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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Saving Money: Part One

Since I have stopped working, saving money has become my job.  My goal is to save as much money as I used to make.  Since half of what I used to make was spent on my classroom, I already have a head start on this goal, but I still have to find ways to save the rest.

I actually Googled "Ways to Save Money" one day to see if I had just not thought of something.  This is my method for approaching any and all difficulties and/or questions in my life.  I Google them.  Sometimes I read books on them, too, if it's a big issue.

What came up was a long list of ideas, some of which I tried.  For example, I discovered very quickly that Extreme Couponing is not for me.  I know lots of people who do this now, thanks in large part to some TV show that I guess is on.  They are always posting on Facebook about how they spend $38 and saved $286.47 or something like that, and that's awesome.  I, on the other hand, found my grocery bills significantly higher when I was concentrating on using coupons, because even though I was careful to get only things we would actually use, I still bought more than I normally would, and I usually had to buy brand-names to use the coupons.  It didn't work, and it's probably because I didn't do it right, so don't get all defensive if you are a coupon-aholic.  I still use coupons occasionally, but they are not the focus of my shopping.

In general, saving money is easy if you never want to have fun again and if you don't mind eating lots of oatmeal and Ramen noodles.  However, it gets trickier when you DO like having fun and you might occasionally want to eat actual food (and don't get me started again on buying organic food).  So in my ongoing quest to be awesome at saving money, I have learned that it is a lot about changing my mentality.  I have lots of practical tips, and we'll get to those, but first I had to get some things straight in my head.

1)  Decide where you will save money and where you won't.

I will buy off-brand for most things.  I don't mind.  However, there are some things I refuse to buy the cheap versions of, either because the quality is remarkably different or because I'm just a snob in that area.  For example:

In the quality area, I refuse to buy cheap toilet paper.  It can be just downright abrasive!  Plus, it's so thin!  It's like spider webs held together with baby tears!  You end up using 5 times as much of the cheap stuff anyway, so it really doesn't end up saving too much money.

In the snob area, I also refuse to start using reusable toilet paper.  (Yes, it's totally a thing.)  I know people who do, and good on them.  It certainly would save money, but I draw the line there.  I will give up driving before I give up disposable toilet paper.

2)  I can't afford spending to save.

It is frustrating to me that you often have to have money to save money.  This is the case frequently with couponing, shopping at warehouse stores like Costco or Sam's, and buying in large quantities, like buying a whole side of beef.  Also, this is the concept that sites like Groupon and Living Social work off of.  Yes, the cost per unit may be lower, but unless you have the money up front, it doesn't matter how much it "saves" you later.

Incidentally, this is how people with plenty of money like to "save," since saving is all the rage now.  People I know who make literally two to three times as much money as we do will brag about saving money by using coupons to buy $541 worth of stuff for $286!  That's a great deal, but you still have to have that $286 extra dollars, plus a place to store all that stuff.  Nothing wrong with doing it this way, but I am saving money because eating meals is awesome, not because all the cool kids are doing it.

3)  Overall lower prices beats really good sales every day.

Some stores have fantastic sales, BOGO deals, and special buys, but the rest of their stuff is priced higher, so even though your receipt says you "saved" $26.87, you actually spent more than if you had just gone to a cheaper store where everything is always the same price. 

Case in point:  Publix vs. Aldi.

I love Publix.  I would shop there exclusively if I could.  In fact, I used to.  Publix is the lovechild of a grocery store and a Sandals Resort. It's such a nice atmosphere, everyone is so pleasant, and they have tons of options and specialty stuff.  They even have samples of entire meals with recipe cards and everything you need for those recipes right there by the samples!  Genius!

But they have really high prices.

Yes, even with the BOGO's on cereal and the great weekly sales.  It's still higher overall. 

I didn't believe it at first, and fiercely defended my Publix shopping experience to others until I started shopping at Aldi.

Aldi is the lovechild of a grocery store and a middle school cafeteria.

It is not pretty.  There's an intermittent loud buzzing sound that scares the bejeebers out of me every nine minutes or so.  There are like, three people working in the entire store at any one time.  They pretty much only carry their brand, so they don't have tons of choices, and there are always a few things on my list that they don't have.  Plus, you have to bag your own groceries, and you have to bring your own bags or pay for the plastic/paper ones.  They don't run many sales or BOGO's.

But their prices are RockBottom.  Best deals I've found.  I've actually gone through Publix, Walmart, Aldi, and Sam's with a notebook, writing down prices per unit to compare.  Overall, Aldi wins, hands down.

When I started shopping there, my grocery budget dropped over $100 a month, without changing anything else.  Pretty cool.  Yes, they don't carry much in the way of organic.  Yes, I have to go across the street to Walmart after I finish at Aldi, so I can get the rest of the things on my list.  Yes, it's a pain with a baby in tow.  But it's worth it.

4)  Make it or make do.

This is a mindset shift, and it's taken me a while to get into this.  Almost everything you buy at the store, besides basic supplies, has a homemade counterpart that is cheaper.  It's not always prettier, and it is most often less convenient, but if you need to save money, start there.  Pre-made mixes in the kitchen, home decorations, clothing, children's toys, the list goes on and on.  You can buy it, or you can make it, or you might just need to go without it.  I was out of practice saying "no" to myself, but in the two years that I've been home, it has gotten easier and easier.

Mostly, I pretend I'm Laura Ingalls Wilder and we live in a dugout.  You don't order pizza to a dugout.  You make it yourself.  You don't drive to Starbucks for treats every week in a covered wagon.  You make smoothies at home!  (Well, she would have, if she'd had a blender.)  If you think of it like that, it feels a lot less like "doing without" and a lot more like "living simply," which it is.

5)  Saving money means less convenience.

You decide how much less convenience you are willing to live with, and that's how much money you can save.  Since I'm not working outside the home, I can put up with a ton of inconvenience right now, and save a ton of money.  When I was teaching (aka working a 55-60 hour week) I could not handle much inconvenience at all, so we spent a ton of money (relatively), and that's ok, too.  You just decide which resource you have more of right now: time or money.  Then you work with what you have.

Once the mentality is in place, the specific, practical things fall in line.  Before you know it, you'll be weaving your own reusable toilet paper out of spare scraps of string.  Yay, dugouts!

To see the second part of this series, click here!

To see the third part of this series, click here!


  1. I predict that this time next year you'll be using family cloth (reusable toilet paper). ;) All the cool kids do it. No really, it's so not that bad! You change diapers - you could handle it!

    1. Haha yeah, I know. I can't be worse than cloth diapers, really. But it does sound really funny. :o)