Monday, January 26, 2009

How to cut costs in your personal budget at work

You’ve heard the spiel before - we’re in a recession, your 401(k) is losing money, companies are laying off workers left and right, and we’re all worried about it.

Instead of worrying about everything you have no control over, concern yourself with the parts of your life that you can do something about - starting with how you choose to spend your money.

When you factor in coffee, lunch and all those snacks out of the vending machine, the office has a way of taking more cash out of our wallets than we’d like. Controlling your personal spending habits at work is a great way to start cutting costs in your personal budget.

In a recent New York Times Q & A, author Eilene Zimmerman shared some great ideas for slicing your own budget at the office. Here are a few of the best:

  • Leave the plastic at home. Leaving credit cards at home helps you to curb impulsive spending. Determine how much money you can afford to spend at work each week and put that amount of cash in an envelope. If that’s all the money you have to spend, you’ll think twice about your lunch order.

  • Brown bag it. Cut down on food costs and improve your health by bringing lunch from home. A survey conducted in October by ConAgra Foods found that workers spend an average of $6.60 a day on lunch. By bringing food from home, even two or three times a week, can help you cut down on food costs.

  • Skip the vending machines. For the cost of a few items out of the vending machine you could afford to buy an entire box of snacks from the grocery store. Get a few co-workers together and set up a snack pool. Each person donates snacks like granola bars or pretzels to share with the group and keep your stash of snacks in a central location in the office.

  • Brew your own. “If you skip the twice-daily coffee your can save $30 a week. That’s $120 a month and about $1,500 a year.” Pick up a French press (usually less than $20) and brew your own great cup of coffee whenever you want, for a fraction of the cost of a store-bought latte.

  • Take a look at your health benefits. Talk with human resources to ensure you’re making the right benefits enrollment decisions. Starting a flexible spending account would allow you to use pretax income for out-of-pocket medical and health expenses. Using pretax income will give you about a 25% savings and reduces your taxable income.

We’d like to add one more to the list - just say no to bottled water. Not only does it help you go green at work, it could help you save a lot of money. Americans spent more money last year on bottled water ($15 billion) than they did on iPods or movie tickets. Buying a reusable water bottle will help you stop wasting money and reduce your carbon footprint.

Saving money at work comes down to making conscious decisions on the little things you buy everyday. Give yourself strict limits, stick to them, and you’ll be saving money in no time.

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