Friday, January 14, 2011

Top Tips for Sticking to a Budget

In a recent survey, 65% of Americans said that one of their New Year's Resolutions would be to "save more money", and 52% planned to reduce spending in 2011.

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 ( 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

General Tips:
**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 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!

The Fabulous Five take a break from bargain shopping to eat pretzels on our weekly trip to Sam's's never to early to learn how to save money!!

Kyndall, Kassidy, and Kaydence

Rustin & Ryder



Anonymous said...

great tips! But any advice for saving money on non-processed foods?

Juli Pittman Skelton said...

I live in the south and use
most saving websites are about the same, but it wont hurt to try! Seems like you do a pretty job!

Rachelle said...

Anonymous---I added some fresh food saving tips to the blog post.

Juli--thanks for the website, I will check it out!

Angela said...

I can't wait to hear all your great money saving ideas.

Holly Denghel said... is also a good place for freezer recipes. After reading her blog, I found a used freezer at a really good price, and I'm in heaven!! I love having home-cooked meals available for busy weeknights.

Anonymous said...

When my husband (who doesn't cook)retired, I found myself stopping for take out food on my way home from work way too often, just to get a meal on the table quick (our kids are all grown and out of the house). Now I cook once every couple months. When it is a "crockpot weekend" I will run all 3 of my crockpots both Saturday and Sunday, sometimes twice in one day, making anywhere from 6 to 9 main meals. I then take the meals, and put them into seal-a-meal bags, so there is enough for dinner and next day lunch. I write the main dish and the date on the bag,put them in the freezer (lay them flat until frozen, then they can stand up), and keep a record of what is in there on a dry erase board (the meals are written in permanent marker). When I get home from work, take a meal out, change the total on the board, make a veggie and a starch and dinner is ready in less than 15 minutes.

Stephanie said...

Excellent ideas! I love your can food organizers!

Stephanie said...

canned food

Tracey's Life said...

Great ideas. I lost my job 18 months ago, and because of no debt and savings, we are still ok. Praying that 2011 opens up the job market again though.

Also using your public library instead of buying books. Children's books can be so costly and if they love to read, using the library helps to fuel the love of reading.

Kristen Duke Photography said...

i need you to hold my hand through this coupon thing...thinking about cutting and holding on to them and remembering to pull them out brings me anxiety because i have never been good at that! i really really need to be better! when can you guys come over for dinner?

DiAana said... is what I use. You have to subscribe to it, but it tells you when to use the coupons you have and where to find them. It also tells you if it's the rock bottom price or simply on sale. Its a great resource. If you shop Kroger, then you can add coupons to your Plus card and they will automatically be deducted when they scan it, so you don't have to carry the coupons with you.

Tobi said...

I thought I already knew how organized you were. I had no clue!! You have blown me away with all these amazing ideas.

Did you see that special on TLC called Extreme Couponing.

Rachelle said...

Tobi---Yes, I did see Extreme Couponing. One of the gals they showed was actually the Krazy Coupon Lady whose website I follow. She was the the one that searched through recyclying dumpsters to find coupons, (if you saw the show) and was definitely the most normal of the four. Some of those guys were a little psycho, like the guy with a 10 year supply of deoderant and the lady with a 30 year supply of toilet paper. I believe in keeping a stockpile, but not like that!! Anyway, I hear they are making it into a series...they are doing a casting call for extreme couponers.

Anonymous said...

Are all of your kids potty trained yet? I imagine you'll save tons when you are finished buying diapers for good! ;-)


Crazy Granny said...

I have been in your house, and I see how you run things. I've looked at all the future darling kids clothes, have searched through the food storage when I'm cooking, and I know how organized you are. I'm not surprised by any of these revelations. But YOU still AMAZE me!

cindyquiltsOR said...

This is one of those "odd ball" things: instead of saving my change, I save the one dollar bills. (I save the change some, the $1 nearly always).

I have paid for two trips to Alaska to visit g'kids with my dollar savings plan.

Best Wishes!
Cindy B.

Rachelle said...

Kathleen--Unfortunately I still have one hold out on the potty training, but cutting back on diapers has definitely reduced our monthly expenses!

Cindy--I like your dollar bill savings plan---I am not a very patient person and it seems like it would add up a lot quicker than just saving change!

Allisan said...

I'm a bit late, but I've saved huge amounts of money on all kinds of items using food co-ops! In the western US you can get 2 weeks' worth of fruit and veggies for $15 through Bountiful Baskets, and through the Crossroads Community food co-op you can get about 10lbs of meat and 20lbs of produce for $24. The stuff you get is always fresh and local, and your haul varies every time you order. I just googled "food co-ops" in my area and found a whole bunch!

Rachelle said...

Allisan--I have heard of Bountiful Baskets and I would LOVE to participate in something like that. They haven't made it to Austin yet, but when they do, I'm in!

Kelly said...

Excellent tips and reminders!