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Watching Every Cent

Watching Every Cent

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    If you’ve been working on getting your personal budget balanced, going offline can make some sense. There are plenty of web applications and other tools that really do well at interpreting your spending patterns and other information just by taking a look at your monthly bank statement. But there’s really no substitute for doing some financial tracking on your own.

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    Every Little Cent

    One reason many people seem to struggle with building a budget that actually works for them is a lack of understanding when it comes to telling where their money really is going. Between cash, debit cards, credit cards, automated payments, one-click purchases and all the other myriad ways we can pass our money along to someone else, is it really any surprise that creating a spending plan that works longer than a week is a difficult proposition?

    Building a budget that is truly effective requires a very thorough understanding of your own spending. There is a relatively simple approach to getting the necessary grasp on your typical spending — tracking every cent you spend.

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    It isn’t a long term approach, of course, but if you’re working on getting your finances under control, a good first step is to spend a week or a month simply observing where you’re actually spending your money. It’s a matter of making a note every time you pull out your wallet, whether you’re spending cash or using plastic. At the end of your observation period, you’ll have a list of transactions that will give you a much clearer view of your expenses than a bank statement can. At a bare minimum, you’ll have an idea of where the cash you pull out of the ATM goes.

    Keep It Simple

    For most people, tracking spending for a full month will give you the best picture of finances: how you spend right after your paycheck comes in can be quite different from how you spend during other parts of the month, for instance. However, it is difficult to keep up with tracking your spending for that long. There are a few ways to make the process easier:

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    • Keep a notebook with your wallet, so that you have to pull it out whenever you’re making a purchase.
    • Write down every transaction, even if you get a receipt. It helps turn the process into a habit — and you’ll have one document with all your information.
    • Go with the paper route. Messing with texting your expense to yourself or shooting off an email just adds more hassle than a simple note.

    The important part of keeping this sort of ‘every cent counts’ record is to get the best data possible to work with. While some people can build a budget that they can stick to without such specific records, the fact of the matter is that most of us struggle to stick to a budget if we have spend without accountability. For those of us who fall into that category, budgeting becomes much easier when we already know how much we spend in a given category over the month. We know where we should cut back — and where we can cut back.

    Processing Data

    At the end of the observational period, you’re likely to have at least a few pages worth of records that you’ll need to interpret into a usable format. You may be able to spot patterns without doing anything in the way of processing, but it’s probably worth investing some time in the project and creating a spreadsheet with each of your expenses. Categorizing your expenses can make spotting patterns much easier — like picking up a candy bar every afternoon for a snack. These sorts of patterns are the starting point for changing your finances for the better. There are both good and bad spending patterns, and being able to see them can make a major difference in your ability to budget.

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    Once you’ve gone through all the data you’ve collected, it’s time to compare it to what you’d like your budget to actually be. There may be a large discrepancy between your plan and reality — the typical reason that so many budgets fail — so make note of where those big differences are. Breaking just one or two patterns may make all the difference in bringing your actual spending in to line with a budget: if something like a daily candy bar is driving up your budget, taking a step to eliminate the need for that candy bar (like bringing a snack to work along with your lunch) can make a dramatic difference. It’s worth noting that breaking a habit is often difficult — replacing it is usually easier. That fact applies to spending as much as any other habit.

    After an observational period, it almost always makes sense to end your financial tracking. It’s useful to get the sort of data you need to form a lasting budget, but it can be a fairly time-consuming process. Furthermore, you probably don’t need a cent-by-cent accounting of your finances beyond the planning stage. You may need to occasionally revisit your daily spending habits to make sure you’re still on track, but otherwise, reviewing your bank statements and receipts will more than suffice. It’s also worth looking into some sort of financial tracking application: while they may not be so useful in understanding the details of your spending, they can provide you with a broad overview that can be enough to guide you if you’re already on track.

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    Last Updated on June 26, 2020

    25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

    25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

    “How to save money fast?” This is the question asked by all of us not in the top 1% of rich people.

    If you are looking for ways to drastically reduce your expenses immediately, first look at what you need to spend money on every week. And I mean really need.

    You don’t really need to order in food. You don’t really need to buy expensive perfume.

    Building from that, you can work out how your regular expenses can be reduced.

    As for irregular expenses, they can also be deceptively costly in the long run. Once-off buys can also be tackled with some prudent planning and a little extra research.

    And remember: a budgeted lifestyle does not mean a bad or boring one!

    But first, understand what budget you can cut down on daily:

    • Regular expenses for the average adult (can be trimmed but not eliminated):
      • food
      • rent/mortgage
      • cell phone
      • insurance
      • socializing/entertainment
      • transportation
      • hygiene products
      • household bills
    • Irregular expenses for the average adult (can be eliminated or cut down a lot):
      • travel
      • clothing
      • medication (*depends)
      • grooming (hair, nails etc.)
      • gifts

    Now, let’s dive right into the 25 ways to save money fast:

    Save Money on Food

    1. Bring a stock of food to the office/work

    Instead of popping out for an overpriced salad and a smoothie, leave a set of basic utensils at the office as well as a stock of non-perishable goods such as tinned fruit, tuna, rice crackers and so on (try to avoid the junk food and this can turn into a pretty great diet!).

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    Stocking up means you won’t forget or say “I didn’t have the time” when you rushed out to work in the morning.

    2. Buy the store-brand version

    Many basic foods, such as bread and milk, will taste exactly the same as their branded alternatives. Go for stuff with minimal additives and preservatives. Meat in a tube is probably insanely unhealthy!

