By Lindsey Smith

February may be the “month of love”, but you may not be feeling in the most loving mood as we continue to struggle with the effects of the pandemic. You may have made some New Year’s resolutions last month but are now struggling to put them into action in your personal life. If you’ve made a goal to be more financially smart, but find you’re already blowing through your budget before the month is half over, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans struggle with budgeting each year. However, struggling doesn’t mean you should give up just yet.

At Availa Bank, we want you to feel comfortable with your finances. Staying within your budget is essential to ensure a strong financial future. We know that times are tough right now, and nobody is exactly sure when things will get back to normal; however, there are plenty of small ways you can make that financial burden easier on yourself. We’re here to educate you on your options. We want to help you find ways to make your money stretch and grow when you need it most. It’s easy to fall in love with your New Year’s budget resolution when you follow these quick and easy money saving tips.

Reduce Your Household Costs

Whether you have a large house or a small one, an old house or a new one, every little thing you do can impact the cost of maintenance each month. Even something as simple as unplugging electronics when you’re not using them can make a big difference. It may seem small, but even if electronics are off, they’re still leeching electricity in your home. To fix this, you can try investing in an energy saving power strip for your larger electronics and other equipment that will cut off the power to these items when not in use. That way you don’t have to worry about unplugging each item after you’re done using it.

Choose Energy Efficiency

Power saving strips aren’t the only way you can make your home more energy efficient. If your energy and water bills seem to be tripling in size each month, there are several ways you can bring them down to a more reasonable amount, such as taking shorter showers, only using cold water to wash your clothes and maximizing load sizes, switching to LED lightbulbs, and choosing energy efficient appliances whenever it’s time to replace your current ones. Granted, some of these options require you to spend a little bit of money, so it will be easier to focus on what you can change for free at first, but over time, the money spent on these changes will come back to you in savings each month.

Winterize Your Home

Another easy way to save money is to make sure you winterize your home and ensure that it’s ready for all seasons. I have experienced firsthand the effects of an Iowa winter on a home. One day you’re facing a blizzard and the next day it’s calm. One day it’s 40 degrees and the next day your pipes have burst from the cold. You can save money (and avoid disasters) by ensuring your pipes are covered, by checking for any gaps and then sealing them to keep the heat in, and by closing vents to rooms that you use less often. Covering your pipes is relatively cheap. All you have to do is buy some heat tape or insulation and get things covered. If you’re filling gaps, a couple cans of foam costs less than $20. Closing the vents to unused rooms is free and allows your heater to shut off sooner, using less energy. This way you can keep your thermostat at a reasonable temperature and rest easy knowing you aren’t throwing your money out the window each month.

Rent a Room or Section of Your Home

This suggestion is more for those of you who have bigger homes, but even if all you have is one small extra room, you can still convert that space into money. Consider renting out an unused room in your home to generate some extra income. Now, this will take some prep work and you’ll probably have to spend a little money to make money, but it can be worth it if you live in a highly sought-after neighborhood.

If you do decide to try renting, you’ll want to make sure you protect your home from any further damages and costly problems by asking each potential renter for references, running credit checks, and drafting a written rental agreement with:

  • The rent amount
  • When rent is due
  • How utilities should be paid
  • What the renter can do in the shared areas of the house
  • Where they can park their car

You should also check other listings in your area to make sure you’re charging your renters similar and competitive prices.

Downsize & Sell Unwanted Items

Reducing your household costs can also mean downsizing the things you already have. Do you pay for a storage space? Do you have rooms that you can’t use because they’re storing tons of items that nobody really uses? You can create extra space for yourself and make some cash by gathering these items you no longer need and selling them online. With some time and patience, you can make some serious cash. If you have a talent for upcycling items, you can even try your hand at refurbishing your old, junky furniture or other items into new, unique pieces for sale. Sometimes the easiest ways to make money can be found through your hobbies. Be aware, if you do sell online, make sure to follow online safety rules, including never giving your personal address or other identifying information to strangers and informing someone you trust of the location you choose to meet at for the purchase in case something goes wrong. 

Prioritize Your Groceries

Grocery costs can quickly add up, even if you don’t have a large family. However, there are several easy ways to make sure you aren’t eating your way through your grocery budget each month.

Sign up for Membership Programs

If you have a larger family, or even if it’s just you and your significant other, things like Costco or Sam’s Club memberships can be great for your budget. You pay for your membership but the ability to buy everything in bulk can significantly reduce the cost of the items you would find in regular grocery stores. Take stock of what your family consumes regularly and plan to make one trip per week to get these items. (Be careful with perishable items though, as the large value pack might not stay fresh as long as you had hoped).

