18 May 2013

How We Save Money

Being smart with finances was something that was super important to both Daniel and I before we married. How you handle money is a hugely important part of marriage and thankfully, both of us recognized that before we married and made sure we were on the same page and had the same goals.

I always love hearing what other people do to save money so I thought I would share some of the things we do. We mostly do a lot of little things that add up. When you're saving for adoption and essentially rebuilding a house from the inside, every little bit helps.

The #1 most important idea is understanding the difference between needs and wants. Needs are very basic. We need shelter, but it doesn't need to be a fantastic or expensive shelter. We need food, but we don't need a lot of food or food that doesn't offer much nutritionally. One of the things we address most frequently when shopping or looking to buy something is "do we really need this?"

We apply needs vs. wants to food. When grocery shopping we ask, "is this something we all like? Can it be used in several different meals? Does it have a lot to offer nutritionally?" Usually our shopping fits all of those questions with the exception of the "I'm on my period and I want to eat junk food" shopping detours. This keeps us from getting random things that are both expensive and don't offer much.

We shop with a grocery list. This is one of the most frequent money saving recommendations. Go in with a list, stick to the list and don't spend extra, unnecessary money.

We meal plan (sort of). I should say we try to meal plan. For some reason I really don't like meal planning but I know it's good so I keep trying to do it. Once it's done it's fantastic but actually sitting down to write it out irritates me for some reason. Anyway, I look at the list of things I can make (I keep a private blog as my own personal cookbook) and then try to come up with a two week plan of things that kind of tie together so I can use everything I buy. If there is something I want to make that uses celery then I'll plan two other meals that call for celery so none of it goes to waste.

We only go out to eat once or twice a month. It weirds me out when I see money saving helps with suggestions like "only go out to eat 4 times a week"........what?? FOUR times a WEEK??? I was talking to a single friend the other day and she reminded me that's really not that weird for a single person. I'll give her that.

Our once a month plan started shortly after we got married and I discovered my love for Cafe Rio (yum!). If I could, I would eat Cafe Rio for dinner pretty much everyday. So Daniel came up with a compromise to eat at Cafe Rio (we've now switched to Costa Vida) on the first Monday of every month. That way we know it's coming up and don't make a spur of the moment run. 

Outside of Costa Vida Monday we'll usually go out to eat as a family once a month. We've been trying to go to new places and it's been fun discovering new little local places.

We're growing some of our own food. This week we bought three tomato plants; an Early Girl, a Big Boy (both big tomatoes) and a Sweet Million (cherry tomatoes).

We eat meat infrequently. We've always got frozen salmon on hand but other than that we buy a little bit of fresh chicken probably once a month or maybe every other month. We only buy red meat once a year when we have steak for thanksgiving, or if good ground beef is on ever on super sale. All of that of course excludes the once a month sweet pork salad from Costa Vida...yum, is it Costa Vida Monday yet or what??

We do ad matching. A lot of grocery stores do ad matching now so we check through the ads that come in the mail, find the great prices and add the prices to our grocery list. When something is on sale we meal plan for meals that use that item.

Daniel and Aurelia doing Saturday morning ad matching.

Okay, that was a lot about food...I think that's because food has the most opportunity to trim when you're already spending little. Anyway, moving on...

I don't have a smartphone. Why would I need a smart phone? Most people don't need a smart phone. Data plans and the phones themselves are more expensive than a basic call and text phone. We've seriously considered even dropping Daniel's smart phone but have found that for right now it's beneficial for keeping in contact with his work clients. If it weren't for his job though we would drop his as well.

We use freecycle.org. If you haven't heard of freecycle you're missing out. If you have something you want gone you just post it as an "offer" and someone local says they'll take it. If you need something you put out a request and pick it up. Over the years we've received baby clothes for Aurelia, a ton of newspaper (Daniel's work prank), a years worth of Real Simple magazines, flower bulbs, and loads of other things. We've also given away a lot through freecycle.

If it's not an immediate need we'll first check/request from freecycle, then check classifieds, then shop around (Amazon, Ebay, websites for local stores, etc.) and wait until we find a stellar price. That's the process we follow for pretty much everything. Even if it's a long shot we'll try requesting on freecycle. No luck? Move on to the local classifieds or craigslist. Still no luck? Shop around online for a really great price, find the best price and if we still really want it then we'll get it.

We don't buy paper towels. Paper towels are a convenience (and an expensive one at that), not a necessity.

