I do pretty much all of my shopping at Target these days. Ever since they got groceries I decided not to go anywhere else. HEB and Wal Mart are really the only places with better food prices, but HEB is too far and I'm still holding a slight vendetta against WM for running so many small businesses out of town, so I try not to shop there. Also, the Eternal Threads motto from a t-shirt I bought a while back always rings in my head when I walk in: "Lower prices does not equal better living. Say no to sweatshops".
That saying is very true, but the heart of it is the second sentence- say no to sweatshops. There isn't anything WRONG with saving money, and we all want to do it. The question is... how?
After looking at the bottom of my Target receipt last night and noticing I had saved $48.56 on my trip (total for all my groceries, clothes, toiletries and household items ended up being $159.61), I said to myself, "Self, you're onto something". So I decided to start writing down some easy ways I've found to save us some money. Nothing I'm going to suggest is impractical, impossible, or even really that difficult, and it's the combination of all of the following that is allowing me to be a stay-at-home mom while living on one teacher's salary.
Without further ado, I give you 15 Easy Ways to Save $Money$ (in no particular order)
1. Don't live off toll roads. This is probably one of the more difficult ones because the prospect of moving is not a joy to most of us. Consider this though: last year alone, Brandon and I spent roughly $2,000 on tolltag costs alone. Here's the basic math: $1 each toll, one there, one back, for two cars= $4 a day. Within 10 days our Tolltag would have used up it's $40 and we'd be recharged. So, every two weeks we spent $40 on a Tolltag if the only driving on the toll roads we did was to work and back. This isn't even taking into consideration shopping trips, going to church, on dates, out to eat, etc. Some months have five weeks, so basically every two months we spent $200 every two months. Sure, we didn't use it nearly as much in the summer, so for two months we were down one expense, but it was not at all worth it. Even without those two months of Tolltag costs, we're talking $200 every two months for 10 months out of the year. That's a totally unnecessary $2,000 that you could spend on something else. In every city in America highways outnumber toll roads. Live off a highway, not a tollway.
2. Live close to your job. Along the same lines as the previous suggestion, but really a simple solution to most money problems. Gas prices in Houston are around $3.10 right now, give or take about 10 cents. That's astronomical. I got excited for paying $2.99 last night, and that's ridiculous. I shouldn't be happy about that. However, driving 40 minutes to work and another 40 back each day meant that for 10 months out of the year I was filling up with gas every five days. Sometimes sooner. Gas was easily costing $50 each time I filled up, sometimes breaking my heart and costing me $60. There are 304 days total from August to May, so for those 10 months, filling up every five days, even with a guesstimation on the low end, $50, and not including any trips we took on weekends or Thanksgiving, Christmas or spring holidays, my gas expenditure was roughly $3,040. Oh yeah, double that, because we were living in Houston and Brandon was doing the exact same thing. So we're talking over $6,000 in gas in 10 months. There is no reason for that. None whatsoever.
*In August, we moved to Rosenberg. Brandon drives 5 minutes to work. When I go to Needville it takes me less than 15. We use our tolltag when we go on trips. So far the past four months we have spent $40 on a tolltag and each fill up with gas every other week. This is one of the main reasons why I can afford to stay home.
3. Pay off the balance of your credit cards each month. We do have two credit cards, but one account stays open just to help our credit score, and the other is for emergencies. The emergency card gets paid off each month, if necessary, and the balance is never more than $200. Credit cards charge an absurd amount of interest, and it took me a while to learn this fact. A couple of years ago I had an Amazon card because I do a lot of shopping online and thought it would be the best way to earn rewards. I tell you this: NO REWARD is worth the 13.1% interest that my account was charged each month. 13.1% interest is like owing the company an extra $13.10 on your $100 bill just for the privilege of having a credit card with their name on it. No thank you! Watch for the interest rates on your credit cards, use them in emergencies only, and pay them off. It'll keep you out of debt and prevent you from paying ridiculous fees for no reason.
4. Save as you go. I'm a big believer in this little system offered by Wells Fargo. Bank of America has something similar, and others may do too, but I'm not sure about them. WF offers "Save As You Go", which automatically transfers $1 from your checking into your savings account each time you write a check or use your debit card. The idea behind it is that so many Americans think they can't afford to save, so by having it happen automatically, the more you spend, the more you save. This saves us money in the long run mainly because we too were Americans who thought we couldn't afford to save. However, by saving as we go, our savings is quickly building itself, allowing us to dig into savings for emergencies or unexpected payments before we would have to go to a high interest credit card. Also, about half due to this program, we had enough in our savings to buy the van that we're in. Cash. No car payments. #EPICWIN
5. Budget. It's simple, boring, and no one wants to do it. Until, that is, you're in a bind, sitting at the kitchen table with your jaw on the table, looking at bills you can't pay and saying, "Der.... where did all da money go?" Some people go way hardcore into their budgeting. I know Dave Ramsey advocates having cash in envelopes and once the cash is gone, your budget for that item is gone too. Personally, I'm not big into that. I hate charging/debiting something less than $4, but I have no problem spending cash on it. I'd use my cash food budget on Sonic Happy Hour and Starbucks. Budgeting doesn't have to be complicated. Figure out what you make each month, when the money comes in, what money has to go out and when it has to be paid. It's not that difficult! Brandon gets paid on the 15th and 30th of each month. There are about half of the bills that have to get paid with the 15th money and the other half from the 30th money. Just don't be a blind fool about where your money goes! If you set up the simplest of spreadsheets you can not be in a bind when it comes time to pay your bills.
