Budgets are impossible to avoid. As disheartening as they can be when they are being configured, budgets are what separate you from the animals.
Unless you like running your bank account down to the last dollar by the end of each month, it’s wise to be mindful of how much money you have available. Subsequently, you should also know how much of your money you won’t actually get to spend as you please each month.
Covering basic costs of living is part of being a grownup. Learning to automatically subtract these costs from your monthly paycheck can become increasingly discouraging, especially if your income isn’t quite as steady as you’d like for it to be.
That’s when you need to take a good, hard look at what you’re spending your money on. After a while, it’s easy to just assume that certain monthly costs are fixed.
If you’re curious about how your monthly payments compare to national figures, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2014 consumer expenditures report. With some careful evaluation, you might find some edges of that budget you’ll be able to smooth out.
Aside from a couple of costs you don’t really have control over — gas prices and base utility costs, to name a couple — there are many ways you can cut down on your basic expenses.
In 2014, the average American family spent $6,759 a year on food. That equals $563.25 a month, and if you want to reduce this even further, you’re looking at $134 a week.
$134 a week on food doesn’t look so bad until you realize Americans spend more on dining out than on buying groceries. While this is great for the restaurant industry, it’s not so great for your wallet.
The solution here is simple — eat out less. Even if your schedule doesn’t allow much time for cooking, a frozen stir-fry is healthier and cheaper than picking up Chinese food.
This expense arguably offers the least amount of flexibility, as you of course need somewhere to live. However, you might be paying more for rent due to amenities you don’t really need.
In 2014, the average American family spent $10,491 a year on living spaces, which equals $874.25 a month. Yes, some parts of the country have lower costs of living than others, but in every city, there are cheaper options around. All it requires is a little bit of sacrifice.
For example, if your apartment has a washer and dryer in the unit, you should do a quick search of apartments close to you with a laundry room in the complex instead. 9 times out of 10, the laundry room complex will offer cheaper units. And that way, you’ll get to know some of your neighbors.
In 2014, the average American family spent $1,786 on apparel. This equals $148.83 a month — since this figure is an average, it’s safe to assume many consumers spend hundreds of dollars a month.
Two words: thrift stores. This isn’t the most glamorous option, but you’d be amazed at how few people can tell the difference between a shirt you got for $120 in Manhattan from the one you got for $12 at a thrift store in Alabama.
Plus, there are many bargain stores nationwide that specialize specifically in gently used, brand-name clothing.
The average American is spending $110 per month on the phone bill, and that’s just for a cell phone.
The first question you should ask yourself is, “Am I paying for a landline?” If your answer is yes, your follow-up question should be, “Why?”
The landline should be the first thing to go, as it is a dying breed. From there, look for ways to cut down on your data, text and calling usage.
Rather than unlimited calling, try a set number of minutes as a cheaper option, especially if you use text and email more often for work. This strategy works for data usage as well.
In 2014, the average American family spent $46.92 per month for internet services.
Unfortunately, the cost of internet nationwide is only going to keep climbing, so it might be worthwhile to research how many internet providers are in your area. Find which one offers the cheapest prices and sign up.
You can save money by purchasing your own router from an electronics store rather than paying for the cable company to provide their own. You can also try cheating the system by signing on with a new provider at the start of each year, as many of them offer special promotions for first-year customers.
If all else fails, play hardball with them. Some providers have been known to offer lower prices when you threaten to leave them for another company — but you didn’t hear that here.
In 2014, the average American family spent $2,728 on entertainment, which means sporting events, movies, museums — you name it. Broken down, that equals roughly $227.33 per month.
No one is telling you not to go have fun. All that’s being suggested is that you find cheaper ways to have fun, and those ways might involve hanging out at home on a Friday night every now and then. Learn a few card games, watch a movie at home or try solving a massive puzzle with some friends.
So take a look at your budget and consider whether any of your “normal” expenses can be cut down — your wallet will thank you.