Budgeting has an unfair reputation for being restrictive. Many see it as little more than a difficult-to-stick-to plan for making sacrifices. If this is your understanding of a budget, you have the wrong idea. A well-developed budget should afford you greater financial flexibility – not less.
The best way to understand a budget is to think of it as a tool to help you understand your spending habits and patterns to understand the changes you need to make to live the lifestyle of your dreams. To make your budget work for you, check out these six straightforward tips to get you started.
1. Write About Your Ideal Lifestyle
Before you even begin to fill out your budget template, take a moment to sit down in a quiet, relaxing space and write about your ideal life. Write down the things in your life that make you the happiest. This might include the time you spend doing your favorite activities, such as skiing or playing an instrument.
Then, write down things you’d like to pursue to get more fulfillment out of your life. Do you want to spend more time with your family? Would you like to work fewer hours and spend more time traveling?
Finally, write down the things that are making you unhappy. Perhaps your evenings are spent watching Netflix instead of working on a plan for that business idea you always have in the back of your head.
Taking a look at each of these sections, write a list of the things you’d like to prioritize in the coming year to get you closer to that lifestyle. Keep this list in front of you while you write your budget, and make sure you’re spending and saving your money in line with these priorities.
2. Use Voucher Sites For Big Purchases
Budgeting is about so much more than cutting things from your life. It’s first and foremost about making sure you’re making the most of your hard-earned salary. This means you’ll want to focus on figuring out how to spend less while still living comfortably.
If you decide a luxury item purchase is important to you, try to avoid buying it at full price. This might mean looking for a used item or closely watching online sales. Checking out various voucher and cashback websites, such as NetVoucherCodes.co.uk, can also save you big bucks.
These types of sites require you to sign up, but most memberships are free. In exchange, they’ll be able to offer you exclusive discounts across a wide range of products and brands, including electronics stores, furniture, home goods, fashion, travel, and health and fitness. Some also offer additional savings for referrals.
3. Shop Around To Lower Your Bills
If you’re not happy with how much you’re spending on utilities, insurance, and phone plans, it’s time to do some shopping. Search for quotes online, and if you get an offer that’s lower than the cost of the plan you’re currently paying for, contact your current company to see if they’d be willing to lower your rates to keep you on as a customer.
Often, providers will do this with no questions asked. If they’re unable to come down, take your business elsewhere.
This isn’t a one-time process. Take the time to compare rates every one to two years to make sure you’re always getting the best deal. If you’re still not satisfied with how much you’re spending, see if you’re willing to go down a level on benefits. If your car is getting on in years, it may make more sense to drop collision coverage.
4. Identify The Services You Can DIY
The term ‘DIY’ is often associated with crafters, but ‘do it yourself’ can be applied to areas beyond crafting as well. If you’re always going to that Mexican restaurant down the street, get a cookbook and start making your Mexican food at home.
You might not be the best cook out there now, but anyone can learn. In addition to saving money, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.
Some other services you can replace by doing it yourself include doing your own nails, shoveling snow, gardening, and house cleaning. Try to go for a more minimalist look rather than keep up with the season trends and do some of the more simple home renovations yourself.
Of course, some situations will warrant hiring a professional, but don’t undersell your abilities all the time either.
5. Reduce Your Grocery Bill
Although groceries are a necessity, there are many ways you can cut down on their cost. Shop online and sign up for digital flyers to find out about your local shop’s deals each week. Then, plan your meals for the week around these deals and create a shopping list accordingly.
It’s also a good idea to try to eat produce that is in season. Not only will this save you money, but you’ll be more likely to buy local food that is better for your health. Sticking to certain foods each season also prevents boredom. By the time the new season rolls around, you’ll be excited to change up your meal plan.
If you’re looking for inspiration, search for some budget meal plans to find new dishes without overspending.
6. Reassess Your Investments
To achieve your long-term lifestyle goals, you’ll need to make sure your budget includes a long-term and short-term savings section. Ideally, about 20% of your after-tax income should go towards savings. This includes investing in retirement, tax-free savings accounts, and stocks.
If you’ve never traded stocks before and have no idea what you’re doing, consider hiring a financial advisor. Not all financial advisors are created equal, so check in with friends and family to see if anyone can recommend someone to you.
Whether you decide to make high-risk trades with the potential for a high payoff, or you want something low risk with small growth, investing is a must.
By taking control of your savings and investments and reassessing them each year to make sure they’re right for you, you’ll gain more control over your finances and be one step closer to achieving the life of your dreams.