When a new year rolls around, many people’s thoughts turn to making a fresh start in many areas of life. Whether or not you are fond of making formal New Year’s resolutions, it’s common to think about general ways to save more money in the days and months ahead– especially after the bills from holiday shopping start to arrive!
Here are some tips to help you regroup and get into a smart-spending mindset in 2016:
Set household financial goals: Do you know how much it costs to live in your home each month? Too often, we get caught up in paying our household bills each month – rent or mortgage, electricity, natural gas, water, cable – and we don’t total them together. The beginning of a new year is a good time to look at your bank ledger and total up what you spent on household expenses in 2015. Divide that total by 12, and you’ve got the average dollar amount you spend each month to live in your home.
For me, knowing this number helps our family budget in other areas of life for the year – everything from entertainment to travel to larger purchases for our family. It’s much easier to answer the “Can we afford it?” question when we know exactly how much money is left in our household account each month after all bills are paid and we’ve set some money aside for savings. This brings me to my next tip…
Save some money: A 2015 Google consumer survey noted that 62% of Americans surveyed have less than $1,000 in their savings account, while 21% of Americans do not even have a savings account. If you’re not saving any money for the future or for life’s little emergencies, make this the year to start. Think of all of the unexpected things that happen over the course of a year. For example, in 2015, I got two flat tires on my car -- one in the springtime, and one in the fall! Having even a small savings helps lessen financial stress when vehicles, appliances, or even your home needs repair.
Some people find it difficult to visualize taking a large sum of money out of their earnings to place in a savings account each month. If you’re one of them, consider this: If you set aside just $20 each week, at the end of 2016, you’ll have $1040. If you set aside $3 each day, at the end of this year, you’ll have $1095! That’s more money than half the people surveyed in the above statistic have saved.
Shop smarter: Whether I’m shopping for groceries, clothing, or electronics, I always want to get the best price possible for my purchases. While we all like to get deals, spotting those deals isn’t always an easy task. One of my favorite apps for spotting deals is Flipp. Flipp is a free app that gathers all of the store circulars in your area in one easy-to-use space. You can easily flip through the ads and create your own custom shopping list. Flipp shines as a deal-hunter’s best friend because of its Discount Slider tool. Simply slide the bottom of the screen to display items in the ad that are 20%, 30%, even 50% off! This tool highlights the best deals for you, so you can focus on the best buys – whether you’re shopping for a new coat, a new television, or your weekly grocery list. Use it to plan your weekly grocery trips, and you’ll enjoy its coupon-matching feature too, which automatically points out additional discounts available on what you’re buying at the supermarket.
Put bonus money to good use: If you find yourself with unexpected extra money throughout the year, don’t be in a hurry to spend it all. Whether it’s a gift, a bonus, or surprise earnings or winnings, split it into thirds. If you have debt, put a third of the “found” money toward the debt. Put another third into your savings account. Then, use the final third to treat yourself and celebrate the bonus – dinner and a movie? Concert tickets? You deserve to enjoy it too.
Substitute one habit for another: Some of our most expensive habits don’t seem too pricey on the surface, but when you add them up, they cost more than you may realize. Buying a $4 cup of coffee on the way to work five days a week? At the end of the year, you’l l have spent over $1000 on coffee! Treat yourself to a nice travel mug and the coffeemaker of your choice, and brew that cup before you leave your kitchen each day. The same holds true for going out to lunch on workdays – even lower-priced fast-food lunches will add up. Pack a lunch several days a week, then add what you would have spent to your savings.
While we’re on the topic of food, consider cooking more meals at home. Everyone loves to eat out, but eating at home is a far more economical option. Even if you’re not a pro in the kitchen, you can likely whip up a few favorite meals that are easy to prepare (think “Meatless Mondays” or “Taco Tuesdays!”) With the help of on-demand cooking shows and free YouTube channels, why not focus on expanding your culinary skills in 2016 too?