Friday, July 6, 2012

Living on Less Part 2: Practical Budget Tips

This is one of the longest posts I've ever written! For those of you who gave me the 'green light' on facebook to quit... thanks for the permission! I made it to #47 :)
This post is much more practical in orientation than the last post, which was about using mental tricks to change how you think about money, possessions and needs vs. wants. Originally it was strictly tips for saving money, but along the way it became money oriented in general.

John and I live very happily on a smaller income because of the previous post. We realize we don't need as much as the culture would like to make us think is necessary :) I remember my grandpa said to us shortly before he passed away, "when you're starting out you haven't got anything but love. But we found that you can live on love for a long time." True words! I saw it posted that, "some people are so poor that all they have is money".
But hey, we still have to pay the bills! So these practical tips are important, too. I won't do much of an intro, because the content itself is so long... so without further ado: 47 budget tips for those of us who aren't rolling in dough, baby!

(1) Dream jar. Make a DREAM jar. This goes back to yesterday's post and is a bit more mind related, but when you have a certain goal in mind and can physically see it, you're more likely to abstain from little purchases (which add up) and save the money. Right now we have a little jar with "Poland" on it because a dear, long time friend is getting married there this October. And we *will* be there! Ps- make it, don't buy it.

(2) Cook at home. I could say so much about this. If you will make your own meals in your own home, you will save so much money. So much. And hey- it's healthier. Bonus points if you make your family eat together at the dinner table. I know that cooking takes forever and we're all busy- so make use of a slow cooker and check out these links here, here and here, they have tons of make ahead recipes that you can just toss in during the week! Voila!

(3) Inventory what you have. Before you go shopping for *anything*, inventory to see if you have it, or something similar enough to work in it's place. Believe me. I have purchased many a double just because I didn't think to wear a black pencil skirt with tights instead of buying black pants. Or hey, I forgot about that set of (insert anything kitchen related) that I got for our wedding.

(4) Reuse/repurpose. Before giving or throwing something away, make sure you can't reuse it or repurpose it somehow. Just google repurpose or refashion + the item in question. You may find that you can save yourself from a future purchase (see above) by reusing something that you already have.

(5) Craigslist. You want some extra cash? Sell your junk. John is so stinking pro at this. It borders on ridiculous. Go through your home (attic, basement, garage...) and see what is just lying around collecting dust. If you haven't used it in over 2 years, it can probably go. Also, if you want to buy something and have already determined that you a) don't own it and b) can't refashion something as a substitute for it then check Craigslist. Case and point? The Tassimo we were dying for was on craigslist (brand new!!) for $30 with boxes and boxes of cups included. And hey, we sold our old Keurig to pay for it (sorry, buddy, but you don't have lattes or cappuccino...).

(6) Ditch cable. I am convinced that there is no greater waste of money in the world than cable. First of all, you can watch basically anything the next day on Hulu. John watches most sports events stream live. If you really want to, you can always get Netflix or Hulu plus to make up the difference. I suggest hooking up your computer to your TV. We used a $16 cord, but if you have a Wii or even a PlayStation, those will work too. I often forget we don't have cable. Call your company- cancel now. Don't even get me started on Satellite.

(7) Cheap internet. We pay about $20/month for internet. It's a non-negotiable, obviously, given that this is my second job. However, I refused to pay $50 for internet and booted our old company. I quickly found a much more reasonable replacement. It isn't super fast, but it's still considered high speed and it's wireless. Did I mention it's $20 per month? Still more than I want to pay, but I bet it's much cheaper than most! Find out what the absolute cheapest internet you can get is and decide if being a little more patient is worth the extra cash ($30/month in my case!).

