Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ways We Save Money

Since leaving my job in November, our family has been on a much tighter budget. We really never spent frivolously before (I've always been cheap thrifty cost-conscious), but we bought what we wanted when we wanted within reason. Now, we count every penny and track our spending very carefully. Most of my money-saving techniques below are probably really obvious and many will seem insignificant, but once you start totaling up all the tiny amounts, they add up to big savings.

Meal Planning
Admittedly, we used to waste a lot of food. Entire loaves of bread, spoiled yogurt, moldy strawberries - all thrown away. Now, I meal plan in great detail and monitor our pantry/fridge so that we use everything. Once a week, I plan out all of our meals for the next 7 days - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If I anticipate a recipe resulting in leftovers, I make sure to include the leftovers in my plan so that they aren't wasted. To make my planning easier, I maintain a list of options for each meal category to pick and choose from. I also have a grocery list template in excel with all of our usual purchases, and I add/remove items as necessary. I try to only make one trip a week to the grocery store, because with each additional visit, I seem to grab something extra that wasn't on the list.

Generic Brands
I am ever so grateful that we live in Central Texas, in the land of H-E-B. Their store brand is awesome and we use it for almost everything. We even use the extremely affordable Hill Country Fare brand for a lot of our food purchases. It definitely takes some trial and error... not all products are created equal when it comes to store brands. There are some things I just can't give up, such as Oreos. But for many others, such as shredded cheese, I can't tell a difference between generic vs. pricey brands.

I use coupon apps like the HEB app and Cartwheel for Target. Neither of these are super quick to use... you have to peruse row after row of deals to find coupons you'll use. But once a week before I grocery shop, I skip my nightly facebook scrolling and search for coupons. I'm definitely a believer in only using a coupon if it's something you were already planning to purchase. And just because I choose a coupon, I might not always use it. $1 off of a pricey brand is often still more expensive than the store brand, so I always do a comparison check before I put something in my cart. This reminds me, I always pay attention to the "price per unit" on grocery store price labels. It's an easy way to compare prices between brands when, for example, the ounces in each product are different. More on that here.

Frozen Veggies
I try to strike a good balance between fresh and frozen vegetables. We always have fresh produce during the week, but we also eat a fair amount of frozen veggies. In my opinion, frozen veggies often taste similar to fresh veggies. Fruit, not so much. We sometimes use frozen fruit for smoothies, but I just can't bring myself to eat it plain. Frozen vegetables are a good option for us because we can buy in bulk to save money, and not worry about produce spoiling before we can eat it. There are lots of studies that show frozen veggies are just as nutritious (or maybe more so?) than fresh veggies. Our usuals are broccoli, peas, asparagus, and mixed veggies.

Reusable K-Cups
We were guilty as charged for our contributions to the K-Cup trash disaster. Now, we use these refillable K-Cups. It saves us money and is better for the environment.

We don't eat out
Like, ever. Well, ok ok, we've gone out for dinner once in January and once in February. My parents have treated us a few times, and we used a gift certificate once too. But in general, I cook dinner every night, Thomas takes his lunch every day, and Maddie and I eat our meals at home. Most of our favorite dinners cost less than $10 to make and result in leftovers. Plus, I know exactly what is going into our meals so we're making healthier choices too.

Target Redcard
Ok enough about food! Occasionally, we shop at Target. As much as I LOVE Target, I try to limit our trips there. Inevitably, I will find some cute pillow/dress/mug/picture frame/bird figurine that lands in my cart and forget the real reason I even went in. BUT, I do love that I save 5% and get free shipping using my Redcard! You can set it up just like a debit card... no fees, no interest, no hidden tricks.

Major House Decluttering
I've been working really hard to declutter our house. In the process, we tossed a lot, donated a lot more, and even sold a few items. We made some money at Plato's Closet, and plan to itemize our taxes this year so we'll get a big deduction for our charitable contributions. It had been a while since Tom or I had cleaned out our closets... and we donated more than $500(!?!) in clothing. Not an immediate saving, but one we'll appreciate down the road. Plus, it just feels good to give.

Affordable Clothing
If you don't already follow @whowaitwalmart on Instagram, you should. Turns out, Walmart really has some cute clothes and house decor! Their kids clothing and shoes are especially reasonable. Alternatively, I buy our clothes online at Old Navy and The Children's Place when they have big sales. I receive emails about their specials and wait to make any purchases until they're on sale. Truthfully, I don't think I've bought any clothing at full price since like... 2005.

Free Entertainment
We spend a lot of time at the library and neighborhood parks. We go for a family walk most evenings and dance in the living room a lot. We're also lucky to live in a very active neighborhood with great [free!] activities and events. We check out DVDs from the library or movies using Amazon Video. I follow several groups on facebook, such as Free Fun in Austin, that share free local events. Through them, I've learned about some really neat things - kids concerts, petting zoos, puppet show, festivals etc.

Overall, what I'm finding is that sure, extra income did make our lives a little easier in some ways, but it's absolutely possible to be a happy family on a budget. If only I had made some of these small changes years ago... I cringe to think about all the savings we could have in the bank right now! Live and learn, right?

Do you have any money-saving tricks to share??

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