When I was in high school, working both a full-time and part-time job, I had a decent flow of cash coming in and only two bills and no proper direction on what I should do with the extra.
My mom was insistent I save for college, but at the time that was the last thing on my mind. So, like any decent girl with no direction and money to spend, I blew through my money like there was no tomorrow.
I had no personal budget, so saving money didn’t happen.
I lived for the immediate and by the time I left home for college, there was hardly anything to show for all the hard-earned money I’d made.
Determined to pay my own way through school, I experienced a massive wake-up call when what little I had saved quickly disappeared with the first month’s tuition. It was then I knew something had to change. And the first thing I added to my life was a personal budget.
Four years later, I graduated from college debt-free.
I also paid for my wedding—debt-free—while in college. It wasn’t an extravagant wedding, but I fed almost 200 people afterward and bought a brand-new wedding dress with what I had saved.
Paying my way through college and paying for my wedding was something I wanted to be responsible for. It wasn’t easy. I went to bed hungry many nights, rarely did anything extracurricular outside of work and classes, but it was worth it to me.
With the help of stubborn determination and a rigid personal budget, I had reached my goal.
If I had to do it over again, the only thing I would change is I would have listened to my mom and saved my money while in high-school. But I learned some valuable lessons I took with me into marriage and, because of them, when times got tough and bills exceeded our income, I could help keep us afloat.
If you are here, I’m guessing you are looking for ways to handle your finances better, too. Or looking for ideas on how to stretch your income. I’ll tell you a bit about what has helped me and hopefully you can walk away with some things to try for yourself.
Personal Budgeting Tips
- Make a Budget
- Cancel Subscriptions
- Stop Eating Out.
- Have a Game Plan for Groceries
- Shop at Garage Sales and Thrift Stores
- Say no to Parties
- Swap Babysitting Services With a Friend
- Attend Free Activities
- Find Items Around the House to Sell
- Set Aside Money for Frivolous Things
(I sometimes include affiliate links, which means I might make a small commission off any purchases you make, at no additional cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here or at the end of this post.)
Personal Budgeting Tip #1
I’ll come right out and say that I am not someone who likes to be tied down to schedules or budgets. I enjoy having the freedom to do what I want. But as you already know, that didn’t work out well for me in high school.
When I got serious about saving money and making my income stretch, I knew I wouldn’t get far without a budget. So I created one and I let it be my boss. Because there’s no point of having a budget if I’m not willing to follow it.
(If you need help with creating a personal budget, you can read my post: How to Create a Simple Budget.)
Or if you want something mobile, I use Mvelopes, which is essentially a digital form of the envelope system. I used the envelope system while in college and found it incredibly helpful, so when I came across Mvelopes, I was more than willing to try them.
I love using this program! It has been so helpful having my budget at my fingertips and it has saved both my husband and me so much time not having to manually enter things in every payday.
Personal Budgeting Tip #2
When my husband and I were trying to save money for a trip, we looked at our spending to see where we could cut back.
We first contemplated our cable bill and realized we only watched one or two channels and we could watch those online for free. So, we canceled cable and put that money away.
(Remember, whatever you give up doesn’t have to be permanent. You can also sign back up for things once you meet your goals or finances have improved.)
We were so surprised by how much money we saved just from cutting back our entertainment that we looked into other areas we could do the same. I even shaved back monthly expenses for my business that I felt weren’t essential.
We found that we enjoyed the minimalist life so much, we have yet to reinstate much of what we gave up.
Too many times we tell ourselves we need this or that when in actuality, we just like having it. And there’s nothing wrong with niceties. But when you are trying to live by a budget, those things only add stress when they aren’t necessary.
Personal Budgeting Tip #3
This one was slightly more difficult for us because our schedules were crazy and trying to plan meals around them was a chore and a half.
But when we totaled what we spent by going out to eat or grabbing a daily coffee, the number shocked us. It really was an eye-opener for us. And budgeting that expense every time we caved was enough to curb that habit.
Having to log where every dime goes really helped us to see how out-of-line our spending habits were with where we were trying to be, financially.
We started buckling down and instead of relying on restaurants when we were out, we made lunches to go. (If you struggle with low blood sugar as I do, keeping snacks on hand will stop you from forking over money every time you need to raise your levels.)
We cooked dinner in even if it was a special occasion. We only went out to eat if we had a gift card. This saved us SO much!
