In a noisy world where it feels like everyone wants you to spend your money, today I’d just like to tell you how to save more of it. Here are 11 ways to save money, that have actually made a tangible difference in our budget.
There’s plenty of money-saving advice on the internet, but it doesn’t always come from people’s actual experiences. It’s often hypothetical, trite, and doesn’t speak to the circumstances of the people who actually need the ideas. For instance, I’m tired of reading the advice to “skip that fancy Starbucks latte you buy everyday!” I only buy a latte a few times per year, not per week!
Telling people to skip the latte, pack their own lunch, or cancel cable is as insulting as it is stale.
So here’s something a little different: I’ve brainstormed the specific things we’ve done to save money these past seven years, and now I’m sharing them with you.
Being careful and intentional with your finances is an important ingredient to a flourishing home. It doesn’t do to dwell too much on money, but we can’t deny it’s an aspect of our lives that needs stewardship.
If you’re frugally minded, you have likely worked on some of these things already. If that’s the case, consider this encouragement and motivation to stay that frugal course, because we’re right there with you! But who knows? Maybe you will find some fresh ideas here that can make a difference in your family’s finances this year!
Real Ways We Save Money and Live Frugally
1. We made a budget
This is the (often painful and tedious) first step to managing your money wisely. But we’ve learned that we can’t pay off student loans, save for our big goals, or live consistently below our means if we don’t know where our money’s going. For budgeting, we currently use Dave Ramsey’s free software, Every Dollar. We track all my blog expenses and income on a Google spreadsheet.
Another thing we’ve learned is that we need to frequently reevaluate our budget. We check categories to see if we can trim one down, or if one is too tight and needs more leeway, or if we need to come up with a new category for a new season. Basically, don’t be lazy about your spending and saving habits. Keep the pulse of your finances so you can manage them (or they’ll manage you, right?).
2. We drastically reduced our phone bill
Three years ago we were spending $140 per month for our cellphone plan. And the phones weren’t even the current “generation”! Not many of our budget categories had wiggle room, but I knew this was one that did. Luckily, I found a friend’s blog review of Republic Wireless. This company uses a hybrid of cell service and WiFi so they can offer cell phone plans that are much more affordable than bigger companies like ATT&T or T-Mobile.
How much more affordable? Well, for our two smartphones with unlimited talk, text, and plenty of data, we pay only about $35 each month! This means that we’ve freed up over $100 in our budget every month. Switching to Republic Wireless has saved us $1,200 per year! You should especially look into Republic Wireless if you are a teacher; they offer an additional hefty discount for teachers.
When we made the switch, we had to buy new Android phones up front, but we chose cheap options. After a couple of months, the switch had already paid for itself!
3. We shop at Aldi
Aldi is a nationwide discount grocery chain that I’ve been loyal to for ten years. Their prices are significantly cheaper than any other store we’ve shopped at. The “catch” is that Aldi stores are much smaller than conventional grocery stores and have less options. Some people find this limiting, but I love it because it makes for a simpler, more efficient shopping trip! Aldi has its own natural/organic line, which allows us to eat healthier options without the higher price tag.
If you’ve never tried Aldi, I highly recommend you check for a store in your area. I know it can be overwhelming to familiarize yourself with a new grocery store layout and products, but in this case it’s extremely worth it! My main caution with Aldi is that you stick to the basics and staples when you shop. Aldi carries a number of fun imports and specialty foods, as well as low-priced frozen and processed foods. It’s easy to get excited about their prices and end up going overboard with what you buy. So save the “fun foods” for an occasional party or family night, and turn your cart aside if it begins to veer towards the Gouda.
4. We buy cheap food
Where you shop makes a difference, but how you shop probably matters even more. Whether or not you have access to an Aldi, you can still reduce your grocery budget by always going for the cheaper food option of any category. You need fresh produce, so make the cheapest versions your staples. For example, we buy lots of carrots, russet potatoes, onions, bananas, navel oranges, and cucumbers. We’re less likely to buy avocados, bell peppers, pomegranates, and berries because these are more expensive and won’t stretch nearly as far. Buy produce in season for the cheapest prices, and only get the “special” produce when it’s on sale.
There are dozens of other ways to go the cheaper route: buying canned wild salmon instead of fresh, a plain can of tomato sauce instead of a jar of pre-seasoned pizza sauce, cheaper cuts of meat, etc. For more ideas, here are 25 common grocery store items that we simply stopped buying (and what we use instead).
In my opinion, the big secret to saving money on food is to change your definition of what’s normal and what’s a treat. Ice cream, raspberries, salad dressing, frozen pizza…change your thinking to count items like these as treats, and you’ll save hundreds if not thousands of dollars every year. Whenever I feel deprived for passing up the cream cheese, I just remember that many people in the world live on the simplest of diets: rice, beans, fresh fruit, chicken…just basics. We can make good meals out of basics and do just fine.
5. We delay spending
This is more of a personality quirk of mine that has turned into a helpful way to stay frugal! I like making lists of things I want to get for myself, or the home, but then I’m often a bit lazy about actually making the purchases. A few months later I still haven’t bought the items, and I realise that half of them I don’t need or already found for free. Now I purposely postpone spending, knowing my needs and desires may change down the road. This habit has saved our family a lot of money, and made us more intentional and effective with our purchases.
These are the five major things we’ve done to reduce our spending. However, there are some smaller but still effective ways to save money that we’ve worked on. These need less explanation:
6. We switched from disposable to reusable for household items
Disposables can be convenient, but they’re a money suck. Here are fifteen ways to avoid disposables around your home, and here are some additional ideas for your kitchen. Buying reusable options does take some investment, so make these changes gradually.
7. We decluttered our stuff
Early in our marriage we went through a major stuff purge. We carefully evaluated everything we owned, and trained ourselves to view items critically and intentionally. I outlined the process for simplifying your home in my book, Your Simple Home Handbook, which is available HERE.
And if you haven’t read it, here’s the post where I talked about how decluttering my home changed the way I spend.
8. We rarely shop at the mall or Target
We don’t want to put ourselves in the path of items we don’t intend to buy. Browsing is a costly pastime; if we do want to “shop around,” we do it in a thrift store or the used book store! When we do need to purchase something from a large store, we treat it like a surgical strike: choose the item ahead of time online, then beeline for that item in store and get out with our wallets intact.
9. We make our own cleaning supplies
My caution with homemade and natural cleaners is that you not go overboard. Have fun, but if you’re really trying to save money make sure that things things you make are replacing/reducing the stuff you would buy, not adding new expenses and clutter to your life.
10. We just pick one
This is a general rule of thumb for anything from subscriptions to entertainment to activities. Pick your favourite from the options available. We just have Netflix, rather than Netflix and Hulu and Amazon. I’m subscribed to one magazine. I don’t get monthly subscription boxes from anybody! (There are a couple of subscription services I use that don’t require a regular shipment, which I appreciate.) When we want to spend money on a family outing during a school break, we only pick one.
We would spend too much money and time if we tried to do all the things, services, and offers available.
11. We don’t have long commutes
My husband lives five minutes from the school where he teaches, and I work from home by writing my two blogs. In the past, we’ve picked apartments that were within walking distance of work! We’ve saved lots of money on gas, which can be a very large budget category for some people. You can’t always control where you live or work, but the next time your job or home changes, keep the commute time in mind.