- Pay with cash: Look over your weekly expenses for items such as groceries, make up, clothes and daily evils (coffeehouse coffee, donuts, lunch). Then take the average of that amount or even a little bit less, if you want to reduce expenses and start saving more, and take that out of your account in cash each week. I usually go to the bank on Saturday and take out my weekly "allowance" which covers groceries etc. Gas is my largest weekly expenses and so this I pay by credit card whenever necessary. Using my cash allowance I limit myself to this amount each week. When that money is gone, no more eating out lunch or coffeehouse coffee and certainly no more Dunkin Donuts pastries. This way, I can easier limit my weekly expenses.
- Start an expense book. Get a bill organizer with 12 compartments (or simply add 12 sheet protectors to a binder) and start writing down what you spent your money on. I have been keeping an expense book for years and dutifully once a week write down what I bought throughout the week. I sort the columns by payment method (cash, check, credit card etc.) and also mark all tax deductible expenses. This way I can see where my money goes and I too sometimes realize that I may have splured more than necessary, even if I stayed within my weekly limit. This expense book is making it easier for me to cut back on small expenses, like the coffee treat or the fast food snack from McDs. In addition, come tax time I can easily sort through my deductible expenses and save a bunch of money trying to find the necessary receipts. All relevant receipts are organized by month in my little bill folder.
- Invest in a small, reasonably priced chest freezer. I have always had a freezer since I was a poor graduate student. How else would I have benefited from really good weekly sales? If they had a sale on fresh meat, I would buy the family pack and store portions in the freezer. The same is true now for my vegetable garden and any clearance items I find at the grocery store. If there is 50% off on vegetables or meat or even frozen foods, I stock up and put it in the freezer for later use. You can get a decent freezer for about $250 and it will pay for itself within a couple of years since you now can stock up on bargains. In addition, you will save time by cooking large pots of chili and soup. I usually make a crock pot full of soup or chili, then freeze portions for lunch throughout the week or to have extra for a quick dinner. This makes it easier to avoid eating out for lunch and also makes it less likely that you will resort to buying pizza every week because you had no time to fix a quick dinner after a long day at the office.
Lastly, do not be afraid to buy sale items at the grocery that are marked down for quick sale to free up shelf space or because they are close to the expiration date. Buying these items does not mean you are poor. It simply means that you know that milk is good for 7 days past the expiration date and the frozen Italian dinner will last another month in your freezer. I sometimes catch the faces of people that look with a form of pity on me when I unload my marked down items at the cash register. I keep thinking that part of what allows me to live a life in which money worries are not a daily routine is the fact that my grocery budget is very small. In addition, you will be surprised how many of the marked down items are actually marked down because a store is discontinuing a line of products and simply wants to clear the shelves.