Budget Ninja: 10 Ways to Effectively Cut Your Budget


Look, I am no financial expert.  My husband hasn’t worked at a for-profit organization since his teenage days in the Wal-Mart technology department.  He was a total stud, I wish I had known him then.

Recently I paid our mortgage 1 day late and .25 short to the tune of a $50 penalty.  And once we self reported to the IRS a mistake we caught, costing us around $17,000 in back taxes (including, ahem…a rather large penalty).  It would be safe to say that I’ve made many an institution wealthier from my financial mistakes.  But I’m going to go out on a limb and call myself a budget cutting expert.  Like, you know, a ninja.  Budget Ninja.

We have the unusual distinction of having had a steadily decreasing income over the course of our almost 12 years of marriage.  Thank you, thank you, it’s not easily done.  You won’t believe me, but it has been a good thing.  If there is one thing (and there’s not, there’s more) that I’ve learned from using my samurai sword on our budget, it’s that we can live on a lot less than I thought.  And if there is another thing that I’ve learned, it’s that my life can be richer when I’m poor.  Read more about that here.
So, you see, I’ve had time to come up with some solutions to our “money out” problems.  Maybe you wonder each month where all the money went and want to start telling it where to go for a change (thank you, Dave Ramsey). Or maybe you just want to start living more simply and start spending less, you have your reasons.  Or maybe you are like me and are in an if-I-don’t-do-something-now situation.  Here are some ways that you can make a real dent in your spending.  And get ready, these are not “make your own coffee” types of suggestions.
Budget Ninja

1.  Make your own coffee.  Right, I changed my mind. But here’s the thing, I just spent more than $4 on a beverage at Starbucks.  And while you are at it, you can mark those monthly cleaning products right off your grocery list by making your own.  This is a shift in mindset, really. Don’t buy what you can safely make yourself.
coffee, coffee press
2.  Get rid of your credit cards.  Don’t start talking to me about building your credit and about how you can’t reserve a hotel room and such.  You can and you can.  If there has been a month this past year when you have not paid your credit card bill in full, you can do without it.  Even if you pay every month, it is way too easy to unthinkingly use the magic rectangle.  You know this is true if you hold your breath while opening the bill.

3.  Sell a car.  Buy a bike.  Here is where you might feel the sacrifice if you are used to being sole owner and operator of your vehicle.  If you (or sig-other) live within 10 miles of work, or if either of you have flexible work schedules, this may be a viable option for you.  Think of it: built in exercise, one car maintenance bill, half the gas.  This would free up some pennies in a major way.  This may sound ridiculous to the uninitiated, but you can bike commute almost year round in Burlington with the proper gear.
bicycle, man, woman, bicyclists

4.  Stop eating out so much.  Just stop it!  I mean it, it’s not good.  Nice chat.

5.  Cook.  You don’t have to be Julia Child, um, I mean, Barefoot Contessa (what does that even mean??), to prepare someone else’s recipes.  On a personal note, this has been the white whale of budget cutting for me.  I have gone over budget consistently nearly every month of the last few years in groceries.  And not by a little, I’m talking double my budget sometimes. Raise the budget amount?  Yeah, OK. But I need that line to be smaller.  Let me tell you what works, and it has been the only thing that has worked in a major way.  A monthly menu plan and a day of cooking.  Consider taking a day each month to prepare meals for the entire month.  Throw them in the freezer and watch that budget fall in line.

Julia Child, fish
woman, parfaits
6.  No more car loans.  There is no reason to take out a car loan.  OK, there is no good reason to take out a car loan.  Fine, I’m uncomfortable being an absolutist.  There are very few good reasons for taking out a car loan.  I can’t even think of any.  Pay yourself the loan amount for a year (while riding your bike around), then buy a used car that is less than perfect but still just as reliable.  Then, if you must, keep paying yourself until you have the money to outright buy the car you really needwant (that’s a new word).

7. Switch to a prepaid cell phone.  This option is no longer only available to criminals and people with terrible credit.  More and more people are switching over to avoid lengthy contracts and paying for service they don’t use.  Apparently you can have all the usability with these babies while only paying for the service you use.  Mind blowing concept.

8.  Pare down on unessential services.  These will add up as a whole, even if the savings per month is small for each.  Do you use a cell phone?  Get rid of your land line.  Do you own a computer?  Cancel your cable.  You can watch so much for free online, or subscribe to a site like Hulu.com for about $8/month.  Is your gym attendance spotty?  Cancel it or join a no contract place like Snap Fitness so you can cancel without penalty when you become, well, “too busy” to work out.
9.  Downsize.  If you are spending more than a third of your income on housing, experts say, you are spending too much.  While downsizing may seem drastic, it could be a major boost to your savings goals, not to mention your peace of mind!

10.  Take a second look at your tax withholding.  If you regularly receive thousands in tax returns each year, you are missing an opportunity to invest!  Instead of letting the government hold onto your money for a year, adjust your tax withholding so that you receive (or pay) very little, try to break even.  This year when you receive your tax return, don’t touch it!  You have lived just fine without it this year anyway. Then, talk to your employer about adjusting your withholding, you will get a spike in take home pay. Don’t touch that either!  Add the extra monthly income to your investment or interest bearing savings account.

In light of all these do’s and don’ts, there is one important task that must precede all your budget cutting plans.  Spend some time thinking about the realistic lifestyle you wish to lead.  Your choices about where your money goes will be different than mine.  You may need that $4 latte twice  a week for the love of all things sane and good.  I may spend too much on special trash bags that perfectly fit my SimpleHuman trashcan to avoid angry, cursing outbursts at bag changing time.  Don’t judge. The point is, take special interest in where your money spends itself and then start telling it what to do.  You the boss man.

[typography font=”Delius Swash Caps” size=”18″ size_format=”px”]I would love to hear some things you have done to cut your budget![/typography]


  1. Interesting Title — Budge Ninja!
    Wow – great ideas plus you have applied all of them to your spending.
    Christin, you make many of your gifts and you watch your thermostat setting.
    Also, you have an emergency fund, raised your insurance deductibles and pay
    some extra on your mortgage. Then, too, you have so much family fun free with
    downtown Burlington events, hiking, picnics, swimming.
    What helps me a lot is to write down my spending — I keep a note card folded
    in my wallet and analyze it every month. This is visual, accurate and lets me know
    if I am in trouble sooner rather than later. I don’t like to dust — so I want fewer items
    around the house.
    Enjoyed your ideas & writing style.

  2. These are fantastic tips and really gets me thinking, thanks for sharing them and making it fun to read….PS i love my simplehuman trash bags but could probably do without my weekly *bucks:)


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