(8) Rethink smartphones. I realize this is a sacred cow for most people. Let me tell you- there is LIFE without smartphones. I have never had one and it doesn't damage my quality of life in the least. First of all- the monthly fee for cell phones is ridiculous in the first place. John and I share the cheapest family plan available and still pay an arm + leg. But if you add in an extra $30 or more for a data plan it makes me want to scream. No. I cannot handle it. Until data plans are free- I refuse to own a smartphone. Plus, let's be real, phones were made to break. I've never met a phone that worked properly for longer than 1 year. So investing a ton of $$ into one just doesn't make sense to me. Try life without a smartphone, it's a really easy way to take back your budget.

(9) Toys. Do you have kids? I don't. But I have a crazy amount of young relatives (courtesy of my older brother + zillions of aunts and uncles). Toys these days are EXPENSIVE. And there are tons of them. And is it just me or do they seem to become boring to children really easily? Mom to Mom sales. Garage sales. Toy-swaps with other parents. These all seem to be much better alternatives than buying more and more toys from the store- which let's be honest- will end up discarded in a few months.

(10) DIY products. Make your own laundry soap, dish washing detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, all purpose cleaner/counter cleaner... pretty much anything. There are tutorials all over the web. You will save so much money. I know on my site alone I have tons of natural DIY tutorials. You will save your body from ingesting harmful chemicals as well as saving your wallet. Some take more time than others, but if you can make it happen- make it happen. My budget has been SO much happier since I started making my own items. The bonus is that almost everything uses the same items (borax, washing soda, baking soda, white vinegar, essential oils) so you can stock up once and make it all.

(11) Say 'no' to processed. Want to see your grocery budget become as light as air?? Skip processed + junk foods. Overpriced, under nutrition-ed (not a word)... the extra chips, fruit snacks, candy... it's all just taking away valuable dollars and cents. Let's be honest- who eats candy out of hunger? No one. It's just an indulgence. Skip it + save.

(12) Rethink Date Night. Click HERE and HERE for my two posts with over 100 free (or crazy cheap) dates. John and I have insane amounts of fun, we rarely spend money. If you go out once per week and spend $25 (what is that? a movie? I don't even know what $25 buys in date world), that's $100 per month. Do you KNOW what I could do with $100?!

(13) DIY art. Click here. I like to decorate, I love it actually. But I don't like spending money, so I make almost all of the decor in our home. It's way cheaper. Oh- did I mention that I have zero artistic skills? Make use of the internet, people.

(14) Bloggers. While we're at it- just follow blogs. Lots of them. Any that speak to you. Following DIY bloggers, the more the merrier, will save you so much money and give you so many ideas. Why pay someone a zillion dollars to reupholster something when you can do it yourself? You can learn anything online these days. Some things you may have to pass on, but I'm sure you can do a lot more than you realize! Also- there are bloggers who write *only* about saving money in your specific area. Google coupon, sale, money or savings bloggers + the area you live in (big city or region, i.e.- West Michigan)

(15) Library. Make full use of your library, people. Rent books. Did you know that you can request books which the library doesn't have in stock? And hey- let's talk about the free internet. Or what about the fact that you can CHECK OUT DVD'S (good ones!)! And CDs and Audio books. And in the summer- I bet your library does all kinds of free activities for kids. In fact, in Michigan you can get free passes to our State parks just by asking for one at the library. Just step into your library and scavenge the goodness.

(16) Brown bag it. Don't buy your lunch. Don't. It seems like $3-5 here and there, but it adds up. 3 times per week is $72 (at $3 per meal) each month. I make John's lunch (and mine!) every night. It isn't the most fun part of my day, but it saves tons of cash.

(17) Water. This is the part where you all start stoning me. I'm about to suggest that you drink only water. Go ahead. I'm ready. Bring it. For real, people. Water is CHEAP! I fill up a DIY LOVE BOTTLE which is cute and fun. It goes with me all day. It's free. Pop, juice, milk... it's all expensive. Plus it isn't very good for you- so you can save on dental bills down the road (Pop + juice) :). Just try it. Start out with THESE FLAVORED varieties if you have to.

