The Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Budgeting, Part Two: Making Sacrifices

Welcome back to the Budgeting mini-series! Be sure to check out Part One: Understanding Your Expenses.

Part Two: Making Sacrifices

Even if we organize our finances wisely, we still need to make some sacrifices in order to stick to a budget. That doesn’t mean that it has to be painful, however. The key is to figure out what it is that you absolutely cannot live without.

First, go back over your tracking system of everything that you’ve spent your money on, the way that we discussed in Part One. From there you will be able to see where exactly your money goes. The majority of your expenses should be for basic necessities: rent or mortgage, hydro bill, food, and so forth. Look to the “extras” that you are spending money on. Can you cut back? Do you really need to buy Starbucks coffee every day? Do you need to go out to the movie theatre once every couple weeks?

No. You really don’t.

So that you don’t feel deprived, there are a couple different routes you can take. You can either cut back by half (for example, go to the movies once a month instead of twice; buy Starbucks twice a week instead of five times), and/or you can find a replacement (for example, rent movies or go to the cheap seats; buy Starbucks coffee beans and make your own coffee at home or find a cafe where coffee is a more reasonable price).

Second, look at what you are spending your money on in terms of necessities. Do you absolutely need to have cable? Are you spending more money on gas or bus tickets than is strictly necessary? Are you finding that you throw out a quarter of the food that you buy at the store? There are ways to cut back on all of the “necessities”. I don’t own a landline because my cell phone does the job perfectly fine; that significantly reduces my phone bill. I never watch TV so I don’t have cable (pssst… you can watch most TV shows online, anyways, for free). I’ll talk more in Part Four about saving on food that’s starting to go bad, but suffice it to say that I find a way to salvage the food that I buy so that it doesn’t go to waste and so that I’m not throwing my money away, either.

There are, of course, going to be some things that you will refuse to not cut back on. Fair enough. Nothing’s going to stop me from importing PB2 from the States once every few months; it’s a ridiculous luxury to buy powdered peanut butter online, but I really love it, so I cut back elsewhere (such as not going out to cafes regularly and not paying for cable).

Figure out what’s really important to you and work out what other things in your life you can significantly reduce. Back when the sistertraveller was the sisterroommate, for example, she was spending quite a good chunk of money on yoga classes. And it was entirely necessary. It relaxed and de-stressed her and helped her to deal with depression in a way that doing a yoga video at home simply would not. The key here is to then cut back on other things. We simply cannot have it all. We can’t go out every weekend and pay for expensive fitness classes and go shoe shopping and go to a fancy salon for haircuts. We have to pick and choose what’s important to us and sacrifice the things that aren’t as important.

Jamie made a great point in the comments section of Part One: Understanding Your Expenses:

I spend a lot of money on groceries. But, I am proud of that. I think it’s important to spend money on your food and your health. On the other things I spend on, maybe not so proud.

Knowing our priorities is key here. I refuse to buy poor quality food just because it’s cheaper; I also refuse to buy clothes that I don’t love just because they’re cheaper. But that doesn’t mean I’m out buying the best cut of steak out there or that I’m going shopping at boutique stores every weekend (actually, I can’t remember the last time I did either of those things). I do shop the sales and I do buy clothes far less frequently so that I can save up and spend the money on really quality items- and yes, that does mean that I might be saving up money to buy a very expensive Hermes scarf when I go to New York in August (I, um, have a bit of an obsession with buying scarves whenever I go travelling :D).

What is something that you refuse to skimp out on? What are some things that you spend money on that you think you could cut back on? Let us know in the comments, and if you have any advice for making sacrifices, please share!

21 Comments

  1. One thing I always cut out first is meals out. Most of my friends are also trying to save money, so we’ll maybe meet for a drink or go somewhere REALLY cheap (like my fave sushi place that offers 1/2 off specials during the week!).

    I never feel bad about spending money on groceries, but I do try to seek out recipes with cheap ingredients. :-) One thing I SHOULD be better about is the “extra” money – I don’t really budget myself with clothes, nights out with friends, and random extras (like pedicures or going to the movies), and I should….all those things add up quickly!

  2. I’ve had to cut back recently and man did I learn where I spend too much. I spend a lot on groceries because I buy fruits and veggies, which naturally cost more. I’m OK with that. But in the past month—where my husband and I have tried to cut back—I’ve learned just how much we spend on eating out. That’s definitely an area where we need to cut back. I’d also like to trade off buying junk food for better-quality health food, but when you live with a man you learn to compromise. So barbecue chips it is. (Ick.) Great series, Sagan!

  3. I spend money on things like tahini, raw nuts (expensive here) and the best quality cold-pressed oils, etc and I most definitely will not cut back, since I believe they’re vital for my health. But then again, I don’t buy things like cheese, meat, and processed food, so I think I come out ahead most of the time.

    Of course, now that I’m working I can afford some luxuries that I’ve been doing without for a long time…

  4. Holly- Yes, those things certainly add up! Cutting meals out helps a ton. It’s fun to have people over to cook dinner together, too.

    Tracey- One of the reasons why right now I’m glad I’m living on my own :) Choosing what I want to have in the house- and not having stuff in the house that I DON’T want- is awesome.

    Hanlie- Nuts are incredibly expensive here, too. But, like you, I don’t buy all the processed food which would add up, so therefore it’s a good trade-off. I’ll forgo buying meat to get really delicious, good quality dry-roasted almonds, for example.

  5. So true!

    Heh, I spend quite a lot on food. But I don’t buy much packaged stuff–my usual argument is “Damn it, I’ll just make my OWN stupid hummus!” I may not ever get around to it, but the sentiment is there. Also, I’ve been buying less animal products lately, and that cuts a lot out. Probably my biggest food expenses (not including random things I sometimes get taken by, like cacao nibs) are liquid egg whites and nuts, but I don’t complain.

