Bigger housing payments. Skyrocketing gas prices. Higher costs at the grocery store check-out.
Right now, consumers are seemingly getting hammered on all sides by inflation. In February, the consumer price index rose at an annual rate of 7.9%. The last time we felt price shocks this bad, Ronald Reagan was in his first term and E.T. was playing in movie theaters.
The $64,000 question right now: How can we combat those soaring expenses so we’re not sweating whether we’ll be able to afford the electric bill or mortgage? Here are some ways experts say you can shave some extra dollars from your budget during these crazy times.
1. Rethink Your Housing Needs
The cost of a home is far and away the biggest single expense for most families. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the logical one to think about first if you’re hoping to really pare down your budget.
A lot of couples jump into the homebuying market after comparing the basic cost of a mortgage to rent, according to Joy Liu of The Financial Gym. “They’re unaware of all the additional costs that go along with being a homeowner,” she says. Liu recommends factoring in the significant cost of repairs and renovations, as well as taxes and insurance, before making a purchase.
Obviously, there are plenty of good reasons to put down roots, especially if you have young kids about to enter school. But Liu notes that Millennials in particular really need to analyze all the pros and cons carefully.
“We feel like we’re hitting that point in life where we should be homeowners, without full consideration of whether that makes sense for our life or not,” she says. Take some extra time to really do the math.
2. Make a List Before Shopping
Shopping intentionally, rather than making one emotion-driven purchase after another, is more important than ever, advises Brittany Davis, an associate financial planner with Brunch & Budget.
No matter what kind of store you walk into, Davis suggests always having a list. Before your trip, look over your inventory of things—whether it’s groceries, clothing, or household products — and find out where the real holes are. “Lean into buying the items you know you’ll use and eliminate the rest,” says Davis.
3. Buy Groceries Online
Next to housing and transportation, food is the largest expense category for the average American household. Together, putting meals on the table and eating out take up about 12% of their total budget, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it’s a prime area to cut out a little extra, well, fat.
One way to do that is by purchasing your groceries online, says Liu. That’s because you’re not getting sucked into pricy items featured on the endcaps, not to mention whatever over-priced goodies your kids insist on. “It can prevent you from making those impulse purchases as you’re browsing through the aisle,” says Liu.
4. Plan Your Meals
An obvious, yet important tactic that can help you keep your grocery bills in check: Create a meal plan for the week. That way, Liu says you’re not just buying a giant ingredient list that you hope will come together—you’re getting what you actually need.
You can potentially bring your bill down even more if you make some of those meals plant-based, according to Liu. A survey of 1,072 respondents, for example, showed that vegans and vegetarians spent an average of $23 a week less than their carnivorous peers.
5. Create an Amazon Buying Day
Online retailers like Amazon have one goal in mind: making it as easy as possible to turn your every whim into a purchase. From a convenience standpoint, that’s fantastic. But it can wreak havoc on your finances.
So how do win the internal battle over mindless spending? Liu has some ideas. For example, delete retailer apps that make it super easy to click “buy.” In other words, fight the website’s goal of getting you to make as many impulse purchases as possible.
She also suggests creating a single Amazon shopping day a week. Rather than buying merchandise instantaneously, load it into your cart and wait for your designated day. If you still think you need it, great. But it’s also possible that what seemed like a must-have a few days ago suddenly seems expendable.
6. Borrow When You Can
There’s something exciting about getting your hands on a brand spanking new piece of merchandise, be it a new car or a garden hose. But there’s a lot of stuff you can borrow or receive as a gift from friends and neighbors if you send out a few feelers.
Don’t know anyone with the item you need? Davis suggests checking out a locally-focused Facebook page that might feature free items or getting involved with initiatives like the Buy Nothing Project.
“The project is all about offering people a way to give and receive, share, lend and express gratitude through a worldwide gift-economy network,” she says. “In these times, community is everything.”
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