One of my favorite money-saving sites that I enjoy following is the Money Saving Mom. Crystal Paine and the crew of people who write for her provide tons of money-saving tips to help you save in all aspects of your life.
One of the things I appreciate most about Crystal is her story. She talks about the early days of her marriage when her husband was in law school and they were living on almost nothing as they were trying to get him through school without piling up a mountain of loans. I love the example they set of sacrificing deeply for a time so that later they could live the life they dreamed about. Crystal and her husband are very successful today, but it is because they were willing to work very hard and sacrifice to get where they are now.
So often in our society today, people want it all and they want it now. They are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to get in a position where they are financially on solid ground. Credit has made it easy for those with a microwave mentality to have whatever they want when they want it. But that comes at a heavy price when the bills start to come due.
In her book, The Money Saving Mom’s Budget, Crystal walks through many of those things she learned back when they were living on next to nothing.
I have always liked Dave Ramsey’s approach to budgeting for two reasons. First, he teaches that you need to do a unique budget every month because every month is a little different. Some things like your rent or mortgage may be the same, but other things like birthdays, non-monthly bills like insurance, school activities, subscriptions, etc. vary from month to month so you need to plan each month for what will be happening that month. The second thing I like is that he gives you permission to not be very good at it if you are just starting. If you have never budgeted before you probably really have no idea how much you spend on things like groceries or eating out or gasoline. As you are getting started if you are wrong about your guesses for a category, you just have a mid month budget meeting and make adjustments. Over time your “guesses” will become better and better because they are based on past experience.
Crystal takes the same ideas but takes them one step further. She suggests phasing into the budget process by just starting with just one category the first month, Food. Food is often the category where we have the most control and the most ability to save. Let’s face it, there is probably not much you can do quickly to change your mortgage costs. But there are many things you can do to affect your spending on food. And if you are unaccustomed to budgeting, focusing on just one category makes the concept less daunting.
The next month she suggests you add a few more categories for a bare bones budget and then by month 3 you can take the plunge into a full-fledged budget.
I think this is a helpful approach, especially for those just getting started because it is a gradual approach and puts the focus immediately on a category where budgeting can probably provide you with the most benefit.
Crystal strongly encourages the use of cash, especially when getting started. There have been many studies that have shown that we spend less when we use cash. Plus, the beauty of cash is you can’t overspend. When the cash is gone, it is gone. You have to stop spending.
I know from personal experience how powerful this advice is. We used to use a debit card for grocery spending and I was absolutely convinced our spending would not change a bit if we used cash. I thought we were already very careful about what we spent. We shopped sales. Used coupons. I thought we had pretty good control over what went into that shopping cart. Then we decided to give cash a try, and I found I was completely wrong. Using cash did change the way we spent our grocery budget, and the truth is the things that were eliminated were things I really haven’t missed anyway.
Crystal has a complete chapter on the benefits of eliminating clutter.
When you are first attempting to get your finances under control it can be difficult to find the extra margin you need to move the needle. One great way to do that is to sell some stuff to get the process started. Most of us have enough stuff sitting around that we never use that could be sold to get a pretty good jump on getting some debts paid off.
The other benefit of de-cluttering is organization. Have you ever been late paying a bill because you lost it? Have you ever had to buy an item that you know you already had, but you simply can’t find it? These are signs that you probably need to get more organized with your stuff.
Saving at the grocery store and when eating out
There are three chapters in the book devoted to ways we can save on the food we purchase. There are sections on using coupons, playing the drugstore game, maximizing sales, and many other techniques you can use to make your grocery budget stretch as far as possible.
Gain back control of your life
If you feel like your financial situation is a little out of control, The Money Saving Mom’s Budget is a good place for you to get started learning the tools you need to take back control. It is relatively short and Crystal does a good job of presenting the information in a clear easy to understand fashion.
One final note on the book. Crystal is donating all proceeds from the book to Compassion International. Compassion is a wonderful organization that helps children in under developed countries with their physical, spiritual, and educational needs. So by purchasing the book you will not only get financial wisdom to help better your life, you will also be contributing to the needs of impoverished children in other parts of the world.
I think Crystal is doing some great work and I encourage you to check out her web site and this book.