Around here we like to keep it simple and we are starting with the basics (ABCs and 123s) with our little one. We are attempting to teach her how to follow instructions of the most basic sort. Trust me, we are starting SIMPLE!
But don’t we crave simplicity, even as adults? I am one of those list making, instructions following people who prefer an ordered way of doing things. But it is often overwhelming to know how to begin to save money in the home. I mean, we have to buy things and we have to use them, so the dollars can just seem to fly by, while we live life. Thus I thought it might be helpful to have a series on saving money that follows the ABCs. Over the next 26 posts, you will find a tip for saving money in your home that is related to a letter of the alphabet. We are going to keep it simple and practical.
I hope to start a dialogue with you, readers regarding the simple ways to save money. Please feel free to comment on my techniques and offer simple solutions you use in your home. I look forward to hearing from you!
Where to begin in saving money? Let’s start with A:
Accept the limits of your budget, your time, and your talents.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had limitless everything? If we had all the money we could ever need…all the time…all the ability? Well, since God’s power is shown in our weakness, we are often lacking in one, if not all of these categories. Thus, we need to accept this and use it as a way to glorify God’s strength in our failings.
Where our money is limited, we need to limit ourselves. The temptation to just charge it when we know that we don’t have it to pay will lead us down a path of destruction called debt. You can avoid this trap by accepting the limits of your income and working within your means to meet the needs of your family. There are many ways to do this, but they all start with a written budget. You have to look at ON PAPER what you have coming in and going out. This helps you to realize what you are earning might not allow you to go out to dinner 4 nights a week (not even to Taco Bell!). This helps you to see how to meet your family’s basic needs and then, when there is room, meet their wants and desires. Once you see on paper how your basic needs (food and shelter) are being met, it can be an encouragement not to worry about the other things so much (after all aren’t they just added blessings?)
After you have your budget, another way to accept your limits may be to do an envelope system or a cash only system. It is really hard to spend money you don’t have if you don’t use a credit card at all. And when the money is gone, it is really gone.
When our time is limited, we need to use it wisely. I know for me, I can get all wrapped up in clipping coupons to save money and work on endless deal scenarios for the grocery and drug store. I also love to map out my meal plan for the week (I used to do it by the month), spending hours deciding what savory morsels my family will enjoy. But, let’s be real: not everybody has the time to clip every coupon, seek out every deal, and plan and prepare every meal like a gourmand.
Accept these limits on your time and allow others to help you with the work. Consider a meal planning service or find a friend to help you with your errands while she is out on her errands. Check out the deals/saving sites (like Money Saving Mom) that help you to find the best deals of the week at your local grocery and drug stores. And choose wisely what is worth the time it takes to do. Sure, you may be able to get the best deal out there, but if it requires you to run an errand when it is just not feasible, you might have to let it go.
When our abilities are limited, we need to let someone else do it. So often I have found that I want to do more than my abilities will allow. I would love to feed my family only homemade bread and sew curtains for my baby’s room that look like I got them at Pottery Barn. I would also love to learn how to knit, crochet, be the best gardener on the block, grow my own vegetables and can them for the winter, all while making only homemade gifts from the kitchen to give to friends and staying in fabulous shape. But these desires are just not compatible with my abilities. Additionally, I would likely spend way more money trying to “get it right” and failing than I would if I had just accepted my limited talents and gotten help elsewhere. Sometimes (and around here, most times) store bought is good enough. Also getting help from a talented friend or paying a professional to do it is worth the money you would spend.
The concept that you are only saving money when you are not spending money is one that I struggle with; but as I look at where my time and my talents and my pocketbook fall short, I begin to understand that getting value for your expenditures (money, time, and talent) is where the real savings are.
How has learning your limits helped you to save in your home?
Today’s tip is sponsored by the letter B! Buy in bulk
The concept of having a small store of food and supplies is not lost on the entire saving community, but sometimes it can be a little bit overwhelming for those who are just starting out in the savings game. “What do I buy?” How much?” And, “When do I buy?” These are the questions we ask ourselves as we seek to follow others in the saving game. And the answers to these questions vary from family to family but here are a few guidelines for Buying in Bulk:
1. Locate the bulkbins in your local health food store and buy small quantities of things you only need for a recipe or two. This would be an example where buying in bulk means not coming home with a gallon of oil or a vat of flour (a la Costco). Instead you may need a quantity of an item as small as 1/4 of a cup. Why buy the entire container when you only need a little bit? Put a little in a bag and bring it home from the bulk bin and save yourself money and shelf space in your pantry. This is also helpful when you want to try out an item, but you are not sure you will like it. I had never used bran in a recipe before, but I had a recipe that called for a little bit of it. Instead of buying a big bag of bran that would sit on a shelf and rot if I didn’t like the recipe, I got a LITTLE bit at the bulk bin and used it in the recipe. It cost me very little out of pocket and I didn’t have a bunch left over.
