It’s fall and we all know what that means – the holiday season is around the corner. This can be the toughest time to budget, especially for those of us who were never very good at budgeting in the first place. You still have time to get ahead of the game and prevent losing control of your dollar bills before the Christmas chaos.
Here are 10 ways to make sense out of your cents:
Stop the budget bleed: Set one day aside to sit down and figure out where your money is going. Start an excel spreadsheet or just grab a plain sheet of paper, and list your income on one side and your expenditures on the other (use the past 6-12 months of bank statements to help you). Account for your daily, weekly, monthly and annual spending. If you have money left over, then the most sensible thing would be to put that into a savings account for Christmas or even for an emergency. If you are at a minus, then you will need to evaluate all your expenditures and create a budget.
Stop digging the big money hole: Are you spending on what you need or what you want? Food, shelter, clothing and transportation are needs. Everything else is a want. You need a phone for work. You want the latest version of the best smartphone. You need good quality basics for your work wardrobe. You want the newest fashions. You need three meals a day and a snack or two. You want to bar-hop every weekend. Separate the needs from the wants and scratch the “wants” off your list, or at least set them aside for your “your treat-of-the-month” (see next step).
Treat-of-the-Month: Regaining control of your money is not about total denial. It is about saving where you can, to spend on what you really want. Indulge yourself in planned increments. Try a treat-of-the-month club: save money for that splurge and enjoy it, instead of throwing money away on constant unplanned purchases.
Direct deposit into multiple accounts: Open savings accounts and use your bank’s direct deposit option to put money aside for Christmas, retirement, a vacation, a home, a car or your monthly treat. When the money goes right into these accounts, you don’t see it and are less likely to spend it.
Use the banking method that is less convenient to you: If using a credit or debit card is way too handy (and doesn’t feel like ‘real’ money), then put the cards away and make a set withdrawal of cash each week. For example, withdraw $100 for the week and do your best to make it last the whole week. If cold hard cash burns right through your pocket, then you might want to limit yourself by using a prepaid credit card with a $ limit.
Avoid paying the bank: Make sure to pay your bills on time, especially credit card bills. Interest rates can range from 18% – 25% and that can add up fast. Try to find a bank with low or no chequing fees. And always make sure you have enough money in your account before you make a purchase. Those NSF charges can really hurt!
Eating well is a priority but become a savvy grocery shopper: Fresh berries in winter are desirable, and asparagus in November sounds delectable, but out-of-season produce, individually portioned meats and poultry and snack-sized dairy products are expensive. Learn to read prices (unit price per ounce versus product price), buy in bulk, and shop around for good grocery deals. Sign up for grocery apps such as Flipp where you can browse the flyers of your local stores. If you are lucky enough to have a farmer in your area, then cut out the middle-man (i.e. the grocery store) and go right to the source, as that should save you a few dollars.
Shop your basic expenses: Review your car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, internet, phone and cable. Can you bundle your services? Check competitor’s costs, call your providers and ask if they can do better. Look at the small print; if the fees they charge don’t make sense, ask for explanations. Every penny counts!
Start extreme couponing: There are coupons everywhere and everyone is using them. It’s no longer just your mama! Check out sites like Groupon, Save.ca, Websaver, etc. for good deals and coupons. Many large grocery chains offer digital coupons to use at the checkout if you sign up for their loyalty program.
Line up the loyalty programs: Almost every large store has a loyalty program. Unfortunately, most require that you provide some personal information during sign-up. While this loss of some privacy annoys some would-be users, you can beat the system by setting up a general email box so their ads and reminders don’t clutter your regular inbox. Loyalty programs provide advanced access to savings and special sales or in some cases even cash back!
If you can regain your finances before Christmas then you’ll be in a good position to just relax and enjoy the festivities as you won’t have to face those credit card bills in January!