My name isn't Frugal Franny for nothing! Besides eliminating spending, I learned to be a wise shopper and save money on all the things that I can't eliminate from my life.
- Meal planning! I've said it before and I'll never stop saying it, planning well when it comes to meals can save you more money that in most any area of your budget. There are a lot of different ways that different families do meal planning. Try a Google search to see what you come up with. I've tried different ways over the years based on my lifestyle at the time. When I had a very low paying job, I planned my meals around what was on sale at the store that week. That can work well for some people, especially when the stores plan items on sale that also have a coupon in your paper that week. Some people buy items at warehouse stores and then do what's called "power cooking" or once a month cooking. They spend a day making multiple meals, then package them for the freezer. That way something can be pulled out quickly on those busy school/work nights. But for me, I found an easier way. I made a list on my computer of all my family's favorite recipes and next to each in a smaller font, I listed out all of the ingredients except for things like water, salt and pepper that are always in the house. I post this list on the frig and highlight all of the meals that I have all of the ingredients for. I then start watching the sales ads and coupons for ingredients I need for the other meals. As soon as I have all of the ingredients for something else, I highlight it. When I make that meal I check it off. When all of them have been checked off, or close to all of them, I print out a new list and start over. There are about 30 meals on this list. So I could go for a month without repeats, and that doesn't include nights we have leftovers or maybe grill something from the freezer. I also use this list as a reminder on what things I can stockpile. I have 7 recipes that call for petite diced tomatoes. Obviously when those go on sale I buy them in bulk. I have only 2 recipes that call for sour cream, so I buy one container on sale that is big enough for both recipes and be sure to have them both before the sour cream expires. Occasionally I will try a new recipe, but not if I have to buy specialty ingredients, or a bunch of things I wouldn't otherwise use. You don't need to have 100 recipes (or 20 cookbooks!). Get really good at the ones your family really like, and work up to enough in your rotation that your family doesn't get bored. You can always throw in a few easy nights of breakfast for dinner, spaghetti or tacos to make it stretch even further.
- If you have kids, figure out a system for hand me downs. I have a friend who has 3 brothers and sisters and they all have kids staggered out a little bit. They trade clothes throughout the whole extended family. So my friend might hand down 10 outfits to a cousin, and then they pass along those 10 outfits to another cousin and so on. By the time my friend gets 10 outfits for her next kid, there might be 2-3 of the original outfits, but also some new to them outfits that were bought by someone along the way either on sale or as a gift. You could set up something like this with a mom's group, or friends from church. There are a lot of consignment sales now and swaps, where you bring your clothes, pay a certain amount to get in then swap as many clothes as you have for free. Do an internet search in your area or ask other mom's what might be available.
- Try bartering for the services you normally use. For a little while I cleaned the place where I got physical therapy in exchange for using the therapy pool. I heard of a mom that cleaned the dance studio where her daughter got lessons in exchange for the cost of the lessons. Work with your neighbors exchanging skills and machinery. We own a pressure washer that our neighbor uses regularly and he watches our dogs for us when we have to go out of town so we don't have to pay to board them. Maybe a friend can clean your house and you can cook her some meals. Check with friends and neighbors to see how you can meet each others' needs and save each other money.
- Check out your local library. You can get on a waiting list for a bestseller and read it when it becomes available instead of running out and buying it. Do this especially if it is a kind of book you are only going to read once. The library may also have DVDs and music that you can check out as well as ebooks. Some libraries offer all kinds of services like genealogy classes and computer classes. Your library might have all kinds of passes to local events as well as a lot of programs for the kids. See what your library has to offer to make your entertainment dollar stretch further.
- Consider paying your bills online through your bank. I now pay almost every bill through my bank's website rather than write out checks and use stamps, both of which you have to pay for. Some places will offer you a discount to go "paperless" like this. Some places will also offer a discount if you let them take it out of your account automatically. I don't recommend going to each company's individual website and paying that way. To do that you have to enter your banking info through their website. I have had a friend lose money TWICE paying this way. Set up bill pay through your bank's website and you are entering account info for each bill into one more secure site. You may not even need to enter your entire account info. For example when paying a credit card bill, you might be able to say "account ending in 3581" rather than typing out the whole account number. It's worth looking into. I'd much rather my bank have my cable account number than my cable company have my banking accounts numbers.
- Be smart about buying gifts. You usually know who you will have to buy a gift for throughout a year and when. I used to keep a "gift bin" and bought things on sale, place them in the bin and when it was time to give a gift, pull something out of the bin. This worked well for some things but not for others. I once got something for a great deal from Pampered Chef thinking this will make a great gift. It sat in the bin for over 4 years. Buy just what you need, but buy smart. You know your daughter's birthday is in October, so watch all year long for sales and coupons for things you know she would love. Do the same for any other person on your list. There really isn't any need to buy a bunch of maybe things to keep in a closet to maybe pull out one day. It's a waste of money when it just sits there, and it's also a waste of money if it's something the recipient doesn't want at all.
- Consider how much money you spend on vacations. I know it would be great to take the kids halfway across the country to a famous amusement park, but when it costs thousands of dollars for one week of entertainment, is it really worth it? Find something closer to home that's still fun. Maybe there is a "smaller" large amusement park within driving distance. Or maybe it's 4-5 hours away, but with advanced planning you can get a great deal on a hotel room and cut that vacation down from $4000 to only $1000 for the park, the room and your meals and gas. Hey, saving $3000 can refill your emergency fund 3 times!! At the same time, do you need to go AWAY for vacation every year? My husband and I are taking a 3 day vacation for the first time in 3 years. We don't feel deprived. We took a few one day road trips and saw some interesting things. Sure we would love to spend a week on the beach, but at this point in our lives, saving the money was more important to us and we found more creative ways to entertain ourselves that created just as good of memories.