By Sarah Sörne
Once you have downloaded a free application to help manage your budget and finances (see our 2016 Summer edition on tallahasseefamilymagazine.com), you might be looking for ways to cut some of the fat out of your budget, and find ways to save or reduce your debt (or both). I introduced a few of these in the summer article, but in this edition we will dive in and address even more things you can do to launch yourself to financial stability. The easiest way to increase your monetary flexibility is to reduce your expenses. Believe it or not, you very likely have the ability to easily capture low hanging fruit that may be hiding in your seemingly strict budget. Some of these changes might require alterations to your mindset or oft-practiced habits – but the ultimate goal of financial freedom supersedes short term discomfort, and you may find that you were paying for services that were ultimately unnecessary to your happiness.
Identifying low hanging fruit involves the smallest changes that will produce the largest results. Sometimes things that will require less effort for some people will require more effort for others, and many times (and if you are very savvy) you may already be employing these tips in your own life and will need to look for other adjustments. As they say, your individual mileage may vary!
Sometimes we decide to give up a few dollars for our comfort or convenience, but those dollars add up and can end up costing you the benefit of gaining freedom from debt sooner. Subscription services offer convenience and advertise themselves not only as time-savers but also budget savers. Let’s face it streaming services are a great solution for avoiding massive cable TV bills. However, do you pay for multiple services every month and are you utilizing them enough to make them worthwhile? Are you paying for satellite and Netflix and Amazon Prime and HBO Go and data to watch videos on your phone or other mobile devices? Time to trim! For your monthly subscriptions, review each and determine which ones give you the most enjoyment or the most “bang” for your buck. Maybe take a month or two off and then pick up again when you are ready to binge watch your favorite series. Other subscription services like Blue Apron or Dollar Shave Club might save you money over your prior habits of eating out all the time or buying expensive razors at the store. However, you can save much more by buying your own groceries (even from natural foods stores) or buying a safety razor and assortment of blades online.
BE A GOOD CONSUMER:
One of the best gifts I ever received from a friend was a Mr. Coffee Latte Maker. I was able to brew many quick cups of caffeinated enjoyment from home (thankfully, since there is no Starbucks on my side of Tallahassee) with a half gallon of milk and a $5.99 bag of Gevalia, espresso blend. A grande-size latte from a local (or national) shop will set you back between $4 and $5, not to mention the gas and frustration of going out of your way to meet with an actual barista, whereas I was able to get at least a week and a half out of my biweekly grocery trip. I didn’t feel like I was sacrificing anything. In fact, when we have company over they often ask that I make them a latte from the machine. I’m still as guilty as the next person for going to Publix any given day to pick up a lunch, but the truth is that the traditional brown bag is often one of the easiest changes that will have the largest effect on your savings. Other things you can do involve shopping around, buying generic or store brands whenever possible, buying in bulk, and seeking out coupons, even online through sites like Retail-Me-Not. I avoid paying full-price for anything when possible, and often times it’s easy to wait for a sale instead of falling for instant gratification. Even if you do succumb, remember that many stores have policies where if a price changes on an item or it goes on sale shortly after your original purchase, you can bring in the receipt for a price adjustment.
Like subscriptions, having multiple banking accounts, credit cards and retirement and savings accounts can also complicate your ability to simplify your financial life. As you found out when you were setting up your budget, keeping track of where all your money is going can be time consuming. You may think you’re doing well by diversifying. However, this may be opening you up to more managment fees and varying interest rates. You should try to avoid revolving credit on high interest credit cards or accounts if at all possible. Get in the habit of paying the balance on your credit cards on a monthly basis to avoid paying extra interest (even the lowest APRs will cost you significant out-of-pocket expense each month if you leave a balance). If you have been a good manager of your credit (or even if you have had a few missteps) call your credit card provider and ask if you can get a lower rate. It doesn’t hurt to try and only takes a quick phone call. Even Health Savings Accounts and old 401(k)s can have annual management and reporting fees, so consolidate and get them rolled over to your current employer or plan when you can. Review bank statements and see if you are paying fees that could easily be avoided if your bank or credit union offers free accounts. Consolidating can also work with your insurance services, so call your provider and see if they can provide you a lower rate if you bundle services like auto and home or renter’s. You may find that after consolidating accounts, you not only save money, but also valuable time.
The examples above are just some of the ways you can start saving now. Watch where your money goes and see if you can find even more places to save. Remember that small amounts can add up quickly and nothing can replace the peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about being able to pay a bill at the end of the month. Small sacrifices over time can lead to big payoffs, and you may find that the more expensive habits you have bring you less joy than your new money-saving ones.
Sarah Sörne is a young professional and financial freedom enthusiast living, working and investing in Tallahassee.