This is a guest post from Pauline of InvestmentZen.com
I know the days are still short and it is pretty cold outside but nothing gives me more energy during the winter than to start thinking about spring! Spring is such a beautiful season, when the trees start to sprout, the snow melts and it finally is clear outside when you wake up… I generally hibernate in winter. I rarely go out for dinner, I tend to stay warm and cozy at home and watch a movie or have a nice dinner with a glass of wine. I also make a mean rhubarb pie 🙂 Those are all pretty frugal activities, and with spring around the corner, temptation is here to make you spend more as you resume your social activities. Here are a few tips to keep your budget in check while having fun.
1. Look for free or cheap activities
First you should look at your community calendar. There is always something going on in the nearby market town, or at the community center. College towns are also particularly dynamic when it comes to free cultural events. It can be a concert, a guided tour, an art show… generally it is free or very cheap entertainment for the whole family.
If you enjoy going out for a drink, you could invite your friends over instead, and try to recreate a bar mood at home. Put a table in the garden, grill some meat on the BBQ, and get a new assortment of beers to try out. You can organize some games, look for a dart board at a car boot sale or make a trivia night! If you ask your friends to each bring a dish or a six pack of craft beer, it should be pretty cheap a night.
Or you could ask everyone to pitch in $5 or $10, still much cheaper than an evening at the bar. When I organize one such night at my place, I usually end up with more food and drinks than I put out initially!
2. Get out
One thing I love once spring rolls out is getting outside. Too much time in is not good for your mood or your brain cells. Time to enjoy some fresh air! You can find super cheap bicycles on Craigslist, even free ones on Freecycle. Want some free exercise instead? Just go back to your running routine. If you are getting started, you might want to look into apps like the Couch to 5k program. They tell you exactly when to run, walk, and recover. I was not able to run a mile 6 months ago and now I can run a 10k. It is much easier than it sound, I promise, I also thought it was the end of the world but far from it.
3. Find vouchers and discounts
Once I start going out again, I am always on the lookout for vouchers. It can be 50% off a second entrée if you join your local restaurant’s mailing list, a 2 for 1 entry at a historical monument, or a special deal on a rental car so you can escape for a couple of days. I subscribe to a few newsletters like the ones of hotel chains, to make sure I do not miss any offer. And flights, so I can book the lowest fares for my summer holidays.
4. Careful with your tax refund
The average amount taxpayers are refunded in the US is $2,800. That is a lot of money. Money you worked hard to earn, and overpaid to the state. So let’s not see it as a gift, shall we? If you’re in debt, paying off your high interest debt should be your priority. A refund that big should put a good dent into your loans. If you are in a good place financially, it is time to open an investing account and start saving for retirement. It is easier than you think, most brokers just require a few hundred dollars to get started, and investing in index funds doesn’t require you to know much, if at all, about the market.
5. Spring clean your finances
The finance geek in me always has an eye on finances, but I know it is not the case for everyone. So what does our financial review entail?
- Looking at your bank statements to make sure you are not paying for things you don’t need or don’t get value off (like the gym, cable, etc.)
- Putting your data in an online budget software like Mint, to see how much you spend in each area, in just a few clicks. It might be eye opening, and help you reduce your spending.
- Trying to get a better deal on your utilities, internet and cell phone contracts by calling your providers.
- Transferring your credit card balance to a 0% credit card to stop paying interest and get rid of the balance instead.
- Start saving for the summer holidays by budgeting and setting up automatic transfers to a high yield savings account.
- Setting up transfers for long term savings such as your retirement account or a car replacement fund.
Once you’ve done all that, you will hopefully have reduced your unnecessary expenses in favor or saving and investing.
If you plan well, the spring does not have to be expensive. Plus, your heating bill should go down a lot, that is more wiggle room in your budget to go have some fun!