Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Frugal Living: Practical ways for ANY family to save

So I saw an article on frugal living via Yahoo today and it didn't sit right with me for a VARIETY of reasons, mainly the insinuation that an average American family of four can live on $14,000 a year, afterall this was the title of the article. As I began reading I kept thinking over and over, I call BS... or as my Dad would say, "there's a fly in the ointment"...

Here's a few of the things that got my eyebrows raised without getting into the whole details- I can say that your average family doesn't have phenomenal government paid for health care (our family health insurance, should we opt to have it, would cost a mere $600 a month, and that's for a pretty much CRAP plan with a $5000 deductible before they pay a dime and a $25,000 family out of pocket max. Even if you never have to use the plan and only incur the monthly premium... well half of your "$14,000" budget is dunzo.) Not to say that our military and their families don't deserve great healthcare, they do, but unless you've served don't count on anything close to VA benefits!

 Next up the idea of having no house payment because you laid down $30,000 cash for a 3 bedroom "fixer-upper"... I literally shudder at the idea of an inhabitable (and I use this word loosely) space with 3 bedrooms that I could move my family into for $30k. I don't care if it was foreclosed, abandoned, auctioned off, whatever. I find it a wee bit of a stretch to think that this price could buy you anything NEAR a 'house', I don't care where you live. Perhaps I am wrong... in which case I will say to anyone who lives in an area that has a decent property in this price range consider yourself lucky and go for it. The rest of us are S.O.L. on that idea. And that doesn't even account for the fact that you don't save $30k in cash on a $14k salary. Obviously. So the real story here is that they saved all of this money over a long period of time while the family was making a helluva lot more than $14k a year.

Same with cars and car payments- see above, you don't save this much cash with your tiny $14k a year, especially if you're spending $400 a month on groceries (that's a whole OTHER issue). Or hand baking your own bread rather than buying prepackaged (fyi, your single packet of yeast is more expensive than a .99 cent loaf of store brand). So what I'm getting at with all of this, I could go on, is that after I read this and picked the story apart (which may have been Yahoo's irresponsible false portrayal of this family's situation) I thought, what can I get out of this?? And that is, what can your average family do to save money and live more frugally in a realistic scenario.

We most certainly aren't living on $14k a year, but we do have pretty much a single income household, and while my hubby works his butt off every day for us, that income is most definitely sub par for what he's worth. Meaning, we aren't rolling in dough here folks and we've learned a LOT of ways to keep costs down while still enjoying things that we like. We sacrifice in certain areas to splurge in others. After you get used to stretching a single paycheck for several (8+ months) when you're self employed you tend to learn to be creative in managing your funds, or lack thereof.

I'm all for trying anything new and practical that can save us money but I do draw the line on certain areas, and I firmly believe there should be some sort of line, whatever that is for your own family. For example I will not drive a Prius or tiny little car; my SUV is huge, gets horrible gas mileage, but is safe, snow capable, and holds all of our crap. That is something I won't budge on. We have decided to purchase only organic and gmo free food (as much as we can afford) which has tripled our grocery bill each month, that's something we feel strongly about so we find a way to make it work. And things like homemade toothpaste, toilet paper, or whatever other extra-creative money saving extremes are out of the question, I'll gladly pay some green for the real deal.

Here are some of the things we do to save money that your average family can easily do to clamp off the outgo each month.

Utilize The Dollar Store: If you haven't been in one, go! Make sure it's a true dollar store- some are not. The best rule of thumb for the dollar store is to check there first before buying it somewhere else, chances are they have it. Price check your typical household items a couple of times at your grocery store and compare. You can get a TON of stuff here that you wouldn't think about that'll save you money!
  • Holiday things- easter basket stuff, valentine candy, xmas decor/wrapping/bows, halloween candy, etc.
  • Gifting supplies- all of them from wrapping paper, to tissue paper, to bows, and gift bags, not even Walmart can beat $1.
  • Household Items- cleaning supplies, kitchen goodies like zip locks, aluminum foil, trashbags
  • Organizing supplies- bins, buckets, closet organizers, totes, they have TONS of this stuff
  • School & Project supplies- paper, pens, folders, envelopes, posterboard, homeschooling goodies, etc
  • Party supplies- plates, utensils, decorations, serving wear, I always get a handful of party things here
Re-evaluate your cell phone plan or carrier: We opted for Sprint since their data plans were unlimited, it saved us a considerable amount of money.
  • Price shop all of the carriers for what your specific needs are, see if they offer to buy out your old carrier contract if you switch. 
  • You can get really good prices on new phones by going through Walmart. When we switched to Sprint I signed up via Walmart online and ended up getting a $500 phone for $100 and they waived the 'activation fee'. If your intent on going to the phone carrier store to sign up at least ask them if they will pricematch, can't hurt. I'd do the same thing for plans or deals that another company is offering, always ask, the worst they can say is no. 
  • Be creative about your plan, hubbs and I opted to do separate accounts instead of a family account because we were able to get both of our phones for super cheap, we waited 6 months to secure our deal and THEN switched to a family plan. By doing it this way we ended up saving a couple hundred in the end.
  • Always see if your employer or spouses employer gets a company discount at your carrier, we save 18% I think thanks to this!
COUPONS: Did I mention coupons?? If you don't know how to coupon, learn. It can be very time consuming if you want to go crazy with it (which I used to do), but you don't have to go all or nothing. I still find time to do a decent haul 1-3x a year and when you get things for free it's clearly worth your time! I typically only coupon for household items now since they have a better shelf life than food products and it's something we'll always need so I'm free to stockpile galore. We have a VAST supply of laundry detergent, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products, toothpaste, razors, shampoos, body soaps, and various medicines that I got for free that will last at least a couple of years. You do the math... And they are all name brand products (Tide, Crest, Pledge, Garnier, Dawn etc) no need to worry about getting some unnamed mystery product.

