Economy encourages some to find ways to save

From press and staff reports

With many Mississippians struggling to find the money to keep both the car and the family budget running smoothly, ways to save a few dollars can come in handy.

As many struggle to keep their head above water with regular monthly bills, it is hard to find any extra money to spend on non-essentials. The fact that consumer spending is down is letting you know that people are trying all types of ways to save money.

We asked people on the street what things do they do to save money in this economy. “I use coupons a lot, as well as changing to cheaper product brands, such as Great Value,” Rebecca Estes of Louisville said.

Others prefer to try to put money back. “If I am trying to get something specific, I will cut back on things, such as not going nowhere for the weekend or sacrificing things that are not necessary,” Sidney Ashmore of the Cuppa said. “I try to save by having money taken from my paycheck and have it go directly to my savings account,” Jamye McCray of Greenville said.

Then there are some people who still spend, but only spend a certain amount. “When I shop for clothes now, I try to shop off the clearance racks and I stay within a certain budget I have already set before going,” Ashley O’Bryant of Starkville said.

Even with all the ways you can try to save a few of your hard earned dollars, gas prices and car maintenance can never be avoided.

Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said conventional wisdom limits transportation spending to 15 percent of the family’s total budget. Last year, Americans spent more than 17 percent of their budgets on transportation.

“This includes your car payment, gas, oil changes, insurance and all vehicle expenses,” Shaffett said. “With gas prices near $3.50 a gallon, it can be very difficult for a middle-class person with a car note to meet that goal. For those with two notes, it’s almost impossible.”

Shaffett said housing should be 30 percent or less of the budget. When transportation is added in, nearly half the budget is spent before any money goes to food, consumer debt, utilities, clothing or charitable giving.

“It’s very difficult to maintain a budget when something like high fuel costs starts to encroach on your spending money,” Shaffett said.

Susan Cosgrove, area Extension family resource management agent in Newton County, said Mississippi feels the strain of increased gas costs more than any other state. “Families in Mississippi are the lowest paid in the country, and yet they spend the highest portion of their income on gas,” Cosgrove said.

She said Mississippians spend about 13 percent of their income on gas, compared to the national average of less than 8 percent. Few have public transportation options, so the rising fuel costs are hitting average Mississippians hard.

When filling up the gas tank leaves a lot less money for everything else, Cosgrove said it is important to separate needs from wants.

“Shelter and food needs should come first. Basic groceries are a need, but eating out every day is a want,” Cosgrove said. “Keeping a roof over the family’s head and meeting basic nutritional needs come first.”

Next up, the individual or family must find a way to get to work, and this may include gasoline purchases. While a second job may sound like the solution, it can mean additional fuel costs and child-care expenses. Avoid making unnecessary trips in the car by doing errands while already out for other business, and use a list to get food and other needed items in one outing.

“Evaluate your spending habits, and make flexible expenses such as entertainment or clothing the first cut,” Cosgrove said. “Some families may need to dip into savings to supplement a monthly budget in the short-run, but don’t make this a habit.”