How I'm Learning to Make My Life Easier By Budgeting
I've tried many different kinds of budgets over the years. None of them really worked. Mostly because I wasn't exactly sure how to budget, what to budget for, and why I ought to budget. Afterall, I was living, giving and saving - that's all I needed to do, right? Then comes along my friend J.E. She's a master at budgeting (not to mention gorgeous, right J.E?!), and a big source of encouragement when I realised that I really hadn't been managing my money well. Over tea and treats, we'd talk honestly about mistakes made and successes.
And then she shared her secret with me. The Nerd Sheet, as she calls it. Oh yes, Nerd Sheet is appropriately named. It involves a little math, a lot of honesty and research into how you spend your money and on what, and a willingness to adjust how you live, maybe just a little or maybe a whole lot. I may also involve obsessive tweaking and double-checking. If this piques your interest I too will pass on the secret. The Nerd Sheet is online, and it's actually Gail Vaz-Oxlade's budget worksheet called Build a Budget that Works. The worksheet is downloadable in MS Excel format + instructions are all there. I also recommend reading her books Debt Free Forever and It's Your Money: Becoming a Woman of Independent Means. You can get both of these books from the library, for free. :)
(FYI: The last 6 months has involved more self-help reading than I've done, ever!)
In the process of budgeting, I've learned some things about money management.
Namely: Spending money is overrated.
I actually get more enjoyment out of saving money than spending these days (mostly because I know that any money I save is going towards my house-fund).
Here's how I'm saving money:
- Freebies: Who doesn't love freebies? Free events, free deals, free stuff. I have just about every rewards card out there, and I use them. And I get free stuff in return. I hang out with a kid once a week - I've mentioned this before - and it could get expensive if our visits were about entertaining her. But they're not. Our visits are about quality time spent together and having fun. Therefore, they don't require much money. I could probably write a whole post on free things to do with kids (I might, later), but for now here's a few fun freebies:
- HPL branches (or at least the Keshen Goodman) has a huge stash of games - and welcome you to play them there. They also have a huge stash of lego - watch for the Lego nights, for kids and adults.
- The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is free on Thursday nights thanks to BMO.
- Cuddling cats/kittens and walking dogs at the SPCA is free (and appreciated).
- Parks, picnics and playgrounds are also fun and free.
- Using the library: I haven't rented a movie for the better part of two years. I get all my movies (sometimes as many as half a dozen/week) from the library, either by browsing the shelves or via holds. If I don't get to all the movies I pick out, oh well. No money lost! And if, by accident, I forget to return them on time, the money goes to the library. I'm cool with that! Plus, with all those movies at my disposal, I don't even bother with TV anymore, except occasionally when I'm housecleaning for background noise. And then there's books and music. It's illegal to rip CDs from the library - I understand that - but it's not illegal to listen to a CD before you consider buying it, to see if it's worth paying for the full album or maybe just pay for the few songs you like. Also my "wishlist" is filled with CDs I've enjoyed from the library.
- Tip: There's a library value calculator on Halifax Public Library's website that helps you calculate how much money you save by using the library. I save roughly $400 a month, how much do you save?
- Meal planning + shopping from grocery flyers: For the last 6 months I've been taking a little extra time each week to go through the flyers for Sobeys, Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart and Wal-mart to find out what's on sale and meal plan around the sale items. I don't always follow the flyers religiously and I'm not always successful at executing the meal plan. But I've seen a definite drop in my grocery budget since I've started, and less food waste. I've also picked up on a few patterns and tips that I can count on:
- Sobey's raincheques are valid forever; Superstore's are only valid for 30 days.
- Sobey's BOGO sales will always have mushrooms and bread of some kind, and lots of junk food.
- Superstore's tax-free days are a great time to shop for electronics. During the last one I bought my Canon Elph for $89. It was on sale and tax-free, and my old camera had bit the dust.
- Canadian Tire often has the catfood I buy on sale, but you have to special order it because they usually only have a couple bags (and never the specific kind I buy) in stock.
- Coupons: I'm not into extreme couponing, but I do have a few websites I check periodically to see if there are any good savings to be had. A $3 coupon on the brand of cat food I feed to Millie is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you can add it on top of the same brand on sale.
- SimplyFrugal.ca is a fabulous place to start if you're looking for coupons and deals. Initially I added the website to my RSS feed, but when post after post rolled in daily, I switched over to the email digest, which comes almost daily.
- I also signed up to Brandsaver.ca which is where I got the awesome $3 coupon for catfood.
- Cut Fixed Expenses: Evaluate what you really use, what you really need, what you really want.
- Bundling is not always cheaper. I have my cable services with one company, my longdistance with another, and my home phone and internet with a third company. All together I pay less than $120/mo when the Watch/Surf/Talk bundles are about $134/mo.You do have to negotiate, and to successfully negotiate you have to threaten to go to the other company.
- Cut the extras, like CallerID or switch to e-billing vs. paper billing (often they'll discount your bill if you switch).
- Cut Variable Expenses: This has been the hardest for me because it's the catch-all for all the little expenses that really add up. And it also includes things that are considered variable, but that I think of as fixed - like charitable giving, and car expenses (though these are variable, no doubt). But one of the variable expenses I've cut I'm really quite pleased with:
- GoodLife Membership - dropped down to part-time! I pay half the rate, for a 3day/wk membership (set days: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays), but have the same access to all gym equipment/programs etc. on those days. Here's the funny thing: I actually use my membership more now! For years I paid the membership with the intention of using it, but rarely did. Certainly not enough to justify paying the full fee. But as soon as I dropped down to part-time, I did my best to get there each of the 3 days. Weird, huh? And I love the new schedule, mostly because I don't feel guilty for not going to the gym anymore. If I make it 2-3 times a week, I feel like I've got my money's worth, without feeling guilty for not going the other 4 days.