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Family Budget For You – Tricks to Make the Belt Less Tight

Your Family Budget is part of the Saving 201 series that looks at financial life after coupons – because it can’t all be about coupons.

Here we are, it’s the last week of our Family Budget series. And the final week before YOU start your new Family Budget in February.

We’ve talked about setting goals, figuring out where your money goes, and creating a monthly budget.

But this week, we will talk about ways to lessen the financial belt so it doesn’t become a noose that strangles you.

Because here is the deal – the majority of us have been living either right at or slightly ahead/behind our means for a long time. So when add up all of our new long-term financial goals with our daily/monthly expenditures, more times than not, we will end up short.

And be forced to make cuts.

A bunch of cuts.

However, make the belt too tight and you’ll start to starve.

Which is fine – for awhile. But eventually, you’ll get tired of the belt being too tight. You’ll decide one month to loosen it just a bit “because you’ve been so good” or “you work hard and deserve a good time”. And before you know it, your will-power is gone and you are on a 30-day binge.

So start slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your budget won’t be either.

In fact, here are my top 10 ways (with handy dollar amounts) to help you tighten the belt up slowly.

10. Sell Some Stuff (+$300)

Take a good hard look around your house. Are there items in good working condition that you no longer use? Sell them. Have a garage sale, list stuff on Craiglist or Ebay, or if you have unused gift cards for places you don’t like – then sell gift cards for cash at exchange websites such as Cardpool or Plastic Jungle.

And then put that money toward a bigger goal – like a vacation. Somehow the thought of getting rid of Aunt Mable’s old tea towels sounds more appealing when you think about going to California Wine Country.

9. Start Eating Out On A Different Day (+$50)

Eating out is the most expensive on Friday and Saturday. Think about eating out on either Tuesday or Wednesday. The specials are cheaper (and there are more of them) and Kids Eat Free at many restaurants on those nights.

8. Reconsider Memberships (+ $150 or more)

When is the last time you went to the gym? If you can’t answer that, consider getting rid of your membership or finding a cheaper alternative. Don’t quit exercising – just find a more cost effective way of doing it.

Got your kids in activities every night? Rethink. Have them pick their favorite per season. Enjoy the extra money and extra time at home.

7. Reduce Entertainment Costs (+ $50)

Start checking out books and DVDs from the library. Almost every library has an online catalog that allows you to place holds from the comfort of your couch. Sure, it may take a bit longer to get a new release – but you have it for a week and won’t pay a dime. Can’t wait that long? Use Redbox. It is only $1.00 per night.

6. Creative Gift Giving (+ $100)

If you are exchanging gifts with in-laws, parents and siblings out of “commitment” – then it is time to rethink gift giving.

Instead of shelling out big bucks to buy gifts that people may or may not like – think about doing a fun outing where everyone is involved, having a consumable Christmas exchange, or just writing heart-felt cards to one another. Believe me, I don’t want to take the fun out of the holidays. But there are ways to do it for less.

5. Don’t Shop Out of Boredom (+ $50)

The more you are in a store, the more you will shop. I was a notorious “shopper” when my DS and DD were in Mothers-Day-Out. Even though I was finding bargains – those bargains were adding up and breaking our budget. Now I shop with a purpose and will give myself a 24-hour cooling off period before making big purchases.

4. Research Your Health Expenses (+ $100 or more)

Ask your doctor for generic medications or samples. If the prescription is still too expensive, keep asking for an alternative. Once DS had an eye infection. The eye drops prescribed were going to be $127.00. I pushed back and the pharmacists found an ointment alternative for $13.00.

If you have high-deductible insurance, use CVS or Walgreens Clinics for routine diagnoses. It is under $70 per visit vs. $145 at the doctor’s office. Even better – you don’t pay if they don’t diagnose you.

Make sure your dental insurance is worth it. We were paying $25.00 per month for our family and still had to pay high out-of-pocket for any non-preventative work (fillings, crowns, etc.). We did the math and found a dental discount plan (which is $100 for the whole year) as a cheaper alternative. I had two fillings at the end of the year. With the plan, they were $200. Without the plan, it would have been $400.

3. Get Rid of Cable (+ $40)

With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes and players that stream from the internet, you can almost guarantee seeing your favorite show.

It may be the next day, but it will be there and in many cases for FREE (or a reduced cost). And with local channels sending HD over the airwaves – we have the best local picture quality we’ve had in a long time.

2. Get Rid of Your Landline Phone (+ $40)

Do you have a cell phone? Get rid of your landline.

90% of the calls you make or receive are on your cell phone. And the old adage that “911” can’t figure out where you are at – most cells phones now have GPS. They know exactly where you are at any time.

1. Use a CASH envelope system (+ $50)

A cash only envelope system stops “spur-of-the-moment” splurges. It’s harder to part with cash. It’s psychological. But it’s true.

Also, once your money is gone – it’s gone. You can’t charge a movie without a charge card.

We’ve been a cash envelope system for our grocery, clothing, family fun, and baby sitter for a couple of years. The reason we picked these categories is because we were always going OVER when we used our credit cards. With cash, we don’t go over, because we can’t. Have line items that you consistently go over on? Think about switching to cash.

What about you? Do you have any tips for making the belt less tight? Let me know in the comments.

(Join me next Tuesday as we end our Renew For You Series with a few giveaways. Great prizes picked out by me – you won’t want to miss it. Also remember to check out these fellow bloggers posts on ways you can Renew for You in 2011.)

Organizing a Price Book– from My Coupon Teacher

Self Esteem – Take the Leap and LIVE – from Maven of Savin

Detox Your Body – from Stockpiling Moms

Care for Yourself: Art of Saying No – From Give Me Neither