Sometimes even a good budget doesn’t balance out. What do you do when the budget doesn’t balance? There are two basic options: spend less, and earn more.

Spending less is, for most families, the easier of the two options. We are all familiar with the common tips for saving on variable expenses, but here are a few ideas just in case you need a reminder:

  1. Stop eating fast food. This is hard for a lot of LEOs, especially those that are on patrol, but investing in a good lunch box and heating up your meals at the office or a gas station IS a viable cost saving option, and will give you a greater variety and better access to healthy food choices.
  2. Don’t throw food away.  Eat your leftovers, make them into something new, or take them in your lunch box!
  3. No more buying coffee out. Come on. This is a no-brainer. Bring your own in a thermos, or drink what they have at the office. Some convenience stores will even offer LEOs in uniform free or discounted coffee and fountain drinks.
  4. Ask for a discount. Spending less money can be as simple as asking. Are you an LEO, veteran, student, teacher, or over 55? All of these groups qualify for discounts through lots of retailers, and they’re just waiting to be claimed.
  5. Stop buying stuff you don’t need. Seems simple, but a lot of people struggle with this! Learn to tell the difference between a NEED and a WANT. You NEED a place to live, food in your belly, and clean clothes. You may want, but do not NEED a mansion, gourmet food, designer clothes, or any number of toys, and neither do your children. Learn to tell your children NO or “only if you buy it yourself.” It can be hard to do, but it will teach them important lessons about value and work.

These are just SOME ideas. There are many, many more. Ask your friends, neighbors, and coworkers what they do to save money. You may be surprised at the creative and obvious answers, and be left wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

The harder place to save money for most families is fixed expenditures, like rent or mortgage, utilities, child care expenses, and loan or debt payments, but it can be done! Here’s how:

1. Rent or Mortgage. If you rent, when your lease is up, try shopping around for less-expensive housing. If you really love where you live, but prices have dropped, do your research and show it to your landlord, and ask for a rent adjustment! You may have to sign a new lease, but the savings could be worth it. Not an option? Ask your landlord if you can work off part of your rent payment through maintenance or trade-swaps. In my area, some apartment communities attract LEO residents by offering them a lower rental rate in exchange for security services like responding to resident disputes, dealing with noise complaints, and securing recreational areas at closing time. If you have a mortgage, look into refinancing. With rates at historic lows, you may be surprised how much you can save. Even some homeowners who are “upside down” may qualify for payment reductions or loan modifications; check with your lender to find out about your options.

2. Utilities. The common tip here is to use less energy, but saving money on utilities can go even further than that. Call your utility company and find out if you are getting the best rate that they offer. Some offer level payment plans based on past usage that may better help you budget, or may refund a deposit after a certain period of time if you were required to make one. If you are in an area where there are multiple companies – shop around!

For phone, internet, and television services, shopping around is key.  Your current company may reduce your rate to reflect a current promotional rate if you simply call and ask.  Dropping TV service all together has become a more and more popular options as well. My husband and I use Netflix and an antenna, and it truly covers most of what we want to watch. Other options are Apple TV, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Video, each being cheaper than a traditional television plan.

As for cell phone service, find out if your department has an agreement with a certain carrier to offer discounts, and take advantage of it! If they don’t, and your contract is up, shop around, or consider going to a month-to-month plan.  Straight Talk (available at Wal-Mart) offers unlimited talk, text, and web for as little as $45/month.

3. Insurance. I know it’s tempting to stay with an insurance company because you’ve had them forever, it’s your dad’s cousin’s brother-in-law, or you just don’t want the hassle, but shopping around really can save you tons of money, especially if you have multiple policies or it’s been a while since you’ve looked at switching. Don’t feel like calling around yourself? Consider a shopping service. I like Answer Financial (www.answerfinancial.com).

4. Child Care. Your child’s care is important, and LEO hours can make it even harder to find childcare that works with your schedule, but rest assured that you DO have options.  Check local daycares, child care centers, and preschools and find out their rates and hours. Find out if they offer discounts for multiple children. If you are a member of a church and they have a program, they may offer a membership discount as well. If you have more than one child in childcare, it may actually be cheaper to hire a nanny. This may seem counterintuitive, but because nannies come to your home, they have less overhead; no toys, building, or food costs, and are thus able to charge less for care of 2 or 3 children for less than a facility would charge. Nanny-sharing, where a nanny watches children from multiple families, is also a popular option right now. If you do decide to hire a nanny, however, you should consult an accountant since a nanny is considered a household employee and it will affect your taxes.

I am sure you all have great money saving ideas as well. Please feel free to share them in the comments below!

Kate is a military wife turned LEO wife, a former preschool teacher, and a Marketing student at McKendree University. Kate’s interests are blogging, reading, writing, personal finance, and social consciousness. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, their two cats, King Solomon and Millie, and their dog, Spartacus. View her personal blog at http://katestrophe.blogspot.com/, or contact her confidentially through the Law Enforcement Today website or at [email protected] Kate does not receive any form of compensation for any product or service mentioned in her articles.