When I decided to quit my job and stay home with our first son, my husband and I whittled away our budget as tight as we could. We looked at each bill and examined all of our spending habits under a microscope to make it work. Since then I’ve found even more ways to stretch a dollar!
Here are some tips (and none are sponsored, just ideas) from me to you:
1. Wait until the end of the month to buy most things.
Amazon used to be my weakness. I would decide we “need” something and order it lickety-split before putting much thought into how I can make do with what we already have. I’ve changed my strategy now to only buying these things at the end of the month if there is still room in the budget. I keep a list of these things we’d like to buy on my phone or in a notebook by the computer. It’s amazing what you’ll be willing to take off the list because you’ve found that you can make do without it or decide the item is not so important after all. And most importantly, this way you’ll stay on budget!
2. Check the grocery circular before you make your menu or list.
Well, first things first, if you’re not making a weekly menu yet, you should! You will save so much money when you’re not shopping on impulse. After you get the hang of menu planning, then you can plan around sales. Admittedly it took me quite some time to shop the sales, but it’s worth it! I now try to put only sale items in my grocery cart, so it takes a little planning. I base my menu and produce purchases on the sales. We shop at Publix and they post their circular online and even let you add items from the circular to an online shopping list. I’ve started doing my whole list on the site out of convenience.
Before you roll your eyes at this word, I am not suggesting that you fill your guest bathroom with ketchup and White Rain shampoo. I mean when you see something non-perishable that you buy on a regular basis on sale, buy enough for six to eight weeks. That is roughly the sale cycle at most grocery stores. Be careful not to buy something just because it is on sale. Only buy it if you would pay full price anyway. Once you make this a regular habit, you end up buying nearly all of your groceries on sale and you can shop your own pantry at mealtime!
4. Freeze leftovers or anything that might go to waste.
For example, I freeze soup that only has a serving or two left. Or chopped green onions leftover from a recipe. Or half the Brussels sprouts from a big bag at Costco. Or leftover spaghetti sauce. Even the banana half my son left on his plate for a future smoothie. As long as you keep the freezer organized so you can find and use these leftovers, the savings add up.
Once you make this a regular habit, you end up buying nearly all of your groceries on sale and you can shop your own pantry at mealtime!
5. Use up food in the pantry and freezer for a week.
Skip going to the grocery store for a week and use what you have in your pantry and freezer. It’s amazing what you can find in there! I usually do this once about every other month, but because I have three little ones I supplement some and buy things like milk, bananas, and apples. These food saving ideas have reduced our weekly grocery bill from $125 to $80. (This is in addition to our monthly Costco trip.) And having a pantry or freezer week every other month saves $480 annually and prevents food waste. That’s a savings of about $1020 a year.
6. Discover the value of a rotisserie chicken.
This is kind of random, but if your family eats meat, a rotisserie chicken saves you time and money. I pick one up for $5 almost every trip I take to Costco. For that price, I get about six cups of shredded chicken, which I freeze in two-cup increments. It’s great to have on hand because it is so versatile—chicken and broccoli casserole, wraps, chicken pot pie, enchiladas, chicken alfredo…you get the idea. And now I’m hungry. I’ve been doing that for awhile, but now I’ve heard about using the carcass/bones to make your own chicken stock. Brilliant! Why not? It’s easy and basically free.
Bonus: How to make chicken stock from a rotisserie
Simmer 1 chicken carcass + 10 cups of water for 60-90 minutes. You can also add in carrots, celery, and onion for extra flavor. Strain. If you want to use it for soup, you can refrigerate it in the pot and skim the fat off the top before storing. I froze mine in eight 14-ounce increments so each bag is equivalent to a can of chicken stock. Six cups of shredded chicken and 6 cans of chicken stock are pretty good for a $5 rotisserie!
7. Stock up on small gifts.
I have started keeping a box of inexpensive gifts in my closet. When I see a good deal on something fun, pretty or special that’s around $5, I add it to my collection. My box has picture frames, wallets, kid bubble guns, stationary, candles, bracelets, etc. This way when a birthday sneaks up or I forgot to get a little something for a teacher gift or hostess gift, we don’t have to run out and pay more than we need to. And while we’re talking gifts, the Dollar Tree is a fantastic place to buy wrapping paper, gift bags, clear wrap for gift baskets, bows, and cards. The store closest to us is out of the way, so I try to keep all these things on hand. Having inexpensive, fun gifts and cheap wrapping paper and cards saves me probably $200 a year.
8. Buy holiday decorations the day after for the next year.
I save 50 to 70 percent on my holiday decor this way. This year I went to Target the day after Halloween, only to discover a lot of people and a picked-over selection. And I was there right when they opened! I went home, hopped on their website and ended up buying $77 worth of decorations for $19. I didn’t even need to race other women with red carts!
