Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Ultimate Frugal Living Guide

I had my first baby while I still had two semesters of school. I graduated and then my husband, Jeff and I moved to Indiana so he could get his masters in Engineering. We were unemployed for six months and then we were in school for two years. With some hard work we managed to graduate with minimal students loans with Jeff's masters. We were able to pay off all the students loans within six months of graduating. That included our undergrad programs as well. Now some of our success came from Jeff getting grants and scholarships but a lot of it was money management and planning.
I took a class in college and our curriculum was based on THIS book. It is a little out of date, but the ideas behind it are golden. You can use or just an excel spreadsheet on your computer or a phone app instead of the budget register they refer to in the book but like I said, the idea is what you want to learn.

Another book that has really shaped the way we look at our finances is The Total Money Makeover. 

This next part might get long. It is the little things I do to cut costs while managing our household.

Unplug devices while not in use
Even if a device isn't turned on, it is still using electricity. Try letting your hair air dry and make sure you turn off the lights when you aren't in a room. Every time I use my kitchen aid I turn it on and nothing happens. I always forget I unplugged it but I'm glad I do it.

Heating and Cooling
Keep your thermostat temperature set high in the summer and low in the winter. Install ceiling fans and dress appropriate to the weather. I live in FL where it is always hot so I would give just about anything right now to have my thermostat set to 67 and to snuggle on the couch under a quilt with my husband while drinking a hot chocolate. Invest in some space heaters or electric blankets. 

Make your own baby food
All you need is a blender and some ice cub trays. You don't need to invest in any books or any expensive baby food processors. Just buy fruits and veggies and then blend them up and pour them into the ice cube trays. You may need to cook some to get them tender before blending. When your babies are hungry just pop them out and microwave them for a few second and stir them really well so there aren't any hot spots. The only baby food I ever bought was rice cereal. I didn't even buy the oatmeal because they can just eat regular oatmeal.

Use smaller Diapers
For babies, not adults ;) Every diaper size has a weight range and every size has a weigh overlap. Use the smallest size diaper as long as you can. The smaller diapers have more in a pack which makes the cost of each diaper less. I also buy my diapers in bulk.

Plan a whole month of meals at a time
Don't let this freak you out. Put the kids to bed and then print out a blank calender. Start thinking of the meals you make regularly and fill them into each day. I usually only plan dinners. You will end up with leftovers your husband can use for lunches. After you've planned a month or two, it will be easy. You can just start repeating things. You can't believe how nice it feels once you are done. It only takes a few minutes and then you don't have to worry about "what to make for dinner" for the rest of the month. Having a meal plan will help you shop sales and cut down on impulse buys. It will also help you to avoid eating out.

Avoid Eating Out
Even though I plan all my meals I struggle with this one sometimes. I love to eat out. It is fun! The best thing to do is avoid it. Yes you can still eat out while watching your budget, just plan for it and make it a special occasion instead of a spontaneous splurge. When we eat out we use coupons and we look for deals. My husband and I usually share a meal. We only get water and we have our kids eat some of our meal instead of getting kids meals. We skip dessert. I used to waitress so I know how annoying people like us are. I still tip 20 percent of what two adult meals would cost plus the kids.

Buy In Bulk
I buy almost everything in bulk. The cost up front is more but you can look at the price per oz or pound and it is almost always less expensive. Always check though, some things aren't worth buying in bulk because the price her oz in higher.  

Shop at Costco/Sams Club Once a Month
Speaking of buying in bulk... I love those stores but they can be a money sucker. If you go there once a month after you have your monthly meal plan you will only buy the stuff you need for the month. I usually go to Costco and then I go to Walmart or another food store the next day to get the things I couldn't find at Costco or that weren't cheaper to buy there. You might be thinking, what about perishable food? I go to the regular grocery store every 7-10 days for fruit, vegetables and milk and any other food that I need to prepare my dinners that would spoil.

Save Treats and Toys for Special Occasions
Christmas and Birthdays are just about the only time I buy my kids toys. I love buying my kids things but I know it costs a lot of money. Kids can be expensive but they don't have to be. Cutting out unnecessary toys is a great way to save money. For Christmas they get three toys and some things for their stockings. For their birthdays we just look at how much money we have in the budget that month and plan accordingly. I don't feel like my children are missing out on anything. I actually think I am teaching them a valuable lesson. I have my four year old set goals and earn his own money to buy things he wants. He is also a lot more appreciative of his toys because they are special to him.
Another thing I do to keep them from getting bored is, I cycle their toys in a rotation. I put some in a bin and put them away. Then I take them out and put different ones out. My boys end up playing with their toys way more and it keeps the clutter down. I also use toys from my older son as gifts for my younger son. Some of you may be gasping but he is one, he doesn't know any better. Yes I know that one day I will not be able to do this but I might as well take advantage of it while I can.