GROUPON: Along the same lines of couponing, utilize Groupon, Living Social, Moolala, Tippr, Weekly Plus, etc.

  • This is how we save a bunch of money on our 'fun' things like dinners, activities, movies, etc. I plan to use this for a family getaway when the timing works out too.
  • We get our formal family photos done this way for pennies on the dollar. 
  • I get photo canvases for our house here that would normally cost me thousands for $30-$80. 
  • Occasionally grab yourself some mani/pedi, massage, and hair coupons, no need to completely forego these extras if you can get a deal. 
  • These also make great gifts! I wait for their 'penny print' sales to stock up on the bazillion pictures I've taken over the past few months or year. I ended up ordering ALL of our wedding photos doing this, paid about $50 in total for 800 4x6's shipped to my house!

Be thrifty with clothing: STOP shopping at the mall or any other 'specialty' store, splurge every once and a while and that's it.
  • Ebay it- I have no problem getting some gently used kids clothes on Ebay, this saves us a good amount between both dudes.
  • Ross/TJ Max- get your namebrand stuff here for a fraction of the cost, it's fine, no one will know and you can laugh allllll the way to the bank at anyone who side eyes you for doing this.
  • Utilize online discount sites- is great, free shipping and a TON of brands that will periodically go 70% off.,, all of these 'deal' sites will save you money if you insist on owning some ridiculously priced item.

Pricematch your household bills: I recently got fed up with our latest trash bill since every time one comes in the mail it seems to have ANOTHER increase in "fuel surcharge", like they figured out people would accept this and just continued to run with it even though gas prices have been pretty stable for over a year.....
  • So I merely Googled a handful of other ones and found one for $15/mo (as opposed to our $30/mo) AND they offered new customers the first 3 months for only $10/mo. Well duh, no brainer there so we called our current company to say buh bye and they offered to match the price!! We didn't even ask, so lesson learned there, should've done that a LONG time ago. 
  • Same concept for our Comcast (cable/internet) bill, extortion is putting it lightly, I need to own Comcast. For easily 5 years now we wait for our bill to magically go up, as it always does, and then I call and ask whether they're running any promos that we can switch to. Every time they have something that ends up cutting the bill back in half. They're starting to be more stingy but by entering into a 'contract' you can usually get similar results, or ask them to match Century Link or another competitor.
Get rid of your house phone: unless you really need it or something, get rid of it if you haven't already. Even cell phone carriers will offer plans to add a line that will ring to a voicemail for much cheaper than a land line.

CFL lightbulbs: I will say that I haven't seen any enormous change in our energy bill since switching over but anything is better than nothing and I DO know for sure that the CFL bulbs last a lot longer in our house than the traditional bulbs. And you can buy CFL's everywhere now, even the dollar store.

Amazon: This little gem saves me a lot of money.
  • 'Subscribe & Save' for diapers/wipes- MOMS, I can tell you this is the cheapest way to get diapers, I've price matched it everywhere. Granted we buy Pampers since they're the only thing that work so if you're set with a storebrand that may be a better alternative, check and see. No one, not Walmart, not coupons, not Babies R Us can match Amazon's subscription prices and it is wonderful to walk to my front door to get diapers rather than piling everyone up in the car to go.
  • Prime Accounts- If you order things online frequently, check prices at Amazon, they usually have excellent prices and if you enroll in the prime account you get free 2 day shipping. This isn't for everyone since your prime membership isn't free but for us it saves a LOT of money because I order things constantly for business, birthdays, and especially around the holidays. I also get a discounted membership price for being a student ($49ish/year) so I'll milk that for all it's worth! 
Craigslist: We use this all the time to get deals on things. Kids toys, backyard climber toys, miscellaneous household things like a stand up freezer for the garage, car parts and accessories, lawn mowers, you name it we've gotten one for a phenomenal deal and I couldn't even begin to add up the savings. We sell things here too when we periodically go through our things, easier than sitting all day for a garage sale. Also, be careful on Craigslist, people can be creepy- act accordingly, never go alone, never show anyone something alone, avoid showing things at your home if possible, etc.

For business folks: I save money on biz expenses by doing a handful of things
  • Get rid of your fax line and use email-fax services, or just email since it's 2013 and that's how things are done. 
  • Vistaprint is your friend for all things advertising. I always scout for free coupon codes and discount codes to get free postcards, biz cards, cheap brochures, hang tags, yard signs, banners, etc. 
  • Stop paying a monthly website hosting fee and convert your site to a blog. If you don't know how to set up a blog with a custom template, adjust the html/css coding, or route and transfer domain names.... LEARN! I save $40+ a month doing this.

Alrighty so if you're still reading, you can see there are a million ways that you can save some cash in your every day life. These are all realistic practical things that ANY family out there can do, so why wait? Set a savings goal, make it a hardfast rule that any money that goes into that account does NOT come back out for any reason and start stashing it away. One of the best things I heard about managing money is to "tell your money where to go, or else it will just go away". This is so true, when payday hits I immediately pay all of our bills and throw money into savings before that money starts to disappear with random gas station purchases or fast food runs here and there, it will vanish if you don't put it somewhere, trust me! Once you get in the habit of spending less and putting a little bit away at regular intervals you'll notice a big difference.

Any other great tips on how you save money?? I'm always willing to try!

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