My husband and I sat down and talked budgeting when we were engaged. We had goals we wanted to accomplish as a young married couple. One of the foremost was paying off my student loans. I, like most millennials, walked out of college with a whopping 55k in student debt. I went to the cheapest in state school ( at the time) in NC, AppState. I had a teaching degree which paid less than the debt I owed per year. My husband worked a blue collar job that paid about the same. So we had our work cut out for us.
I am proud to say that in less than 3 years, we had paid off the entirety of my debt. We also managed to buy our cars in cash, pay for some school out of pocket for my husband, and save an emergency fund.
Fast forward several more years to today. My husband and I suffered from 3 years of unexplained infertility. So when I saw the plus sign on the pregnancy test, we were caught a bit off guard. We were so excited to be parents, but this meant a major shift in our finances yet again. Ultimately after running the numbers, it didn’t make sense financially for me to continue to work. I also had a strong desire to be home with my son. So — we lost my 40k salary and had to go back to our meager living college days to make ends meat.
After walking through these different experiences, we gained some wisdom is saving money. It’s been hard, character building, and we continue to learn from others. But I wanted to share what has helped us cut down to a livable situation. Both as a young couple, and as a stay at home mother of one.
I have categorized this in a way that I hope makes sense for you all. These are the areas that we found we could make the most of what we had and cut out most effectively.
One of the “easiest” ways to cut down on your budget is via food. We are very quick in America to let the latte effect add up in our lives. So by creating a cash fund for groceries/eating out — you can quickly make some headway. In 2012 when we got married, we lived off of $250 a month grocery budget. Yes, you heard that correctly. It might sound impossible. But I assure you — It wasn’t. Were we eating the healthiest food on the block? No. And now our budget is a bit higher. But you can do it! How?
2.) Cut coupons — no really — it works. Every Sunday I went to the local grocery store and bought 8 newspapers. This is when the bulk of the coupons go. For a matter of $10. I could save much much more. I got all our shampoo/conditioner for the year — for a meager $10. Then use websites to see what deals are going to be offered. Use websites like the Krazy Coupon Lady! You can see what’s going on sale in certain stores and match it with coupons you have.
3.) Shop at stores like Aldi’s. I almost exclusively shopped at Aldi’s for years. Aldi’s may require you to bring your own bags, or have a quarter to get a cart, but that’s why they can charge you less for your groceries. They made my budget possible.
4.) Meal plan and make a list — I am always surprised to hear when people go to the store with no plans, no meals, just picking up what they want. That’s a great way to blow a budget and spend way more than you need to. Meal planning takes time and effort, but it allows you to come up with a book filled with budget friendly meals. Once you have 10-20 you enjoy — just rotate them out! That way you know what meals won’t blow your budget.
5.) Bring a calculator – I would walk through the store and every time I put something into my cart, I would add it to my balance. This way when I saw I was reaching my limit, I would have to possibly re think my plan — or leave something off my list that wasn’t absolutely necessary. (like that ice cream I wanted , but totally did not need. Neither did my hips.)
If you’re looking for more inspiration on how to cut your grocery budget, check out Mr. Money Mustache. He has been an inspiration to me in how he thinks about money, time, and just life in general. Click here, for his website.
I have included below different areas of people’s budgets that can be altered to help save some more $$. These are some that I have found most helpful!
1.) Clothing — this can be a big area of temptation, especially for us women. When I was working in a corporate atmosphere, I had to close my eyes often to all the new clothes my counterparts had. This is a big way you can save. There are tons of things you can do to save on clothes — and sometimes we just NEED new shoes or a pair of pants for work. But why not save when you do?
- Buy an item, sell an item.
- This is a great way to keep your closet from busting at the seems. I try to get rid of a few things whenever I buy. You can use websites like Poshmark, local consignment shops, Facebook B/S/T groups, etc. to get a little cash back for the items just sitting in your closet before you go to donate to Goodwill.
- I recently discovered the amazing world of Buy/Sell/Trade groups on Facebook. Find some in your community and shop from other people’s closets for a fraction of the cost. I just got 2 pairs of jeans, 7-8 cardigans, and a couple of blouses for a total of about $40. It’s near impossible to manage that anywhere else.
- If you don’t want to use Facebook, check out Posh mark or local thrift shops!
- Shop Clearance : This might seem like a DUH moment, but hear me out. When we shop clearance it takes time to find what we need, a size that fits , etc. But keep on the hunt! It pays off.
