Oh, the many ways to save a buck. When you have very little money to spend, you learn real quick how to save a few pennies here and there. I'm still learning, but I think I've about hit the bottom of the spending barrel. I was born a cheapskate, but after several years of hanging around spenders I learned how to relax and have fun. Too much fun. So, after moving across country to be with my mom during chemo and then my husband taking a much lower paying job in our new location, we have learned to economize (along with everyone else in this shifting economy). It's not as fun as the spending days, but I'm always up to a good challenge. I'm sure the following ten ideas are not new to most people, but it's nice to have a refresher course now and then.
The Ten Ways:
1. STAY HOME
The easiest way to save money is to not spend it in the first place. You can read many article about how to save fifty percent on purchases, but what they don't address is whether you actually need the item or not. Many purchases are are just impulse buys of the moment. But it's on sale! By staying home, you avoid all the temptations set out to part you from your money.
For me, the biggest savings comes from the gas tank. I live about 30 miles from town and each trip costs me $8 just for the gas. Adding the cost of fuel to the price of the items I'm running to town to buy gives the true cost of the purchase. I try to take the kids on their errands after church on Sundays and I do all my grocery shopping and errands on Wednesdays after work. There will be other trips during the week to 4H or grandmas, but these are much closer to home and are limited. Plan your errand day to get the most mileage for your money.
When you stay home for days at a stretch, you begin to get into a groove of domestic bliss. Okay, maybe not bliss, but you do seem to settle down from the hectic frenzy of running the roads. I find that more cooking, baking and other projects get done. Dinner is fabulous vs. boring. Curtains get made instead of bought. The house is clean and I stop thinking it needs a remodel! The budget is current and no late fees or bounced checks surprise me. The chickens get fed and we continue to get eggs.
2. PLAN AHEAD
Planning ahead runs a close second to staying home. More money is spent on convenience than you think. Forgot your lunch at home? Now you spend $5-7 at the cafeteria. Tonight is your husband's birthday? A bakery cake and card alone will set you back $20.
First and foremost, make a budget and stick to it. Planning ahead for annual or quarterly costs, as well as monthly costs really helps. Knowing ahead of time that there are potholes in your road will help you navigate around them. The kids will need their teeth cleaned and gym shoes. The car will need it's oil changed. The propane tank will need to be filled and Christmas still comes every year.
Sit down with a calendar and list all the important birthdays and holidays in your life. Plan ahead and buy on sale or make appropriate cards and gifts. Also, if you have kids, begin to plan their birthday parties several months in advance. You can pick up party favors and decorations on clearance, or make them yourself. When my kids were younger we had so much fun making pinatas and cakes.
A monthly or even weekly menu is the only way to go. I'll talk more about that in the food section, but just wanted to mention it here. Dinner items picked up at the grocery store on the way home will cost much more than if purchased ahead of time on sale.
Not too many kids can wear the same pair of shoes or pants forever. We know they are going to outgrow them or wear holes in them, it's just a matter of when. There is never a sale on tennis shoes the day you have to have a new pair. Pick up an extra package of socks at 50% off and stash them away until your washing machine has eaten most of the others. I love going to Kohl's and getting clearance items for a few bucks, even if I have to wait several months to get to the right season to wear them.
We haven't been on a vacation in a few years, but our family was quite the travelling circus for many years. The price difference between hotels, car rentals and air plane tickets is amazing, so shop around. Don't forget to look into B&B's. Sometimes they can be quite reasonable. You can go online and find out anything these days. Check out things to do along your path of travel or in the city of your destination. Buy an entertainment book for any area you will be spending much time exploring. Our family is kind of educationally minded, so we bought a annual family membership to the Pacific Science center which not only got us many delightful trips to that hot spot, but it also got us in free to other places like the Rocky Mountain Museum (our favorite) in Montana and the St. Paul Science Center.
Do you know how much you spend each month on food. Once you have a good ball park figure, set a goal to lower it each month. Here are some ways to do that.
Make a price comparison book. Not all sales are equal. After many months of frugal shopping, you will laugh at the tricks people fall for in the stores. Many of the bright yellow sale tags hanging on the shelves will have the exact same amount as the regular price under it. Cereal stacked up at the end of the aisle for $2.75 is not a deal. Next week, it will be 2/$4. Know your prices. Start with the 10 items you most frequently buy and learn the prices. There are many great ways to keep track, but your own system will work best for you.
When an item has hit it's all-time low, stock up. Buy enough to last a couple of months. Buy in bulk at a warehouse club, if you know it is the best deal. I keep 25lbs of sugar, flour and rice on hand. Never again will I pay $2 for 4lbs of sugar. Plus, keeping a stock of commonly used items on hand will keep you from having to make another trip to the store.
Make a menu plan. Start with a weekly plan and work up to a monthly plan. I have a six week plan with a corresponding grocery list. This is a loose plan. I like the freedom to cook whatever I'm in the mood for or have the time to make. The plan helps me more with the shopping aspect. If I know what I'll be needing over the next six weeks, I can pick up whatever is on sale each week. Most sales tend to repeat themselves every 6-8 weeks. Knowing I always have the ingredients on hand for several different meal choices is very freeing.
Cooking from scratch saves so much. Set a goal to learn to make something from scratch each week. Foods you can try are yogurt, granola, breakfast foods, breads, desserts, pot pies, cinnamon rolls, dips, french fries, and pizza. Some of our favorite homemade items are pizza, bagels, dinner rolls, french fries and smoothies. There are great online helps like Supercooks recipe search engine that allow you to search for recipes according to what ingredients you have to work with.
