Top 5 Ways to Create Margin in Your Budget

Top 5 Ways to Create Margin in Your Budget

Financial struggles can often feel overwhelming and impossible to solve. There are people who really struggle to make ends meet because they just can’t seem to earn enough money to pay their monthly bills and keep food on the table.

Getting out of debt remains the most effective method for long-term financial stability and solvency, but what can you do when you can’t find any extra wiggle-room in your budget to begin throwing extra cash at those debts? Here’s a quick list of the most effective ways you can alter your monthly expenditures and see immediate results.

Top 5 Ways to Create Margin in Your Budget

1. Cut the Extras

One of the very first things you should cut from your monthly spending is anything related to entertainment. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any fun at all, but the reality is that you’ve got to place your needs before your wants.

In 2014, the average cable television package cost $61.41, and was projected to continue rising about 6% year over year. That means the average TV package likely costs about $65 in mid-2015.

There’s nothing wrong with having some entertainment, but there are so many alternatives available today. Think about how fast you could pay off your smallest debts if you threw an extra $65 at them each month. How far and how fast could you get ahead?

Other things you could consider cutting include faster internet and top-tier cell phone data plans. For instance, my family recently upgraded our internet because we were hitting our data cap, so it made sense for us to upgrade. However, we view that upgrade as a luxury not a necessity. Internet access is increasingly crucial in our society, but that doesn’t mean we need to pay for the best package for our home or mobile connectivity.

2. Stop Eating Out

The average fast food meal costs between $4 and $7, while the average cost of homemade food is typically less than half—$1.50 to $3 per person, per meal. Many working people enjoy the convenience fast food provides, and also enjoy the break that going out for lunch with coworkers in the middle of the work day affords.

I get it. Packing a sack lunch for work isn’t as fun, but it sure can save a ton of money. Let’s say you try really hard to stay on the low end of the fast food meal cost spectrum. You’re still spending around $80 per month if you eat out every workday.

On top of all this, many families like to go out to eat regularly. Even if you head out to a quick-serve joint, a family of five is going to average $25 to $40 per meal. If you go to a nicer restaurant, you’ll end up paying $50 or more, and that’s before leaving a decent tip.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with eating out, but plan for it in your budget. This means setting an absolute limit on how much you’ll allow yourself to spend on eating out each month, and prioritize how you’ll go about spending that money. Consider how far ahead of your debt you could get with an extra $80 or more each month.

3. Cash-Only Grocery Shopping

Since you’ll be making more meals at home and packing more lunches, that means you’ll be spending more time and money at the grocery store. It’s imperative that you get on a budget and plan your grocery spending wisely.

Many families have no idea how much they’re spending on groceries each month. The typical grocery shopper throws a list together based on family preferences, heads out to the store,  then fills the cart with items on the list AND anything else that looks good too. Before you know it, this shopper has spent far more money than they intended.

The best way to control your grocery spending is to first make a list based on a meal plan for the week—even if it’s only a loose plan—and then set an absolute budget for the month’s grocery shopping. Once you’ve got this line item figured out, withdraw exactly that amount from the bank and stick it in an envelope.

This is your allotted grocery spending money for the month. When the money runs out, you’re done spending until next month. It may take you two or three months to figure out how much you should budget, but you’ll get there. This method feels harsh at first, but it forces you to make wiser spending choices and helps you determine the difference between wants and needs.

4. Sell Something

One of the most dramatic ways to break your budget free is to start selling some of your stuff. There are two facets to selling your stuff, one that brings temporary relief to your budget and another that can bring long-term benefits.

First, go through your house and get rid of anything and everything you don’t want, don’t use, or don’t need. Have a gigantic garage sale or list your stuff on Craigslist and Facebook groups. You can quickly unload everything from unused children’s clothing to furniture. Use any money you make to either beef up your starter emergency fund ($1,000) or throw every dime at your smallest debts.

Next, consider how you can get free of you car loans if you have them. Again, consider the difference between wants and needs. Yes, you probably need a vehicle to get to and from work and to transport your family, but do you need a $400 to $800 car payment each month?

What if you sold you car and bought a reliable used car with cash? Now we’re talking about huge money you might be able to put toward your debt each month. There’s absolutely no reason to saddle yourself with a $20k+ vehicle cost when you can find a working, safe vehicle for $2,000 to $3,000 cash.

5. Downsize Your Lifestyle

Finally, take yet another look at the difference between your wants and your needs. Are you making $36k per year but living a $50k lifestyle? Are you making $65k but living a $100k lifestyle?

There are so many things to consider here. Start with all the stuff on the list above and determine if you’re truly living not only within your means, but below your means. This is the only way to get ahead if you’re struggling to meet your monthly obligations or trying to dig your way out of debt.

