15 Ways To Save When Money Is Tight.

My husband, Brian, and I have never known a relationship apart from one or both of us enrolled in school. We were both still finishing up our undergraduate degrees when we were married in 2010, and now Brian is working to complete his Masters degree. Since that has been the case, we have each (at one point or another) had to hold flexible jobs that could work around a school schedule, meaning that hours at work were limited because of those darn things called classes.

Over the course of these years, we have made enough money to pay our bills, but there have been times of little to no excess beyond basic necessities. It has been through these years that we have learned to save money in certain areas, most often so that the same money can be put to use in more crucial areas. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are learning to steward and make wise decisions with our resources.

Every once in a while, Brian and I will talk about a day when we can live more “comfortably.” But then we are always brought back to the idea that comfort is so relative. God has provided for us every step of the way these past 4 years, and while at times we can feel a bit [a lot] anxious about our finances, He has truly lavished so many blessings on us. We do live comfortably, compared to the majority of the world, and we always try to guard our inherent desire for more, more, more. We know that without Christ as our center, we will never learn true contentedness.

Okay, enough of my ranting. I wanted to share a few practical tips for how we, personally, save money on a tight budget. Most of these are nothing new–people have been practicing them for decades. But it is simply a resource I would like to share with anyone who cares to read (listed in no particular order):

1. Skip cable and subscribe to Netflix.
This gets hard at times, I will admit. Especially when there is a live show on television that you are just itching to see. But, with saving at least $30 per month and learning a bit of delayed gratification, I’d say it is worth it.

2. Stock your freezer with meals on a weekly basis.
I started making freezer meals when we moved to Louisville about 2.5 years ago. But I didn’t do it in the typical sense of setting aside a full day to make 30 meals to stock my freezer–that never really appealed to me. Instead, I just choose 1-2 meals per week that are freezer friendly and I freeze the leftovers. (Usually, I don’t even have to double a recipe to do this, since most recipes feed 4-6 people.) Then, another 1-2 nights per week, we eat from the freezer. Therefore, we don’t have to buy groceries for dinners for those nights–plus they require little to no cooking on my part (score!). It’s just a continuous cycle of eating and restocking.

This step also implies that you’ll plan your meals for the week ahead of time–also a money saver. I use a great app on my phone called “Food Planner.” It allows me to input an approximate cost for each item, so I go into the store knowing how much I have allotted to spend on each thing and also how much “wiggle room” I have before we meet our maximum grocery budget for the week. I love it because if I stick within budget for all of my crucial items, I can use that extra “$5” left in my budget to purchase something I wouldn’t deem necessary.

3. Have a baby or toddler? Use cloth diapers.
I know this isn’t for everyone, but it has truly saved us a load of money (nearly $500 this year!). I wrote more about Levi’s cloth diapers and our process here.

4. Forget that you have a dishwasher–hand wash dishes.
I’m serious on this one. Our dishwasher runs for at least 2.5 hours per cycle–run it everyday and think of how much water and electricity you’re consuming. Now, I totally understand this isn’t feasible for everyone. Maybe if we had more than one child, I would think differently about it too. But at this stage in life, this is doable for us. We’ll still run it 1-2 times per month when we have company over or I’m feeling especially worn out, but usually I hand wash everything. Even if we are using more water in the long run, water is still way cheaper than electricity.

5. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or buy produce at a Farmer’s Market.
You can get fruits and veggies for considerably cheaper if you buy directly from the farmer and even more so through a CSA (where many families pay a share to support a specific farm). Just think about it–you are eliminating the upcharge that comes with buying from a grocery store altogether. During the Winter months, we definitely buy produce from the grocery store, but otherwise, we like to shop for seasonal produce at a market or have it provided through a CSA, adjusting our normal grocery budget based on how much we spent in these areas.

6. Buy less meat. And limit junk food.
Cooking a vegetarian meal once or twice a week is a great way to save money as well. We love our meat, but it sure does rack up the grocery bill when we buy it for every dinner that week. I’ve learned to make more bean and veggie based recipes. And we usually have a pasta night once per week as well.

