Tag Archives: saving

Ronnica’s 101 Tips for Living on Less and Loving it

The idea for this blog is taken directly from Your Money or Your Life. In the updated version, Vicki Robin removed the tips section she had previously and advised writing your own…so I am.

Here are my tips for living on less and loving it:

Attitude
1. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t know how much debt they had to go into to buy that house/car/wardrobe/vacation.
2. Focus on being thankful for what you have instead of what you do not have.
3. Open your eyes to those in other situations than you are (at home and abroad). Much of what we think of as “needs” is culturally influenced.
4. Be more concerned about what you think about yourself than what others think about you.
5. Make friends who are like-minded and can inspire and encourage you.
6. Seek advice from those who are better than you in the areas you want to improve.
7. Avoid ads whenever possible.
8. Avoid visiting places where you will be tempted to shop without forethought.
9. When you’re tempted to splurge, remind yourself of your long-term goals.
10. Unfollow Facebook friends whom you are tempted to be envious of.

Groceries/food 
11. Buy fruit when in season and on sale and freeze or can it for later for use throughout the year.
12. Freeze unused yogurt before it goes bad and stick it in smoothies.
13. Freeze unused milk before it goes back and use it for baking.
14. Make your own dressing…better for you, and you make it for your own tastes.
15. Make your own spice mixes (ranch packet, Italian seasoning, chili powder, etc.).
16. Make sweets from scratch. Cheaper, and you’ll eat them less often.
17. Make your own ice, saving in Ziploc bags if you need to take it with you.
18. Make your own pizza crust and freeze it in appropriate-sized dough balls (wrapped in saran wrap placed in a Ziploc bag).
19. Eat more like a vegetarian.
20. Replace ground beef with black beans in your favorite casseroles.
21. Bake a week’s worth of goods in one day.
22. Know where to buy what to get the most value.
23. Freeze any unused bread before it goes bad, then use it to make your own croutons.
24. Save eating out for special occasions…
25. But be sure to tip generously when you do.

Health/beauty
26. Find beauty products that you can use for more than one purpose.
27. Wear less makeup.
28. Wear makeup less.
29. Cut your own hair.
30. Spend less time on your outward beauty and more time on your inward beauty.

Utilities
31. Turn off your electronics when you leave your house. I have my TV, DVD player and modem on a power strip that I can easily flip off when I leave the house.
32. Use a window fan to cool your bedroom instead of A/C.
33. Research the cheapest cell plan that meets your needs (StraightTalk has been great for me).
34. Pay for your cell phone by the year to save money (I pay for 11 months and get the 12th free).
35. Buy a highly-rated phone and keep it for several years.
36. Save waste water (like from unfinished cups or pasta water) and use to water your garden.

Housekeeping
37. Make your own laundry detergent.
38. …and your own dishwasher detergent.
39. Hang up your clothes to dry after washing, even if you have to hang a line inside.
40. Clean your kitchen with vinegar and water.
41. Clean your toilet with vinegar and baking soda.
42. Use handkerchiefs instead of tissues.

Clothes
43. Buy clothes that you are comfortable and you look good in. For me, that’s skirts.
44. Hang up clothes at the end of the day where they can breathe. If they don’t have visible dirt or stink by morning, hang them back in your closet.
45. Simplify your wardrobe so that everything matches just 1 or 2 pairs of shoes.
46. Pare down your underwear down to a week’s worth, and wash by hand between machine washes if needed.
47. When buying new tops, try getting 3/4 length sleeves, as they’re wearable almost year-round.

Garden
drying oregano48. Take advantage of any sunny area to plant a container garden.
49. Starting with easy veggies that are your favorites.
50. Grow your own herbs. Much cheaper and tastier than what you can get at the store.
51. Make friends with people who grow different things in their garden than you do and trade.
52. Companion plant in a way to attract the right kinds of bugs (ex: nasturtium with tomatoes).
53. Invest a little more in non-hybrid seeds, and save the seeds the plants produce for the next year.
54. Add cleaned egg shells to your tomato soil to fight blossom end rot.
55. Fight powdery mildew with watered-down milk.

