So, being frugal sounds all well and good, but where do I start?
That is a great question; I’m glad you asked!
You cannot truly assess where you need to become frugal if you do not know where your money is going. It is easy to sit back and watch the dollars disappear without any real knowledge of where they are trudging off too. You need to sit down with all of your accounts and figure out where every dollar – nay, penny – is going.
Some useful categories for you spending are:
- Utilities (break out by gas, water, electricity, garbage fees, cell phone, internet, television, etc.)
- Food (separate groceries, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.)
- Car (monthly payment, insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.)
- Home Goods
- Personal Care (hair, nails, toiletries, etc.)
- Kid’s Stuff (clothes, diapers, activities, daycare, etc.)
- Entertainment (video games, movies, craft supplies, etc.)
If you are too lazy or unorganized (or love pretty graphs), I recommend getting an account at mint.com. Their website is a fantastic way to track all of your spending and investment accounts and categorize where every dollar is spent. You can also set budgets and track your spending in your categories over time. The best part is that it is completely free!
Now that you know where your money is going, you have to determine where you can make improvements.
Becoming frugal starts with small steps, but ends up becoming a way of life. You cannot expect to retire just by saving $20 on food this month – you have to continue that savings forward, saving $20 every month from here on out. And then you have to wisely invest that savings.
What little step should I take first?
A good place to start is usually food. This is a category that many people spend excessively in – this is a BIG one for us. Maybe you go to a coffee shop once a week (or day!). Maybe you got out to eat several nights a week (or every day at lunch!). Or maybe you let food go to waste in the refrigerator because it spoils before you eat the leftovers (or you don’t like leftovers!).
Maybe your children have a tight hold on your wallet. You may find yourself spending hundreds of dollars a month on clothes for a kid that is going to grow out of them before they can wear them all twice. Or you buy them the latest and greatest fad toy to make sure they are not left out among their peers.
Even if your food or kids budgets are in tip-top shape, there is always somewhere that would benefit from a frugal comb-through, especially if you are just starting out. Take a look at your spending and see what categories would benefit from your frugal magnifying glass, and then make those positive changes!
Where do you plan to start? Are you going to start with food, or is another budget item running away with your hard-earned cash?