A few weeks ago, as I was paying my bills for the month, I finally started tracking some changes that had slowly occurred over the past couple of months – the after-effects of lifestyle inflation. Despite lowering my fixed expenses and receiving a pay increase at the beginning of the year, my spending had crept up to that new threshold.
I had nothing to show for it.
Noticing the change was the first step (and probably should have occurred awhile ago), but it offered up a good reminder – our budgets are not static, they need to be malleable and able to shift with our changing lives.
If you haven’t reviewed your budget lately, now is the perfect time to sit down and make it happen. Not only will it help you reflect on the year so far, it will help you prepare for any upcoming changes you know might be occurring in the second part of the year.
Here are a few ways I started the spring-cleaning process.
Check in on Subscriptions
I signed up for the Dollar Shave Club several months ago, and while I’ve been more than pleased with the service, I just don’t use 4 razors every month. So they’ve been piling up underneath my sink for some time now. Luckily, I can suspend the service until I need to refill my stockpile again, saving me the monthly charge in the meantime.
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Did you set up a subscription you are no longer taking advantage of? Often times the charges are so small we forget about the monthly deduction, but over the course of a year, those small expenditures add up. And what’s the point if you aren’t utilizing it in the first place?
Take a Look at Your Cell Phone Service
My contract ended with a certain cell phone provider several months ago, but I hadn’t yet decided whether I was going to stay with said provider or do a little shopping around. In the meantime, I was being overcharged on my service because I hadn’t called and requested the lower price since my phone had been fully paid off.
Yes, you have to call and request the lower price.
This happened again when I switched carriers and said carrier decided to lower data prices – for those who called and made the request. It certainly seemed counter-intuitive (and a little sneaky) to me, but if it gives your budget some breathing room, see if you’re eligible for something similar.
Check in on Your Food Spending
Food is a tricky expense category since it can easily change each month – especially when you’re lax about sticking to a specific amount. (Yes, I’m guilty of this.)
This was probably the biggest eye-opener for me – looking back through months of statements and seeing how much meals out and multiple trips to the grocery store had taken a bite out of my expendable income.
To me it’s a mental thing. I need food, so food doesn’t seem like something I should have to reign in. But obviously this category is susceptible to lifestyle creep just as much – if not more so – than any other budget category.
The biggest change I’ve made thus far to food spending is being mindful of how much I waste each and every week. Apparently I still haven’t mastered the art of cooking for just two people, and the amount that ends up in the trash is honestly a little embarrassing.
Do you try to empty your food supply before stocking up again? If not, try it it out before your next shopping trip.
Re-adjust Your Budget Categories
Budgets are never one-size-fits-all. Not only do incomes and lifestyles vary wildly from person to person, but the way we want to spend our money can be drastically different as well.
I opt to spend less on rent so I can spend a bit more on travel and other things I enjoy. All spending money — what is left after retirement contributions, adding to my emergency fund, and other savings accounts – is still within a pre-determined range, but how it’s allocated doesn’t fit someone else’s formula. Instead, it’s about taking from categories I don’t care about and giving it to categories related to what I value most.
If your budget doesn’t reflect your desired lifestyle and you’re throwing money in places that aren’t necessary and don’t speak to you, it may be time to readjust your thinking about the entire budgeting process.
Think Sustainability, Not Just Quick Fixes
Unless you’re under intense financial pressure related to a loss of income or massive debt repayment, try to make any changes to your budget lifestyle changes, not just quick fixes that will eventually cause you to give up on the budgeting process entirely.
We all know crash dieting doesn’t work in the long run, and massively uncomfortable budget changes can have the same discouraging outcome.