a chess board covered in US five dollar bills with chess pieces in play

9 Easy Moves That Will Simplify Your Spending

Confused and stressed out about how to manage your money so you don’t run out before payday? Put these nine easy moves into action and you’ll be well on your way to simplify your spending.

a chess board covered in US five dollar bills with chess pieces in play

 

I know what you’re thinking—simplify and spending in the same sentence? Ha! Like that’s even possible when we have credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts, bills, bill-pay, auto-pay, fees, penalties, interest rates, and fees to keep track of. How can we possibly make managing money simple?

By having a plan. By choosing to become accountable and then using every tactic possible to streamline and de-stress your money.

Use CASH

When it comes to paying for things like groceries, gas and other daily routine items, there is nothing easier than paying with cash. You can’t overdraft it and you won’t have to worry about fees and interest. Once it’s spent, that’s it. Done. So simple.

Organize with envelopes

This is quite possibly the most effective money management technique. Get a stack of envelopes and label one for each of the ways you’ll be spending your cash (food, gas, and so on). Place the appropriate amount of cash in each envelope. There. You’ve got a spending plan. As a bonus, you’ll have a handy place to keep the receipts from each of those categories. And, they’ll be neatly organized by category if you need to return something in the future, or prepare your taxes.

Kids on allowance

For most families, kids plus money equals a big black hole. It’s the constant money drip for food, friends, movies, food, games, school, tickets, food. Bring sanity to your finances by determining a set amount for each child per month. Then, create an envelope with that child’s name on it and put the cash inside. Call it an allowance. Whether you or the child manages that money is up to you. Either way, it’s a set amount you can plan on. And when it’s gone? No more spending until the next fill up.

Store cards

Most retailers, including supermarkets and gas stations, offer some kind of gift card these days. Use them to simplify your finances. Let’s say you intend to spend $400 for groceries this month. Buy a $400 gift card from your supermarket and use it as you would a debit or credit card during the month. When you swipe it, the amount of that purchase will be deducted from the total prepaid amount available. You can’t “borrow” money from a store gift card and it’s fee-free, too. If you stick with it, you’re guaranteed to stay on a budget.

Track your charges

Whenever you use a credit or debit card, take 30 seconds to record that transaction in the same way you record the checks you write. Deduct the amount from the balance right away, even if you won’t get that credit card statement until weeks from now. You spent the money, right? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that money is still yours to spend until the statement arrives. Enter it in red ink now! Later, when your bank statement or credit card bill arrives, you’ll be able to quickly double-check the red entries.

Automate

By putting your regular bills and payments on auto-pay, you eliminate that monthly decision: Should I pay bills tonight or wait until Tuesday? Should I put money into savings this month or buy those cute shoes? You can set up auto payments two ways:

Online bill pay

Use your bank’s online bill pay option, which is a free service at most banks but also at credit unions, brokerages, and mutual fund accounts. An automatic bill payment is a money transfer from your account on a predetermined date or schedule, to pay a recurring bill.

Automatic payments can be made from a checking account or credit card. They are usually set up with the company receiving the payment, though it’s also possible to schedule automatic payments through a checking account’s online bill pay service.

Banks don’t all operate exactly the same way, so go online to check out your bank’s auto bill pay service.

Automatic authorized payments

Most lenders and other service providers will let you set up online automatic payments authorizing them to reach into your bank account to take an amount you specify—the minimum payment, a set dollar amount or the full balance—every month from your checking account right before the payment is due.

Go to your credit card issuer’s and other lenders’ websites to learn more.

Most utility companies now offer this kind of service, too. And while we’re talking about it, if you set up your student loans to be paid automatically, expect to get a reduction in your interest rate as a nice thank-you. You’ll be amazed how this will simplify your money.

Consolidate

Most households can operate just fine with one checking account and one savings account. If you have more, consolidate your various accounts into a single checking account and one savings account. You’ll simplify your banking big time!

Shift to online

Just living life these days can lead to piles of paper—statements and notices from credit card issuers, utilities, insurance carriers, banks, brokerage accounts and so forth can morph into piles of paper. You may push them aside to read later but in the meantime, all those piles can be super stressful.

