Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Overview: How we Save Money

While Matt has been finishing up school (one year left, yay!) and I have been working at a job, where the status of whether we are going to get a paycheck or not changes weekly, we have had to be very careful with our money.  This has changed how we live drastically.  Before, when we "needed" something, we just bought it, but we haven't been able to operate that way for a while.  And, because we are eeking ever so closely to 3 years in our current financial situation, I thought I might let everyone in on a few of our tips on how we save money every month. 

First, I can not overlook the fact that we have amazing families.  We were given a vehicle, and were given money for Christmas the past few years, which has helped drastically.  We also got a large tax return last year, being that Matt get's tax breaks for going back to school, and while I was on reduced salary, I was paying less in taxes.  We also got married.  Between those three items, we were able to put a little money away.  Of course there are always things that pop up - repairs on the older vehicle, dental work, hospital visits, home repair, tuition... lots of things that nip away at that little savings egg.  But I wanted to share how we make the paycheck work on a weekly basis.

Our House Payment:

Photo Credit:  Pixel Reborn

Four and a half yeas ago, when we were looking to buy a house, we decided to go for a more affordable home.  When we started looking, we were both working, but decided to make sure we weren't spending more per month on a mortgage than we could afford with only one of us being employed.  This has turned out to be a huge help. 

We set up an account at the bank that holds our mortgage.  We have direct deposit set up for our home account, where it withdraws money from payroll, then the bank withdraws our mortgage payment each month from that account.  This means that a set amount is taken out of my paycheck every two weeks - even on "extra paycheck" months.  We also "round up" our mortgage payment amount, so every month a few extra dollars wind up in the account.  So in the past four and a half years, we have saved up 6 mortgage payments.  This is a huge help should I become unemployed at anytime.

Utilities:

Photo Credit: Here

To put it simply, in the summer we tend to sweat a bit more than average, and in the winter, we are a little colder than average! Because heating and cooling bills are our highest utility bills, they should be addressed.  In the summer, we only turn on the air conditioning, when the temperature in the evening is too uncomfortable to sleep, and when we do turn it on, we only turn the temperature down to 78 or 79 degrees.  Just enough to get rid of the humidity.  We have multiple fans around the home to keep air moving, and screens on windows and doors in order to get good cross ventilation.  In the winter we use a programmable thermostat that allows us to turn down the temperature when we are sleeping or away from the house for the day.  We have the temperature at its higest in the evening, when we are downstairs hanging out between dinner and bedtime, and we keep all of those temperatures on the cool side - 58 while sleeping, 60 when we are at work/school, and anywhere from 62-64 when we are lounging.  We also use heaters to provide extra warmth, have an electric blanket on the bed, and dress in warmer clothing to keep warm.  There also tend to be lots of warm blankets sprinkled around the house for a chilling evening.

We have done other things TO our home to help cut costs of utilities. We made draft blockers for the bottom of all of the doors, and applied weatherstripping around the sides of all of the doors in our home.  This does a great job of preventing drafts through the doors.  We will plastic windows for now, but I am going to start making/ buying thermal window treatments to make sure that the cold air coming through the glass of the windows doesn't make it into the room.  We made a heavy-weight curtain and placed it at the bottom of the stairs, so that the warm air does not escape up to the second floor, the attic and out of the roof.  We went around the house, and caulked any open joints to prevent cold air from spilling into the walls.

One thing we intend to do, when we remove the carpeting, is to seal the joint between the baseboards and the floor, as the cold that makes it's way into the walls, spills out onto the floor through these openings.  We keep the door to the basement closed, and leave the oven ajar after cooking to lend additional warmth to the downstairs living areas.

As far as other utilities are concerned, we take shorter showers, use the water collected in our dehumidifier in the basement to water our plants, use our cell phones for long distance calls rather than having a long distance plan on our phone, and settle for slower internet speed.  Our only real splurge is on cable, but we record shows & movies, buy popcorn, and avoid having to go to the theater all that often!  It does save some money.

Groceries:

Photo Credit: Here

I would NOT consider myself an "extreme coupon-er" but I do spent time clipping coupons.  We get the Sunday paper for their ads & their coupons.  We use coupons.com to get additional coupons.  We also get some coupons as mailers that are sent to our home.  Combining coupons with weekly deals saves us about $850 dollars a year (at least according to the bottom of our receipts it does).  That is on average, about $16 dollars a week, or $64 a month of savings.  In a future post I will go into more detail about my couponing & meal planning, and how we save money doing this.

We shop at a grocery store that has a lot of perks.  They have a store card that gives you the weekly sales.  For every $50 you spend in groceries, you get $.10 off per gallon of gas at their gas stations.  Then when you buy gas, you can get discounts on their groceries.  They might mark up their groceries a bit for this service, but I have shopped around a lot.  The prices are NOT that different.

