Weird and Obvious Ways to Save Money
This year has included some pretty exciting stuff (oh, and some major adulting) for our family, from purchasing our first home to getting our first dog - life events that are both Instagramable and financially terrifying, just to be real. That's meant making some obvious adjustments to our everyday like cooking at home instead of eating out every other night, turning lights off when we leave a room and switching to the cheap kitty litter brand (which has turned out to be totally awesome).
But it's also meant taking on a more conscious attitude towards our spending habits and exploring creative ways to save money that also aren't totally depressing. You know what I'm talking about. Google "how to save money" and you come up with page after page of results that tell you to do things like invest all of that extra money you have sitting in all of your extra checking accounts. Um, okay *eye roll*
So then you Google "how to save money when you're already poor and don't know how to day trade" and it's like blog after blog of reuse your tampon and use expired milk to make homemade cheese.
The thing about these blogs is they're written by people who don't actually do that stuff because they recognize that time is money. They use their time to blog about how to save money, which makes them money. They are not making their own cheese and neither should you (unless that's like your hobby thing and if it is please leave some comments below about how to do it without dying.)
You know what else they're not doing? Sewing their holey socks, soaking, rinsing, cooking and freezing dried beans for dried bean breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, creating elaborate night-in dates with their "hubby", re-dying their underwear, or turning old wine into vinegar (because I don't even drink and I know that no one has old wine just hanging out, geeze).
They aren't doing these things because they've already realized that each minute they have during the day has the potential to lead them to greater financial freedom by focusing on the things in life that really, actually make a difference in the grand scheme of things. What I mean is, sure, I can save $10 on a package of Hanes for my toddler by sewing the itty bitty dryer-induced holes in her socks. Sure, why not. I can sit there for AN ENTIRE AFTERNOON and mend those pretty little tootsie covers and save ten dollars. Or, I can Amazon Prime that stuff and spend the afternoon teaching my daughter how to write her name. Long-term, what is going to give me the best return for my time-investment?
It's not the socks.
The old adage "a penny saved is a penny earned" only makes sense if you truly believe that your time is only worth a few pennies.
So, okay, getting to it, yes, I DO put water in the empty jug of Gain and shake that thing around for an extra couple of loads, yes. I do do that. But I also do a lot of other stuff that saves me both money and time that isn't going to require you to become a homesteader.
Here are the top ten things I do regularly to stay on top of our finances while refining the delicate art of time management that I think you could try too without losing your mind.
1. Set a Timer While Showering
I started with this one because I know it seems kind of extreme and maybe even a little unrealistic to set a timer during the most relaxing part of your day. The thing is, especially for those of us who are home-based, it can be way too easy to steam until the hot water runs cold, which in my house takes about twenty minutes. If I don't plan of shaving (it's fall now so I'm good for a while) I can set the timer on my phone for 6 minutes (or like one and a half Vance Joy tunes) and be all cleaned up and ready for the day without powering through my electricity and water for an indefinite amount of time. Bonus: my daughters always end up hopping in with me so not only can I get all of us bathed and ready for the day at a reasonable time, I'm not eating through our utility budget in the process.
2. Make a Weekly Meal Plan and (Mostly) Stick to It
If you don't already do this, it's time to get into the habit of extreme meal planning (kidding about the "extreme" part).
I was kind of skeptical about meal planning at first. It seemed like some more mommy-blog quackery but it turns out that it really is a great way to save time and money. Here's why: Each week I sit down with my laptop and my iPhone notes and plot out the next four dinners (knowing that for the other few nights I'll nosh on leftovers). I usually use Taste of Home or some other site (but mostly Taste of Home because they have a lot of recipes that include cheese and breaded stuff). Depending on what my financial situation is that week, I will splurge on brand new recipes or stick with cheap, comforting standbys. Next, I add breakfast essentials and lunch supplies to my list and I always check my pantry before placing my order to make sure I'm not double-buying an ingredient I already have, that way nothing expires before it gets used up.
Compared to when I was just winging it grocery shopping, I really do save hundreds each month, probably because the food I buy has a purpose, I know how I'm going to use it, and it doesn't end up going bad and getting thrown out and I don't end up having to buy a bunch of extra groceries two days later to make meals out of the random food I bought to begin with.
Another way that I save money grocery shopping and cooking is to be realistic about who is eating what. Truthfully, I eat Lean Cuisines for lunch while my husband is currently only eating vegan and my daughters easily just down an entire carton of strawberries and a package of cheese sticks even if my plan was much more elaborate.
Of course, you have to leave some room for flexibility. Last week we all had some weird bug and only wanted to eat chicken noodle soup, crackers and popsicles. I froze the food we weren't eating fast enough and indulged our cravings.
3. Avoid Shopping In-Person
The reasoning here should be easy but if you're not catching my drift here's five words:
Kids. In. A. Grocery. Store.
Here are some more words: Kids throwing a $7 box of cereal with the faces of Olaf, Anna and Elsa in your shopping cart. Kids eyeing King Sized Kit Kats in the checkout line. The makeup aisle. The best sellers endcap. Target.