Junk food (cookies, chips, sodas, etc.) is expensive! For that reason, and the fact that it has no nutritional value, we try to limit it as much as we can in our home. Both Brian and I really love sweets, so we do admit it is nice to have something sweet on hand at home when we get a craving. But we try not to overdo it! I may buy a “special” pack of cookies once per month (for us, this would be Oreos or Chips Ahoy, etc), but otherwise to satisfy our sweet “teeth” I’ll get animal crackers or vanilla wafers or another more inexpensive option one other time that same month.

7. Men, invest in a safety razor.
For Brian, a safety razor has been a fun and cost effective alternative to disposable razors. They are definitely more of an investment up front–usually about $50-60 for a beginning “kit”–but once that purchase is made, the savings begin. Most disposable razor blades cost about $2.50 each, whereas safety razor blades cost about $0.25 each. Brian has really been enjoying this old-school gadget and he always notes that the closeness of the shave on his face is unmatched by any disposable or electric razor yet.

Side note: that brush Brian uses is made out of hog hair. Whenever he shaves, he makes sure to always remind me of that little fact because he likes to get a reaction out of me. My husband’s face comes in contact with the hair that was on a disgusting, wild hog. Gag.

8. Make your coffee at home (or marry a professional barista).
We love going out for coffee–it has been our “thing” since before we were even married–but man, it adds up quick. We limit our coffee dates to once per week. Any other time we want coffee, we make it at home or Brian brings us a drink from work to split (a little perk of his employment).

9. Limit your meals out.
Of all of these practices, limiting our meals out is probably the hardest for us to stay disciplined in. We try to stick to our budgeted 3-4 dinners out per month (I look forward to that time out with Brian or as a family), but the restaurant styles we choose do vary from week to week. For example, we usually would not choose a place that requires a tip more than twice per month. Substantial tips can add up very quickly! The other 1-2 times per month, we intentionally choose a cheaper spot like Qdoba or Panera or the like. If we plan to only have three dinners out one month, the fourth week we’ll try to do a “date night in” where I’ll make a dinner that is more special than normal or have friends over that night.

10. Turn off the heat or A/C and utilize natural light.
Obviously, everything in moderation, but it helps to use your heat or A/C as little as possible, while still staying comfortable. We’ll bundle up while indoors in the Winter or use ceiling fans more during the Summer. This crazy long and harsh Winter we just had made this extremely challenging!

Also, since I am at home with Levi during the day, I try to limit our electricity use as well–which used to be the case when I worked outside of my home everyday. If it is bright enough outside, we can sometimes reach late afternoon before we even flip on a light switch.

11. Invest in Norwex cleaning products.
Norwex cleaning products are not only an effective way to sanitize your home, they only require water to do so! I have been using Norwex products almost exclusively to clean our home for nearly 2 years now. Literally, one $16 microfiber cloth and some water could be enough to clean everything you need–although they do have many other more specific products as well. We have saved so much money by eliminating our need to buy chemical cleaning products on a regular basis!

12. Shop consignment for some clothes. Or buy out of season.
I shop consignment (or accept gently used hand-me-downs) for most of Levi’s wardrobe and have saved tons of money doing so! My favorite consignment store in Louisville is Buttons, Bows, and Britches–they regularly have fantastic sales on top of already low prices. I mostly look for name-brand, unstained items to get the most bang for my buck. Recently, Levi was in need of some warm weather clothes and I was able to get him two complete outfits (shorts + shirt) plus four additional shirts for $13 on consignment. I’m quite the sucker for Target baby clothes, but I likely would have spent that much for one item had I bought it new.

Another thing we try to do, regarding shopping for the entire family, is to buy clothes out of season. Clearance racks are a great way to stock up on perfect items for the following year.