(18) Generic. Forget name brands. Most of the time the generic brand is just as good and costs a fraction of the price (check the label to be sure). This alone will save you so much money. I don't know if we've ever purchased name brand *anything* except for certain over the counter meds.

(19) Farmer's Markets. Oh man- google to see when + where they are in your city. This is GREAT for the local economy and great for your economy. Straight from the farm = deals + tasty + more nutritious. Just trust me. Oh- and buy in season when you ARE at the grocery store. Buying out of season fruit + veggies is much more expensive. Skip them. CHART HERE.

(20) Coupons + sales. I'm not a crazy coupon lady. I see the merit, but it's too much work. Way too much for me. BUT I do cruise the paper and clip coupons. Use them. Also, I sale shop + make use of my freezer. Case and point? This week all natural turkey dogs were on sale 8/$1. OH MAN! I bought 4 packs and stuck them in my freezer. We can live off of those bad boys for a long, long time. Don't think hard and fast about what you need, instead to flexible about what you buy that week based on what you have a coupon for and what is on sale- that's basically our motto for cereal.

(21) Check in specials. You may be saying to yourself, 'wait a minute lady! No smartphone?!' ... true. We don't have one. But John *does* have an i-Pod touch that he bought 2nd hand for $10. And it uses wi-fi. Sooo we check in everywhere and take advantage of the check in special. I mean everywhere.

(22) Staycations + flex travel. If you have paid vacation- consider a staycation. I know it sounds lame to just stay home, but I did it recently and I promise it is FUN! You can get your home organized and clean at the very least. Plus, I think it's easier to relax (and sleep) in my own bed than in a hotel's. Rediscover your area. I bet if you spend some time googling, you'll discover much much than you ever knew available! If you must go somewhere else, be flexible about your location. Join an emailer like travelzoo and choose a special offer at a much reduced rate vs. paying full price for a different location.

(23) Second hand. Ok- if you have to buy it and you can't craigslist it... second hand it other ways. This is mostly applicable to clothing. Thrift stores, consignment shops like GEORGIE'S and ebay are all great resources for very nice, extremely gently used clothing, shoes and accessories. This works the other way around, too. Consider taking old clothing/shoes/accessories to consignment shops (or ebay) and selling them for cash. I've sold a lot of items on ebay with great success! I've even sold perfume + body products that I had never used or opened.

(24) Cut out specialty drinks. This is kind of related to water, but not. I'm referring mostly to coffee. It's expensive and will destroy your budget. Attempt to make your coffee at home- you can even purchase syrups + flavorings for the cost of 1-2 coffee shop trips. John and I love coffee, I feel you here. But we made it into a weekly date and now it's special. Once per week we get coffee at our favorite shop- and since we're loyalty members we get one for free. Holla! Now it's just a $5 date every week, one where we sit at a coffee shop and laugh together, savoring every single delicious sip of goodness.

(25) Cash + Envelopes. Have you ever used envelopes as a budget system? Definitely consider it. My mom has done this since before I can remember and it's really effective. You'll need a budget for this, so write down your bills and when they are due (we keep a bill calendar on the wall) first. Add it all up and then consider how much money you'll make in a month. Subtract the bill total from that amount. Record, please. Then subtract out gas. Next groceries and then lastly is extra (entertainment, products, items, savings, whatever categories you want). Create an envelope for each category and put the necessary money in it each week/2 weeks/month depending on your paycheck sched. That way you don't spend your grocery or bill money on extras. And when the envelope is empty, it's empty. Plus, it's a fact that spending cash is harder (mentally) than using a credit card because it is tangible and you *watch* the money leave. Don't you hate breaking bills? Me too. Honestly, though, if you don't have the money available, you won't spend it. Budget envelopes, people. They work.

