Budget ideas

Way back before the holidays I shared with you guys that my man Ryan had lost his job. Shortly after that bomb dropped, I got word that my hours were being reduced at MY job. It was a sobering position to find ourselves in.

No word on the job front yet (anyone looking for a smart and savvy computer software engineer in Seattle who is interested in design and user interface?) but we are still kicking. We had just signed a new lease and spent money on our move (truck, furnishings, etc). Since then we've made quite a few adjustments to stay afloat. Since I know many of you may be in a similar situation, I thought I'd share some of our tricks.

1. Giving within our means. Since our news came right before the holidays, we knew we had to trim back and not go hog-wild on Christmas gifts and decorations. Therefore, our tree was decorated with mostly family ornaments. We made our gifts (Ryan made fudge and peppermint bark and I embroidered dishtowels). We only gave family gifts. We set a small gift budget for stocking stuffers for each other - our other gift was adopting Thisbe the following month. The holidays were just as special and crazy gifts weren't necessary.

2. Creating a budget. It's not rocket science. Read any financial advice blog or article and they'll all swear that a budget will help curb your expenditures. We use an Excel document in Google Documents to track what each paycheck is covering. It's also helpful to get the big picture, especially when factoring in those occasional costs like dental appointments or car maintenance.

3. Trim, trim, trim. As soon as we got all our recurring costs on a spreadsheet along with an estimated "misc" section, it was easy to see that some things needed to go. We already didn't have costs like cable tv (we have an antenna), gym fees (not that we couldn't use it), or crazy car payments. But Ryan had some video game and book subscriptions that could be cancelled. And I had some shopping habits to be curbed. We also set a goal of $200 for food for the month, which meant little to no eating out (once a large portion of our expenses). Everyone's spending habits are different, but most people have some flexibility in trimming extras.

4. Grocery shop. One of the benefits of Ryan being home all day is that he has lots of time to plan our meals and cook for us, so unless we want sushi or pizza we're pretty much set (we haven't tackled pizza yet, but I'm sure he could do that too). Though we've only ever dabbled in coupon-cutting before, we now check the periodical ads and look for the best deals on our usual buys and for any special treats that we might plan our meals around. We also look for deals on anything we could freeze (such as ground beef) and have later. We try hard to plan meals so that we're using up all our produce or foodstuffs that might otherwise go bad and waste money. We used some of our Christmas money on a trip to Costco to stock up on canned corn and diced tomatoes, cereal, chai tea (my special treat), and frozen chicken. Those staples stretch our monthly food budget even further.

5. Coupons. Like I mentioned, we're not crazy coupon cutters. I don't have time, and Ryan isn't that fussy. But we do have an Entertainment book that I bought in the fall, and instead of "oops, forgot the book at home" we have pulled out the coupons that we definitely want to use (the zoo, Safeway) and know that is our first resource when planning a date. Most of them are buy-one-get-one-free coupons, which is great if a bunch of friends are going to a movie and we don't want to be party poopers. We chose our anniversary dinner date out of the Entertainment book. I bought the book from a co-worker whose daughter was selling them for a school fundraiser. And it allows us to still splurge on a date once in a while without breaking the bank.

6. Bring the media home. One of the budget items that avoided the chopping block was our Netflix account. We did, however, commit to really using it and watching many movies to get as much from our money as possible. We also stream tv shows on Ryan's xBox through Netflix, which helps make up for not having cable. For all the movies we see, we save a bundle not seeing them in theaters. We're also big library users. Ryan loves to get cds from the library, and I usually bring home a stack of design books. Libraries have changed a ton since we were kids - the online resources are outstanding. Many even have passes you can check out for local museums or attractions FOR FREE. You're already paying taxes for library service, why not make the most of it? (Disclaimer: I work at a library, so I'm all kinds of geeky for the cool resources you can find).

These are just some of the ways we've been able to save major dough each month without feeling the pinch TOO much. I'm sure you guys have a lot of great ideas too. And speaking of the whole economy business, how are you doing? Do you feel like the worst is over? How have you been staying afloat in the time being?