Buy Generic

You may be loyal to certain food brands because those are the ones you’ve eaten all your life. You may think that your brand tastes better than others. You may think you’re getting a higher quality item for your money. Whatever your feelings, big brands aren’t always better, especially when it comes to food. Check out this price comparison for simple meals when you buy generic vs. name brand. The savings speak for themselves. If you’re interested in making the switch, there are several easy-to-use online resources to help you find and purchase generic label food items that can be delivered directly to your door. Some quick research will give you the solution that’s right for you.

Plan All Your Meals Ahead of Time

Have you noticed that most budget advice blogs tell you to grocery shop only once a week? In fact, I did it just a few paragraphs ago.

Why?

This is to help you avoid money-spending traps. If you don’t meal plan before the week begins, you may find yourself without the ingredients you need, causing you to go to the store more often. Every time you go to the store to pick up that item you forgot, it’s likely that something else will catch your eye and you’ll end up with a cart full of groceries you didn’t even need to begin with.

If you’re health conscious, meal planning can also help you focus on your diet and get you to buy healthier foods that give you more nutrition and energy for your money.

Price Match All Purchases 

Another easy way to save money on groceries is with price matching. There are plenty of tools out there to help you find the best price, some even offered by the retailers themselves. With so many app options, you don’t have to worry about forgetting the paper ad from another store at home or losing the screenshot of it somewhere in your phone’s photo gallery.

This method requires a little time and effort, but it can do wonders for your budget, especially since price matches don’t have a limit at most stores like coupons do. Then you can go to the grocery store nearest you (if they offer price matching) and save some gas money and time instead of driving to each store with the lowest available price.  

Hunt Down Free Entertainment

With the pandemic still raging on, it can be difficult to imagine going anywhere but your home for entertainment. This may have been great on your wallet this past year, but sooner or later, people will be able to go out again and you’ll need ways to save money while doing those things. 

Find Cheaper Movie Options

Take watching movies for instance. There are plenty of people who still enjoy the experience of seeing the latest blockbuster on the big screen. If you’re one of these people, you probably know that you can save a significant amount of money by going to a matinee and skipping the snacks. There are also usually less people in the theater at this time, so you’ll have a better experience without strangers talking over all the action.

If you’re looking for free movies, your local library often has a selection of DVDs that are free to rent with your library card. They won’t always be the newest releases, but there are plenty of options to keep you occupied. Plus, if you end up hating the movie, you won’t regret spending money to see it.

Find Cheaper Ways to Have New Experiences

After staying home for most of 2020, you’re probably excited to start going to events again. If (fingers crossed) events are back on the schedule at some point this year, there are many ways to attend for free or at a reduced price. Many museums and zoos also have reduced or free admission days, so be sure to check them out online for the details. If you’re looking for guaranteed free events, you can also check out your local library for fun and educational options for your kids or book clubs for yourself if that’s something that interests you.

If sports are more your speed, there are many cheaper city-run leagues that will keep you active without the major costs. Another bonus is that you’ll be feeling stronger and healthier. Just be aware you may not get the personalized training and bonuses you might get in a private league.

If you want to watch other people play sports, sometimes your workplace, local library, or radio station may offer discounted tickets for local teams. All you have to do is ask. 

Take Advantage of Group Discounts

If there’s an event you’ve been wanting to do for a while, like an escape room or a painting class or a cooking class, etc., never underestimate the power of group rates. Many websites offer group discounts, but it’s important to make sure you always read the fine print before you go.

Shave Off Excess Streaming Service Charges

While using streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are way less expensive than regular TV, with the sheer number of streaming options available today, costs can rack up fast. I know many of you have subscriptions to multiple streaming services that can come close to the total of an old-fashioned cable package. Take stock of which services you use the most and consider cutting out the rest. If you can’t possibly think of cutting a single service, consider sharing the cost of a subscription with someone you trust to pay their portion on time each month.

Limit Spendy Transportation

Whether you live in a bigger city, suburb, or small town, driving is often part of your daily life. It’s inevitable that you will have to pay for car maintenance and gas, however it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of ways to cut down on costs without sacrificing the comfort of having your own car.

Shop Around for Car Insurance

This is never a fun thing to do, but it is important to shop around for your car insurance. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just gotten a new car, moved to a new town and want a local insurance company, or are simply looking for better rates, there’s always a better deal somewhere. Do some research on your own, ask your friends which insurance companies they use, then compare the quotes you find online to see if there are any savings.

Run All Your Errands at the Same Time

Make sure you’re getting the most out of your car trips. If you have errands to run that aren’t time sensitive, plan them all for the same day so that you can get the most out of your gas mileage. You’ll also be reducing the number of miles you put on your car which will help your car last longer. It may not seem like a huge deal to run to the store or the bank every time you remember something you need, but it can add up quickly.

