As the new year arrives and decorations are tucked into bins and returned to resting spots in attics and backs of closets for the next ten months or so, something starts to trickle in—holiday bills. It’s like a Groundhog Day-type event, with the mailman returning to remind you that your Christmas-infused spending spree is over. It’s time to come back to life and ante up. Hopefully, your gift-giving was done in moderation and there is not a knot in the pit of your stomach as you ponder the significance of setting a budget, then keeping it. But if you overspent, under saved, and stressed about it all, don’t despair; you are in good company with millions of other Americans this holiday season.
Over Christmas I was reminded how setting aside nominal amounts throughout the year can add up to wonderful windfalls. To my sons’ incredible fortune, Aunt Sheryl was visiting, and handed them a fat wad of $5-dollar bills to split. It seems that their auntie has used this trick of setting aside all of the $5 bills she comes across throughout the year in the past and has been able to fund small vacations and other fun ventures with her $5 stash. This year, my kids were the beneficiary of her clever saving. And, because my kids are sweet and lucky, their Aunt Terri even matched the gift. Wouldn’t it be great to be a kid again?
Another “Aunt Sheryl” tip is something she does with her spare change. It gets rounded up to the next dollar in her bank account when she makes a purchase and when it hits a certain amount (generally $5 or $10,) the money is invested based on preferences she previously assigned with the company she works with. Several reputable apps will let you accomplish this, with small variances between them but, Acorn is a popular one which rounds up your purchases to the next dollar and invests on your behalf in $5 increments. Funds range from aggressive to conservative, and a small fee of $1 is charged monthly for accounts with less than a $5000 balance. Digit is another slightly riskier app that utilizes algorithms to determine your spending patterns and makes small withdrawals it deems you won’t “notice.” For some, the convenience of withdrawals based on actual purchasing patterns rather than on each transaction can be money-saving over time. If Digit decides you can’t spare the extra withdrawal, nothing is deducted for that month. There is a $2.99 monthly service fee for this one.
If you’re looking for common sense solutions to saving some more of your money each paycheck, consider contacting your HR department at your work to see what benefits you might be missing out on. Many companies have 401K match programs that you may have avoided in the past. Is there any incentive to non-smoking or other healthful-related activities that you participate in? A knowledgeable HR coworker is a good friend to have. If nothing else, have $20 taken out every pay period and direct deposited into your savings account. An extra $500 for Christmas 2019 would be nice, right?
Other ways in which you can minimize your weekly spending on groceries and other household necessities can also be environmentally friendly. Many people make their own cleaning supplies out of inexpensive and natural alternatives like baking soda, lemon, and vinegar. It’s wonderful to clean without harsh chemicals coming into contact with food-preparation areas and flushing vinegar water down your drain or disposing outdoors harms no one. Meal-prepping not only is a healthy and frugal way to maneuver through your weekly meals but is also incredibly time saving. If you’re feeding a family of four, consider preparing meals twice the size that you normally would consume and stock your freezer for upcoming dinners. We all know the agony and expense of running into Target or Publix for “one thing” then coming out with $75 in groceries. If you get paid bi-weekly then shop and meal prep the same way, avoiding expensive and unnecessary fill-in trips to the supermarket.
I hope these tips have helped you think of ways in which you can be a more conscientious consumer. I’m not sure the $5 remedy is a solution for me, but it sure could be fun filling a glass jar with our coins then cashing them in for some family fun later in the year. After this over-exaggerated time of giving and receiving, I’m up for watching my pennies grow and pushing my next round of retail therapy way into the future.
Photos courtesy of Life and a Budget Facebook page and sarasotapost.com.