Saturday, December 28, 2013

10 Simple Ways to Cut Costs

Being frugal, cheap thrifty, and knowledgeable about a product before buying has been ingrained in me since childhood.  Both of my parents shopped this way, and both of their parents did to an even greater extent....such as washing and reusing ziploc bags.

My Dad will spend months researching a product such as a camera, generator....tool name it.  I tend to do the same, though I'd like to believe I come to a decision a bit faster...(I'm not turning into my parents...I'm not turning into my parents...)

As a result, I am a research and thrifty fiend.  Karl, having grown up in a family that have a Mennonite background, can fully relate.

Q: Wanna know how copper wire was first made? 
A: Two Mennonites pulling on a penny.

December can be an expensive month.  Now with the New Year just around the corner, consider adopting a few new easy habits to cut down on spending in the coming year.  Therefore, behold our list of strategies we've been using for years or just recently found for saving them dolla-dolla-bills y'all!

1.  Make weekly menu plans.

We reduced our grocery budget an average of 35% by doing this.  All it takes is a few minutes of sitting down and figuring out what meals you want to make for the upcoming week, and then the ingredients you'll need for the week.  It also helps to know what is on sale at your main grocery store that week, as you can plan some of your menu off of what is discounted for the week and save more money.

Additionally, try to make certain ingredients stretch over several meals.  An example would be potatoes: get a bag of potatoes and use them to make hashbrowns for breakfast, and as a side dish for several nights of dinner: mashed potatoes, french fries, twice-baked potatoes, and vegetable soup.  I'll oftentimes make homemade chicken soup and save some of the broth to put into polenta for a side dish another night, or go through a pack of bacon by having some in my chicken sliders for dinner one night, and stuffed portabella mushroom dinner the next night.

Bonus Tip: Use up all leftover veggies from the week in a soup or casserole at the end of the week.

2. Group together errands you need to run into one day.

Save gas by designating a day or two for all of your errands, such as doing all of your grocery shopping, the post office, bank, make returns, etc. all in one day in a block of a few hours.  If you know you have an appointment in a certain area on an upcoming day, make a list of what else you can do in that area that needs done.

3.  Make meals from scratch.

Going off of idea #1, make more meals at home - pack lunches and make dinners from wholesome food, not frozen dinners or box kits.  We're talking straight-up fresh meats, seafood, fruit, nuts, and not-frozen but fresh veggies, etc.  Think it's more expensive to eat this way?  Newsflash: it's not.

How much do you spend in a month on snack foods (and breakfast cereals)?  Items such as potato chips, fruit cups, pretzels, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies, doughnuts, candy....  Instead, limit or even eliminate snack food altogether, and allow the wholesome, 3 balanced meals you should be eating in a day give your body the nutrients it needs.  Eat fruits, cheese, homemade muffins or trail-mix as snacks.  Also, bake your own cookies, cakes, pies and such (not with the pre-packaged cake mixes, but from scratch ) to have some treats around the house.  Give it time, and your body will adjust and stop having cravings for the store-shelf snack foods.  You can even make home-made potato chips in the oven (super easy to do!).  Same goes for fries.

Let's have a scenario where you find that out of the $300 you spend on groceries each month, $150 is on snack foods/frozen dinners/cereals/sweets.  Now the $150/mo you're saving by not buying such products can be turned around to buy the whole ingredients like fresh (even organic) fruits and veggies that you didn't think you could afford before.  Most likely you'll spend maybe $75 of the $150 on fruits/veggies, giving you some nice savings.  Add those fruits/veggies to the protein such as chicken, beef, pork, eggs, and seafood you've already been buying, and grains such as bread, bagels, pasta and oatmeal, and you're set.

Another money saver: Drop sodas, fruit drinks, even grape and orange juice.  Drink more water, get a orange/lemon squeezer or a juicer and make a fresh batch each day or for the week.  Make your own iced tea and lemonade (bonus: homemade is fresh and tastes better).

Eating wholesome foods is not only better for you and completely possible, but it saves your budget.  Also, it makes going out to eat become a special treat.

4.  Grow your own vegetables, raise your own steak animals.

We currently rent and don't have any land, but we do grow veggies in containers, which takes out 90% of the usual prep work and the hassle of weeding altogether - can't go wrong there!

As for protein:

Chickens = eggs and/or meat
Rabbits = meat
Pigs = meat (and food-trash disposal - they'll eat anything)
Goats = milk and/or meat (and free lawn maintenance)

In the future we're interested in raising chickens.  I don't think I could eat rabbits I've raised though unless things were very dire...  :(

5.  Limit What You Watch. 

This one hurts my film-loving heart to say, but it's true.  Karl and I are both film lovers, but for years we've kept to a general preference we share of only seeing a movie in a theater when it is "cinematic".

Karl and I define "cinematic" as a movie that truly is made to "wow" you with its breathtaking cinematography and storytelling and adventure.  A true experience.  Movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, Pearl Harbor, Independence Day, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, get the picture.

Sadly (though not for our wallet), not many movies that come out each year fit this bill, so we rarely go to see a movie in the theater.

A good place to start would be to ask yourself how many movies you've seen in the past year at the theater that weren't worth the money you paid, or that you could have gotten the same experience watching it at home. Go from there on how to cut down on your theater-going.  :)

Also, Netflix and Redbox are your friends.  Cut your cable tv.  Watch shows online or wait to watch them on dvd.

