The winter season can bring an overwhelming sense of excitement. It can also bring an overwhelming sense of financial stress. Between the holiday festivities, gifts, and delicious meals, it’s easy to lose track of our spending. Add in higher utility bills, longer grocery lists, and winter car maintenance and the expenses can add up.
By the time we begin to realize the impact of our winter budgeting mishaps, it’s January or later and the bills are piling up. However, wintertime doesn’t have to break the bank. I’ve set four winter spending myths straight to help you stay on top of your finances and put a freeze on your winter spending.
Myth #1: There’s no way I can save money on my utility bills during winter.
One of the biggest budget destroyers during the colder months is the dreaded winter heating bill. Many people simply accept the high heating costs or believe they can’t afford energy-efficient products to help lower their heating bill – that’s a myth. Here are some energy-efficient and cost-effective ways to proactively tackle your winter utility bills:
- Check your home’s energy efficiency. Many provinces offer free efficiency programs for eligible homeowners to help reduce energy consumption and costs. If eligible, your home will be assessed by professionals and energy-efficient upgrades will be recommended to you at a discounted cost or no cost at all.
- If you rent or are ineligible for an efficiency program, upgrading weather stripping, installing draft stoppers on your doors, and insulating outlets are a few ways to get the most out of your heat at little cost to you.
- Try your best to be proactive and estimate how much you will spend on utilities over the course of the year and set the estimated monthly amount aside in a savings account. This savings will be huge relief when receiving a large utility bill as you will have some if not all already set aside.
- Call your utility company to see if they offer budgeting programs that allow you to make a consistent monthly payment instead of one lump sum.
Myth #2: It’s impossible to not overspend on groceries during the wintertime.
Between celebrating the holidays, stocking up for winter storms and “hibernating” inside with our favourite snacks, it’s easy to lose control of how much we spend on groceries during the winter months. It’s even common for some households to spend as much on groceries as they do on rent or their mortgage.
Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to preventing overspending on food, the old mainstays really do work. Shop for items that are on sale, use coupons, buy specific items in bulk, plan meals, and limit eating out. You can also have a specific bank account to set aside your grocery money.
Another way to get on top of your grocery spending is to use technology to bridge the gap. You can quickly shop sales using apps like Flipp that house all your local flyers in one convenient spot, make grocery lists for you on the go and even search for specialty items. Reverse coupon apps like Checkout 51 and Caddle can also bank coupons of items you buy and reimburse you.
If you struggle with impulse spending, having a prepared grocery list that you order online for pick up can also help limit those “toss it in the cart” moments and keep you on budget.
Myth #3: There’s no way to predict winter expenses.
Tires, winter clothing, heating costs, gifts, and holiday treats are just some of the expenses the winter season brings. Even though we can expect these expenses every year it can still feel like they appear out of nowhere. Although we’re starting to sound like a broken record here, preparation is key when navigating unexpected expenses.
When it comes to saving, I tell all my clients that small amounts have big impacts. If you’re able to put away $10 a month, that’s an extra $120 a year to cover any unplanned expenses. If you’re able to set aside more – even better!
Once you’ve determined how much you can put away, the real challenge is figuring out how to keep it there. Knowing your spending personality can help. If you struggle with impulse spending, keep your savings separate from your main chequing account by setting up a separate savings account. You can even have the bank set restrictions on the account like only being able to withdraw funds from an ATM or in-app, to prevent easy access.
The real goal is finding a strategy that both motivates you to save and keeps you organized so when “unexpected” winter expenses arise, you’ll have some or all of the money to cover the costs and won’t need to rely on credit.
Myth #4: I tried budgeting before and failed. I can’t do it again.
Last but certainly not least, one of the most important parts of any budget is to remember to be kind to yourself. Not only can the winter months be challenging, but the overwhelming costs that can also pop up are stressful and discouraging. But much like going to the gym, a strong and effective budget takes time before you start to really see the results. Part of the growing process is trial and error, so don’t worry if plans don’t go off without a hitch.
If you feel overwhelmed even at the idea of making a budget and sticking to it, there are many budgeting resources online and through non-profit organizations that can help get you started. There isn’t one perfect way to budget, so do your research and find the type that works best for your personality and lifestyle.
If you have already established your budget but continuously fall “off the wagon,” this usually means that something needs to be adjusted. A budget isn’t a one-and-done type scenario, so, reflect often and focus on the small changes that have big impacts.
Also, remember to pat yourself on the back for every achievement, not just the big ones, and if you’re able to leave space in your budget to treat yourself – do it!
If you have questions about budgeting or are worried about making ends meet this winter, call us for a free, no-obligation consultation. We can help sort through your expenses and make a plan to pay down your debt. Call us toll-free at 1-844-4GT-DEBT or book your consultation online.