Tuesday, July 8, 2014

5 Ideas for Living on a Budget (Without a Budget)

My hubby and I have a hard time adhering to a written budget. I admit, I am probably mostly to blame. I find myself rebelling against structure every chance I get. This lack of a budget doesn’t mean we don’t live within our means, though. And since I assume (and hope) that I am not the only person who struggles with sticking with a written budget, I thought I’d share 5 ways we live within a budget without a budget.

1. Wear it out.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the old saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Purposefully or not, Dave and I seem to live by this adage.  We both have a hard time spending money on newer versions of things we already have that are still functional.

For example: Our washing machine was inherited from Dave’s grandparents. At the time we got it, we estimate that it was approximately 10 years old. That was 9 years ago. The dryer had to be replaced several years ago, but that old washing machine is still kicking (quite literally — it is very noisy). Yes, it would be nice to have a new one that runs quietly and efficiently. It would be nice if I didn’t have to pile things on top of it to keep it in one place during the spin cycle. But since it keeps our clothes clean, we haven’t replaced it yet.

I feel that this one also applies to buying clothes (when necessary and not on impulse), shoes (nobody really needs 10+ pairs of shoes for 1 pair of feet), salon services, toys, electronics, etc.

2. Figure it out.

There are many things that you can learn to do yourself instead of paying someone else to do it.

For example: Since our first year of marriage, I have been cutting Dave’s hair (and now Eddie’s too). At the time when I started, we were in college and Dave was used to getting beauty school cuts for $2, so he had low expectations. We bought some clippers and I learned how to do it. When I consider that we’ve spent maybe $50 in the last 10 years on his hair cuts when we could’ve been spending $10+ every month, this one is definitely worth it.

This could apply to other things as well, like basic repairs & home improvement projects, hair dye, home decor, basic car maintenance, etc. Of course, some things require an expert, but whenever possible, it’s always great to have the option of saving money by doing it yourself.

3. Pay attention.

In order to make our budget-less budget work, we have to pay attention to our accounts by checking them regularly. This is a good habit to have anyway, so that you’ll catch any anomalies. I check our bank accounts at least weekly to make sure we have enough in our checking account, to make sure things have gone through, and to make sure we’re not overspending. Every few months, we track our expenses for a month so that we can see where we could cut back.

It also pays to pay attention to bills that vary month to month, like gas or electricity. Yes, during July, you’re going to use more power for your air conditioner. And during January, you’ll be using more gas for heat. Being aware of that, and how much it is costing you, can help you know when to cut back and change your thermostat a degree or two.

And lastly, pay attention to prices on things you regularly buy. It really pays off to know what a good price is for things you buy and notice when the prices go up or down. Whenever feasible, we do price-matching on groceries at Wal-Mart. Or we plan our menus around what is on sale. I like to take notice of gas prices at every station along my normal routes so that when I need gas, I know where to get the best price. I get quotes and check rates every year on our auto and home insurance.

4. Look for deals.

Figure out where you can get good deals in your area. Regularly check discount sites for deals on things you usually pay for anyway.

I love to eat out. That is not a good thing when you’re trying to save money. So before we go out, we scour all the deal sites to find coupons and vouchers. When there’s a fun place you want to take the kids, watch for good deals, Groupons, etc. We do our best not to pay full price for things we don’t really need. And sometimes, you can save money just by asking for a deal. When I recently set out to switch car insurance companies so I could get a lower premium, I called my current company and they offered me better coverage and a lower price.

This also applies to buying things used rather than new. If there is a big ticket item you’re looking to buy, shop around and check for refurbished or used versions. And be flexible. When our son needed a bigger bike, we happened upon one at Savers for $10. It wasn’t a planned purchase, but was a great price for something we probably would’ve been buying soon anyway. The same thing happened when our daughter was ready to move to a twin size bed. We’d been thinking of getting her one, but hadn’t made any decisions, when we happened upon a bed frame and box spring at a yard sale. We ultimately got her entire bed for $35.

5. Don’t be fair.

One thing I feel that has helped our marriage (and our finances) be successful is to stop worrying about fairness. When you’re always trying to make sure that everyone is getting “their fair share,” you can end up spending a lot of money on things you don’t need. We don’t separate out our money (because let’s face it, I wouldn’t have any) and we don’t keep score. If Dave needs a new pair of pants, he can get a new pair of pants. I don’t feel like I also deserve to get some too. Or if I go to lunch with a friend, Dave doesn’t feel like he needs to go out without me to make sure we’re even. I think that our marriage is a partnership and as long as we each make sure we’re not taking too much for ourselves, there is generally enough for everyone.

This can also apply really well with kids. There are a lot of times when one kid needs something and the other doesn’t, so they go without. That’s life and I think it’s an important lesson for kids to learn early on. If your oldest kid needs a new pair of shoes, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to get a new pair of shoes.


I can understand the appeal of living within a budget, but we have been unable to make a written budget work for us. Luckily, we have used these ideas and others to still live within our means. I would love to hear your money saving ideas as well, so please comment!

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