Transportation
56. Be generous in the space you give between you and the driver in front of you. Saves stress as well as gas/brakes.
57. Turn off your car’s A/C if you are driving under 45 MPH.
58. Use public transportation when traveling to high travel areas (like downtown). Cheaper than parking and less stressful.
59. Instead of buying a car with payments, save each month what you would spend on a car payment and buy your next car with cash.
60. When shopping for a car, shop according to your needs, not what others will think or how the car makes you feel.
61. Buy transit passes through work, which allows you to buy them with pre-tax money.

Shopping
62. Before buying anything, find out if someone has something that you can borrow to meet that need, or if you can repurpose something else.
63. Buy to last: it’s okay to spend a little more in the short term to get something that will last your lifetime.
64. Don’t browse catalogs or websites.
65. Research electronics so you get exactly what meets your needs.
66. Focus on buying items that can meet more than one need.
67. Comparison shop online before hitting up the store.
68. Avoid the mall, unless you have a specific purpose for being there.
69. Use reusable bags. (Store in the car so you don’t forget.)
70. Save your splurging for the library.

Travel
71. Pack your own snacks and entertainment. You’ll spend half as much at a drug store than at the airport for the same items.
72. Bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up at a water fountain on the other side.
73. Download ebooks from your library to your phone, tablet or e-reader.
74. If traveling over holidays, research flights on the holidays themselves, as they are usually significantly cheaper.
75. Save regularly for your travel goals, and don’t let less significant trips get in the way of budgeting for the ones you’ve always wanted to take.
76. Pack as few pants/skirts and shoes as is reasonable.

Moving 

77. Before deciding to move, come up with a budget and save up so that you’re not moving a credit card bill, too.
78. Find someone who recently moved and ask them for their boxes when they are finished.
79. Price the various moving options and determine what is the best value for you, money and time-wise.
80. Don’t forget to budget for all the little things you always seem to need when you move to a new place: trashcan, rugs, curtains, etc…
81. But also think through what you can reasonably do without.
82. If moving long distance, consider which possessions it may be reasonable to get rid of and replace when you get to your new home.
83. After you move, don’t visit any local fast food places, so you never get into that habit.

Hobby/Entertainment
colorado trail fall colors84. Find hobbies that costs no money. Mine are reading and hiking.
85. Use the library liberally to get as many as your entertainment selections as bbpossible.
86. Instead of going to the movies, make note of movies you want to see, to watch them on Netflix or borrow from the library later.
87. Exercise for free: outdoors or using frugally-acquired equipment at home.
88. Be a tourist in your own city, seeing (free or cheap!) sights you’ve never seen.
89. Cancel your Netflix or Hulu subscriptions regularly, saving up what you want to see for single 30-day windows, paying just for one month.
90. Use Pandora or Spotify instead of buying your own music.
91. When meeting up with friends, do activities that are free. Eat in together (even if it’s leftovers!) instead of out.

Holidays/Giving
92. Don’t give obligation gifts. Give according to your heart.
93. Buy a pack of blank cards, instead of holiday-specific cards. Write your own message.
94. Be intentional in your giving to charities, researching the organizations that you are giving to.
95. Pare down your holiday decorations to your absolute favorites.
96. Wrap gifts in usable or reusable wrappings (such as a reusable grocery bag in a fun color).

Time Management
97. Order your to-do list from most important to least, then work from the top.
98. Review your life plan regularly so that your to-do list aligns with it.
99. Make shopping lists on your phone (I use Evernote), saving paper and making it harder to leave behind.
100. Run your errands in one day, mapping your route to save gas and time.
101. If something has been on your to-do list for a few weeks, either do it or mark it off undone.

Breaking Rules

52501482_fcd5405228_mI think it is a pretty accurate statement to say that I follow the rules.

If a doctor tells me to do something, I will typically do it.  In school, I was the girl who adhered to every single dictate put forth by the teacher.  As an adult, not much has changed.

…except when it comes to a few financial rules.

