How to be broke like a real person. Budgeting tips you can actually use.

(SKC’s wonderful friend and contributor, Brenna Jennings, posted this fantastic budgeting article on her blog, www.suburbansnapshots.com, the other day and offered to share her thoughts here. Thanks Brenna!)

How to be Broke like a Real Person

During the sixty-five eternities it seemed like we had no money, it seemed like no one else had money either. Every news show and morning magazine offered their own ‘expert’ tips on surviving tough times, with helpful advice like, “Make sure you save at least two months worth of expenses in a back up account.” and “Take the yacht on local jaunts instead of Mediterranean cruises.”

Instead of a list of ideas you’ve already been doing (cutting back on cable, turning off unused lights, putting your thermostat on a timer), here are some things I did to stretch our money without resorting to extreme couponing, because fine, maybe all that food in your basement was free, but how much barbecue sauce does one family need?

1. Modify your mortgage. The process was long, frustrating, often redundant, and it knocked our credit down, but in the end it’s been worth it. Our monthly payment was reduced by five-hundred dollars when it was all finally over.

2. Barter when you can. I offered my photo or web design skills for perks like landscaping, painting and even a personal chef. Not entirely necessary, but good for networking and the perks made us feel less broke.

3. Know Your Neighbors. We didn’t go out much, but if we felt like hitting up happy hour for three-dollar beers, we’d exchange a couple hours here or there with neighbors. We also did dinner swaps: one night at their place, one night at ours. We’d cook big, cheap meals like spaghetti and meatballs and have our guests bring a bottle of wine. It’s a great way to socialize mid-week and save money on food.

4. Don’t fear the dent rack. Market Basket has day-old bread racks, manager’s special meats and produce, and the dented box and can rack. Shop these, freeze the bread, use the veggies quickly, cook the meat (or freeze it) right away, and don’t be afraid of the Pop Tarts in the banged up box.

5. Eat out for less. Being on a budget doesn’t mean ramen every night. Sometimes you still won’t want to cook, and you don’t have to risk overdrawing your account to have a good meal out.

Subscribe to local coupon services like Limelight Deals, Living Social and Seacoast Deals. Buy coupons to places you’ll likely spend money anyway for those nights when you’re just too tired to wash another dish.

Follow local restaurants on Facebook to see who’s having what specials when. Robert’s in Kittery has Community Dinner on Tuesday and $8 burger night on Wednesday. 106 Kitchen has fried chicken night, the 99 has cheap wings on Thursdays. Kids eat free all over the Seacoast, so watch for those flyers. Also, check out SKC’s Restaurant section for discount and Kids Eat Free nights!

6. Resell, regift and buy used. About once a month we’d turn over Anna’s baby stuff and clean out the basement and garage. I’d pluck things I thought I could sell on Craigslist or Ebay and make a few extra bucks that way. (If you’re with the IRS, of course I paid taxes on that income.)

When I needed to fill in seasonal wardrobe gaps or wanted to get Anna a special little treat, I’d visit Savers, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Children’s Orchard instead of buying new.

At Christmas and birthdays when your kid is getting more presents than he’ll ever use, put aside what he won’t notice and save those spares to re-gift at friends’ parties.

8. Eat your damned leftovers. I hate wasted food in general, and when things are tight I hate it ten times as much. Knowing Steve doesn’t love leftovers, I’d re-heat and plate them for him so he wouldn’t have the chance to raid the fridge, ignoring the three servings of last night’s dinner staring him in the face.

9. Get out of the house on the cheap. We have an amazing library with all kinds of free programs and a huge selection of books. While my husband was out of work he’d spend chilly afternoons there with Anna bumping into neighborhood friends and hunting down books about ballet.

On rainy days I’d spend a dollar for coffee and use the McDonald’s indoor Playspace for hours. Germophobes and people who aren’t comfortable telling some stranger’s feral kid to stop biting should skip this piece of advice.

Of course, always check out SeacoastKidsCalendar for free local happenings.

10. Treat yourself. Being broke sucks. It puts stress on everyone. So now and then, use some money you shouldn’t be using to go out to dinner without a coupon. Go walk around the mall sipping a nine-dollar coffee, get a manicure, buy new music. Try to think about things besides your bank accounts.

Even when things start picking up again, you’ll find these tips become good habits you don’t want to give up.

Have more money saving ideas? Leave them in the comments.

About the author: Brenna Jennings is an experienced photographer living in Portsmouth with her husband, three spoiled dogs and three-year-old daughter. Visit her blog at www.suburbansnapshots.com for advice and musings on parenting by surprise.

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