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Frugal Living

Budget Fixes: Lower Your Weekly Spending

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Around here, we’re always saving for something. We’re either just back from a big trip and paying off whatever credit we might have used or we’re planning the next trip and putting away as much cash as possible for it. We don’t make more money than other people, but by using it differently, we’re often able to cram more fun into each year than others. All it takes is a few quick budget fixes to start having more money in your account for doing the things you love, whether it’s traveling, going to concerts, or something else.

You Can’t Control What You Don’t Know

The first thing you must do to lower your weekly spending is to figure out how much you’re spending and on what. Make a list of all of your obligations – not just bills but the other expenditures you must make, whether it’s lunch money for the kids or taking your turn buying coffee for your colleagues. Then, keep track of what you’re spending during the week – all of your spending, whether cash, debit, or credit. And yes, you have to count Amazon shopping, too, even if it doesn’t feel like you’re really spending money (my weakness, made worse by Alexa).

Save Hundreds by Shopping Smart for Groceries

Dave does most of our grocery shopping. We live in a town where there’s only one real grocery store, and they’re ridiculously overpriced because they have a mostly-captive audience. We shop there, but only for the sales. We plan our meals (we are feeding 7, remember) around what’s on sale, whether or not we can get to Corning to shop at a different grocery store, and what we already have on hand. If it’s too expensive, we don’t buy it. We will sometimes hit two or three different stores to buy what we need, but in doing so we save $40-60 a week on groceries.

But Buy Groceries So that You Can Cook Instead of Eat Out

Even the most expensive grocery store is far less expensive that eating out. We got gift cards to a famous burger joint for Christmas and we all went out. It cost $113 (plus a tip) to feed the 7 of us at a reasonably-priced restaurant. $113 in a grocery store can feed us 3 times or more. Plan meals at home, eat at home, and skip the restaurants as often as possible.

Do You Really Need a Second (or Third) Car?

I was driving to a meeting with a client one day when a woman turned left in front of me and I slammed into the side of her van. It totaled our car. The insurance paid us out and rather than try to fix the car, we sold it. We could have purchased another car, or got another loan, but we decided to try living with just one car for a while since I’d recently started working from home full time. That was over 10 years ago. We’ve survived on one vehicle just fine since – which means one (or no) payment, a smaller insurance bill, less gas and upkeep expenses.

Sometimes It’s Cheaper to Quit and Stay Home than Pay Daycare

Some women want to work, others would prefer to stay home. If you would rather stay home and your job is earning just enough to pay for daycare, commuting expenses, work clothes, and all the associated expenses that come from working outside the house, it can be cheaper to stay home. It was for us, especially when the second baby came.

Little things Add Up

Stop at Starbucks, or take coffee from home? Pack a lunch, or eat out every day? Buy the newest piece of tech or keep using the one you have that still works but is slightly outdated? It’s amazing how much you can save with a simple mind shift.

Affording travel (or anything else you want) isn’t about being rich or going into debt. It’s about priorities. While we have worked hard and have experienced our share of luck and privilege to be in the place that we are, owning our own business and finding success, how we spend our money has made all the difference in what kind of fun we can afford.

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Frugal Living Let's Talk

Frugal Living – The True Secret to Budgeting

Getting Real With Sara Haley

There are a million and one articles out there on the internet that promise to give you the tricks of the trade to saving money. From couponing to cutting your expenses, I’ve read it all. And I’m sure you have, too. But when it comes down to it, there is only one secret, and it’s not even a secret at all. It all comes down to living within your means. But what exactly does this mean?

Too many families and individuals live in an “instant gratification” world. If you want it, get it. Regardless of price, regardless of if you truly need it, just buy it. Don’t have the money in your bank account? No worries, there’s always the credit card or long-term financing! These days, you can get a personal loan for just about anything. From redecorating your home to cosmetic surgery, you can get money for pretty much everything. The problem? Each of these finance options come with monthly payments. And interest. And months, sometimes years, of paying them off.

You know what some of our parents, and grandparents, did when they wanted something? They saved their money. And if they didn’t have the money, you know what they did?  They didn’t buy it. That’s right. They went without.