In the final analysis, you may determine you need to take drastic action such as selling your house and downsizing. This should be a last resort, and is admittedly painful, but if you’re living a lifestyle beyond your means something has to break. It’s within your power to decide to break your habits and lower your lifestyle before you break your bank account.

Are You a Gate Keeper or a Door Holder?

Are You a Gate Keeper

Leadership is hard for many reasons, but primarily because people are involved in the equation. Without people to lead, no leadership takes place.

There are thousands of articles, books, and blog posts about leadership styles. We could go on and on discussing and debating those issues. Today I want to focus on two types of leadership—flip sides of the same coin. Why? Because every leader is either one or the other.

Are you a Gate Keeper or a Door Holder?

Every leader is in a position to directly affect the growth and advancement of the people who’ve been placed in their care. Part of leadership is determining which people on the team are ready for more responsibility, or if they’re up to the task of becoming leaders themselves.

How a leader approaches this responsibility will be due to their particular mindset, even subconsciously. Are they a gate keeper or a door holder?

Gate Keepers Are Sentinels

Gate Keepers rarely see themselves as facilitators. They view their role more as “large and in charge,” a boss whose whims and wishes must be followed without question because they’re all-wise and all-knowing. These benevolent rulers are the ones with the knowledge and experience, so you couldn’t possibly replace them or do their job as well.

Seriously, the people who work for them should be thankful they have jobs in the first place!

These kinds of bosses tend to be either be overbearing dictators or micromanagers—sometimes both. They view their primary job to be keeping you in line, mainly so that they can make themselves look good to the higher-ups.

On top of all this, Gate Keepers act like security guards or club bouncers, determining who is worthy to walk through the gate, to advance to the higher levels within the company, to get a good review, or to receive good references.

Sure, you might say that any leader is an evaluator of people. Every leader judges the performance of their team, but here we’re talking about the attitude behind that judgement. Gate Keepers do nothing to help prepare their team for success, they simply demand the team be successful or face the consequences.

Door Holders Are Servants

On the other hand, Door Holders understand they are primarily servant-leaders. They view themselves simply as another team member—one with a different level of responsibility that comes with an inherent level of authority but not superiority. Yes, they may be experienced and knowledgable, but they understand that knowledge and experience are meant for the good of the team, not for building their own personal fiefdom.

Door holders understand that their role as a leader is to facilitate the success of their team. They view team failure as a failure of leadership. What could they have done better as a leader? Did the team have all the tools and resources they needed to get the job done? Did the team understand the goals and objectives, or could the leader have done a better job communicating clearly?

This type of leader also understands that one of their primary responsibilities is to raise up the next generation of leaders—they view that training as a privilege instead of a threat. They hold the door open for their “underlings,” helping them learn and grow so that they can eventually step through that door with their head held high.

A good leader replicates themselves and cheers team members on when they succeed, get promoted, and are recognized for their achievements. Again, this type of leader views their own role as one of servanthood. They realize everyone coming up to the door doesn’t have it all together yet. Their team members are carrying bad habits and burdens and need help getting through the door. Their team members may be distracted or blinded and need to be show the way.

Which Will You Be?

Which of the two types of leaders above best describes you? Which one do you want to be?

Decide today and make the changes necessary to be a door holder for your team. Lead them up to, and through the door of success and advancement by serving, teaching, and molding.

Boost Your Budget by Working from Home

Boost Your Budget by

There’re a wealth of work-from-home opportunities available over the internet today. Granted, many of these won’t bring in a lot of money—at least not at first—but every extra dollar helps. Work-from-home jobs aren’t limited to stuffing envelopes and medical billing, nor are they just for stay-at-home moms.

Work-from-Home Opportunities

Surveys: You can make $1 to $25 or more for each survey you take. Keep in mind that some of these don’t put cash in your bank account, but you can get gift card balances for sites such as Amazon where you can purchase just about anything you’d want or need. I once heard about a couple who started doing online surveys for extra cash. Whatever they earned became their blow money for the month—the more surveys they completed, the more blow money they had to spend.

Here are a few online survey companies and opportunities to check out:

Website tester: Do some digging and you’ll find companies looking for beta testers for new website designs. You’ll be tasked with giving feedback on everything from layout and design, interface, bug hunts, A/B testing, and more.

Get Paid for Online Searches: You can pick up some extra rewards by performing common searches on these alternative search engines.

YouTube channel: Create and monetize your own how-to videos. What are you passionate about? What skills and talents do you have that you can share with others? Put your own unique perspective and personality into a new video series and get it online.

Direct sales: There are so many opportunities in this category that it can be overwhelming, so the best thing you can do is find a product category you’re passionate about or enjoy, and then do some research about what companies have the best reputation and the best financial returns—between 20% to 35% of sales in commissions. You’ll find opportunities to sell just about sort of product you like such as jewelry (Premier Designs or Origami Owl), health products (Melaleuca, Young Living Essential Oils, Juice Plus+, Le-Vel), beauty products: (Mary Kay, AVON, Jamberry Nails), and hundreds more.