(26) DIY hair. Yes, I'm for real. Guess who cuts John's hair? Me. I have no idea what I'm doing. I hack at it at least twice per month til it looks nice and fun, and have been doing so for over a year. John's hair grows crazy fast. Insanely fast. If we paid for him to get it cut professionally, it would basically cost as much as rent. Ok, not really. But it would stink. So I started doing it myself. Boy hair is easy, people. At the very least, try coloring your own hair. Oh- and check out THIS LINK for more help.

(27) Cut classes. This is for the little people again. I'm not a parent, so I'm trying to be careful... but kids seem really... busy? There are so many classes for kids (dance, sports, music, language) to take these days. And I feel like maybe it's a little unnecessary? Cut your stress & gas budget + gain back your wallet & family time but reconsidering how many (if any at all) classes your child(ren) take(s). Or, see what your local community center/library may offer for free!

(28) Barter. Ha- I'm legit being honest. My mom sewed every costume for the girls in my class in exchange for free dance lessons for me as a kid. I can teach French, and I exploit that. Do you know how to do something? See if you can trade with someone *else* who knows how to do something and cut out a bill.

(29) Recycle. If you have to pay for trash removal, recycle everything you can (not that recycling for the sake of recycling isn't worth it!) and you will save on trash bills. Also, you can save on purchases. For example, ask me how often I buy trash bags. The answer is rarely if ever- instead I use all of the plastic shopping bags that come home with me when I forget one of my 8 zillion reusable bags. I have a steady supply and we've never run out. I also use old jam jars to organize buttons and other little things in my craft room. And I use them to cart my OATMEAL to work every day for second breakfast (I like to eat). Forget mason jars. They cost money. Old beauty product bottles can be re-used in DIY beauty products. Don't ditch it. Recycle or reuse it :)

(30) Check your bills. First of all- check your bills every month. Don't just auto-pay. These people can be sneaky and sometimes add on charges that you don't have to pay. It happens a lot, I speak from experience. Always double check your bill. And while we're at it, if you've been a loyal customer for a while, see about a discount. Call up your insurance or cell provider. Or any other provider you have. Tell them why you've been such a good customer (bills paid on time, referrals, loyalty) and see if they'll reduce your rate. Be super nice. It works, promise.

(31) Cancel credit cards. In the long run (if you keep a balance), they just cause more damage than good. We haven't had one in years, we have ATM cards instead. Cancel your card and pay it off. You will pay it off MUCH faster if it's canceled. And think of all the extra budget you'll have each month when you don't have any more credit card bills to pay. If you can't pay cash, or pay it off each month, don't buy it. Interest charges stink.

(32) Dave Ramsey. Have you heard of him? Read a book of his if you really want financial success/to get your budget in order. He's a billion times smarter than me. It's long term vs. short term, but that guy helps people become debt free + savers!

(33) Save, save, save. Speaking of- save. Even if you can only save $1 per week, save it. It's important to have an emergency fund. We didn't have one, so when my beloved Aztek bit the dust this December it really cost us. First of all, if we had money saved away- we could have paid for the repair (costly as it was). We didn't. So we had to sell her for *much less* than she was worth and finance a car. Now we have a fat car payment every month. I really loved not having a car payment. If we had saved $$, we could have avoided that.

(34) Don't drive new. Again- speaking of (these last two are both add on bonuses!) don't drive new cars. What a waste of money. You drive it off the lot and lose so much value. You can get a car that is reliable and runs well for a few thousand dollars. And if you do that- you can either have no (or a very small) car payment each month. I so miss that. Prior to the death of the Aztek, we had no car payments. Sigh. BUT we're saving now and working toward the place where we won't be in that situation again.

(35) Monitor. This is a fun (not) exercise. Monitor every penny you spend for a month and you'll find out exactly what's blowing your budget. Most likely, you have more money than you realize, but it's being spent in small increments and slowly being drained. Gas station food/drinks? Trips to Target? I-tunes music at $1/a piece? You'll find out real quick where your money is going. And once you ID that weakness, you can eliminate it. That last sentence came off a bit terrifying.

