I’ve made a commitment to make a big dent in my debt by the end of 2011 (can you say “student loans”?), and I ran across a great, FREE, online calculator that helps to prioritize your monthly payments. It works on the “pay down the highest interest rate first” principle, as those cost you the most money in the long run. You then snowball your monthly allotment to the next debt, and so forth. The key is, of course, to stop racking up debt in the first place…
Anyway, while this is not exactly earth-shattering information, I found it encouraging to see what would happen if I eked out a couple hundred dollars from my monthly take-home pay and applied it to paying down debt rather than frittering it away on lattes and take-out food. Seeing a card eliminated in 12 months instead of years is uplifting and lights a fire under my arse to trim our expenditures even more. Plus, how cool would it be to have the house paid off early??
And here are some ways that I’m trimming our expenses while enriching our lives:
1. Walk to the bus, instead of driving to the park-and-ride. Not only does this save gas (which, at $3+ per gallon is nothing to sneeze at), I walk an extra two miles each day. Combined with taking public transportation in the first place, I’m not spending $200+ a month in getting to / from work.
2. Pack a lunch. Oy, buying lunch gets expensive! Even if all I have is PB&J, I pack a lunch to take to work. Usually, what I pack is healthier than what I would buy, too.
3. Opt for store brands. We always try store brands first, and 95% of the time they taste / work just as well as name brands. For the few that don’t, see #4:
4. Clip coupons. This only really works if the coupons are for items you would already buy, and if the store brand isn’t already cheaper. Also, take advantage of your store’s ‘frequent shopper’ or ‘club card’ savings or programs.
5. Say no to consumerism. Make gifts, or do without. Holidays should be about friends and family, not spending tons of money. If your TV still works fine, resist the marketing that urges you to upgrade to a bigger (more expensive) one. Don’t try to one-up your family with gift-giving.
6. Cut the cable. We did, opting for Netflix instead – it cuts our monthly entertainment down to $13 instead of $50 and we don’t feel deprived in any way.
7. Cook at home. Use inexpensive ingredients as a base (rice, beans, potatoes) and build upon them, keeping meat (the most expensive item) to a minimum. Cook in bulk, too – freezing leftovers for later meals.
8. Use what you have. Rearrange your furnishings / pictures to spruce up your home. Go through closets, cupboards, and the garage to find useful things you have forgotten about. Scavenge. Use the “good” dishes. Be creative!
9. Stay home. Have a game night, a movie night in, invite friends over, or just sit quietly and read a good book for awhile. Talk to someone. Have a conversation. Discuss what’s going on in the world, or how to grow better petunias. Work in the yard, write a letter, show the kids how to make pancakes from scratch. We have two closets’ worth of games, and we frequently have ‘electronic-free’ evenings in which we spend a couple of hours playing a board game.
10. Wear it out, use it up. This goes hand-in-hand with buying used, repairing instead of replacing, and just plain learning to live with not being first in line for every new gadget.