Personal Budgeting Tip #4
OK, how many times have you walked into the store determined to spend below a certain amount, only to walk out frustrated before you overspent? I’m raising my hand.
By not having a game plan in place, we set ourselves up for failure.
These tips have helped me stay on budget:
Eat before you go.
When I’m hungry, everything looks good and things end up in my cart that aren’t even on my list. Shopping on an empty stomach almost always puts me over budget. So if I have to shop and I haven’t been able to eat a meal beforehand, I will stop somewhere and pick up a sandwich.
Those few extra dollars I spend satisfying my “hunger sensors” save me from spending so much more at the store.
I started shopping every week instead of every two weeks.
I know people who dislike shopping every week. They feel it is just an opportunity to spend more. Which I totally get.
BUT, for me, I found I could better stretch my budget with only seven days to plan for instead of 14.
And I was also wasting less food by going once a week. Because I could buy fresh items more frequently, which prevented them from going bad and needing to be tossed.
And if I didn’t use up all the meals I allotted for that week, I added them to the following week’s menu and saved money there, too.
This Meal Packet has been a great help in organizing my food which has saved me money!
Make a menu for the week.
This is imperative. Having a budget and making a menu go hand-in-hand. If you go into the store without a list, you will buy things you don’t need and forget to grab the items you do. Which will send you back to the store and you will no doubt overspend again.
I grew tired of feeling guilty every time I over-spent, so I buckled down and made myself plan out a menu and make a grocery list. Once I checked off everything I needed, IF I still had some money left over in my budget, THEN I would look into picking up a few things that were extras.
Having a menu has been key to saving money and sticking to a budget. It helps me to see where I can splurge and where I need to scrimp before even heading to the store.
For example, if I have a special occasion coming up and I want to buy corned beef, I know I need to make a few cheaper meals throughout the week to compensate. Or I can plan larger meals that I can make stretch into another meal.
Allow for extras.
When my kids were younger, it didn’t matter if I said we were only getting what’s on my list, they would inevitably ask for something extra. (They still do as teenagers!)
Instead of letting that frustrate me, I would let them pick out a dessert for the family or a snack or two. And when they asked for something extra, I would remind them they already chose something. But I allowed them to swap out the items if they wanted.
This usually curbed their demands while letting them feel less restricted. And as a mom, I didn’t feel guilted into making purchases for which I hadn’t budgeted.
When I was still living at home, my mom heard about this store called Aldi’s and how inexpensive their food was, so we drove an hour to the nearest one and checked it out.
We saved so much, we made it a bi-monthly trip. And when I moved out of the dorms, Aldi became my go-to store, too.
When my husband and I were first married and I was finishing my last year of school, money was tight. The money we saved by going to Aldi’s allowed me to finish school debt-free.
If you are lucky enough to have one nearby, please try them out. They’re not large stores so your options will be limited, but their selections are great. For our family of five, Aldi’s carries most everything we need and I rarely need to make a trip elsewhere.
The money you save at Aldi is really the best part and I have a feeling that once you try them out for yourself, you’ll never want to shop anywhere else.
Since I mostly shop at Aldi I do not use coupons often, but anytime I plan to make a trip to another store, I will go online and see if there are any apps that have coupons. If you are shopping online, check if there are any coupon codes you can take advantage of.
I also carry fast food coupons in my purse in case I need to grab something while I’m out or if I want to treat myself without spending a lot.
I hate paying full price for anything and even though you might not save a lot by using coupons, those amounts add up.
Buy things on sale.
I am not as good at this as some of my friends, but following the sales of things you generally buy is a great way to stretch your money.
If something is on sale at a great price, I will try to buy a few at a time. It might be useful to budget a little each week just for this purpose.
Buy in bulk.
This follows closely with the above point. Buying in bulk allows you to buy your normally budgeted items at a better price.
If your budget doesn’t allow for buying in bulk, you can always go in with friends on a purchase then split up the items when you get home.
It’s a great way to still get the bulk discount without paying for the entire bundle.
Growing up, we would buy ten pounds of ground beef and separate it into smaller-sized bags when we got home. We cooked some then froze the others, and it was an enormous help to my mom’s budget.
Buy your meat frozen.
This is a very simple budgeting tip, but I save nearly 50% when I buy things frozen. That’s a lot of savings for the inconvenience of thawing it out once I get home.
Find apps that pay you to shop.
