I’ve been on a budget journey for the past 20 years. Starting with knowing if I could afford a car payment in high school to full blown budgeting when I moved out to go to college. I call it a journey because I have definitely not mastered it but during those years I’ve gone from single and living at home to married with kids. We’ve had births and job losses all coinciding at the same time. We are now at a new stop on our journey with all 4 of us at home which means lots of time spent together and lots of money spent on food. Apparently growing boys need to be fed about 10 times a day. What’s most important is trying to find things that we can do to save money to make sure we are prepared for what the future holds.
Here are some tricks I’ve learned along the way to help keep my budget in line:
- Get a programmable thermostat – this may be more of an up-front cost but should help save money in the long run. There are several different varieties of thermostats, but they even have “learning” ones that can tell when there is no activity and take your temperature to an eco-friendly temperature. You can also program them to be at a higher or lower temperature when you’re gone to a more enjoyable temperature when you’re at home.
- Monitor your water heater temperature – I never knew you could even change the temperature on your water heater, but apparently most factory settings are for 140 degrees which is about 20 degrees hotter than what money experts recommend. You can save up to $20/year just by that simple switch. Never lower below 120 degrees though because it could promote water-borne diseases.
- Weatherproof your windows – this is something that should be done year round but simple fixes around the home can save money. Also, during the summer months it’s amazing how just keeping your curtains or shades drawn can keep the temperature in your house lower than leaving them open and letting the sun in.
- DIY with the help of YouTube – God love him, but my husband is not a handyman on his own. But throw in the internet and Google and I have myself a hero. In the past year he has done several small fixes that saved us several hundred dollars in what we would be paying for someone to come in and fix in 5 minutes. While this is good in most circumstances, if you don’t think you know what to do to fix it and can’t figure it out, it’s time to call in the professionals so you don’t cause more damage and money to fix than before you started.
Food & Groceries
- Brown bag your lunch – It is so expensive to eat out no matter the time of day, but if you eat out for lunch you’re spending $5-$10 on yourself for lunch. We usually don’t need that big of a meal that time of day anyways. If you eat out 1 time per week that’s a savings of $40/month. If you and your spouse both cut back, that’s a savings of $80!
- Buy generic brands – I have learned that there are few things I am a brand snob of (Heinz Ketchup all day long!). You can’t tell the difference on most food items, especially pantry staples and spices/cooking ingredients.
- Meal plan, make grocery lists and shop store sales – I am a meal planner. I try to make 1 grocery trip every 2 weeks for the bulk of our groceries. If we need to fill in an item during that time I run to the store, but otherwise I make my meal plan, make my list, and order online. I have learned that by shopping online I have a list to go through and I don’t get sucked in by going up and down aisle and finding something that looks good but I don’t really need. Also, if you shop the sales first and then make your meal plan you know ahead of time if the meat you’re buying is a deal.
- Buy in bulk – I have found that bulk shopping can be hit or miss. I find that this doesn’t always work with my family in the general sense of Costco or Sams, but I have bought ½ a cow before and that was well worth the expense up front. If your family has room for storage and will eat what you buy in bulk it can save you quite a bit.
- Do Not Stop For Drinks! – this is another one that’s obvious but a hard habit to break. If you stop 3 times a week that can be up to $20/week on drinks. I found a tin of chai latte mix at Trader Joes for $4 and it makes 7 drinks. While it’s not exactly like I get at the local coffeehouse, it sure is a lot less expensive and I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas to drink it!
- The first thing you should do if you need to save money is call your cable, internet and phone providers. Ask them what they can do for you. Hopefully that answer will be to lower your bill. If it’s not then you should threaten to move service if you’re not under contract. More than likely they will want you to stay and will then offer you a better deal. If they don’t, then follow through and go to a different provider. You will more than likely get a better rate as a “new” customer than you would normally get as an existing customer. You can also get rid of any extras like movie channels, more than 1 cable box, etc. to lower your bill.
- If you have a home phone and a cell phone it’s probably time to get rid of the land line. Some people may keep it for their kids, but there many less expensive options than keeping your home phone. One option if you have a child at home that may need a way to get in touch with you is a prepaid phone. You can buy an inexpensive phone at many different retailers for as low as $20 and then put minutes on as needed.
- Nix expensive habits – If you have any expensive habits it’s time to drop them. Getting your hair or nails done? Gone. Smoking? See ya later. Lottery Tickets? No more! These are the most expensive habits that don’t benefit anyone but yourself.
- Find free or cheap entertainment – Wichita and surrounding areas have such a flourishing social scene. While it’s difficult to find things to do by getting out now, there are still plenty of things happening. Most can be done from the comfort of your own home like online storytimes, at home gym classes and even concerts streaming live. Wichita Moms also provides a comprehensive monthly calendar of things going on. The library also has movies, books and music that you can check out FOR FREE!
These are just a few things over the years that I’ve used at different times to save money. There’s always more you can do, like using the 24 hour rule – waiting 24 hours before buying anything that is not a necessity. You may realize the next day that it wasn’t as important as you thought the day before.
You can also start going through your stuff. While a garage sale isn’t always worth the hassle, if you have some bigger items to sell you may be able to get rid of them on the buy/sell/trade sites or Marketplace.
After moving recently, the sellers left some plant potters and I was able to sell them for $40. Your trash can be another person’s treasure!
The most important thing is sitting down and making a budget. Determine what is most important and find things that you can cut. You will feel the squeeze but it’s nice to know that when it’s all over and you feel more stable in your finances that you were able to do it for you and your family.