Family Finances: Frugal faves

Amanda breaks it down with money-saving tips you can use right………NOW!

Photo by: Malaclypse2351

After 34 years of living on this planet, learning from my parents and other smart people, and feeling the sting of some dumb spending decisions, I give you…

Amanda’s all-time, most-favorite money saving tips ever

Some I do, some I wish I did, all will save you money if you do them.

1. Write a meal plan every week to which you can stick

This is important–let’s be honest with ourselves, you aren’t going to make beef au jus from scratch on a school night, so don’t even try to pretend like you will–I’m talking simple roasted chicken and steamed string beans…K-I-S-S! Then write a grocery shopping list based on that meal. Proceed to said grocery store and buy only those items.

2. Buy clothes and household stuff used.

When I look around my house I am proud of how little I can see that was purchased new. Craigslist is brimming with furniture, yard sales are great for dishes, and there are more clothes at Goodwill than any of us will ever wear. And if you care about being green, buying used saves the environmental cost of packaging and shipping freshly made goods around the world.

3. Don’t assume that coupons are going to save you money.

I use a few coupons, but my new grocery store of choice (Aldi on Parham) doesn’t even accept them. Aldi’s prices are lower than Kroger even if I have a coupon.

4. Grow a garden.

My aunt and uncle have a garden for veggies, chickens for eggs, and bees for honey. I have a brown thumb myself, but imagine if you had delicious, fresh vegetables all summer just for the price of seeds. You can even make your own compost and forgo the price of fertilizer. And while the secret to growing a tomato will forever remain a mystery to me, those strange folk who are actually able to do so seem to find joy in being outside and growing things.

5. Find cheap ways to entertain yourself.

The city has a whole bunch of free and beautiful pools. The library has not just books but magazines and current movies as well. Invite your friends over for a cookout instead of going out to eat. Our 5 Things and 5 Things for Families column each week features a surprising number of free or cheap things to do in this great city.

6. Save up and buy that thing instead of financing it.

You get paid interest for saving your cash AND you avoid paying interest and finance charges for borrowing. If you save up 20% before taking out a mortgage, you will get a better rate, enjoy lower payments (because you are borrowing less), and you won’t have to pay private mortgage insurance, which ain’t cheap.

7. Call regularly and make sure you are getting the best deals on things like insurance and services.

I call our car insurance provider annually, and this year they found another $30 discount they could apply. While I’d rather be doing just about anything in the entire world, I call Comcast when we reach the end of the most recent “introductory period.” This is the actual conversation I had with them recently:

Me: My intro rate ends next month and I was calling to see if I can get a better deal than the full rate of $90.
Comcast: The only deal I see here is if you add phone and television to your internet. You will be paying only $135.
Me: I’m calling to pay less than $90.
Comcast: There are no other deals.
Me: On the site it says existing customers can get a rate of $69.
Comcast: The site is different from our system, so I probably can’t help you. [pause] Oh wait, I just found a $69 rate you qualify for.

I’m sure you’re not surprised. I’ll stop Comcast-bashing now, because really they’re all the same. Point being, sometimes a twenty-minute phone call will save you a couple hundred bucks.

8. Take care of your stuff.

I learned this from my handsome husband. He likes to buy good quality sunglasses, which I thought was super weird at first. But this man still has glasses he bought ten years ago in pristine condition. One pair of expensive sunglasses in great condition ten years ten years later is cheaper than ten pairs of cheap glasses, and you will probably see more clearly too.

9. Learn to bake bread.

I thought baking bread was something that involved 5:00 AM wake-ups and wood stoves. Then I bought a $10 used bread machine on Craigslist and experimented with a few recipes from the good ol’ internet. Now my children will only eat our homemade wheat bread. It is super cheap, way better for you (factory-made bread is loaded with weird chemicals and bakery bread is expensive!) and the bread machine does all the work.

10. Did I say make a grocery list? I meant make an EVERYTHING list.

I keep a running list of things I need to buy (contact solution, the next size of shoes for the kids, a gift for an upcoming event). The idea is to keep the list instead of immediately buying whatever it is you THINK you need. Then when you are out (or in on the aforementioned internet) keep a look-out for things on the list. My everything list keeps me from making last minute impulse buys, and I’m surprised how often I cross something off because I find another solution to what I thought was a need, or I just decide I don’t really need it. It also gives me time to wait for deals for things, which come along often.

11. Borrow from friends instead of buying a thing you will only use once.

We’ve lent our stuff out to friends and borrowed other stuff (and services like pet-sitting from others). Most folks are happy to help. Just be sure to return the borrowed item promptly in the same or better condition.

12. Cloth-diaper your babies.

I cloth-diaper because it is cheaper, but also because 1) I can’t bear the thought of all those disposable diapers ending up in a landfill, 2) my mom cloth-diapered us, so it is kind of what I know, and 3) man, I hate lugging large boxes of things home from the store. And don’t be buying those fancy $30 a pop cloth diapers. We have happily used cheap pre-folds and rubber britches for years.

13. Start on Freecycle.

Freecycle is like Craigslist except the people aren’t as kooky, and everything is free. I’ve given away everything from extra gift bags to baby equipment. I’ve scored a Christmas tree, wicker furniture, a fireplace screen, and lots of other stuff. If you need it, probably somebody else has it collecting dust in their basement.

14. Quit smoking for crying out loud!

Cigarettes are expensive, but not as expensive as the higher life and health insurance premiums you will pay throughout your life. The premiums are high but not as high as your portion of the expense of the heart surgery you’ll have at 60. Plus I’ve heard lots of women say they don’t date smokers, which makes me think smoking also limits your marriage pool of well-compensated potential mates.

15. Get organized.

Not only will this keep you from buying a tube of toothpaste when you already have seven stashed around the house or buying yet another plastic tub to store your Very Important Stuff, it will keep you from thinking, man, we really could use a house with more walk-in closets. Being organized also means you will have food in the cabinets when you are hungry, preventing an attack of The Takeouts, and you will remember to make (and keep) dental appointments. That preventative maintenance on your grin will help prevent expensive dental work down the road. Plus being organized means you will never forget your coupons.

Those are my faves. Help a frugal person out by sharing your own in the comments.

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Amanda Gibson

Amanda Gibson used to teach folks about money at the Fed. Now she spends her days reading history books, raising kids, and thinking of ways to rule the world.

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