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Saturday, January 31, 2015

saving $ - how I save money for my family

Thank you for submitting your responses and answering questions about how you save money in the Mommy Stories Facebook group this month. I've personally learned a lot from each of you. Now, in this last post from the Saving $ series, I'm sharing my own personal tips for saving money.

This past month while promoting the Saving $ series on the blog and in the discussion group, I realize I'm not in the minority, MOST moms are actively trying to save money, cut corners and make their lives better by buying things cheaper and being frugal. So, thanks for giving me the boost I needed to promote this and share all my little money-saving ideas.

I think a woman and mother who cuts corners, saves money and re-uses things is a SMART person. She's keeping money where it belongs- in her family's pockets so they can do fun things together. Love that idea!

Just like everything I've promoted on the blog since the New Year in January, it's all baby steps, prioritizing what's important to you, and making ONE small change, just like the Small Change Project lady Katie Lee has taught me this month. LOVE her blog, you must follow it! Pick ONE area on the list below and make one small change in how you save money. You can do it!

Happy saving, mommies!

GENERAL money-saving tips
  • No credit cards. Don't use them. We have two for emergencies only, don't keep them in our wallets. It's hard to not keep up with everyone who do use credit cards, we have to say no if we don't have the money but it's a choice we made since before we got engaged after having to use credit cards in college to live (groceries and gas) and still paying off that debt.
  • Dave Ramsey is the MAN! We LOVE his book and radio show. We believe wholeheartedly in his plan. Before we were engaged we paid off THOUSANDS, I can't remember exactly how much but a lot of money, cut up credit cards, paid off several small student loans, paid for our household things in cash, etc. It was awesome! Then we bought a house and had kids and it's been hard to stick to that snowball debt effect ever since, though we chip away at it every chance we get. Tax money time is a good one- we buy groceries and then every other penny goes toward our debt, even if it's few hundred dollars, we toss it in the mail to an old debt to chip away at it. LOVE this plan. 
  • Live simply, no perfection or high expectations. We aren't big spenders. We don't travel tons, we don't care about name brand stuff, we eat store brand food because it tastes the same. We're simple. I find that sometimes it's hard for people to save money or cut back because of their preferences or tastes for more expensive items. I find us to be lucky to not care about that stuff because it saves us tons of money! We aren't picky eaters or shoppers, that helps a lot. 
  • Believe that every little bit counts! I have this philosophy that if I buy the cheaper bread even if it's only like $.75 cheaper than the expensive bread, that's going to add up at the end of my grocery trip if I did that about 5-10 times on various items. Every little tiny bit helps. 
  • Credit Unions - cheap interest rates for cars and other loans!
  • Talk about finances often. Unfortunately it leads to some arguments occasionally, it stinks not having enough money for all the things everyone wants to buy for a family, BUT talking helps! We need to be on the same page in order to take care of our kids, house, etc. and that includes money. 
  • No waste, recycle, re-use, reinvent. I love the concept that nothing is wasted, everything is used and has a purpose. I find things in my house all the time that we have no use for, but I KNOW someone else will love so I donate it. It doesn't ever just get trashed. I'm always seeking things to trade, move out of my house and then move other things in that we do need. No shame in buying used items, you can find awesome deals. I grew up this way and because of that had a fun childhood with dance lessons and vacations to Disney. My mom tells me all the time she barely spent any money on our clothing so we could go do fun things instead, and we never cared! I love that. We're lucky my niece gave us all of her clothes for my daughter. Hand-me-downs are the BEST! 
  • Store brand items. They are by far the cheapest, even with name brand coupons, and honestly a lot of it tastes the same. A few items I won't buy store brand, but 90% I do. 
  • Make a list ahead of time. Stick to it! Meal plan!
  • Buy one ingredient that can be used in multiple dishes or for snacks. 
  • Buy what's on sale. 
  • Wal-Mart-  cheapest store by far to buy groceries. I love Hannaford's produce better, but Wal-Mart is cheap. 
  • Don't shop with kids as much as possible so you can focus! It's hard to stay focused on deals and coupons with kids complaining. 
  • Read labels. When I tried decreasing the food color dyes from my children's diets I thought I'd have to buy name brand Stonyfield yogurts only… but found that actually Wal-Mart brand peach yogurt had no dyes either and was at least $2 cheaper than Stonyfield. Check labels when buying "healthier" stuff, you might be surprised to find some cheap store brand items just as healthy. 
  • Don't go every week to the store. I find our family spends way more if we go weekly. We go about every other week for the basics (bread, milk, yogurt, fruit, etc.) We do large shopping trips a couple of times a year so we save tons there, also. 
  • Clean the fridge weekly. I don't do a top to bottom scrubbing job on the fridge once a week, but definitely every weekend I go through every food in the fridge so I know what's in there, what's about to go bad and needs to be eaten so we don't waste food, what could be used for a meal this week, etc. Takes me 5 minutes, it's time well spent. 
  • Use the heal of bread that typically people toss in the trash. I found this out one day years ago when my son wanted a peanut butter sandwich yet we only had the heal of the bread left… so I flipped it over so he couldn't tell it was the heal and he ate the whole thing! I couldn't believe it. I'd been tossing the heal out for years personally not liking it. Now I just flip it over so you see the real bread part and it looks normal. It's one small thing that saves money. 
  • When the bubble bath container for the kids is empty and not squeezing much out I put some water in it to get a little more out so we can get a couple more baths out of it. I do the same with my face lotion. About two weeks ago my face lotion bottle stopped pumping anything out of it. Most people would toss that in the trash. Instead, I open the cover, and take out the tube and there's still tons of lotion left in there, so I wipe it on my finger and use it… two more full weeks of not having to buy another bottle! 
  • Breakfast for dinner once a week and eat leftovers! That saves money for sure. 
  • Make your own lunches. 
These tips may sound extreme, but I find cutting corners like this in little ways that don't take much effort or time helps us to have money to spend on things we want like traveling or birthday parties or healthier foods. 

