Keep in mind, this is what works for us. Not necessarily for everyone.
Start watching your local sale flyers for groceries. If you eat meat, stock up on meats when they’re $.18-$.98/pound depending on the meat. I’ve gotten fryer chickens for $.19/lb and a few turkeys for $.18/lb. 🙂 Cut off the fat if you want (I hate getting a mouthful of fat), and cut up some for specific recipes (chicken strips, stir-fry, salmon fillets, etc.).
Whole turkeys have started annoying me here and there, so I stock up on bone-in turkey breasts when they’re on sale, brine a few of them and roast at the same time. Freeze the extra, and voila! Lunch meat or more turkey dinners ready to go (I also keep instant mashed potatoes and gravy packets on hand in the pantry as well – who says you can only eat turkey and potatoes in November?!?).
Meats can be good to stock up on when they’re on sale. Especially if you have an extra freezer. I’ve got a side-by-side fridge/freezer in the kitchen, a garage fridge/freezer, and a 13cf upright freezer in the laundry room. But I’m really good at detail oriented stuff like that and can tell you that I paid $1.48/lb for those chicken breasts and $1.28/lb for that other bag of boneless skinless chicken breasts, and each serving of homemade spaghetti sauce cost about $.53, plus $.10 for the noodles.
Lately I’ve discovered Zaycon Foods. They get fresh meats straight from the farm – no added/injected saline solution or anything, never frozen when you get it. So, if you’re planning to prep meat as you get it, it could be a very good option for you. I got 80 pounds of chicken breasts in the fall from them, and a friend and I got a 40 pound box to split up/share and we just spent a day together in my kitchen hacking away at it and prepping meals.
Zaycon has several different areas they do their delivery thing in, and if you do decide to sign up? Use my name as the referral thingie – I might get an extra little bonus. Which would be freakin’ awesome.
This is all from an $8.57 ham butt. Which became…
1 dinner of Eggs Benedict, plus a baggie (the bottom, darker one because they were fried up) of leftover ham for all the boys to munch on.
1 dinner of Ham-Pea-Cheesy-Noodle Casserole (the diced up baggie) later on this week.
4 baggies of sliced ham to use as lunchmeat or whatever in the future. 3 of those baggies are on the freezer for a later date.
1 ham bone and random little bits of ham from slicing that is currently in the crockpot for Split Pea Soup. It’ll probably make about 4-4.5 quarts of soup.
So, if you followed all that, from that 8.5 pound ham, I got 3-4 immediate dinners, 2-6 later lunches/dinners of soup, and a few weeks worth of sandwiches because I had most of the other stuff already in my pantry/fridge ready to go (barring croissants pretty much).
The day of 68 pounds of meat.
So, my day in pictures?
Stock your pantry. It’s your friend. But only get stuff you’ll actually use – not the stuff you hope to use. I’ve made that mistake at times. Make sure where you store your food is rodent/bug-proof. Just in case. My grandma out in the wheat fields (where field mice were random pets and wore a hole in paths in the carpet) put her flour/sugar/other dry goods like that in their bags in giant garbage cans up on blocks that the mice couldn’t get into. It looked totally goofy, but apparently it worked.
Don’t eat out. Make as much food at home as you can. I make a giant pot of spaghetti sauce in an afternoon that makes 15 dinners for 3 (I tend to make a double batch using two 8-quart pots and pressure can it). This is also where OAMC comes in handy – homemade, but minimal prep the day of.
Our monthly ‘eating out’ used to consist of stopping at the Costco food stand for hot dogs or pizza after shopping. No more than $8, even with the bottomless pits we call sons. If you must eat out, find a coupon for the place you’re going to. Now there’s websites like Groupon and such, you can join a company’s birthday club, frequent-buyer email or newsletter, newspaper ads, other promotions and so on. There’s a local school-supply store in the next town over. I signed up to get emails from them, and about once a month get a coupon for 25% or 40% of one item.
Sign up for a free something for your birthdays, anniversaries, whatever. Our “local” Tony Roma’s went out of business, so now all we have left is a free burger from Red Robin or free ice cream from Cold Stone on birthdays. Or a fancier family dinner out is a whopping $20 at Quizno’s for all of us. The way we budget for eating out is all the food money goes into a pot. Eating out and the grocery store and farmer’s market all come from that. Since our finances had more wiggle room in the last year or two pre-unemployment, we had gotten into the habit of splurging for a monthly date night for just hubby and I. Time alone without kids and yummy food = priceless. Not to mention, hubby and I need some time together to reconnect and keep our relationship strong – that’s always a good thing.
