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Small Budget, Big Debt: 8 Ways to Stretch the Dollar

Posted by Advocate Debt Relief Team

8 months ago / April 1, 2022

Try running on a treadmill to get somewhere. No matter how hard you work, forward movement is impossible. Those of us under the crushing force of debt often feel this way.

The mere thought of saving on a budget that seems to get tighter by the month could be considered unrealistic. Especially when some of us count change just to buy a morning coffee. Fortunately, that isn’t necessarily the case. A change in perspective, some tweaks in behavior, and the willpower to put in some sweat equity can make all the difference.

Make The Dollar Go Farther

If you have the need to make your money reach beyond your current debt to income ratio, here are 8 practical ways to tackle your situation.

Assess needs vs wants

All too often the lines blur between what we consider a need or a want. The $7 specialty coffee every day before work is not a need, even though the caffeine is essential to our productivity. A quick realignment of the difference can reshape our approach to getting our needs met without our desires draining the bank account.

Needs are basic living expenses that are vital for survival. Typically these are associated with food, shelter, and clothing. We have to ask ourselves if we’re making the most practical use of our dollars to attain our needs. Maybe that specialty coffee could be made at home with store bought ingredients that’ll cost a fraction of the coffee shop price.

Wants are associated with comfort and ease. Often our wants fall into the same categories of our needs — food, shelter, and clothing. Although it might be easier to do take out or go to a restaurant, buying the same ingredients at the store and preparing it at home will always save money.

Pay yourself first

When the budget feels like a giant zip tie around your neck, this concept seems foreign. It’s not. Every time you get paid, put away 10% toward your savings. The trick is not touching that savings unless it’s for the reason you’re setting it aside.

A great way to force yourself into submission while securing your long-term future is contributing to your 401(k). The genius of this system is the tax-deferred status on every dollar. You won’t have to pay taxes on that money today, boosting your savings for tomorrow.

Meals

Let’s get one thing straight, food prep is not only for bodybuilders and chefs. The markup we pay at a restaurant is astronomical. Grocery shopping can also add up without a mindful approach. A couple of keys to more economic meals is to go grocery shopping on a full stomach with a list. This will prevent impulse buying that bag of chips to eat on the way home. Another great tip is to always compare the name brands to generic. Every cent counts and a full shopping cart adds up.

Car insurance

Do you have a good driving record? If so, good! Capitalize on that great judgment and cat quick reflexes. A phone call to your insurance provider could get you a better rate. If not, don’t hesitate to shop around. In fact, shopping for car insurance every year can consistently get you better rates. Before you do, ensure the insurance company is making a “soft inquiry” on your credit report. This won’t affect your credit history and could get you a stellar rate.

Cancel unused subscriptions

Nowadays many of us have a Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, and whatever else account. Each one takes away from the monthly bottom line we’re trying to protect. Take an inventory of what you’re using. This goes back to the needs and wants point of view. If you’re only logging into one of these paid accounts once in a while, cut it.

Another way to manage subscription based expenses is to be mindful of auto renewals. A lot of subscriptions will give a month free trial, but we have to enter our credit card information to get started. After a month goes by, sometimes using the subscription only once, we get hit with an automatic charge. Pro tip: cancel the subscription right after signing up for the free trial. You still get the free month and if the service is worthwhile go ahead and pay. If not, your card isn’t getting charged automatically.

Regularly review the budget

We can’t hit a target we can’t see, especially when it comes to managing our money. A good practice is to dust off the budget spreadsheet, if you have one, at least once a month. Keep track of purchases from the previous month and assess whether or not these were needs or wants. This practice will keep us in line with our financial goals and how to more effectively spend our dollars the following month.

Need help tracking where the money is going? A number of free budget apps can help. Mint, EveryDollar, Personal Capital, and Honey-due are a handful of free apps.

Make more money

Yes, easier said than done, but not out of the question. Don’t just walk into the boss’ office and ask for a raise. You’ll likely be escorted out in defeat. Present a strong case about why you’ve earned a raise and show the value you’ve added to the company since your last raise. Depending on your presentation, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Another route is to capitalize on another skill with a side job. Most people have a hobby of a sort that can be monetized online. Arts and crafts, graphic design, writing, selling old items online, handyman services, the possibilities are endless. If you’re willing to put in the work, the money is out there.

Adjust tax withholdings

Taxes can be difficult to navigate. When we’re on a tight budget, getting hit with a huge bill from the IRS at the end of the year is out of the question. Luckily, the IRS has a Tax Withholding Estimator built into their website to help avoid a costly adjustment. Before diving into the estimator, take time to read about how it works and understand how it applies to your specific situation.

On your quest to make the dollars travel farther, be open to new ideas. By implementing some of these practical steps as new behaviors, it’ll help create a new mindset toward spending. Remember, every situation is different. It is not a failure to ask for help. In fact, it’s smart to partner with a professional if you’ve maximized all your options. Be it using practical steps like these or a partnership with a professional, the financial freedom you want is right around the corner.

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Filed Under: Budgeting