6. Target Debit Card. This is new to me, but I can't express my love for it enough. As I previously mentioned, I shop at Target for everything. They know me there. The recognize Brooklyn. I know a couple of the cashiers by name. They were always trying to get me to sign up for the Target Red Card. No, I would say, I don't want another credit card. Then last month a cashier tells me, "You know we have a new Target Debit card too. There's no fees, no interest. It takes it directly out of your bank account and you still get 5% off. There's no catch. Really it's just a reward card". After doing some research I found out he wasn't kidding! So now I automatically get 5% off every time I shop. No strings attached. Just extra money in my pocket.
7. Basket, not buggy. It's a straightforward idea, yet one we don't think much of. If you have more space, you will try to fill it. This is why you never seem to have enough closets whether you live in a one bedroom apartment or a Tudor mansion. When there is more area, we think we need to fill it in. Same idea when we go shopping. If you have 6-10 items on your list, don't get a cart. You'll end up overflowing it. Grab a basket. Get what you need and guess what? No more room- you're done. This way you spend exactly what you planned on spending and nothing else. For moms, I recommend taking your child in his/her stroller to ensure smaller shopping trips. Whatever you can fit in the basket below the seat, you can buy. Once that's full, you're finished shopping. And here's a freebie tip: load the stroller back up when you get home and voila! Your own personal shopping cart you can roll into your home :)
8. Coupons. I'm no extreme couponer, though yesterday while shopping for donations from our church, Aja, Wendi and I were asked multiple times if that's what we were doing with our buying in bulk and our six full shopping carts. I do use coupons when its applicable. Note: applicable doesn't mean available. DO NOT use coupons just because you have them. Do you REALLY need 4 packs of 9 Volt batteries just because they're 50 cents off? Probably not. But last night I used an $8 off a purchase of $80 coupon. WHAT UP. Since everything I buy comes from one place, it's easy to spend $80 on things I need and routinely use. I have paid a total of about $12 in shipping costs to Shutterfly.com when ordering cards and pictures. Never paid a penny for my actual products because I never buy from them unless I have a coupon.
9. Shop sales and clearance racks. See how easy these tips are becoming? It's nothing you didn't already know, but I'm just breaking it down for you because I don't have a job so I've got the time to do it. Become a person of a simple principle: I will not buy a shirt unless it costs me $10 or less. I've got A LOT of cute clothes that were bought under this thought umbrella. $8.25 for this sweater? Why, I do believe I will. $4 for this pink t-shirt? Don't mind if I do! $2.70 for my favorite pair of sparkly gold hoop earrings that I wear multiple times a week? You shouldn't have! I've become kind of a fashionista since Brooklyn was born. I'm fatter. And I know it. I didn't lose all the baby weight and now it's starting to shift, like I'm becoming this anamorphic blob. I care about what I look like. Not enough to work out and get rid of it because I know I'll have another kid and I don't care THAT much, but enough that I want to be cute. So cheap clothes, jewelry and hair pieces it is. I accessorize and match to items I've already got and I do it cheap. I dress up and feel pretty. And despite that I weigh about 55 pounds more than I did when I graduated high school, I feel prettier now than I did then. **Side note to all my former students who are reading this: I wish I could go back to high school and realize how hot I was and not complained about my looks. You're gorgeous!
10. Don't focus on name brands. I owned one Abercrombie and Fitch shirt in my lifetime. It was a gift from my boyfriend. And it didn't really fit right and was really thin and cheap. Yippee- brand name. Who cares? I've got my pajama jeans on right now. And I wear my moccasins more than any other pair of shoes I own. And I used to buy all my shirts from Goodwill. No brand names there. Forget brands. Find what fits and what's cheap. NO ONE REALLY CARES WHAT YOU WEAR! You need to just be yourself and be comfortable. And I find that I'm most comfortable in things that didn't cost much! Also, think about foods. With a few exceptions (most notably Pop Tarts and Cheerios), the cheaper store brand food item tastes the same or better. Why pay a dollar more for a brand if it doesn't taste any better? It's broken logic that we've all bought into.