Shift all of those accounts to online. Get rid of any paperwork that isn’t absolutely necessary. Go to each of your providers and opt to go paperless where you receive statements and notifications online.

Just one credit card

Over the years you may have accumulated a number of credit cards. Maybe it was to get a zero-interest introductory rate or to participate in a rewards program. But once the rewards are gone and the zero-interest account did as you intended, those cards should have little value.

Don’t close those accounts in order to protect your excellent credit score, but focus your credit card use on a single card. Make it the one that offers the best benefits and put the rest away. Simplify your spending and handle payments with a single credit card.

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9 replies
  1. Emily Booth
    Emily Booth says:

    My income is monthly. What I did, and this is not going to work for everyone, I projected my expenses for the year for all categories and divided it by 12 for a monthly amount. I subscribe to the pots of money savings approach. I have several different accounts. One is for annual expenses, one is for expenses that are less frequent than monthly, one is for monthly and one is for emergencies. I keep track by writing.

    I have more than 1 CC. I use to have a low interest CC but now I have 1 for Amazon because I get 5% back. I have 2 store CCs for their discounts. I always pay them immediately.

    I give myself a weekly allowance for groceries, gas and spending $$ like lunch w/ friends.

    Reply
  2. marijka
    marijka says:

    Keep your eye out for special offers when buying gift cards! Kroger and similar stores often give extra fuel points or discounts when you purchase gift cards. Company-specific gift cards also offer extras, like buy a $25 Applebee’s gift card and get two free appetizers or similar. Like using credit cards, if you’re disciplined and only buy them for things you’d be purchasing anyway, you can really come out ahead!

    Reply
    • marijka
      marijka says:

      It lowers the amount of credit you have access to, which lowers your score – makes you look like you don’t qualify for as much credit, even if it was your choice. Most important, though, it raises your credit utilization when you do charge something: if you have access to $5000 and spend 500, you’re at 10% utilization (percentage of debt to available credit). If you have access to $2500 and spend 500, you’re now at 20% utilization — more debt. Best to have access to credit you never use than to close them. Also, there are some schools of thought that you should actually charge (and immediately pay off) something on each card every few months so there’s activity, since dormant cards don’t contribute to your credit rating, and can sometimes be cancelled by the issuer. (As opposed to the suggestion here that says put all cards away except for one.)

      Reply
  3. Sue in TX
    Sue in TX says:

    Another benefit to keeping unused cards open: I just used one to make a major purchase (new computer.) It is linked to the bank where the money pre-saved for the computer is located, so when the bill is due it’s easy to pay from the attached account. There are, however, excellent reasons to maintain multiple bank/checking accounts for some people. My husband and I knew 48 years ago that we have VERY different financial “styles” so we divided the bills according to our income (rebalanced as needed over a lifetime) and each maintain separate accounts and pay different bills. When a major purchase comes along, we discuss it and both contribute…you can’t begin to imagine how many arguments this has saved us…

    Reply
  4. Nancy McConnell
    Nancy McConnell says:

    We are empty nesters and I agree totally with the give an allowance to kids. That works on so many levels. When my daughter was in middle school I also used this approach to purchasing her back to school clothes. I would give her a certain amount and she would have to stretch it out and manage it. She learned quickly to find the most economical jeans that fit her and splurge a little more on trendy tops and hoodies. Today she is grown and married and lives 1/2 way across the country. She calls me daily to talk about good deals, rebate apps, etc. She is very responsible with money and makes me very proud.

    Reply
  5. boje
    boje says:

    I thought the gift card to the grocery store was genius, but then I realized I shop three different stores of groceries. I do like tracking your credit card purchase in your checkbook. I have done this for years. When I charge something I immediately subtract it from my checking account. I never have to worry about not being able to pay the bill off in full each month.

    Reply
  6. Sue
    Sue says:

    And I would say that you should close any cards you aren’t using that charge an annual fee. Thanks for all your great tips. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Mark Shoenfelt
    Mark Shoenfelt says:

    I use four credit cards. One gives me a 2% bonus for using automatic payments, another gives me a 3% bonus for buying groceries and the other two give me a 5% bonus for buying from a particular merchant.I pay each of them using autopay, so I never have to worry about late fees.

    Reply

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