Walk or Bike for Short Trips

If you live close to your workplace, grocery store, or school, it could be more beneficial for you to walk or bike where you need to go, rather than fire up the car for each trip. You’ll be getting some fresh air and staying healthy. You can even get the whole family involved in a weekly bike ride to run errands and spend some quality time together. Now, in the colder months you may still want or need to use your car, but during the spring and summer this could really save you some cash.

Utilize Shuttle Services or Carpools

If you live somewhat far from your workplace, you may be able to utilize a shuttle service through your workplace. Some larger companies offer this service free of charge to their employees to encourage high attendance rates at no extra charge to you. However, if that’s not an option for you, you can try arranging a carpool with coworkers who live nearby and switch drivers each week to make sure everything stays fair in terms of gas money, mileage, etc.

Save Money on Gas

If you can’t avoid driving your car any more than you already do, there’s still ways to save money. Take the price of gas for example. There are tons of apps that make it easy for you to find the cheapest gas near you each time you head to the pump. All you have to do is input your driving routes and it does all the work for you.

Find Cheaper Ways to Eat Out

One of the first pieces of advice you’re likely to hear when you are trying to save money is that you should cut eating out and other fun activities completely out of your budget. However, there are still ways to maintain your social life without creating a huge dent in your budget and/or savings plan each month.

Go Out For Lunch, Not Dinner

If you keep in touch with friends each month by scheduling a fun dinner, try coordinating a lunch date instead. Lunch menus are often lower priced, and you’ll still have a fun time with friends without worrying about the cost of a full dinner.

Choose Water

Another easy way to save a couple bucks is to skip the drinks while eating out. Many restaurants will markup their drinks by 40% or more, leaving you with a hefty charge before you even get to the meal. Consider drinking water when you’re out and about and go back to your house for a nightcap.

Check for Frequent Diner Perks

If you have a particular restaurant you go to regularly, consider looking into their rewards programs or discounts. Many popular chain restaurants have member rewards programs where you can receive a free or discounted meal/menu item just for eating there often. There are also early bird specials, senior discounts, and student discounts that can help you stay within budget.

Be Strategic About Buying Clothes

It’s very tempting to buy brand new clothes, and that urge is even stronger when you walk by a storefront or slog through the hundreds of daily email offers you get from every store you’ve ever shopped at. However, these deals aren’t always as great as they appear. There are smarter ways to shop for clothes that will help you prioritize what you need vs. what you want and leave you with money for other things each month.

Try Out Cash-Back Programs

If you shop online a lot, there are usually cash-back programs you can utilize to get money back for everything you purchase online. You will have to sign up for an account and learn how the system works, but after that it’s pretty easy to start saving money. However, be aware that not buying clothes you don’t need in the first place will always be the best way to reduce your spending costs.

Rent or Swap Clothes 

If you have a fancy dinner, charity event, or other once-in-a-while event that you don’t have the clothing for, don’t rush out and buy it right away. Chances are, you’ll never wear that item again and it will be taking up space in your closet without giving you that bang for your buck you were looking for. Instead, reach out to your friends and see if anyone has what you’re looking for in your size. You can borrow what you need and return the favor if your friend ever needs something of yours. If your friends don’t have what you need, you can always look into a rental service for your dress, suit, or tux. There’s plenty of online rental services to choose from and some even offer free shipping back and forth.

Raid the Clearance Racks Online & In-Store

The most obvious way to save money if you really need a particular item is to check the clearance rack or go to your local thrift store. Many stores have the basics in their clearance rack and thrift stores can have major brands for a quarter of the original price. For those of you who are environmentally conscious, thrift stores are an even better bargain as you’re giving clothes a second life out of the landfill. If you’ve looked at tons of clearance racks and can’t find your size, plenty of stores’ online clearance options have a wider range of sizes and styles to fit your needs. With a little patience and time, you could find your next favorite piece.

Do Your Research & Make Tough Decisions

Sticking to a tight budget can be really tough. There are so many factors that can affect the money you have each month, from unexpected bills and expenses to holiday shopping and more. However, if you’re determined to stick to your budget and research the best options, you can find ways to save money everywhere you go.

Got more questions about the best ways to save money? Ask one of our qualified Availa bankers by calling or visiting your local branch today!

General

Availa Bank locations are in the following communities: Carroll, Ames, Ankeny, Arcadia, Coon Rapids, Council Bluffs, Fort Dodge, Holstein, Jewell, Nevada, Roland, Sioux City, Pocahontas, and Webster City. For more information about Availa Bank, visit the website at www.Availa.Bank and follow them on Facebook. Member FDIC.