  • I don't end up using tons of coupons because I find store brand items are cheaper than when you use coupons on name brand things... but I do print them from and, flip through the free local newspaper I get in the mail and cut things out for restaurants, etc. I also get the Sunday paper coupons once in a while. We always use BJs coupons and get a second book at the store to double them up! 
  • I do use an Irving gas card to save $.10 a gallon every month or so from filling up. It's easy and it's the gas station that's easiest for me to get to at home or at work so I use that most often.
BABY ITEMS (diapers, wipes, pull-ups, breastfeeding, formula, etc.)
  • BJs for wipes, diapers, pull-ups - once a month, great deals, cheapest by far! Always coupons every month in the books they send to us, too. 
  • Luvs - they are cheapest ones that are sturdy and hold up well. 
  • I tried cloth diapering one summer, so to get cheap ones of those I found some great deals on Facebook consignment swap groups of gently used or brand new ones for cheap. 
  • Formula-I stocked up while pregnant with my second, "just in case" we needed formula in case breastfeeding didn't work. I had about 20 cans of Similac formula that I got free from the doctor's office. I ended up not needing any of it, and gave it away to a friend. But during pregnancy I think if your office has it, stock up just in case! It's much cheaper than buying it. Also, I got on some mailing list I guess and kept getting coupons from the formula companies, so if you use formula contact the company and ask for coupons. 
  • Breastfeeding- well I saved tons of money by breastfeeding! Also by getting a used breast pump. I replaced all the tubing and cups, etc. so just the machine was used. I used it for two full years no issues. So I encourage other moms not to spend the money until they know for sure pumping is in their future. I know TONS of moms who bought the breast pump at a few hundred dollars at the store while pregnant... only to use it like two weeks and realize pumping wasn't their thing. I respect pumping not being someone's thing, but don't waste your money! Just wait, rent one from the hospital, borrow from a friend, etc. then see if it works and get a good one. 