2. Buy in bulk when you know you will use the item a LOT and it is a great deal. After watching the sales for a little while, you will notice the prices of many of the items you buy each time you go to the grocery or drug store run on a cycle. If you buy at the bottom of the price cycle, you can stock up at the best time and have the items on hand for everyday use. This way you can get as much as you estimate you need until the cycle hits the bottom again, when you can stock up again. Be aware of shelf life of items, some have built in sell by dates that are hard and fast for a reason, but some only have sell by dates so that they can move merchandise off the shelves and get you to buy again sooner.
3. Set aside a space to keep your bulk buys and limit yourself to this space only. We don’t have cable, but I cannot tell you how many of my friends told me about the show on TLC about extreme couponing where people buy ridiculous amounts of food and toilet items and keep them wherever they can stash them. Not to judge what they do, because every situation is different, but there is a difference between hoarding and having a little extra on hand for a rainy day. Earlier this year, I set up a storage section in our garage for our bulk buys on hand and I have found that seeing it everyday as I leave the house reminds me not to bring home more than I can fit right there. I can also see, at a glance, what we are running low on and what we really need. This picture reminds me I need to get in there and reorganize it!
4. Beware the Costco pricing. Some items you can get at Costco (and the like) are a great bargain. I went there today and got some butter, eggs, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, pita chips and Cheez-its (our family loves these and goes through them WAY TOO FAST!!). We are having a party for our daughter this weekend and I needed a large quantity of some of these things. But right next to all these reasonably priced bulk items are other items that are sized way too large and are too expensive per unit. Always look at theper unit price and compare it with what you could get it for at the regular grocer (with or without a coupon). Often you will find that your grocery store has a better price per unit than the vat vendors. Another consideration at the checkout lane: Will I use all x pounds of this before it goes bad? If the answer is no, you are wasting money and shelf space.
So, it is share time now: What are your best bulk buying tips? Where do you stash all that stuff? Do tell!
If you are new to this series, you can check out the first post in the series here.
What do I mean when I say count the cost? Well, it involves a number of things beyond simple price comparison. It involves considering the worth of a desired thing. It involves contemplating how your budget will be affected by it and planning accordingly. Counting the cost forces you to ask yourself: “Do I really need this item?
Yes, I know it is really easy to look at the price tags on something and get discouraged or encouraged to buy, based on price alone. There is a temptation to buy things that are cheap and forgo things that are more expensive. But we have to ask ourselves, when trying to save money, “Is it worth it?” The cost to replace the cheaper item that breaks after a couple of uses WILL be greater than it would have cost if you had just bought the more durable, pricier option – even if you have to go without it while you are saving up for the item.
We went to the store just yesterday looking for a set of clippers for my husband and found a large selection of pretty much the exact same item. The only large differences were the prices. After looking for a little while and narrowing down the options to two (same brand, same type), we looked at the back of the boxes at the features and found that the one that was TWICE as much (that we had a coupon for) had ONE extra feature, but everything else was the same. We went for the cheaper option because the one extra feature was something we did not need.
Another example of this is purchasing household appliances. We received a number of the “cheaper” household appliances as wedding gifts (because that is what we registered for) that didn’t make it past our first year of marriage. If we had gotten the more durable options (not necessarily more expensive, but more durable), we would likely not have had to replace them so soon. After our first blender broke (after, I kid you not, 10 uses), we splurged and got a top of the line model that is AH-mazing! We definitely learned the lesson that cheaper in the short run does not always equal frugal in the long run.
But counting the costalso involves something we don’t like in this society very much: delayed gratification. The waiting game is nearly obsolete in our instant access society. The concept of saving up and considering the cost of an item a long time before purchasing it is lost on much of our society. In fact, when my husband and I first got married, we ended up putting a lot of items on credit cards through the big box stores in order to get the items we thought we needed and couldn’t wait for. It took us some years of paying payments to realize that we could have just saved up the money and paid cash…what a concept!! Currently, we are saving up for a new refrigerator that would have been very easy over the last few years to have gone and purchased on credit (I mean, isn’t that what zero percent interest was invented for?). But we would have had to count the cost over and over (courtesy of a monthly payment) rather than enjoying the item we saved up for to pay cash.
Now, I will be the first to tell you that waiting to purchase is NO fun! My husband has the research and waiting game down to an art form, while it seems the Lord just might be working patience into my life through long waits. But what is fun is when you finally get to the finish line, you have confidence in your purchase and you can take it home without worrying if someone is going to come take it back someday. I have also seen the Lord work His timing and provision in even the smallest of purchases. We have often gotten a much better deal by waiting to purchase. And if you are like me, some of the joy of using an item is knowing how great a deal you got on it!
Counting the costalso helps you to sort your desires from your needs. An item may pass the worth test and sit through the waiting game, but it still may be something you don’t actually need. In fact, the very reason the desired thing made it through the waiting game may be because it really wouldn’t get much use around your household. If you have never made homemade bread before, you likely would not make it much more if you had a breadmaker.
Questions to ask yourself when determining your needs and wants are basic: Would I really use this? How often would this get use? What need does this meet in my life? Does this fit into my lifestyle?
