I've been getting a lot of positive comments about the blog lately and been hearing a lot of opinions about how people feel like the economy will not be getting better any time soon. This got me thinking about all the ways I have cut back in our family but do not feel like we are missing out on anything. My husband is a truck driver and I am a housewife. I do try to work when a job comes along, but in the area we live in there just are not many jobs to be had, and in the nature of hubby's job about 2-4 times a year we are going to be seriously strapped for cash. It's taken several years and some very hard lessons to help me figure out how to manage our money better and things I can do to ease the burden during hard times. So here are some of the things I have done and continue to improve on:
1. Create a budget. I started this by keeping a log of how much I spend on each individual bill, dog and cat food, groceries, dining out, entertainment, household purchases, gas, cigarettes (hubby smokes), and misc expenses. After 4-6 months I started seeing trends and I would try to make small changes in various categories. After I became accustomed to making small changes and cutting back, I started putting a cap on how much I could spend in various categories then setting aside money in savings. Tony and I now pretend that each of his checks are a certain dollar amount and when the checks are over we save everything over that amount, then when he has checks under that amount we have a cushion to help make up the difference.
2. Household bills. I have had my mortgage now for just over 6 years and early this year I shopped around for a new insurance policy. I still have a low interest rate from when I worked at the bank, otherwise I would have shopped around for a lower rate too. At the same time I got a new auto policy and between the two I am saving about $80 a month. For the electric bill, when we had a little extra money with our tax return we replaced our computer server with a smaller, more effective unit. I also called the electric company and they came and replaced our old meter with a newer one which we've noticed a big change in how much the unit says we use per day. If you know or suspect your current meter is at least 10 years old, or is analog and not digital, call to see about having your meter replaced, the company will generally do it for free. My electric company (Green Mountain in Texas) also has a customer loyalty program where I was able to lock in my rate at 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour for a year. Shop around for electric rates. I have also gotten into the habit of paying our bills 2 to 4 weeks in advance. If bills are the same amount every month then I'll pay them a month in advance. If they are variable, I'll pay a little extra on each one and pay it as soon as it's available. After keeping a log you will start to notice trends in how much those bills are at different times of the year and can anticipate how much they will be. Then when we have a month where Tony either does not work or works very few hours, playing catch up is not very difficult if we have to at all.
3. Pets. I started checking out different places that sell pet supplies. For years we bought our food at Walmart, and believe it or not, Walmart is not the cheapest place to get pet food. I found Tractor Supply Company had better prices on name brand food than Walmart, then started checking feed stores and found they have even better prices than TSC.
4. Food. Back when Tony and I both worked full time we would eat out 3 times a day. Then when I became a housewife we would eat out 2-4 times a week. Gradually we continued to cut back and now we only eat out one or two times a month. The cheapest we can eat out for is $15 if we hit a buffet, but often our bill exceeds $30 after tip at regular restaurants. I've made a game of trying to figure out how to make at home those foods we love when we eat out. The most expensive meals cost $10 to make and some I can make for $2-4 and feed 2-4 people and sometimes get multiple meals out of them. The past month with the cooler weather and tighter budget I have been making a lot more soup and serving homemade bread or grilled cheese sandwiches. I'll freeze the leftover soup to serve for lunch another day. Even convenience foods from the store I've started making at home for less (for example: pizza, burritos, french bread, refried beans).
5. Entertainment. Tony set up the new server connected to our television in the living room and set up Hulu desktop so we can watch tv shows and movies on demand for free. We do still have satellite service since we don't pick up local stations without it, but we are able to get by with just a local package since we can watch a lot of our favorite shows online for free. Tony and I do still go to movies once every couple of months, but instead of going to the big, mega theatres that charge $10+ dollars for admission then even more for the consession, we started going to the Movie Tavern which only charges $5 for admission. Sometimes we will eat there as the prices are good, but when money is tight we will get Taco Bueno before and just get a drink to share at the movie (which comes with free refills).
6. Household purchases. It's amazing how much money we spent on things like cleaning supplies, bottled water (our water here isn't always safe to drink), hardware, car repairs, etc. Many of you are familiar with my recipe for making laundry soap, I believe it is a November 2008 post. That alone saves me at least $120 a year, $170+ if I include fabric softener savings. For $1 I can make a batch of detergent that will last me a month, and I've replaced my fabric softener with 1/2 cup to 1 cup vinegar in the rinse cycle (cuts down on odors and lint). I do still use dye and perfume free dryer sheets, my mom bought me some dryer balls but they just did not seem to work against the static. I have also started making many of my own cleaning products, but I do also keep a bottle of Clorox Green Works dilutible soap on hand and use a few drops in water for everything from cleaning windows and mirrors, floors, walls, counter tops, degreasing the stove, etc. This one product instead of tons of others for each individual job has helped me save money and space. Tony and I also try to figure out how to fix things ourselves rather than having someone else do it like we did in the past. As for our water, we bought an under-sink cold water filter then use a Brita to filter it a second time instead of always buying bottled, and I found some inexpensive bpa-free reusable water bottles on Amazon.com that Tony uses for work.
7. Cigarettes. I hope each of you reading this does not smoke, but if you do, then rolling your own cigarettes saves A TON of money. We make a trip to the Oklahoma border once or twice a month (we only live 40 miles from the nearest border tobacco shop) and for about $30 Tony can get enough tobacco and tubes for two cartons of cigarettes vs. $50+ a carton here in Texas.
8. Changing my mindset and constantly asking questions has made the biggest difference. In everything I do that costs money, I ask myself "Is there a way to do this cheaper?" and with my purchases I ask "Is this something I need before our next paycheck?" If I see something that I think I really want I make myself wait to purchase it. If by the next check I'm still thinking about it (like a new purse) and it's affordable, then I let myself have it. Most of the time I find I have forgotten all about it.
I hope some of these ideas help. Times are tough for many if not all of us, and even though I've learned to cut back I really do not feel like I am missing out on anything. The sense of pride and satisfaction in doing things yourself and seeing yourself improve is the most amazing feeling.
If you have any tips you would like to share please leave them! I am always looking for new ways to change.