I truly amazes me how many people I know who do not understand the basics of saving money. They moan and groan about not having money, and have no idea why.
I am not a money-saving guru. In fact, I am not a naturally frugal person by any means. I know quite a few people who are of the opinion that to save money you have to be a naturally frugal person. That is NOT the case. All it takes is a few simple tricks, some new habits, and some self control. There is no reason to be trapped into debt or constantly scared your bank account will go in the hole (believe me, I've been there).
Here are my money-saving basics:
1) Avoid debt.
All of it. If you can't buy it outright, don't buy it. This teaches you to save for the things you really want. Not only will you save an enormous amount of money in interest (yes, even 5% interest will lose you LOTS of money), you will be allowing God to provide for you in supernatural ways. To learn more about living debt-free, check out Jim Sammon's Financial Freedom Seminar.
2) Open a savings account and set up an automatic deposit for it.
Get yourself a savings account (preferably at the same place you have a checking account). Then set up an automatic account transfer from your checking to your savings account on every payday. Make it a manageable amount, even if it is only $25 from every paycheck. From my own experience, you won't miss that money because you won't notice it is gone. Plus, you can't avoid debt if you don't have money to pay for things with, and that's the ultimate goal.
3) Keep your housing costs to a minimum.
Housing takes up a huge chunk of our money, so be sure to keep this cost as low as you can get it. Then more money will be free to put towards debt or savings.
4) Use an online budgeting tool.
I resisted a budget for so long. I learned, however, that having to write down all my expenses made me more accountable for the money I spent. I use Budget Simple, and I really love it. It is very simple and free to use. Every day I spend 5 minutes comparing my online bank account activity to my budget, and I enter in every dollar spent. It is well worth it because the money saved is quite dramatic.
5) Eat at home.
My husband and I budget $100 every month for eating out. This might seem quite generous, but it really only adds up to 1-2 nice meals (date night) and 1-2 fast food meals (when we are traveling to visit family and friends in our home-states). When we started budgeting, we quickly blew past this $100, and I realized we were so use to spending up to $300 per month each out! A lot of that was due to eating out at work. Now we both bring our lunches, and I know that if I buy lunch at work I have to take it out of this budget, and I'd much rather go on date night.
6) Use Groupon.com
You'd be surprised at some of the great deals that can be found on this website. The concept is that very discounted deals in your area are offered every day. You "buy" the deal and print the coupon out to use it. For example, I bought a groupon for a $50 haircut for only $25. I spent the $25, printed out the groupon, and presented it at the salon as if it were a $50 gift certificate. You can buy anything from services, to gifts, to vacations on this site at incredible savings. Just be careful you don't go overboard!
7) Grocery shop the smart way
Make a list. I know, I hate it too, but it does help. Make a list of general items, then write down everything you need for individual meals. You will be surprised how much money you will save when you have meals planned and you know that you have all the items you need for those meals. Also, don't be afraid to shop at multiple grocery stores, or on multiple days. I do my bulk grocery shopping on Saturday, and I split my list between Aldi and another larger grocery store. I know what I can get cheaper, and of better quality, at each store. My husband grocery shops again on Mondays, and he gets all our produce then, when it is fresh on the shelves.
Other great tips for grocery shopping: coupons, buying multiples of staple items when they are on sale, and buying meat when it is on sale and freezing it.
8) Learn what you can live without
You don't need cable tv, you really don't. And at around $100+ per month, you definitely don't need to be spending $1200 per year on something that you don't need. Instead, use Itunes to purchase specific shows you like to watch. You will be surprised by the amoung of time and money saved. You also don't need other non-essentials like internet on your phone, which is very expensive. My husband and I recently cut the internet off our phones and although it was tough at first, I realized how much money we were saving. This is just the tip of the iceburg, so really examine your life and think about things you can live without, even if it means some major lifestyle changes.
9) Don't buy new if you can buy used for cheaper
Find thrift stores or outlets in your area which are worth checking out now and then. Don't even go into a regular story to buy something new until you've researched options for buying it used. I am a frequent visitor of craigslist.com, and I also buy on ebay a lot. Sometimes buying used is not always worth it, so look for a good outlet option, or scour the internet for coupons to save you money when you do buy something new. If you do see something you really want or need in the store, go home. Pray about it, and follow the promptings of God and your heart before you buy it.
10) Get an accountability partner
It is easy to hide that $50 you spent at Target if nobody knows about it. If you are single, have a family member keep an eye on your bank account. If you are married, make sure your spouse has his/her eyes on it. My husband and I get alerts on our phones every time we spend more than $40. Yikes! It definitely keeps me mindful of where and how I spend when I know my husband will see it. He also keeps an eye on our checking account.
Hope these tips help you. Frugality is a learned art!