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?