A new survey says that middle class military families are focusing their financial goals for 2015 on frugal living. They want to get out of debt, cut back their spending, budget, use more cash and less credit and shop more at bargain stores.
That sounds pretty good to us, too. The survey, conducted by First Command Behaviors Index polls a pretty small sample of military families over the E-6 pay grade. But small or not, these results are probably representative of us all. Who doesn't want to be in better financial shape at any given point? (Now if only I could remember that BEFORE I walk into Target).
This is a pretty uncertain money time in military life. Troops are being cut. Promotions are being denied. Benefits are under threat of downsizing. In the pretty near future most of us are probably going to have to spend a little more here and there to do things that, in the past, have been handed to us for free or at a greater discount. We've already seen Tricare pharmacy fees increase slightly and BAH rates take a hit.
Want some practical ideas for doing that? Now seems like a good time to adjust some spending habits. Even a dollar here and there can count. I have tried crazy couponing, making my own dish soap, buying every item possible only at thrift stores and many other money saving techniques. But most of those things didn't work long term for me. Here's some of the things that have stuck:
I have a love/hate relationship with couponing. On the one hand, I like it when something so simple can make things I was going to buy anyway cost just a tad less. Even saving $3 off my commissary visit means I'm covering the cost of paying the bagger.
But I have a really hard time being organized enough to do it. I remember to save coupons from the paper. But often I never get around to cutting them out. And when I do, I often forget my coupon keeper at home or in the car. And, yes, schlepping back out to the car when I've already gotten myself and my 2-year-old into the store and done the majority of my shopping is really just too much.
That's why I was happy to discover a series of coupon apps that work at the commissary (where I do the bulk of my shopping). In addition to the Defense Commissary Agency's (DeCA) own Rewards Card app, Ibotta, Checkout 51 and Shrinks all work there. Most of these apps have you scan items you buy and then your recepiet. If you don't shop at the commissary you may benefit from using other apps our friends over at Many Kind Regards talk about in this post.
If you're like me, this one is a challenge for some reason. I blame my inexperience on the fact that the commissary, where I do the bulk of my shopping, doesn't price match. But since the commissary is notorious for its bad produce, I do often hit up other stores for that. And by not price matching I'm missing a fantastic opportunity to save some money on stuff I would be buying anyway as a matter of convenience. Walmart is a fantastic place to do price matching. And thanks to their Savings Catcher program
, you dont even really need to know the prices at other stores before doing your shopping to reap the benefits.
Use a budgeting tool.
Several years ago a close friend of mine got me into Mint.com. This service securely downloads your transactions from credit cards and bank accounts into a form, allows you to create a monthly budget and then allows you to categorize spending to match that budget. While the cash-only method works great for some people, we just like the convenience of plastic (plus we do a ton of our shopping online). Mint lets us use our cards while still keeping close tabs on exactly where our money is going.
If you don't like the idea of Mint, here's a little review of some other online options.
Streamline your shopping.
Since I work from home with my two-year-old, and my work day ends when my older son gets off the bus, time management is really important to me. If I don't use my time well there is no way I will get done during the day everything I need to do (this blog doesn't run itself, folks!). Time is my most precious resource. And while it's cliche to say, time really is money. Being frugal with it is just as important to me as anything else.
That doesn't just mean making sure my home life is streamlined. It also means making the most of precious errand and grocery shopping time. Not only do I make a menu plan for every single meal during the week and a shopping list to go with it, I also add items at other stores to a standing list so that I can make a single trip, and only if I'm already going to be near the store. For example, on Saturday I have eye check appointment at Walmart. I've been needing a few pharmacy section items (new ice pack, lotion, etc.), so I'm adding those things to a list and getting them all at once.
These may seem like simple, no-brain things. But they save me time (and, therefore, money) in the long run.
Practice responsible giving.
You may be thinking "what does charity have to do with being frugal?" To my family, charitable giving is something we do out of enjoyment, but also because it's part of our belief system. But we want to be responsible about how we do it. Since we can only give so much away, we want to make sure it is going as far as it can.
That means that before we pick charities to contribute to through the Combined Federal Campaign or any other way, we research the organizations. We look at their Charity Navigator
rating. We make sure their goals line-up with our values. We want to know that we are using our money the best way possible.
These are the ways my family is going to be practicing frugal living this year.
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