The beginning of a brand new year is the perfect time to put serious thought into your budget. The household budget is what lets you see where you've been and make plans for where you want to go.
Personal finance software is the perfect complement.
You get a more comprehensive way to spot trends and take control with budgeting software. This is where your budget can transform from a collection of data into a powerful financial tool.
Each month, you spend money on things you can, and things you can't, change. Lowering fixed expenses takes concerted effort, such as refinancing your home. Cutting back on discretionary expenses is a lot simpler.
With personal finance software, such as Mint.com, you can see where every dollar goes, and make changes to put more into savings. Here are 4 places where you might find ways to cut back:
Plan Meals Ahead of Time
Food is a budget category where you can probably find surprising savings. Thinking about meals on the fly leaves room for unplanned expenses, so Forbes recommends creating menus ahead of time. This lets you build a shopping list that's dedicated to what you will cook, instead of buying food that you might, or might not, use in a meal.
Lunches out can certainly be trimmed back, but packing lunches doesn't save as much as it could if you buy prepackaged foods such as snack-size packs. You can separate portions from bigger containers and spend less. Check the cost per ounce on small versus full-size packages, and you'll see the difference.
Manage Entertainment Spending
Entertainment doesn't always get budget consideration, but the expenses still find a way in. You can trim the entertainment fat without sacrificing the fun things in life as long as you're aware of what you've been spending.
The best cable package with premium channels isn't necessary if you rarely watch TV. With a paid movie service, such as Hulu or Netflix, you'll get more movies for a lot less money. Examine what you spend on entertainment, and how often. If it's not a dedicated part of your budget, maybe it should be going forward.
Be Conscious about Utilities
Utilities aren't set in stone, even though you need the services. If you're used to paying a certain amount each month, try a few changes and see what a difference they make. Check your monthly payments to see how much you're spending now. A month from now, you might be happily surprised.
Turning off the lights when you leave a room is an age-old tip. But energy-efficient light bulbs can save even more. If you're concerned about the mercury content in CFLs, think about LEDs. They're expensive up front, but more energy efficient and last much longer than CFLs.
Heating and cooling costs can also be adjusted by turning down the thermostat just a few degrees in winter and up a bit in summer. New or more insulation can also make a big difference.
Transform Services into DIY Jobs
It's nice to have help or splurge a bit once in a while. But a routine of paying someone else to do things you can manage adds up to excess. The difference between wants and needs isn't always easy to spot. Sort how much you spend on unnecessary things, and you might find ways to save.
Manicures, lawn service, house cleaning, car detailing -- any of these might be a place to start looking for ways to cut back. Woman's Day suggests that when you can handle a job without paying someone else, you're saving money every month.
Personal finance software lets you dig into your budget and see the fine details. And it's within those fine details that you can spot savings. On the front end, software such as Mint.com automatically updates when you make a purchase, and it categorizes expenses, too. For example, food goes into the grocery category automatically. You can set up as many different categories as you like.
On the back end, Mint reveals your budget in charts and "spending over time" graphs, which lets you see exactly where your money goes.
2014 is a brand new year, and a brand new opportunity for you to save money. Sign up for your free Mint.com account today and start trimming off some of last year's budget fat.