With the economy the way it is, plenty of people are struggling to make ends me. Hans and I have had it lucky. We live with my dad (practically rent free), and we really don't have any debt. That being said, we are trying to save money for a rainy day, and spending everything you've got is certainly not the way to do it. Also, while I was in school, Hans and I were living on only one income. The things we used to be able to do (movies, dinners out, etc.) became tougher and tougher. Unexpected bills were things we had nightmares about. So, as soon as I got back home, we decided to reevaluate how we were living and change a few things. Note: This post may not get you out of debt (especially if you're in deep), but it may make you feel a bit less stressed.
1) Eat out less. A LOT LESS! This was Hans and my biggest problem. We like to cook, but our kitchen is not the most conducive to cooking. Plus, while we enjoy cooking, we hate cleaning up, so cooking was always just put on the side. After a while, though, we just had to suck it up. I'm not saying to cut out restaurants entirely, I'm just saying to cut back. This may mean you have to turn down a few invitations from friends. Or, you could invite your friends over to your place. For instance, instead of going out for Sunday brunch with Jess and Byron, Hans and I invited them over for waffles and bacon. Yes, it ends up being more expensive than if we'd just eaten ourselves, but we got to spend some wonderful quality time with our friends. And, afterwards, we were able to get cozy on the couch and chat. That's way better than 45 minutes at some restaurant. Oh, and with that, cook from scratch. Microwavable meals are expensive.
2) Make larger meals. If there are two of you and you make a meal for four, then you can use it for lunch the next day. That means you don't have to stress about each and every individual meal. It also means you're less likely to have food go bad (it's hard to find something packaged for two only). If you're really lucky, you can save up all your left overs and use them again the following week. Then you have one week of cooking and one week of microwaving. EASY!
3) Rewear your clothes. This is not only good for your budget, but also good for the environment. I'm not suggesting you rewear underwear, or clothes covered in sweat, mud, or other stains. I'm just suggesting that if you've worn something and haven't gotten it extremely dirty. Wear it again. This will make for smaller laundry loads, which means you don't have to do laundry as often. If you do laundry at home, this means you're paying for less water. If you do laundry at a laundry mat, this means you can use a smaller washer.
4) Shop around for a good laundry mat. Not all laundry services are the same. You may find a great place (with cushy chairs) but it may cost $0.50 extra per load. That may not sound like a lot, but those little bits of change ad up. You can save those coins for later loads, or you can put them in your piggy bank. Either way, you're saving money.
5)Buy the cheaper brands. This is true for just about anything. Buy cheaper mouthwash, cheaper hair care products, cheaper food. Just make sure you actually like what you're getting. I'm not saying that Suave is the same as Redkin. I'm just saying that Redkin is freakin' expensive. That being said, I really don't like the way Suave makes my hair feel. I've decided to use Sunsilk (Hairapy). It's about $20 cheaper than Redkin and still feels great. Plus, I can get it at the local grocery store! Yes, Suave is still cheaper than that, but I still want to feel great.
6) Serve smaller servings. This is great for two things. It will help you lose weight, and you can save money. Now, be sure you're still getting the nutrition you need. Hans and I started using our small plates. We're finding we're full and we have more left overs (oh, and our bellies are shrinking). Our meatloaf used to only serve 4, and now it serves 6. Our chicken casserole went from 4-8. We do still treat ourselves, however. Every night after dinner, we'll have a Klondike Bar. Now, however, we're cutting them in half. That pack of 6 will actually be around for 6 nights. Before it was only 3!
7) Cancel the gym membership. The weather is beautiful. Why should you spend your day on a treadmill in a stuffy gym, when you can just go outside? Hans and I recently cancelled our membership to the YMCA. They're a great organization, but we were finding that we really weren't using them that much. I'd much rather take Cody for a run in the park than to leave him behind just to go running in air conditioning. You can also use playground equipment for strength training. If, however, you really love those free weights, then by all means go get some. You can get a nice set of weights at Target for anywhere between $10 to $50, and you can use them for the rest of your life. This is cheaper than most gym memberships in a month!
8) Find a roommate. This may not be for all people. There are plenty of people who just don't want to share space with another person. However, a three-bedroom apartment split among 3 people is typically cheaper than a 2 bedroom split between 2. This is particularly good advice for married couples. The two of you could live in one room, while the other rooms were rented out. Note: I give this advice, but I could never follow it. I'm very particular about my roommates, and I like having my space. This is just an idea for extremely social, easy-to-get-along-with people.
9) Stop doing the movie thing. This means, stop going out to movies and stop renting movies. It's way too expensive. If you are in desperate need of a movie, see if there are any dollar theatres in your area. Or, you could rent a movie with a bunch of friends and do dinner and movie. One friend does dinner, one friend does sides, one friend does dessert, and one friend does movie. This way you're at least saving on the meal. Along with this, though, I say CANCEL THE CABLE! There is so much to see and do out there, why would you want to spend your day watching tv? Read a book, go for a walk, play a game. If you really want your tv, see what's on the local channels (House, Biggest Loser, SVU, etc) and watch only those shows. Or, you can even download plenty of programs online. Check out hulu.com for a few great options.
10) Sometimes you have to shell out the money. This may sound odd, but I am thinking about bills here. If you have the money to pay off a bill, do it. Don't just pay the minimum balance so you'll have more money that week. That bill will be a constant stresser. Get it paid off so you don't have to worry about it anymore. Then you can be really productive.
I hope everyone has found this blog to be helpful. These are just a few things that Hans and I have started doing recently. I must say I'm absolutely amazed at what a difference it has all made. Do I wish I had plenty of money and could do whatever I wanted? Of course! That, however, is not the case, so I have to find ways to save. I do have other ideas, but these are the things I've found to make the most difference. Let me know if you have any other great tips, or if you want more advice!