Whether you're a college graduate, a new parent or a retiree, the most practical way to get a grip on your spending is by creating a solid budget. If you're looking for long-term savings that'll last, here are some easy tips that can help you start budgeting right.
The first thing to do is figure out how much you actually make every month. This isn't as simple as taking your yearly salary and dividing it by 12. Make sure to deduct income taxes and other upfront costs, like health insurance, as well. Once you've done that, you've got a much more accurate number to start budgeting with.
Once your framework is set, the next step is to determine how much of that money you actually spend. There are a few ways you can do this. One way is to go the old fashioned route and save every receipt and bill over the course of a few months and then calculate your average. If that sounds like a big headache to you, there are lots of budgeting programs out there that can help you keep track of it all.
One of those programs is called Mint. This tried and true app gathers all your spending patterns, bills and other expenses and presents it in a clear way that's easy to understand and learn from. And it's free!
Lastly, form a specific long-term savings goal so that you have something tangible to aim for. Let's face it, making an effective budget is going to involve some cuts to your spending that won't be fun, like reducing your dinner and movie nights. However, if you create an end goal you'll know that you're working towards something tangible, so those small sacrifices won't be quite as difficult.
While some methods of budgeting work better for different people, these tips are the essential building blocks everyone can use to get started. Give them a try, and you'll see that saving more isn't always about spending less; it's about making the best choices with what you already have.
10 Clever Ways to Save Money While Dining Out
Simple Strategies to Boost Your Budget -- Savings Experiment
This might sound crazy, but hear me out: If you're ravenous by the time you reach the restaurant, you'll be tempted to order more. Sheer willpower isn't enough to stop you from ordering more than you can chew. Nibble on a snack before you head out, so that you can order from the menu with a cool head.
Drinks can add a lot to your final bill, especially if they're adult libations. Stick with plain ol' tap water to avoid the cash drain (and empty calories). If you'd still like to have a drink or two before dinner, sip a cocktail at home instead. Just make sure you have a designated driver.
At many restaurants, appetizers and dessert items cost just as much as an entree, so opting to pad your meal with these extras can double or even triple your total cost. And it may be too much food, too, which can lead to a big waste or big waist. Rather than getting a whole spread, focus on ordering one main entrée and really savoring it.
Still want a little something sweet for dessert? Why not offer to spit something with others at your table? You'll each get a taste, and you can each split the bill. This works with everything from appetizers to main entrees -- if you'd like to try several different dishes, order a few for the table and share them family-style.
Many restaurants (especially large chains) serve ridiculously sized portions. A plate of pasta could feed a family of four; a sandwich with fries could make up two meals. Rather than stuffing yourself silly, plan on making several meals out of your order and take home leftovers for some "free" meals later on. To avoid being tempted to keep eating once you're full, divvy up your food when it arrives, like putting half of it on a separate plate so you know it's off-limits.
Restaurants know most people are in a rush around lunch time, and they're looking for a faster turnaround to get more customers in (and out) the door. Take advantage of the lower prices (and smaller portions) you'll find at lunch -- and you can have a meal that's just as high-quality but a bit lighter on your wallet.
Plenty of daily deals sites like Amazon Local, Scoutmob and Groupon offer vouchers for local restaurants for deals like "buy one, get one free" meals, percentages off your total bill and more. Just make sure you read the fine print before you buy -- some places won't allow you to use vouchers on busy days or times or may require you purchase a certain amount to qualify. Some may be used in more than one visit (so you can spread out your savings), while others must be used all at once.
Buy an entertainment book for a slew of great coupons for local restaurants, service providers and more that are good through the end of the year. Google your city's name plus "coupon book" to find local variations, or look through your local newspaper. (Remember those?) Sometimes, bundles of coupons are mailed to you. If you can combine a coupon with other savings, like using a reward card or a military or senior discount, you can shave a decent-sized bill down to next to nothing.
Many restaurants offer special discounts and deals to loyal customers who engage with them on social media or through email. Join restaurant email lists, "like" the business on Facebook and follow them on Twitter to receive regular deals, special discounts and announcements of upcoming promos.
If you've got children in tow, find out what restaurants offer "kids eat free" days and plan your meals out for those times. If you've got several children in tow, this could help you save money with minimal effort.