Single-income and limited-income families have unique challenges when it comes to budgeting, saving for the future, and keeping money set aside in case of emergencies. However, careful planning and sticking to a budget will go a long way toward helping you meet those goals.
Create a Budget
The first step to creating a family budget is to look at your spending. Sit down with your debit and credit card statements and bills from the last few months and figure out where your money is going.
Some people prefer to use pencil and paper to track their budgets. You can also use some online tools to help streamline this process. No matter what system you choose, try to create a budget that aligns with your long-term plans, while still allowing you some freedom to enjoy yourself. When it comes to fun spending, try to prioritize your expenses: what’s more important to you, going to the movies, or eating at your favorite restaurant? What will give you the most happiness for your hard-earned dollars?
Try to save at least 20% of your income. Once you’ve built up your emergency fund to $1,000, this savings can go toward retirement, a down payment for a house, or even a family vacation. The easiest way to save is to put away the money in a separate account as soon as you receive your paycheck or to set up a 401k account through your employer. Either way, you’re putting the money away before you can decide to spend it on something else.
Since you’ve already taken stock of your spending to create your budget, it’s also time to decide which areas can be cut down or eliminated. Your phone plan may be a necessary expense, but can you cut down to the basic plan? Could you skip buying new books and just borrow books or download ebooks from your local library instead? If you’re going out to lunch often, could you pack your meal at home the night before? There are several changes that seem common sense, but they add up to significant savings.
One of the best ways to find a better value is to buy in bulk. Stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club have built their entire business models around this idea, but you can also buy in bulk at your local grocery store. Staples such as dried beans and rice will keep in the pantry for months, so it’s a good idea to stock up on larger, cheaper containers—especially when they go on sale. The same is true for household items such as toilet paper, shampoo, and cleaning products. The larger items are usually cheaper in the long run; but, figure out the “per unit” cost to be sure. (Price tags usually provide this info. If you can’t find it, though, it just takes a little basic math to calculate and compare the cost per ounce, pound, or roll.)
Lower Your Bills
Some bills that may seem static can actually be negotiated. If you’re unhappy with your cable or internet bill, call up the company and ask if they can lower it to a more competitive price—it doesn’t always work, but occasionally you’ll save a bit with just a phone call. And when it comes to car insurance, loyalty doesn’t pay—rates often rise just because you’ve been a customer for so long. So don’t be afraid to shop around and find a cheaper company.
Living with a limited income can be difficult, but having a plan makes it more manageable. Reach out to the most frugal, practical people you know to see if they have any local tips that will help. And keep following MCU’s blog for more useful financial advice.