Because "Miscellaneous" accounts for all of the expenses not covered under the other main budget categories, it can eat up a large chunk of your budget, especially if you're not paying attention.
Here are a few things you can do to keep your miscellaneous expenses in check:
- To keep your health care costs low, stay active and physically fit. And you don't need to spend money at a gym to start your day with a few sit-ups and push-ups, followed by a walk or a run.
- Eat well. Good nutrition equals good health. And good health is great for the budget.
- If you smoke, stop. You'll not only save your cash, you'll save your lungs.
- Lose weight. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your grocery costs, your health care costs, and possibly even your health insurance!
- If you require medication, buy generic. According to the Food and Drug Administration, generic drugs are chemically identical to their brand-name counterparts.
- Take in a matinee. It's the exact same movie they show at 7 PM for a much lower price!
- Check your local newspaper for any free or low-cost concerts… enjoy a night out and support your community at the same time.
- Visit your local library. Libraries offer more than just books these days. You can also borrow CDs, DVDs, video games, and magazines.
- Go potluck for your next party. You can still have a great get together with friends at only a fraction of the cost.
- If you need a sports fix, try a minor league game. The action can get really exciting without costing an arm and a leg.
- Buy used… many communities have upscale consignment shops that sell gently worn garments. You are sure to find something stylish!
- Start a clothing exchange. Most people wear only 25% of the clothes in their closet on a regular basis, so call up some friends who are the same size and swap.
- Shop end of season or off season. A winter coat will cost you much less when the temperatures outside are soaring.
- Take care of your clothes to make them last longer. Read the labels and launder appropriately.
- Learn to sew. Fixing the wears and tears in your wardrobe is much less expensive than replacing it.
- Ask your employer for a more flexible schedule. Employers want to keep good employees, and many will accommodate your request as long as you can get your job done.
- Look for a caregiver who will watch your kids in exchange for cleaning services, room and board, or some other type of help. It's a win-win for the both of you.
- Hire a college student. Many students are looking for a way to earn some extra money, and they cost much less than daycare.
- Maximize your tax benefits. The IRS provides all sorts of tax breaks if you're raising children, such as a $1,000 tax credit for every child and a tax credit for the money you spend on daycare.
- Enlist your family. Relatives are often more than willing to help when you're in a bind, and they will probably enjoy spending time with their loved ones. Just make sure you don't take advantage.
Other Child-Related Expenses
- Carry your child's student ID at all times. Many businesses—food establishments, amusement parks—offer great discounted rates to students of all ages.
- Along with an allowance goes responsibility. Teach your child to budget and save, so you no longer have to buy your child everything he or she wants.
- If the ticket price of field trips is getting out of hand, suggest that your child's school do some fundraising to help defray the costs. If you have the time, offer to spearhead the effort yourself.
- Begin saving early for college and invest on a regular basis. It's always better to save now than borrow later.
- Introduce your child to the library. It costs nothing to get a library card and borrow books. And many libraries also have free community programs, such as movie nights and art activities.
- Buy food in bulk and keep in an airtight container.
- Buy good-quality food. Low-quality food generally has fewer nutrients and more preservatives, which can lead to frequent veterinarian visits. A healthy diet is important.
- Find a good veterinarian. Just like doctors, veterinarians charge different fees for services. Check around and find out what's most affordable. Ask if the vet waives fees for follow-up visits.
- Brush your animal's coat regularly, trim nails, clean ears, and practice good hygiene to reduce frequent trips to the groomer. If you do go to the groomer, a midweek visit can cost 20% lower than a weekend visit.
- Take a "staycation." Rather than traveling this year, hang out at home and cook something you've never tried before, read a good book, or just sit on the porch and relax… the choice is yours.
- Sleep under the stars. Skip the pricey hotel and go camping this year. If you don't have any camping gear, you can usually rent everything you need at a minimal cost.
- Bike, don't drive. Bike travel is a great way to see the country. And it costs nothing to power a bike (other than your muscles!).
- If you need to buy a plane ticket, do your shopping between Monday and Thursday, when airfare is lowest. Save even more by buying your ticket in advance (think 4 months).
- Become a "conscious" spender. This may be hard to do at first, but don't buy anything without asking yourself if it's something you need (versus something you want).
- Don't spend more than you have. This seems like an unnecessary tip, yet Americans spent more than $38 billion (yes, billion!) in overdraft fees in 2011.
- Keep receipts for everything you purchase. If you need to return something, you want to make sure you get the full refund.
- Visit annualcreditreport.com once a year to get a free copy of your credit report. Having a good credit score is of benefit if you ever want to buy a car, buy a home, or even get a cell phone.
- If you have a credit card, be careful. If you don't use your credit card wisely, you can quickly get deep in debt.
- Pay yourself first by putting a portion of your paycheck directly into the bank. This is the most effective way to save money. If you never see the money, you won't miss it.
- Your emergency fund should consist of at least 3–6 months of living expenses.