Recently at a sort-of tech-related Christian meta-blog called Digital Sojourner, I wrote a series of articles on the perfect PC Bible. In one of the posts I mentioned that you can’t just up and buy a laptop: you need to research, you need to plan, and you need to save.
But how can a Christian, or anybody really, save money to buy a car, or a house, or get an engagement ring or whatever? If I were a bit less me, I’d say it this way: how can a Christian be a good steward of his or her money? Too often our purchasing habits are restricted to seasonal shopping (because we think that’s when we deserve it) or to an impulse buy with the intent to pay things back at a later date.
Now mind you, my pocket is tight. With three homeschooled kids and a recent move to a more expensive neighborhood, and a salary that is still short of what I made several years ago, finances are rough. I write this post for myself; feel free to look over my shoulder.
So here are a lucky fourteen ways, in no particular order, that you can save money, right now.
One: Don’t have the money, don’t buy it. Credit is so easy and this is so hard. This gets complicated when it comes to purchasing a house or a business, but it functions as a general rule.
Two: Consolidate debt. You don’t want multiple credit cards with varied minimum payments that aren’t impacting the debt. If you can, consolidate your debt onto a single low interest card or a single low-interest loan leaving you better off in terms of budgeting and debt reduction.
Three: Budget. Consider all your monthly expenses and all your incoming dollars. When you see it in black and white, you’ll know how dire your situation really is and what you can easily trim. (Budget Simple, Mint.Com)
Four: No one needs cable. With high speed internet ranging anything from $14 – 150 a month, you can watch most of your favorite television shows right on hulu. And in fact, if you have a modern television with a digital tuner, and live close enough to a television transmitter, you can probably get all of your regular network channels over the air with an $11 antenna. Check this antenna guide to see what you can do.
Five: Smart phones aren’t smart. If you run your own business it’s a different story, but you probably don’t need a smart phone or the required 30 dollar a month data package. Quite honestly, if you don’t travel outside of your neighborhood you might not even need a two year contract. Check out the network of TracPhones or a similar product which offer smart phones for more than half of what you would normally pay with one of the big companies. And when that’s all said and done, take a hard look at your land-line and ask “if I have a cell phone, do I really need that?” And no, you don’t save money with those fancy triple packages.
Six: Save on your commute. Living closer to work saves on gas (and more); you can even ride your bike there. If you can’t, use public transportation. And if you can’t do that, car pool. And if you can’t do that, have a conversation with your boss about telecommuting one day a week.
Seven: You probably don’t need it. A new shirt? New boots? New shoes? If you really need it, check your local Consignment Shop or the Good Will. Unless it’s an interview. Then yeah, you do need it.
Eight: Be a smart grocery shopper. Don’t shop when you’re hungry so that you don’t make impulse buys. Make a list that falls within your budget. Use coupons but only on products you normally buy. Family packages of meat are a great savings especially if you split it up into zip-lock containers and freeze them until you use them. Use a freezer. Don’t bother with Costco’s: the bulk size items are usually not that well priced when you compare ounces to ounces and the membership fee is an unnecessary cost. Combine your shopping trips with other activity. If you pass the supermarket from work, that’s two birds with one stone.
Nine: Automatic deposit into a savings account. You can usually set this up with your employer. I would suggest something manageable at first, like $25 dollars into savings, the rest into your checking account, every pay check. If you can’t set it up with your employer, you can set it up with your bank by having an automatic transfer to your savings every two weeks. Again, just start with something small at first.
Ten: 401K is good; company matching is great. If your company has a dollar matching with a 401k then contribute up to that dollar amount. That extra from the company is like a pay raise that rewards you at retirement.
Eleven: Mind your taxes. If you’re freelancing, save about 45% of every dollar for taxes down the road. If you file the EZ tax form, you can probably do it yourself via the phone but if you’re a homeowner, or have kids, or run a business, or are a landlord—get an accountant. The $200-300 that it costs to cover the accountant will be rewarded with their expertise and knowledge of new tax rules. They can answer questions which computer programs don’t know to ask.
Twelve: Share finances with your spouse. If you keep the finances a secret two things are possible: (1) you might spend in secret and thus dig a hole in secret or (2) your spouse might spend unknowingly. Get your spouse involved in budgeting and bills so that you’ll both be aware of the current financial situation.
Thirteen: Careful with Seasonal Sales. Sometimes the prices are good; sometimes they aren’t. Black Friday is notorious for selling product whose prices had been inflated for weeks before to make the drop look dramatic. Use tools like Camel Camel Camel to trend product prices before buying.
Fourteen: Pack your lunch. Don’t bother eating out. Cook a big dinner and take leftovers to work or school.