We all want to have a better year than we did previously. The areas that can usually be considerably improved upon are usually our budgeting, management of our spending, and where we look for attractive bargains.

To save money, we need to take a multilayer approach to looking for opportunities to cut back, trim costs and be economical. Here are a few of the best ways to do so.

Budgeting for Success

With budgeting, it is important to know what your actual expenses are to ensure the budget is realistic. We often believe that we know what we spend in different categories only discovering later that we were not clear on our expenses at all.

To get a better handle on our budget, you should keep a record of every expense over a period of one month. This includes all credit card receipts, debit card receipts, electronic payments, and cash payments. The cash payments are a little bit more tricky to monitor; these require the diligence to ask for a receipt for every purchase, jot the purchase down in a small notebook or enter it into a finance app on our smartphone.

Armed with a snapshot of what you spend in a typical month, have a think about those one-off or occasional expenses like the quarterly utility bill, the car servicing, and other items that don’t crop up often but make a financial dent when they do.

Now create a budget for your monthly income and expenses. For infrequent expenses, you may want to apportion these on a monthly basis by saving up part of the cost every month to spread the expense out evenly making larger bills easier to manage.

Personal finance websites can help with the budgeting process like Personal Capital, You Need a Budget (YNAB), and Mint.com. Many financial budgeting software has web-based access and mobile apps that let you keep track of all income and expenses throughout the month.

When Are The Sales Being Held?

Different industries run sales at different times of the year. The big box stores use their own schedule for periodical store-wide sales across the country, but smaller stores run sales infrequently so you’ll need to stay vigilant. You can also look at various retailer websites online to check whether they are running a seasonal sale and sign-up for their free newsletter that will notify you about upcoming sales events.

When looking for specific items, think about when other people are less likely to buy those types of items and look to purchase at that time. This may coincide with the sales being offered, but quite often certain items will be discounted because they’re coming to the end of the season when the retailer is trying to clear their remaining stock and is willing to heavily discount certain lines to do so. For example, look to buy a new winter coat in April, not September, to find that money saving bargain on a coat that will last several winter seasons.

Find a Discount Coupon for Online Shopping

Before heading over to your favorite online retailer to find your next purchase, think about discount coupons to save serious dollars. It is easy to look for coupons by category with Frugaa which lets you search by category, retailer, or your shopping budget, and the site will find the best deals for you.

The Frugaa website has over 40,000 active coupons at any given time with many expiring each day and being replaced with new offers. The coupons cover many of the most popular shopping categories including baby and kids, beauty, clothes, computing, party supplies, health, shoes, sporting goods, travel, and vision.

Cut Car Expenses with Carpooling Apps

Whilst we all love our cars, you have to admit that frequent trips guzzle gasoline and put additional wear on our vehicles. Carpooling has recently gone social with apps on smartphones that can help to link up drivers and passengers a little like Uber but with costs being shared.

  • Carpool Kids is an iPhone app that lets parents (and friends without kids) arrange for shared rides around town. These can be one-off trips or regularly scheduled ones with everyone sharing the cost of fuel.
  • Hitch A Ride is a social ridesharing app that lets co-workers, Facebook friends, and other people organize car pooling to save money.
  • Carma Car Pool is another way to travel with this Uber-style service that lets users share rides for a fee; the service receives a 15% cut for acting as the intermediary. With apps already available for Android and iPhone, and an expanding city footprint, this service may soon rival hiring an Uber on your own.

Zero-based Budgeting

Zero-based budgeting is an interesting method for controlling the spending which relies on giving every dollar a name. YNAB, which was mentioned earlier, operates with a similar approach to financial management, which is proving successful for their users. Whether you’re spending on the home, picking up last-minute groceries, paying off a debt or saving for a rainy day, it all gets allocated within the budget to leave a zero balance.

Any changes to the spending plan require an adjustment to the allocations for different types of expenses. Need to shrink down the food budget to increase the clothing allocation for a new suit for the interview? Just move the numbers around whilst ensuring that every dollar still gets a job to do.

Even popular finance radio host Dave Ramsey recommends zero-based budgeting as a way to stay organized. It is a modification of the envelope system that Ramsey has recommended for over a decade. One of the major benefits of using the Zero-based system is that savings get their own category. This ensures that savings won’t be left to the end of the month using the few dollars that are left unspent.

Managing your budget is all about having a good plan to begin with (know your spending), organizing your spending (stick to the budget), being smart about sales (know what items to buy and when), and getting the best discounts (use online coupons to save). We wish you the best of luck in 2016!