I think a lot of Americans need to understand that their financial situations are likely a result of their own selfishness. I’m reading some of these “frugal living” articles and I’m baffled. To save money each month, they’re telling me I should lower my extra cable television channels.  To save money each month, they’re telling me I should cut the number of days I eat out at restaurants. To save money each month, they’re telling me I should shorten my vacation or consider a stay-cation instead.  You know what I say to all this?

Baloney.

You know how I have saved money? I don’t even have cable. I don’t eat out much at all unless I can get a great deal on it or someone is treating me. And vacation?! I wish!!!

The problem with today’s families is they think that they are entitled to all of these things. Take cable TV, for example. Really? For most families who have parents that work outside of the home for 40 hours a week, and then spend the evenings hauling their kids to extracurricular activities after school and running through a drive-thru for dinner, the idea of even having cable is absurd.  Someone please explain to me when these people have time to even watch television enough to justify the hundred-something dollars a month just to have.

The key to living frugally is this: live like you’re poor. You heard me. Instead of trying to cut back on extravagant things you have become accustomed to, eliminate them altogether. Let me explain this idea further.

I was married. I was a stay-at-home mom to my daughter and step-son. I left my husband for a number of reasons, and when I did so, I took my daughter and rented an apartment. I was a stay-at-home mom that did minimal freelance work, and the idea of figuring out how to make it financially on my own was, well, intimidating. But I did it. I was dirt poor and knew it, and my purchases and bills reflected this accordingly. I kept everything to a bare minimum. Rent and utilities I couldn’t get around, nor could I get around my car payment. But everything else was adjusted accordingly. I didn’t get cable. I didn’t even get the standard channels that “everyone” gets. TV did not exist in my home. I got bottom-of-the-line internet service because I needed that to work. I borrowed a twin bed for my room, ate at a card table for months, and went without a lot of your common “luxuries.”  Why?

Because I had no choice.

That’s the difference. When it comes down to it, I didn’t need a TV.  I didn’t need new clothes–I literally wore mine out.  I didn’t need XM Radio, Hulu Plus, McDonald’s, or any of those other things that most families just couldn’t live without in their lives.  My life was pretty bare bones, and I was okay with that.

As I built my clientele and was able to start supporting myself a little better, I slowly started adding in things that I knew my daughter and I would not only enjoy, but benefit from. One month I started paying for Rhapsody music streaming, because it’s nice to be able to listen to some music while I work. A few months ago, I finally rented out a garage at my apartment complex to store my daughter’s outside toys and to protect my car from the weather. I found a gorgeous wooden dollhouse for my daughter at a fraction of the retail price from a Craigslist poster–and gave it to her for Christmas. She plays with it every single day. I started saving up for the things I needed. Over time, I was able to buy a bed. A kitchen table. A computer desk to work on. And I wasn’t afraid to buy used, either. Why? Again–because I had no choice. I couldn’t afford to do it otherwise.

Things are going okay, a year and a half later. I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my cupboard, and clothing in my closet. And for that, I’m grateful. I don’t rely on credit cards. If I don’t have the money for it, I don’t buy it. If it is not of value, I don’t get it. If it is not something I will use regularly, I consider buying it used. In fact, I rarely buy anything new. I always use coupons when I shop for groceries, typically saving about 70% off of my grocery bill. I have completely changed the way I look at most everything I purchase. I ask myself one question when I’m considering buying something: do I really need it? Unless it’s groceries, the answer is likely “no.”

This, my friends, is the secret to living a frugal lifestyle. It’s a different take on the whole “minimalist” attitude. As long as you have everything that you need, you shall not want.  Everything else in life is unnecessary clutter, and likely a waste of your money.

And you know what?

I still don’t have television in my house, and I sincerely do not miss it at all!

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Frugal Living Let's Talk

Modified Pennywise Shopping Strategies

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

For the past couple of years my husband has been doing all the grocery shopping. Now I would still make the list, and he’d call from the store at least five times to check everything from size to brand, but shopping was his responsibility. The only time I’d go to the grocery store was when I needed ten items or less for some specific reason.

