At the end of the month you need for all bills to be paid, savings goals to be met, and for your checking account to have a balance of at least zero (and hopefully a few dollars above so that you aren’t sweating it). When you adhere to a budget from choice or necessity, cost increases in one category means having to find a reduction in another. And let’s face it, we may have calculated the perfect budget where every dollar has a place, but we live in an imperfect world. Stuff happens. Cost increases in one category means having to find a reduction in another. Without savings, or if you’ve made your savings account a black hole like we have, your “reserves” to cover this overage become the other spending categories for the month. Visualize jar budgeting where each jar represents a category of spending and is filled with the appropriated amount. If the electric bill or water bill is higher than expected, the money has to come from one of your other jars.
It’s always a great idea to have a category to juggle life’s unknowns so that reserves are built into your system. But if you are like me and you automate away all of your money to bills and savings, or if you are living paycheck to paycheck, then this ideal “other category” is a pipe dream. So you must learn what I like to call the Zero Sum Financial Game where you take from some categories to balance overspending in others, and all that matters is that at the end of the month you have not gone in the red nor dipped into your savings account.
We all do this to an extent either on paper or in our heads, but I wanted to discuss a few ideas that might add to your frugal tools so that the next time you end up in the position of needing to juggle, you might be able to pull one of these out of your sleeve.
While I was growing up I remember my grandfather touting this advice over and over again to my family (usually when he was upset with a trip we had taken or bags we were carrying from the car into the house). He would be happy to hear that I am now giving this advice to others. Technically you could boot up your computer or television to shop from home. However, staying home typically means you will spend much less money (if any) than if you go somewhere. You save on gas money, remove much of the temptation that can be in stores, and you use up resources you all ready own in your home. This can be for a weekend, a day, or just one event.
Instead of grocery shopping for the next week or two, eat from your pantry, cupboards, and freezer. This can actually be a fun challenge! Creativity wins points, as well as the ability to take seemingly random ingredients and make great meals from them. Supercook.com is a great website that finds recipes for you with only the ingredients you put into it. It also asks details the ingredients left that are needed for certain recipes, which can be very helpful. Random leftover veggies can be made into soup, you can make breakfast for dinner one night with eggs/oatmeal/toast/etc., or roast a chicken from the freezer and make all sorts of things. When doing this challenge, you will typically need to devote much more time in the kitchen in order to brainstorm and to make food from scratch. However, you probably have more time than money in this case and this is a great way to free up some funds for another category. Who knows, you might find a new family favorite!
Zero Out Your Entertainment Budget
If you have a category for entertainment, it is one of the easiest categories to dip into when needing to free up funds for overspending elsewhere. Why? Allocating zero dollars to entertainment is not such a sacrifice because there are literally hundreds of things you can do to occupy yourself and your family that are free. There are parks, libraries, books at home to read (I’ve got 20 at least), biking, games, walking, movies to watch, free museum days, free local events…even lighting candles at the dinner table with your family can add some entertainment value to a Tuesday night.
Map Out Alternate Transportation
In a recent post by Andrea from So Over Debt, she confesses that she has had to miss work once because she did not have enough gas money for the commute. In order to potentially avoid this and to cut down on transportation costs to pay for unexpected costs from another category, map out alternate transportation for a “what if” scenario. My husband and I have learned the hard way that a car can die at any time (especially when you like to pay cash for beater cars), and it is easier to deal with this when you have a Plan B. Our Plan B for the last two breakdowns (admittedly not thought out ahead of time), was to find carpoolers at each of our jobs that lived near us (if you can find no one at work, look into nuride, a website that pairs together commuters for carpooling). I also mapped out the bus route from my home to my work, though we did not have to use this strategy. Finally, we both adjusted our sleep times and temporarily became a one-vehicle household. While this added a good hour onto our day, it afforded us several months of time to think about and to save for our ‘new’ beater car, as well as some lovely conversation during the commute!
Don’t forget that if you are not using your car for a few weeks or months (to make this worthwhile), then many insurance companies will allow you to recategorize your auto policy as such. I do this for long vacations or for in-between car breakdowns and the cost has been $10 per month. By doing this you retain all loyalty and tenure with the company while paying much less.
Return Unused Items for a Refund
Did you buy something this month with the tags still on it? Or maybe you have an item waiting to be returned from a previous month because it was defective or not what you wanted. When I was living in expensive Palm Beach Gardens, FL, I fell in love with this red beehive-looking blender my Uncle had purchased. Several months later I finally purchased it at $60 (I was waiting for a sale that never came). It was still new in its box a week later when I realized that I was going to come up short at the end of the month from bills and savings, so I returned it. A few months later I was able to actually afford it, and it is still in my kitchen today.
Other Articles You May Enjoy:
Happy Simple Living’s Annual January No-Spend Diet (this takes you to the challenge description; click on her blog tab at the top left to read each day)
Shopping Bread Outlets (there is one near us we have not tried, but I am tempted now!)
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