Staying afloat in tough times

We are among the many Americans struggling financially, living paycheck to paycheck, hoping they have enough to cover all their bills at the end of the month. Of course, life is easier if you have a cash cushion or an emergency fund, but how do you save when there is not much fat in your budget?

First, you need to find out where your money is going. Start by tracking all your spending for 30 days. Everything, even a pack of gum, should be noted using any tracking method you prefer – a notebook, your smartphone, an online spreadsheet, whatever works best for you. Then categorize each expense. Start with the essentials:

• Rent/mortgage

• Utilities

• Food

• Transportation to get to your job

• Healthcare – prescriptions and co-pays

These five are priorities that must be paid each month. Everything else, like clothing, cosmetics, gym memberships, etc., are areas where you can cut back and save a little. Here are a few other saving suggestions:

Entertainment – Look for low-cost ways to have fun

If you have a streaming service, discontinue it for a few months. For example, a service that costs $25.00 per month means you’re spending $300 per year – that’s a month’s worth of groceries.

• Get a library card to check out movies and video games instead of renting them.

• Listen to podcasts. There are over a million to choose from on all subjects.

• Learn a new language or start a new hobby. Here again, the library can be your friend by providing free resources.

Food – Try to spend no more than 11% of your take-home pay on food

• Shop for generic store brands instead of name-brand items. Many generic versions can be up to 60% cheaper.

• Use coupons and download your grocery store’s app for more deals.

• Buy vegetables in their natural form. Pre-washed and cut vegetables can be twice as expensive, and certainly not as fresh.

• Buy only what you know you can eat in a week or two to avoid throwing away food.

• Make at least 75% of your own meals instead of ordering from restaurants.

Energy bills – Changing habits can save you big money

• Use a toaster oven, slow cooker, or other small appliances instead of the oven.

• Wait until the dishwasher is full before running it, and turn off the heated dry setting.

• Unplug unused appliances and power strips to avoid phantom loads. Even though appliances are unplugged, they still draw power.

• Turn off lights, TVs, and radios when you leave a room.

Credit Card Late Fees – Missing payment due date comes with a heavy price

• To avoid late fees and protect your credit score, set up automatic payments to pay at least the minimum payment by the due date.

• If you can’t pay your bill in full each month, then use your credit card only for emergencies.

• If your credit card has a high-interest rate, look for one with a lower interest rate. Check out the rates at www.independentfcu.org or contact us to help consolidate your credit card bills.

By cutting costs even just a little and putting those savings into an account, you will be able to pay bills with less worry and even save for future fun trips or a special gift.

When times are tough, we have to be tougher. Independent is here for you. We are people helping people, and together we will get through the lean times. Contact us if you would like to discuss financial options or review your accounts to help you get ahead, and stay ahead.