Money Management Part 2: Pinching Pennies

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.

Food

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!

Entertainment

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.

Clothing

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.

Internet Bargains

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?

This entry was posted in blogging, economy, frugal living, monetizing blog, money, recession. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Money Management Part 2: Pinching Pennies

  1. Devora Geller says:

    I heard recently of a bartering website called Listia (listia.com). Basically you put items up for auction and earn points, which you can use to ‘buy’ other items. Looks like it’s free to join, and sounds like it could be an interesting way to obtain some items. I also use bigcrumbs.com to make online purchases as much as possible. They offer rebates, and you earn money for referring people and also each time they check out through the site.

  2. pauline says:

    You should check the simple dollar’s posts on how to save on laundry by washing cold cycles, barely uses electricity for similar results to hot cycles.

  3. Lynn says:

    You have really thought of just about everything! One more to try: the Seventh Day Adventist church . They really emphasize healthy, vegetarian eating and the the one here in Santa Barbara had a food pantry and meals where everyone is welcome. I see that there is an SDA church in your city, not sure if they have the cooking and pantry options the SB one does but it is worth a try. I did the cooking class and attended one of the congregational meals and I promise, they were freindly but did not try to convert anyone at all. I went just to get a head start on vegetarian cooking and that was just fine. No religious pitch at all.

  4. Eliza Jane says:

    We accidentally discovered on Martin Luther King Day that the Savers store in our area (not sure if they are national or not) was having a 50% off day. And 50% off of a shirt that is normally 2.99 is cheap. We loaded up on clothes, toys, videos. and I mean loaded, and ended up paying about $20. I’m going to keep an eye out for future 50% off days. And we also discovered that when you donate to Savers they give you a 20% off coupon, regardless of what you donate. We had a box full of damask chair covers that I think we had gotten as a gift at a work Christmas party, never even opened. We donated that and got our coupon.

  5. bogart says:

    Thanks for writing about this, it’s useful. I’m (for now and knock on wood and all that) working with noticeably more financial resources but still (very much) appreciate the value of stretching pennies where I can (and believe me, it does make a difference, I mean, I’m not rolling in dough!). Here are some things I do that I haven’t seen already mentioned:

    I find Mapquest’s gas pricer to be useful and accurate. I only use it to map extant routes (places I’m going anyway), but my work, childcare, and home are in 3 different zipcodes and there can be as much as a $.20 per gallon difference in the prices — and each zip has had better rates at different times, so I always try to check before I fill up.

    I’ve found Consumer Cellular to offer really affordable month-by-month cell phone service; I pay ~$22 inclusive for all the calls I need (300 minutes), and $.10 per text.

    One grocery store in our area used to sell aging produce (really!) cheap. Either they’ve quit doing that or the stuff is getting snapped up faster than it used to. Another has a few regular easy specials that I remember and grab, e.g., whole rotisserie chicken for $4.99 on Sundays. I don’t coupon much (the stuff I buy doesn’t come with coupons usually — generics, etc.), but do watch prices and wait for sales. Oh, and rely heavily on frozen produce — cheap, easy, and nutritious.

    Animals: I do not take my dogs to the vet for regular checkups. I give them shots myself, they are sub-Q and easily available at any farm supply store in our area (the exception is rabies which must be done professionally either at a low-cost clinic, which I use if I can work it in, or I go to the vet if not). I don’t own a cat right now, but if I did, I’d do the same for the cat. I use cow wormer Ivermectin (same active ingredient as Heartguard, available OTC) rather than Heartguard for heartworm prevention (my vet is OK with this — I do the same dosage as for heartguard. This does require access to needles, which is OK in our state but not I think in all. I pull the wormer out of the bottle (with a needle/syringe) and inject it into fish oil capsules that I’ve emptied and then give it to the dogs orally once/month, just like heartguard. Marginally more complicated but huge savings — $30 supply for my 2 large dogs lasts a year or more versus $72/6 months per dog for the Rx stuff). 2 cautionary notes: (a) some collies and collie crosses have reactions to Ivermectin, there’s a way to check if your dog is based on genetics but I don’t know much about this — if you are in doubt, a non-Ivermectin antiheartworm is the right choice; (2) my vets are OK with this but not all are; some require that you have a vet’s (versus personal) record of vaccination or they would not admit the pet in an emergency, so, check before you start this. Cat vaccines are also readily available OTC (at least in my state) and also sub-Q. The cost for a year’s worth of shots for my dogs is in the $10 range, which I hardly need tell you is a lot less than a visit to the vet. My dogs see the vet if they are unwell, but not otherwise.

  6. Maria de Miami says:

    I signed up for petsmart online and put the birthday of my cats and get a 3 dollar voucher once a year and discounts. for a couple of times i even got a 3 dollar worth survey on the receipt.
    CVS here is bad. Where my husband lived before was great because you got a lot of free money if you bought certain items.
    i am also signed on “opinion bar research” but it pays next to nothing, i get about 1 dollar survey every month sometimes 2 weeks sometimes more but it is just to have a nice surprise on occasion you have 10 dollars there and you can cash them. But it is not great as it is not easy to qualify for their surveys and so you can’t make so much money.
    we cook and take food to work (he’ll be out of work soon) and we use big lots and Aldi a lot.

