If you want to take control of your finances, you need to spend less than you earn. And while there are many ways to do this from downsizing to careful budgetary practices. Last week, we talked about avoiding unnecessary fees. Another easy way to save money each month is by reducing wasteful purchases. Like unnecessary fees, many people unwillingly spend more money than they need to on items or options that are redundant, excessive, or just plain wasteful.
These budget-busting bills and purchases may be a normal part of your life, but eliminating or altering them is often not even difficult or life changing. More often than not eliminating waste is all about altering your habits in minor ways in order to better serve your pocketbook and, once your make those changes, they will be easy and automatic.
There are many small changes that you can make in your spending habits that reduce or eliminate waste. By planning ahead and staying aware of common spending traps, you can save hundreds of dollars over time. Let’s take a look at some common budget-busting purchases and how to avoid or replace them:
Pre Packaged Items
Any parent who has lived through the morning rush of making lunches and getting appropriately-dressed children onto a school bus understands the appeal of pre-packaged food items. From individually wrapped chips and cookies to juice boxes and apple sauce, these conveniences save plenty of time. What they don’t save is money. Even when using coupons, shopping sales, and stacking deals the volume difference alone often makes buying in bulk and dividing items yourself a better deal. All it takes is a little pre-planning and a habit change. Pack lunches the night before, for example. Or take time when buying items to pre-divide them into individual servings that you can grab-and-go just like the prepackaged options at the store.
As an added bonus, DIY prepackaging also reduces environmental waste. Reusable containers are far less wasteful than individual baggies or wrappings and, especially if purchased through couponing, they pay for themselves over time as well as reduce trash.
Meeting friends for a drink or celebrating a special occasion is always a treat, which is why focusing on the company you keep rather than the alcohol you consume is a great way to save money. However, if you do want to have a drink or two, pay attention to price and quality of the beverage you order. Oftentimes so-called mixed drinks contain more juice or mixer than alcohol and often cost more than a bottled or draft beer, which has a fixed volume and alcohol content. Wine is another good option, though the volume of a “glass” varies according to the bartender. It is often better to just order a bottle or a carafe instead.
Also, if you plan on spending more than an hour and a drink together, the cost of buying the materials yourself and drinking and chatting at home is far less than the bar bill for a three hour catch-up.
Magazines and Other Subscription Services
Once upon a time, magazines were the best way to catch up on everything from celebrity gossip to the latest crafting and recipe trends. The internet changed all that. However, many people still subscribe to magazines and other subscriptions, such as newspapers, for nostalgic purposes or because their subscription renewal is on auto-pay. Not only can you access some, if not all, content in those magazines or newspapers for free online, there are literally thousands of bloggers who provide the same information (and more!) that are fun to follow through Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feeds.
Reducing waste through common bills is another easy way to save money. In fact, by scrutinizing these monthly expenses and asking yourself and your provider about the details of each charge, you can quickly reduce your monthly and yearly expenses by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Here are some common changes that are easy to make and you won’t likely miss:
Multiple Telephone Bills
The landline may not be dead, yet, but it is dying. If you get good cellular service at home, eliminating it altogether is an easy option. However, for those with patchy cell service at home, having both telephone lines is essential. It does not, however, need to be expensive. Many cellular companies offer landline options as do cable and internet providers. By combining these bills and reducing the service needs on your landline you can save money each month.
In addition, maintaining more than one cellular contract is another money-waster. Invest in a family plan and design a way to split data and/or usage among all users rather than paying fees and taxes on an additional contract for parents and children or partners.
When you are on a strict budget, cable or satellite TV is an indulgence, and an easy one to omit, even if it means a lifestyle change. However, even those among us who can afford a monthly cable bill do not need to overpay for it. Make sure you actually use the service you have by paying attention to the channels you actually watch. Also, many cable companies will renegotiate their rates with current customers, allowing them to take advantage of current deals and promotions. The trick is knowing to ask.
Eating Out/Take Out
Eating out is another indulgence that many need to forego when money is tight. However, it is not altogether bad. However, where, when, and what you eat are all important factors to consider. A great way to capitalize on the convenience of eating at a restaurant or getting takeout is to pay attention to weekly specials. Many pizza places, for example, offer midweek “family deals” that include reduced prices on pies as well as the addition of sides and drinks. Websites like Groupon are another great way to save money dining out as they offer prix fixe packages at local establishments that, along with an entrée, often include an appetizer, dessert, and even a drink at a reduced rate – just make sure to tip your server based on the value of the meal, not what you paid, when using this method.
Avoiding Waste and Enjoying Life
Like budgeting in general, avoiding waste in your life is not a restrictive practice, but rather an easy way to enjoy all that life has to offer while keeping your wallet full. In fact, most of these methods of saving are simply part of living a more frugal lifestyle that are easy and natural to integrate. Once you make a habit of ordering beer instead of a margarita, for example, it’s a no brainer that continues to “pay” over time.
What other wasteful spending practices have you eliminated from your life without changing your life in the process?