As my oldest son edges closer and closer to college and my husband nears military retirement, beefing up our family savings has become a top priority for me. I started making most of the obvious changes:
- Clipping coupons
- Menu planning to avoid eating out
- Substituting free family entertainment (e.g. hiking, sports, board games) for pricier alternatives (e.g. water parks, renting movies, bowling)
- Re-evaluating insurance, cable, and cell phone plans to get the best values to meet our needs
Once I made these changes and squeezed a few extra dollars out of our household income, I looked for other ways to trim the budget. A few things I did were to:
- Carpool for everything. Most of us work out a carpool for one or two of our kids’ activities simply because we can’t be in two places at once. However, if you start to look at it as a way to save on fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, you will realize you can leverage the efficiency of carpooling for anything–grocery store trips, running errands, going to the gym. Sure, it takes a little schedule accommodation with someone else, but it’s a great way to use less gas and save some wear-and-tear on both of your vehicles.
- Use less water and electricity. Okay, this might be an obvious one to most people, but to me it was astonishing how wasteful we were being once I focused on using less. I had completely underestimated how much money we were throwing away and how easy it is to save money by making a few simple changes.
- I typically scrub my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher because I’m slightly OCD and don’t really have faith in the dishwasher to match my elbow grease. Instead of running water as I scrubbed each plate and fork, I fill up one side of the sink with warm, soapy water and scrub them there. Since I only run the faucet for 2-3 minutes to fill the sink versus 10 minutes (the average length of time I use to run it while scrubbing the dishes), I’m saving tons of water every time I do dishes (usually twice a day). For those of you who don’t share my affliction, it’s actually recommended that you bypass hand washing and rely solely on the dishwasher which uses far less water to clean dishes.
- Installed power strips for all areas where we have multiple electronics so that we can easily unplug them all at the end of the day. Did you know many electronics and appliances continue to draw power even when they are off? The only way to prevent them from sucking energy is to unplug them but who wants to wrestle behind the entertainment center every night to unplug six different components? Not me. I’m much better about doing it when I only have to unplug one power strip in a few rooms (for us–family room, office, kitchen, playroom).
- Adjusted the thermostat by 2-3 degrees, up in the summer, down in the winter. You save about 3% on your heating and air conditioning bill for every one degree change.
- Replaced the light bulbs in rooms where the lights were used the most with energy-efficient bulbs. I hate those fluorescent bulbs, mostly because when I flip a light switch I like it to turn on light. The fluorescent bulbs act more like a sunrise, generating very little light and slowly growing brighter. Horrible lights for the bathrooms, hallway, laundry room and closets. The dreaded slow glow bulbs went everywhere else in the house though in my meager effort to save money and the planet.
- Get as much as you can for free. I started doing this by signing up for rewards programs at stores where I was already shopping. That’s how I came to create this list. Then, I signed up for various birthday freebies for my kids at various restaurants and stores. Finally, I really hit my stride and found freebies everywhere.
- I signed up for free samples wherever I could find them. Samples I don’t need for myself I use to stock a basket of extras that I keep on hand for guests (e.g. shampoo, soap, toothpaste) or I donate to local food pantries, domestic abuse shelters, and animal shelters.
- I entered giveaways on friends’ blogs. Entries take only a few seconds and I’ve scored a couple of great prices including books, software, and gift cards. If you follow me on Twitter, I usually tweet out several giveaways each day.
- Institute a one-week rule. If there’s something I am tempted to buy, I add it to a wish list on my phone (a notepad and pen would work just as well) and I have to wait one week before I can buy it. If I really need or want it, it’s worth going out of my way to go back and get it. Since I am a major impulse shopper, this strategy has saved us LOTS of money.
Looking for more money-saving tips? Becky Mansfield from Your Modern Family has written an e-book chock full of them titled “Money Saving Tips for the Stay at Home Mom.” She tells you how to save on almost everything including shopping, phone service, preschool, travel, and prescription medication. She also tells you how to get tons of things for free. My favorite section of the book is her explanation of how she uses coupons. I’ve struggled to find a system that is easy and effective and her method is both. Also, she helps you decide how much you should save and explains why. Best of all, at the end of the book she consolidates all the savings tips she’s collected from budget-savvy mom bloggers with reputations for finding great deals. Click here to view more details.