The after holidays reality check…everyone has been there.  January comes around and it is painfully clear that too much money was spent between November and December.  Traveling, attending parties, catering to overnight guests, meals that were shared, exchanging presents, etc.; while it was certainly memorable during the original occurrence, a glance through one’s online banking reveals that the extra cash that is typically on hand is looking pretty low.  Plus the credit card statements are beginning to trickle in, as well as the normal bills are coming due.  Keeping normal expenses on track and dealing with the possibility that affording certain amenities may not be feasible can bring on unnerving emotions.  But wait; suddenly you remember that W-2s are soon to be released at your place of employment.  A few short weeks after you file your taxes, your bank account will once again feel fluffy.  Your cash flow will increase, you can go back to purchasing your luxuries of choice, and maybe even use it to get caught up on some outstanding bills.  

Balancing your financial obligations and responsibilities with your wants can be a vicious cycle.  Tax returns are awesome and can be a huge help, but should one have to rely on them to make ends meet?  My personal opinion is absolutely not.  Please continue reading and ask yourself if any of the following questions sound like you.  Are you someone who tends to get into tight spots when it comes to how much money you have on hand or cannot seem to save money to save your life?  Maybe you are someone who tends to blow your tax refund on stuff that is more of a want rather than a need.  Does it always seem that more money is going out than what is coming in?  If any of these circumstances pertain to you, I am here to share my top five ideas that will most likely ensure there is extra cash all year long and even save some for the future and/or a significant expense.

1. Cancel unnecessary, unused, or underutilized subscriptions

This one tends to creep up on you and will probably even surprise you when the amount being spent is added up.  Most of the time these tend to be subscriptions that are used for entertainment purposes or that at some point in time were being utilized more frequently.  I am willing to bet that almost everyone pays for at least one subscription (ex: meal kits, magazine or book of the month, unlimited car washes, Audible, Sam’s Club, etc.) that they rarely or never use.  How many paid subscriptions do you have?  If you have three that cost around $10 each, that is about $30 a month, which adds up to about $360 a year.  An expense as low as $30 per month may seem like no big deal, but that is extra money that can help build up an emergency fund or can be used towards a vacation.  

My advice is to evaluate each subscription that is costing you money.  Determine how often it is actually being used.  Does the frequency in which it is used pay for the cost of keeping the subscription?  Are these alternatives or substitutions, preferably free ones, that will give you close to the same, if not identical benefits?  If you are not reaping the benefits of it, why are you paying for it?  

As a former juggler of several monthly and/or yearly subscriptions, The Salina Public Library can save you quite a bit of money on entertainment.  I am not just saying that because I work here; it is actually the truth.  We offer several streaming services such as Kanopy and Hoopla which allow patrons a way to watch movies, listen to music or audiobooks, and read e-books.  Additionally, we circulate mobile hotspots which provide patrons access to the internet.  Rokus can be checked out which come standard with Netflix, Kanopy, and Hoopla.  Nintendo Switches are borrowable and are set up with free games.  The Salina Public Library also houses several DVD’s (movies, tv series, documentaries, etc.) and DVD players, as well as games compatible with all the top consoles.  Visit the Library’s catalog to see how we can help curb these types of expenses.    


2. Focus on free things to do

It certainly seems like everything is getting more and more expensive.  Hitting the movies with a meal afterwards can cost anywhere from $30 – $50 or more for two people, depending on the type of meal you partake in.  Attending events such as concerts, musicals, professional sporting events, plays, etc. can cost hundreds per person.  Finding fun, budget-friendly things to do can save you quite a bit of cash.  Think parks, museums, lakes, walking trails, the sculpture tour right here in Salina, and other fun things you can do.  If you need some ideas, start by Googling free or cheap things to do and input whatever city you are in.  You will have all kinds of suggestions that come through.  Speaking specifically of parks, several libraries offer free state park passes which generally cover the parking fees for the visit.  Check with your local library to see if those are being offered.  You can always search Salina Public Library’s calendar of events or stop by for a catalog.  We offer a plethora of free and low-cost events to choose from.  