I realize that rules–especially financial rules–become such because they tend to work well when followed.  For most people.  I also believe (and hope I have effectively conveyed on this blog) that there can be exceptions to many rules.  Each family may have a different way of going about their different priorities.  I know our family does!

What follows is just a sampling of some of the rules we don’t follow.  It should be noted here that 1) this is simply a short list of rules that first came to my mind that we also happen to break, and 2) I am not a financial “expert”–your own situation will vary, so when in doubt, get to a professional!

Rule #1:  We save more.  

Depending on which financial guru you follow, the number in your savings account should range from $1,000, to 3-6 months of salary, to many times that.  Since our family has one breadwinner, we have experienced job loss before, and we have little people looking to us to provide for them, we have always aimed on the higher end of savings.

For example, $1,000 would not provide nearly enough of a safety net in the event of a major life event, so we have made our goal higher than that.  That doesn’t mean that our savings account always reflects where our goal is (we have had to dip into emergency savings some this year), but the peace of mind this affords is priceless.

Rule #2:  We use credit cards.

This one is a tough one, because obviously one wants to avoid debt as much as possible.  One could also argue that the credit card rewards are either rarely (if ever) cashed in on, or that the potential rewards do not outweigh the drawbacks (high interest rates, crushing debt, etc.).  I do believe, however, that credit cards can be a helpful tool…when used correctly.  Obviously paying off your balance in full each month is the ideal.

Rule #3:  We pay our retirement accounts first.

I’ve mentioned here before that we have worked to find a good way to fund our children’s education.  It’s still a work in progress, but here’s the important thing to note:  our kids have many options available to them when it comes to paying for higher education.  Our retirement?  Not so much.  So, as much as we love our littles, we pay our retirement accounts first.

These are just a sampling of some of our rule-breaking ways.  While rules may be in place for a reason, it’s important to remember every rule may not be the best fit for your life situation.  And when in doubt, consult with an expert!

Photo by Jem Stone

Frugal Victories

6988272680_97102f42c6_zI’ve been spending quite a bit of time on here lately commenting on reducing our grocery bill, perhaps at the detriment of discussing financial victories we have experienced.

You know me (and Ronnica too)–improving our stewardship of money is a constant quest! I wanted to take a post and share what I’ve been proud of recently, as far as our finances are concerned.

We have been a one-car family for over three years. Darn right I’m proud of this.  We have been a one-car household (remember:  four people and two big dogs comprise our family) for over half of our marriage now.  People said it couldn’t be done, but thanks to careful planning, priorities aligning, and a walkable neighborhood, this has been a noteworthy accomplishment.

I don’t know how long we will be able to swing this, but we have no plans of adding a car any time soon, so as long as we can make one car work for us, we will.  It’s saved us a large amount of money!

We have been without student loan debt for over two years.  I wish we could say “completely debt-free” but the mortgage alone precludes this.  We’ll get there–in the meantime, let me say that not paying a student loan bill has been pretty awesome (as Ronnica can attest to!).

We continue to be on-track for savings–including retirement and college.  Without delving into specific numbers, I will say that I am pleased with our progress in saving for our emergency fund (we’ve needed it more than once!), retirement, and college for the kiddies.  There are times where I wish we had more funds to play with right now, but knowing we won’t have to worry about the future as much (because, as a worrywart, I worry no matter what) is a relief.

What victories have you celebrated lately?

Photo by Phillip Taylor at ptmoney.com

A Whole Lot of Milk

1290056869_bee5fd99a2_zDuring a recent grocery shopping trip, the cashier made a very observant comment:

“That’s a whole lot of milk in your cart.”

He was correct.  Sitting in my cart was no less than four gallons of 2% milk.  He went on to say that he can’t even finish a half gallon of milk before it expires.

That was my first clue that maybe our family is not the norm when it comes to milk consumption.

Since I shop once every two weeks for groceries, I have to plan ahead, and yes…we consume an average of four gallons of milk for our family of four every two weeks.  Believe it or not, that’s a reduction from the five we averaged when Peanut was younger.

Part of this is medically directed:  the kids’ pediatrician prefers them to each get 16 ounces of milk a day.  (In case you are new here, you should know that I tend to follow the rules.)

