10 Things to Help Get Through the Cash Poor Times

Whether you’re in college, just starting out as a young adult, or have had some sort of financial hardship come waltzing into your life, here’s a list of ten things that can help you make it to the other side of things without completely losing your mind.

1. Change Jar – It doesn’t matter what type of jar it is. It can be an old pickle jar, mayonnaise jar, cider jug… whatever. I prefer glass ones. Something about the sound of the change hitting the glass works for me. Make sure it is really clean and dry before you throw all of your change in it, ALL of it, and let it sit. Don’t ‘borrow’ from it because the money you borrow is just reducing how much will be in there later, when you really need it for gas, food, whatever.

2. Dollar Jar – at the end of every day, put all the ones you have in your wallet, pocket, wherever you keep your cash at in this jar. Like the change jar, LEAVE IT ALONE. “Borrowing” from this jar just guarantees that it will be a revolving maximum $10 jar. Not something that is going to be a huge help when it may be needed. Trust me. It took me a while to just leave this jar alone because dollars are so much easier to deal with than change, and so much easier to spend. Also, don’t bank against the jar – “Oh! There’s $10 in the jar. I’ll use my debit card and then put the money from the jar into my bank account to cover this want item.” Again, trust me. It never turns out that way, and if it should, your dollar jar is back at $0. Not much of an emergency fund.

3. Buy The Expensive Shampoo – OK. I know this one sounds ridiculous when money is tight, but bare with me. I’ve spent years buying the cheap shampoos with very little criteria placed upon it other than it was what I could afford and it would get my hair clean. Once, when I was still doing move out cleaning, someone had left their half-full or better more expensive shampoo and conditioner – jackpot! You know what I discovered? The expensive stuff was really the way to go. My hair looked better, healthier and it took way less shampoo to get my hair clean, which means it would last longer, and it did. Way longer. In fact, months later, I am still using this shampoo and conditioner and there is still a ton left. I would have needed to buy the cheap stuff a few times by now. Better quality = less money spent in the long run.

4. Buy Organic and All Natural Products – Organic products can be a bit expensive, but they are just like the expensive shampoo – they last longer with the need for less product. I had the opportunity to try out an organic body wash for free. I needed body wash and thought why not give it a try. Worst case scenario I would hate it, it would go too fast, and I’d just go back to my usual whatever-is-on-sale body wash. From the first use, I realized the benefits of going organic. It took very little product to get my whole body clean, about 1/10th the amount of the cheap stuff. More money up front, sure, but less money overall.

5. Buy Trial/Travel Sizes – Why buy trial/travel size items? For backup, of course. It really sucks when you go to grab the dish detergent, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, or whatever only to find that there isn’t any left, or not enough to do the job you need it to do. What can make this worse is when it happens a week before payday or when you aren’t really sure when the next dollars are going to come in. Have a ‘trial size’ location to store your trial size items so you can find them when you need them. If you use all of one, remember to replace it asap.

6. Make sure to have your hair cut, at least every other month – I know you might be asking how this helps you make it through being poor, but you’d be surprised. When you let your hair go, it shows and people notice it more than you may think they do. You don’t have to go to the best salon, get the full shampoo and blow dry/style deal. Just go in for a trim, clean things up. Not only will you present more positively to others, but it makes you feel good.

7. Get Comfortable with Thrift Stores – Thrift stores are great! When an item of clothing has begun to show signs that it has reached the end of its passable life cycle, it’s time to replace it. Clearance sales at regular stores are great and definitely worth checking out, but know, just like the thrift stores, it’s going to take some time to search through the stuff to find the item or items that you are looking for at a price you are comfortable shelling out. I’ve taken the time over the years to figure out which thrift stores near or near-ish to me have the best selection and quality of donations. Replacing a worn out t-shirt with another worn out t-shirt is not going to make things better. It’s definitely worth the time to look around at different thrift shops to find the one that is going to have the better quality second hand items. Yes, these stores may cost a little bit more than the ones with a lower quality donation selection, but a buck or two is worth it to look good, which results in feeling better.
8. Coupons – Yes, coupons. I have never been able to figure this one out like the coupon queens you hear about, but they can be valuable, even in small amounts. A friend of mine gave me a coupon the other day that netted me a free 23.3 fl. oz. bottle of one of the better brands of olive oil. There are tons of couponing pins on Pinterest and a Google search will provide you with a ton of results if you should want to figure out couponing. Even that one coupon is helping to stretch the dollar a bit further.

