People have different ideas about what a budget should be, but many of these concepts don’t work for everyone. For instance, saying that your rent should only take up a quarter of your income might be reasonable in some areas, but it’s often unrealistic in cities like New York. However, New Yorkers often spend far less on transportation and dining than they might in other cities. While rent is often more than a third of take-home pay, where else can you get a good slice of pizza that’s the size of a small child for 99 cents?
Here are some things you can do to personalize your budget:
Determine Your Must-Haves or Budget Untouchables
I will never cut coffee from my budget. Ever. Someone may balk at you for buying cups of coffee that run in the $2 to $4 range, but then they’ll buy a $7 margarita or spend twice as much as you do on clothing. When I review my budget, I know the $100 or so I spend per month on coffee is well worth it. I track it, but I know this expense is nearly as important to me as my electric or cable bill.
Look for Expenses That Can Be Renegotiated
Everything from rent to your cable bill can be negotiated. Every time I get a new iPhone from my cellphone company, I opt to pay in installments along with my monthly bill so that I don’t have to pay for the phone all at once. Always ask about corporate discounts and get connected with the cancellation department. The cancellation department can work out deals that other departments can’t. I always get free movie channels from my cable company by calling every three months and getting the latest movie channel special. I also saved about $15 per month on my overall bill by asking the cancellation department to give me the best deal available. With rent, I’ve paid less than the average for similar accommodations in several cities. Shop for apartments with a rental agent, as they’ll know the specials and can negotiate for you.
When you take the time for comparison shopping, you can often get lower insurance rates. You won’t necessarily get cheaper rates from your current company, but you should call a local insurance agent who can compare prices for you. I know people who have saved hundreds this way, and I saved $600 by picking one rental insurance company over another – and got the exact same coverage.
Known What to Buy Online or at a Store That Matches Online Prices
Buying my dog’s dry dog food online saves me the physical hassle of carrying 20-pound bags home, and I get at least 30% off the price. The bonus for him? The $10 I save per bag of dog food can be spent on treats or dog toys. Plus, he can come with me to pick out his doggie goodies because I don’t have to figure out how to maneuver giant bags of dog food around subway turnstiles. Since I live in New York and largely use public transportation, I also buy paper towel and other nonperishable household items online. If I bought these items in person, I’d also have to budget time and cab fare. In addition, retailers like Best Buy will match Amazon prices. Thus, you can buy electronics in person and get online prices. When I shop at Express and other clothing stores, I search for coupon codes on my smartphone. I’ve saved hundreds by showing the cashier the coupon codes I found online.
Don’t Pretend You’ll Cook at Home if You Won’t
It’s OK to go out to eat for most meals if you can budget for it. One of the biggest ways to waste money is buying groceries you’re going to throw away. You can save money in multiple ways and still eat out. For instance, if you plan to eat out in the first place, you won’t be spending money on groceries you won’t eat. You can also make smarter restaurant choices and save half of large servings for lunch the next day. Consider purchasing Groupon and Restaurant.com gift certificates so you can eat out for half the price. Then, aware of your own dining habits, you can buy healthy convenience and breakfast foods for when you’re at home. And be smart about necessities. For example, everyone should have fruit in their home, as it lasts a lot longer than vegetables do and is easy to grab and eat without cooking. Oatmeal is also great, and eggs take just a couple of minutes to cook.
Budgeting that takes into account your habits will not only improve your financial situation but also help you find more ways to live your life the way you’ll enjoy it best. Here’s to budgeting for success!
What are some of your budget untouchables or best practices that keep your finances on track for your lifestyle? Let us know in the comments!
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