6 Ways to Stretch Your Small Business Budget

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Sometimes it seems like you never run out of things to buy for your business. From the tiniest paper clip to the biggest digital display, there’s always something on the shopping list. You don’t want to do without, of course, but you also need to make every penny count.

Before you get stressed out, check out this advice for stretching your business budget just a little further:

1. Identify priority items: “Prioritize your business needs by identifying which supplies are critical to your business to operate and buy those first,” says James Bregenzer, owner of the Bregenzer Group in Chicago. “Those supplies that are not essential to your business operations should be purchased in time.” That means when you have more income at your disposal.

2. Track inventory: Buying stuff you already have is a waste of your hard-earned cash. That’s why Jennifer Martin, owner of Zest Business Consulting in San Francisco and Ojai, CA, recommends keeping all the office supplies in a single place, like a storage cabinet, and creating an inventory list that’s updated regularly. “For businesses that are incorporating a system for the first time, I suggest asking everyone to clean out their office and get rid of any supply or equipment they aren't actively using and bring it to a central spot,” she explains. “Then create an inventory with everything gathered to give the entire office a place to start.”

Action Item: Designate one person to be in charge of tracking and ordering, and establish one location for office supplies.

3. Stock up on store brands: There’s no need to spend money on brand-name products, says David Shaffer, project engineer with The Shaffer Group, an engineering design firm with offices in Ohio and Florida. “What’s most important is quality. If the store brand’s quality is equal to name-brand products, if not better, I buy it. I don’t have a big budget, so everything we use has to be a high level of quality.”

Action Item: Buy store brands from retailers who offer satisfaction guarantees.

4. Limit nice-to-haves: “When our office used to send out an email with 'what do you need' in the subject line, the employees thought of everything from purple pens to specific sticky notes,” recalls Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation in Calabasas, CA. “Everyone wanted something different and it ended up getting extremely expensive. We noted that these were wants or nice-to-haves rather than needs, and many items were duplicative and unnecessary. This pullback on the free-for-all ordering really saved us significantly on our supplies.”

5. Buy in bulk: Identify commodity items that are used a lot and have a good shelf life, like toilet paper or supplies for the breakroom, then buy more and save. “Buying in bulk does help, but it takes an extra bit of planning,” notes Jason Fisher, co-owner of South Carolina–based BestLifePlans. “It's like playing chess with having the right amount of inventory, keeping the expenditures aligned, and of course, not running out. But the price breaks tend to be worth it.”

Action Item: Track usage of these items and then make a note on your calendar to reorder before running out.

6. Look for coupons and deals: Sure, you already have 17 things on your to-do list, but taking a few minutes to check out deals and collect coupons can yield a good return on investment. “You don’t even have to clip coupons anymore,” explains Shaffer, the self-proclaimed King of Coupons. “You can just pull them up on your smartphone. And the more you use them, the more retailers send you — and they send better coupons for bigger discounts.” Check for price-match guarantees and find out if your trade association or local Chamber of Commerce features standing discounts with major retailers. And if you’re shopping online, keep your eyes peeled for online-only deals that save you even more.

Action Item: Sign up for deal-related emails and affinity programs at the retailers you use the most.

Of course, none of these tactics will matter if you don’t factor in value and quality. “Value is based on price relative to comparable products at the same quantity and of relatively the same quality,” says Franklin J. Rooks Jr., general counsel for WorkPRO Occupational and Employee Health inWilmington,DE. “Quality is durability and life span of the product, and whether it lasts as long as it’s intended to last.” These final considerations ensure you get the most from your dollar.

Following this advice keeps more cash in your account and puts less pressure on your budget. “Eliminating the stress and burden of debt will greatly increase the chances of creating a successful business,” Bregenzer concludes.

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