You’ve made your financial goals for 2016. Now what? With a few tweaks to your budget and some lifestyle changes, you can be on the road to reducing debt and saving for the future. Here’s how.
Know Where Your Money Goes
Let’s ask the hard question first: How much do you spend on groceries, utilities and shelter every month? If you don’t quite know, then it’s time to track every expense. Knowing how much you spend every month can help ascertain what changes you need to make to your monthly expense. You can go high-tech by recording expenses with websites like Mint.com, or go low-tech by using a pen and paper. Personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly posits that tracking your spending can be “an eye-opening experience” once you realize how much you’ve been spending on dinners out or the daily cup of coffee. Regardless of how you do it, tracking where your money is spent every month can help put your finances in perspective.
Cut What You Don’t Need
Now that you have a picture of monthly expenditures, your next step is to cut items you no longer need from your budget. Take action and cancel that gym membership that’s metaphorically collecting dust, or cut the cable bill. It’s not enough to cut expenses, as you’ll need a plan for what to do with that freed-up money, too. Consider investing in your retirement account, reducing or eliminating debt, socking it away in a savings account for a rainy day or donating to a favorite charity.
Reduce Existing Expenses
Decreasing your monthly expenses can help you reach your savings goals too. Perhaps you can use coupons to save money at the supermarket or shop at secondhand stores the next time you need something new in your wardrobe. If you’re already brown-bagging your lunch to work, up the ante and reduce the number of meals you eat out after work, too. For more drastic measures, consider downsizing to a less-expensive apartment, getting a roommate to share household costs, or ditching your car and instead relying on public transportation.
Look For Free (Or Nearly Free) Items
Just because you’re cutting expenses doesn’t mean you have to cut out fun. That’s where knowing where and how to pick up free items can help you stretch your dollar. While you likely have already checked out books and movies from your local library, have you considered organizing a clothing swap among friends so you can clean out your closet while scoring new-to-you items? Other free or cheap options include having the gang over for a game night instead of an expensive night out on the town or organizing a toy exchange with other families in your neighborhood.
Increase Your Income
If you’ve already cut expenses to the bone, then consider increasing your income to help meet your financial goals. Since money doesn’t grow on trees, you’ll need to find other ways to increase your cash flow. Look into promotion opportunities within your company and take a look at these tips from Forbes on how to ask for a raise. If a raise or promotion isn’t in the cards, then look for a new job. Consider making some extra cash with a second job (Houston Chronicle shares ideas for gigs you can pick up after work). One-time options for making some cash include having a garage sale to unload the items you no longer need.
By streamlining your expenses and making a few adjustments to your lifestyle, you can pursue your financial goals.
Megan Horst-Hatch is a runner, reader, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in “-er.” She is also the president of Megan Writes, LLC. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.