As a sidebar of eating out, I also have a tendency to ask the chef for the recipe for something if I really, really like it. Usually they’re more than happy to share the recipe, and some are just thrilled to be talking to a fellow ‘normal’ cook who happens to understand some of the terms they used in describing how to make/prepare it. I was on a Food Network kick for a few years there, so I know a few things. For example. I got the lemon dill cream cheese recipe from here, along with a special they had at one point of Grilled Halibut with Creamy Dill Cucumber Sauce. Yeah, yum. Or the clam chowder and raspberry vinaigrette recipes from here. Or the Southern Comfort Chicken recipe from here (still need to get the recipe for their lemon-basil dressing though). Only time I’ve had a chef sorta say no was from here. The Smoked Salmon Chowder. To. die. for. So, the chef couldn’t give me the actual recipe since it’s a trade secret of the restaurant, he could tell me all the ingredients in it, and said I could probably figure out the quantities myself. I have yet to find those darned crackers they use to thicken it up though, argh.
Oh, my point. By getting the recipes? I can re-create these yummy and lovely dishes all at home. By myself, for a fraction of what eating out costs. If you find halibut or salmon on sale one week, rather than spend a chunk of change going out, you can make something restaurant worthy there in your own kitchen.
Coupons… It’s up to you whether you want to go all crazy coupon lady on the grocery stores, all locavore vegan (I almost guarantee the guy down the highway who raises Angus beef won’t accept coupons), or somewhere in between. I’d classify myself as a locavore who occasionally coupons and gets a cart full of oatmeal for free or very cheap about once a year. Bonus if you can combine rainchecks and coupons – that’s even better.
Build up a stash of meals in your freezer. Like soups, chili, lasagna, meatloaf, stews, marinated beast, pizza crusts, quiches, whatever. That helps ward off quick trips to the drive-through when you just have to throw something in the oven or pot. Make your own pizza. You can put as many or as little toppings as you want on it and not be charged a ton extra. 🙂 I know, I know, it can get pricey if you get the more specialty items – but that’s why you buy that stuff on sale and freeze for later and such. I shred/grate a ton of cheese at once and freeze some – especially Parmesan or Romano. I detest the processed “cheese” in the pasta aisle, so we use the real stuff. Tastes better, too. Although recently I found a sale on some little Tillamook shredded cheese blends (italian, mexican, mozzarella if you’re wondering – the cheese blends/flavors I rarely buy since they’re usually more expensive than medium cheddar) so I bought a bunch of extra bags to throw in the freezer. We’re good for a quick taco night or english muffin pizza night or casserole or whatever floats my boat.
Plan your meals a week or four at a time, go shopping accordingly. Take your list, only buy what’s on it. If this isn’t your strong suit, check out the book “Saving Dinner” by Leanne Ely. It has weekly meals, recipes and grocery lists for 8 weeks for each season. After a while you’ll get the hang of it. And be able to figure out which recipes use the same ingredients, how much your family goes through, etc. If you’re a sahm, don’t forget to plan breakfasts, lunches and snacks in addition to just dinner. You need to have something for you and your children to eat during the day, so might as well save money on that, too.
Some of my favorite blog/site stops for new or just plain neat or freezer recipes are… Once a Month Mom, $5 Dinners, A Year of Crockpotting (you can get away with a less expensive cut of meat sometimes with the crockpot!), Heavenly Homemakers, and there’s a ton more books and such out there with OAMC (once a month cooking) or pre-planning/prepping a la Robin Miller from Food Network. I’ve also gotten some good recipes/ideas from her as well. Some folks love emealz, I haven’t tried it.
Lately I’ve gotten into the prepping/freezer mode. Baking breakfast muffins/bars/whatever the night before and leaving them out partly covered for easy morning grabbing. Bake a bunch of muffins, and freeze in breakfast sized portions in gallon bags – then the night before I just yank the bag from the freezer, set on the counter, and they’re thawed and ready to go in the morning. Same with easy lunches… I either have easy things like PBJ or turkey sandwich fixin’s on hand, as well as baby egg rolls or quesadillas or chicken nuggets on hand. So I can go out and do something like playdates and such with the kids or we can throw ourselves into making fluffball art (aka, cotton balls, glue sticks and paper plates) or paper planes or “valentimes” for friends and I don’t have to stop for too long to feed the hungry masses.
After that, you’ll want to get the hang of what’s in season and when. Sure, strawberries are in season somewhere in the world at different times of the year. But where I live? Strawberries are only in season in June, sometimes early July if it was a late start to summer. Strawberries at any other time are either from California or Chile or Argentina or something and aren’t cheap (or really all that flavorful since they’ve had to travel so far!). Same with grapes at anytime other than August/September here. Talk about an international snack.
