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Who has “extra money” to help others? BUT maybe you are yearning to pay your bills, take care of your kids, and still make a difference in your community and charities. Did you know that it is the low and middle-income families that donate the most? The pandemic hit us all hard. But I found that just a few easy changes can put hundreds of dollars (or more) back in your pocket by the end of the year! Here are my 15 frugal tips to save money in your family budget.
There have been many times in my life when money was very tight. The kids were little, my husband was ill, out of work, and unexpected bills caught us by surprise. By making these small (and large) changes, we’ve been able to survive those ups and downs. Some tips are easy! Others will be more challenging. Start slow, and when you see the results, you might try more!
15 Frugal Tips to Save Money in Your Family Budget
1. Review Your Household Budget
THIS is the place to START. Take an account of all your monthly bills and household expenses – even the little ones: electricity, cable, oil or gas, car repairs, internet, car/home insurance, home/cell phone, entertainment, gym/sports memberships, alcohol, beauty, home goods, food, clothes, etc.
Then ask yourself these questions:
- Can you sensibly raise the deductible in your insurance to lower your monthly fees?
- Would a different company provide a better rate?
- If you stay with the same company, can you get a reduced payment by negotiating? Can you cut back on some features? Every year I bargain with my oil and cable companies. Ask for a manager (regular employees aren’t authorized to make the best deals) and attempt to get the cheapest price you can. I also appeal my property taxes every year.
- Can you eliminate your house phone?
- What bills can you just eliminate altogether?
Years ago I had a coupon binder. I clipped coupons, printed from the internet, was part of a coupon exchange, and even – gasp – went through recycling bins to get extra circulars. My supermarket doubled coupons, and I saved about $3000 one year.
I no longer do this as passionately. My supermarkets stopped doubling and many coupons are for processed foods that we have slowly eliminated from our diet. But I still use coupons where I can. A few minutes of clipping can still save a few dollars each week.
Plan your meals for the week, utilize leftovers in the following night’s meal (soup, stew, quesadillas)
3. Buying In Bulk OR Buying Too Much?
If you are organized, buying in bulk can save time/gas and money. However, it is very important to check the unit price or price per pound (depending on the product). Sometimes larger is not always cheaper.
My problem with Bulk Purchases: I start with good intentions, but I’m not always able to keep organized. I didn’t realize how much I was buying simply because “it was such a great deal”, or “it’s on clearance”! Did I use everything I bought? Over time I found that we didn’t, and many items expired. (And you can’t even donate expired food or hygiene items.) We needed to ask ourselves: “Will we really use this?” So many items went to waste!
When does purchasing slowly deteriorate into hoarding? When does “saving” actually turn into waste?
4. Don’t go to the Store/Stop Browsing Online
Sounds silly, but how many of your purchases are impulse buying? I used to hit 3-5 Walmarts or Targets after every holiday to get the clearance items to donate. How many times I would pick up additional items just because “it’s such a great deal” but I wasn’t sure what to do with them? That castle cake pan and the jeweled plate were never used and weren’t a bargain in the end. Update – in fact, I just gave them away in my local FREECYCLE Group!
Go to the store for groceries, or when you really need something. Stop window shopping or browsing online stores. It might be a hard habit to kick – but worth it!
- Change to money-saving LED light bulbs (such as those from Amazon) throughout your house. They last longer and use less electricity.
- Turn off the computer when not in use. I’ve saved over $30 a month by putting our 2 computers in sleep mode when not needed!
- Some areas give you a discount if you use appliances at off-peak times – then schedule your dishwasher or washing machine/dryer cycles.
*Hot Summer – air conditioning, keep the thermostat at the highest comfortable temperature. Close all the doors (or vents) that lead to the uncooled parts of your home. Clean your filters. Use ceiling and other fans. Close all the curtains (shades) of windows facing the sun to keep out the heat.
*Cold Winter – Lower your thermostat at least one degree. Not so your pipes will freeze, but wearing a sweater will save you a lot. Open your window coverings when the sun is up to bring in heat, then close again as soon as the sun sets. Use thermal curtains.
Yes, there are still more frugal tips to save money, keep reading!
6. Eat Out Less
Simply cutting back just a few times a month can make a significant impact on your budget. This includes Fast Food. You can cut back slowly, and go out 1 less time a month and increase until the total is cut by half.
We treat ourselves to a take-out breakfast every Saturday, and bagels on Sundays. If it’s a fun tradition, definitely keep it!
- Use coupons from Groupon or your local Entertainment Book (see below)
- Skip the beverage and drink water
- Skip the appetizer and/or dessert
- Fast Food – order off the dollar menu, order the large order of fries and share, order the larger shake or drink and split into 2 cups
7. Pack Lunches/Snacks
My husband bought his breakfast, coffee-break snacks, and lunch every day all week. When we began cutting back expenses, he started by bringing snacks to work. That was easy and saved him time waiting in line at the deli. He then brought lunch a couple of times a week. The savings started to really add up and we were surprised at just how much all those little coffees, or sandwiches cost. (2 coffees, snacks, and lunch a day equaled a few hundred dollars a month) Making extra at dinner was a great way to have leftovers for lunch. That saved time and nightly planning.
