Monday, October 14, 2013

Meal plan!

So, we all know how we go to the grocery store and try to think about what we are going to eat for the duration of the time that we are shopping for (2 day, 1 week, 2 weeks, etc.)

However, without a plan, you are guaranteed to spend wayyyyy more money than you need to.  By meal planning you can save on stuff that you don't need to buy (checking your ingredients first), and also save time and plan to bring coupons that will help you save even more.  

Some people think of meal planning as making all of the meals on one day for the whole week, but I am referring to just making sure you have the ingredients you need so you're not make a trip to the grocery store every day for last minute items.  Meal planning will also save you from just picking up something on the way home because it's convenient and you don't have anything thawed out. You can thank me later :)

There are a few things that you can do. You can look at what you already have and plan around that (which you may be surprised and not have to do any additional shopping - you'll be shocked as to how much you can find when you look in your pantry/fridge/freezer).  You could also think about some recipes that you normally use and/or a list of some things you have been wanting to try and create a menu board (or your version of one).  Mine took less than 5 minutes or so to make and I have a box for "recently used" and "it's been a while."  I just started using this last week (and this week incorporated the first option to determine what I already have), but it has gone well so far and I'm hoping to not repeat any recipes for a while (I have about 45 right now - majority are pretty easy to make since hubs and I both work FT M-F).   So, when you plan your meals for the week(s) and have checked your house to see what you may already have, make a list of what additional ingredients you may need.  When you have your list (or if you just don't have any clue what you want to make) head over to Southern Savers and check out all the deals for whatever store you will be going to.  Jenny has done a great job of including coupon match ups  (If you buy 2 Sunday papers a week you should have no problem finding the right coupon - but if not, many of them are available for printing for free!)

I would love to hear about your successes to keep the motivation coming!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Create a budget..... and stick to it!

I cannot express how important it is to create a budget.  The first step to becoming debt free is knowing where your money is going.  Create a budget that fits to your lifestyle.  If you do not use an excel spreadsheet on a regular basis then I do not recommend using that format for your budget.  If you always use your phone and that would be easiest for you, then there are tons of great budget apps for your convenience (and you can find some good quality ones for free). I, personally, use WakeUpNow's finance services.  It tells me exactly what I'm spending my money on and how much of my budget I have used every month.

It is VERY important to stick to your budget.  If you paid off a bill (and still have more left to pay off), don't add $50 to your "entertainment" budget.  Use that $50 towards the next bill on your debt tower or put it towards your emergency savings account.

WakeUpNow can also be used for free printable coupons to help reach your grocery budget and you can come out well under your shopping budget by buying things that you already purchase at a discounted rate.  You can do all of this as a free preferred customer. 

What are some of the best budget experiences that you have had?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cut your expenses.

What exactly do I mean by this?  See where in your monthly bills you are able to lower the prices.  Have a gas guzzling SUV and only 1 or 2 kids? Look into a car with lower payments and better gas mileage.  Just this in itself has saved me almost $200/month.  I lowered my car payment by $75 and I am not getting an average of 30-35 mpg as apposed to 12-15 mpg in my previous SUV. I now only get gas twice a month (if I don't take trips) instead of every 4 days. This was the first step in my journey of becoming debt free.  I thought I would miss my fully loaded with entertainment center Jeep, but in reality, I'm just upset that I didn't think about it sooner. And I plan to pay off the new car in 3.5 years max - but I'll discuss that in a later post.

What about utilities? Recently I talked it over with the hubs and we agreed to cut the cable.  Keep the internet and saved $80/ month instantly.  However, now that it's football season, it's impossible not to have some sort of cable. After weighing our options, we choose to go with Directv.  The only con is that it's a 24 month contract which I'm not thrilled about, and that the cost will go up after the first 12 months.  But I am saving about $30/mo for the first 12 months, and saving about $240 over the 2 year time span vs. Time Warner.

As far as other utilities go, I conserve the electric as much as possible (unlike my husband.) I turn off all lights when not in use, unplug kitchen gadgets not being used, and set the sleep timer on my tv for 90 minutes so it's not on all night.