If you eat meat, institute soup and bread nights or vegetarian days. Meat’s expensive, and not eating meat one or two days a week won’t hurt you. Homemade fresh bread is very yummy and pretty filling as well. Or just don’t use as much meat in recipes. Portion size is your friend. When I buy my meat on sale? I have this tendency to pre-package things in meal-sized portions so we’re good to go. No eating half the week’s meat in one fell swoop this way.
Don’t buy boxed cereal as a be-all-end-all breakfast. Making pancakes/waffles/muffins/oatmeal from scratch is typically cheaper and healthier. I’ve been known to make extras and freeze them. Pop a few muffins or pancakes or waffles in the microwave to defrost, then toss in toaster to warm/brown them. You can also make your own granola (I haven’t mastered a recipe for granola yet – it’s on my to-do list). For a while I measured out dry ingredients for pancakes into glass canning jars I can’t use for canning (chipped rim, whathaveyou). Add in the beaten egg, milk and vegetable oil that I mix together in a liquid measuring cup, then pouring directly from the jar (I always make a mess when I have to use a spoon/ladle/whatever), and no bowls to wash and so on.
Or buy your stuff really cheap – I’ve gotten boxes of cereal for $1/regular sized box sometimes (sale plus coupons), boxes of flavored instant oatmeal packets for $.50-$1/ea or 42oz canisters of instant oatmeal for $.50-$1/ea. This last year I got 40 boxes of instant oatmeal packets for free (using sale raincheck plus coupons from ebay) and more of the big canisters for either $.50 or $1/each. I love being able to throw oatmeal into things since it’s good for us. And I haven’t had to pay the full price of $3.89-$4.29/box or canister in quite a while since I stock up.
Buying in bulk can work for or against you. It totally depends.
Technically, flour only keeps it’s nutrients for about 3 days on the shelf after it’s ground, then they all dissipate or go away or whatever (I’m not a dietician, I don’t know those details). Unless you can store wheat berries and grind them yourself. My mom has a wheat grinder recently inherited, but I haven’t gotten the hang of it and I still end up with flour that’s not as smooth as commercially milled stuff. Unless you know for sure that you’ll eat 50lbs of jasmine rice or 20lbs of split peas, go easy on those until you get the hang of your family’s habits and/or find groovy recipes that your family likes. A stocked pantry is only going to work for you if the goods are in constant rotation. I.e. don’t buy a crate of MRE’s and call it good. Well, at least that wouldn’t work for some people.
Dave Ramsey – I’m too cheap to buy books flat out. I totally checked out all his books from our library, made dh read parts of the books; we occasionally listen to his radio program, that kind of thing. What I found really useful in an immediate way was the sample budget he has in the back of Total Money Makeover. From that I made our own zero-based household budget, and it’s been going pretty well. I haven’t paid a darn cent for DR’s advice unless you count driving to the library.
Blank copy of our budget:
I’ve also checked out tons of books on frugality (Tightwad Gazette comes to mind, books by Mary Hunt, the Economides, whatever you get your hands on, etc. – it’s a big shelf in my library), and after a while they all just kept repeating each other and annoying me. But my MO is to check out books from my library or have them do an inter-library loan from elsewhere so I can look at/read a book before I even think of buying it. So once I decide I *need* a certain book (like Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weischler or the Ball Complete Book of Canning or Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth), I just have a little list and hubby and I keep an eye out for a great deal on decent used ones. Because, really, nothing in our house is sacred with three boys, a girl and a husband. Speaking of which, used books off Amazon.com or Abebooks.com. Comparison shopping is good. Just make sure to keep shipping costs in mind.
Furniture. See what you can repurpose or recover for your next need, ask relatives if they have a spare whatever lying around, check craigslist or freecycle, or even make it yourself. I’m a fan of modular furniture. As in, not built in. I like to rearrange things as I see fit. My family and our needs change from year to year, so having a totally built-in something? Not a good idea. Plus sometimes you just need a change, and being able to move your furniture around as need be just makes it that much easier.
Stick to your budget and game plan, and amazing things will happen.
We wiped out $12,000 of credit card debt in about a year. And zero’d out our car loan in another year and had the title in our hot little hands. When hubby got extra money or unexpected bonuses or whatever, we immediately knew where it was going. Now, when something needs repaired in the house or in a car, we have the savings for it. Murphy tends to not visit as often, or is at least mildly repelled. Or when he does swing by for a visit, it isn’t as sucky as before since we’re a little ahead of the game. We no longer freak out about money. We know what we can afford to spend on what, and it is what it is. We aren’t scrambling in January with how to pay for car insurance or the yearly life insurance bill, we don’t lose a week’s worth of sleep over me getting a root canal (although coughing up that kind of money still isn’t fun regardless), etc. Sure, we always wished there were more so we could zero out the mortgage and hubby’s student loans or have extra for swimming lessons or maybe even a fun preschool for the kids and occasional daycare for the kids every once in a while so I can do some serious cleaning, but hey, we’re definitely doing way better now than we were just 3 years ago. When you make good strides in this department, it seems to really pay off.
