For mother and blogger Christina Brown, the ABCs of finance translate to EFG: efficiency, frugality, and generosity. In other words, make the most of what you have, live a debt-free life, and share what you can with others. You can find more useful vocabulary words and common-sense family finance tips on her website, NorthernCheapskate.com. We asked Christina to share some of her advice with our readers.
UV: Many of us are so used to our everyday routines that we don’t take the time to stop and think about them. What’s the best way to start when you’re looking for ways to be more efficient in daily life?
I’ve often said that the little things you do add up to big things, and that applies to both your everyday routines and your money. Start by taking a close look at all the things you do each day. What is it about your morning routine that could be better? What about your work day? What about your evenings? What things are you doing that could be done more efficiently? What could be done for less money? When you start thinking about all those things and writing down what you can do, you start to see that those small things do make for some lasting change.
UV: On your website, the theme of “planning” comes up often, whether that’s planning for a shopping trip with a list, or working on a five-year budget to prepare for a child going to college. Most teenagers don’t think too much about the future, especially when it concerns money, but should they be starting to plan their financial life as well? What about younger children? How early is too early when it comes to money management?
There are always opportunities to be teaching kids about good money management. It could be explaining to your 5-year-old the difference between wants and needs. It could be showing your teenagers how to open and manage a checking account with the money from their first jobs.
Kids of all ages learn a lot about money from watching those around them. My kids know that coupons help you save money. They know how to find bargains at thrift stores and make do with what they have. They know that it costs less and is healthier to eat dinner at home. They know that they have to work for things they want. Those are all lessons taught by example.
If you spend beyond your means and live paycheck to paycheck, they’re likely to do the same. If they see you making good financial decisions and planning ahead for the future, they will see the benefits of that.
UV: One of your website categories is “seasonal savings.” We know people who stock up on wrapping paper and greeting cards in January, and others who buy bags of unsold Halloween candy to set aside in a pantry for the following year. What other things come into this category?
You can save quite a bit of money with a little bit of planning and by shopping the end-of-season clearance sales. For example, at the end of January, I spend some time going through our winter clothing and figuring out what we’ll need for the following winter. Then I can hit the winter clearance sales and save 50 to 70 percent on sweaters, winter jackets, snow pants, hats and gloves. I do the same planning and shopping at the summer clearance sales and stock up on shorts, t-shirts, and swimsuits.
You can make clearance sales work for you all year with a little bit of planning. For example, the red candies and decor from Christmas sales could be used for Valentine’s Day. It’s really all about knowing what you need and planning ahead for the next year.
UV: The verb “couponing” might not be an official entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (yet) but it’s definitely part of the vocabulary when it comes to tips on how to save money. Do you recommend that people use the coupons found in newspapers, magazines, or on line – and if so, when is it NOT a good idea to use them?
Coupons are a fantastic way to save money on the things you use. The key is to learn to use them correctly. That means learning how to pair manufacturer coupons with store coupons and deals to get what you need.
Make sure to only use coupons from reputable sources (such as newspaper coupon inserts, websites like coupons.com or smartsource.com or directly from manufacturers. And be sure to only use coupons on the things you need. If you don’t ever buy Tasty Sugar Bombs cereal, for example, then don’t buy it just because you have a really great coupon. Save your money instead.
UV: As we’re speaking, the holidays are approaching, and parents everywhere will be tempted to spend extra money on this year’s must-have gifts for kids. What’s your opinion on buying gifts, during the holidays or any other time of year, when it comes to frugal living?
This time of year is a real struggle for many of us because we want to spoil the important people in our lives. We spend a lot of money on things because we feel like it’s expected. We don’t want to look like we’re being “cheap” so we buy expensive showy gifts that we can’t really afford. We put things on plastic because we’re rushed and don’t take the time to shop for gifts.
If that describes your approach to the holidays (or any other gift-giving situation), then it’s time to stop and make a plan. Set a budget for gift giving that you can afford to pay for in cash. Make a well-thought-out shopping list. Search for the best deals.
And remember that gifts don’t equal love. They’re just gifts. Stop showing love with gifts and money and show your love by giving your time to someone. Share experiences instead of things and you will have a more memorable holiday season.
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