  7. Barb says:

    I knew I’d forget something. Also, I do make my own laundry soap for pennies. It takes a Fels Naptha bar (or castile or ivory would work too), washing soda and Borax. I finally went to online bill pay to save on stamps. I wear my clothes several times before washing (the exception is underwear). I hang dry it all on the line in my basement except for sheets/towels. I lost my full time job 3 years ago and am making do with several part time jobs, like you. It’s exhausing, not to mention no benefits.

  8. Jeannette says:

    I never thought of loading the printable coupons right on to my store card, great way to not have to print and waste paper, thanks for that tip.

    I consider myself frugal in many ways, not as much as you, but I do live under my means. I have gotten grocery shopping to the point that when I am shopping it is never for stuff I need only for what is on sale. If I have a coupon great but I don’t sweat it if I don’t. I keep higher priced items in quantity, like Mayo, its over $4 when not on sale, when it’s on sale I stock up, same with laundry soap,
    I keep thinking I will cancel cable, its over priced and the quality of tv well it just sucks, and I could be usiing my time better spent, BUT with the stress of my job/family/etc sometimes its nice to have that distraction and I am noticing at 2 am and 3 am when I can’t sleep it calms my brain down from the rollar coaster ride
    I don’t do much shopping for clothing, I would love to, but find that I can do with what I have, I recently bought 3 really great and well made shoes from Macys for under $100 well worth the investment, and well I needed them for my work
    Other areas I save, I cook at home, take leftovers for lunch, or pack my own lunch with whatever, we rarely do entertainment outside of the home, basically cause once I am home from work I don’t want to go out
    I think we the ones that have learned to do without, do with less will in the future be far better off than those who spend just to spend, live beyond their means and have no clue how to be thrifty. cause this economy isn’t done with the downward spiral yet,
    And onward we go

  9. Barbara says:

    Have you set up a Facebook page? It could be helpful for your blog and there are people who would love to help through your links.

    Wishing you and your family the best.

  10. Sara says:

    I’m big on the drugstore deals; i.e, Walgreen’s, RiteAid, and CVS. Almost every week you can get something cheap and/or free. I get the things I can use – for example, last week RiteAid had cat food at 3.99 for 12 cans (less $1 in the Sunday paper) less one dollar in an “UP” reward good on your next purchase – that went for soda (a weekend treat for the 4 kids) which worked out for 3/$4 with a $2 UP reward which went back for cat food – and we did these transactions over again – This stocks up our cat food for a couple of weeks (we only do a couple of transactions) and stocks up some sodas (my kids live for the weekends) – then we wait for next week!! Good luck!

    PS, I cancelled NETFLIX and started streaming from AMAZON.com – They have specials every week – e.g., last weekend Monte Carlo was $1.99 – the kids were pleased.

  11. Liz says:

    I’ve found that I can go online to renew my books & DVD’s from the library! Even in the evening after the library is closed! On the day they are due!

  12. Barb says:

    I am close to a black belt in frugality. So here is the cliff notes version. Food: I shop at the salvage store (like a garage sale for food) and Aldi for most things. Walmart if I have to have brand name (rare). Rarely eat out and do cook from scratch. I used to coupon a lot but have gotten away from it due to time constraints and the bother. Transportation: drive a small car, big deductible, and buy gas on double coupon days or at Sam’s. Clothes: buy at Goodwill on discount day, even for my picky boys. I am a big sale person, but mostly at large church sales. It takes too much time to go to homes. Entertainment: free dvds from the library and the occasional Redbox. Walk outside when weather permits. I don’t go to malls at all and try to find most things secondhand. I use freecycle and craigslist a lot. I bring my coffee and lunch to work every day. I use coupons too for car maintenance and haircuts. I have a prepay cell phone and I was about the last person to get one.

    • boxcarkids says:

      We don’t have any gas stations that use coupons! There’s the Cost-Co station – it’s generally cheap but you have to have a membership (we don’t) and it’s some distance away to either of the 2 closest Cost-Co. Gas is pretty expensive here – our cheap station is about $3.55 a gallon at the moment and the local average is around $3.70. Our mini-van is a 2003 with 170,000 miles on it and it gets around 16 miles to the gallon.

      • Rosa says:

        Our local grocery store gives a coupon to a specific gas station if you buy more than $50/groceries. I don’t buy gas every week, so I sometimes pass that coupon on to someone else. It would be worth checking among friends/acquiantances if there’s a similar deal near you. Sometimes people get gas discount cards as prizes too (that happened to me at work once, when I didn’t have a car, so I traded it to a coworker.)

  13. selvi says:

    I admire so much your courage and resourcefulness. I’ve sent your link to friends asking to go through your blog if they need to order on amazon and to pass on the word. I hope that it might help. I will remember you and your children in my prayers.

