Thanks to Dave Ramsey’s ELP program for sponsoring this post!
After my post a couple weeks ago about how we paid off our house, I got lots of questions about how we budgeted and what we did to stretttttch a dolla, so I came up with this little list of a few ways we’ve found to save. Most of them are just the way we live and we never even think twice about ’em.
Hopefully if you’re working toward a big financial goal, it’ll give you one or two ideas you can implement today, so you’ll be well on your way to awkwardly revealing all your personal financial information to the internet, like me!
Just a warning: I was browsing our old family photos today and getting sentimental and weepy, soooo this post gets lots of pictures of my kiddos. I can’t not do it, guys. I can’t. Like, seriously? This?
Just no. No more with the tiny babies loving each other. NO MORE.
I’ll start with my favorite tip: How we saved $500 in two hours
Andy was a teacher during the time we were intensely paying down debt, and on the first day of his summer vacation one year, he managed to save us $500 per year just by making a few phone calls.
He used the Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) program through Dave Ramsey (which is free!) to compare our car and home insurance rates, and found that in just the couple of years it had been since we bought that insurance, rates had changed and by comparing rates with different companies through our ELP, we saved several hundred dollars per year.
He basically spent about two hours calling every company to whom we paid a regular payment of any kind – cell phone and internet providers, etc – and asked for lower rates. In just those hours, he knocked $500 off our required expenses for the year.
I wanted to squish him I was so excited! Literally, squish him like a pancake, out of love. This required no lifestyle change at all, just a couple hours to make a phone call and get in touch with an ELP. Y’all, you need to do this. Yesterday.
(We also used a health insurance ELP to buy health insurance and now, with both of us self-employed, it’s actually less expensive than it was when Andy was teaching.)
- We paid cash with our change jar: We saved in advance for our vacations so the expenses never followed us home and lingered long after our tan lines faded. We were living on an all-cash budget, and when we paid for anything anywhere, we paid in dollar bills – never change. If something cost $5.01, we’d pay with $6, and put the other 99 cents in our “vacation fund” jar. You’d be surprised how quickly that built up!
- We brought our food: When I look back at all my favorite moments of my life, they pretty much took place over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (our easy lunch of choice when we’re on an outing). We like to eat the local food when we’re on vacation, but in airports and on road trips, we dined in style ala Jiffy and strawberry jam. Yeah man. The finer things.
- We couponed like wild, untamed couponing machines. You could not stop us. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we went for several years in a row without spending a single red cent on toothpaste, shampoo, etc., because we got it all for free with coupons. (Would you guys want a post on how we did that? Not sure how interested you are in couponing.)
- We buy in bulk: If the economy crashes and food is scarce, my family could probably live for months on just the food I have in my chest freezer. We bought the freezer from a yard sale for about $50, and it has more than paid for itself by allowing me to buy in bulk when food is on sale. Right now I have about 10 whole organic chickens in my freezer because there was a special at the store… and no good ideas for what to do with them. Ha!
- I have a “buy price”: I know how much toilet paper and other staples cost per item at the grocery store, and I watch deal sites like DealNews and DealCatcher. When a deal comes up, I can tell immediately whether it’s worth buying in large quantities or not. Last week I bought a large enough supply of toilet paper to last us through the entire apocalypse, or to completely toilet paper our whole neighborhood, which would be an inappropriate use of those resources.
- Coupon databases: For those grocery or food items that we eat regularly, I search coupon databases like this one. You can search for a certain brand or product and often just print the coupons directly from your computer. Easy peez.
- Buy produce that lasts longer. I haaaaate when we buy produce and don’t eat it before it goes bad. I feel like all the starving children of the world are shaking their fingers at us, and rightly so. I’ve learned to spend more of my grocery budget on produce that has a longer lifespan, like sweet potatoes, and less on produce that’ll go bad sooner. (It took me about 23 wasted avocados to finally figure out how to tell when they’re ripe. Why are they so high-maintenance and difficult? What is their DEAL?)
- I stopped buying things just because they were on sale. This is a hard one for me because I LOVE a good deal, but I try to ask myself: would I buy this if it was full price? If not, I don’t buy it. Usually. Ahem.
- We started buying for value, not just price. What I mean by this is, I would rather spend $50 on a well-made top that will last me years, than $20 on a trendy, cheapo shirt that’s going to fall apart and probably doesn’t fit well anyway.
- We research EVVVVERYTHING. Last week I researched and read reviews before I bought makeup. When we have a big purchase coming up, like an appliance goes bad or something, we basically read the entire internet.
- We wait. For impulse or unplanned purchases, we like to wait a while to see if we still want the thing, like a month or so. Often we find it was just a temporary want and not a need, and we end up being glad we didn’t buy. But if there are brass animals involved, I just buy them. They’re incompatible with regret.