I loathe shopping. That whole hunting and gathering thing that is instinctive in all living creatures to some degree is very small in me, miniscule even.  I can get excited about shopping for books, but beyond that I only go into a store if I know what I want. I’m not that woman who wanders up and down every aisle just to see if there’s a good deal on something I didn’t even know I wanted. I have a list, I stick to the list. I will not stay inside for more than one hour, and that is still a very long time.

Well, with the changing of the economy and our working situations, I now find myself in the role of the grocery shopper. I have to make the list, and go shopping with my 3 year old in tow all before picking up my 7 year old from school. This is new for me, and feels much like running a gauntlet.

In an effort to be smart about it I’ve been doing some research on the whole “extreme couponing” thing I’ve noticed many of my friends talking about (The Krazy Coupon Lady was very insightful). Now I don’t think I’ll really be crazy about it, but in an effort to be more pennywise and to spend the least time possible grocery shopping I did find many tips and tricks.

Here are my modified pennywise shopping strategies as adapted from The Krazy Coupon Lady.

  • Register for online special updates with your grocery store.  I am a fan of Harris Teeter and have had a VIC card since they started the program. Registering your card online with a specific store location also garners e-VIC specials which are based on what you buy frequently.
  • Make your grocery list/menu plan for the week based on what items are on special and add on non-special items only as needed to complete recipes.
  • Stockpile, but within reason. For my family that means if there is a buy one, get one special on a food item that can be stored for later use make sure it is something the family will eat, and stocking a one month supply is more than enough.

I’m still adjusting, but my first grocery trip using just these strategies yielded me an out of pocket expense of $67.74 and saved me $26.79.  Since I budgeted a hundred dollars for grocery shopping for the week (please note we are a family of four in NC), I actually saved $32.26.  Hello, unexpected bonus!  That money is now being added to the Family Fun Fund that I just made up.  Here’s hoping I can keep it up.

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Frugal Living

Living Rich

I’m going to tell you a secret: I’m poor. According to every government statistic available, I live in near-poverty. My husband and I have been living on one income since two weeks before Parker was born and my doctor put me on bed rest. I initially planned on going back to my job, but the longer I was pregnant, the more I knew I wanted to stay home with my baby. Dave pulled in a decent income at his job, so we cut back expenses and made a go of it. Once we got used to living on one income, circumstances and choice have kept us there.

Dave continued to work when I went back to school to complete my bachelor’s degree; while I was in school his corporate job as a benefits administrator was “reorganized” out of the company. For about a year, we made do with my internship and his part-time substitute teaching. When we moved west to care for my mom, he worked while I tried to be there for her. After she passed away, I went back to the corporate world and Dave went back to school. After having his job in the corporate world come to such a frustrating end, he’d decided to become a teacher.

My corporate job was the home of the “atrocious boss” that Parker writes about in KidPower, so when we mutually agreed to part ways (they offered me a nice severance package, most likely because when the atrocious boss told me I could not use my sick leave to stay home with my sick kids he violated a whole bunch of FMLA rules) Dave and I both decided the corporate world would not be a part of our future.

Sometimes, I miss the regular paycheck and the social time (working at home can be quiet and lonely). Most of the time, I am grateful to have the flexibility and freedom I have to work at home and support my family. Dave finished obtaining his teacher certification last year – just in time for every school budget to cut teachers rather than hire them. It looks like we’ll be on one income and stay “poor” for a while longer.

Things get tight, and we do without things that other families would consider necessities. Bit we are here together most days, available when our kids need us. When we do have extra money, we don’t spend it on stuff; we travel. Our kids have been in New York City, Niagara Falls, and Montreal. They’ve been to the Museum of Natural History and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. They’ve been to Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine.

We only have one car, which can be a pain sometimes, but beats having two car payments and double the insurance. And our TV is like a dinosaur compared to what’s out there now – we don’t have the newest big screen. Heck, we don’t even have a Blu-Ray DVD player. Our cell phones don’t get email or do Facebook. Mine has teeth marks where the dog tried to make a call one day, but it still works, so I’m waiting for my “free” replacement.

But I have to tell you another secret: we’re pretty happy being poor. We’re rich in other ways than money, and for that, I’m grateful.