(36) Utilities. Learn to save them and be a nazi about it. Heat + A/C for starters... during the winter we keep our house heated at 60 degrees *or below*, especially at night (wayyy below at night! Once you get all snuggled up in bed, you don't need as much heat). Our bill is about $40/month. Put on a sweater and deal with it for that amount of savings, right? Heat is expensive. You'd be shocked how much each of those little degrees cost you. Same for A/C. Today it was over 100 degrees where I live and my thermostat was set at 83. Totally survived it. We don't need to blast our air either. People who are pregnant, elderly or not in the best health obviously get a pass for this section. Our bodies are pretty good at adapting - and just so you know, it is *well documented* that being overly warm turns me into a raging, psychotic version of myself. I hate sweating. Hate it. I'm a totally different person when I'm too hot, so I can give you my word that you will adjust and it isn't as bad as it seems. Remember to turn off any heating/air when you aren't home. You can always use a fan to keep you cool while the house gets down to a manageable temp. Oh- and did you know about shutting vents in rooms you don't use? And shutting doors, too. A room heats up/cools down faster if it's smaller. Lastly, remember those curtains! Open during the day provides more heat and closed during the day (shutting out the sun) keeps the room cooler.
Same topic, second paragraph. Careful how you waste water. Every toilet flush (bugs + kleenex anyone?) adds up. If you're waiting for water to get to a certain temp, try to save it in a bucket for watering your plants or something. And electricity-- turn those lights off! Back in my office days, the team I worked with was always entertained at my desire to work in the dark. I prefer natural lighting and really only turn on lights when it's absolutely necessary. Try it out. Don't forget to unplug electronics not in use. They're still sucking energy, even if they aren't on. Save those pennies, people!
As for your dryer- try not to use it. Hang dry whatever you can, it's better for your clothes, too. Especially undergarments, ladies. I only dry about 10% of my clothes + towels & sheets. Everything else goes on our drying racks.

(37) Downsize. For real. Consider a smaller living space. I realize if you own a home, this is a laughable concept. But for those of us with the freedom to relocate, consider it. Have you seen TINYHOUSEBLOG? I love the tiny house movement, people have increased their quality of life by eschewing the notion of "bigger is better" with housing. They live in tiny spaces, have part time jobs, and spend tons of time with their family and doing things they love to do. Whatever, totally speaks to me. I don't know that I could ever go that far, though. Anyway, you may be able to save a bundle on rent... do you need that second or third room? Or bathroom? For us, we found that just our city choice saved us a crazy amount of money. The same size apartment is *hundreds* of dollars more in different markets. Try a smaller city, just be sure not to get too far away from your job, otherwise you'll lose your savings to your gas tank. Rent already bugs me. It makes me feel like we're flushing water down the toilet, so the cheaper the better.

(38) Know your sales. Become familiar with when stores have sales and only shop then. Prime example? Victoria's Secret Semi-Annual Sale (January + June) is the best time to buy bras. They go as low as $15.99 (which they are right now, so you should go). CHA-CHING!

(39) Skip paper products. Kleenex and paper towel are so expensive. We don't use either. Toilet paper is a much cheaper alternative, or even better, you can go old school and get some hankies. As far as paper towel, get a bunch of washcloths instead. You will save so much money. Do not buy these items. Oh- and hey, skip plastic bags, too. Stores like THIS offer BPA free little boxes for your sandwiches (because you're brown bagging now, right?) and snacks.

(40) Don't waste food. Ahh. This bugs me so much. People who can't eat leftovers make me want to raid their fridge and steal them for myself. Don't make me go all, "there are starving people in China" on you! Follow my friend, Meghan, of Split the Lark and make THIS. It's a nice little "eat me first" box to go in your fridge and help you ID what is going to spoil the soonest. Honestly, don't waste food. That alone will help you save so much money. Extra spaghetti? Turn it into baked spaghetti two days later. Extra chicken?? Chicken tacos, fajitas, chili, chicken + dumplings... anything! You don't have to serve the same meal twice, but don't discard the food.