The answers to these questions may lead you to alternate solutions to your perceived problem. For example, you may realize that the sewing machine you have your heart set on may not get enough use to justify purchasing it. Thus, you might find a friend who loves to sew and ask her to borrow her sewing machine for the projects you have in mind. Alternately, that breadmaker you have in mind might have to wait until you actually learn how to make bread the old-fashioned way.
Counting the cost will not only save your pocketbook, it will free your conscience from those regrets from impulse purchases and help keep your home clear of unwanted clutter. Have you seen the positive results of counting the cost around your home?
If you were to ask almost all savings mavens what the top three savings tips they could give to others, I can almost guarantee, they would say planning is one of them. Without a plan, the store can be a wallet waiting to be emptied. And the retailers mean for it to be this way. They pay people lots of money to figure out how to get more of yours. Everything from the colors on the walls to the music playing overhead is part of a great big conspiracy to get your hard earned cash.
So, how do you fight this enemy? Planning.
If you want to save money you will dedicate the time. If I were to hire you to save me money and I told you I was going to pay you $10/hour, you might be a little more apt to want to do it. So, why not want to do it for yourself and your family? The time you put into planning your trips to whatever store you are going to will save you money. So, while it is not exactly like making money, you will at least keep more of the money you worked so hard to earn.
So, here’s what this looks like in our home:
I try to go to the grocery store one to two times a week. I also try to go to the local drugstores as deals are worth it (about 2-3 a month). I go to the mall about once every 2-3 months. We also go to one of the big bulk stores about once every 2-3 months.
A Time: Each week, on Sunday night, I sit down and sort my coupons, cut coupons from that day’s paper, cut coupons that I printed during the week, organize my coupons, and look at the ads for the week. I also get rid of expired coupons so I don’t get excited about a deal that I missed out on.
A Place: I keep all these things, including my scissors in one place and then go sit in the living room and work while I listen to music or something playing on the TV.
For the grocery store, I start with a meal plan for the week and then look through the ads to see where I can get the best deals on what I plan to eat. Some people do this the other way around, and it works both ways. Once I have my meal plan, I write down all the items I need to make those meals happen minus the items I already have on hand in my pantry. Then I think through the coupons I have and determine if I can save some money on what I need. Doing coupon matching before going to the store keeps me from spending a really long time looking through coupons while I am at the store.
After I have my plan and my coupons, I ONLY buy what is on the list when I get to the store. This is where the savings really happen! When you are only getting what you know you need, you don’t come home with a bunch of impulse buys that destroy your grocery budget.
For the drugstores, I start with the ads for the week. I only plan to go to these types of stores when a) I need something or b) there is an amazing deal on something I know I will use. So, with these two things in mind, I plan my trips to the drugstores in a similar way to my grocery store trips – keeping in mind all my coupons and only planning to buy what is on my list. Staying out of the store when I don’t need anything keeps me from spending money. How many times have you run into the drugstore to get just one thing and come out with a bag full of miscellaneous items you didn’t need until you walked in the door? I know I have, and so I make sure I have a plan when those automatic doors welcome me in.
For the mall, my techniques are simple. Stay far, far away! I ONLY go to the mall when I absolutely have to because window shopping can easily work into impulse buys and frivolous spending. Often, I only go to the mall when I have a set of stores I have coupons for and I plan my way through the mall before I get there. I figure out where I am going to park and what route to take, creating a path of least temptation for myself as I walk into the lion’s den of merchandise.
For the big bin stores, we only go every 2-3 months, so I keep a short list of the things we need when we go the next time and try to shop ONLY for these things. I also get coupons on a monthly basis from these stores, so I look them over to see if any of the savings are worth it and ignore the items I know are not a good buy based on price per unit. For more about how to buy in bulk, check out my post in this series on Bulk Buys.
Short disclaimer here: I am in no way perfect on this basic tenet of saving, but I have found that I do save more when I dedicate myself to have a plan. I realize it takes a little more work before hitting the store; but I have found it saves money and time as I do my shopping.
Today’s tip is a real quick one, but it is by far one of the best ideas I have come across in my savings journey:
E-mail yourself deals.
I told you it was simple! But wait, there is a catch…
I know some of you just freaked out thinking about the sheer amount of spam about to hit your inbox. The trick is to create a deals account for yourself. It could be something as simple as: <deals4(your name here)@youremailprovider>. Don’t worry about creativity points on this one, this is a purely functional email address. I recommend you use the same email provider for your deals account as you use for your personal email. That way, once you have the deals account set up you can link the accounts and access both accounts easily.
After you have set up the account, give that email address out whenever you are signing up for newsletters online or in store. Use it as your contact on all the rewards programs for different stores. Use it to sign up for contests, if you like. This keeps your personal email inbox clear of the clutter of all your savings emails.
The beauty of having this separate account for deals is that you get to decide when you are feeling up to checking out deals. You can check it once a day or once a week and you aren’t bombarded with temptations to spend money just by opening your personal email. Another great benefit of having a deals account is you only get the emails you want. I have had my dedicated deals email for about two and a half years and I have noticed I don’t get much spam. I get to control who emails me and I have noticed companies that want your business don’t sell your email addresses very often.
Who would have thought that it was so easy to control your email and save money?