13. Skip “for-baby-only” snack items, when possible.
Unless we have a coupon (and we do get great coupons on occasion) or we are going on a trip, we do try to avoid buying “baby only” snacks (ie. Gerber yogurt melts, baby cookies, etc). Those things are crazy priced for the actual number of servings you get out of one bag. Instead, we buy snacks that we can all eat and enjoy–fruits of all kinds, goldfish or cheese crackers, mozzarella cheese sticks, applesauce or yogurt cups, or small(er) sized cookies. We did buy fruit puffs pretty regularly when Levi was first transitioning to solid snacks, but we usually just stuck with the store brand for those.

14. Stock up on hygiene items when they are on sale, or buy in bulk.
If I come across a good deal on shampoo, face wash, or toothpaste, I’ll often buy several to stock up. We’ll always use these items, so why not take advantage of the sale! [The trick is not to forget about the stocked-up items under the bathroom sink…and then proceed to buy more.] Buying in bulk at Sam’s or Costco is a great idea for these types of items as well.

15. Take advantage of free entertainment in your city. 
We have a ton of beautiful parks here in Louisville, a huge walking bridge, a major university that offers free admission to many sporting events, several free art museums, and even historic cemeteries to peruse. On days where we are looking for something to do as a family or with friends, we like to consider these options first! We don’t always choose one of them, but we can save money when we do. One of our favorite things to do as a family is to browse Barnes and Noble. Rarely do we ever buy anything, but both Brian and Levi love to look at books for hours–so it makes for a nice family outing!

Like I mentioned before, I am definitely not an expert in this area. And I’ll be the first to admit that some months we are more disciplined than others! But over the course of our married life, we have certainly learned some valuable lessons and tips on ways to steward and leverage our money. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope you found it helpful (all 6 of you that actually read my blog)!

I’d love to hear from you — what are some ways that you regularly save money?

Italian Easter Bread (Pane di Pasqua)


To celebrate Easter this year, I decided to make some traditional Italian Easter Bread (baby fingers not included). I wanted to deliver sweet treats to our neighbors and also invite them to Sojourn for our Easter service, but I also wanted to make a recipe with some significance. Growing up, we would eat Pane di Pasqua every year at Easter–not usually homemade (my mom wasn’t much of a baker), but I found the store-bought version to be just as tasty. Thank you, Publix. I will forever miss you.

I found a recipe online that I liked, but I wasn’t quite sure if I could use it, since I don’t have a stand-mixer with a dough hook attachment. So I called up my grandfather to double check. His response: “Ash, did your great-grandmother have a fancy mixer to make bread dough in the countryside of Italy?” Touche, Pepa, touche. Levi and I would go old-school and mix by hand. 

I tweaked the recipe just a bit, since traditional Pane di Pasqua usually includes a citrus flavor, as well as some anise. I didn’t have any anise on hand, so I used a splash of vanilla extract instead. I also chose to add some orange zest to my dough, to follow tradition.

Here is what you will need to make 6 individual loaves:

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1.25 cups scalded milk, cooled to room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • zest of one medium orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups flour (approximate)
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
  • 6 dyed Easter eggs
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • sprinkles
Tip: the Easter eggs do not need to be hard boiled. They cook when the bread bakes. Levi and I dyed the eggs right out of the fridge, without hardboiling them. 
 
Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, warm (not hot) milk, salt, butter, eggs, sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract. Add about half the flour and beat until smooth (either with a stand-mixer or by hand). Slowly add the remaining flour to form a stiff dough. Don’t worry about how much flour it ends up being, just keep adding until the dough is not sticky anymore.  Knead until smooth with either dough hook attachment or turn out on floured board. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2-3 hours (if you use Rapid Rise yeast, you can cut this time in half).

I also have to give some mad props to my great-grandmother, Angelina. Mixing dough by hand is not easy work–it requires some muscle. I couldn’t imagine having to do so multiple times per week for a family of 6.
The dough before resting. After rising, it nearly filled the bowl.
 