11. Accept hand me downs. Many of these tips just spin off each other, but this one is directed at baby clothes. Kids grow out of clothes SO FAST that it's almost pointless to buy them. Why don't we let them all run around naked? We'd REALLY be saving money then! Moms are terrible. We want our kids to be the cutest kids on the block. We want them to have adorable little shoes even though they can't walk yet, bows in their hair even though they won't stay on their heads, and jackets even though we live in Houston where it's always to hot to wear a coat. I'm guilty of it too. I've tried to live simply, but I've bought Brooklyn some shoes, socks, pajamas and the occasional cute outfit. But for the most part, I've let her wear whatever other people give her because it saves me money. And you know what? People love to give clothes as baby gifts. And people who are finished having kids love to hand their stuff over to friends who are just starting a family. Garage sales have baby clothes often still with tags on them, and just last week Aunt Lanette gave us a big bag of 2T and 3T girls clothes that had been left at one of their rent houses after the family was evicted. Good thing 2 and 3 year olds don't know how to tease each other yet, because I'm pretty sure "Apple Bottom" jeans are an African American brand. Not exactly FUBU, but close. Oh well. They're cute. And little white Brooklyn is going to wear them. Plus, there's more to hand me downs than just clothing items. Not a single furniture item in our living room was purchased by us. Recliners? One used to be my dad's, the other Brandon's grandmothers. Our end tables were the ones in my parents living room while I grew up, The entertainment center was mine since 4th grade. The speakers my dad found in the trash and fixed up to work. TV stand was bought as a house warming present. The couch was my sister's when she was in college. I guess we bought the Christmas tree, but that's besides the point. The point is that I'm very comfortable in my place. It works for me and I love that it cost me nothing.
12. Don't idly walk around the mall. This is the one piece of my own advice that I break all the time. I love to shop just to look. But Brandon hates it, because he knows the secret: it's never just to look. Even if it's just a $5 item, I always buy something. Try to limit your trips to the mall just to get out of the house. You think it's a cheap day of entertainment for you and the kid, but it usually ends up costing more than you expected. With that said, I do plan to become a mall walker after the holiday season is up. I need to exercise despite how much I hate it, and I hate outside even more. I always walk or run somewhere and then I'm tired, but it's not like I can teleport back home, so I have to walk or run back to where I came from. It's annoying and I'm in a bad mood and hate everything by the time I get back home. As Alice says, "I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it".
13. Shop throughout the year. Find deals and buy them. Think about Christmas WAY ahead of time. This serves multiple purposes: 1)You can walk "idly" around the mall and actually have a reason for it. Sure you can do Christmas shopping for your brother in July. Why not? 2)There ARE sales year round. You do not have to wait 'til Black Friday and wait in forever long lines or Cyber Monday and stress out about how much you spend in one day to get good deals. 3)If you've been budgeting like I suggested, you may feel a tug on your bank account in November and December. This leads to more credit card charges because you forgot to plan for all those Christmas gifts. Keep a small amount each month in your budget for gift giving and then you won't feel that wallet aching.
14. Make gifts! Everyone loves a homemade gift. And if they don't, then they're a jerk and don't deserve to be given a store bought gift either. Win-win. It can be as easy as buying a $1 cup, writing their name on it and filling it with candy. Or get a clearance picture frame and decorate it with buttons and bottle caps (currently my favorite gift. Some of you may see them in the near future). I've also been experimenting by making headbands and bows for Brooklyn and her little girl friends. Heck of a lot cheaper than buying a finished product and a lot more fun.
15. Make the cards. Or maybe you feel like you aren't crafty enough to make a gift. That's cool. Refer above to other options (shop sales, shop throughout the year, etc.) But everyone can make a card. It's as easy as folding a piece of paper in half and writing something on it. Use stamps (often 50 cents at Michaels) or stickers (shop the 99 cent aisles at Target and Hobby Lobby) or markers (you should own these already, I'm not going to tell you how much they cost) to create colorful designs for any occasion. I have not bought one birthday card since Brandon and I got married. At $3 a pop and with nearly 15 people in our families alone, that's a significant amount of savings. I'm even in the process of making some of this years Christmas cards from pieces that I cut out of old Christmas cards people have sent me over the years. Fun, cheap, and surprisingly not time consuming.
Be patient and understand your priorities. Last, but certainly not least... in fact, this is without a doubt the most important way to save money. Don't live beyond your means. Make priorities and stick to them. We wanted a child before we wanted a house. We live in a 931 square foot apartment and are perfectly content (still not enough closet space, but you know what that's like). Be patient. The time will come when we can get a house, but it's not worth taking out a giant loan, paying a miniscule amount down and have through the roof monthly payments. So we wait, and we save. We know our priorities, and it's keeping us in the black. We're 25. We can't think "Man, our parents both have 4 bedroom, two story houses. I want that". Of course our parents have that. They're twice our age or more. "Our friends have nice new cars. I want a car like that!" So? We have a baby. They don't. Set goals, and don't think that you have to reach them by the time you're 30. People are living longer now than ever before, which means we have more time to reach our dreams and more time to be wise with our money. Don't let your money outlive you. Be patient, and understand your priorities.
"11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength"- Philippians 4:11-13
Hopefully this gives you some laughter, insight, strength and/or comfort in this crazy, wonderful time of year. Merry Christmas!