I did a post earlier on the mentality behind saving money. I covered things like shopping at stores with overall lower prices, deciding where to spend and where to save, etc. Those are the big-picture ideas. Once I got my head around those things, I started taking practical steps to start saving money. I basically just comb through every aspect of my life, looking for ways I can cut back and save. Below are five of the biggest things that I have worked on over the past two years to save money.
(Note: I included links to other websites for products or services I use. I am not getting paid to endorse these things. They are just things that have helped me, so I included the links in case you wanted to use them as well.)
No one likes to talk about this, but it works. I used to have a super complicated budget that involved keeping track of every transaction and subtracting it from two separate ledger sheets. It was too complicated, so of course, I couldn't keep it up.
My method now is much simpler. In the areas that I have discretionary money, I simply use cash. I have a book of envelopes from the Dave Ramsey system, and each pay day, I put an assigned amount of cash into each category.
For example, I put $50 into the entertainment envelope. Then, when we decide we want to eat out or see a movie or go to an event, that's the money I use. When I run out of money, I have to decide if I'm going to take money from another category or just do without. I do sometimes take from another envelope, but then I know that I'll have less for that fund when the time comes.
It's really simple. It doesn't require writing anything down or saving receipts. It has saved me so much money by forcing me to see how much is being spent and to acknowledge when I am out of money.
I used to be opposed to this because I said I didn't feel safe carrying around cash, but let's be honest. Carrying around a debit card or credit card is just as dangerous, and someone can do just as much damage. Plus, I don't carry it all around with me. I just take out what I need for the day. That's also extra incentive not to overspend!
I don't do all my spending in cash. For "non-negotiable" expenses that don't change and can't be controlled, I use my debit card. Those would be areas like utilities, mortgage, gas, medical, etc. I just use the envelope system for groceries, entertainment, baby needs, clothing, and spending money.
2) Meal Planning
This has been a huge help for me. I'm always surprised that so many people are against meal planning, because it makes life so much easier and it saves so much money! I only go grocery shopping once each pay period, so before I go, I sit down with my calendar (it has a place to write a meal on each day) and my shopping list. I go through Pinterest to pick out a few new recipes, go through a cookbook or two, and go back through my calendar to see which favorites I haven't made in a while.
I like doing it on the calendar because then I can keep in mind upcoming events and weekly schedules, like an upcoming dinner at church, or the days Brian works late, when I usually don't plan big meals.
As I go through each recipe, I read the ingredients and write what I need on my list. I try to include a few meals that use ingredients I know I already have, so I don't end up with tons of food just sitting around in my pantry.
I also plan leftover days. Usually once or twice a week, I just write "leftovers" for the meal. I try to plan it after one or two days where I know the recipes make big batches. That way, I don't end up wasting food that turns into science projects in the fridge, and it works as a "day off" for me, where I can focus on making staples like granola bars, bread, or whatever else we're out of. I also might plan a leftover day when I know I'll be out of the house all day.
Just doing this will save you so much money. You are using up the leftovers, planning meals around what ingredients you have or will buy, and you're not being tempted to go out to eat just because you can't think of what to make. It really works!
This may seem like a weird thing to put in a list of ways to save money, but the idea is that you pick one area of entertainment and pretty much just stick with that. We don't have a ton of entertainment money, so we decided that Netflix would be our one main resource. For $7.99 a month, we just get the instant streaming feature, not the mail-in movies. The instant streaming doesn't have as many new releases, but it is cheaper and it has tons of television shows and lots of good movies. We don't watch that much television anyway, so it definitely has enough to keep us busy.
Sure, every now and then we get a movie from one of the "Box at the Grocery Store" companies or go see a movie in the theater, but most of the time, we just use the instant streaming. It has worked out really well for us.
Every couple of years, I rediscover the library. I'll go in for the first time in forever and come out thinking, "Man! This is a great idea! Someone should have thought of this a long time ago!"
It really is a great resource. Of course, they have books, but they also have movies, including new releases. Usually you have to get on a waiting list for those, but still, it's free! They also have books on tape and events for kids and adults. Not to mention they have computers and Internet access, which I used a lot before we got our own. You can even check out e-books for your e-reader!
Besides just what they offer, libraries are a great place to visit when you want to get out of the house, but don't want to spend money. You are encouraged to hang out! Most have a kids' section with toys, puzzles, etc. that will keep them occupied for a while, and ours even has a playground next door to make the outing a little longer.
Lots of people tell me they don't use their library because they always end up with late fees. I encourage you to sign up for their email list. I get emails me three days before my materials are due to remind me. Plus, they have an option to renew online, so if I know I can't get over there in time, or if I forgot and it's the last day, I can buy myself more time to return them!
Libraries are totally worth getting reacquainted with.
5) Stop Spending Money
This might seem kind of harsh, or maybe too simple to have to say out loud, but it actually is worth thinking about. A huge part of saving money for me has been learning more self-control. When I had more disposable income, I would see something at the store that looked cool or fun or that I thought would make my life easier and I would just get it. If I saw something I didn't really need but had been wanting, I would just get it. Now, I go home and think about it for a while. If I still think it's a good idea, I make sure we have the budget for it, and I'll get it, but most of the time, I just have to say no.
One thing that helps with this is to give myself an alternative that doesn't cost money. For example, "No, Self. I'm not going to get a Blizzard today. Let's go home and make smoothies. They're healthier anyway." Or, "No, Self. I don't need to buy that cute toy for Cricket. I just made her some new discovery bottles and she's having fun with those. I will go home and put it on my Amazon Wishlist and maybe the Amazon Fairy will send it to me."
I use a list when I do grocery shopping, and I try really hard to only get 3 things or less that aren't on the list. (There's always something I forgot to put on there, so that's why I can't say I don't get anything that isn't on the list.) I only go grocery shopping once per pay period, which helps with the temptation to buy extras, and I rarely go into stores just to browse, because I almost always find something I "need."
I try to find places to hang out that don't involve money, too. My default hang-out spot when I was working was Starbucks, which is awesome and fun, but is also super expensive. Now, I prefer the library, going for a walk with friends at a park, or just inviting people over to my house.
Of course, occasionally, we go to the movies or get ice cream or whatever, and that's important, too. If you try to cut out everything, you will hate it and give up quickly. That's why you have that entertainment budget I was talking about. You know how much money you have each month, and that's what you use for fun stuff. I also have a little bit in the budget just to blow on whatever. It's the miscellaneous money that I use for whatever comes up. That's important to include in the budget, because there are always things you aren't planning on. Just make sure you stick to the amount set aside.
There are lots of other ways to save money, but this is a good start. If you can set a budget, start planning your meals, pick one cheap primary form of entertainment, frequent libraries instead of book stores or movie stores (are those still a thing?), and work on self-control, you will be surprised at how much you can start saving!
And you still don't have to use reusable toilet paper.