Another example? Hubby got laid off in June 2009.
“Well, crap. <silence while the wheels turn> Okay, so what’s our plan?”
Granted, unemployment insurance/checks came in really, really handy and was super nice, but since we’d already trimmed so much from our regular budget? Our totally bare-bones budget including paying the mortgage and such was covered with said unemployment check. When the transmission went out on our minivan in June 2010? Well, we weren’t thrilled with having to write a $3300 check, but it wasn’t an “oh crap!” kind of moment of figuring out which bills to set aside or pay late to pay for that repair.
In part because of this habit we’ve developed? Hubby quit with basically no notice from his previous job. There were… issues. It was affecting him (not in a good way), and our family (again, not in a good way). We had a few other pans in the fire seeing what could/would stick, but since we had some money in the bank we just too a leap and hoped for the best. Well, what do you know. He landed a job within a month afterwards, and started a month after that. A fabulous job where he works from home and we’re comfortable enough to where our tentative plan is to pay off his student loans within a year and have the title to our house and a fun mortgage burning party 5-6 years after that. Like I said, it seems when you work hard and have a good plan in place, things just happen.
Buy clothes at consignment stores – for the whole family. Or at least the kids. Sell back clothes your child(ren) have outgrown to get more store credit. Check consignment stores for furniture and whatever else you may need as well. You never know. 😉
I’m not that great at this though – between all the kiddos, I used to hit the twice-yearly baby sale at Old Navy or other various twice-yearly consignment sales for things we need and use hand-me-downs like it’s going out of style. Going to the store is hard enough, but dragging four children in and out 5 thrift shops every few weeks does not appeal to me right now.
So now I basically just hit the twice-yearly consignment sales locally here (JBF and a local MOP’s if you’re curious). I can sell stuff we don’t use anymore via JBF – that’s how I unloaded some maternity gear when we thought we were done after #2. I can sometimes find a few good deals on jeans that we always need for the kids or coats, which again, we always need, and so on. My neighbor has been the queen of thrift stores and yard-sales though, so I know it can be done (just not one of my major passions if that makes sense).
Some hauls from 2010…
Not only will you find me at those local consignment sales every spring/fall, I plan ahead. Kids keep growing. So when I see a decent pair of boy pants/jeans without a hole in the knee or a skull on them? I snap those suckers up. It means I have through size 14/16 for my 7yo boy (who’s in size 10 pants, btw), but that’s okay by me. I’m not caught off guard when he grows three inches overnight. I just sigh, and start digging out the next size from my strategically placed/organized totes in the guest room. Again, by planning ahead like this, I can bide my time and buy things like those pants for fairly cheap (my consignment sale price point there is $2-$5/pair – good luck finding that in most department stores!).
I also live in a cold climate. Boots aren’t so much a non-option. I’ve tried using cheap winter gear a few times, and the only cheapie stuff I can sometimes get away with is gloves. Although the gloves/mittens from Costco the last few years rock my world. They have longer-than-usual wrists to tuck up under the coats to keep snow away from little arms. Sometimes you can buy the next season’s snowpants on clearance the year before as well. Grandma arrived one day with a pair of 4T snowpants she found for like $3 or $4.
The Snow Flurry snow boots from Land’s End have held up for two years and counting in my house. And my kids are not easy on anything clothing related, especially shoes/boots. We’ve also found great deals on Columbia coats and snowpants at Columbia outlets. Groovy thing about that is that Columbia has a lifetime guarantee. If that coat is on it’s third kid and the zipper finally commits suicide? Call ’em up, send it back, and they’ll send you a brand new one. They’ve been absolutely lovely to us over the years.
Before buying brand new toys for your child, check with your local consignment shops, friends and relatives. We got a huge set of duplo blocks for $6, lincoln logs, lego sets and boxes of books from MIL, misc. stuff from a cousin, a giant garbage bag/box of medium lego/duplo blocks for $20 at a neighbor’s garage sale, used homeschool books from consignment sales and online yahoo groups and such, and lots of other stuff from random places. When your child’s done with the toy, sell it unless it really is incredibly special/sentimental. Keep the memories, not the clutter.
