We may live in the land of opportunity, but for many Americans, being frustrated about money is a normal part of life. According to a recent study by Nonfiction Research, more than half of Americans (including some who earn more than $200,000 per year) admit they’ve cried over not having enough money. That frustration is definitely something that Kumiko Love, who runs the popular personal finance site The Budget Mom, has experienced. But instead of accepting the status quo, she took matters into her own hands, saved a bundle, and paid off her debts. Here’s how you can do it, too, as long as you also avoid these 11 mistakes people often make when trying to save money.
A mother’s motivation
When Love became a mother, she decided it was time to change the way she managed her finances and her debts. She now had a tiny new son who was completely dependent upon her for everything—money included. “The life and future I want with my son has always been my motivator,” Love explains. “Having a life where I didn’t have to rely on debt, where I could seize the opportunities I wanted with my son without worrying about money…is what made me decide to take action.”
When the single mom started her budgeting journey, she was earning just $24,000 per year. Later, Love founded The Budget Mom and shared her inspirational debt-payoff story with the world on Instagram. Ultimately, she paid off an impressive $77,281. But she started her new budgeting journey with three spending cuts that saved her almost $5,500 in just eight short months. When you start looking at your own budget, don’t miss these 21 ways you’re wasting money without knowing it.
Cut #1: New clothes
The first cut Love made from her budget was new clothing. Before she stopped buying new clothing, the single mom spent anywhere from $200 to $300 per month on purchases for her wardrobe. After the spending cut, Love dropped her new-clothing budget to around $25 every few months—to replace necessities like socks and underwear. “I went an entire year without buying new clothes so that I could save money, purge my clothes, and figure out what I really loved,” Love explains. By making this one change, she saved $1,900 in those first eight months. When you do hit the stores, make sure you know these 23 top psychology tricks to spend less while shopping.
Cut #2: Eating out and groceries
Next, Love tackled her food budget. First, she stopped eating out six days a week. That budget cut alone saved $300 per month, but Love didn’t stop there. She also started meal planning to see how much she could save on her monthly food budget. Ultimately, Love says, “I was able to decrease my food budget from $800 per month to $400 a month.” She accomplished this significant savings “by focusing on meal planning, eating from the inventory that I already had in my freezer and pantry, and by limiting my eating out.” These cuts saved her $3,200. Don’t miss these 19 other tricks frugal shoppers use to save big on groceries.
Cut #3: Name-brand items
Because food was a big monthly expense for Love, she was determined to save as much money in this area as possible. Although she was already saving a lot by eating out less and meal planning, Love was able to shave another $40 off her monthly expenses by switching to store-brand products. “I realized I was a brand junkie,” she says. “I paid attention to my natural instinct to gravitate toward name brands and started trying store or generic brands that were more affordable.” That switch saved her another $320 in those first eight months. And, of course, don’t forget about coupons. Here’s how to coupon, according to people who save thousands every year.
Budgeting changes are a lot like New Year’s resolutions. They’re easy to make but often hard to keep in the long term. One way that Love was able to hold herself accountable and remain committed to her new spending cuts was by asking herself one simple question: “If I spend the money now, what am I giving up in the future?” She also focused on the reason behind her budgeting changes—her son—to stay motivated. “I think any time we are challenging ourselves to save money, our reason or purpose for doing so must be in the forefront of our minds at all times,” she says.
How she spent the extra money
Not only did Love save nearly $5,500 in eight months through spending cuts, but she also put that money to good use. She used the money to help pay off her debts, and the single mom achieved her goal of becoming debt-free at the end of 2018. “Now I use the money for my savings goal,” Love says. What is that goal? Paying for her first home in cash. Looking for more inspiration? Check out this story of how one couple paid off almost $78,000 of debt in less than two years.
Find your “why”
Love has used her story to inspire many others to start saving money and paying off their debts. If you’re ready to begin your own budgeting journey, Love advises you to find your “why.” In other words, ask yourself why you want to cut spending in the first place. “Discovering this,” Love says, “will give [you] the motivation and dedication [you] need.”
Look for opportunities
Next, Love encourages would-be-savers to look for opportunities to cut expenses. It will take some work, but the money you could save can make a real difference in your life. “You have to want it—and want it bad,” Love says. Start making phone calls, especially to your current creditors and utility providers. See if your regular bills can be reduced or eliminated. Not sure where to start? Try these 11 genius ways to save on every household bill.
Track your spending
“Awareness is the key to financial success,” says Love. “If you want to see real change when it comes to your money, you have to be willing to do things differently than you’ve done them in the past.” For example, you’ll have to track your spending—every penny of it. “You cannot make positive financial change without identifying what needs to be changed,” she explains. “You have to know where your dollars are going.” For more ways to be smart about your finances, check out these 17 habits of people who are great at saving money.