These are all reasons to not shop in the store. My original inspiration for shopping exclusively online for everything from batteries and lightbulbs to back-to-school-wardrobes and milk was a very unreasonable fear of stores. I just don't like them, I don't like being stuck somewhere I don't want to be and I guess shopping never was my favorite. A pleasant benefit of not shopping in the stores though has been the ability to not only see my total before checking out, but to be extra choosy about what ends up in that cart in the first place. I can comparison shop quickly (just open a new tab) and read reviews on things I've never tried before instead of throwing caution to the wind. The time I would normally spend on the actual trip, wrangling my kids and getting everything in the door is spent making decisions that ultimately result in significant financial savings.
Plus, I can Christmas shop next to my kids and they're still surprised.
4. Use Cashback Sites Every Time You Shop
There are tons of cashback sites and apps out there but for me the easiest one to use has been Swagbucks.
Buuuuuuuuuttttttt you've tried Swagbucks and it hasn't saved you any money.
Have you really used Swagbucks or are you just spending twenty minutes on a survey that gives you 4 points? Don't do that, that's a total waste of time. Before you start a shopping trip to stores like Target or WalMart use the Swagbucks shopping program. You'll earn points on each qualifying dollar that you spend which you can then redeem for gift cards or just straight up cash into your PayPal. This isn't going to make you rich or anything, but I usually let the points accumulate for a few months then turn them in during the holidays to take the edge off.
5. Keep Your Promotions Box Clean as a Whistle
One of the downsides to studying marketing in college is that I can no longer enjoy a sale at Ulta or BOGO's anywhere without thinking about the fact that I'm not actually saving money. Have you ever noticed that when your favorite store tells you they're having a denim sale the jeans end up totaling the same price they were last week with the 20% off coupon? It's just all different versions of the same story piling up in your inbox every morning. Those sale prices, they're not going anywhere and neither should you unless you have an actual plan to buy that particular thing that day and you just so happen to receive a coupon for it. Otherwise, clear out your promotions box, ignore the emoji-filled subjects and resign yourself to making a "will buy" list and sticking to it.
Long story short, promotions emails aren't really going to save you money, especially if they entice you to buy a new infinity scarf every other day.
6. Stop Reading Mom Blogs About Sewing Your Socks and Eating 5-Day old Rice
Just stop. Or don't stop, because they're really interesting and I think that it's awesome that we live in an era of flexible work options. But still, some of the advice is kinda shaky, you have to admit. I have two rules when it comes to saving money, and I think they're pretty good rules:
- Don't do something that's going to make you sick just to save a few bucks. If someone tells you to just keep on eating old food to stretch a dollar, ask yourself if the lost income of missing two days of work thanks to food poisoning is really worth the extra couple of dollars you saved annnnnd
- Stop wasting your time on time-consuming projects that result in little return for your time-investment. I'm really into this concept right now. Your time is an investment. Before you go spending it on something that you don't enjoy, for the sake of saving money, ask yourself if your time could be better spent on something with a greater long-term reward. I would rather spend an afternoon working, knowing that that work will earn me passive income than save money in the short term spending a lot of time on a task like mending worn out clothing, making my own baby wipes and laundry soap or doing tricky DIY projects myself (like electrical work or mold removal).
7. Pay Your Bills Online and Use a Calculator While You're at It
This one is pretty simple. If you pay your bills online it's easy to sit down, pay them all quickly and use your computer's calculator to keep track of what your outgoing total for bills will be so you can make sure not to overdraw your checking.
Again, this list is obvious stuff you're probably not doing. Don't pretend you haven't overdrawn with that phone bill once or twice. Keep track with a calculator so you can prioritize by what's due first and avoid overdraw fees.
8. Stop Going to The Library if You're Forgetful and Lazy
Lol, okay that was mean. Sorry. You're not forgetful and lazy. Or, if you are, I am too. For seven years I worked at a library and for seven years I never, ever, ever returned my materials on time. Ever. But I didn't get fined because I worked there. It was maybe not ethical, it may have even been some fluke in the system (I'm pretty sure, actually) but for whatever reason, I never got a fine. If I had been I would have owed that place more than my paychecks would've covered.
My point here is whether you're borrowing books from the library, money from a bank, or anything else that incurs interest or fees make sure that you stay on top of things to avoid paying more than you originally planned. If you're forever-late returning your books try digital books instead that just expire when your borrowing period is over.
9. Purge and Donate
It might seem counterintuitive to get rid of stuff for FREE to save money but sometimes it's easier to be ruthless when you're throwing stuff in the "don't save" pile if you're not trying to put a price tag on it. Either you love it, you use it, or you're going to use it soon and if not, it goes. Once you've donated your haul you'll feel a lot lighter, your home will feel cleaner and you'll feel less compelled to spend money trying to spruce up a space that just needed a little decluttering.
10. Check Your Energy Insights
Most gas and electric company websites will provide you with personalized energy insights. I check mine a couple of times a week during my morning coffee to see how much money we've spent on electricity that week and what our projected bill is. It helps keep me aware of, if nothing else, what I can expect for next month's bill and gives me a chance to correct any excessive usage by turning my washing machine settings back to cold or turning off Netflix and booting my kids outside for the afternoon.
How Do You Save Money?
What are your easiest, least-time consuming tips for saving money every day? Let me know in the comments below!
© 2017 Kierstin Gunsberg