Four years ago my husband and I went from D.I.N.K.’s (double income, no kids) to a single-income family when I decided to leave my well-paying legal job to stay home with our son. While we had planned ahead for this decision and ultimately made it knowing we could afford to live on one salary, it was a bit of a shock to our budget when my paychecks finally stopped coming.
If saving money is on your list of New Year’s Resolutions this year, here are a few ideas to save you some money this year:
Couponing: I know what you are thinking. Who has time for couponing? And I totally understand. Couponing can be time consuming, but once you adopt a system and implement it, the benefits can be great. You WILL save money if you coupon regularly and really will only take a small amount of effort to make it worth your time. Start by compiling your coupons — start saving the weekly inserts (Smart Source, Red Plum, General Mills, P&G) from the newspaper and asking your family, friends, co-workers for their copies too if they aren’t using them. This is where it really makes couponing worth it. If you find an amazing deal on Cheerios and have five coupons (instead of 1), it makes your deal even better and more worth your time. I like to write the date on the front of the coupon inserts and keep them in order with the most recent on top. This makes finding coupons a bit easier. You will also find many coupons online. If you buy a particular product from a company you can even contact the manufacturer and ask them to send you coupons. Many will do this without question (I have done this for many of my expensive, gluten-free items).
There are many strategies for organizing your shopping trips and saving the most money. If you are interested in learning more and kicking your couponing skills in to high gear, check out these great resources: krazycouponlady.com (check out the beginners section and be sure you follow them on FB to stay up to date with deals) and www.moneysavingmom.com.
Get Organized: Saving money doesn’t have to be hard but it does take some organization to do it right. How many times have you received a coupon in the mail ValuPack or spotted one in a magazine or newspaper that you made a mental note to rip out but by the time you go to use it you have no idea where you put it? That used to happen to me all the time until I implemented an organizational system for keeping track of coupons. Here’s what I think works best. Grab a small notebook with some pockets that will fit easily into your purse or diaper bag. Keep it handy and with you each time you go out. When you see a store coupon, product coupon, or restaurant coupon, grab your notebook and file it away immediately. Mine has various pockets – one for each store I regularly shop such as HyVee and Target. When I receive a printed coupon from a store (called a Catalina) I quickly file it away in the appropriate pocket so I can locate it later when I need it. The back of my notebook contains “miscellaneous” pockets and I use one to organize store coupons (such as Bed Bath and Beyond, JoAnn) and the other for restaurant coupons. Every few weeks I flip through the binder and toss any expired coupons. I use the last pocket in the binder for receipts just to keep everything handy.
There are many ways to go about organizing your coupons but the point is this: find one that works for you and stick with it.
Meal Planning: Meal planning takes a little bit of upfront preparation and work but the payoff is huge – not only financially but for your sanity as well. How many times have you found yourself scrambling to get dinner for your family, so you end up picking something up at the last minute? Eating out costs more, plain and simple. You will undoubtedly spend more money on that meal than you otherwise would with some preparation. So how does meal planning work? I find it helpful to sit with the sale ads on Wednesday morning (when the grocery store ones come out) and come up with a few meals based around the sale items. You can even come up with a few Pinterest boards organized by various ingredients to help you stay organized and easily come up with some ideas (for example – a board with chicken recipes so when chicken goes on sale, you can consult with this board to easily come up with your plan). For a great post on meal planning tips, check this out.
Freezer Cooking: Similar to the previous point, freezer cooking will save you tons of money AND time. In a nutshell, you basically spend a day or so each month preparing several meals to help you get through the month. Similar to meal planning, this will prevent last minute purchases that cost you extra money and will even save you some peace of mind on busy nights figure out what’s for dinner. One of my favorite go-to freezer meals is BBQ meatballs. When ground beef or ground turkey go on sale, I will literally make several dozen meatballs and freeze them for busy nights. I pull them out of the freezer, dump some BBQ sauce on them and bake them. A super easy meal that takes the guess work out of dinner. A few resources I love to help me come up with freezer cooking meals and menus are: 5dollardinners.com and www.moneysavingmom.com.
Find Free (or Cheap) Stuff: As my kids get older, it gets more expensive to take them out to eat and for activities. So I constantly work to find fun things to do for cheap or even free. For example, in the summer everyone loves a good ice cream outing now and then. But ice cream these days can get expensive with a family of four! I love that Culver’s has various $1 specials ($1 waffle cones, $1 sundaes) throughout the summer and it is an extremely affordable way to take the kids out for a treat without spending $15 or $20 on ice cream! Madison is also full with amazing free activities to do with the kiddos (such as Kids Build Wisconsin) that make it super easy to take the family out without spending a ton of money. Always be on the lookout for opportunities for free family fun!
Figure out Other Ways to Save: About seven years ago my husband and I decided to experiment with having me cut his hair. It cost him approximately $20 each time he had his haircut and he need to go approximately every 5 weeks. So we purchased a $20 haircut kit from Walmart and the rest is history. I’ve been cutting it ever since. What do I know about cutting hair? Absolutely nothing, but I watched many YouTube videos and learned as I went. We estimate an annual savings of at least $200/year just on his haircuts and I now cut our four year old and two year olds hair as well (they have only received a professional cut once or twice each). Again, I just YouTube videos on how to cut hair and learn as I go.
Garage Sales and Consignment Shops: While garaging sale-ing isn’t for everyone, I love it. Each Spring and Summer I love heading out on Saturday mornings to find the best garage sales. I have found amazing deals on cloths, books, even brand new toys I stash away for Christmas. I try to forecast the size the kids will be in for the next season and buy ahead the best I can too. I do this with end-of-season clearance in stores as well. For example, last January I found a winter coat on clearance for $10 so I bought one size up in the hopes it would fit my son this year. It was a pretty great feeling knowing that I already had brand new coat for him when winter hit this year and that it only cost me $10!
Stock Up: When things that you regularly use go on sale or you find an exceptional deal, stock up! Why buy one package of toilet paper that is on sale when you know you will use more than that? Buy a few. Same goes with diapers, shampoo, anything you use regularly. I always find that when I accidentally run out of something that I did not stock up on, I almost always overpay because the urgency of buying the item trumps the need to shop around for the best price. Planning ahead helps minimize these types of splurge purchases that cost you more in the long run.
Negotiate: It may be the lawyer in me but I have always been very cognizant of the bills we receive and pay and have absolutely no qualms about questioning unclear charges or asking questions when things don’t add up. Make sure you are regularly checking your credit card statements. Mistakes happen and happen a lot. I also am very prudent in evaluating our medical bills and will frequently ask for clarification on charges I don’t understand. The same goes for expenses such as cable and internet. A few years ago, while my family still resided in New York, we became frustrated as our cable bill continued to rise. It seemed like each month the bill was growing. I called and questioned the company about the increases and was able to negotiate nearly $40 off the bill each month! It didn’t even take much pushing on my part to get this reduction, just an honest and genuine concern for the increasing prices and that we may need to think of alternatives because of the rising prices. That simple call ended up saving us a pretty substantial amount of money each month.
These are just a few of the strategies my family uses to save money. We would love to hear any other money-saving tips you have!