In the same vein, don’t buy many battery-operated toys, or just don’t bother replacing a dead battery. My kids have play-kitchen stuff (homemade felt food by me, wooden and felt kitchen toys with a few 1980’s plastic toys that were mine), Lincoln Logs, Duplo blocks, wooden blocks, Thomas the Tank Engine stuff, books, etc. They don’t need stuff with batteries. My house is loud enough with just the kids, anyway. I’ve found that my kids get quite creative with those things… one time my then-4yo managed to sneak a cookie cooling rack out of the kitchen behind my back, then he came up and surprised me with his own cookies – all his felt cookies happily “cooling” on the rack. Or my boys make “birthday cakes” out of medium Lego blocks complete with chunky candle. Or my boys make a roller coaster or super-highway layout for their HotWheels cars or train tracks or a combine or train made of Tinkertoys or something. It just cracks me up what they all dream up. And this kind of creative play really is good for them, even at 7yo. I mean, it’s kind of hard to agree with the logic in this article or this article.
Join www.freecycle.org (or check www.craigslist.com if there’s one in your area). That site should point you to different yahoo groups for whatever area you sign up for. I’ve gotten baby clothes, toys, strawberry plants, canning jars and shoes for hubby. In my area we’ve had offers for cars, boats, grills, strawberry plants, washers, dryers, all sorts of random things. It’s also how I found one of my great u-pick farmers. One year I got 10 gallons of green beans for $10. Yes, as in two of those huge orange Home Depot buckets. I still have canned green beans in my pantry from that year.
Selling things you no longer need on craigslist is a good way to get things to a new home and pocket a little money. Definitely another good place to find things like an extra freezer or working dryer or a snowblower or chainsaw or greenhouse parts. You just have to know how to cull out the junk from the diamonds in the rough. Which does take some guesswork and trial and error and experience, but it can pay off in regards to how much you spend on something you need anyway. With this approach you do need to be patient. It’s not a “buy it now now now!” kind of mindset. You save up for and plan for the item, then wait for the perfect deal to come along.
Take your garbage to the dump if that’s a possibility. Or reduce your garbage output so you only need half the pickup service/bins if you’re charged that way. Luckily we aren’t mandated to have garbage service here in our neighborhood (yay, no HOA!!). We take our garbage to the dump at will and for free every few weeks. If that’s an option for you, go for it. Garbage service alone here is $33/month that we’d rather use for something else – like a home phone.
We don’t really have a cell phone. It’d be yet another bill that we don’t need, and it’s nice to not be reached half the time. Hubby has his work cell phone that they pay for. Last year I got a pay-as-you-go cell phone to use as rarely needed since I was driving across a mountain range in December alone with three kidlets. Sometimes, I just don’t need to be reached, and other times, I’m at home. I can hear better on a land line, and it seems other people can hear me better. And needing that extra audio quality is important when the other person is most likely on a cell phone and you have 2-4 screaming children behind you vying for attention like little hyenas. But having the cheap cell phone is a nice parachute in a manner of speaking. I still don’t answer it 90% of the time when it rings (otherwise I have to pay for it!) and I forget to charge it, but eh. There’s worse things.
Don’t buy books unless you *have* to have them. Go to your library. Usually you can request they buy a book you’d really like to get. Inter-library loans rock. Just remember to turn in the books on time – fines make it not so free anymore. 😉 Less than buying a book you may end up not liking, but still. If the goal is to save money… Another great way to save on homeschooling costs is buy used. I’ve bought one curriculum in a box used already, and will most likely do the same this coming year – cheaper than new! There are also free resources out there if you’re so inclined. I’m still working out which ones I like/use and don’t use, so no links there yet. Right now I’m happy with Sonlight and adding other groovy things in. I still buy books I know we’ll use at some point, but the library and all their ILL partners? Holy cow, talk about one heckuva bookshelf! At the very least, it’s a great way to try-before-you-buy kind of deal.
Line dry your laundry if you can. Saves energy (our energy bill went down $10 one July just from line drying) and there’s no need for fabric softener to combat static. Wash laundry on hot or warm only if you really need it. Everything in our house is washed on cold except for diapers, the shower curtain, and occasionally sheets and towels. Plus I adore the smell of line-dried everything. Takes me back to my grandmother’s house every time.
I haven’t been able to line-dry lately due to many factors, and do miss it. Can be time consuming though when you have a larger family. One gal I know through her blog just got rid of her dryer and put a plain wooden drying rack in it’s place. My climate is not entirely conducive to this option though, and I still need to wash sheets/blankets at least a few times between September and May. Especially with young children that, ahem, are potty training and such.
Combine all your errands into one or two days. Plan your route so you use the least gas or can take the bus. Or bike there. I’ve got a great bike trailer, and the kids and I have biked to our local sandwich shop, friends houses, garden stores, etc. A bit more challenging the more children you have though. Now I’m lucky if I get one shower a day if that, so hitting more than 3 stores in one day? Not so fun for anybody involved when you’re carting around a 6yo, 4yo, 2yo and 4mo.
