But I am not here to regale you with tales of my stupidity (today, anyway). As was requested by a reader a while ago, I'm here to tell you about some of the various money-saving things I do to help make ends meet now that I stay-at-home with the babe. I should tell you right up front that these are not tips for being truly frugal -it's more about how we've altered our spending in ways that save money without seriously cramping our style. (Us have style? Pfffft!)
Before I start, I want to briefly talk about how Husband and I handle our finances. Ever since we began living in sin together back in 2006, we have had regular financial meetings, complete with spreadsheets and note-taking and filing of bills. We are lucky to have similar-ish spending habits: we save on certain things (i.e. we still have a lot of college-kid furniture in addition to exposed drywall in the bedroom), but are willing to spend when it comes to travel. One helpful thing we've done since becoming a one-income family is that a small portion of Husband's paycheck is diverted into my personal checking account. This way I can feel like I still have "my money" that I can spend however I see fit (and how I see fit usually includes some frivolity here and there). Our financial meetings are less frequent these days, but we still meet and make financial decisions together, which I think is essential to prevent money fights. One area we need to improve upon is making and setting a budget, but we do have a general sense of how much we want to spend each month. [Husband's comment: Use Excel to set up a Net Worth Statement. Here is a really simple example of one. Visit and update your document once a month if you can but no less than once a quarter and make sure you make increasing assets and decreasing liabilities your goal. Be sure to include everything so it is a place where you can see, at a glance, what your financial picture is. Set goals for each month/quarter and work towards achieving them. Start small at first and then improve i.e. pay down a particular credit card. Here is a good post on how E Loan's credit monitoring service (cheap and effective) can help you manage this. One other note: If you have investments, consider using Vanguard and get out of the large brokers like Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, etc. unless you actually have an honest broker that you would literally trust with your life because, after all, that is what you're doing.]
As I offer these tips, I'm hoping that other readers will chime in with what they do to handle and save money. There is a lot of room for improvement with my/our own spending habits and you guys are smart cookies. So if you feel so moved, please comment!
OK, enough blabbing. The specifics:
FOOD & GROCERIES
Disclaimer: Before I launch into this category, you need to know that we only eat organic/free-range meat, poultry, milk, yogurt and eggs at home. We also try to keep most of our produce organic - or at least the fruits & veggies that tend to have higher amounts of pesticides (i.e. apples, strawberries). I've become highly fussypants in that way; perhaps I'll write a post on this in the future. Eating organically for these particular foods is a non-negotiable for us and this certainly increases our food budget. So I look for grocery savings in other areas.
- Pick your grocery store(s) wisely. When I was pregnant I would lazily shop at the expensive grocery store in our neighborhood and not give much thought to buying expensive foods and ingredients. When we realized we were spending insane amounts there each month, we knew we had to make changes. Since then I've joined a co-op with very reasonably priced organic meat and organic/local produce and I do the rest of the grocery shopping at a Super Target (I do get some of my organic produce there). I now only go to the expensive grocery store if I need something last minute. Is it a pain in the ass to go to two grocery stores, neither one particularly close to my house? Sure is, but the cost savings are worth it.
- Use Coupons. The co-op sends 10% discount coupons periodically - big savings. I have gone to websites of foods that we specifically purchase (Stoneyfield Farms, Kashi, Silk, etc.) and printed off coupons or signed up to receive coupons. There are lots of other good coupon websites, but I've been a bit lazy about checking them out - you can see those websites at the bottom of this post. This is one area that I need to improve upon. One word about coupons - make sure you are only using coupons for things you buy and not buying things because you have a coupon.
- Stock up during sales. When the cereal Husband loves (Kashi Heart to Heart) goes on sale at Target, I buy several boxes. Same with bread, canned tomatoes and beans, and other things that have a long shelf-life or can fit in my freezer.
- Buy in bulk. Don't be afraid of the bulk bins! I get rice, lentils, dried beans and other items there at a much cheaper price than the packaged stuff. I also find the weighing machine/label printer to be a lot of fun. Whee! Like playing store.
- Go vegetarian for most or all meals. Meat is expensive (organic or not) and vegetarian meals can be budget-friendly (if you aren't going too gourmet) and are good for your health and the environment. We eat veggie-style several days a week and that offsets the cost of our organic/free-range meat. For example, this week our vegetarian meals are roasted beet & goat cheese salads, cheese tortellini & spinach soup, rice & bean burritos, and veggie lasagna.
- "Butcher" your own whole chicken. This is a little scary, but it can save you money to buy the whole chicken and cut it up into parts. (Have you ever seen a chicken neck?? Lorena Bobbitt comes to mind...) I used this tutorial to learn how to do it and it's getting easier. I also make organic chicken broth from the bones. There is also a part of me that thinks it's good to remember that a chicken is an animal - connects the dots Michael Pollan-style. [Husband's comment: It's easier for her to do this because I cut the little critter up. I don't mind it because it lets me play surgeon.]
