I toyed with the idea of titling this post “Stop Spending All of Your Money, Amanda.” Between the two of us, I am the spender…but then again, Jake is also the spender (just not quite at the same level). Historically I grew up saving nearly every penny I received for birthdays and holidays. We married young and did mostly OK saving early into our marriage, but then BOOM.
Baby. Baby gear. Cole didn’t actually require much as an infant, but feeding the stroller habit required all of the monies.
Over the years I have employed a few different budgeting techniques. First it was pretending we didn’t need a budget, which lasted a few years. Then we moved on and signed up with Mint, a free budgeting tool that automatically imports all of your individual bank/credit card accounts and allows you to view everything at one time. I loved Mint for a long time, but eventually longed for software with slightly more robust features. A friend recommended YNAB (You Need A Budget), a tool that essentially forces you to account for every penny of your budget while automatically importing every transaction. Although not free ($84/yr or about $7/mo), YNAB has been good to us since we made the switch in the summer of 2016. They offer a completely free (no credit card necessary to sign up) trial that allows you to determine whether the software will work for your family.
Knowing what you are spending is clearly important, BUT as any budgeting person can tell you, that is only the first step. Reigning in spending is where I tend to crumble. Some of my biggest spending categories are online shopping (shocking, I know), and dining out. I notice a pretty dramatic decrease in what we spend eating out when I avidly meal plan at least Monday through Friday each week. Enter one of my all time favorite tools: Plan to Eat. I have talked about Plan to Eat at length on Facebook, so I won’t beat a dead horse. Don’t take my word for it – sign up for the free trial and you will discover the wonder that is effective meal planning with integrated grocery list building.
Another budget category that always takes me by surprise are those recurring monthly subscriptions. It seems like these days we are inundated by monthly fees for everything from shopping to entertainment. Many of these I consider more on the “necessary” side (Amazon Prime, anyone?), but some subscriptions are just the cushy things that make life nice (Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Sirius, etc). I like to keep a running Trello list of all of our monthly subscriptions, including price and renewal date. Every once in a while I will take stock, removing services that we no longer use or services where we have found a cheaper competitor. Many subscription shopping services like Amazon Subscribe & Save and Target Subscriptions allow you to easily remove/add items, skip deliveries entirely on specific months, or cancel outright all from your mobile device.
One of the biggest monthly cost savings we have found is regularly renegotiating our cable and internet plans. Certain providers even allow you to do this via chat which makes a somewhat stressful, not awesome chore into a tolerable background activity while catching up on Real Housewives. I also utilize Trim, a financial management service that operates via Facebook and aims to save you money by negotiating cable, phone, and internet bills on your behalf, among other things. Every so often I receive a message from the Trim personal assistant stating they were able to get me a credit on my Comcast bill due to an outage in my area. The bill negotiation service is an optional sign up and they take 33% of whatever they save you in the first year by charging a card on file. Generally this is money I would never bother to track down in the first place, so I am happy to part with some of that cash in exchange for their service.
The last, but perhaps most successful thing I have done to stop bleeding money is to create a master wish list for every member of our family through MyRegistry. Sometimes I buy items because I’m thinking about them at that moment and I’m strangely concerned I won’t remember to buy those products later if I try to wait for a sale…or wait until I have actually saved the cash to buy them. MyRegistry allows me to cultivate a detailed product wish list, complete with my own notes and categorizations. It’s like fake layaway. Not really, but these are the things I tell myself. For me this has lead to delayed gratification. Sometimes it even leads to the realization that no, I actually don’t “need” that $400 hair dryer like I thought I did 6 weeks ago. The $300 one will suffice.
Work. In. Progress.