8. Get an Entertainment Book
Using just a few coupons will pay for the purchase of your local Entertainment Book. You’ll find coupons for bagel shops, pizza, restaurants, even plumbers and car repair, etc. in your local area. In addition, there are coupons for chain stores like Michaels and department stores, movies, and other fun activities. Planning a trip? Check out discounts on hotels and car rentals. Never pay retail is my mantra!
9. Save on Gas Prices
- Have you heard about GasBuddy? It’s both a website and an app that alerts you to the local gas prices and helps you find the cheapest.
- Some supermarkets have gas perks. BJ’s and Costco have discount gas as well.
- Paying cash can often be significantly cheaper than using a credit card. Planning to bring cash with you could possibly save you $10 a fill-up.
10. Shop at Thrift or Consignment Stores/Garage Sales
You’ll find lots of quality clothes, furniture, toys, crafts, and other items at a fraction of their cost. Some stores are better than others, so don’t get discouraged if the first shop you walk into is cramped and dirty. Move on! Many are clean, bright, and cheerful. Some clothes will still have their original tags. We’ve gotten leather coats, work clothes, AND even a designer suit my husband wore to a family wedding for just $30. My daughter just found a brand new Keurig machine for $25 (regularly $150). Plus many thrift stores have discount days!
Garage sales are perfect for finding inexpensive toys. Go early to get the best selection—OR go late to get the best prices. So often parents just want to get rid of those oversized plastic play gyms and cars, that they price them for a steal! **I’ve also gotten lots of craft items and small toys that are ideal to donate to other charities at a fraction of their cost. It’s a win/win for your budget.
11. Use YOUR Additional Discounts
Are you aware of all your available discounts? There are teacher discounts, military discounts, and senior discounts. I can’t tell you how many times I forget to use these! There are also lots of membership discounts with AAA, AARP, and many other organizations, unions, and groups. Everything from local stores and events to amusement parks, car rentals, and airfare. Don’t miss these – they can save you so much money!
12. Utilize Your Local Library
We practically live at our library. They’ve provided so many wonderful experiences for our family. When the kids were little, we attended storytimes, craft events, computer lessons, etc. There are books of course, but also DVDs, CDs, and audiobooks. The library provided concerts, book clubs, crochet clubs, tai chi classes, cooking lessons, and a great rotating gallery with local talent. My husband entered and won first place and was able to have his own art show. This week they are sponsoring a Comic-Con! Some events might require a small fee, but it is a fraction of what it really would cost. You can have fun and still live cheaply.
They also offer tickets to local museums and art galleries free – often just a few at a time, as there may be a waiting list.
Many libraries offer free online books, audio, and even access to learning websites. I was surprised at how much free content they added.
13. FREE Events in your town
There are a host of fun activities that won’t cost you a dime. We would grab our crowd of friends and attend concerts, puppet shows, fireworks, open-air movies, parades, community markets, and even theater productions in the park and I’d bring a picnic. I would scour the local community paper, website, or Facebook groups to discover all the events in town.
*Local churches are a terrific resource as well. Every summer, they provide low-cost or free VBS. Then during the year, there are AWANA, Pioneer Clubs, or other groups. Pot Lucks, concerts, choirs, sports, etc., are great ways to connect with your local community and make new friends.
Every year there are free National Park Days, plus a full week in the spring. Many cities host free Museum Days. Here is just the link for NYC, but you can google “your local city free museum days” for info in your area. Additionally, some credit cards offer monthly free museum days as a perk. Target also provides free or reduced-rate community events.
*Volunteer: There are many community events that need volunteers to help out. It’s a great way to experience the event for free, and serve your community at the same time.
*Think outside the box: One summer my daughter auditioned for a part in a local regional theater production. It ended up providing “on-the-job” free voice, dance, and acting training.
Through all these free events, my kids always had a very full schedule and cost us very little.
14. Give up Cable TV
This could be a large money saver.
As an alternative,
* Netflix. With a subscription, you can stream on a variety of connected devices, like TVs, tablets, and phones, from almost anywhere with an Internet connection.
*Or an Amazon Prime subscription that gets you not only free 2-day shipping, plus so much more! With Prime: Watch thousands of free movies and tv shows, read free books and magazines (each month, Prime members can download one of six editors’ picks for free—before the official publication date. Downloaded titles are yours to keep.), free music (you can stream over 2 million songs ad-free, listen on any device including Amazon Echo) and so much more. Plus 2 adults living in the same household can create an Amazon Household to share Prime benefits. Check here for the FULL LIST of benefits (it’s ALOT).
15. Hair Cuts
Yes – I really do cut my own hair and that of my family! I started when my kids were little, and learned a bit with each new haircut! It’s so easy to do a buzz cut on the kids – why not try it? I then progressed to doing my husband’s and then my own hair (I just use scissors and a comb, no buzz for me). We have saved hundreds of dollars each year just by making this one change.
For simple trims for yourself, you can also enlist your spouse or friend to help. I even do my own hair color.
This inexpensive Wahl Clipper Set is the one I use on my boys for the past decade – and it’s still sharp and running great. What a GREAT item to have! I even use a hair salon cape and very sharp haircut scissors. There are lots of Youtube videos you can watch to help you along.
I hope some of these 15 frugal tips to save money will give you some ideas to creatively manage your household budget and find a little “extra” to donate. That’s JOY with Purpose! I intend to write additional posts with tips to earn a bit of side cash that also could help! But in the meantime, check out all my deals posts.