Monday, July 23, 2012

Tatted Mom's Guide to Living on a Budget

I've never lived a lavish life. Even when I was at the height of tattooing, I could pull down maybe $1000 in one weekend, I'd always turn around and either stock the house with food, or buy the kids much needed clothes, or pay the bills for the entire month. I wouldn't say I'm bad with money, but I'd be lying if I said I had a savings account with even a dime in it.

So budgeting has always been a part of my life. Sometimes the budget has allowed for 'fun money', sometimes the kids and I have been forced to use our imaginations when it comes to fun activities, because that's all we could afford until the next payday.

Right now we're in the 'can only afford imaginations' section of life, because of the move here. The moving company we chose were scheisters (I will be doing a review post on them here soon to warn other people), and we ended up having to pay twice what they quoted us to get my stuff back. There is a light at the end of the tunnel for us financially and then we're back to saving money and living life a little more. I can't wait.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to pass on some budgeting tips, Tatted Mom Style, of course. (For newbies to the site, whenever you see a 'Tatted Mom Style' or 'Tatted Mom's Guide' post, you're in for an upside down view of how I see things. Yes, the tips are helpful, but there are some crazy ones thrown in, because I don't see the world the way others do.) These tips are great if you have an unexpected expense that throws your finances in a whirlwind for a short period of time, or if you need to re-train yourself with money and need a longer term solution.

