Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cutting Expenses

One thing that can destroy relationships quickly is the mishandling of finances. Soon after marrying my wife almost 30 years ago, she told me she wanted us to start a budget. She had heard that one of the most frequent things couples argued about and got divorced over was money. Although I was a bit skeptical, she soon persuaded me that we should have a budget. In those days, home computers were expensive and rarely seen. So our first budget was done using a ledger book. Later, when the Commodore 64 became widely available, we bought one and began keeping our budget in a spreadsheet. This made budgeting much easier and less prone to errors.

Now, after nearly 30 years, we still keep a budget and very much believe in them. It has helped keep us on the straight and narrow when it comes to spending our hard-earned dollars. However, creating a budget is easy; living by it is another matter. For those of you fortunate enough to have relatively good salaries, sticking to a budget may not be difficult at all. However, for those that struggle daily with having enough money to live on, living by a budget may be extremely difficult. For that reason, we now present some ideas on how to cut your household expenditures.

First and foremost, whatever you do, DO NOT look to the federal government for an example of how to run your household. Our leaders have gone bonkers over the last 50 years and are about to drive our entire country into bankruptcy. Did you know that our national debt has now exceeded $15 trillion and that it is projected to increase by about $1.1 trillion in fiscal year 2012 alone. Because of this debt, we spend almost $500 billion a year in interest. Yet, revenues are only expected to be about $2.6 trillion. Let’s scale these numbers down to the average household in the US and see what they look like.

Household income:   $50,000

Total existing debt:   $288,462

Additional debt for 2012:   $21,154

Interest to pay in 2012:   $9,615

Can you imagine being in a situation where you are spending almost 20% of your income just to cover the interest on your debt? Perhaps you can. If you are young and just getting started on your career, you could be in debt this much because of a mortgage and car loans. But keep in mind these are loans you are working to pay off without incurring additional debt (unless you are going wild with the credit cards). But what if you only paid the interest on your debt, never paying anything on the principle. Then, on top of that, you buy new $20,000 cars every year and start making interest payments on them also. This is what the federal government is essentially doing. It is completely unsustainable. The party has to end at some point, hopefully without too much of a hangover. Therefore, we have decided to help you cut your spending should you find yourself in a situation where this is necessary.

The first thing to think about is the absolute essentials of life. These are normally considered to be food and shelter.

Yes, you need a dwelling place. But do you need one as expensive as the one you have?  If you find yourself hating that dream home you own because the cost of the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and upkeep are eating into your lifestyle, it may be time for a change. We like having a DREAM LIFE more than having a DREAM HOME. Of course, it may still be difficult to part with the home, so the first thing to do is to see if you can reduce the mortgage payments by refinancing. You have to be careful here because closing costs can be so high as to negate any benefits of a lower interest. Also, you may find yourself in a situation where the value of your home is less than the amount you owe. But if the overall housing market is depressed in your area, it could still be feasible to greatly reduce your cost of home ownership by selling your existing home at a loss and buying a much lower cost home. Because there are so many factors affecting cost, it is a good idea to consult with a real estate professional about your options.

I have mentioned the cost of food in previous posts. This is the one area that our family tends to have the most problems since we enjoy eating out so much. One of the reasons we shy away from home meals is the time it takes to prepare them and clean up afterwards. We have a fairly busy lifestyle and don’t like taking that big a chunk out of our leisure time. Sure, we could just heat up a can of soup, but we like variety. Some foods simply take time to prepare.

One thing that helps us to eat at home more is planning a week in advance what we will have each night. This allows us to purchase what we are lacking ahead of time and have everything ready to go each evening rather than having to make a run to the grocery store on the spur of the moment. Also, we can plan easier meals for busy nights and more elaborate meals for free nights. If, however, you are on a really tight food budget, planning ahead will be only one step in your savings plan. You may also have to greatly cut back on more expensive food items such as steak, or at least concentrate on the cheaper cuts. We have discovered that even fresh fruit can be expensive because many times the fruit is not good or it spoils before we have time to finish it. Canned and frozen items are better choices for longer term storage.

You might want to start couponing. It’s also a good idea to look for deals on more expensive food items that can be frozen. We buy a large quantity of meat when on sale, vacuum seal it, and put it in the freezer. But if push comes to shove, you may regrettably have to cut out eating some foods that you really like. Better that than going broke.

Another area that can be problematic is the purchasing of technology items. Just look around. Big screen TVs (now with 3D!), stereos, Blu-ray players, cable service, satellite service, computers, laptops, printers, tablets, wireless phones, cell phones, iPods, iMacs, iPhones, iPads, iThis, and iThat. Temptation is all about. Our household consists of tech geeks, liking all these new gadgets. Yet, when you think about it, are they really necessary. No, they are not! If you find yourself spending thousands of dollars you do not have on technology, STOP IT! This is an intervention. Look seriously at what you are spending on these items and scale back to only what your budget allows. You might also consider selling some of your existing stuff on eBay. We’ve got a Nintendo Wii and accessories waiting to be sold right now. Anyone interested? Only those who can afford it need apply.

Look for more savings tips in the next post.

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