Another part of it is that milk is a preferred beverage for all of us–it is second only to water for the kids, and Riley and I use it for coffee, baking, cooking, or just as a cool beverage. While some folks prefer to drink soda with pizza, we are chugging milk.

It doesn’t stop there.  I could easily get a different kind of milk for each family member, and would have good reasons to do so.  For Riley:  a half gallon of skim milk every other week.  For Bean:  whole milk (several gallons) and almond milk.  For Peanut:  skim milk…several gallons. For myself:  a minimum of a gallon of organic milk.

Clearly milk is here to stay in our house.  I wish we could afford to get four gallons of organic milk every two weeks, but that’s simply not in the budget.  I aim to get milk that has the “hormone and antibiotic-free pledge” but that’s the best I can do, for now anyway.

The issue I am running up against, as alluded to in this post, is that our grocery expenses have expanded a bit in recent months.  Four gallons of milk is a good chunk of change that can’t be cut from our budget; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a gallon of whole milk cost an average of $3.43/gallon in July.  I will let you do the math!

One way I am combating this is by shopping where I know milk prices are the lowest–hence why I have to plan ahead and grab four gallons each grocery trip, because the cheapest place to get milk isn’t down the street.  Convenience comes at a cost!

I also want to experiment with powdered milk in baking.  I know of some people who use it exclusively in their homes, but I’m not sure our family is prepared to go that route…yet.

We also compromise.  Since we all could go for a different type of milk, we settled for 2%–that fulfills dietary needs for the kids, and does the trick for us adults, too.  2% is also cheaper and lasts a bit longer than whole milk (skim would be cheaper still, but wouldn’t fulfill other requirements).

Simple, healthful living with a family requires some creativity sometimes.  Do you have any words of wisdom?

Photo by Guy Montag

Updates on the Striving Stewardess

A few months have gone by since our last updates, so here’s updates on things we’ve talked about previously:

Ronnica’s Updates

How I Paid Off $10,678.28 in 8 Months

It’s been over 4 months since I got out of debt. The cool thing about not having a mortgage is that I’m completely debt free.

Since then, I’ve been focusing hard on building emergency savings and adding to my retirement account. To balance my two goals, I’ve decided to put 20% of my savings towards retirement (my 401k contributions are handled separately).

How it Works: Living without Air Conditioning

This is the first summer that I’ve gone completely without air conditioning. I’ve become unapologetic about it: if someone is at my house I’ll give them full control over the fans, but do not turn on the air. While it doesn’t get as hot here in Colorado as in anywhere I have lived, it has regularly gotten into the lower to mid-90s.

Yes, I’ve sweat a lot, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing (regular showers are a must).

Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).
Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).

Ronnica’s Garden Plan

Sadly, this has been my least productive garden, apart from the year I stopped watering due to anemia-caused exhaustion.

The primary cause was the cold and rainy weather we had for most of May. I also tried a few new-to-me varieties that I’m not sure did as well as I would have liked.

The great thing about gardening, though, is that every year is a learning opportunity. I’m going to take what I’ve learned to make better choices next year.

And there’s always my winter garden (details to come).

Amanda’s Updates

Giving Our Time

Just a couple of months after writing this post, an opportunity to give my time presented itself:  serving on the pastoral call committee of our church.

Although we have only met a few times so far, and there is a good chunk of time I have to commit (a few hours a month for meetings and ultimately interviewing potential candidates to serve as our pastor), it is a volunteer position that is well-aligned to my gifts, one that is fairly flexible with our family schedule, and most importantly, is vital to the future of our congregation.  It’s a great opportunity!

Grocery Shopping

It has been six months since I first posted about my grocery shopping method (one word:  methodical).

Since that time, a lot has changed–for starters, the national egg shortage has resulted in eggs no longer being the least expensive item in my cart.  I have also lightened up quite a bit in my grocery shopping prep, because where I get most of our food now (Aldi) doesn’t accept coupons, so that actually saves me time…but also because I’ve become a bit lazy.