But for Christmas ornaments and decor, it has worked better for me to go to the store. Even two days later, I had plenty to choose from this time around. I scored a trio of felt Christmas trees, a bag full of ornaments, and two boxes of old-fashioned bulb lights for $60, originally $120. (World Market is another good one to hit after Christmas, by the way.) I saved $118 on holiday decor this year.
9. If you shop at Target, get the REDcard.
I’ve had a REDcard for three years now and I see no real downside to it. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it hasn’t. You get 5 percent off all your purchases and free shipping online. My first argument against it was that I didn’t want another credit card, but they stopped me in my tracks because they can link it to your debit card. It’s a win-win for me. I saved $75 this year with the REDcard, not counting the free shipping.
10. Use a cash back shopping site.
I have only been using Ebates a short while, but getting something back for something I was going to buy anyway is OK by me. It works by going through their website when making online purchases. They give you a percentage of your purchase back in cash. Also, when you make your first online purchase, they send you a $10 gift card to the select store of your choice. Because I order the majority of my purchases online, I estimate I could save around $75 a year.
Having a pantry or freezer week every other month saves $480 annually and prevents food waste. That’s a savings of about $1020 a year.
11. Check for a wireless employee discount.
Check to see if your place of employment offers discounts with wireless carriers. We weren’t using ours and could have been saving 15 percent! Forehead slap. The wireless discount now saves us $270 a year.
12. Buy the Kirkland diapers at Costco.
I am kicking myself that I waited until our third baby to switch from Huggies to Costco’s cheaper store brand. In the past, I was too scared to try the Kirkland brand because it involved buying a giant case! One day they were $4 off, so I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t beat the price anywhere and they work just as well. That said, I do not recommend just any cheaper brand. I’ve tried some from the grocery store and also from a convenience store that basically wasted every penny. With a baby and another one still wearing diapers at night, switching to Kirkland diapers saves us an estimated $150 a year.
13. Make your own baby food.
I did an experiment on what it cost to feed my baby jarred food versus homemade food. I found I can save about 50 percent making my own baby food. See the actual cost comparisons and how I do it in 45 minutes a week here. Making baby food is a savings of about $430 a year.
14. Do your own mani/pedis.
I would get a manicure or pedicure about twice a year before, which isn’t a lot, but I decided I’d like the salon quality more than my biannual visits. I ordered OPI base and top coats (affiliate link) and buy OPI and Essie colors at Marshalls for $3.99. Color stays on my fingers for a little over a week and about a month on my toes. I don’t know if I can make myself go back to the salon now. I save at least $50 a year doing my own nails.
15. It makes scents.
Instead of buying large bottles of perfume for $80, buy the 1-ounce version at TJMaxx for $4. And of course free samples at the department stores! I love changing up scents frequently anyway. Buying sample size perfumes save about $60 a year.
16. Ask, “How long did I have to work for this?”
Before buying something, ask yourself how long you would have to work for it. My mom taught me this when I was a teenager and I still use it. Would I work an entire day for this dress? Probably not.
Overall, saving gives you freedom.
This article is all about saving money, but I’d like to throw in a disclaimer. Yes, I shop the sales and read the grocery store circulars, but I also get my hair done at the salon and just bought a new dining room table and chairs. I do all these little things to save money because it helps us plan for the future and live within our means—but it also gives us freedom.
One of our splurges this year was to hire a landscaping company to maintain this jungle yard of ours. I don’t even have a before picture to match the one above. It was too embarrassing. We may or may not have gotten a letter from our HOA telling us to weed our yard! My husband travels frequently and sometimes works on the weekends. If he has one free afternoon he wants to spend it with us, not in the yard. And I’m not much help because mowing, weeding, and trimming with three kids under the age of five doesn’t work. Taking this responsibility off his plate has visibly reduced his stress level! It was always hanging over his head and he couldn’t relax at home. To us, this expense is worth the money, and we can afford it because we are careful in other areas.
I was recently chatting with a group of moms and some of them have hired cleaning ladies or a grocery store service because that’s what helps the most for their family. Or maybe it’s saving for a family vacation. (Yes, please!) Being frugal in your spending allows you to put your money to it’s best use, and I can’t think of a better one than more family time!
You can read my super long list of cost-cutting tips in my post, How I Save Money to be a SAHM, though the ideas work for any stage of life.
What are your saving secrets? Please share, I’m always looking for new ideas!
You’ll also like 3 Easy Apps and Tricks to Save Money, 5 Ways to Cut Your Monthly Bills, A Simple Guide to Poshmark and How to Make Cash Fast, How to Be Prepared Financially in Case of a Tragic Loss, and Confessions of an Endcap Queen: How to Stop Mindless Purchasing.