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Winner's Circle

August 2013

Sticking to a budget isn't always easy and can sometimes require creative thinking. Besides enrolling in a debt relief plan, what is the single most important thing you've done to help balance your budget?

The Winning Entry

"The single most important thing I have done to stay on track – I learned to say "no" to things that are not a necessity. Saying "no" in the form of cancelling cable/dish for the television, saying "no" to high priced coffee, saying "no" to any kind of emotional shopping (shopping due to stress, boredom, or even a pity party...e.g. I have scrimped so much I deserve...fill in the blank). So maybe saying "no" doesn't sound creative (like knitting Christmas gifts) but it is! Saying "no" is pretty darn creative in our society when we have been saturated with "yes" to credit & debt. "

Denise M., Charlotte, MI

Other Favorites

Notable Mention

"It’s so simple, but either keeping your receipts or writing down EVERYTHING you buy. My husband and asked the age-old question "where did our money go?" So we began to keep a log. The first month we were meticulous about it from gas to the occasional latte. Doing this allowed us to see where our money was going. We discovered that we were paying $20.00 a month in ATM surcharges, $350.00 in eating out, and another hundred or so on additional purchases at gas stations. We were able to see what we were spending on wants and not needs. It has significantly helped us with cutting down on our spending and use the leftover money to help pay down debt. "

Evelyn T., Thurmont, MD

"I make living within my budget a game - what can I do without spending a dime or spending as little as possible without feeling like I am sacrificing? Over the weekend I went to a museum to see a great photography exhibit because Saturdays in August are free. The only cost? The subway ride there and back. I find coupons to use for meal specials. For example a great local restaurant that is too expensive for me to eat at right now has a great $5.00 burger for Happy Hour! Voila - I can eat out without sacrificing my budget. I also only buy what I need right now and combine coupons whenever possible. I saved $20 at my local CVS over the weekend on necessities like shampoo."

Jennifer C., Rockville, MD

"I've totally downsized my life. I sold my big house and now rent an adorable cottage (saved $1200 per month). Then, of course, my electric bill was reduced (which saves another $150 per month). "

Barbara R., Saint Marys, GA

"I maintain an electronic checkbook on my computer (MoneyPlus) and keep it up to date in real time. I periodically check my balance with my bank online to make sure they both agree."

Willam T., Tampa, FL

"The most important thing we have done besides our debt relief plan was the refinancing of our home. At the lower monthly payment and lower rate we didn't lose any equity in our house but we were able to drop our mortgage payment several hundred dollars per month."

Joel L., Oak Lawn, IL

"Communication has to be the single most important thing we've done to help balance our budget. While compiling debt we were charging on our own credit cards and I was probably the guiltiest about not telling my husband what I was spending. He'd obviously find out when the statements came and it caused a lot of anxiety for both of us. Now we sit down together and discuss our needs and what we can spend once the bills are paid. We make a list and mark a calendar for when each item needs to be purchased. Communication has helped us in more ways than just budgeting. It has made our marriage healthier."

Debra C., Maricopa, AZ

"I ride my bicycle to work 3 times a week."

William G., Corpus Christi, TX

"Get outdoors! There are so many wonderful things to do outside for free and they are more fun than going to a movie or eating out! I've tried to get out of myself so that I am not as worried about my debt as I'm paying it all off through Care One!"

Matthew W., Boulder, CO

"Finding creative ways to make extra income has been very important for me. I work a part-time job during tax season - this is something that I really enjoy and allows me to set my own hours around my regular full-time employment. Speaking of my main job, I am salaried so there is no overtime available for my position. Other departments in our company do allow overtime. I was able to sign up with a different department for a special contract - I work a few extra hours a day and its easy extra pay. "

Amanda D., Canal Fulton, OH

"I go to the Senior Center for a hot lunch everyday and it only costs $1.50. So for dinner I only have to fix a salad with cheese/crackers or fruit salad. This saves me a lot of money and helps keep my budget on track. Also, we have access to a church run facility where we can get free bread, potatoes, onions, a sweet treat, and bagels or English muffins. This is a real blessing when you are on Social Security."

Patricia H., Henderson, NV

"I am now thrifting! In March of 2013 I started an at-home weight loss program and quit paying for the gym. I bought DVD's at the local used bookstore and downloaded a free app “couch to 5k”. I have lost 35 pounds and my husband has lost 50! Since our clothes no longer fit, and I had the urge to go on a shopping spree for new ones, I decided to check out my local thrift stores. I went on a day when everything is 50% off. I was able to but 4 pairs of name brand jeans and 5 sweaters for 20 bucks! This probably would of cost me hundreds at Macys. Plus my thrifting helped me outfit my daughter for school. She is at the age of wanting everything from trendy stores at the mall. I bring home clothes for her and she doesn't know the difference. I was able to get her a new fall wardrobe for 40 dollars. "

Kelly N., Columbus, OH

"I have cut my grocery bill in half by shopping at Aldis. With 5 children I had to cut grocery expenses. I get my 4 (my 15 month old cant clip yet but he will eventually:) children...two 10 year old girls and two 12 year old boys to help with cutting coupons. We do this once a week and it allows me to buy things that I can't get at Aldis especially since 2 of my children have Celiac disease. Gluten free items can be expensive and not always available. The kids know the less we spend on groceries, the more money we have to do fun things. It teaches them money management and cooperation because the girls clip and the boys look at dates and sort. We do something fun after our clipping is done. "

Renoo H., Swannanoa, NC

"I have 3 teenagers so money is always tight. Especially at back to school time. This back to school season I was looking for some real savings. I did my homework and found that by utilizing websites like retailmenot.com, I could find discounts at almost all of the stores where we shopped...and it was all at my fingertips with a mobile app on my phone. I found that I could check for discounts at each store as we were in the store shopping so we did not have to hit only the stores we had researched or go to several store websites. In addition to saving you money I have found that websites like these also save you lots of time. "

Stacey R., Jefferson City, MO