I have found a few apps over the years that have given me back money after taking a picture of my receipt. It’s usually a small amount, but again, those add up.
Another place that gives you cashback is Rakuten. And you don’t even have to enter anything, you just begin on their app, click which store you want to shop at and they keep track of what you spend. At the end of the month, you get a check for the amount of cash back you have earned just by using their site.
For people who make a lot of online purchases, this is one way of earning money by doing what you already do. If you want to check them out, this link offers you $10 just for signing up!)
Personal Budgeting Tip #5
Nearly all of our clothes are hand-me-downs. Especially the girl’s clothes. It just makes sense to pay a fraction of the cost at thrift stores when you can often find good quality clothes that are practically new. (You can save even more money shopping during their discount days.)
Most of the furniture in my house is also used. A little paint does wonders for used furniture and you end up with a “new to you” piece!
Another fun thing you can do is have a clothes-swap party with friends. Invite some friends to bring over clothes and items they no longer need and set up a room(s) with all the items.Then when the day of the swap arrives, those same friends bring a potluck dish and everyone gets to spend the next hour “shopping”, eating, and enjoying each other’s company.
I’ve taken part in several of these and its great fun! I love coming home with free items while also getting rid of things I no longer want or need.
Personal Budgeting Tip #6
By parties, I mean product parties. If you are on Facebook, I’m sure you have received invites to several of these.
As much as I love that my friends are trying to earn money for their families, if I’m trying hard to save money, accepting an invite will only add stress to your progress. Because even if you say you can’t get anything, you will feel guilty if you don’t.
So, politely decline all parties until you are comfortable spending money on extras.
Personal Budgeting Tip #7
This was a HUGE money-saver for me when I had a tight budget.
A friend and I agreed that once a month we would each pick a date on the calendar and the other of us would watch the kids for the night. That way, we could enjoy date night without worrying about the added expense of a sitter. And it was so nice for our kids to get some time with friends.
If you don’t have someone with whom you can swap babysitting with, why not barter with another service like cleaning, cooking a meal, etc.?
Personal Budgeting Tip #8
Too many people think you have to spend money to have a good time. That simply isn’t the case.
Sometimes the best activities with my family are those we spend little to no money on.
Just recently we packed a lunch and hiked for hours at a free park, then went out for ice cream afterward.
We spent very little money and had the most memorable time!
All kinds of places offer free days or free activities after a certain time. Museums, zoos, and libraries are great at providing free fun for kids. Check your local listings or search online for free activities.
Some parks even offer free lunches in the summer. That’s a win for your budget!
I have a friend whose family loads up in the car on Saturdays and they just drive and whenever they get to an intersection, the kids take turns choosing which way to turn. When they reach half a tank, they stop and explore wherever they end up. They have some neat stories from these excursions and it cost very little for the entire family to enjoy.
Just because you are saving money doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun, you just need to be more creative.
Personal Budgeting Tip #9
Having a garage sale is a fast and affordable way for you to earn some quick, easy cash, and you are ridding your home of things you really don’t need.
If you’d rather not have a garage sale, then sell some of those items on E-bay or FB Marketplace. If you find that you enjoy this, why not turn it into a business? There are plenty of successful people who shop at garage sales and thrift stores for the sole purpose of reselling their finds online.
Pinterest has countless ideas for you to turn your “junk” into treasure; you never know what you already have that could easily turn a profit.
Personal Budgeting Tip #10
Wait, what? I thought we were talking about saving money?
We are. But I have found this one little tip helps my “free spirit” feel less suffocated when I’m trying to be strict with my budget. Which, in turn, keeps me from deviating.
When you allow yourself some breathing room (or spending money), you are less likely to spend extra and go over-budget.
Every payday, I set aside a little money each week for myself to get a Coke and fries, my favorite “treat”. I don’t always use it, but it’s there in case I do. Sometimes I save it up for something bigger but I don’t feel guilty using it because it’s budgeted for whatever purpose I want. It’s budgeting for spending.
This little allowance keeps me from feeling overwhelmed and works very well. My husband does the same thing with our main budget.
We try to get ice cream or dinner occasionally, just to spoil ourselves because, no matter how much money we want to save, the kids should hear “yes” once in a while. And we should allow ourselves the same courtesy.
Alright, those are my personal budgeting tips and things I do to save money for our family.
For more budgeting help, check out my Budget Packet!
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About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.