We use cloth diapers and wipes. No way would we do this one if we had to pay to do laundry, thankfully we've got our own. We use disposable diapers at night and only use disposable wipes when we're on the go.

When something is on sale we stock up and then use normally. If there is something on really great sale, butter for example, then we'll buy a bunch and freeze it. The second part is important though, we don't start using it all willy nilly just because there is a lot of it.

We buy a backup. We have a backup on hand of pretty much everything we buy regularly. If we were completely out of laundry detergent I would buy two, one to use and the next to have after. This means if you all of a sudden run out of something you don't have to run to the store and buy something that might be at a higher price. You start using the backup, watch for a sale and then buy the next backup. Does that make sense? I feel like I just said backup over and over again (backup, backup, backup...).

We buy children's books at the thrift store. We do this regularly and have quite the collection. Board books brand new are like $15. That's a ton of money. We go to the thrift store and find 'like new' books for $.25 to $1 at the most. That means we usually come home with 5-10 books for under $5. (Daniel says to add that getting books for $.25 means it isn't any kind of tragedy if they get torn up or colored in.)

We buy children's clothes at the thrift store. The trick here is to go to a thrift store in a nice area with a mostly family population. Don't bother looking for kids clothes in a college town. I had such a good haul from the thrift store last week that I almost did a blog post only about that. In fact...maybe I still will. Anyway, kids grow out of clothes so quickly and dirty them up so easily that it's painful to buy all clothes brand new. We do buy brand new clothes occasionally but a majority of Aurelia's clothes come from freecycle and the thrift store (including the cute little outfit she wore for her second birthday).

We don't buy milk. Yep, we don't buy milk. Okay, ocassionally we buy milk when a recipe calls for it. But where do you get your calcium? In loads of other things. It started with the switch to organic milk. Organic milk is SO expensive so we started being more conservative with our milk use. We realized we were using milk almost entirely to eat cereal in the morning and any other time we wanted a quick "meal" or snack. Sugary cereal isn't that great for you. So, first we stopped buying cereal and instead eat oatmeal and/or fruit for breakfast (not that instant nonsense, the tube shaped container kind). Now, we only buy milk when we need it for meals planned ahead.

We drive smart. When we drive we accelerate slowly, don't speed and try to avoid stop and go driving as much as possible.

We combine trips. When we need to go somewhere we try to do everything in one go. This cuts down on the times we go out in our car. That means if we need to go somewhere that isn't urgent then we'll wait until we have other errands to run in the area. This is where buying a backup comes in handy too because we very rarely have to make a special trip to go buy something.  

We walk. If we aren't in a hurry and something is close then we'll walk.

We use the GasBuddy app. When we're getting low on gas, we'll check gas buddy to see where the cheapest gas station is near us. 

We bought a house. Okay, so this one might not be immediately applicable for a lot of people. We saved up during our first few years of marriage, did our research and bought our duplex as a short-sale with 20% down. That meant our mortgage was less than we were paying in rent and 20% down means we don't have to pay PMI. Our house is also a duplex which means once we finish renovations, the rent from one unit will more than cover our mortgage payment.

I love hearing other ideas, so if you've got them, share them!


  1. We do a lot of these things too! Though I have to say meal planning in the bane of my existence. I try so hard but I like to change it up all the time or I forget to pull things from the freezer and have to change it up. Another thing I try to do is every couple of months we do a no buy week or two. Since we stock up on sales it's nice to purge your stock and save some money for later sales. I still buy a few things like fresh veggies to make the meals but most things come from the pantry or the freezer. The extra money from the food budget stays there for future stock.

  2. Awesome, way to go!

    One simple thing I've been thinking about lately is taking lunch to work with me. No gas money to go home and back at lunch time, or even more costly, going out to eat and back at lunch time. Also can usually take a shorter lunch and be home earlier. I just HATE preparing a lunch, I hate doing anything in the morning, really, but I end up being very grateful every time my wife forces me to do it.

  3. we do some of these things but not most and we should! what awesome ideas! I love the "free recycle dot org"!! we are starting on cloth diapers here soon. I wanted to wait until I was finished with work to start. i'm nervous but excited for the savings as well. :)

  4. oh! and the same with the cell phone! we JUST bought a cell phone a year and a half ago! brian has a simple flip phone. lol but now that he is starting his rotations at the hospital and all of the doctors use iphones, he is probably going to have to get one! the things work makes you do. lol