This task is something that many, many people seem to put off. I know I did! It wasn't until I was expecting my first child that I clued in and realized I had no idea where some of my money was going. I'm a big fan of the Reality TV Show "Till Debt Do Us Part" and it just so happens that the hostess of the show, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, has an amazing website filled with wonderful tips on finances. Included on her website is a guide to help you build the perfect budget! I've included her website in the "Links" section.
Once you have a budget, it's important to stick to it. If you start making unnecessary purchases here and there, even small ones, they will add up and eventually you'll be spending more than you're making.
One of the biggest money saving ideas for couples to consider is the possibility of moving into a new residence. This may be a difficult choice for some people of course and it's not a decision to be made lightly. It's possible to save hundreds of dollars by downsizing to an affordable home/apartment. Speak with your local financial advisor about working out how much you can afford to pay in a mortgage/rent each month and then find the perfect...and affordable...home for you and your family!
You might also want to consider renting too. If you own a house, then all of the associated costs of upkeeping and running it fall into your lap. When you rent a residence, if something were to come up (let's say a broken washer or a pesky leak) then the financial responsibility falls to your landlord, not you!
Your grocery bill is perhaps one of the biggest varible expenses you have. There are many things you can do to help lower the cost of this particular bill:
MAKE A MEAL PLAN/LIST - I put this one first because I found it saved me a lot of money and time! Before you go shopping, sit down and plan out meals for one week (or two, depending on how often you shop). Once you have the meals figured out, go through each day and write down the ingredients you need to purchase for each meal. If you stick to your meal plan and your list, you will avoid buying too much and prevent wasting money on food which may spoil because it was not eaten.
SHOP AROUND - If your town/city has more then one grocery store, take the time to research which store offers the best value for your dollar. Make a short list of items you buy on a regular basis (milk, eggs, bread, butter, cereal, fruit, etcetc) then take that list, and a calculator, to each store. Total up how much the items are at each store and note the cheapest one. Sometimes, it may be worth your while to shop at two different stores to get the lowest prices.
COUPONS - Get out those scissors and start clipping! Coupons are a great way to save money on your grocery bill. Some grocery stores have in-store coupons so keep an eye out for those. As well, if you check the online websites for major grocery stores, you will often find coupons available to print that are not offered in flyers. Some products may come with coupons on the packaging (ie - Save 50 cents on your next purchase of cereal). Finally, many brand name products have their own websites (Lysol, Nestle, etcetc). Check out these websites regularly for manufacturer's coupons. These coupons can be used at ANY store.
CHECK FOR SALES - While you're looking through the flyers for all of those coupons, pay attention to the sales. If you notice a sale on a particular product you need, take advantage of it! What's more, if you have a manufacturer's coupon, it can often be used on top of the sale which will earn you that item for next to nothing, if not free. HOWEVER...you must know your prices! Round figues (amounts rounded to the nearest dollar - $2, $5, $10) are appealing to the eye, so be careful!
BEWARE OF BRAND NAMES - While I agree that some brand names are worth paying for, not all things you buy have to be brand name. There is usually a significant difference in price between a brand name item and a no name brand.
BUY IN BULK - This doesn't apply to everything of course. I buy much of my meats in bulk. For example, a pound of extra lean ground beef will cost me around $5.50. If I buy the "Club Pack" (2 pounds) that will cost around $8.50. You'll end up saving in the long run. When you get home, seperate the portions you need into freezer bags and store.
NEVER SHOP ON AN EMPTY STOMACH - Yes, this old wive's tale is true. Shopping on an empty stomach can often lead to unnecessary purchases.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AD/PRICE MATCHING - Many stores such as Walmart offer Ad Matching. Let me break that down for you...we'll use Walmart for the example. Imagine a store is advertising a low price on an item (let's say cereal), if you bring the flyer to Walmart and show it to the cashier, Walmart will match the price of the other store. It's a great way to get the lowest prices from other stores all in one place. Be sure to read the fine print from each store which offers ad matching as the policies differ from store to store (ie - no 2 for 1 matches, no free item with purchase, etc).
On average, the cost of a family of four eating out at a restaurant is around $50 - $60. At a fast food restaurant this cost may be less and at a fancy restaurant this may be more. If you planned it right, that $50 - $60 could also feed a family of four for 3-4 days. Think about that...one meal or several meals. We all have plenty of excuses for eating out - too hot to cook, no energy to cook, etcetc. It's time to hang up those excuses and start making/eating meals at home. When you have some extra time, make a large pot of chili or spaghetti sauce, seperate it into portions and freeze for those days when you're not in the mood to cook. Am I saying to never eat out? Of course not! We all deserve a little treat once in a while. Remember...everything in moderation. If you cut back on take out and eating out, you could stand to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year.
This doesn't just include your landline at home, but cell phones as well. Call your local phone service provider and check to see if it's possible to switch to a more basic package (if you don't already have one). Often times, all those little add ons (call display, call waiting, etcetc) cost extra money. You have to ask yourself "Do I REALLY need it?" If you can live without knowing who called you before you pick up the phone, then get rid of those extra features to start saving money. As for cell phones, one of the best ways to save big money is to switch to a "pay as you go" plan. Instead of having a monthly bill, you pay only for the minutes you use.
Cell phones have gotten so complicated over the past few years. When they first came out, they were used as they should be - to get a hold of someone while they're out if you need them. This day and age, you can text on cell phones, check your email, facebook, take pictures/videos, surf the internet and more. These data packages are often very expensive. Again you have to ask yourself "Do I really need this?" If you have emal, facebook, etetc...chances are you have the internet at home. Why pay more money to check your email at a place like Walmart? Wait that half an hour and check it from home. You're paying for it there so you might as well make use of it. That also goes for your landline. If you're paying for it you might as well be using it. Stop paying big dollars to call your friends on your cell phone (you also pay big dollars when they call you too remember!). If you switch to a pay as you go plan, I promise you will save big time. If you spend the majority of time away from your home (and you have a cell phone), perhaps consider getting rid of your landline and home internet since you can do these things from your cell phone. That way you can eliminate one of your bills all together.
Similiar to you phone provider, your cable provider will try and talk to you into a bunch of add ons for your television. While it's nice to have a few hundred channels, once again you must ask yourself "Do I really need this?" Making the switch to basic cable will save you money. As well, you have to consider the high definition channels. Some of them are included with a "basic" package, however most of them do require extra money. Ask yourself "Do I really need to see the sweat on that football player's face?" LOL! A football game is a football game, seeing it in HD doesn't really make a difference. For those of you who insist on watching the big game in HD, why not head down to your local tavern or bar and watch it on the big screen? These events are often free since the goal of the establishment is to sell more food/alcohol during the event.
For those of you who are brave enough, why not give up your cable bill all together? There are other ways to watch TV and movies without the use of cable:
INTERNET: Many popular networks/stations such as NBC, FOX and CBS offer full episodes of their popular shows online. The best part? They're free to watch! There are also many legit websites which will allow you to watch full documentaries for free.
NETFLIX: For only $7.99/month, you can get a membership to Netflix. It offers unlimited movies, TV shows and documentaries for you to watch. If you would like to test it out first, Netflix offers a free, 1-month trial membership.
LIBRARY: More and more libraries are offering the public to borrow DVDs which contain movies and television series. Once again, all of this is free.