With nine mouths to feed, seven potential sets of braces to pay for and seven college tuitions looming in the future (not to mention family vacations, kids extracurricular activities and nine people to clothe...), I am always looking for ways to save money. Besides the obvious necessity of saving money, there is something so exciting about getting a good deal. A few months ago, I gave a short presentation at a church meeting on budgeting where I gave some of my top tips for sticking to a budget. With the start of a new year, I thought I would share some of them here. If any of you have some great tips for saving money, please leave me a comment---I'd love to hear them!
My Overall Budget Strategy:
**If you can’t pay cash for it, don’t buy it!
**Pay tithing first
**Pay yourself next— take full advantage of any matching plans (such as 401k) that your company offers---it’s free money!
**Save a minimum of 10% each month (including 401k)
**Build and maintain a “rainy day” fund equal to 8 months of expenses
Saving Money on Food:
**Use sales and coupons to save on groceries and create a stockpile (aka food storage) I actually have four Sunday papers delivered to my house each week just for the coupons. The key to saving money with coupons, is to save the coupons and wait for a sale, then stock up when the prices are rock bottom. My favorite couponing website is the Krazy Coupon Lady. It is an excellent resource for learning how to coupon and keeping up with all the sales!
**Buy produce and meat on sale and in season. Coupons for fresh produce and meat are hard to come by, but there are still ways to save. Many of the big grocery stores (like Safeway) run great specials on fresh meat---it is often a "loss leader" meaning that they actually sell the meat below their cost because they know if they get you in the store to buy the meat, you will spend all kinds of money on other things. When meat is cheap, I buy a bunch and freeze it. For fruits and veggies I have a similar strategy---fruit and veggies that are in season are going to be cheaper. Some fruits (like berries, peaches, mangos, pineapple, etc.) can be frozen, so when they are in season, I buy a bunch and freeze them to use later in the year when they are not in season, and therefore more expensive.
**Make and freeze meals. One of my friends, Shaleen Wilding has a great website for this: By buying in bulk and making several freezer meals at once, she is able to feed her family of 10 for around $4/meal! You can order her recipe book online for $7.50, which basically covers the cost of printing and binding.
**Eating out: look for coupons online (Groupon.com often has good ones) or places like the Entertainment book, Split an entrée to save $$ as well as inches on your waistline!
Saving Money on Clothes and Household Items:
**Shop clearance sales—buy ahead for next year. I find great clearance deals at Kohl’s and Target (My Target often marks things down on Thursdays). Even Sam’s Club and Costco put things on clearance (at Sam’s look for prices that end in “1”, ie, $2.91, that indicates a clearance item. At Costco, look for the * on the price sign---that means they don’t plan to reorder that item and it may have a lower price)
**Clearance sales aren't just great for clothes, I also keep a "stockpile" of birthday gifts, baby gifts, teacher gifts etc.
**Always search for coupon codes when you buy things online
**Consider buying used---Craigslist, Garage Sales, or thrift stores
**Automate everything---save money on stamps and avoid late fees. Most bills can be set up to pay automatically through the company. For companies that don’t have an autopay program or for things like piano lessons, set up an automatic payment via your bank’s online billpay.
**Always compare prices---insurance, hiring contractors, furniture
**Try using this simple phrase: “Is that the best you can do?” (Especially on big ticket items like cars, homes, etc)
**Cut your kids and husband’s hair yourself
**Give yourself manicures and pedicures (get the little stickers from Walmart to put on your toes---then it looks like you got an expensive pedicure, but you only spent a few dollars)
Once you create a stockpile, you might have to get creative in order to find places to store it all. Living the Texas (where it gets HOT during the summer), the garage is not a good option for storing food, so I use any extra space I can find, such as the coat closet under the stairs, in the laundry room, and even under beds.
Things like canned veggies and cream soups usually hit their lowest price around Thanksgiving time. Using coupons, I can get them for about 25 cents a can, so I buy enough to last me until the next Thanksgiving. Baking items like flour, sugar, spices, etc. are also at their yearly low during the holidays.
Snacks and cereals usually have a "sale cycle time" of about 6-8 weeks, meaning that they will go on sale about every 6-8 weeks. I try to keep a 3-6 month rotating supply of these items when I can get them for free (like the fruit snacks) or really cheap (under a dollar for cereal).
We go through a LOT of cereal at our house. Cheerios are a favorite and they recently went on sale...with coupons I spent 77 cents/box (the 14 oz size). Some Honey Nut Cheerios boxes have a deal on them...buy two boxes get a FREE movie ticket (up to $12 value). With coupons I was able to get the Honey Nut Cheerios for $2.50/box, which is more than I usually spend, however I thought $5 for a movie ticket and two boxes of cereal was a pretty great deal! (If you want to try this deal yourself, look for the specially marked boxes of HN Cheerios at your local Target--it is the middle sized box. My Target started stocking a different box, but when I looked behind the front boxes, I found a bunch of the movie ticket boxes hiding in the back). Print out these coupons before you go to maximize savings!