Sometimes it may seem as if expenses keep piling up endlessly. But you can control many of your expenses. It takes awareness, planning and a little self-control.
Sound painful? It isn’t. Most of us can find at least a few items to cut out or reduce, without much sacrifice. This section will show you how to control your spending. The payoff: a more secure future, fewer worries, and the money for the things you really need and want.
In this section, you will learn:
- how to get a true picture of what you actually spend
- how to reduce your expenses and put aside money for savings and other financial goals.
Raffi and Sandra sat with a pile of bills. Mortgage. Car loans. Utilities. Restaurant tab. Hockey skates for the kids. New boots for Sandra. Golf clubs for Raffi. Veterinarian bills.
They needed to spend less. But how? “There’s no extra,” Raffi said.
Sandra wasn’t giving up so easily. “We can do this,” she said.
She found a budget worksheet. The income part was easy to fill out. They both knew their monthly take-home pay. As well, Raffi received a small amount of interest every year from an investment his grandmother had made in his name.
But when it came to the expenses part, they weren’t so sure. The mortgage payment, car loan payments, utilities and property taxes—those things were regular and fixed. But how much did they spend on groceries in a typical month? Home repairs? Clothing?
They made rough guesses, but Sandra knew they needed to be more precise than that. So she and Raffi wrote down every expense they made for a month. They looked at credit card and bank statements to find out how much they were spending, and on what. Then it was much easier to fill out the expenses part of the budget, although they had to estimate the cost of some things that didn’t come up regularly, like car repairs.
Then they subtracted the total expenses from the total income, and looked at the bottom line: minus $200 a month. “And that doesn’t even include savings,” Sandra said, pointing at that line in the expenses section. “They say we should try to set aside at least 10 per cent of our pay each month.”
Raffi said, “What if we got rid of my car? I could carpool with Jack. I’d have to pay something for gas, but it would be less than owning and running a car.”
They went on through their expenses. In the end, this is what they planned:
- sell one car and carpool
- bundle their phone and cable services
- cut out one restaurant meal and one show a month
- buy grocery staples in bulk, cook large batches and freeze dinners
- take their next vacation at home, enjoying the attractions in their local area.
In total, they figured they could save $300 a month.
“Not much left over,” Raffi said.
Sandra thought for a minute. “Maybe if we plant a garden next year…”
Lessons Raffi and Sandra learned:
- It’s important to get into the habit of tracking your spending so you know where the money is going.
- Putting your income and expenses together in a budget gives you a true picture of where you stand.
- You can often save money by reducing expenses that are not necessities for life and making lifestyle changes.
It costs money to live. You need to pay for food, clothing, housing, transportation, communication, and a dozen other necessary expenses. Then there are things like vacations, eating out, entertainment, gifts and so on. If you want to reach your goals, there are two things you must do with your expenses:
- Know what you spend.
- Reduce unnecessary spending.
The first step in controlling your spending is to know where your money goes—not a vague, ballpark idea, but a precise calculation!
Follow these steps to get a true picture of your spending.
- Keep every receipt.
- Record every expense daily.
- Review bank and credit card statements to identify additional expenses.
- Make a list of irregular expenses, such as gifts, donations, taxes, car or home repairs, etc.
- Total your expenses at the end of the month.
- Do this for at least three months.
Are you surprised at how much you spent and what you spent it on?
It’s easy to keep track of your daily expenses, once you get into the habit. Here’s how:
- Get a small notebook and write down each expense.
- Record expenses on your smart phone or other electronic device.
- If you bank online, you can get electronic account statements that show your spending history, and may even sort the spending into categories.
- You can get free online software that downloads data from your bank account, or buy off-the-shelf software with added features.
We all have expenses that we can’t eliminate or cut back on very much, like food, clothing, housing, transportation and child care. But there are many other expenses that are a matter of choice. These are called discretionary expenses. How many of these discretionary items apply to you?
- bottled water
- restaurant meals
- video games or DVDs
- spa treatments
- impulse buys such as magazines, clothing, jewellery, electronic gadgets
- frequent nights out at a nightclub or pub.
These types of expenses are the extras that you don’t really need—and they can sure add up! For example, both of these items will cost you about $1,920 a year:
- a weekly manicure at about $40 each
- lunch out every work day at about $8 a day instead of bringing your own.
You could save nearly the same amount if you spent $5 less a day! What else could you do with that money?
There’s nothing wrong with spending on “extras”—if you can afford it. But if you have trouble paying your bills, or finding enough money to save for the future, you may need to reduce your spending until you get your finances back on track. The first thing to do is to look at your discretionary spending and start cutting there.