Once it has risen, punch the dough down and divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each piece to form a 1 inch thick rope about 14 inches long and, taking two pieces, twist to form a “braid”, pinching the ends and looping them into a circle.
(It might also be helpful to recruit a 16 month old to make a floury mess and taste test the raw dough.)
I doubled the recipe to make 12 loaves–enough to give to neighbors and friends. Worked great!
Place on a greased baking sheet or line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Cover and let rise until double, about 2 hours again. Brush each bread with beaten egg wash. In the middle of each bread ring, gently place an Easter egg. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden in color.
 
Meanwhile, combine 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar with 1/4 cup of water in a small saucepan. Heat on the stovetop until the sugar is melted and smooth. Once the loaves are removed from the oven, immediately drizzle the sugar mixture over the top and add the sprinkles. 
 
That’s it! Italian Easter Bread. 
Happy Easter, friends! May we never forget the living Christ who gives us reason to celebrate.

Levi: 16 Months

What a month, what a month! We have been hit with sickness after sickness all month long. First Levi brought us a nasty cold (turned sinus infection, for me) and then a stomach bug. Then he moved on to a bad vaccine reaction and molar related clinginess and crankiness. Oh, joy! Luckily, he is back to his normal happy-go-lucky self and he is definitely making up for the previous weeks. Here is a recap of his 15th month:

EATING
Milk drinking has stayed the same. I no longer warm his milk–he drinks it straight from the fridge.

This month, foods he tried for the first time:
Grapefruit (oddly, he loved it)
Italian Wedding Soup
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Smoothies (these have become a breakfast staple and they really help soothe his gums)
Thai Chicken Soup with Rice Noodles
Campbell’s Chicken and Stars Soup (this was just about the only thing he would eat when he was sick!)
Still-Frozen Waffles (a friend gave me this tip for teething–works like a charm)
String Mozzarella Cheese
Instant oatmeal (instead of baby oatmeal)

For a month that Levi had a very low appetite because of his sickness, he sure did try a wide variety of new foods! Once his stomach bug had run it’s course, he was back to wanting to eat for every meal, but he still was having trouble because his molars were paining him. Enter smoothies. Healthy, delicious, and who doesn’t want to drink out of a fancy Starbucks cup every morning?

Levi is also doing really well with using a fork. He is getting more methodical about actually stabbing the piece of food he has his eyes on–instead of just chucking his fork all over his tray and hoping he ends up with something on it.
SLEEPING
The time change this month definitely threw us all off for a couple of days, but Levi bounced back rather quickly. He has been sleeping from 7 PM – 7:45 AM, sometimes even 8 AM. It has been awesome! His meal times have shifted a bit, since he is waking later. I’ll note that below.
2-3 nights a week or two ago, Levi had some trouble sleeping. It was the days just before I figured out he had some molars coming in. But once we figured that out, I made sure to give him some Motrin just before bed and he was back to his sleepy self.
The past few days, he has had some trouble napping and has wanted to play or talk in his crib longer than normal. I’m watching for signs of his readiness to drop his first nap of the day. I’m not ready for that–but he is getting there, I think.
WAKE TIME
Of course, books are still high on the list of things that Levi adores! Also, he has gotten super attached to his blanket this month, even wanting it outside of his crib, which is a change. When he was sick, that was the one thing that could keep him calm (and snuggly). But, we’re trying to break him from that new formed habit and only let him have it during nighttime or nap time.
Another of his favorite activities is to stand on the couch and look out of our living room window. We live on a busy road, so there are always cars flying by or people outside. He loves to observe it all!

 

Since we had a few warmer days this month, we also were able to head to the park or play in our backyard. Levi has always loved to be outside. As a tiny baby, a walk outside was the cure to any screaming fit we couldn’t find the solution to. And it has been so fun to watch him outside now that he is more mobile and curious! He loves to play with sticks, dirt, trucks and balls outside–typical boy.