    3. Eat cheaper cuts of meat

    Learn how to tenderize and flavour cheaper meat and fish, and save on the (typically) most expensive item on your grocery bill.

    4. Have group dinners

    If 10 friends put $5 each in the kitty, it’s pretty easy to make a giant lasagne and get refreshments, as well as hang out with your favourite people.

    Save Money in Transport

    5. Get a bicycle

    Save on gas money and bus/metro fares with this underrated mode of transport.

    6. Use public transport and/or don’t get taxis

    Some places can only be reached by car. But as a good practise, check your public transport website and see if any routes pass nearby where you need to get to. Walk as much as you can.

    7. Find the cheapest gas

    Regularly check out where the cheapest gas can be bought.

    Save Money in General Shopping

    8. Shop online

    Not only will you save on the gas or transport fares from going to the shopping mall but you will also find better deals

    9. Sell your old stuff

    Get your unwanted belongings up on eBay ASAP and earn a few dollars.

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    Here’re more ideas for you: 25 Things to Sell to Make a Lot of Money

    10. Bulk buying stores

    For regular non-perishable/slow perishable purchases such as toilet paper, cat food, pasta, washing powder and so on, do an epic stocking-up trip to a co-op or equivalent (my mum used to go to a place that restaurants buy from).

    Be wary of supermarket “deals”, as some have been found to be fraudulent after working out a simple calculation.

    11. Become a flea market/car boot sale/street market guru

    You can find original gifts and develop good negotiation skills at these places.

    12. Generic brand medication

    More often than not, the generic version of paracetamol and other basics work the same as the branded version.

    13. Choose deodorant, not perfume

    It blows my mind when someone drops $70 on a bottle of spray. Stick with a nice deodorant, and not only will you smell just fine but you’ll be sweat-free as well!

    Cut Down on Household Expenses

    14. Printing

    Ink is one of the most expensive substances in the office and coloured ink is doubly so. B

    e more efficient and choose black and white, and if your printer doesn’t have a print-both-sides options, just print odd pages first, re-insert the paper and print even pages.

    Expand the margins of what you are printing as often as you can to save on paper.

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    15. Minimize SMS and phone calls

    A combination of a free chat service such as WhatsApp and a free call service such as Skype can reduce your bill to nothing (so long as you have a decent Wifi connection).

    16. Shop around for insurance

    Most people don’t spend enough time searching for the best insurance deal.

    Keep a watchful eye out for deals and new competitors in the market.

    17. Try re-negotiating your rent/mortgage

    If you have built up a good credit history or a good rapport with your landlord, then chances are a frank chat about needing to tighten your spending could result in lowering your payments. You’ve nothing to lose from trying.

    18. Don’t get a TV

    Invest in a computer/laptop and an internet-only package. You can watch more (and often better) entertainment on the web, and skip the advertisements as well.

    19. Pool your internet bill with a neighbour

    My apartment building is basically a big old house split into three apartments. There are five of us in total. We pool the internet bill, making it crazy cheap.

    Save Money in Socializing, Entertainment And Travel

    20. Have house parties

    Instead of paying for overpriced drinks, set up a series of in-house get-togethers with your friends. Everyone takes a turn, so it’s not always your house that needs cleaning.

    For sound insulation, hang heavy drapes on the walls and windows. For music, invest in a good second-hand set of speakers which you can connect to your computer. Let Spotify or Grooveshark playlists do the rest.

    21. Open festivals, meetups and events

    It never fails to surprise me how much underground stuff goes on around me for free or for very cheap. Find out who runs the blogs and websites that list all the less well-known cultural activities.

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    22. Volunteer

    If you can’t pay for a ticket, volunteer and get to be there anyway.

    23. Housesit

    There are multiple housesitting websites offering you the possibility to avoid paying hotels and skip the discomfort of crummy hostels.

    Save Money on Hygiene and Beauty

    24. DIY beauty

    French manicures, pedicures, waxing, eyebrows… pretty much all of these can be achieved at home (and done well) with some practise. There are plenty excellent blogs and YouTube tutorials to help.

    25. Fewer haircuts/volunteer at a trainee hairdresser

    If you can’t bear the risk of a trainee touching your locks, learn more ways to manipulate your hair as it grows and get haircuts sparingly. Women’s haircuts are outrageously priced in many cities.

    Bonus: Effective Money-Saving Tips for Everything

    Here’s a summary of what you can generally do to save more money:

    • Share/pool resources. Organize a neighbourhood sharing scheme, common resources for your apartment block or with your friends. Not everybody needs an individual lawnmower.
    • Buy energy-saving everything. The easiest way to lower your bills – replace those lightbulbs!
    • Buy in bulk. Be sensible about it (i.e. make sure you have space!), and drastically reduce weekly expenditure.
    • DIY. Skill up using YouTube tutorials on plumbing and many other essential services so you never have to pay for simple problems again.
    • Research a lot before making a decision. Most money-wasting is the result of poor preparation and planning. Don’t shirk this part just because you don’t like it!
    • Use your network. Your network is full of resources that can ease the pain of budgeting. Ask for help.
    • Stop and think. Do I really need it?

    Unfortunately, there are some things that require plain ol’ giving up for the time being. This can include high-cost sports such as skiing, the latest versions of some technologies, the finest brands of food/drinks, premier seats at the opera and most other indulgences.

    What is important to remember during lean times is that when you look back on your life, it will be the experiences that stand out, not the extra comforts.

    Living on a budget can teach you a lot about how much you can really get out of your paycheck. We only live one life, so make the most of every penny you earn!

    More Tips for Personal Finance Management

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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