Avoid Prepackaged Foods
I love convenience but prepackaged foods, especially baby snacks, are so expensive. I don't even buy individual yogurt containers. I just buy the large tub of great value yogurt at walmart. You can also make your own Yogurt :) Invest in some small snack containers. I get the disposable ziplock containers and use them until they get lost or too nasty to use. I consider mixes prepackaged foods as well. Pancake mix, brownie mix, cake mix. It saves time but they skimp on key ingredients anyway. It tastes better, is more healthy and it is a lot cheaper to make everything from scratch.

Grow a Garden
Even while we were renting in Indiana, we were able to grow a small garden that helped us supplement our grocery budget during the spring and summer.

50 Ways of Cooking Potatoes
I didn't know what else to call this category :) I asked my Mother in law what she used to do when her five children were young to save money. She gave me a lot of similar answers to what I already do but this one was different. She literally said that she used 50 ways of making potatoes. I think sometimes we just consider groceries a necessity and so we don't feel so bad about spending $750-$1,000 a month on groceries. That is not the case. You can cook healthy delicious meals for a lot less. My goal is to feed my family of four for $400 a month. Most months I am successful and I also have some food storage. Reevaluate your recipes and look into recipes that use less expensive ingredients. Cut out the junk food:)

Trade Services

I love doing this! I do it all the time. Last month I really needed to get my hair cut but I didn't have the extra money in the budget to get it done so I asked if my friend would be interested in trading services. She was actually thrilled with the idea. I got one of the best hair cuts I've ever had in exchange for 8 homemade greeting cards. I've also traded babysitting, sewing alterations, cakes, visual media services, cake decorating lessons and cardmaking lessons for other services I needed. My husband and I go on a date every other Friday. We trade off with our friends and watch their kids every other week. That way we can spend money on our date instead of a babysitter. My husband has also exchanged handyman skills for things we've needed. Use your strengths and abilities. You may not have those exact skills but you have your own knowledge, skills and hobbies that others don't have.

Do It Yourself
This is a big one. This concept has saved us literally thousands of dollars. The cost of labor is the most expensive part of any project or service. Any time we ever had a car problem, my husband would research it, purchase the part and then fix it himself. We bought a short sale house that needed quite a bit of work. We have completed every project, except new carpet, by ourselves. Our dryer wasn't working so my handy hubby did some research and figured out the problem. It took him about two hours of his time to figure it out and then correct the problem but he saved us $150 because we didn't have to call a repair service or buy a new machine. Our dishwasher also had a problem and he figured out that it was a broken heat element. He replaced the heat element and now it works great. With the internet and easy access to books from the library we have been able to just research different topics and do it on our own. I have made almost all our curtains in our home and we've never purchased a Halloween costume for our children.

Homemade Gifts
Almost every gift I give is homemade. I make hooded towels for baby showers and I give packs of homemade cards for birthdays, Christmas, housewarming. I've also quilted table runners out of scraps of fabric. Get creative.Use Pinterest to find ideas. Christmas is coming fast and there are a lot of great Christmas gift ideas floating around out there.

Make Your Own Laundry Detergent
I've found that making my own detergent saves me a lot of money. It costs me 4 cents per load instead of 25 cents per load. THIS is the recipe I use. I've heard from friends that this recipe also works for High efficiency washers.

Hair Cuts
I get my hair cut once every 6-12 months. My boys, including my husband, get their hair cut every 1-2 months. That adds up fast. I'm the only one who gets my hair cut by someone outside of our home. I cut my boys' hair and my husband cuts his own and then I just trim the back for him. Yes it was a little scary at first but it really isn't hard. I just use a buzzer with the 1/2inch attachment.  

Make Your Own makeup remover

I use THIS method. I use baby oil instead of coconut oil. I heard that you just need to be careful to make sure you don't get it in your eyes if you use baby oil because it isn't good for your eyes but I'm pretty sure that is true for any makeup remover.

