Frugal Living: 10 Ways to Create and Live on a Budget
Raise your hand if the words "budget" or "finances" make you get a little shaky? If they do, you're not alone. Money is the cause of many a heartache, headache, and much marital strife, not to mention individual worry. When financial chaos ensues, it can consume conversations and steal the focus from what matters most, like having meaningful moments and bonding as a family.
Over the past 10 years, our family has experienced two layoffs, the first only a few weeks into my maternity leave with our first son. Having gotten married in our late 20s when we were already into our careers and having taken, what we felt were fail-proof steps that would lead to regular employment (like gaining lots of work experience and getting college degrees), we were not prepared for what would be a very long roller coaster ride with many financial ups and downs.
Regardless of whether you are experiencing or have been through tough financial times and can relate or not, we have found that every family can benefit from being financially prepared.
Amy Allen Clark from MomAdvice.com, in her new book, "The Good Life for Less," agrees. While her book shares tips and tricks for creating a budget and getting the most bang for your financial buck, it also encourages to form traditions, enjoy life, and create meaningful moments with your family. Frugal living is the way to do all of the above.
This is not a book about "doing without." It's a book about making the most of our money; spending carefully and wisely; and using your wits, creativity, and goodwill to give your family a good life for less.
In this, part one in our four-part series, we will dive into sharing advice from Amy on creating and living on a budget. Parts two through four will cover being frugal in the kitchen, creating good times through a strong sense of tradition and family closeness, and home organization.
Financial Management: Creating and Living on a Budget
Amy states, "Any good budget starts with the first step of taking an unflinching look at your income and spending habits and figuring out how you allot your resources (and how you want to allot them). Once you've got a clear picture of where the money goes, you can start whittling away at your debts, bills, and spending. Here are 10 of the many fabulous tips she shares for ways to do that:
- "Know what you have financially." This can be done by assessing your total household net income and your total monthly expenses, including debt.
- "Create a family budget book." Track everything you spend for at least one month.
- "Find your spending leaks." Look for areas where you spend lots of money. Fortunately for Amy, it was trips to Target. For me, it is any time I set foot in any store. Better if I just stay home!
- "Visualize your budget pie." Putting your financial spending in chart format will help you gain an important visual on where the majority of your money is going.
- "Shake up your spending habits." After completely steps 1-4, you are in perfect shape to shift your spending habits. A couple of suggestions from the book include going cash only for a while and spending one month on the envelope system.
- "Check and double check every bill." You never know when a company may have overcharged you until you check.
- "Save on utilities." One suggestion from the book that I have personally tried was to rethink your phone needs. Our family got rid of our home phone about 5 years ago and went cell phones only. It has saved us thousands of dollars over the years. We did the same with cable television. It's amazing how we haven't missed having TV, especially with the invent of things like HULU and all the videos available on YouTube.
- Calculate your habits (personal "latte" factor, as she refers to it). The key here is to identify your small indulgences that add up over time—things like coffee, hair treatments, manis/pedis, etc.
- "Barter and swap your way to savings." Think of skills you have that you could swap for other services. Perhaps you know how to sew and you are in need of some graphic design work. Find a graphic artist that would be willing to swag services and you'll both win!
- "Never underestimate the power of a good list when shopping." This is one that I am horrible at! I absolutely hate following a list when I go shopping. And this is why my husband has written an entire post on why he refuses to let me grocery shop anymore.
Near the beginning of the budgeting section in her book, she gives what she calls "The Best MomAdvice," which is:
We live in a culture where bigger is better and competition is everywhere—both out in the open and tucked into the corners of our lives...
...When my house is tidy and organized, I feel happy with exactly what I have. A sense of order can be a much more satisfying feeling that buying and trying to find a place for another bag of stuff.
I love this piece of advice. We live in a small house—a much smaller house than I imagined I'd be living in at age 42. I can make all sorts of cases for why we deserve a bigger house and how we really do need one. But, when all is said and done, we LOVE where we live, we are so grateful for our house, and just like Amy encouraged, when things are "tidy and organized," we find that size isn't an issue whatsoever.
How to Achieve the Good Life for Less
For recommendations on living the good life for less, including how to create and live on a budget, steps to take to adopting a frugal living mindset in the kitchen, creating good times through a strong sense of tradition and family closeness, and organizing your home, check out the posts in this series as well as Amy's book, which you can find at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Amazon, Powell's, and IndieBound.