3. Use cash-back apps & coupons

Be a savvy shopper and use cash-back apps and/or coupons to save money.  Apps such as Rakuten, Ibotta, EBates, and Fetch Rewards are great for finding deals and getting rewards.  Simply using these apps can save you cash when you are shopping.  Couponing is a simple way to save money.  If you are not up for traditional couponing, you can actually clip digital coupons and load them to your store discount card.  Doing this will double your savings on your grocery bill every month because you will get the store card discount and the additional savings from your coupons.  Bonus tip:  Once you complete your grocery shopping, take a few hours to meal and snack prep.  If food is readily available in the right sized portions, it will get eaten faster and more routinely as it is convenient.  This ensures you get the most bang for your buck and allows one to control what food goes into their body. 

3. Shop at discount or thrift stores

Being smart about shopping can save money every month, and shopping at discount grocery stores can add up to significant savings.  Brick and mortar stores such as Aldi, Big Lots, and Dollar General are great places to shop that have reduced costs on most items.  Shopping at different discount stores for specific items can maximize the savings further.  Look through the different ads the stores put out and decide where to go for certain items.  Bonus tip:  Plan your trip strategically so that the amount of gas used is maximized.  

There are online food markets, like Misfits Market, where you can get deeply discounted prices for food and pantry items that are not necessarily “good enough” for the typical grocery store.  They could be too small or too large, have a dent or odd packaging, but the quality is still the same.  If you really want to save some money and have a green thumb, or want to test the waters in that area, Salina Public Library offers free seeds between the months of February through June.  Visit our Seed Library and start a small garden to grow your own produce.

One can also save up to 50% off retail prices simply by shopping second-hand.  Clothing, electronics, jewelry, and other items can be found at a fraction of the cost at pawn shops and thrift stores like DAV, Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.  Additional items can be found through online thrift stores like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Thread Up, Poshmark, and even Amazon has a used option.  Unless something absolutely has to be purchased new, do not sleep on rekindling the life back into something that has been gently used.

4. Get organized

As I stated at the beginning, keeping up with all the expenditures one has can be overwhelming.  Organizing the expenses to be paid will ensure that nothing has been forgotten.  Whether it is handwritten in a journal, updated on an Excel or Google spreadsheet, or a file folder where all the incoming paper bills are categorized, whatever system works best for you, use it and be consistent.  Track the bills by due date and visit them weekly or monthly.  Once a bill is paid, notate that.  It is a visual cue that it has been taken care of, which alone can function as a stress reliever.  Lastly, set reminders or alarms on your phone or calendar widget so that the notion of forgetting the expense can be combated.  Setting up the organization system can take a bit of work, but once it is ready, all you have to do is maintain it and stick with it.

Alright, let’s end this blog with a recap and a feasible example.  The key to saving money each month is cutting the budget wherever possible, no matter how small the amount.  It really is eye opening how simple changes to your finances can lead to large savings.  Changing your money habits and cutting expenses makes it much easier to save money every month.  You may think those little purchases are not significant, but in reality, it is crazy how much money is spent in the long run on things such as a daily latte, convenience foods, scratch tickets, unnecessary subscriptions, etc.  Saving $3 a day for a year adds up to $1092.  Learning how to save money each month on even small items will bulk up your bank account quickly.

As with any goal, it is easier to achieve something when it is chunked out into smaller increments.  That is why learning how to save money each month is key to one’s savings goals.  For instance, if the goal is to save $5,000 in a year, that can be a pretty overwhelming goal when you look at that big number.  However, breaking it down into monthly goals makes it less intimidating and helps you focus on the monthly amount instead.  Rather than focusing on $5,000, divide that number by 12 to get the monthly amount needed to save $5,000.  By dividing $5,000 by 12, the number instantly decreases to $416.66 per month.  To simplify it further, it can be broken down to a bi-weekly paycheck, which is commonly how most individuals are paid by their employer.  Taking $416.66 divided by 2 equals $208.33 each paycheck.  Even a smaller goal like saving $50 – $100 a paycheck will add up to a big deal over time.  This example clearly demonstrates how focusing on smaller goals can teach anyone how to save money monthly.  Using any of the suggestions mentioned above will help get you that much closer to your savings goals.