Who doesn’t want an extra $100 each month? It all starts with tracking our expenses and figuring out where our money is going. Once we’ve done that, we can make decisions on what to cut out of our normal spending in order to free up $100 per month. That money can then be used to pay off debt quicker, build an emergency fund or increase your giving. The goal is to stop spending money on less important things and start using it for the important things you can’t afford now.
The following recording is from “Mornings with Kelli and Steve” on Moody Radio Indiana (97.9 FM). For more information on Moody Radio, go to moodyradio.org/indiana.
Q: When you coach people on how to find $100 per month in their budget, where do you start?
I always have to remind the individual and myself of the real goal. We’re trying to make our budget a more positive experience and create more enjoyment out of our spending by getting rid of expenses that give us little pleasure and replace them with things we want, but can’t afford. When we get that right, it changes the perspective of the process from being negative to being positive.
We shouldn’t look at what others spend their money on to determine what we should be spending. Some people get great enjoyment from things that others would list as least important. That’s why it’s an individual choice and each person needs to decide for themselves where to make cuts.
Q: What are the most common optional expenses that people consider trimming in an effort to find an extra $100 per month in their budget?
Food expenses come in two forms, eating out and buying groceries to cook at home.
- Eating out – I always like to say “eat out because you planned to, not because you failed to plan”. For some of us, our eating out time is important to us because it is time spent with family or building relationships with friends. If their budget allows for that, I’m not going to tell people to give it up.
The problem comes when we eat out because we didn’t think ahead and plan for our day. How many times do we buy a lunch because we didn’t prepare to take it the night before? What about when we work a long day and we’re all tired when 5:00 rolls around and we don’t know what we’re going to do for dinner? Instead of trying to figure it out, we decide to go out and eat instead. In those cases, we’re spending extra money because we failed to plan for a cheaper alternative ahead of time when we had the energy to do it.
- Groceries – If we’re spending too much on groceries, it’s often a result of a lack of planning as well. Every time we go into the store, we’re likely to buy something that wasn’t on our list. That’s why we need to plan our meals in advance and try to buy groceries for a week at a time if we can. If you need to make a grocery run to pick up an item, stick to the meal plan and just buy what you need for those meals.
If you still need ways to cut down on grocery spending, you may want to analyze what you spend on each meal and try to put more of the cheap meals in your week and sprinkle in the more expensive ones less frequently. For a boost in the beginning, you can also try to plan an entire week of meals using only food you already have on your shelves.
We spend a lot of money in the name of convenience these days. Some examples relate back to our first point.
- Prepared foods – It’s so much easier to go to the store and buy food that is already prepared for us to cook instead of buying it in its raw state. Things that come to mind are carrots that are already peeled and cut up for you or salads that are already put together and ready to eat, cheese that is cubed up or garlic bread that is already sliced and buttered. All of these conveniences come with an added cost that increases our grocery budget.
- Box services – Box subscription services are super convenient because they send everything to your door and it’s all ready to go, but there is an added cost to that convenience. In fact, the box meal services are running into the problem that they’re teaching people how to cook and hurting their own business model because their customers can go to the store and buy the ingredients cheaper in the future.
Know what you’re paying for convenience and make sure it’s worth it to you. Some things will be and some won’t.
Gifts and Celebrations
Too often we equate the amount we spend on a gift or experience with the amount of love we’re showing. In reality, time is one of the best and most loving gifts you can give and it doesn’t require our money. Here are a few suggestions to cut back on gifts:
- Focus more on Jesus at Christmas and cut back on the number of gifts. Add experiences and time together instead.
- Celebrate the person on birthdays, rather than defaulting to an expensive meal or party experience.
- Relational holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, etc. don’t always have to circle around an expensive meal, even though our society likes to make us think they do. Remember who you’re celebrating and put some creative time into planning something special on a limited budget. It can be fun and special while not breaking us financially.
It’s a profitable business, but not a profitable service when we use it long-term. If you’ve been paying storage fees for a year or more, it’s time to do something else with those items.
It’s not uncommon for me to see people paying more in storage fees than the items inside are worth.
Unused memberships and entertainment subscriptions
If you’re paying for things you’re not using, you need to trim those expenses. Some possibilities are:
- Gym membership you’re not using
- Multiple services for entertainment when just your favorite one will do
Look at these monthly expenses and drop the least important one or two. You probably won’t even miss it.
Cell phone plans
Monthly cell phone bills have become an increasingly large portion of the average person’s budget. We all should look at those bills and see if there’s a way to get the service we need cheaper.
- Look for some of the lesser known service providers that piggy-back on the big cell provider networks.
- Try to change your cell data usage habits. Some people need cell data for their work, but others could easily transition to using wifi data instead and save a fortune. I have a plan that charges me nothing for calls and texts and only charges for the amount of cell data I use. Since I’m normally close to wifi, I use very little data and my cellular bill last month was $2.35.
We all get worn down and feel like we deserve a nice, relaxing vacation, but often end up spending more than we should on those trips.
- One of the most common ways that we overspend goes back to that idea of convenience. All-inclusive resorts or vacation packages that have everything planned out for us sound easy, but they typically come with a mark-up in costs as well.
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.