Only Shop When You Need Something
When I go to a department store, Target, Walmart, Kohls or even the mall it is for a specific purpose. I don't just go and browse. That is dangerous. It doesn't matter if something is on sale, it is cheaper to not buy it at all. If you didn't think about needing it before the shopping trip, you probably don't need it at all. If I am planning a trip to Kohls for some kids clothing, I make sure I have taken inventory of the kids cloths to see what I need. Make sure you have all their laundry done and put away before you look through it.

Use Shopping Lists
Research shows that people spend less money if they use shopping lists. I use lists for every store I go to.

Avoid Name Brands
This goes for clothing, food and medicine. I have to admit that there are some brands that are worth the extra money, but for the most part, the store brands are just as good as the name brands.

Avoid Extra Monthly Commitments
This is a list of examples of things that fall into that category:
  • TV cable or satellite
  • Gym Memberships
  • Preschool
  • Daycare
  • Car Payments
  • Kids sports
  • Cell Phones
  • Netflix
  • Home Alarm systems
  • Magazines
  • Cleaning Services
  • Lawn Services
  • Internet
Is it wrong for a family to do those things? Of course not. We have even had some of those things at one time or another. Right now we have smart phones. It is really about reassessing what is actually necessities. Sometimes we feel like we need things when we really don't. We use our cell phones instead of a land line. We watch hulu instead of paying for a TV service. I run outside or use my stationary bike instead of having a gym membership. I teach my four year old preschool at home until he qualifies for VPK next year. I stay home with my kids and trade babysitting. We paid cash for our vehicles so we don't have a car payment. I have a friend who only has one car for her family. It is hard sometimes but they make it work and it saves them a lot of money every month. We play sports with our kids at the park and with playgroups instead of signing him up for group sports. We may sign him up after he starts school but it really isn't necessary at his age. We have modest cell phone plans. We don't have netflix even though I would love it. We get movies from the library or redbox, and we watch movies on hulu.

Take Advantage of Free activities
My husband and I go to the beach or the park for dates. I do inexpensive crafts with my kids or go to the playground instead of Chuckie cheese. We go for walks, free community events and church activities.

Supplement Your Income
Is there any work you can do from home? When I was in Indiana I taught cake decorating once a week at Hobby Lobby. It was wonderful to be able to get out of the house once a week and do something I love while bringing in some extra money for our family.

Avoid Debt
Pay cash for everything. We use a discover credit card for everything, the trick is to never pay interest on it. We treat it like it is a debit card. We pay it off a couple times a month. We have never paid interest on anything (except our home). Studies show that your brain acts differently when you use cash verses a credit card. My problem with that is it stresses me out. I don't like carrying cash. If you are budgeting everything anyway, it doesn't matter if you pay with cash or a credit card. Just make sure you are following your budget and you know where your money is going.

Buy Things Used or On Sale
We hardly ever buy things that aren't on sale, even food like fruit or meat. I look for sales and freeze things. I also go straight for the clearance racks when I buy cloths for my kids or I get them from consignment shops. Almost all our furniture is off craigslist.

Pack a Lunch and skip the Starbucks
My husband packs a lunch four days a week and then goes out with his coworkers on Fridays for lunches. It saves us a lot of money but still allows him to have a treat and make connections for his career. We skip coffee entirely but if you have to have it, make it at home. It will save you a lot of money.

Walking is a great way to save money on gas. I put my kids in the double stroller and walk to the post office, grocery store, park, pool playground and to friends' houses.  It is better for our health, the environment and my wallet.

Pay Tithing and Give to Charity
It is my personal belief that my family has been financially blessed because we have followed the council of our church to tithe 10% of our income and to give a generous Charity, or fast offering, every month. Some people may feel like they can't afford to give money but I know that we can't afford NOT to give. I have seen countless times in our lives when we have avoided financial burden because we have followed this council. A few months ago my husband and a coworker decided to go out for lunch. They were going to take the coworker's car but decided to take my husband's instead for some reason. When he came back to work after his break his spot was taken by another car. A few hours later a large tree branch fell on top of four cars. One of the cars that was severely damaged was parked in the spot that my husband had been parked in before lunch. Our car would have been totaled and we would not have been able to afford to buy a new one or even have a car payment for a new one right now. The Lord will bless you for your sacrifice and you will be able to stay home and raise your children.

Live By The Saying, Use it up...wear it out...make it do...or do without.

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