Online Tutor: Depending on your qualifications and experience, you may be able to sign up to become an online tutor through one of the numerous educational outlets online. You could also try the route of setting up and marketing your own service to offer private tutoring in your field of expertise.

Customer Service Representative: Many companies hire people to work from home as customer service reps, allowing you to answer questions and fulfill customer requests via phone, chat, or email.

Reseller: This might be better listed under entrepreneurism, but you can find opportunities to become a seller or reseller of products through the Amazon ecosystem. Search online and learn how to use Fulfillment By Amazon to sell your own products—new or used—on Amazon.com.

Transcriptionist: A quick internet search will bring up dozens and dozens of opportunities for working as a transcriptionist at home. Make sure you do your due diligence and check out a company’s reputation before signing on.

Proofreading/Editing: Are you good and grammar? Do you like to read? You can get hired as a proofreader or editor, or launch your own service.

Vacation Planner: Companies such as Disney hire people across the country to become vacation planners. Your job would be to help put together the best vacation possible within the customer’s budget and available time off. There are also opportunities to become a home-based travel agent, though you’ll need to have decent knowledge about the travel industry and get involved with either a network marketing host agency or buy into a franchise to build both a reputations and client list.

Blogging: Yes, you can still make money blogging. You won’t make anything in the beginning, and even when you do eventually make some cash it won’t be a ton. Having said that, there are scores of people out there who have diligently built their platform over the course of several years into a full-time business that not only brings in a significant income for themselves, but also allows them to employ others as well.

The key to making money blogging is finding your niche, being somewhat unique in that niche, and being authentic. Diversification is often a factor as well. You’ll see many bloggers make money not only from advertisements and sponsored posts, but also from writing books, developing products such as e-courses they can sell, and more.

Virtual Assistant (VA): Speaking of successful bloggers, many of them use virtual assistants to get most of their “busy work” done so that they can concentrate on creating the content their readers crave. Look around for bloggers, speakers, and other digital personalities for opportunities to become a virtual assistant. Virtual assistants do work ranging from scheduling and overseeing social media channels, selling advertising space, answering blog comments or customer emails, and more—essentially anything necessary to help their boss concentrate on their main purpose.

If you decide to become a VA, plan on contracting yourself out to a handful of people instead of just one. It’s rare that someone in need of a VA can give you more than 2-5 hours worth of work per week.

Become an Entrepreneur

Some people hear the word “entrepreneur” and immediately imagine someone who’s quit their job and taken out a massive loan to get some crazy idea off the ground. Sure, there’s some of that type out there, but in reality an entrepreneur is anyone who decides to make money using the skill, time, and talent.

Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t have to be complicated. If you own some lawn equipment and put together a flier that you hand out in your neighborhood advertising grass cutting services, you’re an entrepreneur. If you make a craft of some sort and sell it at local craft fairs and garage sales, you’re an entrepreneur. If you can charge money to help people in your area maintain their personal computer, you’re an entrepreneur.

Upgrade-Your-Awesome

Check out this great post on Money Saving Mom for even more ideas about making money by working from home.

Jump-Start Your Debt Reduction with a Temporary Part-Time Job

Jump-Start Your

Deliver Some Pizza

One of the best ways to break the cycle of debt is to bring in some extra income to help pay off those debts faster. You can probably find a local pizza shop in need of a deliver driver, and when you count the tips you might be able to bring in an extra $1,000 per month.

If delivering pizza isn’t your thing, find something to do that will bring in some extra cash. There are a vast array of part-time options available, but you may have to swallow your pride, be willing to work extra hours, and get creative to find the best opportunity.

Imagine what an extra $1,000 could do for your monthly budget when you’re digging your way out of debt. A part-time job is a temporary measure, one you only need to perform until your out of debt or until you’ve got room in your budget to meet your monthly needs and get ahead on paying down your debt.

Seconds and Seasonal

Again, taking on a second job is a short term solution to help you reach a long term goal. You’re not out to earn more money to live a better lifestyle or have more spending money. Your goal is to bring in extra income to pay down your debt faster.

Getting rid of debt is what will eventually allow you to have more money available to spend on the things you really care about.

Start looking for second income opportunities that fit your circumstances. Your initial reaction might be that you don’t want to steal time away from your family, but remind yourself that this is temporary. At current minimum wage levels you could bring in $600 gross income each month. What if you worked that job for 6-12 months?

Don’t forget seasonal employment. Depending on your location you can really clean up at a seasonal job. Seasonal employment is more than just Thanksgiving through New Year’s. You’ll find stores and companies who need more workers during other holidays, special events, and regional festivities.

A Wealth of Options

If nothing I’ve listed above is really viable for you, check back this Wednesday when I introduce several work-from-home options you can look into.