The following are a few examples of how we manage on our meager income, plus tips from other websites and sources on ways to save money and live frugally. Everybody has some fixed expenses – fixed however doesn’t always mean completely unchangeable. For instance, interest rates are down – it might be possible to renegotiate your mortgage for a lower payment. You might have a monthly cable TV bill that is ‘fixed’ but of course it’s up to you to decide whether you need cable TV (or the specific plan/provider that you have). Then there are the expenses you should be able to curtail to some extent – such as food, entertainment, and purchase of clothing and other household or personal goods. These are the areas you have the greatest control over and the easiest first step in preparing a frugal budget.
Our challenge is feeding a family of five, plus pets, on a limited budget while living in a small space. How do we do it? Well, naturally we clip coupons. But I don’t even try to ‘extreme coupon’ (haven’t seen the show but have an idea of what they do). We don’t subscribe to the newspaper (too expensive) but I generally buy the Sunday edition for the coupons and I find coupons online (Shortcuts.com and mypoints.com for example). I can either load the coupons onto my grocery club card or print them. If I use coupons from My Points, I get points in addition to savings – those points eventually translate into grocery or gas gift cards. Unfortunately a lot of coupons are for name brand products that, even with the coupon, cost more than the store brand, so I get limited use out of them. The days of grocery stores doubling the face value of a coupon are over (at least where we live, although they will double up to $1) so I generally only use a coupon if it is an item we use/need and whenever possible I try and combine sales and coupons.
We shop at the bargain and warehouse stores – Dollar Tree, 99 cents store, Big Lots, Food for Less, Smart and Final – and sometimes these are good deals, sometimes not. It helps that I have time to shop around but due to the price of gas I try and limit my visits to multiple stores and only go to those near another destination (generally one of our schools). It’s not worth the gas to drive out to the closest Walmart (12 mile roundtrip) to save a few cents on one or two items. And sometimes the bargain stores aren’t such a bargain – yes I can get a small bottle of dish soap for .99 but I have to calculate the unit price (is the $2.99 larger bottle at the grocery store a better price per ounce?) and decide whether I’m OK with trading quality for the lower price. If I use twice as much to get the dishes half as clean is it a bargain?
The warehouse store issue is buying in bulk. The cost of some foods is less at Smart and Final when I buy the ‘value pack’ and I like S&F because you don’t need to pay to join like you do with CostCo and Sam’s Club. But even though the cost per unit is sometimes quite a bit cheaper at S&F, the total cost is frequently more than I can afford. And, with limited storage space, even when I have the money to buy super large bags of rice or flour or multiple packs of canned goods, I have no where to put them. Nevertheless these stores are worth scouting out if you have a garage or large pantry. When we lived in a house we had a freezer in the garage and I regularly stocked up on bulk frozen goods. I miss that freezer!
In addition to shopping habits we’ve changed our eating habits. We don’t buy treats (cookies, soda, ice cream, etc.). We buy things on sale. We buy fewer convenience goods and I cook more from scratch, although I have found out that sometimes the packaged meal is cheaper than buying all the ingredients and making the meal. We have all given up foods we like and we seldom eat meat (which I must say I think I miss more than the kids do).
We get a box of food from a local food pantry about once a month if things are very tight – and sometimes end up with odd cans of things like cranberry sauce and mushrooms but sometimes get treats like strawberries and pork chops. One month our box was nearly entirely made up of bread and bread products – loaves, rolls, bagels – and a frozen container of bread stuffing!
We own a TV but do not have cable TV service. It’s too expensive and essentially a luxury for us. We used to just use the TV to watch DVDs that we rented through Netflix or from one of the video rental boxes (Redbox, Blockbuster and the like). And we picked up DVDs on sale (Blockbusters sells ‘previously watched’ dvds sometimes quite cheaply) or borrowed from friends or the library. This was great for the kids who don’t mind watching the same show/movie over and over, but not something I used much.
We were given a Wii for Christmas some years ago and found that with an internet connection we could stream Netflix videos through the Wii. This works perfectly for us and we use the Wii more for streaming than to play games (although the kids are really enjoying playing Wii Party Games – a Christmas gift from a friend this year).
Frankly an internet connection (something we did without for some time) is something more than a luxury. It is a necessity for job hunting, and responding to requests from prospective clients. I use it to sell on Etsy (cat beds) and, at one time, eBay. I have multiple job searches set up via various websites, and use it to network (LinkedIn) and of course, write and maintain my blog. It is also the way I keep up on the news (our old trailer had a built in radio, this one doesn’t) and weather forecasts. The kids use it for homework (particularly my oldest two) and entertainment.
Our other ‘entertainments’ are on the cheap – we hang out with friends when we can; go to the YMCA, public playgrounds or the beach; read books checked out from the library (which occasionally does involve an expense as the library is out of our way and books are sometimes not returned on time); do puzzles and play games. I try to put aside a little money for things like fieldtrips (my oldest is going to a science museum in LA next month) that have entry or bus fees so that the kids can do things with their school classes.
Unfortunately due to the size difference between my daughters and the lack of storage space we can’t do too much in the way of hand me downs. So we shop at thrift stores and bargain stores like Ross. Internet coupons for stores like Kohls, plus shopping the clearance racks are great go-to places when we need a specific piece of clothing, like the black skirt/white shirt combination my middle school daughter needed for her band uniform. Mostly we just wear things until they are worn out!
I think we are saving some money by washing clothes at home instead of going to the Laundromat. Our electric bill is somewhat more expensive in our new trailer and I’m sure some of that is the washer/dryer use, but I no longer have to drive to the Laundromat so there’s a savings in gas to offset it. I wish our washer had more than one setting – you can only wash a full tub of clothes since it fills all the way up with water regardless – but even so it is a big convenience to have it.
I use the internet to comparison shop, look for coupons and sales, and check craigslist for garage sales and freebies. I used to look at freecycle but since we don’t really need to acquire much I tend not to go there these days. If we ever have an apartment to furnish I’ll resubscribe. I also sometimes pick up a Groupon deal – such as the $20 worth of Old Navy Clothing for $10 that I got just before Christmas. Between the Groupon and the clearance racks I was able to find several pieces of clothing for nearly 80% under the list price. I picked up another Groupon right after the holiday with a little of my Christmas money – $30 for THREE oil changes at a local auto shop. That means the next 3 oil changes will only cost me $10 each, and are already paid for. Yes, I expect the auto shop will try and talk me into new air filters, and any other add-on they can come up with but if I stand firm I’ve got a real deal!
I’m a member of My Points and redeem the points that slowly add up (you can rack them up faster if you shop on line but I generally earn points through emails, surveys, and coupons rather than shopping – although I do purchase my Groupons through My Points to get points in addition to the deals) for gift cards for the grocery store (Safeway) or gas station. Since gas is one of those necessary expenses that I cannot stock up on it helps to have a gas card tucked away for the times when money is in short supply.
And of course I used the internet to ‘monetize’ my blog with Google ads and the Amazon.com affiliate shopping link. Thanks to all of you who did your Holiday shopping through that link we will receive a check for nearly $200 in March (payment trails earnings by about 2 months).
What are your frugal living tips?