N paid me the ultimate compliment recently. He said he thinks I’m one of the most budget conscious people he knows. This may not sound like a compliment to you but to me, it was gold.
I don’t talk about personal finance on here much (ever?) but it’s a passion of mine. I work hard on our personal finances. I jokingly call myself our family manager because I’m meticulous about tracking. I’m committed to our spreadsheet. Want a copy of my financial tracking spreadsheet? I shared our financial tracking spreadsheet for free here. The beauty of it is this: I could tell you with one quick look at it how much money will be in our checking account on any day from now through March.
If this sounds terrible to you, don’t worry. I enjoy it. Though our finances aren’t perfect, we try our best and make good decisions and save money as often as we can. But, as the family manager (ha), I’m usually the one making a lot of our day-to-day purchasing decisions that ultimately impact the budget in a big way. Here are some of my best tips to save money day-to-day.
Price check at the big three – Amazon, Target, and Walmart.
You guys, Target and Walmart have upped their delivery game. I have a Redcard (debit, not credit) and I get free two day shipping from Target. Walmart is trying to get their hat in the game and now has free two-day shipping on orders over $35. For nearly everything I purchase online, I check these big three retailers to see which is cheapest.
Ask for in-store price matching.
Target price matches. The markup on items in the center city Philadelphia store vs. Target online is outrageous. I’m talking $11.99 for face wash that is $6.99 online. All you have to do is check out with a person (not self-checkout) and tell them exactly how much each item is on their website. They’ll charge you the online price. Additionally, they price match Amazon. I have no shame about asking for price matching at nearly any store. More stores do it than you’d think, they just may not advertise it.
Have a few cheap go-to dinners.
Having a few dinners in the rotation that are $5-7 or less (total) can really put some money back in your pocket. I make a version of Shakshuka with salsa verde and eggs over rice that’s about $4 total and delicious. I also use this easy pizza dough recipe to make calzones, which I fill with whatever produce I have in the fridge (spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.). Depending on the produce this dinner is usually less than $6 for both of us.
I try to make these cheap meals on weeks that I know we have bigger expenses or on weeks that I know a lot of our bills come out of our account.
Don’t miss out on FREE money.
I always wondered if Ebates was legit but since I just got my first payout for $28 after using it for only a month, I can assure you that it is. The way it works is much like affiliate income (you may be familiar with affiliate income if you’re a blogger). When you use one of Ebates’ links, Ebates gets a portion from the company you made your purchase from. They then turn around and give you a chunk.
Here is the key: install the Chrome browser extension! It has over 36,000 reviews and a 5 star rating, if that tells you anything. Now whenever I go to a site that has an Ebates cash back option, I get a pop up like this:
If I click that, it takes me to a quick page that says “now activating 10% cash back” – the page was so fast I couldn’t even get a screen shot of it! Then it points you right back to the original page you were on. Yes, ONE CLICK.
I can’t imagine how much free money I’ve left on the table (we’re big online shoppers) but I surely won’t let that happen again. If you use my Ebates referral link you’ll get an automatic $10 back when you make your first purchase!
Visit the library.
The library is like Amazon, but FREE. I realize that I shouldn’t be surprised by this but I’m still shocked at all the books I can borrow and not pay a dime.
Ben and I visit regularly to swap out our children’s books (because you can only read Llama Llama 20 times a week before you want to stab yourself in the eye). Our local library also has some awesome children’s programming that is totally free and a great place to meet other parents from your hood.
Drive that old car forever.
Our car is a 2010 model and is paid off. We pay our car insurance and that’s it. We will not be buying a new car for years and years (or until that third car seat won’t fit…we’ll see I guess). We’re both not car people and we don’t use our car much, since N takes public transportation and I work from home.
When we do buy another car one day, it’ll be used. To quote my Dad “the idea that cars nickel and dime you is a myth”. One $1,000 repair per year is still cheaper than a car payment every month. We have a Honda CRV so we don’t worry too much about reliability and we have AAA just in case (my Dad’s Christmas gift to me every year).
Cut the cable.
We have Netflix and Hulu (with commercials) bringing our TV total to $17/month. Overall I feel like not having live TV to just turn on and leave on makes us much more intentional about our entertainment consumption. We only watch what we truly want to watch and don’t just get sucked in to whatever came on next. I also never leave the TV on in the background during the day while home with Ben.
Trader Joe’s > Whole Foods.
This could honestly say “literally any other grocery store” > Whole Foods. I’d love to shop at Whole Foods regularly, I really would. But the price point (especially in the city) is just not reasonable enough for us to justify shopping there regularly.
Kudos to Trader Joe’s for keeping their prices the same in the city as they are in the burbs and for making eating lots of produce affordable. I also hit up Aldi for staples like brown rice, baking needs, and some basics. Lately I’ve visited Sprout’s which is affordable if you stick to their sales.
Sometimes I forget how much this one saves us. I buy lunch meat to pack N’s lunch and we do not usually buy any other meat. I’m a pescetarian and N enjoys vegetarian food. I don’t cook meat at home so the only meat we really buy is the occasional rotisserie chicken which I shred for Ben. I very rarely buy seafood.
If this isn’t realistic for you, consider cutting out meat just one or two meals a week and see what it does to your grocery budget.
Pack your lunch.
I pack N’s lunch every day. It’s a simple task that takes just a few minutes and cuts down on our food budget immensely.
Generally his lunch contains a sandwich, an apple or pear, baby carrots, handful of almonds, and a granola bar. Since most quick lunch places around his office run about $9-12, this saves us more than $5/day. That’s $1,200 a year!
I also realize this sounds super domestic but it’s a nice gesture that I know he appreciates (because he tells me!).
I’m a huge fan of consignment stores. Ben’s entire fall/winter wardrobe is from Once Upon a Child (a children’s consignment store in New Jersey) and for 8 pairs of pants, 3 tops, 4 sweaters, and a one-piece, it was $56. It’s nearly all Gap Kids and Carter’s and some items still had the original tags on them.
I frequent Plato’s Closet for clothes for me and N. Not only have I found some incredible items for just a few bucks, but buying gently used items is much more environmentally friendly.
I just bought these Vans (that isn’t an affiliate link because it would feel yucky to link to Nordstrom on a budgeting post) practically new at Plato’s closet for $18. Yes, I bought used shoes. No one will know when they see me walking down the street and you wouldn’t have known when I posted a shameless mirror selfie (lol) if I hadn’t told you here. You can look like you spend money on your wardrobe while not actually spending a lot of money on your wardrobe.
Re-think your needs.
One of the biggest things I’ve come to terms with recently is reevaluating what is a “want” and what is a “need”. A sucker for a bargain, I’ve often made purchases of things that I don’t need simply because it was a good deal. I’ve also become accustomed to feeling like certain things in my life are “needs” when they simply aren’t.
Things I’ve recently moved from the “needs” to the “wants” category:
- salon highlights (skipped my last appointment. The rooty look is in, right?)
- pricey haircuts (found a new go-to in Chinatown for $20)
- clothes (bought no clothes in the month of September!)
- prestige shampoos and conditioner (alright alright, I still love a good conditioner but Trader Joe’s makes great shampoos)
- sunless tanner
- buying books (see library, above)
- takeout (I can’t remember the last time we got takeout. Who even are we?!)
- home decor items of any kind
And just so you don’t think I’m over here making perfect financial decisions, here are a few things I’ll always splurge on:
- dog food (Archie deserves the best)
- good jeans (I wear jeans nearly every day. I get my money’s worth.)
- organic produce
- good foundation and skincare
Have any great tips to share? I’d love to hear the ways you save!