(41) Swap nites. Do you have friends with kids? Save on babysitting by offering to have a swap night. One week you'll watch their kids and the next week they'll watch yours. Childcare is expensive. Even if you just have a night in to yourself, it's a nice treat. You can go all 'The Holiday' and see if someone is willing to swap homes with you, too, for a vaca. This works for pet sitting, too.

(42) If it's free, it's for me! Stole this from a guy named Lester. If it's free, take advantage! It's about to get real people... there were many times I cruised grocery/wholesale stores and ate free samples for lunch when I forgot mine. Haha! I cannot believe how personal this post is getting!

(43) Packaging. Save your packaging. Consider this the official stamp of approval on gift bag reusing. $4 each? Ridiculous. No. I have no issue with receiving a re-gifted gift bag. Dispense them at will. Same goes for tissue paper, holiday themed tins + jars, everything. Reuse the tins like THIS or make your own gift bags like THIS.

(44) Turn hobbies into cash. What do you do and enjoy? Can you knit, speak a foreign language, decorate cakes, teach sports...? Anything, really! You can turn that into extra income, and since you love the activity it doesn't seem like work. You can sell your handmade goods on sites like Etsy or Ebay. If you're a seamstress, you can do alterations part time for a shop or out of your home. Offer your teaching skills to your community center and see if they'd be interesting in having you give a class. Honestly- hobbies can easily become extra income. That's how my blog started! I was just kind of doing it between jobs and it stuck. And now it provides some extra money each month- which is awesome! Getting paid to do what I love? Yes, please!

(45) Don't buy pre-done anything. Items that come to you ready made are going to cost more. Sliced, cubed or shredded cheese. Baby carrots- actually any pre-cut veggie. Prepared meals or sandwiches at the deli, little cups of sauce/peanut butter/dressing/applesauce... and it goes beyond food, too. But I've been writing this for four hours now and my brain is mush. Before you buy it, think to yourself, "if I did it myself, would it cost less?"

(46) Loyalty memberships. Join every single one. Honestly. When it's my birthday month, I live like a stinking QUEEN! Free Coldstone, burgers, shakes, pastries, coffee... it's a world of happiness. Plus, you do save money throughout the year (how do you think John and I get our free coffee every week?!).

(47) Re-print. Real cheap tip from my mom? She uses the back side of marked up paper to print on (not legal documents or important items, obviously). Why waste, right? And did you know that you can get your ink cartridges refilled at places like Staples for a discount?

(part three here)
I have more- but I think this is enough reading for one day! Hopefully you picked up a couple of tips to save a bit more cash. And if you leave here without thinking I'm totally insane and super cheap, that would be cool too. How do you save money? Weigh in below and I'll add it in for the next edition! Have a great weekend everyone! I'll see you Monday and as always, thanks for reading!


  1. Thank you for this! I'm always looking for new ways to cut my spending without being miserable!

    1. Me too! But even if adjusting is tough, it never lasts long!

  2. Another post I love! Thank you for the tips :)

  3. Followed a lot of these when our kids were young and we were poor (not that we still aren't!) We should go back to these - they just make sense. And thanks for some new ideas.


    1. Marti- i *love* it! do you happen to have any extra tips for me?!

  4. Where do you get your internet dor so cheap?!

    1. AT&T- no bundle package :) it's the slowest wireless they offer. I use some sort of "customer code" and have to renew a one year contract annually, but it's much less. <3

  5. really liked this post..some great tips ;)

    1. Thank you! i'll probably do a part three on Monday :)

  6. Loved this post, some great ideas! We're in the process of cutting back, which is never fun. But we're being taught the value of a dollar, which should really be helpful for the future. Thanks for sharing your tips! =)

    1. I agree- never fun, but definitely helpful! Good luck! I have a part three going up today :) <3


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