When we first got married we didn't have cable because there was no room in our budget for it.  As a result, we've been without cable or even standard network tv for years.  Presently we can afford cable, but having been at friends places with cable and seeing that the content is mostly reality tv and shows about teenage vampires, we didn't see the use of paying $70+/mo for a few shows we'd actually watch.  For the last few years we've only paid $8/mo for Netflix and watch what shows/movies we want from there.  Most shows friends tell us about are on Netflix, so we check them out on our own time, and here's a bonus:  no commercials, ever.

6.  Use Coupons & Price Matching.

Just as great as coupons, shop at grocery stores that do double coupons (your $.55 off coupon becomes $1.10 off!).  The sources I use are How To Shop For Free and Coupon Kindness.

For price matching, I've repeatedly used Rite Aid's sales to get an extra $2 off of laundry detergent, or Aldi's to get $3 off coffee bags at my normal grocery store.  It's a simple matter of going through ads that comes in your mail or leafing through their weekly flyers online, then take the ad and show it to your cashier.  FYI: Be sure to look up if your regular grocery store accepts price matching

Note: Coupons aren't always the golden rule for saving money.  I have found that it is still sometimes more affordable to buy another brand than the one you have a coupon for.  For example, not too long ago we needed to buy a box of trash bags.  I had a coupon for $2 off of Hefty's drawstring bags.  However, when I compared how much the Hefty's bags cost even after the coupon was deducted to another brand's non-drawstring bags (I think it was another $2-3 difference), we went with the non-drawstring brand.

7.  Buy in Bulk Online.

You don't need to pay a membership fee at Big Lots or Sam's Club to save money buying groceries in bulk.  I save a lot of money buying foods, toilet paper, tissues, etc. in bulk on amazon.  Shipping is free for orders over $25, and you can also use Amazon's "subscribe & save" on some items to help you save even more.

Here's some of the items I buy in bulk on amazon (especially handy for GF foods):
Bob's Red Mill Flours - Sorghum, Brown Rice, Tapioca, Flaxseed
Tinkyada pasta
Toilet Paper

8.  Buy online using Ebates.

I love this site!  I can get a percentage of cashback from a purchase on Walmart (3.5%) Kohl's (6%), Dell (4%), Lowes (2.5%) name it, they almost always have the store.  If I can buy something online (with free shipping or free ship-to-store) rather than in the store, I do it so I can get more back.  You can even use any coupons or promo codes you may have on top of it.

The site also runs promos where they raise the percentage you can earn back at certain stores, which they can notify you about by email.  You can learn more about how it works here.  Signing up just consists of an email and password.  When your cashback total reaches $5.01 or more, you can ask for payment via check, paypal, or donate to charity. Super great.

9. Buy gifts throughout the year.

Plan ahead.  When you see something you know a friend or family member would like for a really good price, buy it and save it for their birthday, Christmas, anniversary, etc.  Or wait for it to go on sale.  This way, you're not forced to find something last minute (aka, panic mode) and/or pay full price for it.

10. Buy off-season.

Buying certain items off-season may seem like an obvious tip, but oftentimes it can be easier to buy something now instead of waiting a few months for it to go on sale.  When Christmas decorations, bows, wrapping paper, and other paraphernalia go on sale the week after Christmas Day, stock up for the next year (scored something I've wanted for years at a heavy discount the other day this way, woohoo!).  Same goes for summer items such as patio tables and chairs, mowers, and gardening tools going on sale in the Fall, which we took advantage of this past year to get our porch into better shape.  Or snow shovels, snow blowers, tire chains, and fireplaces in the Spring.

Some of this list comes down to weighing what your wants and needs are.  I leave it to you to determine how far you need or want to take things.  However, buying bulk online and/or through ebates, coupons, meal planning, etc. are easy things anyone can do, whether or not you "have the money".  Use your money wisely, as you never know when the rug may be pulled out from under your feet.  That's my 2 cents.  ^_-

Note: This list's estimates for cost-savings is based on our own local prices and how much we personally use certain items to calculate the savings.  The numbers for your family may be different, especially for those of you with more than 2 people.  It is worth it to take the time to work out the calculations to help you decide what can help your family's budget.  :)

Shared on DIYshowoff, domesticsuperhero, saving4six, elizabethandco, lizmarieblog, and allthingswithpurpose.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Living Room: The Skyline Settee

I had this settee in my cart this entire past week.  The entire.  I had read reviews, measured twice, looked up how to care for velvet....I had no more excuses.  I knew I was going to get it, but I wanted to be sure, y'know?  Let it sit awhile...  Procrastinate the inevitable spending of a good chunk of money...
Skyline velvet tufted settee in navy blue

We did get it for a great price ($365 total + free s/h.  For $1/day, in a year you can earn a seat for your tush), so as long as it lives up to our expectations of quality (a.k.a. it doesn't feel like it'll break when we sit on it), we're good as gold.

Initially we both loved and were considering this tufted settee (below) that's also by Skyline, but in the end we just couldn't overlook the price tag of $554+tax (our budget was $500).  Add to that some theorizing that it was too posh and the tufted seats would have been uncomfortable...not to mention we already have a linen-like sofa, so the velvet will add an extra texture to the room....ok, sold.
Skyline tufted settee in navy blue linen

The settee should be here sometime in January.  Looking forward to it!

Update: It has arrived!  See my review of the settee here.

p.s. - We picked up our living room rug last week!  It's been perfect during this recent drop in temperatures.

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