Our grocery bill has also crept upwards, due in part to a sales tax increase and cost of food steadily increasing, but also due to the aforementioned lackadaisical attitude.  Since grocery shopping is one of the easiest ways to help or hinder a family budget, I have been working on reducing our grocery bill.  Stay tuned later this month for how that went.

Fall Purge

A quick look at the calendar tells me that, yes, fall is indeed upon us!  Since Riley has started working from home several days a week, this has forced us to adopt a whole new way of looking at cleaning and organization; with no home office, we have had to turn “the dungeon” into a multipurpose area.

That has meant–you guessed it–a whole lot of purging.

It’s a work in progress.  But it definitely doesn’t look like this anymore…

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…and for that I am very grateful.

Free Kiddie Entertainment

Summer is almost upon us, but as I write this at the end of May, the weather here in the Midwest hasn’t gotten the memo.  It’s hard to go to the pool when there is yet another thunderstorm on the horizon, or the temperature is barely above 65 degrees!

This weather has gotten me thinking about alternative, free ways to keep my young ‘uns occupied.  I’m a big proponent of independent, creative, electronic-free play in part because–let’s face it–I won’t always be around to serve as a constant source of entertainment for my children, so they need to learn to entertain themselves without me hovering over their every move.  Likewise, there may also be times when (gasp!) technology is not feasible or available.

Any toys or activities that serve to further that goal AND are free or cheap are highly sought-after in our house.  Here are a few we have come up with and greatly enjoy:

11170351_10102820382682459_4732335436343756587_n1. Take a book and read it.  Free.  When I was in elementary school, we had silent reading time each day.  I had a teacher who called this time TABARI–which literally stood for “Take a Book and Read It.”  Another teacher called that time DEAR–which stood for “Drop Everything and Read.” In our house, we just call it “reading time.”  Bean will usually snuggle up in her room with a big pile of picture books, while Peanut will sit on my lap and read with me.

2.  Cardboard appliance boxes.  Free if you do your homework (or are installing a new appliance!).  We have a neighbor who does construction on new houses, so whenever we need a new box to play in, I check with him and he not only obliges, but also brings it over to our house in his pickup truck.  Win!  Many appliance stores will also set aside a box or two for you if you ask; oftentimes it saves them the extra step of breaking down the box for recycling.

3.  Cardboard canvas.  Free, once you decide you are tired of having your living room overrun with appliance boxes.  Simply break down the aforementioned box, give the kids art supplies, and let them create away.  Side note:  this is also fun for parents too!

11044640_10102722494126909_8908845080738783927_n4.  Play outside.  Free(ish).  For whatever reason, it seems like playing outside seems to get a bad rap these days.  I’m not comfortable with our kids playing outside on their own (they are only three and 18 months, after all), but a little sunshine (or rain, depending on the weather) while they play outside is good for me, too!

For a nominal cost, sidewalk chalk and sandbox toys can be acquired, as can sunscreen and bug spray; old dishes and silverware can also fit the bill for those kids who like to dig.  Fancy toys like the car in the picture are certainly not required! One could argue the cost of fixing filthy, torn clothes could add up, but we have gotten around this by having dedicated “play clothes,” which are worn only when playing outside.  Also, I don’t know if there is any scientific evidence to back this observation up, but I have noticed our kids not only sleep better after playing outside, but they also are in better moods…and so am I!

What free (or inexpensive) activities and toys can you think of?

Saving for College

7067727893_b68dce54fc_mLast month, Ronnica talked about how she paid off the last of her student loan debt–five figures in a a mere eight months.  *thunderous applause*

It got me to thinking about the many ways one can fund their (or their children’s) education and which way is the “best”.  Here are a few I’ve come up with:

1.  Student pays it all.

2.  Parents pay it all.

3.  Some sort of combination between parents and student.

4.  Loans

5.  College savings plan (Coverdell, 529, etc.)

Of course, there is the combination of the above, and the “other”, which, in addition to scholarships, is how I funded a good portion of my education (my mother died when I was young, and her life insurance was her final gift to my brother and I).  And there are those who opt to join the work force or military (which pays for education) in lieu of going straight to college.