- Use your freezer. The goal is to cook & freeze meals ahead of time. Our freezer isn't very big (and there is not space in our townhome to buy a second freezer) so I can't do much with this, but we do try to make larger meals and then freeze things into individual portions for lunches or double portions for dinners.
- Meal plan. This comes super easy to me given my dietitian skillz, but knowing what you are going to eat ahead of time will ensure you buy foods/ingredients that you will actually use vs. letting them go to waste and/or prevent you from buying takeout or eating out all the time. I also try to think ahead so that I don't have left over ingredients. For example, this week I bought a bag of spinach that will go into the veggie lasagna and the cheese tortellini soup.
- Keep it simple. We don't have much in the way of fancy entertainment stuff and that saves a lot right there (no DVR, no cable other than what is included in our H.O.A). We switched from Blockbuster.com to Netflix and that was a cost savings as we never spend money at a B-buster store or RedBox anymore because we can watch movies online when we are waiting for our next movie in the mail.
- Seek out free entertainment. I can't speak for other states but here are my Minnesota finds for free child-friendly entertainment.
- Hennepin Library Museum Adventure Passes These are free passes to lots of local museums AND the Minnesota Zoo (which can save you a whopping $26 for two adults!).
- The Conservatory & Como Zoo in St Paul are free (they accept donations). Story time at the Conservatory is at 12:30 each day.
- Storytime at the Hennepin County Libraries.
- Mall of America has Toddler Tuesdays from 10 AM-12 PM. Events include concerts, special characters, arts & crafts, storytime, etc.
- Minneapolis Institute of Arts has a fun kids play area and is free.
- Arty Pants at the Walker Art Center. Free w/museum passes (which you can get those free from the Library Adventure Passes). Activities include art projects, films, gallery activities and story time. For kids 3-5.
- Splash Pad in St. Louis Park. Thank you to the commenter who suggested this! It's a free park with great water features - like running through gigantic sprinklers. How awesome is that?
- Stay home. Know what makes this tip really easy? HAVE A BABY.
- Coupons & Store Credit Cards. Again with the coupons, but they really are your friends. I rarely shop (kind of hate it, really), but when I do, I generally shop at The Limited, Express, and Old Navy and only then when I have a coupon. Signing up for credit cards at these stores and others can save you money as long as you aren't the kind of person who shops for fun.
- Check out Kohl's. I had such an 'I'm a mom' moment when I opened a Kohl's credit card after Bella was born. But guess what? Kohl's has fantastic deals if you time it right and bring your coupons. Kohl's also lets you use coupons on the sale items and if you spend a certain amount you get Kohl's cash to use at a later date. I buy most of Bella's clothes here because they carry the Carter's line of baby clothing, which fits great on a, um... huskier baby like Bella. To be honest, I wish I could dress Bella in cuter baby clothes, but I just can't justify it to myself or Husband - especially since she flew through clothing sizes until recently. I do plan to buy the cute and frivolous item here and there, but the bulk of her clothes will be pretty inexpensive. (Yes, I could get second hand clothes, but I figure I want these clothes to be in OK shape for our future babies.)
- Make your own baby food - Again, I'm fussypants and only do organic stuff, but it's still sometimes cheaper to make your own organic baby food than to buy organic baby food. Here is a useful site if you are just starting out.
- Cloth Diaper - Cheaper in the long run, especially if you plan to have more than one kid. My post with tons of info about cloth diapering.
- Sign up for Babies R Us Rewards - If there is a store near you and you are knocked up/further along in the adoption process, then I recommend signing up for their rewards program. Even if you don't want to go there, chances are they will still suck you in. The 20% off coupons can make for a significant savings.
- Look for ways to reduce/consolidate. You can check with service providers to see if they have a better deal. I was going to cancel our security system and go with another service but then they offered a significant cost reduction. We also dropped our land line and reduced our cell phone plan. [Husband's comment: Use consumer debt wisely, if at all i.e. you can do the same thing with credit cards that you have balances on. Ask for a rate reduction on the balance or a balance transfer deal and, if they say no, threaten (only if you can actually do this) to pay it off and close the account out, which you can do with a balance transfer from another card, unless they reduce your rate. You'd be amazed at how they suddenly have a plethora of great deals for you. Keep pressing and tell them what you want. We only have one credit card at 5% and the rest are at 0%, and we have enough cash to pay them all off in the event the companies attempt to change our terms, which they're doing a lot of nowadays. Don't be afraid to demand what you want from them, remember you are their customer and they should satisfy your needs, not the other way around.]
Books - Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy
Websites - (I can't personally vouch for these, but others have recommended them and I bookmarked them.)
getrichslowly.com (from a commenter)
Now I call you on, wise readers, anything to add? Also, if you are interested in hearing more about our financial meetings or hearing Husband's financial advice (he is a former broker, after all), just let us know!