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Killing a Financial Budget - Easier Than You May Think

Aug 17, 2007
Have you ever noticed that the people with the least amount of money often have happier family lives, and more free time? It's no coincidence that those with enough money to meet the necessities, but not enough to indulge in excess frivolity in life are often the less stressed, more content people around. Why? Because they've learned an important lesson: happiness isn't about acquiring things.

Many newlyweds don't find financial success for years down the road, yet they never seem as content once they've "made it" to the better neighborhood and the bigger house, as they did during those initial years of struggle. The more we have, the more stress we add to our lives and the more time we take away from our families. Houses take upkeep. Pools need to be cleaned. Big yards need to be mowed. Private schools need to be paid for, and every car you own needs to be maintained. Even the clothes spilling from your closet need to be washed, hung and put away. This all takes time, energy and money. Many are finding that the cost of ownership is becoming too high, both financially and emotionally, causing a backlash to today's overindulgent way of life.

Simplicity is making a comeback, allowing overindulgence and debt to take a ride, for an easier and less stressful way of life. Becoming debt free isn't as hard as it may seem. It just requires taking a good hard look at your life, setting new priorities and cutting out all the stuff that only manages to add stress and chaos to your life, for a more stable financial future. Some experts say that the average middle class American could cut their annual expenses in half by simply cutting out the excess waste in their budgets. If you marvel at that statistic, wondering if it could ever be possible to live on half of what you do now, consider how and what your family spends their money on. Now, consider these cost-cutting moves for a more cost-effective way of life:

Cut Out The Excess:
Movies, dinners, lattes, vending machine snacks, designer clothes, top-flight golf clubs; these are frivolous (yet enjoyable) things that the average middle-class American considers necessities. Free yourself from the baggage of excess debt and worry. Add up all the non-essential things and activities that your family spends money on throughout the year. The number may amaze you! Now, we're not saying that you shouldn't have any fun, or enjoy special activities. The key here is to choose carefully, and trim the excess. No one needs 20 pairs of jeans in their closet. Yet, we indulge in that sort of overindulgence on a regular basis for dozens of items. Our children do not need to be in basketball, gymnastics and voice lessons all at the same time. It's exhausting and expensive.

Choose the ONE activity or club per season that means the most, and let the rest go. It isn't just the cost of the excess activities that you'll save, but the gas money it costs to run your children from place to place; the fast food you buy on busy nights; the fundraisers you won't be participating in anymore; the cost of snacks during the event; among others. Begin simplifying your life and budget by first trimming the excess.

Make Substitutions:
From buying generic products at the supermarket, to camping at the beach instead of staying at a luxury hotel, substituting cheaper ways to buy and do things can all aid your quest for a simpler life and less financial distress. For many, the change may be drastic, while others will find it an enjoyable challenge to discover new ways to keep the same activities on less money.

Here are a few places to start:

-Rent new DVD's instead of buying them. Better yet, borrow them from friends, family or the library. So you won't see new releases the first week they come out, but does that really matter?

-Take the family out to dinner a little earlier. Early bird entrees can be as much as half the price, just by being seated at your favorite restaurant at 5 pm instead of 6 pm.

-Go on vacation during the off-season. Peak vacation times are more crowded and expensive. Instead of heading to the shore during the fourth of July, opt for the first week of June, or mid-September instead. The weather is still great; the hotels and restaurants are running killer specials; and the crowds are gone. The only things you may be missing out on are some of those expensive touristy attractions and trendy boardwalk stores. Go into town and purchase your souvenirs from a local shopkeeper instead.

-Use Coupons. They're not just for groceries anymore. Many stores, restaurants and attractions offer wonderful coupon deals on services and products. Get the rugs in three rooms of your house shampooed for the price of 1 on Tuesdays; get your dry-cleaning done for half price on Thursdays; these are all great coupon deals that can help you save money with very little effort or change.

-Buy Gifts Throughout The Year. Whether it's for Christmas, a birthday, or anniversary, watch the clearance racks for great gifts all year through. Almost every store, no matter how expensive -- has end of season clearance sales where they discount everything from toys and games to fine jewelry and house wares anywhere from 50-80% in order to make room for new merchandise. Take advantage of these deep discounts to save hundreds on this year's gift giving.

Never Pay Full Price:
Eventually, everything goes on sale - maybe even clearance! From food, shoes and luggage to clothes, sporting goods and candy, every store finds it necessary to move goods out to make room for new merchandise eventually, and offers the items on discount to do it. Never pay full price, and if you do out of necessity, keep your receipts. Many stores will pay you the difference if an item goes on sale within 30 days of your purchase with a sales receipt.

Buying used items is also another way to save big. High-end consignment shops are an excellent place to find good quality (and often brand new) merchandise at a fraction of the cost. Everyone buys things they never wear or use, and often try to get rid of them by consigning them at a local store.

Consider Some Drastic Changes:
Want to save the big bucks? You may be ready for some drastic changes in your life. Here are a few ways to save thousands every year:

-Downsize Your Home. Have you realized that 3,000 square feet of house is more than a family of 4 really needs? Is 3-acres of land too much to care for? It may be a good time to sell your home and buy a smaller one. Downsizing from a larger home to a more reasonable one can save you thousands on mortgage costs, utilities, upkeep, and more.

-Sell Your Car. Do you really need two or three cars? Once you begin to rid your family life of those excess activities and such, you may find it possible to either get rid of your second car, or sell it and pay cash for a used one instead.

-Get Rid of Anything That Costs You Money To Upkeep. Ditch the pool, the hot tub, the vacation home, boat, trailer, even your perfectly manicured lawn. Anything that costs money to maintain and/or upkeep can go.

-Ditch the Vacation. Stay home instead. Or take a few day trips in your area to save big bucks.

As you can see, living a simpler, less expensive life doesn't have to mean giving up all the fun stuff. It does mean setting new priorities and finding new ways to achieve your goals without all the added expense.
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