Water, gas, and sewer is all about the same every month (even though the water just said they will be going up in rates - boooo!) so I haven't really had to cut my losses there.

Another thing that will help is Wake Up Now's personal finance management tool.   It keeps track of what you spend your money on and you set the budget so you know when you have gone over or how much available you have of your budget. Read more about that here (it's all the way at the bottom of the page on the left.)

What would you personally do for yourself or your family if you could save at least $300/month?

Coupon, coupon, coupon.

The first thing I want to discuss when it comes to changing your lifestyle in order to become debt free would be to learn about couponing.  I wouldn't expect to see you on the next episode of "extreme couponing" but you should be aware of the process.  Normally, about 1/3 of our expenses a month are on groceries/going out to eat/shopping.  In all of these categories, there are almost always coupons that could be found.  I would recommend visiting Southern Savers to get started.  Jenny is amazing at giving not only a step by step for beginners, but also has the coupon policy for all of the stores.  She matches all of the weekly ads with current coupons to help you get the best deals.  I live by this page everytime I am looking for a good deal and this is also what I use to make my grocery list every week.  The key is to make sure you buy what's on sale and stick to your list.  I try to make a menu/meal plan for the week, look through my fridge and pantry to see what I already have(this saves money in itself so you don't buy more than you need).  Also, never go to the grocery store hungry, you are guaranteed to spend at least 10% more. Personally, I (almost) always go on my trips alone.  If you are able, I would definitely encourage it.  It's less stressful, you can actually concentrate on what exactly you have on your list along with the correct coupon matchup, and you don't have extra hands grabbing things that they don't really need.

If you are familiar with my Wake Up Now business, you will know that I am also able to print out free coupons from there also.

When it comes to going out to eat, I almost never go unless I have a good coupon(saves me at least $5). Honestly, I only try to eat at restaurants on special occasions. Think about it.  You go to dinner once a week for a family of 4 is easily $60 after a tip if not more depending on where you go. For me, that's almost my budget for a WHOLE WEEK of groceries.  If I knock that down to only going to dinner every other month, I am saving $420 every 2 months! That's just over $2500/year!!!! $2500 a year to only eat out to dinner once every other month instead of once a week.  That's insane and will pay a couple of bills just by making ONE change in my living habits.

What about fast food? Sure, we eat fast food, at least once every other week for one reason or another(normally I just don't feel like cooking after getting off work at 6 on Fridays). However, I still try not to get something on the way home unless I have a coupon for it. For marketing purposes, stores and restaurants send coupons in hopes that you will purchase more items that you maybe wouldn't have otherwise.  Luckily, I have 2 kids that can share a kids meal and I can normally just eat a kids meal myself and be fine so I'm only really splurging on the hubs.  But, with my coupons, I am able to get more for my money.  For instance, if I have a McDonalds coupon for b1g1 quarter pounder, I can get that, a lg fry, and a kids meal for the girls.  We are all satisfied and I still just saved close to $5 and only spent about $10 for a family of 4(or $2.50/each).  No need to get a drink when I have filtered water and other drink options at home. That saves $1.08 after tax in itself.  Think about it.

Now for shopping coupons. If you shop at Target like I do, then you should be aware of the fact that they have both printable manufacturer and store coupons(use them both together for double the savings!)  Now they also have what is called "cartwheel" deals where you can get an additional 5-20% off of certain items. Just choose what you want from the list and they will email you link with the barcode for the cashier to scan to get your savings.  That's not it! They also have text deals for fresh and frozen food and you can save 5% on everything when you use your Target debit or credit redcard (just be careful with the debit because the charge takes about 3-4 days to come out of your checking account so be sure to put it in your register so you don't forget about it and overdraft!)  Kohls and Belk always have great coupons as well.  We were able to use 2 separate 20% coupons at Belk along with the current sale prices and saved over $150(Spent only $85) on a suit for a wedding that hubs will be in next Spring.

As you can see there are multiple options for using coupons and as you will see, I always recommend that when you save any amount of money(and make extra money) that you use the 1/3 rule. 1/3 goes to savings, 1/3 goes to paying down debt, and 1/3 goes to your checking account to spend at your leisure.  This ensures that you can still enjoy a little extra money.