Battle of the Bulge

There was a study last year that pitted clinical weight loss programs (the kind you do through professionally directed treatments) against good old fashioned Weight Watchers.  Clinical programs help you lose weight through tailored nutritional approaches as well as behavior modification. Weight Watchers programs help through “points” and your peers.

Weight Watchers won.

Small sample sizes are my favorite upon which to draw the biggest generalizations, and this study on diets is similar to my own non-clinical, non-peer reviewed professional study of budgets. I work with budgets professionally, and not the advertising or year over year outside vendor types of budgets, but real life individual and family cash flow budgets.

Most people have a problem with cash flow. Just like most people have a problem with their weight. This isn’t to say they are breaking the scales any more than they are blowing all of their cash on Starbucks, but they are tipping the scales and they are spending more than they should. Weight Watcher’s four pillars -- exercise, food, behavior modification and peer support are the foundation of their system that keeps track of your calories while encouraging you to move around and eat more fiber.

The simplicity can be applied to your budget. The math is simplistic. Rounding for illustration, use the following guide to reign in your spending.

WalletWatchers

You have 10 points a month. You can spend your points any way you want, as long as you spend no more than 10. Actually, you can’t spend them any way you want unless you choose to destroy your good credit standing, but you get the picture.

3.5  points for housing

1.5 points for transportation

2 points on food.

1 point for entertainment.

1 point short term saving goal.

1.5 point long term saving goal.

You make 50K a year. You bring home 37.5K. You have $3,125 to spend every month.

The $3,125 breaks down to $312.50 a point.

Housing: $1.093.75

Transportation: $468.75

Food: $625

Entertainment: $312.50

Short term goal savings: $312.50

Long term goal savings: $468.75

If you don’t know where you spend your points, use a simple budget tool like mint.com and find out. Most people skip this step, and it is like not finding out how much you weigh or figuring out what you eat when you want to clean up your diet.

Take a close look at where your points are spent. The broad categories are broken down according to whatever the purchase closest resembles. If you spend $50 a month on gardening, that is either entertainment or housing, depending on how important it is to you. If you spend $100 on shampoo, you spend too much money on shampoo. But generally, soap and other mercantile bought at the grocery store are thrown into groceries. If you buy clothes, that comes out of short term goals, which are defined as what you want to do in a year. Spoiler Alert: you may find out you spend your vacation on new jeans. Utilities are in housing. Car payments, insurance, gas and bus/train fare are in transportation. Long term goal savings should ideally never hit your bank account.

When you find out you are blowing one or more categories, figure out how to save.  This doesn’t have to be the bad part where you have to start buying generic cheese slices, unless you want it to be. Creativity lives close to the bone, your budget should as well.

Save on Housing

Save on Transportation

Save on Groceries

Are those jeans entertainment or basic human need?

Save more for long term.

What is short term savings?

Shrink your Housing Dollar

You may be able to afford your rent or mortgage. If you spend less than 28% of your gross income on housing, the people in charge think you are on top of things. But you may want to spend less than that in order to save more for something else. On the other hand, you may not be able to afford your rent or mortgage. It may eat up half of your paycheck or more. You aren’t looking to save for a vacation, you need to direct some of that money toward groceries.

Here are some ideas to reduce your housing costs.

Move: If you can’t afford your house, start shopping around. It is a simple solution, but the execution of moving is so messy and complex most people overlook it from the start.

1.       Refinance: if you haven’t considered refinancing your home yet, now is the time. If you are planning on selling in less than five years, you probably won’t come out ahead (the cost of the loan will not net out that quickly), but if you plan to stick around you will save thousands.

2.       Get a roommate: Move your desk out of the spare room and find a like-minded soul to share your expense. The more you have in common, the better this will work. Roommates also provide built-in pet sitting, someone to have dinner with, or, someone to occasionally focus your irrational frustration on.

3.       Host an exchange student. If you would prefer a more temporary roommate, try an international college student through ANDEO International Homestays.

4.       Turn into a B and B: If you want even shorter term paying guests, check out airbnb to list your spare room to travelers.

5.       Sell your stuff: a large portion of our housing is sheltering stuff. Do you need to pay for shelter for stuff? Are you already paying for a hotel for your stuff through storage? Ebay it. Craigslist it. Just get rid of it.

Save Money on Transportation

1.       Get rid of your car. You will no longer have to buy gas, insurance, tires, oil, Washmans. If you have a car payment you will see an immediate boost in your cash flow. You can sign up with a car share company if you need occasional wheels, bike more, walk more, carpool more. If you can’t live without a car, try

2.       Renting out your car when you don’t need it. Lyft on the weekends!

3.       Drive less. See 1.

4.       Reduce your insurance. If you have an old car that isn’t worth much, drop the collision coverage. The money you will get should the car get totaled is not enough to replace it. If you are a good driver, see if your insurance company will give you a discount.

5.       Drive a car you can afford. How much does your car cost compared to how much you make? If you can’t afford to pay cash for it, you can’t afford it. (sigh, wishful thinking I know, but you can’t afford a new car, sell it and buy a used car)

Save Money on Groceries

1.       Meal Plan. Meal planning avoids impulse shopping. If your plan runs short, cook out of your pantry. Fried eggs for dinner, yum. It also keeps you from eating junk. If you know what you are going to have for dinner, and you plan out what will be available for snacking, you will trim your budget and improve your health. 

2.       Eat high quality, low cost. This means beans. This also means frozen spinach and no berries out of season. This means grow your own herbs and learn to love spaghetti.

3.       Don’t use coupons if they persuade you to buy packaged convenience food that is both less healthy and more expensive. Do shop sales on staples such as vegetables, meats, toilet paper, cheese, you get the idea.

4.       Don’t join Costco unless you live by a Costco. Their prices do not beat most stores, but you end up consuming way too much deli meat. Do you really want to eat that much sliced ham in a month?

5.       Make enough for leftovers. This alone will save you bundles on work lunches. Or you can experiment by going to Trader Joes, buying a bag of apples and a bag of walnuts, and leave them at the desk for lunch. Many people think this is not a lunch, to which I say, re-think lunch.