Budgeting on a Limited Income

Budgeting has always been a priority for my husband and I.  We graduated from college in 2008 and 2009. The economy was trashed. Finding a job, any job, was a miracle.  Keeping that job was even more impressive.  Both my husband and I have experienced bouts of unemployment in our early careers, and it has influenced our marriage and the way we manage our finances. And the decisions we make about our family. Will we have more children? Who will watch our children while we work? Will we both continue to work? Can we afford to have one of us home?

This won’t be a post on how to start a budget. You can find my tips for that here. This is a post about ways to spend less. So that you can save more. So that you can pay down your debt.  So that you are prepared in case someone has to stay at home. So that you can choose to lean out.

  1. Make sure your credit cards are paying you. I grew up in a house where credit cards were big no-no’s. There weren’t any lessons on credit cards besides: don’t get them. And, to a certain extent, that lesson still rings true. Don’t open too many credit cards. Don’t carry balances (meaning don’t wrack up an interest). If you do your research and decide that having credit cards will work for you and your family, make them work for you.  A lot of credit cards these days will give cash back on anything, or at the least, will give rewards for things like groceries and gas.  My mom does most of her birthday and holiday shopping with the money she gets back from putting her monthly expenses on a Discover card! Just be sure to be safe: watch your spending, pay off your card at the end of the month, etc.
  2. Cut the fat. We didn’t realize how many silly things we spent money on until we were faced with not being able to pay for it all. Gym memberships? Cable? Cell phone coverage. I bought a jogging stroller for $50, and we take to the streets whenever the weather allows. Playstation Vue is half the price of cable. My husband’s company provides him with a work phone and allows him to use it for personal use.
  3. Don’t pay full price. Ever. For anything. Sign up for emails from your favorite stores. I bought my son an entire 3T spring wardrobe from Old Navy for under $100 thanks to a storewide 50% off coupon I got in the ol’ inbox. If you’re a Target shopper, get a Target red card (5% off all purchases) and download Cartwheel. I’ve saved HUNDREDS this way. If you don’t already have one, get a membership to a big box store like Costco or Sam’s Club. I suggest the executive membership at Costco – it costs more, but you get cash back! Enough to pay for the entire membership (or more, if you spend a lot!). Sign up to take quizzes for gift cards. My husband brags that he took enough quizzes to get our Amazon Fire Sticks for free. 
  4. Learn how to negotiate. Shop everything. Car insurance. Cell phone coverage. Internet provider. The new car you need. The tree trimming services that you’re hiring out. Everything is negotiable, and there is always someone out there willing to give you a better deal.
  5. Ditch the paper cup. It costs around $4 to buy a latte. It costs about $8 to buy a bag of coffee beans, which will make about 20 servings of coffee. Even with half’n half and fancy syrups, at home coffee is WAY cheaper than the drive thru. This rule generally applies to most forms of fast food or take out. Start cooking at home! Clip coupons or check out Aldi.
  6. Change your vocabulary. I don’t usually say things like “that isn’t in my budget” or “I can’t afford that.” I say, “that isn’t a priority right now.”  It make a huge difference in how I view things. I don’t feel deprived now that I’ve shunned pedicures altogether. I feel content that the $30 I might have spent on the pedi is going to something that I value more.

There are so many cost cutting tips out there, that I encourage you to share them.  I’d love to learn some new tricks!

About this series: Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy focuses on the challenges women face in trying to get ahead by taking charge of their own careers. This week on KCMB, our “Lean In/Lean Out” series will look at a number of the challenges associated with deciding to transition out of the workplace. View all posts in this series.

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