Making ends meet on one income can be tough. Little purchases add up, and you need backup funds in case of emergencies. With a bit of research and organization, you can start whittling away at your monthly costs, saving your money and your sanity. You don't have to give up the lifestyle you love to save money -- you just have to alter it slightly.
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One of the biggest money drains in a household is food. People stock up without checking on what they already have and without knowing what they'll need in the coming week. Without completing a list with some foresight, food will go unused and spoil. Before making your grocery list, check your cupboards, pantry and fridge to see what you have and what you need to use by expiration date. Plan your meals for the week based on the foods you need to get rid of before they go bad, and when those run out, then continue planning based on what you'll be buying for the week. Once in the store, buy only what's on your list. Don't go to the store hungry. You should be buying just what you need for your planned meals and baking.
Coupons save money, but only if you're using them correctly for your family. No one needs 200 rolls of paper towels, so when you get out the clippers, make sure you remember what you need and why. Don't let a perceived bargain fool you into spending more than you would have anyway. Before falling into the buy-one-get-one-free trap, check to make sure the store hasn't boosted the price on the original item. Combine manufacturers' coupons with site coupons when you can for extra savings. If you buy something with a rebate, don't forget to send in the rebate and follow the directions to the letter so that you don't get stiffed. Read the fine print, including quantity limits and expiration dates.
Check your bank, credit card companies, and travel/hotel sites for savings clubs. Some credit cards offer a point system, for instance, where buying goods at certain places entitles you to gifts and prizes. Others give a cash-back incentive for each purchase. Call the companies regularly to sign up for their seasonal deals. Otherwise, you could be getting 1 percent back when you could be getting 5 percent. Make sure the savings club is worth it, though. If you have to buy in, you'll want it to pay for itself and more within months, not years. So if you don't travel that often, a frequent flyer program wouldn't be for you.
Curb Impulse Buys
Not all impulse buys are $600 television sets or $25,000 cars. Most impulsive buying slips under the radar, in fact, because the price tag is small -- per item that is. But if you add up the $3 on candy on Monday, the $5 latte on Tuesday, the $15 manicure on Wednesday and the $10 shoes-on-clearance on Friday, the sticker price gets higher and higher. Recognize when you are purchasing something and decide if you need it or want it badly enough before you put down the cash. Speaking of that, always pay in cash so that the money has physical value. Too often, credit cards make these small purchases seem nonexistent. If you can do something yourself, like paint your nails, do it. Then allow yourself a manicure treat every few months.
Darlena Cunha has been a writer and editor since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Connecticut. Cunha is also completing her master's degree in mass communication.