Living on minimum wage is like riding a roller coaster without a safety harness. You hold on for dear life and hope that nothing bad happens, because the only thing between you and disaster is one paycheck.
Learning to make a paycheck stretch farther requires a new way of thinking. Words like "budget," "scrimping" and "generic" do not have to mean "less or substandard."
By substituting the words "spending plan" for "budget," "saving" for "scrimping" and "store brands" for "generic" you will be rewiring your brain to help you through financial hard times in a more positive way.
Having a clear picture of how much money comes in and goes out of your household is the first and most important step in getting a grip on your finances, according to the Consumer Credit Counseling Service Web site at www.ccsofak.
Without knowing what you have coming in and what you are spending, you cannot begin to plan a better way of using it.
For many, figuring out that information can be intimidating. For those who are not comfortable sharing that information with others, the Internet is an easily accessible source of information. Many sites have worksheets to help you get started.
For example, the Web site www.tightwad.com has many tips and hints to help you save money; www.personal-budget-planning-saving-money.com has worksheets to help you begin to get a realistic view of what you have to work with; and the Consumer Credit Counseling site, www.-ccsofak.com is a wealth of information not just for those who find themselves facing bankruptcy but for anyone wanting to find ways to make their money work for them.
For those who are comfortable with learning in a group environment, classes are available through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A. For more information, call 262-5824.
Once you have laid out a spending plan, finding ways to make your money go farther will take a little effort but will help you remain on the right track.
The extension office offers the following tips to ask yourself before you spend money:
Don't buy it: Ask yourself if you really need it or is it a "want."
Borrow it: Sometimes borrowing an item that you will not use very often is more economical. Remember to return it in good condition.
Share: Money can be stretched by sharing items with friends or family. Recipes, ideas, the cost of a case of fruit or vegetables are ways to help everyone benefit.
Substitute: When you go to purchase something, ask yourself if a brand at a lower price would do as well.
Use wisely: Try to make the things that you do purchase last longer. Consistent maintenance will keep belongings in good condition and help them last longer.
Find the best buy: A best buy is an item that will serve your needs best at the lowest price possible. By searching print ads and catalogs, calling different stores and using the Internet you can save money. It does take extra time, but by remembering to not rush into buying in the first place, you will have the time to find the lowest price.
Make it: There are times that making something yourself can be cheaper than purchasing it. Be sure to check out the cost of all the materials needed before you begin. Sometimes a factory can make it for less money.
Rent it: When you need something for only a short time, renting it could be cheaper.
Find it for free: Any goods and services that you can get for free really help a spending plan go farther. Tax dollars buy things for the community that everyone can use. Parks, playgrounds and community health services may be available. Look into what your community has to offer.
Trade: You might have things in you home that you no longer need or want that would be of value to other people. Consider trading them. Skills also can be traded with others for something that they have that you do not.
Being a smarter grocery shopper can bring instant rewards. Knowing how to price items and learning to pay careful attention to the advertising in the store will help you to purchase more food for the same amount of money you usually spend.
The extension offers these hints:
Buy only what you need.
Spend only what you must.
Eat everything you buy.
Use unit pricing to compare products.
Use ads and coupons to plan menus.
Shop alone when possible.
Never shop when you are hungry.
Shop once a week to reduce impulse buying.
Plan menus to use what you have on hand.
Use a grocery list to shop with and don't buy anything not on the list.
If it all still seems a little overwhelming just remember the old saying: "Waste not, want not, use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."
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