When I left my abusive husband more than nine years ago, I didn’t have a job, I was a stay-at-home mother of two and we moved 500 miles to a town where I didn’t know a soul.
I knew my life was going to be difficult as a single mother and now the family breadwinner, but I really had no idea how exhausting it would really be as I juggled the monthly bills, the job market in a small town, the needs of growing boys and the worse Recession in 70 years.
Add to the mix an ex who didn’t let divorce stop the abuse and my life was filled to the brim with stress-inducing “fires” that constantly needed to be put out.
Somehow, with the grace of God and taking things one day at a time, I’ve managed and you can to.
Here are a few hacks that I’ve tried that work in keeping your spending in line with your income, creating balance and reducing stress in your life.
1. Create a spread sheet that lists all your months income and expenses. Split each into fixed and changeable (variable) items. Your rent or mortgage is the same every month, so its fixed. Your electric bill changes every month so its variable. Now look at the totals. If your expense are more than your income, you need to cut expenses or increase income (time to dust off the resume!).
2. Make your savings account part of your list of expenses. Avoid the tendency to cut saving money first from your list of expenses. Even if you can only put $10 away each month, do it.
3. Cut cable TV bundle and get a $20 antenna. This was the best decision my boys and I ever made! We each had cell phones, so we never used the house phone and we never watched cable TV anymore. We were all streaming movies and TV online. We saved $110 a month and had the joy of taking our cable equipment to our local office and handing it all over with smiles on our faces! Do it. I swear you won’t regret it.
4. Sell a car. Cars, gas and insurance is a big chunk of most budgets. Reduce this bill by buying smaller, used and older, or take the bus or ride a bike. Unlike our tech gadgets, cars can last a really long time. You can buy used cars today for less than $5,000. With less car, you pay less insurance and no loan. I saved $500 a month doing this!
5. Use cash not debit or credit at the store. Spending actual currency instead of swiping our plastic makes it emotionally harder to let go of those Benjamin’s. Take out cash each month for discretionary spending and when it is gone, that’s it. No more spending.
6. Pay a little bit extra on your mortgage each month. You can reduce interests costs on your mortgage by the thousands just by paying a few dollars, say $25 to $50, a month. I’ve cut my mortgage payoff date by years doing this.
7. Don’t open credit cards and learn to live on what you make. This takes time, but this is a very big savings. Using credits cards and carrying debt from month to month is very expensive and a waste of money.
8. Get a part-time job that allows you to work from home. There are a lot of ways to make some extra cash working from home. Google at-home-jobs for stay-at-home mothers to get a quick list. Then when you make extra cash, save it. Don’t use up your free time working to maintain your daily expenses. Instead, work extra for extra things or to replenish your savings or retirement.
9. Use scheduled reminders for your bills. As a single mother, every household responsibility falls on me and sometimes, I just want to sit on the sofa and put my feet up. A bill reminder app or and a few automatic payment draws cuts down the hours needed to handle the monthly bills.
10. Use coupons, but not for things you wouldn’t normally buy. After watching a marathon of extreme couponing reality shows, my kids and I decided we wanted to become extreme couponers. We cuts a bunch of coupons, printed some online and headed to the store. I saved $500 on a $1,100 bill, which meant I spent $600 at the grocery store!! I’ve never spent that much money at the grocery store in my life. Sure, we had years worth of cheap shampoo and bottles of ketchup, but so what. I walked out so mad at myself I couldn’t stand it! However, I use coupons weekly at my local drugstore that prints instant coupons at a kiosk when I walk in using my rewards card tied to my actual history purchases. I love this, because I always get a least one coupon for something I need.
11. Pay off your debt using the “snowball” method. This is where you pay down your smallest balance on any debt you have as fast as you can. Then take that monthly payment and put it toward your next smallest balance until that is paid off. Then the next. The key: You can’t use credit cards any more. For that matter, cut up your plastic and don’t open a new one.
12. Don’t eat out. Brown bag lunch. Cook meals at home. I spend Sunday cooking several main dishes, then freeze leftovers in single serving containers. I’ve even taught my children this method. I told them I would give them a month’s worth of lunch money up front and they could either spend it at school for food or keep it by packing their own lunch and spending it on whatever they want. I agreed to keep the kitchen stocked with healthy, lunchbox foods at no charge to them. They immediately started packing their lunches every night and banked $50 bucks a month each. That monthlong experiment became a their habit and they haven’t bought food at school since.
13. Reduce current bills by evaluating each one and dropping services, premiums or co-pays. Change your car insurance, homeowners insurance, tax withholdings, 401K withholdings, cell phone plan, etc. Every dollar you reduce is money in your pocket. However, don’t reduce so much that you end up paying more in the end because you’ve dropped something too low.
14. Don’t go shopping! I went an entire year without visiting our local mall. I try to avoid big box stores and I hold off on grocery shopping as much as possible. Stores are designed to trigger impulse buying. When you need things, consider bargain stores, thrift stores, free stuff on Craigslist or going without.
15. Create a vegetable garden. But be careful not to fall prey to consumerism in building your garden. When I first tried this I spent lots of money on bags of dirt, mulch, starter plants, pots, garden supplies, and so on. And then didn’t research planting seasons and watering needs. I ended up growing just a few, really expensive tomatoes. Today, I grow all sorts of things in my backyard for pennies. I follow a growing guild for my zone, compost kitchen scraps and shovels of sandy soil from the corner of my yard. I mulch my gardens with pine straw and oak leaves that fall from my trees and a few bails of straw I buy at the local feed store. My gardening is also organic, so no store-bought fertilizer and pesticide. I hand water to conserve. My gardening is also my exercise. So, now my tomatoes are not only cheap and proliferating, but good for my family in so many ways!
16. Quit the gym. Monthly membership dues aren’t that expensive so I thought it was worth it to have the opportunity to go to a gym. For $10 a month and a low sign-up fee, I told myself I’d go at least a few times a week. But, I never went. Spending $120 a year to drive by the place where I wished I had time to walk on the treadmill in front of a TV was money poorly spent! I canceled it and bought a $50 rowing machine that fits in my bedroom. Between gardening, rowing and walking the dog, I get more workout than I ever did at my gym.
I’ve tried every one of these hacks and all work if you are committed to adding financial margin in your life.
Please share some of your ideas by scrolling down to the comment section below. Someone reading might be able to save as a result!
Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Yahoo.com, among many publications around the country. Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse. Julie also writes for bruisedwoman.com and @bruisedwoman on Twitter about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org