  • We're grateful to receive hand-me-downs from family, but almost everything else my kids wear is from consignment sales. I attend two yearly consignment sales at the local elementary school. It's awesome! I get tons of great clothes there for my kids. Last fall I got a pair of Carhartts barely used for $5 for my son! Those cost about $40. He wore them 5 months before they didn't fit anymore… not worth $40 to me. Kids outgrow clothes SO fast, it's silly to me to spend full price on things. Anything new we buy new is always on sale. We buy all new underwear and socks of course and some shoes. 
  • My favorite consignment stores are Children's Orchard in NH, Lots for Tots in Scarborough, ME, North Berwick Children's Resale and Sanford's Children's Bundle Resale. I take in things that my kids didn't wear enough, don't like, outgrew, etc. and trade them in for things we want now or need. I find AWESOME deals.
  • I also attend several yard sales in the summer. I got my daughter a Lands End snowsuit for $3 two summers ago, it fit her for the last two winters! You cannot beat a deal like that.
  • The orange and pink skirt in the pic above was from a great sale… FREE with consignment store credit. 
  • I also love Facebook swap groups. I've found TONS from those. I got a whole bag of the next size clothing for my son for $10… it was at least $100 worth of clothing in there. Saving money on clothes helps us have more money for healthy food and outings that are fun and memorable. 
ACTIVITIES (extracurriculars like dance, swim, etc.)
  • Shop around. I'm lucky to live in one town but work in a second town and have family in a third town in one small 30-minute area... so we look around at various surrounding towns to find out which town has the cheapest rates for lessons. 
  • Ask grandparents to pay for these for Christmas and birthday gifts. Last year my mom paid for my son's swim lessons for his birthday, it was the perfect winter gift. He got so many gifts, it was nice having something we could do for six weeks, just he and I, that was active and really fun. 
  • As for the attire for the activities, I look around ahead of time. This summer I found BRAND NEW dance tap and ballet shoes at a yard sale for $4 each! The price tag on them was about $30 each! I snatched them up very quickly! I don't even know if they'll be the right sizes for my daughter this fall when she starts dance, but at that rate I can sell them again if they don't work for us. I also found leotards at a consignment store for $3, so cheap! I also ask for the swim clothes from family and friends for birthday gifts. 
  • Don't join several things at once, focus on one or two at a time. I don't think it's a good idea for kids to be over-stretched at such young ages anyway, so that saves money not doing too much at once. 

  • Free activities are everywhere, you just have to look around! We have not paid for a visit to see Santa Claus in all the 5 years I've been a parent. There are many options to see Easter Bunny and Santa if you want - FREE! Just read the free weekly newspaper that comes in the mail or online, etc. 
  • Library events. We went to a free activity yesterday - reading stories with a real dog and his owner, building blocks, checking out books - no money and tons of fun for a date with my daughter. They always have puppet shows, magic shows, musical instruments to play, story hour in the summer, etc. FREE. Just sign up for their newsletter and go. You can also attend local surrounding towns' events, so that makes it more fun. 
  • Libraries also offer discount coupons to Children's Museums, etc. You just call ahead to reserve the coupon. 
  • We do one-on-one dates with our kids about every month. We get small treats, maybe spend $3 and instead go outside for a walk, to the beach, to a playground, etc. so they get our undivided attention but we barely spend much money. 
  • Playgrounds - we have found every playground from here to Canada I swear! Seriously though, we frequent playgrounds in the spring, summer, fall. They are cheap fun. 
  • Join Facebook mom groups or Macaroni Kid lists or Seacoast Calendar lists, also on Facebook, that give you a heads up about upcoming events that are cheap or free. We love these!
  • Maine Half Price They are on Facebook also. Last spring/summer I saved TONS by getting 50% coupons for Aquaboggan water park, Story Land, and Saco Drive-In theater. NH has a site like this, too. 
  • Packing our own snacks and lunches. I don't spend money at amusement parks or fairs very often. They are little kids, they don't care much for food that looks different or tastes different, so after wasting money on food they were  not eating out, I decided we'd just pack what we know they like. Win-win. We even pack our own water bottles and re-fill at fountains at the parks. Again, may seem like extra work, but it saves TONS and it's not much effort. As a mother of little kids, you already are packing spare clothing, pull-ups, hand sanitizer, etc. so why not toss in a few granola bars, water bottles, and peanut butter sandwiches? 
  • Churches. We always find cool things to do at local churches, even churches we don't belong to are super fun! Never pushy or expecting you to join the church, I've not found this at all. I find the opposite- just plain old FUN! This past Halloween we visited a church in the area that we do not attend and my two kids ended up in a bounce house, eating popcorn and hot dogs, face painting, crafts, free pumpkins, apple cider, games for prizes and a candy bag, and then they both won costume contests! I think we spent like $5 on the food, otherwise all free. We went to another Halloween event at another church and it was all free to have food, bounce house, pony rides, and candy bag. Churches are great places to get connected to other great families, too. 