Realizing that my young kiddos will be leaving the nest sooner than I care to admit, this idea of “how to pay for college” is something I’ve been struggling with lately; I can see merit to many of the options available.  Having a student fund all or part of their education commands the student take ownership of their degree.  It may also inspire them to make different choices (like in-state versus out-of-state).

But you don’t have to look far to see stories regarding the mountains of debt the average student accrues today.  At the same time, the economy seems slow to recover from the Great Recession, so many parents can’t fund a savings account (529, Coverdell, or otherwise) for their children’s education even if they wanted to.

So what’s a parent and good steward do?

Good question. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out for myself.  I certainly don’t know what’s best for every family.  Circumstances (and priorities) are different within each.

For our family, we nickel-and-dimed a start to a Coverdell Education Savings Account (aka Education IRA) for the kids.  I say “nickel-and-dimed” because that’s literally what we did (incidentally, this is a tactic that Ronnica hits on in her debt-free post):  We funneled extra change into the kids’ piggy banks until there was a decent enough amount to start funds for them, and we add to them automatically each month.  Unless something changes in our circumstances, however, our kiddos will likely have some sort of combination of the payment options above.

What have you done in your family?

Photo by TaxCredits.net

Bartering

barterpicLately, my sole experience with the art of bartering has been with my three-year-old to get her to do any number of tasks.

“Bean, if you do Task X, then Mama will do Task Y.”

I suppose there is a fine line between bribery and bartering, but there is a task (usually) completed in exchange for another, and no money is exchanged (yet).  This qualifies as bartering.  Which got me to thinking recently…

What if I try bartering in the grown-up world?

I have a few gifts I could share with others in exchange for one of their gifts.  Theoretically, not only would I be using the gifts God has given me, but I’d also be saving another gift (money).  Win-win, right?

This has required a bit more thought than I originally anticipated, and is still a work in progress.  Some ideas I’ve had:

Babysitting for babysitting.  I have several friends with small kids.  We all need time to do activities other than childcare (date night comes to mind!).  Since rearing small children is a specialty of mine, this would be the most practical option.

Teach piano for babysitting.  (Noticing a theme?) Alternatively, I have some friends with older kids.  Affordable music lessons are hard to come by, and I have some musical experience.

Garden produce for garden produce.  I don’t think this requires much explanation.  There’s always a bumper crop of cucumbers from our garden, but will be no tomatoes this year…why not make a trade?

I’m hoping to put this idea into practice soon…stay tuned!

Photo by T(h)om

How it Works: Thrift Stores

This is my closet.

20150301_222253

 

Let’s ignore the fact that this closet is ridiculously small (my toddler can’t even fit in here), and the fact that it really should be next in a possession purge (or at least an organization fest), and instead discuss its contents.

Over half of the clothing you see hanging up was purchased at a thrift store.

I’m actually pretty proud of this fact.  Despite coming into the thrift shop craze a bit late in the game (right around the time that the catchy, not-for-childrens’-ears ditty, “Thrift Shop”, by Macklemore came on the scene), I have gotten so many amazing things at rock-bottom prices.  Besides being a financially-savvy choice though, buying secondhand clothes also keeps waste down, which definitely falls in line with being a good steward!

I have a few rules regarding thrift-shopping, and they are by no means “official”; they are just what I’m comfortable with.

The first rule is, if I can catch something from an article of clothing, I don’t buy it.  I suppose one can catch anything anywhere, but I aim to lower my chances, so I don’t buy secondhand shoes or unmentionables (most thrift stores don’t accept underwear anyway, though, so it’s a moot point).

Secondly, know exactly what I want.  If I go in just aiming to browse, invariably I will spend far more than I wanted, and will come out with something destined to go to the thrift shop again.  Since thrift stores tend to be luck-of-the-draw though, when it comes to content…

…know when to walk away.  And then come back another time when inventory has been rotated.  The flip-side of this is that you shouldn’t expect to come back later in the day to pick up a hot-ticket item you wanted to think about before purchasing; chances are, someone else will have already picked it up.  Although taking time to think about a major purchase is admirable, it does not typically pay when it comes to thrift-shopping.

