I shared a while back that we’re cracking down on the budget to get out of debt. I’m wrapping up our first month back on a cash envelope system, something we’ve tried before but have never been able to stick with (I’ll have another post on that soon.)
The upshot is that, wow, using cash really does make you more aware of how much you’re spending! And having more money in the bank at the end of the month is also inspiring me to find more ways to tighten up even further.
So I’m challenging myself to spend at least $20 less in every category than I budgeted for last month. Here are a few ways I’m saving that you can put into effect this very weekend:
1. Subscribe to your favorite magazines rather than buying them in the grocery check-out line. At around $4 for a typical newsstand magazine and between $10 and $15 for most yearly subscriptions, you’ll come out at least $30 ahead by the end of the year. Plus, it’s so fun when a surprise issue of Country Living or Better Homes and Gardens shows up in the mailbox. (I’m making an exception for Martha Stewart Living – I only buy the holiday editions of this mag, and a year’s subscription is $24.)
2. Tell the cable company you are tightening your budget and want to cancel. They will often offer you a much better deal. (Or you could really cancel and watch Netflix instead. I’ll totally go that route after football season…)
3. Take a half hour to review your latest bank statement and evaluate every automatically recurring purchase. Is your kid even using that Club Penguin membership anymore? Did you register a domain name years ago that you are definitely never going to use? (guilty!) It’s a pain to do, but if you don’t take the time to cancel all those unused online subscriptions and memberships, you’re basically just throwing money away.
4. Buy lunchbox fillers and snacks at Aldi. (It’s the gateway purchase – you’ll find inexpensive and likely nutritionally-identical versions of your favorite granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, string cheese and more. Soon you’ll be doing half your shopping there!)
5. On date night, go out for appetizers instead of dinner. (Those apps often have as many calories as a full meal, anyway.)
6. Look for restaurant specials. One of the hardest parts about being on a tighter budget is avoiding restaurants. Jon and I really like to eat out – it’s not just about the food, but also the ritual of having quiet time together, talking across the table. Problem is, it’s only too easy to drop $50, $75 or more on a so-so meal…and for really good food, $125+ for two.
Specials – like the $5 beer-and-burger deal we recently enjoyed at a local pub – make a big difference in the budget (and we had just as much fun as we would have in a finer dining establishment.) Great meals are wonderful, but they don’t have to happen on a weekly basis. Subscribe to your local restaurants’ and bars’ Facebook pages to stay up-to-date on specials.
7. Take a few minutes over the weekend to check sales circulars and make a meal plan. Even if you only plan out two or three meals per week, you’ll save significant cash over totally winging it. (If you’re intimidated by meal planning, just keep it simple.)
8. Look to see if your supermarket of choice has an incentive system. Meijer, a regional big-box store where I shop 2-3 times per month, has a program called mPerks where you can clip coupons online and redeem them at the register just by punching in your PIN. It’s saved me an average of $5 – $10 per trip, especially because you can pair those deals with in-store sales. (And pay attention to those register coupons, too.)
9. Include a “big ole hunk-o-meat” in your menu plan. For us that tends to include chuck roasts or pork shoulders, when on sale. I can use them in all kinds of different ways and the leftovers last for days, so even though the initial cash layout might seem steep (these ARE big ole hunks, after all) in the end, it saves us cash.
10. Modify meals to use less meat. By the way, this isn’t inconsistent with tip #9! One big ole hunk-o-meat can stretch far when you just use a little of it in each recipe.
Our dinner last night was the beef stew pictured above. The recipe called for five pounds of beef, but I made the stew with just over two pounds (cut up small so it seemed like more.) I made up for the missing beef with extra carrots and potatoes. It was still super hearty and flavorful, but I saved $4 or $5 just on this one meal by reducing the amount of meat.
Other ideas: mix black beans with chicken for tacos, use less sausage and more veggies in your lasagna, or blend brown rice with ground beef to add bulk to your stuffed peppers.
11. Visit a farm stand. I know, this was supposed to only be 10 tips, but I couldn’t resist adding another! Where I live, farm stands are plentiful and tend to be cheaper than the farmers’ market. If you’re in a rural or semi-rural area chances are there are multiple farm stands within a few miles of your house. They typically don’t advertise on Facebook or show up in a Google search…you have to ask friends or keep your eyes peeled. Look closely at the shoulder of the road next time you’re driving and you might just save big.