9. Gift Card Budgeting – This one is a bit off the beaten track, I think. It was something I started doing when we were first getting stable in our RV life. I would get paid then disperse the money into a gift card at our normal grocery store, a cash card from Costco for gas, and one for Papa Murphy’s Pizza (we love Tuesdays). This helped keep the money going where it needed to go instead of the soda one of us just had to have from the convenience store, whatever impulse buy crossed our path, or that thing that you really, really need (want) going on sale for what seems like a ridiculous price at the time. Yes, this does mean that should you need the money that is on these cards for an unexpected emergency, you don’t really have access to it, which can be frustrating to say the least. Should you run into one of those events, refer to the change and dollar jars.

10. Meditate – I know this one may seem a bit off topic, but, I assure you, it’s not. When money is tight, it can be extremely stressful. If you are like me, that means you are constantly doing the math in your head, figuring out this and that, how and when, etc. I spend a lot of time in my head trying to solve the problems of the world (well, at least my world) and, without stopping to meditate on a daily basis for a minimum of 15 minutes left me nuttier than the Mad Hatter. That 15 minutes a day I’m certain has saved my life along with the lives of my husband and dogs.

Being broke, just getting started, or having a bout a cash poorness can be really stressful. Be gentle with yourself. Remember this is temporary (hopefully). Also remember that temporary can sometimes be a longer than you were thinking it would be.

When money is tight, self care tends to fall to the wayside. Don’t let it, even when you don’t think you care. If you can’t keep yourself going, how are you ever going to get your finances in order and move forward? Don’t worry. You got this.

Budgeting: From Paper To Action

Simply writing down your current expenses into a log and adding them up does not conclude creating and implementing a budget. It’s likely that you are over-spending in categories and need to change your budget to accommodate your “debt load” (or expenses) or to best approach more ambitious financial goals. Sitting down and taking a hard look at your current situation is only the beginning of budgeting. Once you have written in expenses and seen where you can improve, you must give yourself new “guidelines” for spending in those categories and then the hard part, strictly enforce them. Here are my best suggestions for taking your budget from paper to action.

Negotiate Bills You Thought Were Set In Stone

Go one step further and revisit bills that once seemed set in stone. Can you switch insurance carriers or change your coverage? Adjust your phone plan? Negotiate a better interest rate on your credit card? Talk down your cable/internet package? Or forego a service altogether? Every year in Las Vegas, our rent goes up $60-100.00. After having our first child and my then fiance finishing his master’s degree, I encouraged him to call our apartment’s corporate office and ask them not to raise our rent so we could get through that year, or we’d be forced to find a less expensive place to live. They met us in the middle and only raised our rent by $30.00! If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. The better you are able to confront uncomfortable situations like this, the easier it will become and the more financially secure you’ll be!

Brainstorm A List of Ways You Can Further Save

Where it seems difficult at first to give up luxuries that feel like necessities, you can get excited to “cut the fat”. Make a list of even the smallest ways you can trim down your dollar output. Can you shop at a better-priced grocery store? With additional gas rewards? Can you buy some of your personal care items at the Dollar Tree rather than at Target? Can you go to a less expensive salon? Shop online for some things? Sometimes you have to avoid certain people and places that encourage your unruly spending, and you might need to come up with solutions to put in their place. Saving money is like a muscle that needs exercise to become stronger.

Balance, Balance, Balance

During your “strength training” phase of budgeting, you’ll want to not only track your checkbook expenses, but ALL your expenses. This is the beginning of turning your paper budget into action. You must be held accountable if you’re going to see results from this budgeting effort. Spending is kind of like over-eating without realizing it, but when you log your diet, you’ll be confronted with your choices.

You can create a simple spreadsheet for this purpose with the date, merchant, description of purchase, and payment method.

Your Budget Must Equal Zero

If you’re living with little income or expenses that are largely out of your control, like having dependents, it will take a few weeks or months to make your budget “balance”. The budget in balance means that your expenses and income are equal (0) or your income is more (+). If you have an overage, you can begin thinking about how you can best save or invest that money for a more secure, abundant future.

