Since you've identified your discretionary expenses, you’re prepared to start managing or improving your budget. Staying on budget can be difficult, but here are some tips that can help:
Determine which expenses are really worth paying extra for the nicer model. If it's the fancy coffeepot with two spouts and a timer that you really want, choose that as your "worth it" expense. Or, if you really want a cell phone with a camera, get it, but be sure to buy only the amount of minutes you'll actually use. Take the plainer model on all your other discretionary expenses.
Cut back. If you currently get five magazines a month, cut back to two; cutting three magazine subscriptions can save you $50 or more. Plan to play golf (an expensive sport) only on the public course for a while, and save on the higher fees at the private courses. This way, you don't have to completely do away with the things you want; you just don't get as much or as many of them.
Find a better way. Shopping at the nicer consignment stores can save you big bucks and still let you dress yourself and your family in great clothes. Start a swap meet with other mothers for children's clothes, books and toys. Rent movies instead of going to the theater; if you watch from home, you can see a movie, save money and not have to listen to someone else's crying kids.
Eat in. One of the most common budget-killers is eating out. Cook all your meals at home, and save lots of cash. If you have a family, vote on which night each week you'd like to eat out; let that be the only meal you get from a restaurant for the week. Pack lunches for work, and see how much it helps your budget. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Track due dates. Whether they’re from the credit card company, the video store, or the library, late fees and overdue charges can add up -- and they’re completely avoidable. Devise a system to remind yourself to return borrowed items.
Pay attention. The most important thing you can do to lower your discretionary expenses is to monitor your spending. Use a budget planner to get your budget under control, and be careful to write down any money you spend on discretionary expenses. Set aside cash for these expenses each week, and make up your mind that when the cash runs out, there are no more discretionary allowances until next week. If you really pay attention, you can make a tremendous difference in your budget.
It's not always fun to budget. But it can be great to know that you’re in good shape financially. And, if you monitor your spending, you can still have the discretionary expenses that mean the most to you. Life can still be sweet; you just have to work at it.
For more tips and budget tools, just follow the links on the next page.