Q&A: What are the best ways for people to cut items from their budget?

The key to good financial management is simple: Live on less than you earn, and save money over a long period of time.

One of my favorite sayings sums it up: “If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.” So, to avoid the stress of overspending and the chronic inability to meet your financial goals, spending must be brought under control. I like to say that it’s better to spend money on purpose than to spend all your time trying to figure out where it went! There are many ways to spend on purpose, and the starting point is to cut unnecessary expenses from your budget.

If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.

First, keep a small notebook or even recipe cards with you at all times and record every expenditure. No exceptions. Beside the expense, note where you spent it. Collect these cards and put your expenses in categories at the end of the month. Most people are shocked at the “small” expenses that comprise a large portion of their income. One couple that took me up on this challenge compared their notes at the end of the month. They found they were spending a combined $300 a month in a favorite upscale coffee shop I think should be renamed “Fivebucks.” Those treats add up!

A key factor in setting up and sticking to a budget is self-control. If you lack it, pray that the Spirit will bless you with it. Proverbs 25:28 says that we’re defenseless without this virtue: “Like a city whose walls are broken down is the man who lacks self-control.”

Another good tip is to divide all of your expenses into two simple categories: fixed (required) and variable (discretionary). Often, you can do very little to change your required expenses, so it's best to tackle those discretionary categories first (groceries, entertainment, clothing, etc.). By the way, the lower your total is in the “required expense” category, the more financial margin you’ll have. (Margin is what you have left over after all required expenses are paid.) You want margin or flexibility to control where you spend money.

Resist these four marketing words to avoid impulse spending: bigger, better, faster, more.

Now, take a look at all spending in the “discretionary expense” category. Most people can find places to make cuts in this category. Here are some tips.

Groceries. Look at how much you’re spending at the grocery store. Almost everyone can cut back on name brands and save by buying generic. Consider using coupons as much as possible and stocking up on frequently used items when they go on sale. Buy in bulk sizes whenever practical. Experts advise that people spend less in the grocery store when they a) have a list, b) shop alone and c) shop when they're not hungry.

Eating out. Paying for food that someone else prepares is expensive, but we allow it to strain the budget because of our busy lives. Prepare your own meals at home. Make extra dinner portions to warm up for lunch the next day. Also, occasionally skipping a meal will not hurt most adults.

Clothes. Learn to buy coordinating outfits on sale, especially items that will not go out of style after a year or so. Shop at resale stores or thrift shops. You’ll be shocked at the deals you can find on high-end fashionable items. But be careful with shoes. There are shoes for every possible occasion, and most are not needs, only wants.

Entertainment. Find inexpensive entertainment and recreation options. Look for free museums, festivals and events to replace expensive alternatives. Take up a sport or exercise program that doesn’t charge fees, such as tennis on public courts, walking, running or biking. Drop cable and satellite TV.

Technology. Inventory all of your technology and fees associated with using it. Resist the temptation to constantly upgrade your laptop, mobile phone or music systems. Manage your phone plans carefully.

Resist these four marketing words to avoid impulse spending: bigger, better, faster, more. Materialism has no end unless it's identified and confronted.

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