    And yeah, sometimes, “pointless” expenses are not pointless at all. Every 2 or 3 weeks I get a cheap manicure. It’s important to me–I like it when my hands feel pretty, and I’m terrible at painting my own. But, since my hair’s easy to manage, I rarely ever get my hair done.

    Also, sometimes I see a personal trainer. I get a discounted rate, but it’s still a hefty expense. But again, it’s important to me–it keeps me motivated and looking forward to exercise. My appetite (and willingness to eat at a surplus) are much higher when I put in a heavy workout, and since I need to gain a few pounds, it’s worth it to me.

  6. But Sagan… I don’t like making sacrifices! ;)

    Actually, my husband and I have had to cut back on expenses lately because of the stupid economy. We’ve been eating out less, and we cut our grocery budget. I am amazed that we still have a ton of food – makes you wonder how much stuff we were buying that we didn’t need or something. I’ve been pretty good about using coupons and really trying to make use of the food we have before buying more.

  7. I refuse to skimp on certain items….like nuts. I just love it to death, so even though they are expensive, I buy them. But I always buy them in bulk. There’s some thigns that really make me happy too, like nut clusters (can you tell I love nuts?!), chocolate-covered nuts, just some snacks. But I try to buy them in bulk, or at TJs, too.

  8. these are some really great tips here, thanks for sharing. i rarely shop, but when i do, i used to buy cheap clothes. at 42, i have finally realized that it is worth it to spend the money on something that fits/looks better and will last longer. i’m a big coupon cutter and try to plan my meals based on what’s on sale at the market.

  9. Westwood- Dammit, now THAT’S what I should’ve done! :D The other option is to take advantage of all the clothes your sister leaves behind when she goes travelling for half a year.

    Mimi- I have the same thoughts about things like hummus and crackers. I KNOW that I can make them myself for way cheaper and they’ll taste just as good, if not better, so I’m willing to spend a little extra time making my own food than spending the money.

    FatFighterTV- Hehehe. It’s amazing how much LESS we can spend without depriving ourselves, isn’t it? We tend to waste a lot of money on things that we don’t REALLY want or use. It’s better to know what we want and buy that, rather than to just buy a bunch of random stuff that goes to waste.

    Sophia- I love bulk bins and such too. You can find such great deals using them!

    Miz- ME TOO.

    Ashley- I always have several different kinds of tea in my purse, just in case! I couldn’t get through my classes without my mug of tea, but I always brought it from home- saved myself $5 or $10 a week, I bet.

    Love2eatinpa- I definitely plan my meals around the sales, too. Grapes and apples and shrimp have been on sale lately so I’ve been hoarding them :D

  10. Thanks for the comments :) you are beautiful too!

    I always plan around sales and shop around with my groceries just as I would every other item I shop for- clothes, cars, books, etc. I think looking for the best value at the best price is key for whatever it is- and if its your health at stake then its worth the extra $ if need be!

    I love bulk bins for grains and snagging up different fresh fruits in addition to some frozen fruits- that way you are still getting fruits, still getting fresh, and saving at the same time!

  11. We did this a while back when we bought our hosue and were suddenly broke :)
    Over time we’ve worked out what we want. Only order in once a month…only buy coffee once a week. There are a lot of ways to save $$ on little things. I refuse to skimp on food. I was a bit alarmed at the cost when I tried to spend a whole month eating nothing processed…but it was delicious and very good for me. I wont’ skimp on quality food. Period…for as much as I can afford. Having healthy food around is essential for me to eat healthy. If it’s not there I end up stopping ot buy crap or just making the crap I have on hand. Not worth it anymore :)
    Gyms were too much, so we put aside bnits of money every month and bought an elliptical. For me bellydance classes once a week are essential despite the cost – I’m OK with that. It keeps me sane.
    I do little things like buy 90% of my groceries on the local grocer’s 15% off day. I cave a bit, which is enough for our order in meal. I try and get clothes on sale when I can and I will splurge here and there, but I’ve come to focus on what i really want. And with a bit of work, I can get it.
    I’m still learning to spend $$ on myself, but it’s easier to do it when I have been good budget wise…

  12. bHealthier- It’s DEFINITELY worth it when we’re talking health ;)

    Simply Life- That’s a great point. Budgeting is a good way to appreciate the stuff we’ve got and can afford.

    Geosomin- Things that keep our sanity are entirely necessary!

  13. I am a huge yard sale person. I go every week and it really helps us not have to skimp on clothes for the kids! I’m always amazed at what people sell for .50 or $1.00. It has helped us a lot.

    For us, we sacrificed and were blessed that I was able to stay home with the kids. It hasn’t always been easy to be a one income family but I am so glad we have been able to make it.

  14. I wish Nick would sacrifice his White Chocolate Wonderful for something else! It’s 5 dollars each!! Yikes. What we have done is just use less each time, and make up for the rest of the PB with another cheaper kind. Now the jar lasts a couple weeks, rather than a week. Sounds dumb, but that really adds up! I also make my own coffee now and only RARELY buy coffee out. We have also started buying less meat and poultry, and are now eating more salmon, eggs, and tempeh! All are cheaper.

  15. Diane- Thanks for the tip! You’re right, yard sales and second-hand stores are great. Sometimes there’s a lot of junk, but there’s also a lot of treasures to be found.

    Gina- Great idea with the PB. The amount of money I tend to spend on nut butters can be rather ridiculous (thank goodness for doing product reviews for nut butter companies ;)).

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