Finally, just because your wardrobe is secondhand doesn’t mean you have to deal with poor-quality clothing.  Be sure to look the item over, inside and out.  Check for holes, loose or missing buttons, a stuck zipper, or broken parts.  Try on clothing if you can.  Many stores have a strict return policy, so once a tag is removed and the article washed (absolutely wash clothes before wearing, or clean furniture before using!), you cannot return it.

Thrift stores are a treasure trove, and a great way to boost your wardrobe for less, but I’m still learning how to go about thrift shopping effectively.  Got any tips for me?

How it Works: Grocery Shopping, Part 2

On Monday, I talked about the first half of my preparation for a grocery shopping excursion.

Like other outings and activities, since kids have come on the scene, grocery shopping has gotten a bit more complex, but a little organization goes a long way toward saving us money, and ensuring a smooth, productive trip to the store!

Today, I discuss what actually happens during the trip, and include a few of my own tips and tricks.  I hope you find them helpful!

Before I even get in the car, I make sure I have the following:  my “master list”, all my coupons and deal papers (or apps readily available on my phone, depending on how technologically adept I feel), cloth bags (our store credits you a nickel per bag, which adds up), phone, car keys, and wallet with method of payment (the last two have been forgotten before…many times, actually).

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Many stores will give you a few cents per reusable bag.

As an aside, I try very hard not to shop with anyone.  This is not because the kids are poorly behaved in public–quite the contrary, actually–but rather because they take up valuable real estate in the cart!  Since I go shopping for two weeks worth of items at a time, every single inch of the cart is taken up.  Rather than make Bean walk or wear an increasingly-heavy Peanut in a baby carrier, they stay at home with Riley for some quality Daddy bonding time.  Bonus:  I get some time just for me!

Once I’m at the store, I just follow the list!  This is where the preparation before  the trip comes in really handy.  I am usually able to get in and out in under an hour.  If it isn’t on the list and I feel we “need” it, I make a note to add it to the next grocery cycle.  Impulse purchases are the perfect way to completely blow your budget out of the water…I speak from experience!   I use my phone to keep a rough estimate of the total cost, so I’m not surprised at the check-out counter.

A note about coupons:  do the math.  A perfect example of this came up at the last grocery shopping excursion just a couple of days ago.  This last shopping trip found me in front of the children’s pain relief section.  I had a coupon for a name-brand pain reliever, but even with the coupon, the generic brand was still two dollars cheaper.  I wound up not using the coupon, and going with generic.  The contents were identical, even down to weight, but the price difference was significant.  This type of scenario is the one time I don’t follow the list to the letter.

When you think you have found everything on your list, pull aside and double-check everything.  I just went grocery shopping a couple of days ago, and had I not pulled over, I wouldn’t have realized I overlooked getting avocados!  Just as in math class, double-checking your work can save you time and effort down the line, and get you the “right answer.”

Check out!  As much as possible, try to monitor the screen as you are being checked out.  This can be problematic if you are the only one unloading your cart, but this is where keeping a rough idea of the total throughout your shopping comes in handy.  Worst case scenario:  if, while reviewing your receipt later (to see how much you saved!), you spot an error, many stores will reimburse you the difference.

Check out is also the time to use your reusable bags, as many stores credit you a few cents for them.  Plus, it is a good, environmentally-sound practice!  Any store loyalty cards also go a long way to save you money.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will share with you how my grocery trip went a couple of days ago.  I blew the budget by about fifty dollars (we needed a new shower curtain and mat, and both cost a bit more than anticipated), BUT I saved well over one hundred dollars through the coupons, apps, price-matching, purchasing generics, and the store card.  I was pretty pleased overall.

I don’t know many grocery trips that go according to plan, but a little preparation can go a long way.  It takes a lot of practice to get proficient in this method of grocery shopping–organizing ahead of the trip certainly requires effort and time, but in the long haul, you will save money.

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to save money at the grocery store–do you have any tips for me?