Buy less stuff. If you don’t buy it, you still have your money and you have less stuff to clean in your house.
For example, here’s my closet. Okay, okay, I know it’s not tidy. It’s still a work in progress, and that little pack and play there? Is where the baby sleeps. So until the babe is relocated at some point to the girl or boy room, it is what it is.
Granted, some my clothes are missing from those empty hangers because they’re in the dirty pile beneath, but I don’t need a huge wardrobe. And some of it is maternity clothes I need to re-home. Now I crack up while watching House Hunters on HGTV. All those folks that need that giant walk-in closet that’s the size of one of our bedrooms? Riiight. Now, if it were a food pantry I’d be all kinds of drooly, but anyway. You just don’t really need that many clothes if you’re one of the normal middle class and don’t work in a place like on Ugly Betty or The Devil Wears Prada.
De-clutter your house. In some states (like mine) you can deduct your donations from your taxes up to a certain point. Less stuff to clean is good. My kids also seem to calm down when our house isn’t in complete chaos, which leads to less tantrums.
For example, the kids’ room:
(rather than junk the 32yo dresser we’re in the process of fixing the drawer slide underneath it, normally the drawer is in it’s rightful place)
(yes, this is the bunk bed we could squish four people into)
I’m too cheap to do one of those decorated nurseries (I’m trying to be nice here), and if the kids get really interested in something at some point we’ll do neato curtains or pillowcases or something simple and easily changeable. But really? My 6yo was thrilled with the maroon/red comforter and the 4yo loves his blue comforter as those are their favorite colors. I’d much rather spend extra money on fabulous, sturdy heirloom furniture than wall hangings and fancy theme bedding and such that the kids will outgrow in a matter of years or months.
We had the boys co-sleeping on a comfy queen-sized bed until we finally had the money to buy our bunk bed (on sale/clearance! and it’s twin over full with a twin trundle to boot – can potentially stuff 4 kids in it!), a dresser for each kiddo, and stuff they’ve outgrown or will grow into is stashed in the girl/guest room closet in large totes. Including winter coats, shoes, boots, Halloween costumes, etc. I’m slowly working on selling/putting away some of the outgrown things though.
Use a calling card for your long distance. Only once every few months we actually call long-distance without it (like an emergency or whatever). It actually costs about the same to have long distance available ($3/mo) as it is to block it ($2-$2.50/mo), so it’s there for us as backup. We got a 1000 minute calling card for something insane like $40 at least 3 years ago that we finally used up this year.
Grow a garden. I’m insane in this regard. We currently have about 1200sf of garden space, and I’m still figuring out places I can squish things in – like trellising grapes up and over our shed, planting blackberries up against the shed as a border that’ll half keep them in check, hope to plant more fruit trees this spring, and so on.
The zucchini just freakin’ exploded in the last week or two! The hops (climbing that teeny hemp twine in the foreground) are also pretty happy and green and climby. Yeah, weeds. Feel free to come over and weed if you have the time.
My little 3yo model next to my things going to seed. The really tall yellowish flowers next to kiddo are celery going to seed, the big white flowers are purple carrots going to seed. I need *much* taller cages for those suckers next year. Oh, and those Tribute strawberries are reflowering and sending out runners like gangbusters. I like that.
I also have a few fruit trees throughout the neighborhood I’ve asked the owners about, and harvest from as my life/schedule/kids allow (gotta love freebies!), and so on. We also plan to hit the local forest a few times for huckleberries, and I got 6 more fruit trees from Costco one year to plant out in the yard and have two pear trees from last year in big pots (we’ll see if they survive the winter!). Yes, my house lot is only .28 acres, and yes, we have a fairly normal sized house plus underground utilities and an 8-foot road/water easement where we can’t put anything. Like I’ve said, you just need to get creative. Just check out the Dervaes family. And their lot is much, much smaller than mine to boot – even if their growing season is twice as long.
I also start my own seeds (I like my variety!) and started saving my own seed a few years ago. But you do have to be somewhat interested in this whole thing to go as bonkers as I have. One day I won’t have to buy hardly any seeds. One day. I still like experimenting around with different varieties of some things though, just the nature of the beast once it gets into your blood.