  14. Rona says:

    I sign up at places for their birthday clubs etc for my daughter and I. Usually around birthday time this equals free meals and fun goodies this past year I had 3 free breakfasts Denny’s and Ihop and Ruby Tuesdays a free burrito at Qdoba and a free sub from firehouse subs there all you have to show is your license. It keeps me from feeling deprived. I also sign up at restaurant websites I like to eat at like chili’s. The other day they sent me a coupon where two kids eats free with any purchase so I bought an appetizer and got two free kids meals and paid with a gift card I got for Christmas. Even though I get gift cards I still like to get the max use out of them. I do swagbucks just by watching the swagtv alone you can get 5 $5 amazon cards a month at the least. I only spent $10 out of pocket for Christmas this year and I bought new things including and iPod for 10 kids. I peruse websites like hip2save for deals, contest and signups. In the last three months alone I signed up for a $25 American express card, ate free dominos for a week when they were offering people a free pie for trying out there new pizza and won $250 from retail me not just by entering my email. I think I work at something every day to save money because I have been in your position with only one kid and I know how hard it is. Even now it’s difficult working full time to keep things going and make ends meet. People make fun of me because I am always getting some type of deal to save but it doesn’t bother me at all. It might only be 10 saved but that $10 can save me next week when i have no money and need gas! lol as we all know even a few dollars can be a lifesaver when your not doing well.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks for the reminder – I signed up for Swagbucks but seldom log in – I’ll have to go back to it.

      • Mary Miller says:

        I use Swagbucks for all my searches now that I’m unemployed. It is free, and it’s not like I am going out of my way. Maybe you could have the kids use SB instead of Google? Also, I have SBTV going in the background any time I’m on the computer, sometimes with the volume down so low I can barely hear it; that’s basically what I use instead of a radio.

        As for non-Swagbucks frugality techniques: I think you’re more likely to teach me something than the other way around! The only thing I thought of was that my sister – who lives in a desert – had her freezer outside with a lock on it until she was able to get another trailer.

        Good luck!

      • boxcarkids says:

        We had some issue with the swagsbuck toolbar and disabled it. I think that’s why I haven’t been earning ‘bucks’ through them. We used to have a little garage freezer but the only things we are allowed to have outside the trailer (not that there’s much room for anything) are: grill, outdoor table/chairs and bikes. Nothing else. Anyway I suspect our wimpy electrical system would be overloaded if we plugged in a freezer. As it is we have to turn off the dryer if we turn on the microwave, or the little table top heater that we have. Only one heat producing appliance at a time or the power goes off!

    • Diane says:

      A few more tips about Swagbucks. I never downloaded the toolbar but keep myself permanently logged in and have it bookmarked as a favorite for easy access. Using Swagbucks to do routine searches for things like recipes or to do research – anything that you might have used Google for- is a great way to acquire points. Although the awarding of points is a random process, I find that it usually awards points on about the 4th search. Sometimes you just need to reword searches a bit until you get points. It takes no more than 5 minutes of daily use for searches to add an extra $5-$10 per month of purchasing power at Amazon (the least “points” expensive gift card with real purchasing power).

  15. Niel says:

    The Walmart near you must not sell much in the way of food. One of the Walmarts near us replaced most of the clothing section with a grocery section. Not quite the selection as the local Super Center, but still respectable. The prices are 20% – 30% lower than Vons or Albertsons. Well worth driving a few extra miles for that “once a week” trip to get the essentials.

  16. Betsy says:

    I periodically get coupons I can’t use. Would you like me to send them to you?

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks! We can use pet food or paper product coupons – for a lot of things I just purchase the store brand but I do find that it is worth buying premium pet foods (fewer trips outside/clean up inside) and paper products. We are trying to use fewer paper towels by using cloth towels instead and washing them but it’s not really feasible to replace TP with cloth anything! How’s your job search?

  17. Donna says:

    I really enjoy your blogging, even when things aren’t great. Even though our situations are different, we share some of the same financial challenges. No coupons here though.
    Congrats on doing well with Amazon over the holidays. In 2010 it was very successful as a fundraiser for me, but 2011 was really, really minimal. I didn’t shop much online this year, but what I did I linked through your site!

  18. Eva says:

    Wow, I can’t believe that MyPoints still exists! I used that more than 10 years ago, heck, almost 15 years ago, when the internet was still young!

    Do you have a mailing address, and would you be interesting in selling more things on eBay? I have a few hundred dollars’ worth of things I need to sell but I’ve been putting it off for months because it is such a bother. Would be willing to pay you some percent of what you could get for it if I could just send the things to you to sell.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Hi Eva – thanks for the thought. I’ve tried to do that in the past but we have so little storage space (or space at all) that it was just too difficult to keep other people’s things and packing materials, postage scale, etc., here at the trailer. That’s why doing it for my friend at her warehouse worked so well – we had a large room filled with boxes, peanuts, and other packing material, shelves for the objects, a table for the photography and computer/printer/postage scale all set up. If I had enough money (and good credit) for a small office space I might try doing it as a business but with 4 kids and pets it’s too hard to do here.

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