fun like shoes if your budget allows or vacations but it's more about being mindful of your money so that your money isn't controlling your mind. Another quick lesson this reminds me of comes from The Alchemist and it is also my resolution for the year. "Every blessing ignored becomes a curse", Paulo Coelho. By thinking about our money, and making a plan for how we are going to spend it, allows us an opportunity to appreciate the process. It isn't just about mundane tasks of paying bills and going grocery shopping. You are strategizing the best combination to get the most out of your money. Stop and appreciate how much you have to work with at the beginning. Allocate it to your fixed bills and budget the rest. As you start to become more savvy and come in under budget, put that money in a savings account. Be more mindful of careless spending, most times it is never something we actually need. You'll be better prepared for Christmas shopping, quality vacations with your loved ones, or emergencies. And you can't put a price on the peace of mind.