BIRTHDAY (parties and presents)
  • Buy ahead of time. I am always planning ahead for birthday parties and gifts. I pick a theme months in advance and then just keep it in mind as I shop for groceries or house items at Target. The Target dollar bin helps tons, too!
  • Dollar Tree or Wal-Mart for paper products, silverware, table cloths, SO cheap. 
  • I've given snacks as part of the treat bags for birthday parties, such as Pirates Booty, a huge bag of 12 I believe was $4. Kids love that stuff, it's something I know won't be tossed out. I hate buying "junk" for birthday treat bags, as I'm always afraid the money will go to waste as the kids will break the items or the parents will just toss out. Stickers are always fun for treat bags. 
  • For decorations and activities at birthday parties I do coloring print pages from the computer FREE with the theme of choice. TONS online and then mason jars of crayons. Easy, kids love it, and costs me nothing. If kids don't end up using them all, we just keep them and my kids color all year round. 
  • Save birthday candles. My kids are two years apart. I know it's a cheap thing to buy, birthday candles, but with them so close in age and with the fact that you light the candle one time… I save the candles. My sister's son is 7 months younger than my son, so I've given her a lot of our candles, too. I find it to be such a waste to buy that big #3 candle at like $2-3 and then toss it out after ONE light. So… save them in a plastic bag and use again with another child. 
  • I attend the party store LAST on the list with party planning. Things are so expensive there! So I start at Wal-Mart, Dollar Tree, etc. first, usually find tons of what I need. 
  • I write a list of what I've purchased for the party and keep it with me so I don't double-purchase something. Since I buy things for months in advance, I forget what I bought so the list helps. 
  • Make my own cakes/cupcakes. Not as fancy, I admit, and we've done a really super fun cake for 1st birthday and LOVED It… but it's cheaper to make my own. 
  • Evite invitations! FREE. And honestly I find it's easier to get RSVPs this way instead of snail mail invites. People toss out the invite anyway, so it's saving paper! I will admit I LOVE receiving snail mail invites… but when saving money, this is definitely an area I cut corners and don't find it to matter much. 
  • For birthday gifts- I find great deals at the July Target 70% clearance sale! I stock up and think ahead. 
  • For birthday gifts, TJ Maxx is awesome! I try to limit gifts for kids' friends to about $10-15 a gift and I can get a great gift at TJ Maxx- Melissa and Doug, Crayola, etc. - for cheap money! 
  • I re-use gift bags and always have tissue paper, blank cards, wrapping paper, etc. on hand. It's MUCH cheaper and easier than going to the store for $5 gift bags when you need them for birthday parties. I always have it on hand saved up so never have to waste money going to the store... where you'd likely buy other things, too. 

HOLIDAYS (Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's, Easter, etc.)
  • I give out things like pencils, stickers, etc. instead of just candy at Halloween, because I've found tons of parents limit the amount of candy their kids get so my money would be wasted it seems. Also, there are kids with allergies, so it's a waste of money to give them things they can't eat. It's also cheaper to buy a pack of 10 pencils at the dollar store or Wal-Mart than candy. 
  • I go to Target the day or two after Halloween and stock up on costumes at 70% off! The last two years I've done this (last year I did it online, didn't know you could do it from home!). I got a Ninja Turtle costume this past Halloween for $10 instead of like $30, and gave it to my son at Christmas time, he LOVED it. Last Halloween I did the same thing - Elmo for my daughter and Superman for my son - cost me $10 total, and then we gave them to the kids at Christmas for costumes. They loved it. 
  • For my kids' Halloween costumes, we think ahead and try to shop around. I have gotten their costumes either homemade or used at a consignment store. Children's Orchard has GREAT costumes. I've found good ones, too, on Facebook swap sites. I found a brand new Disney Piglet costume for like $8. I've never spent more than $15 on a costume, typically it's less than $5! 
You can find deals if you don't wait until the last minute, instead you plan ahead and look around for the good deals. 
  • Easter- we re-use the eggs every year and fill them with treats like goldfish and jelly beans, fruit snacks, etc. I also shop ahead at consignment sales for their Easter Sunday outfits so that it's cheaper than buying something new. 
  • Christmas- I do TONS to save here… 
    • starting with shopping EARLY. I have to break it down otherwise we could not afford to shop for all the people we do. 
    • I keep a running list of what we've bought people, highlighting their name when they are done. 
    • I go shopping the day after or few days after Christmas to re-stock up on gift bags, labels and wrapping paper if we need it. 
    • I save all gift bags and boxes we are given, none of that goes in the trash, such a waste of money and paper. 
    • I don't do frilly things like bows or anything like that, I find it looks cute but is a waste of money and time. 
    • I shop the Target July 70% off sale, always spend about $50 and get like $200 worth of items that are for Christmas or birthday gifts, HUGE sale, totally look forward to this every year. 
    • I shop consignment sales for my two kids and my sister's two kids because we love that stuff, I got my niece an American Girl Bitty Baby doll for $30 instead of like $70 this Christmas! 
    • I buy tons on Etsy, which is nice and things people will really use but also cheap in a lot of cases. TJ Maxx has GREAT gifts. 
    • I try not to buy only "stuff," but rather books and experiences, things they can go DO, clothes, something they need, etc. so that my money doesn't go to waste. 
    • I buy Shutterfly pictures and calendars and magnets every year, too with coupons. I've gotten free magnets for my sister the last three years in a row, calendars either free or free shipping or 50% off… saves TONS of money. 
    • I also get FREE photo cards in the summer and fall, I just plan ahead and know the sale is coming so have the card ready to go. I got 20 free cards last year. Then that's it, I don't order more photo cards because they are expensive. All others who don't get a photo card just get a regular Christmas card from Wal-Mart, which I bought the year before after Christmas with the sales. 

