July 23, 2012
By Lila Quintiliani, AFC®
Military Saves Assistant Coordinator

To many people, a budget seems very much like a restrictive diet, with all the negative implications involved.  People don’t want to make what seems like unpleasant sacrifices in the here and now just to ensure a comfortable, but nebulous, future.  But I like to flip that notion on its head: I like to think about what I’d specifically like to accomplish (Set a Goal!) and then what I am willing to give up to get there (Make a Plan).  It’s a delicate balancing act, but it’s one that most successful savers have learned to do, whether consciously or not.

Here is my own personal list of things I am willing to give up (and some I’m not!) in order to build up our new car fund:

Eat this, not that. One of our household’s biggest monthly expenses is food.  Both my husband and I have rather gourmet tastes, and I do try and feed my kids organic food when it’s feasible.   So instead of giving up the $4.50 per half gallon milk, I choose to give up packaged convenience foods and prepared meals.  I clip coupons and track sales prices.  We also don’t eat out more than about once a month.  I’m such a stickler about not eating out that the kids get giddy if I surprise them and we go through the Sonic drive thru at happy hour.

Clothes-minded. Kids grow out of things fast.  They also rip pants at the knee and get grass and mud stains in the weirdest places.  So we don’t spend a lot on clothing, either for the kids or ourselves.  We survive for the most part on a mix of hand me downs, garage sale finds and thrift shop bargains.  My girls are born shoppers, and I just had to channel their interests and talents.

That’s entertainment. Before kids, we would go to the movies all the time.  But now, unless we want to watch something animated, we are forced to hire a baby sitter.  With the price of movie tickets as high as it is, once you add in the babysitter and the popcorn, the date night has turned into a $100 plus extravaganza, so we tend to rent a movie or play a board game instead of going out.  We also have the lowest tier of cable because we rarely watch TV.

House Not-So-Beautiful. Our home is mostly furnished in a delightful mix of late 20th Century Hand-Me-Down and Requires Assembly But Has No English Instructions furniture.  Would I like it if my home looked like something on HGTV?  Of course, but the reality is we move a lot.  And the movers have put scratches and nicks on our few “good” pieces.  So we do the best with what we have, and I am keeping a folder (and a Pinterest board) with all my home décor ideas so that when we settle down somewhere, I will be ready.
Life is about compromise.  Each person is different and will have different things that they find important or unnecessary.  The point is, we all have to give up SOMETHING to get something we want.  It’s a constant give and take:  we don’t eat out and I don’t get my nails done, but we do have a killer stereo system and we have season passes to the amusement park up the road.  My husband and I scrimped in the areas above, and now, in addition to no car payments, we have $16,000 saved toward our next car.  Set a goal, find your balance, and see what you can achieve!

More resources:
Saving on a Tight Budget
Savings Tips
Jumpstart Your Savings