3 Hacks on How to Make Your Money Go That Much Further

1. Whenever we do our grocery shopping, we buy things that are almost in need of replacing, or may even be needed next week. Like this we spend a little more each week. Over the year, this adds up, and becomes a few hundred or even a thousand over spent.

Let’s think of shopping in this way, if you buy groceries every eight days instead of seven, you get one day free every week. You can do this by cooking things that are in the back of the cupboard, such as pasta or tinned rice pudding, powdered soups etc., or using up left overs from yesterday.

There are fifty-two weeks in the year, and this means you can get fifty-two days of free shopping, just by stretching the supplies a little bit! That is about seven weeks of groceries absolutely free every year!

2. In general, we do not want to put things off, however if it does not need replacing now, or spending on now, you will find, postponing the expenditure actually saves a lot each year. For example, taking the kids out every week, can be postponed to every ten days, some things purchased every month could be every 6 weeks or every other month. You will find yourself paying for less every month on month, than year on year.

Kids birthdays; Some people have all their kid’s birthdays on the same day, and this does actually save, because you will have only one party per year, not more than one.

Some people also roll their Christmas and birthdays for whole family into one day, think of the hundreds you could save with this idea!

Buying Christmas gifts after the event for next year, is another little trick. In January, unsold but quite good gifts are available in the shops for half price or thirty per cent off. You just have to bear in mind that gifts you purchase for giving next year, should not be out of date next year, or indeed out of fashion.

3. When spending cash, you will spend a lot less if you spend pennies and pence, cents and quarters before using notes. This weird little trick actually works, and saves time and effort gathering change to put in the change machine later.

Did you know, change machines charge you about ten to eleven percent just to count your money?

These small changes you make to your spending habits will definitely stretch your limited money that much further, so life in general becomes that much less difficult.

New Year Money Diet

January is the time of the year when we make resolutions and vow to be a better person, while getting rid of all (or at least most of) our bad habits. One way involves taking stock of our finances and the best way to do this is by going on a money diet.

What is a ‘Money Diet’?

Just as how you’d go on a diet to cut out all the ‘harmful’ food from your meals, a money diet gets rid of all the ‘bad’ spending that you’ve been doing. Call it a financial cleanse of sorts, where you eliminate all unnecessary spending and end up saving more money. It won’t help if you’re a compulsive spender but it will do you good if all you want to do is tighten the belt after spending too much over the festive period.

How to do it…

Make a plan

Start by giving yourself a time frame, so you can evaluate how you’ve done at the end of it, by looking at your expenses and savings. It’s also good to set a target for the end of this time frame, say, to save $1,000 by the end of it. This gives you more motivation, just as an ‘ideal weight’ does when you’re on a diet.

Cut non-essential items

It’s fabulous to check out a new posh restaurant every month or meet the girls for martinis every fortnight but is this really necessary? It could be as simple as forgoing the coffees you have every day from that nice cafe next to your office; a hot beverage from your office pantry is a better option here. One unplanned advantage is that you might realise you’re perfectly happy without these things and actually enjoy staying in and cooking up a storm instead of going out to eat all the time. Or that you really enjoy staying in with a good book (from the library, of course) instead of going out partying.

Get support

Your family and friends will most likely be supportive of your money diet so tell them you’re on it and you’ll find it easier to cope. It also means that they’ll be willing to spend time with you while doing inexpensive activities so you won’t have to hibernate for the duration of your money diet.

Everybody, needs some amount of emergency cash savings in case their expenses rise unexpectedly in any given month.

How big depends on how variable your income is and how much you spend.

If you spend only 20% of your average monthly income, which only varies slightly, you’ll need a much smaller emergency fund proportion-wise than, say, someone who can go months without closing a case, and who spends 60% of his average monthly income.

For instance, a tutor who earns an average of $5,000 a month may actually make between $2,000 and $7,000 each month-$7,000 during exam time when students ask for extra lessons, and $2,000 during the school holidays.

For this tutor, the ideal situation would be to keep his monthly spending to below $2,000. That way, he knows that even in the lean months when he doesn’t have much work, he’ll be able to comfortably cover his monthly costs. He can then feel free to save and invest the balance, after putting some cash aside in his emergency fund.

I hope these tips help your dieting.

Happy new year.