For the first time since I quit my job, we are not dipping into savings to pay our bills this month. That's right - we are UNDER BUDGET! To mark this unprecedented occasion, I thought I would share the ways my family has saved money lately.
Refinanced Our Home
We refi'ed the balance due on our home from a 30-year, 4.something% mortgage to a 15-year, 3.something % mortgage, cutting our payments by YEARS, our overall payments by a lot, and our monthly payment from right at $1,000 to right under $600. (Can you tell my husband is the budget person? He is actually a budget analyst by trade, so while I work hard at saving money, he mostly tracks it and does the finances. Of course, I have access to everything and he gives me regular reports.)
Approximate Savings: $300/month
Got Rid of Cable and Netflix DVDS
We bought an antenna and do subscribe to Netflix downloads. For now, we really haven't missed cable. I *thought* I would, but apparently PBS has it's own little Food Network knockoff. I also check out DVDs and books on CD for the boys from the library. I write library due dates in my planner so I never pay late fees. I check out e-books from myself and magazines from the library, too.
Approximate Savings: $88/month
Cheaper Phone Plan
When my old contract ran out, we cut the budget by going with a pre-pay cell service. I do have a smart phone (last generation galaxy), but pay only $50 a month for unlimited everything.
Approximate Savings: $25/month
Instead of running out of gas unexpectedly (and therefore praying to make it to the newest gas station and filling up at $0.15 to $0.20 more a gallon - you KNOW you've done that!), I now fill up twice a week (so I never run out) on my way to carpool at the cheapest station in town.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my chemical engineering friends are all PANIC! FREAK OUT! YOUR CAR WILL EXPLODE! I think the are overreacting. I'm still alive and so is my car.
So far. ;)
Approximate Savings: $30-40/month
I am driving to school to drop the kids off anyway, so I substitute teach at the school a few days each month. It's not consistent money (mostly because I am not always available to teach), but it helps.
Approximate Earnings: $50/month (when you average over the course of a year)
Buying Gifts on Clearance in Advance
Used to be that when the kids got a party invitation (at least once a month), I ran out and bought a gift. And at Christmas? I bought gifts for the nieces and nephews on the fly. But I now watch the clearance and end caps at Target, year round, and pick up gifts that go on clearance. I only buy stuff that my own kids would like, but I find it easy find a $15 or $20 gift for $5 or less. I have a special place where I put the gifts and when an invitation comes up, I shop there for gifts. I also reuse gift bags and buy wrapping paper and tissue paper after holidays on clearance. I have a special place for those items, too. And no more birthday cards. I write To:, From:, and Happy Birthday directly on the package. (Classy, right?)
Approximate Savings: $20/month
Whenever I make a dish that can be frozen, I double or triple it and freeze much of it in individual or family sized servings. Of course, the price of the dish doubles or triples, but it has saved us from eating out at least once a week. When I am pressed for time, I just grab something from the freezer. Instant meal! I keep an inventory of what is in the freezer at all times, so it's just like looking at a menu (especially as it is divided between prepared meals and raw foods).
Approximate Savings: $80/month (assuming a $10 price for the freezer meal, which is probably a high estimate, and a $30 weekly meal out, which is probably a low estimate)
I plan a weekly menu. I don't always follow it, but it ensures that I don't overbuy or under buy food for the week.
First, I cross out days when we won't be eating at home.
Then, I check on which meats, fruits, and veggies will need to be used immediately. Sour cream about to expire? Probably eating Mexican this week! A half pound of carrots? Roasted veggies. Potatoes about to grow eyes? Mashed potatoes.
I also look at the sale papers for my grocery store. If ground meat or chicken is on sale this week, I will probably stock up, but I will generally go ahead and make a chili or chinese crockpot chicken, too.
On days when I won't have time to cook, we plan to defrost freezer meals. Some weeks, there are few sales and that is a good time to defrost meats that are in the freezer and cook them.
If I run out of ideas, I look through old menus or recipes that I've pinned or bookmarked.
Approximate Savings: $100/month (at least)
I keep my couponing simple. Four sites get checked for printed coupons one a week and on the first of each month (when they reset). I only print coupons for items that I actually buy. I have a coupon folder (see my last post!) and match coupons to my list before I go to the store. Things that get regular coupons (toothpaste, toilet paper, cereal) ONLY get bought when there is a sale and a coupon, or when a really high value coupon is about to expire.
Approximate Savings: $40/month (at least)
Sign Up for Rewards
In my case, I signed up for Target's Pharmacy Rewards. I get a 5% off one day of shopping gift card for every 5 prescriptions filled.
Approximate Savings: $15/month (at least)
Stockpile Sale Items
I don't stockpile more than can fit in my freezer or my pantry, but if ground beef goes on sale, you can bet I am buying double or triple what I need. When broth/stock goes on sale, I buy a few month's worth because it is an expensive item that we use all the time. (Frankly, make your own broth. It's cheaper and tastier. My husband and I just have a thing about bones. A thing, I tell you! Shush.)
Approximate Savings: $50/month (maybe higher?)
Make a Grocery List
My list starts during the week, when we list any basics that we are running low on. I add those as we come close to running out and have trained the family that if they don't do the same, they will live without milk all week. I am serious. You. will. not. drink. milk. Period. (The aforementioned broth-because-we-have-a-problem-no-thanks-therapy-won't-help is an example of a basic. :/ ) I add any items with an expiring high value coupon. (Remember, I only clip coupons for things we use. But I do throw away some, if it's a low value coupon and the item never went on sale.) I add any items on sale (and usually include them in the menu) and make sure that I attach any coupons that I have for them. That's about it.
Approximate Savings: $40/month (probably way higher, but already included some of this stuff above)
Meat on Clearance
I do deviate from the menu and grocery list if I find an excellent deal. In fact, I find at least on meat package marked $3 off each week. This is how we get variety and not just cheap hamburgers and chicken. In the past few weeks, I've found shrimp and pork chops, and I buy almost all our stew and fajita meat this way. I'm not sure it saves, exactly, as we generally would have settled for a cheaper meat, but it keeps us from eating out for variety.
Finally, we track our spending based on last year's expenditures. Again, I can't quantify the savings, but it makes us stick to our plans, because we know exactly how much is left to spend. I like to track on paper (just personal preference), so I round up to the nearest round number.
If you've been doing the math, this is about an 800 savings per month, minimum (or almost 10,000 per year) just by taking some simple, organized steps.