We also eat almost every meal at home.  I pack a lunch every day, and we eat dinner at home every night.  Matt purchases lunch on campus three days a week, but brings beverages and snacks with him.  We traditionally spend about $160-$200 bi-monthly at the grocery store.  This breaks down to $40-$50 per person, per week in groceries.  Considering that is usually about 20 meals for me and 17 for Matt, that's pretty good in my opinion.  It averages out to about $2-$3 per meal, including beverages.

We make things that you tend to find pre-packaged.  This is a big one!  Four veggie burgers are $4.  That's a dollar a burger.  I will go and buy beans, veggies, bread crumbs, eggs and other ingredients & make burgers that cost about $.40 per burger.  Instead of buying already made burritos - family sized for $15 we buy flour tortillas, chicken, cheese, veggies, beans & salsa for a fraction of the price, make a large serving & freeze extras.  These are great for lunches, quick dinners, or snacks later.  This has saved us a LOT of money, plus we can control what goes into the food, no added sugar, salt or preservatives.

I also troll through Target, CVS, Walgreens & RiteAid ads looking for deals on toiletries.  We get most of them when they are on sale at the grocery store because of the Fuel Perks, but occasionally you will find a pretty great deal elsewhere that you can't pass up.  We try to keep a decent stock of paper products, toiletries, and canned/ jarred items on hand as well.  Also, BUY GENERIC!  Check out ingredients to make sure that they don't throw in a bunch of high fructose corn syrup or preservatives, but I have found that most generic brands are exactly the same as the name brand... sometimes rice is rice, regardless.

Shopping:


I try to stick with the following mantra:  Don't buy anything if it's not on sale, or you don't have a coupon.  We get mailings all the time for clothing stores, shoe stores, etc. and we try to wait to buy something until those coupons come.  This goes for oil changes for the car, home improvement supplies, decor, linens, just about whatever I can get on sale, I will.

Getting the Sunday newspaper and the ads are helpful, but most stores have their weekly flyers on their websites as well.  I also encourage you to sign up for email alerts at your favorite stores, you tend to get coupons in your email, especially around your birthday.  We set up an email account where we just send all of those emails, so they don't clutter our regular inbox, but whenever we need something, we check in on that account.

To be honest, we haven't done a lot of shopping lately.  We will wear our shoes until they are no longer wearable, take care of the clothes we have and only replace as necessary.  Speaking personally, I have enough clothing, and while I might WANT a new dress, I don't need it.  This has probably been MY hardest adjustment.

Decorating:

Photo Credit: Here

Seeing as how I really love to decorate and have a comfortable home, making room for decor in our budget is important to me, so I find a way to do it as cheaply as possible.  And lets be honest, not everyone can live in an empty, boring house, you need some stuff.  One of my favorite secrets, is finding some amazing sales & items at your local Craft store - a place that the average person tends not to know about.  You can get beautiful things there at a fraction of the price from the local big box store.  Go there first to look for vases, holiday decor, picture frames, and other misc. decorating supplies.  I also received a sewing machine as a gift, so now I sew pillows, drapes, napkins, table runners and other simple things.  Sometimes buying some fabric and thread is WAY cheaper than a finished item.  I read a lot of blogs and try to DIY wall art, unique vases, and other items.  Of course I weigh the expense of just buying an item vs. actually making it first.  My next DIY projects are closet shelves and a couple dog beds!

I will only buy things on severe discount when it comes to decoration - I will never buy anything full price.  I shop after the holidays for any decor for the following year, I shop the clearance aisles at my favorite stores, and I will not buy anything that doesn't already have a purpose -  I quit buying things I like unless I know how and where it will be used.

Gifts:

Photo Credit: Here

When it comes to our gifts to each other, Matt & I have scaled back, and that's fine with me.  My birthday is in November, and Matt's is in February.  Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years are in between.  So we decide to take a previously agreed upon sum of money and buy something that we need.  Two years ago we got a couch, last year we got a new TV - this is our big splurge every year & it's a gift to US, so we don't waste a ton of money getting each other things that we THINK the other person wants.

When it comes to gifts for others, coupons, coupons and more coupons.  Have a set budget of what you want to spend, and you can get more for your buck with coupons.  Bed Bath & Beyond sends 20% off & $5 off coupons routinely & that store is MADE for gifts.  Also, watch for times at Target, when you can buy a certain amount of items and get a free $5 gift card!

This whole process has taught me one thing, previous to our current financial situation, we spent TOO much money, and could have been saving more.  We don't need every thing we want, we don't need a lot of stuff, fancy meals, fancy labels or the newest gadgets.  Yes, it is bad when you need a new pair of shoes, and don't feel that you should really buy them, or you spend months trying to find the right shoe at the right price...which is trying and difficult.  But I have learned that while all of life's conveniences are NICE, they aren't always necessary, and it's a lesson worth learning.

As we move forward out of this recession, and we are both gainfully employed, we will take the lessons we have learned and start saving.  We will live in a more simple manner, and more economic way, and while we will upgrade the 15 year old car, and the cheaper house eventually, we will never live beyond our means.  We will never spend like there will always be money, because we know now, that it is not always the case.

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