I also try to grow as much of something as we need for the year. I don’t always succeed, but trying is sure a good start. Like enough blackberries and raspberries and blueberries to freeze or turn into jam or whatnot to last until the next harvest. I can green beans, pickles, salsa, tomato sauce, sliced apples, applesauce, chicken stock, vegetable stock, jams, relish, and on and on. I’m also getting into dehydrating and live storage/root cellaring – less things in the freezer makes me happy (in case the power goes out or something – it’s happened in my area before). You know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket… 😉
If you don’t have the land for a garden or rent, do container gardening. You can take the containers with you from place to place. 🙂 Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew has some neat ideas, even if I am too cheap for his Mel’s Mix. Patricia Lanza has a new book about Lasagna Gardening in containers and small spaces since she recently downsized. Lots of good ideas. You just need to get creative and possibly try new things.
Make your hobbies useful. My hobbies tend toward neat homeschool goodies, canning, gardening, cooking. Hubby’s are tinkering/fixing things around the house and the cars, wood-cutting, fishing, and possibly hunting at some point. I have friends that can knit up a storm, others that can sew like nobody’s business. Bartering your own goods/services in exchange for someone else’s can be a very good thing.
Turn down your water heater to 120 (or 125) degrees. If you need it hotter for stripping diapers like I do, occasionally crank it up to 130 for that particular load and then turn it back down. Bonus if you have a tankless water heater, but man, those suckers are expensive. Only way we’ll end up with one of those is if we built our own house, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t win Powerball the other day, so no dice.
If your house loses a ton of heat during the winter, put on storm windows. If that’s not an option, get 8mil plastic and put it on the outside of your windows. A few years ago dh put it on with duct tape, and it worked okay. We’d planned to get frames to put the plastic or glass the next year, but then we got a wood stove and then another and we have to open the windows/patio door to cool it off. Then this year we put in new windows and used spray-foam insulation around said windows. Holy moly, we didn’t have to fire up our secondary stove at all, and had to open windows more often than not to make it bearable in the house. Who says you can’t get fresh air in the wintertime? 😉
Evaluate how you heat/cool your house. Plan accordingly.
We heat with wood. Dh goes wood-cutting with a neighbor starting in the summer to get a jump on everybody elset. Pays the Forest Service $5/cord and goes and cuts down dead trees (so we’re actually doing the Forest Service a favor! and trees are a renewable resource, blah blah blah). 5 cords and 2 wood stoves keeps our 2180sf house at 72-88*F all winter. Even during the 3 week cold snaps where it never gets above 20*F at all.
If you heat with electricity/natural gas, make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck – i.e. how efficient are your furnace/baseboards/etc.? Or if you heat with oil see what kind of deal you can get if you’re buying at “slow” times of the year (aka, usually June/July) or whatnot.
Use cloth diapers and cloth pads. In over 7 years of cloth diapering (with 4+ of those years diapering two at a time!), I’ve spent maybe $1000 on cloth diapers. That’s just because I like the nice/easy stuff, you could easily spend $200 from birth to potty-training with less expensive prefolds and such. But I’ll also be able to resell at least half of it and recoup some of the cost. I think we might be spending $2-$3/month on washing the diapers. And I was washing a load a day pretty much. Maybe every 1.25 days if I was slacking/stretching it out.
Although right now I fully admit to copping out and using disposables. Being home alone with four children and no break and little help and barely able to cope with them let alone the regular running-of-the-household stuff like laundry and cooking and cleaning for almost an entire year almost pushed me over the edge several times (and not in a good way, not even close). Target’s Up and Up brand is the cheapest and least perfumed around my area, and I sometimes get checkout coupons for a bounce-back purchase.
Some friends of mine do crazy coupon stuff, and between coupons, register rewards, Catalina coupons and other bounceback coupons, they got free diapers to last a year or two. Only problem with that (IMO) is that only works if you and your children aren’t brand loyal. I cannot handle the scents/perfumes of most disposable diapers, some have extra additives children are allergic to, etc. But if it works for you, rock on.
And don’t immediately go “ewww” about cloth pads. I know that’s difficult if you’ve never heard/thought of it, just roll with me here.
Like cloth diapers, it is a bit of an investment up front. But after the initial start-up, all I have is the washing once a month or so. I also have a Diva Cup (instead of tampons) that is also quite handy. I don’t have to buy any disposable pads or tampons anymore, in addition to tons of ibuprofen and stick-on heating patches. I bleed less and for a much shorter time, I’m not near as nauseated (to the point of blacking out and throwing up before or having to call in to work sick), my cramps aren’t as severe (I take *maybe* 2-3 ibuprofen total instead of 30+ ibuprofen a day for the first 3 days), and I’m not all dried out down there from the chemicals in tampons and pads. Oh yes, there are chemicals in those, just like in disposable diapers. Plus hubby’s happy because his wife doesn’t disintegrate for a few extra days every month. I’m sure the kids appreciate it, too. I haven’t had to stroll down that pad/tampon aisle in over 7 years. It’s been lovely.