HEALTHY (exercise, better food, etc.)
  • I'm so lucky to have a treadmill at my house. After we saved tons of money before we had kids on the Dave Ramsey plan, we bought me a treadmill. It was the best investment we've ever spent. I use it all the time and it makes working out as a mother much more possible. I"d NEVER work out if I didn't' have a treadmill at home in the winter to use with kids. I do it when they go to sleep at night or before waking up in the morning - times that I would not be heading out to a gym. It's also free now, no gym memberships. 
  • You Tube videos. I found a video last week that KICKED MY BUTT. I'd never been so sore in years! And it was FREE. 
  • Coupons for things like Annies crackers or Stonyfield yogurts. 
  • BJs sells Annies mac and cheese in bulk so that's how we can afford those, sometimes we find coupons for it, too. 
  • Fruit and veggies in the summer I try to buy at people's farm stands at the end of their driveways. In Maine there are tons of those and the produce is super cheap. We also go blueberry and strawberry picking, much cheaper! We spend like $40 and it lasts us all summer, fall, winter in the freezer. 
  • Drink water. It's cheap and healthy! 
HOUSEHOLD (cleaning items, etc.)
  • I make my own shower cleaner - vinegar, Dawn dish soap, in a squeeze brush. AWESOME stuff! 
  • I love Mrs. Meyers cleaners but they are expensive. I put that on my Christmas list this year and got one to last me months. 
  • I got a natural cleaner from Wal-Mart a few months ago and it was GREAT. It was all natural stuff, but at least $2 cheaper than the expensive all natural cleaners out there. 
  • I use water for mirrors. It's a trick I learned when I was pregnant 6 years ago with my first child and working in a hotel as a chambermaid. This is a fancy hotel and they use WATER to wash all mirrors. Try it! It works great, no streaks. And FREE. 
  • When the cleaner bottle is empty and nothing else is spraying out, I put water in it and keep spraying and cleaning. It works for at least a few weeks to keep cleaning instead of tossing in the trash. 
  • I make my own laundry detergent. SO easy. Costs like $2 for two huge jugs of it. I don't do this religiously, but a few times a year and it lasts a long time. 
  • No cable TV. We never watched it anyway so we canceled it a long time ago. We live on Netflix, which is cheaper than cable would be and it's all we have time to watch at night anyway. 
  • Line dry clothes in the summer. 
  • For Christmas we ask for date night gift cards... to restaurants we love, movie tickets, to Dunkin Donuts or ice cream places. We save them and they last quite a while. 
  • Also for Christmas, the last two years my husband and I have given each other date night gifts that we then use in the winter. He got me tickets to a play last year, a huge sale in Thanksgiving he found, and I got him Dairy Queen gift card so we could get out for a cheap date. 
  • We do date nights IN a lot by renting a movie on TV for $3 or renting something FREE on Netflix. (We pay like $8 a month for Netflix, which has tons of shows that we watch at night together for date nights in.) Sometimes we'll buy ice cream or pizza or something to spice up the watching a movie IN date night, which is still cheaper than going out. 

  • So far the only real vacations we take are long weekends to see family in northern Maine or New York, so we save by staying in their home. 
  • When on vacations we spend tons of time outside or at free things like lakes, beaches, playgrounds, etc. so we don't spend any money. My sister is really good at finding cheap things for us to do. 
  • Last June we did take a long weekend vacation to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania. I spent time beforehand researching coupons and discounts, we went on an early season weekend to save ticket money. We got a huge hotel room for us to stay with my mom which cut costs. We packed tons of snacks and sandwiches, etc. ahead of time. 
  • I know that someday when we go to Disney World we'll be all over the Facebook and other sites that give you specific tips on how to save money. 
There are so many ways to cut finances, you just have to plan ahead and put a little effort into it. It becomes second nature, really, not a huge amount of work, and you get big pay-offs toward making your family happier and having more fun! 

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