Monday, January 17, 2011

More on Paycheck-to-Paycheck Budgeting

I was so pleased that my latest Yahoo! Mother Board post on Shine, Managing a Paycheck-to-Paycheck Budget, was chosen as an Editor's Pick. After it was written, and as the comments started coming in, I thought of other bullet points to add:

  • Stop the paper madness. I've been reading a lot on organization lately, and so many tips and tricks don't apply to me, because I get almost no paper bills. My utility bills all come in through my credit union's online bill pay, and I've stopped all paper bills from companies that offer that option. Since I take the standard deduction on my taxes, there's no need to save tons of receipts. I write down the confirmation numbers when paying bills online, of course, but have rarely had to refer to them.(Of course, everything's saved in my emails, too, so if I ever needed to, I could print out receipts.)
  • More online tools. As I mentioned in the Yahoo post, I check my bank balance almost every day. I also check my credit cards at least every other day. I don't have to wait for the monthly bill to see if there's been any unauthorized use; it would show up online almost immediately. There are also many tools available online to check how long it will take for to pay off a credit card, the IRS site has a withholding calculator that I use at least once a year, and Suze Orman's site, of course, has a plethora of great tools available when I need to re-think and revise my budget.
  • Treat yourself in small ways. Long-time readers know my weakness for live theatre. Before I buy tickets for anything, I have learned to take my time and use any and all resources to get the cheapest tickets possible. Goldstar is a great resource for getting tickets usually for half-price, but I also go to the venue's site and see what options they have. I haven't paid full price for my treat for at least two years! While theatre may not be your weakness, think about how you can still treat yourself without breaking your budget. Maybe you budget it in once a month instead of once a week, or maybe there are other ways to get your treat for less out of your pocket. The point is, trying to deny yourself completely will most likely lead to falling off the budget wagon, and giving up any hope that you'll be able to get back on. By allowing yourself the small treats along the way, life is more enjoyable, and the budget seems more manageable.
  • Pay the bills immediately. I get up earlier than usual every payday and bring down my checkbook balance as soon as the coffee's poured...and I look forward to it! There's a sense of  pride of living up to my responsibilities, a small sense of accomplishment as I see those credit card balances decrease, and satisfaction in seeing the budget and balance all match up as expected. I double-check my budget spreadsheet to make sure there's no bill I've missed...and then triple-check my bank account balance. (There was a time when paying the bills was depressing, but as I gained more and more control of my budget, this activity has gone from a dreaded one to one that I actually enjoy.)
  • Become a happy homebody. I pay for satellite TV because I definitely use it (though I've given up premium channels, and Netflix series from those channels). I buy myself 5 songs on iTunes once a week. I don't have to go out to be entertained. I have all the tools I need at home to amuse myself. I'll blast my iPod, watch a movie I DVR'd from Turner Classic Movies, read blogs, waste time on FB. I am fortunate enough to live close enough to work to go home for lunch, another money-saving opportunity (not to mention, time to enjoy home without the kids). It makes for less blog fodder, but helps tremendously in keeping my budget intact. I savor every moment that isn't scheduled to be somewhere.
  • Pick your toys with thought for the long-term. As I mentioned above, I thoroughly enjoy the things I've purchased. There are so many other things that I covet, but continue to deny myself. I would love some type of laptop device, but don't want to have to pay for wi-fi or the apps that would add up quite quickly. I would love to go to Vegas for the weekend, but don't really want to pay for the hotels or food. Suze Orman brought this up in a recent show, and I was so thrilled that it was already something I've been doing: I try to ask myself whether or not I'll be saying "that was SO worth it" or "I wish I hadn't done that." If there's any room for doubt, the answer is no. 
  • It's never done. As I said in the original post, budget, revise, budget, revise. One commenter mentioned that she rounds up by $5. That's something I'm going to try and implement. It just occurred to me this week that the money from the 5th paycheck on those 5-paycheck months could go to paying down my credit card sooner - duh! By continuing to think about this obsessively, I continue to have those light-bulb moments.


Tara R. said...

These are some great ideas. I need to check out the original post.

BigLittleWolf said...

Really excellent points. When you're freelance or contracting, paper remains a part of your life. But if you don't procrastinate the paper pieces, it's so much easier.

I find that as my kids are older, I use the "pick your toys with thought for the long term" approach relative to their clothes. Even though they're still growing, the same approach works. Not trendy - always usable, and multi-purpose. (Long-term - well, as long as they fit!)

Excellent post.

Penelope said...

Awesome ideas, April. Thanks!

L.A. Story said...

These are great tips, April!

Anonymous said...

Wow...I remember browsing through that article in wrote it??????????? VERY impressed!!!!!

Danielle said...

Very helpful ideas! no wonder things keep getting better for you!