Published March 08, 2012
No one likes a budget. But who doesn't love a deal?
Everyone whose name isn't Trump or Kardashian is trying to trim costs and save for a nice getaway or pay off the last of those holiday bills. And while you can probably fund a semicomfortable retirement by cutting out lattes, what fun is that?
Instead, here are eight ways to cinch your budget without pinching your lifestyle:
1. Get cheaper movies -- legally. Want to enjoy movies at home without having to pay to buy them, rent them or store them until the current hot format goes extinct? With a Blu-ray player, gaming system or other streaming device (such as a $50 Roku box), you can watch a wide variety of free movies and programs that broadcasters (and sites like Hulu) are posting free online.
And, if you want an even bigger, better selection of offerings? Shell out $9 per month to subscribe to Netflix. What you save: the $60 to $100 per month that you're not spending on cable
Or hit one of the dollar-rental boxes when you're in a movie mood, says Todd Mark, vice president of education for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas. What he's discovered: If you only have a movie night a few times a month, it's less expensive to rent and pay as you go.
2. Cut the cost of texting. Want to trim your own (or your family's) texting costs? Several apps make that a real possibility.
For iPhone users, textPlus is a free app that offers free texting and calling. The trade-off: You have to put up with some ads when you use the free services.
Kik is another app for no-cost texting that's available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. It's free and doesn't require users to view ads.
Got a family? The best way to save might be to go old school and shop an unlimited texting program for $10 or $20 a month, says Augie Grant, professor at the University of South Carolina and editor of "Communication Technology and Fundamentals."
3. Better meals, better prices. Cost of dinners out with friends draining your wallet? Opt for entertaining at home, says Chris Farrell, economics editor of "Marketplace Money." "You can have really nice meals and a really good time, but you're much more frugal," he says. And you can either freeze the leftovers or "everybody can leave with a doggy bag for their lunch tomorrow," Farrell adds.
Or cut out the fast-food meals and spend the money on nice dinners out, says Mark, who admits that's what he and his family have done. For a family, fast-food costs add up surprisingly quickly, he says. And, "the higher-end restaurants are the most healthy -- and those are the meals we're enjoying the most."
When you do eat out, use services such as Groupon, Foursquare and LivingSocial .
Another good bet: Savored.com, which boasts a multicity network of upscale restaurants. Make your reservation through the site for a $10 fee, and you get a 30% discount on your bill -- no coupons necessary.
4. Shop with a list. Want to save without feeling the pinch? "Never go shopping without a list," says clutter-clearing guru Peter Walsh, author of "Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier with Less" and host of OWN's "Enough Already!" "We buy things we don't use, and [they] end up getting thrown away."
Whether it's food, clothes or a trip to that big-box store, a list "keeps you focused and expedites the shopping experience," he says.
Are you prone to making emotional buys? Consider implementing a 24-hour cooling-off period for unplanned or larger purchases, says Walsh.
And if the best thing about the purchase is that it's cheaper now than it will be later, forget it, says Walsh. "My grandmother used to say that you can go broke saving money."
5. Put your goals first. Saving for a big purchase like a car, vacation, home or just a sweet entertainment system? You're smart to salt that money away via a direct deposit or automatic transfer to a separate account, says Doug Borkowski, director of the Iowa State University Financial Counseling Clinic. "It just disappears," he says. "It's out of sight, out of mind."
Many people associate the "pay-yourself-first" philosophy with retirement. But it works well for short-term objectives too, he says. And you're likely to be a lot more successful if you're saving for something specific, rather than just for the sake of saving, he says.
"It has to be goals-driven," says Borkowski. If you're going to put money away, you have to be motivated by something you really want, he says. "Savings is to reach a goal."
6. Get fit for less. Exercise reduces stress. So if membership at that deluxe gym is what it takes to keep you fit, stay with it.
But if you're looking to slice the price of those workout sessions (or the only time you think of the gym is when you see the membership dues on your credit card bill), then you have some alternatives to keep yourself and your wallet in good shape.
One strategy: Pay as you go. "Instead of paying for a full month every month whether you show up or not, pay $5 or $10 for a one-day pass on the days you choose to workout," says Mary Hunt, founder of debtproofliving.com and author of "7 Money Rules for Life."
Want to shake up the routine a little? "Join a free, online boot camp that will whip you into shape in no time flat," says Hunt. Two of her favorite picks: MarineStyleFitness.com, which is modeled after the Marine Corps training program, and HundredPushups.com, which leads participants through a six-week training program.
One caveat: If you have health conditions (or suspect you could), run the regime past your doc before you start.
7. Cut back on dry cleaning. Granted, this won't work for everyone. If you don't have your own washer and can't face the prospect of spending evenings in the company of strangers and their tighty whities, then include dry cleaning on your lifestyle "must haves."
On the other hand, if you have your own machine, you can save a ton of money. One Procter & Gamble survey estimates that, on average, women spend about $1,500 a year at the dry cleaner and about 65% of the clothes cleaned are washable. Do the math: That's a potential annual savings of $975.
Unless the label says "dry clean only," it's good to go in the washing machine, says Hunt. As consumers, we tend to feel "we're doing the clothes a favor if we dry clean them, rather than wash them," she says. "Not really."
Hunt says that she's also started checking labels before she buys -- giving preference to pieces that don't require special cleaning. "Now, if I spend $100 a year at the dry cleaner, that's generous," she says.
8. Deep-six the "shoulds." You know those journals and newsletters you subscribe to and never read? Time to stop paying for them. Ditto the head of cabbage that always goes soft in the back of the fridge. Stop buying the things you "should" use, and instead stick with the items you do use.
"It's really quite enlightening and empowering to be able to say 'I really don't get that much from this, and I would prefer that,'" says Kathleen Gurney, a psychologist and chief executive of Financial Psychology Corp., a Sarasota, Fla., advisory firm.
"I think it's much better to sit down and look at where the money is going and how much value you get out of it," she says. "You really have to prioritize and get a sense of yourself and the family."