Slowly cut back on the amount of meat in your dishes, convenience foods in your freezer or used for lunches, and canned or bottled drinks.
Grow a garden. Start simple and learn what grows well in your area. If you have lots of space, grow vegetables that you use the most. We like to grow lots of potatoes and tomatoes. I use a lot of cabbage, broccoli, onions and peppers when I cook. I can save quite a bit when I have a large harvest. Grow cilantro in a pot and make your own salsa. Canning and freezing will get you through the winter until the garden is producing again. Last year, I made and canned spaghetti sauce, salsa and diced tomatoes. I also canned lots of jam and, for fun, strawberry lemonade. I frozen green peas for pot pies and soup. Gardening is work, but great fun and very rewarding.
My family and I live way out in the country, but even in town there is little to do. We end up having to entertain each other. Maybe that is why we have all of these animals around here!
We are big readers in this house, so the library keeps us well supplied in books. It is also a wonderful source of movies and audio books. Anything you would like to learn to do or make has a book written to instruct you. Ask the librarian to help you find one.
Most major cities have lots of museums and most of these have a free day each month. Check them out. When we lived in Seattle, we would go to the Living History Museum and the Glass Museum on their free day. See if there is a theatre where you can preview a play or work as a greeter in exchange for a ticket.
Invite friends or family over for dinner or dessert and play games or watch a movie. Make it a project party where everyone pitches in to help hang Christmas lights or build a chicken coop. All you need to do is provide good food and the project supplies.
Share the cost of fun with friends. Buy sports equipment, camping gear, or a row boat together and take alternate weeks to use it. Rent a big condo where you can all go skiing together and only have to pay for half to rental cost. Invite the girls over for stamping cards or scrapbooking and have them bring items to share or swap.
I really dislike paying these bills every month. To save on electricity I try to use the oven for several items at once or in a row. I keep cookie dough in the frig and after dinner comes out of the oven a batch of cookies goes in. In the winter I try to boil items on top of our wood stove. It works nicely as long as you don't boil over!
Try hang drying your clothes when you can. I like to start them in the dryer for a few minutes to soften them up before they go on hangers in the mud room. You can wash your clothes in cold water if you dare. I only use hot water for the dirtiest.
If you have to option at all, using a wood stove to heat your house is a big savings. Especially if you can get the wood free by cutting it yourself. We saved about $1200 on propane last winter and will do so again this year. Try closing off doors of rooms you don't use so you are paying to heat or cool them. There is so much written on ways to save on heating and cooling, I won't even try to do it here.
Shop around for propane/gas prices. Get to know your propane guy and ask him what the price trends for your area are. Find out if your electric company has peak and low time price differences. In some places they will come install a special meter that allows you to save by using the majority of your power in the non-peak times.
6. PHONE/CELL PHONE
Every location has different options when it comes to phones. Where we live there is very little cell phone reception. We decided for the little use we get out of a cell phone we could make do with a trac-phone. I pay about $20 every three months for minutes. It's mostly for my kids to get ahold of me if I'm in town. If you have great reception in your area, you can have your regular home phone turned off and just use the cell phone. Phone companies know how to get your money though. Here, in order to get Internet service, you have to have a phone line. By the time you pay for a phone line and Internet service, it's cheaper to get the package deal which in includes unlimited long distance. This is one expense I've been trying to figure out how to reduce for quite awhile. It seems to be all or nothing for us. If you live in the city, competition will keep prices down, but in the small town areas, there's usually just one choice.
7. COMPARE PRICES
Last week, my daughter wanted to buy a book she saw in a horse catalog. It was listed for $16.95 plus shipping. Of course, my first suggestion was to check the library. They didn't have it. Next, we tried paperbackswap.com to see if it was available. No luck. So, our last stop was amazon.com where we found it for $6 plus shipping. That saved my daughter $7 just for the trouble of a few minutes of comparison shopping.
Check around on-line and see what the average price seems to be. Look at ebay and amazon. Try sites like mysimon or retail-me-not. Don't for get craigslist and freecycle.
For food, like I said before, make a price book.
Read the sales fliers and check out the classifieds.
Why pay someone else to do what you can do yourself. All it takes is a little practice and learning. After a few attempts, you will wonder why you ever thought it was so hard.
Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about what you can do yourself:
Change the oil and filters on your car
Cook your meals from scratch
Chop your wood
Paint your walls or attempt small remodels
Sew things like PJ's or curtains and mend your clothes
Make your own coffee and treats
Do your cleaning yourself
Prune your trees and shrubs and cut your grass
Cut your kids hair (I cut my husband's hair too)
Here are some swapping ideas to mull over:
SwapaDVD.com or paperbackswap.com are great places to swap books and movies
Freecycle and Craiglist are great websites to find many things you need
Gardening and other foods (our neighbors swap sheep cheese, berries and garden greens for our eggs and chicken)
Kids clothes and toys
Coupons - Online swap sites like afullcup.com or with friends
Time and Talents
Have a garage sale. You can let your trash become someone else's treasure.
Save yogurt or sour cream containers for planting seeds.
Use scrap wood to make raised garden beds, for kindling or to make a sidewalk by screwing old garden hoses to the backs of short scrap 2x4's set close together.
Use clothes napkins.
Use old photo doubles to make gifts by cutting out small circles and taping them back to back with a tea bag tag between them. Put them back in the tea box and wrap.
Reuse paper by printing on the back side for things like recipes and rough drafts.
Wash and reuse zip top bags and foil.
I hope you've gotten at least one good idea from my list. Please post some of your ideas. I love learning something new. Especially if it saves me money.