- Solar panels: I need to do a post on this, but we actually have solar panels on our roof which supplement our energy usage. We estimate it’ll take us about five years to recoup that initial investment, and as an added bonus, if the power ever goes out, the solar panels provide enough energy to power our refrigerator and outdoor chest freezer and a few other essentials.
- Weather-proofing: It doesn’t take much time or money to caulk cracks or install weather stripping. BONUS: If your spouse is really into the idea of weather-proofing, it’s the perfect way to convince him you need to make new lined curtains! Ask me how I know. 😉
- Programmable thermostat and LED bulbs and other stuff. Basically, if it will save us money in the long-term, we’ll do it.
- But always calculate the break-even point. Some LED bulbs and other “energy-efficient” products don’t reach a break-even point financially for like 20 years. Are you really going to bring your lightbulb with you when you move? We like to calculate how much energy each thing will save and how long it will take to break even on the intial expense, and of course what I mean by that is that Andy likes to calculate it and I am happy to have no part in that process.
- We bought them on clearance. Just kidding.
- We cloth diaper. It’s not gross or hard, I promise! I wrote a whole post on everything you need to know about how to cloth diaper, how much it costs, how to wash them, etc.
- We use baby-led weaning: This is just a really weird term for a way of parenting that means that you feed your baby whatever you’re eating. When I first started feeding Weston solid foods, I spent HOURS in the kitchen pureeing all my own baby food. Then I learned about baby-led weaning and realized I could (mostly) just feed him whatever we were eating. No need to buy expensive baby food. If we went to a restaurant or somewhere where I couldn’t control the quality of the food, I’d bring him an avocado or banana and give it to him in its natural state and texture.
- We breastfed. For a long time. (Do you like my use of “we” there?) Between the cloth diapering and the breastfeeding, our expenses with a new baby were virtually nil.
- We bought used baby clothes: Someday I’ll do a post on my little trick for clothing my kids for free. In the meantime, check yard sales and consignment sales for kids’ clothes that they’re just going to grow out of in 4.6 seconds anyway.
- We buy gift cards. It’s pretty easy to find gift cards to restaurants on ebay, so we like to stock up on our favorites. Don’t forget to check out this post on how to shop ebay like a NINJA!
- At restaurants, we share one entree. And we usually leave STUFFED. Restaurant portions are ridiculous. (Side note: I still believe in tipping for two though! It’s just as much work for the server.)
- We never never EVER buy soda. We drink water one hundred percent of the time, unless we’re on a date and ordering drinks. I’ve gotten so used to drinking water with all my meals that it feels odd now to drink something with flavor. Unless it’s wine. I’m okay with that.
- We rarely purchase books. Can I get a high-five for the good ol’ library? I actually borrow more ebooks from my library than hard copies though. Did you know you can rent e-books from your local library? Changed my life.
- We save up and pay cash. Always, always. Our philosophy is that if we can’t afford to pay cash, we can’t afford it.
- We only buy as much as we need. Cars go down in value, so we’d rather not have a lot of money in vehicles. We get as much car as we need and no more, and we’re really happy with that. Honestly? If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would not buy a new car. I’m happy with my 10-year-old car that runs great. Plus I don’t even play the lottery, so there’s that.
- We do some repairs ourselves. Andy is basically a genius-of-all-trades and he can figure out just about anything, but even before I knew him, I learned how to change my own oil and brake pads so I wouldn’t have to pay someone else. Now that I have Andy, I’ve forgotten how to do anything and am basically a helpless damsel in distress who depends on him, but you know.
A bunch of other things.
- Throw yard sales. I wrote a post on my best tips for throwing a yard sale. I LOVE trading all my clutter for a little extra cash! It’s a lot of work, but SO worth having that space back.
- We use online shopping tricks. I outlined all my best tricks for saving money on your online purchases here — there are tons of easy ways to spend less on the stuff you’re already buying.
- Use less laundry detergent. The packaging for laundry detergent is super sneaky. They give you a scoop that’s usually at least twice as large as the amount of detergent you need to use, so you’ll end up going through it faster. I use about half of what the box says we need to use, and I can’t tell a difference. I don’t think we stink. Pretty sure…
- Use natural cleaners. I clean our kitchen counters with a half-and-half combo of white vinegar and water. Baking soda can tackle just about anything my kids can throw at it. No need for toxic, expensive cleaners.
- No gym memberships. I have one or two really good workout programs on DVD that I do from my house. It’s a one-time expense and I can fit it into my schedule without going anywhere.
- We DIY everything. See: this entire blog.
Don’t forget to get in touch with your local ELP to see if you can knock some costs off your insurance!
What are your favorite cost-cutting tricks? Do you ever get overly sentimental looking through family photos?
This post was sponsored by Dave Ramsey’s ELP program, but all opinions are my own, as always!