Since I’m already in TMI territory, we also used FAM. Fertility Awareness Method. Go get yourself a copy of Toni Weshler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It’s cheaper than birth control pills where the hormones can turn you into the Wicked Witch of the West, and you get to know your body and your cycles and all that jazz. Empowering I guess you could say. If you keep up on it and don’t slack and have semi-regular cycles, it’s pretty easy. And really, if you already have kids, you should have a digital thermometer somewhere in the house. (only other things I need are a pencil, and the copies of the temping charts) If you’re sure you’re absolutely done, typically insurance covers a vasectomy, and it’s a much easier/quicker procedure than tube tying and whatnot. Doesn’t mess with as many hormones as well.
Cook/bake/run the dishwasher in the early morning/late at night during the summer to avoid heating the house up faster. Do all that during the day in the winter to help heat up the house. 🙂 My dishwasher also has a start-later timer-type feature. So when it’s time for bed, I’ll get the diapers washing in the washing machine, and set the dishwasher to go off 2 hours later so the appliances aren’t vying for the same hot water and freaking out the water heater. Of course, my dishwasher also has a child lock, so I’m rather fond of that sucker. 😉 Also don’t discount the child-lock feature on the ice/water dispenser on a fridge. I love mine. I would suggest buying an extra front panel/sticker thingie when you buy a model like that though – the buttons we frequently push are starting to really wear out now. Once the model’s no longer made, good luck finding those suckers. Sigh.
Get out of debt. Read books by Dave Ramsey. If we didn’t have any debt and the house was paid off, we could probably live off $20-$25K a year – even with teenagers (yes, I’m already planning ahead on how we’re going to feed them – hence all the gardening and canning and my pantry). If we already had some savings in the bank for emergencies though. But I live in a lower COL area, nowhere near the insanity of NYC or San Francisco.
Live at least within your means. Preferably, below it. The lower, the better. If you can barely pay your rent and power bill and buy groceries, what happens when life happens? When you or your child gets sick? Or the car needs new tires or the alternator finally gives out or the insurance is due? Those things aren’t exactly unexpected, so it’s best to plan ahead for them.
Fire extinguishers. Okay, I know they’re not exactly cheap. But. If you need them? Won’t you be happy you have them? Right now Costco has a coupon on them. Happens about once a year. We have a fire extinguisher by each wood stove. A big one in hubby’s closet in our bedroom, a smaller one in each of the bedrooms and kitchen. CO detectors are on three levels (we have a natural gas furnace that we very rarely use). Prevention and all that.
From the hubby:
Check the insulation in your attic/roof. If you need more, check with your local utility company, they may reimburse part of your cost or they may even pay for it.
Your outlets let more air in than you think. Get those little foam insulating pads that reduce the draft into your house through the outlet covers.
If you’re replacing appliances, windows or doors, check with your local utility company(ies). Odds are they may have some kind of rebate program.
If you’re planning on doing one of the federal tax credits or something, do the math. When we put in new windows, the federal credit required us to spend something like $400-$600 more (after the ‘credit’) on windows than just regular decent quality ones that our local utility company rebates for. The added cost wasn’t worth the “savings” the gov’t was offering.
Adjust your federal and state tax withholding so you don’t get a giant refund every year. You’re giving the gov’t a free loan (they don’t pay you interest!), and that’s money you could use during the rest of the year. We aim for a few hundred as a refund, but unemployment and wacky job changes and more kids kind of threw a monkey wrench into that the last few years. 😉
Pay cash. If you have the money on hand, call up your dentist/cardiologist/transmission guy/whoever and see if they do a cash discount if you pay with cash/check or pay bills in full. Odds are that they will, more often than not. It’s not cheap for them to accept credit/debit cards, and cash is king.
Rechargable batteries. Especially if/since you have kids. Or cameras. Or whatever.
Change all bulbs to florescent – Costco or Ikea are a good place to get them cheaply.
If your windows are really inefficient, get sheet Styrofoam from your local hardware store. Cut them to the size of your windows and slide them in. Tip: Cut them in the garage and not on carpet, and put masking or duct tape on the cut ends so you don’t have a Styrofoam explosion when inserting and removing. I speak from experience. Grrr.
Check to see if you need new wax ring/seal the bottom of your toilet to the floor. They need to be changed every 5 years or so. The previous owners of our house never did it. The under-flooring started rotting from water damage in our master bathroom. The main bath started showing signs of water leakage, so hubby replaced it there. If you or your SO are mechanically inclined, change it yourself or find a relative who’ll do it for you. Needless to say, we had to redo a few things in the master bath because the floor needed to be all torn out.