Tatted Mom's Guide to Living on a Budget

  1. If you've never had to budget before, use The Envelope System to start. It's the best way to get a visual representation of money. Get a box of envelopes, and mark each envelope with a separate bill name: 'Rent', 'Electricity', 'Cable', 'Food', 'Gas', etc. When you get paid, remove most of your money from your account (keep in any money that used to automatically pay bills or bills that you pay online) in cash, and divide it into the various envelopes. When the money in the envelopes is gone, that's it. It keeps you majorly in check with paying for food, or entertainment, and is a great training tool. Personally, I don't use The Envelope System anymore, but I've had to do it numerous times over the years to get my brain back into budgeting mode.
  2. Just say no. I understand 'no' is negative and causes crappy feelings, but when you are budgeting, 'no' is your best friend. Tell yourself no, tell the kids no, tell Hubby no, when it comes to buying things. If you get into the mindset that you are broke, and can't buy anything, then it makes budgeting a hell of a lot easier. The funny thing is, if your financial situation is only temporary, it's hard to re-train your brain to say 'yes' again when it comes to buying things. That's not a bad thing, necessarily. It keeps you from buying things you really don't need, even if you have the money to do so. Your mindset is probably the most important tool you have when it comes to budgeting.
  3. Over-estimate expenses and under-estimate income. When you find a budget worksheet to track your incoming and outgoing money that works for you, always round up on your bills. If your cell phone bill, for example, is $62 a month, estimate $65 or $70. When you write down your income, round down. For example, if you make $1050 every paycheck, write down $1000. Over-estimating bills and under-estimating income means you always have a few more dollars on your side than your budget tells you. Don't count on this money. Forget about it and let it build. It's the easiest savings plan ever.
  4. Coupon. Seriously it helps, but only if you do it right. Check out couponing websites, read articles from couponing experts, do your research. I know a lot of people don't understand how a $.75 off of snack crackers coupon helps, but if you hold that coupon until the box of snack crackers goes on sale for $1.00 and if your grocery store doubles coupons or values all coupons at $1.00, you just got that box of snack crackers for free. And let me tell you, free name brand crackers taste so much better than name brand crackers you pay full price for. I think it's the added 'Hell yeah, I got this for free' that tastes so good. You have to match coupons to your weekly sales, and shop at a grocery store with an amazing coupon policy. It's addictive, let me tell you. Try it for a few weeks and you'll start stocking up extra food to where if you need to cut money in the food part of your budget one month, you are fine. If you are new to couponing, make sure you google 'coupon match-ups' for your area. There are always websites out there that do all of the hard work for you. They tell you what the weekly grocery sales in your area are, and where to find the coupons that go with the sales. I use, but she's located in Phoenix, so she's in my area. When I lived in South Carolina, I used If you don't want to take the time to coupon, at least shop for your groceries according to your store's sale that week. See what's on sale, and plan meals around those sales.
  5. Put your computer to work. If you are fortunate enough to live in or near a city, there are always websites out there that showcase events going on in your area. The best websites are the frugal ones that tell you what free stuff is happening near you. Use them, sign up for email notifications so they tell you when events are happening, and get out and have some budgeted fun. Use your computer to find printable crafts for the kids, too, to keep them busy. The internet has a million and one ways to help with budgeting, activities, budgeting worksheets and living life on a budget, so put it to work and find some. It will boost your positive mindset about budgeting, and make you not feel so deprived, which is the #1 downfall to budgeting. If you start to feel the extreme pinch, or closed in by finances, you'll probably give up budgeting. The more you do (or get) while budgeting, the more you'll stick to it.
  6. Make new best friends. Here are some of mine: Netflix, the library, and Redbox. When you are budgeting, these are your new best friends. Netflix is like $10 a month if you just use the instant queue function and watch via your gaming system or computer. It's well worth the $10 for all of the movies and TV shows. Redbox gives you new releases every Tuesday for only $1.20 a night, and most libraries have free movies to rent (the selection is limited usually, but it's better than nothing), not to even mention the free books to read. 
  7. Change your shopping comfort zone. Everyone has stores that they shop at, no matter what. If you hit a time in life where you all of a sudden need to budget, double check your stores. You could be getting items cheaper elsewhere. Check your grocery store for their coupon policy, or compare their weekly sales to other grocers in your area. Start shopping at a grocery store with fuel perks added to their rewards card, so you are not only saving money on grocery shopping, but on gas, too. Check out the discount stores (like Big Lots, TJ Maxx and Ross) for name brand items with hella cut prices. Try local area markets for produce. And double check your pharmacy. Most drug stores out there have a referral policy that gives you gift cards if you switch over your prescription. If you aren't partial to your pharmacy, switch your prescription to one in your grocery store or one a little further down the road that will give you $25 to do it. And keep in mind that I'm not telling everyone to do something like shop at Wal-Mart. If you hate Wal-Mart (like I do), no budgeting in the world will make me shop there again, sorry. I used to shop at Wal-Mart and always hated stepping foot in that place. Finally I realized that no amount of saved money could be placed on my sanity and how pissy my mood got whenever I shopped there, so I quit going. I've found ways around the Wal-Mart mogul, and I've never looked back.
  8. Don't forget your 'Oh, Crap' fund. Every budget, no matter how tight, needs an 'Oh, Crap' fund. That's money you set aside for an expense you've forgotten about, or needing to buy supplies for a kid's project, or if a tire blows. You need to set money aside, just in case something comes up. Hubby and I call this our, 'In Case of Emergency, Break Glass Fund', or, 'Break Glass Fund' for short. Many budgets fail because an unexpected expense comes up and there's no money left for it.
  9. Keep staples in your house. Not 'Office Space' staples, but food staples. No matter how tight our budget has ever gotten, I make sure my family eats well, and it doesn't seem like we're on a budget so much when I do that. Examples of staples I keep in my home are pasta, pasta sauce, tuna fish, instant mashed potatoes, jello or pudding in the box, cake mix (or brownie or cookie mix- you can even get them at the dollar store), canned or frozen veggies (whatever was on sale that week), bread, shredded cheese, peanut butter, flour (there are homemade cracker recipes online that are amazing), eggs, milk, soup, butter, sugar and coffee (I go crazy without my coffee.) . These items help me make meals that are more than grilled cheese and ramen, and when you throw in a batch of brownies or homemade cookies, it doesn't feel like money is very tight.
  10. Get creative. See what things you can do for yourself at home for cheaper than outside the home. Some flavored coffee powdered drink mix, water, ice and a blender makes a frozen coffee that tastes amazing and rivals the ones that are $5 each at major coffee stores, for a fraction of the price. Kool-aid and a plastic popsicle mold that goes in the freezer makes cheap popsicles for the kids. Buy seeds for various herbs or vegetables and see if you can grow your own food or fresh herbs. Buying a pack of feathers, crimp beads and earring hooks from a craft store makes those fashionable feather earrings for about $.50 a pair instead of $5 a pair at a store. Being on a budget is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, and if you find something you enjoy making, then put it into a (free) Etsy ran store and see if you can make some extra money for your home. 
These are some of my tried-and-true tips for living on a budget. If there are any other tips you all live by, then please add them below!

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  1. Notes on couponing: start with 1 store. Get their ad paper every week (I run by on my lunch hour and pick one up from the store I frequent) and then use it to match your coupons. Try and pick a store that will double your coupons and match competitor coupons.

    For me, it is Publix. They double up to 50 cents per coupon and take Kroger's coupons. They also let you use their store coupons and manufacturer coupons. So if you have a 50 cent manufacturer coupon, and a $1 store coupon, you save $2! They have wonderful buy 1 get 1 free sales. If you don't get 2, they only charge you half price.

    I have saved up to $75 in a shipping trip with my final cost being $120.

    So pick a store, get familiar with their coupon policy, and every week get their sale flyer.

    1. Very nice! My grocery store of choice is Fry's (Kroger's west coast affiliate). They make every coupon worth $1. I think my biggest achievement was taking $160 bill down to $75. =) Target is re-inventing themselves, though. A lot of the Targets are going to ones with groceries in them, and if that happens, they accept Target coupons and manufacturers coupons for the same item. I haven't tried it yet, though, to see if it's worth it.