- Discretionary spending: Spending on wants rather than needs; includes items like restaurant meals, video games and concerts
- Impulse spending: Spending decisions that are made on the spur of the moment, as opposed to planned spending decisions
How to curb unnecessary spending
Reduce temptation with these tips:
- Set aside the money you can afford each week for miscellaneous spending, and spend only that. When it’s gone, wait until next week before spending more.
- Go shopping with a list, and stick to it.
- Avoid trips to shopping malls and online buying sites.
- Leave credit cards at home. Pay by cash or debit card, so you don’t spend money you don’t have. (But be aware that if you pay your credit card bills on time and in full, a credit card can be the cheapest method of payment.)
- Reduce the credit limit on your credit card.
- Sleep on it and see if you still want it the next day.
Just as it’s important to reduce unnecessary spending, it’s important not to deprive yourself of everything. Put aside a small amount of money every week for treats. Your treat may be a spa treatment, a weekend getaway or a special item you’ve had your eye on. If you’ve saved for these things, you can spend without guilt—and then you’ll be less likely to splurge recklessly.
Seven easy ways to reduce your expenses
- Do it yourself. For example, wash your own car instead of taking it to a commercial car wash.
- Eat at home. Get some simple, tasty recipes you enjoy, and stock up the fridge.
- Shop smarter. Look for specials. But don’t buy things just because they’re on sale.
- Eliminate unnecessary bills. For example, if you have club memberships and you don’t use them, consider getting rid of them.
- Use less energy. Turn lights off. Use less heat or air conditioning when you’re sleeping or away from home.
- Walk, cycle or use public transit more.
- Find cheaper ways to play. Invite friends over for a video night instead of going to a cinema. Meet friends at a bowling alley instead of a restaurant. Have a vacation closer to home. Take advantage of free admission times at museums.
Reducing unnecessary spending is one way to cut your expenses. There are also ways to get more out of the products and services you do buy. Here are some tips:
- Get a better communications package. You can often save by bundling your services for telephone, cell phone, internet and cable. Call your service provider to negotiate the best package.
- Make sure you have the best package of banking services, at the lowest cost. Contact your financial institution to see if you can get a lower-cost banking package or a lower-interest credit card. Use the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s tools to find lower-cost bank accounts and credit cards with the features you need.
- Pay bills on time to avoid late fees, interest and penalties. Check your bills to spot mistakes and overcharges.
- For many Canadians, a car is a necessary part of everyday life. Next to a home, a car is often among the biggest purchases an individual or a family will make in their lifetime. If you are thinking about buying or leasing a car, it is important to do your research, make a budget and balance your needs with what you can reasonably afford over the long term. Check out the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada page on Financing a car.
- It may be cheaper to use public transportation or join a car sharing organization. Find out about what it really costs to own a car. Consider getting rid of your car. Check out the real costs of car ownership at the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) website.
- Compare the cost of renting vs. buying a home. Calculator available from the Autorité des marchés financiers.
- Consider forming a money support group with friends or family. In addition to getting discounts through group buying, you can help each other stay on track in reaching your financial goals.
To figure out what you actually spend, you need to keep track of two types of expenses:
- Fixed expenses are those that come up every month and are roughly the same each month, like rent or mortgage payments, utilities, loan repayments and child care.
- Variable expenses are those that may vary from month to month, like food, entertainment, travel, and home maintenance and repair.
What’s “fixed” and what’s “variable” may change. For example, child care may be a regular monthly expense or it may be an occasional expense. Most people have more control over their variable expenses than their fixed expenses.
You also need to include irregular expenses: expenses that don’t come up regularly or often, like car repairs or new appliances. To estimate irregular expenses, review your bills or expense records for the previous year, total the cost of irregular expenses in various categories, and divide by 12 to arrive at an average monthly cost.
- Expenses may be fixed (stay the same every month) or variable (vary from month to month).
- The first step in controlling your spending is to get in the habit of tracking your daily expenses so you know how much you spend and what you spend it on.
- Reduce unnecessary spending by avoiding impulse buying, making easy lifestyle changes, and making your money go further with the products and services you buy.
- Include debt repayment and savings as regular costs in your expense calculations.
- When estimating your expenses, be sure to include irregular expenses (those that don’t occur regularly) and to add a little extra for unexpected expenses.
- Put money for unexpected expenses in a separate account so it is there when you need it.
At the end of the module, you will find an Action plan. This is a tool that you can use to track your progress and take the next steps to manage your income and expenses successfully in the future. Use the action plan as a roadmap for financial action!