Friday, October 15, 2010

10 Painless Ways to Cut Your Family’s Spending

1. Dump cable

You won’t even miss it. Why?

a) In the modern world cable is practically obsolete. So much content is available online now through sites like Hulu, Youtube, or even through the network’s website. If you’re patient enough to wait for a show to come out on DVD, there’s Netflix, one of our family’s favorite benefits of living in the 21st century.
b) Think about it. Almost everything worth watching is on the major networks FOR FREE. Our family’s exception is Dexter. We have to have Dexter, so when a new season comes available to download on Amazon, by golly, we download it that instant. That isn’t free, but it’s chump change compared to what we would pay for cable.
c) What’s on cable? Junky reality shows. I’ve never kept up with the Kardashians (although sadly that hasn’t protected me from knowing who they are), and I’m pretty sure my IQ is at least a couple of points higher for it.
d) If you have children, you have precious little time for television. In fact, why don’t you go check on them? I think I heard something.

2. Pare services down to the basics

If you have a cell phone, do you have a really good reason for keeping a land line? If not, chuck it.
Decide why you have a cell phone. The budget answer is “for making necessary calls”. The rest of it - the web browsing, the text messaging, the ring tones, the apps, etc. - are all unnecessary. The $5 a month (plus tax) that I used to spend on a rudimentary texting package was one of the first things to go when I quit my job. I can think of far better ways to spend the $60 a year that it was costing to avoid having to speak to people on the phone. If you’ve ever made a budget, you know that $5 here and there adds up.

3. Grocery shop smarter

Before you make your grocery list (you do make a list, don’t you?) shop your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer first. If you’ve got half a package of bacon, put BLTs on the menu. If you’ve got some leftover stock or vegetables in the refrigerator, roll it over into a soup.

Learn how to work your store’s deals. Before our move, we were Earthfare shoppers, and I knew how to work that store like nobody’s business. Four times a year, Earthfare puts out a little booklet of coupons. One such coupon was for $1.50 off a tray of chicken. Of course, they’re counting on people buying boneless skinless, chicken breasts. But we bought legs, priced at a whopping $3-ish, so our final price for a meal’s worth of chicken was about $1.50. Doesn’t that just make you giddy?!

4. Use cloth diapers

When the babies were born they were so tiny that we had no choice but to put them in preemie disposables, and from that little run, we estimated that it would cost approximately $300 a month to keep them in disposables. That’s a significant sum of money. Over the course of a year, that’s $3,600. If they both stayed in diapers until the age of three, it would be $10,800. Compare that to the $500-600 we have invested in cloth diapers. With the exception of the diaper detergent we buy to accommodate Linus’s skin issues and wipey solution wafers, that’s a one time expense. I’ll not pretend that there aren’t times when I’d rather just not have to deal with the extra laundry, but if we’re saving about $9,000, I can deal with it. Cloth doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. We carry a stash of disposables in the diaper bag for running around on the weekends, and Mr. Heavy Wetter wears a Huggies Overnight diaper for nighttime.

Curious about how much you’d save if you switched to cloth? Here’s a calculator:

5. Make your own baby food

Not only do you get more peace of mind from making your baby’s food, but it also costs much, much less to do so.

6. Eat in

Unless you’re eating from a dollar menu somewhere, eating out is expensive. And if you are eating from a dollar menu, I think you’ll find it to be extremely expensive in the long run. A break from cooking and having to do the dishes is wonderful every now and then, but does the pleasure eating out gives you justify the gross difference in cost from making your meals at home? Since we’ve cut back drastically on our eating out, I find that I appreciate and enjoy it more when we do go out. If I regret anything from our pre-parenthood days, it’s the amount of money we spent eating mediocre food at restaurants. Oh, how I wish we had saved that money instead.

7. Do your own beauty services

Do your own pedicures and manicures. Yes, the foot rub feels good for the five minutes it lasts, but it’s not worth $40. I will say, though, that sometimes a professional may need to be called in when the feet become too hooven.

Pluck your eyebrows instead of having them waxed. I had mine waxed for many years, so the shape is already there. All I have to do is pluck the errant hairs as they come in. That’s an easy $15 a month saved.

8. Use hand-me-downs

When people offer, accept.

9. Use the library

With the availability of catalogues that can search an entire system, it’s much easier to use the library than it used to be. Our family uses an estimated $600 worth of materials every month. Calculate how much you could save here:

10. Never go into a store without a list

And never buy something that isn’t on the list. What percentage of your purchases are impulse purchases? Take out your grocery store and Target/Walmart receipts from the last month and highlight the items you decided you needed when you got to the store. Add them up. It’s more than you thought it would be, right?
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