 

MOTOR SKILLS
We’ve been practicing with him more, but still no walking from Mr. Levi! Our prediction that he would be walking by 15 months is long gone. He is a bit more fond of walking when we help him now (which is big improvement), so we are at least happy about that.
COMMUNICATION
Levi  learned how to say “more” this month and he has perfected his pronunciation of “daddy”. He says daddy so well and often, yet he still refuses to work on “mama”. I’m not bitter or anything 😉
One thing that has majorly changed this month is his non-verbal communication, a.k.a. screaming and yelling. Oh boy! This seemed to really begin and coincide with the weeks he was sick–he would wake up feeling cruddy (or with puke all over him) and just make these frantic high-pitched screams until I went to get him (understandably so). But then, this trend continued even after his sickness had ended. It was like he realized his capability of shrill screaming and didn’t see a reason to stop. So now, instead of talking in his crib when he wakes from a nap or expressing his disapproval in a more subdued way, he resolves to screaming.
When he does that, we’ve been trying to make him look at us and sternly tell him no or we will give him a gentle pop on the hand, but nothing seems to be breaking him of the screaming. I don’t want to resort to excusing it because he is a toddler, but I think that has a lot to do with it. He certainly has strong opinions on things now (boy, he’s just like his daddy!), but he isn’t to the point yet where he can communicate with words. So, it’s just a phase we’re all going to have to work through together!

 

Another form of communication that Levi has mastered is kissing! He gives kisses on demand now (or just on his own), which is pretty much the best thing ever. He’ll even pucker his little lips. We’ve also taught him how to (gently) head-butt when we say “noggin”–he’s such a cool kid.
DIAPERING
Welp, my plan for nighttime diapering that I mentioned in my previous post worked for several weeks. But now, for some reason Levi went back to being wet most mornings. Even in a disposable diaper! A friend recently recommended hemp inserts to me, so I bought a few of those. He wore one last night for the first time and woke up completely dry–so I think we have finally found a solution!
TEETHING
Levi got two molars in this month, both of which have slightly broken through his gums. Total teeth count: 10.
SCHEDULE
I mentioned above that our schedule has recently changed a bit. Here’s a rough view of most days:
7:45 AM- Wake up, milk, breakfast
8:30 AM- Levi watches cartoons or plays while I get to work
9:00 AM- Nap (most days)
10:30 AM- Wake up, bath every other day, play
11:45 AM- Milk, lunch
12:30 PM- Nap
2:30 PM- Wake up, run errands or get together with friends
3:30 PM- Milk, snack
5:00 PM- Levi plays while I get dinner started (sometimes he will still want a 20-30 min nap during this time)
6:00 PM- Milk, dinner
6:30 PM- PJ’s and read a book
7:00 PM- Bedtime
OUTINGS/EVENTS
Levi had his 15th month well check this past month! He weighed 21 lbs (15th %) and was 31.5 inches long (55th %), so he is still pretty tall and lean for his age. Brian has been joking with me for a while that he couldn’t wait for the day that Levi was half of my height–well the day came when he was 15 months old. Levi got two shots at that appointment, one of which was his first MMR shot. About a week afterwards, he started running a 103* fever and developed a bad measles-like rash in reaction to it. Apparently, that only happens with 1 in 20 people, so our little guy is quite unique!
With some nice weather this month, we took our first family walk in 2014 across the Louisville pedestrian bridge. It was so great to enjoy the weather and the beautiful scenery again! This was the best picture we could get of our excursion:
We also celebrated Levi’s buddy, Seth, this month as he turned 1 year old! Cherish and I took the boys to the zoo recently and they seemed to have a nice time. Both of them are still a bit clueless about the animals, but they do love the time outside. We’re hoping those two stay buds for a while!

 

Lastly, I went out of town for 2 days towards the end of this month, to run a marathon booth in Lexington. That was the first time in a while that I have left Levi with anyone during the day, but he did really well! He played at the Fisher’s house the first day and at the Tweito’s the second day. Both said he was a happy guy, but he did have some trouble napping. I was really proud of him though!
If you made it this far down, you are a true friend! Thanks for reading about our little guy.