- Keep up on sales and Shop Often. I always thought shopping was a huge temptation so I didn’t like to do it. Now I’m learning it’s those that shop often, that get the amazing deals.
- Keep a running list of items you WILL need in the future or for next season and whenever you’re in a store, run by the clearance section. I have found this to be a HUGE money saver.
- Follow people on instagram that share sales/upcoming sales.
- I LOVE Karlareed + Lynzyandco for this! They shop FOR me and let me know when killer sales are happening.
2.) Presents : This is one of the toughest things when you’re on a budget. You get invited to a wedding, birthday party etc. and you don’t want to be cheap — you want to be generous. But you also don’t want to blow your budget or charge on a credit card. So what to do?
- Make your presents — no this isn’t just for little kids on Father’s Day. Pinterest is your friend. USE it. I made wet bags for three baby showers for under $16 for all three– I personalized them with the baby’s name. Guys — people LOVED them. And their present cost me some time and about $5. Trust me.
- Budget — We had a $25 per month budget for presents. Some months we needed it, some months we didn’t. But it was there for when we did. We would roll over the money from the previous months and add it to the next incase we had multiple gifts we needed one month.
- Shop ahead. — If you know you’ll need a mother’s day gift next month and you found the perfect thing on clearance right now. Buy it. Put it away. Save your $$.
3.) Haircuts : I had to do a lot of research with this one because you don’t want to have a terrible botched haircut right? It takes a little trial and error (so don’t choose this time to have a drastic cut.)
- Ask for a junior hairstylist : All salons typically have different levels of stylists with differing amounts of experience, and VERY different pricing. If you call and just try to get the time that works for you, chances are you’ll be paying $75 for a Senior Stylist. Take the time to see if they have any Junior Stylists for less. I usually paid $30 or so when I asked.
- Go to a hair school : We have several hair schools in Charlotte, NC. Check out if there are any in your city and go! I can get a great haircut for $15. They usually only charge a fraction of the cost to dye as well. Paul Mitchel School in Charlotte has 1st year and 2nd year students. So if you’re scared to try it — ask for a Second year students and you’ll still only pay a fraction of what it would cost at a salon.
3.) Date Night/ Going Out/Entertainment : We all need a date night with our significant other now and again. Kenny and I went every Friday up until Arlen made his appearance. 🙂 But sometimes it just isn’t in the budget. Or desperate times call for desperate measures. Here are some things we have done to make sure we still get some quality time in.
- Date night in
- Choose a movie on Netflix of Amazon Prime Video, make some popcorn, and buy some $1 movie candies from the grocery store.
- I found this great list of Date Night in Ideas on Pinterest : Check it out here.
- Budget + Plan : Like everything else in life — what is measured, gets managed. So plan ahead — check out what free local events are happening.
- Go to your local parks and greenways. Split a bottle of wine at Whole Foods. Share a cup at TCBY. Everyone can manage to find 6-7 dollars for date night. Think it sounds crazy? Go get some $1 ice cream cones at Mcdonalds and then walk around the mall. It’s better than no date! All the married people said AMEN.
This might require a bit more sacrifice than others, but it can be a great way to save and help your planet out a little.
- Hang up laundry : Drying laundry is a big culprit for soaking up electricity. Try hanging your laundry on drying racks or on a line. We do this with out cloth diapers and have seen a $30 decrease already monthly.
- Turn things off when not in use. We sometimes can have the TV on, sound machine going, 10 lights on, the oven going, etc. all at once. Being conscience of what we don’t need on and turning it off, can add up.
- Use energy efficient lighting –– Duke Energy offers free energy reducing light bulbs if you request them. Take advantage of this save $$ on electricity and light bulbs.
- Black out Curtains — if you live in an older home or apartment like we do, often times the house has a lot of inefficiency. Using black out curtains helps us save by keeping our house cooler in summer and warmer in winter. You can pick them up almost anywhere. We got ours from Target and have them in every room. Also helps when you have a little napping baby. 🙂
- Turn your thermostat up/down a few degrees. Every degree you turn up your thermostat, you save $$. Our Energy provider showed us how we could save just by changing the thermostat from 71 to 74. Every little bit adds up!
If you’re like us and you rent, there are ways that you can hopefully find a cheaper rent. It’s definitely not easy, but it can be done. Here are some tips I’ve learned from friends or we have employed ourselves.
1.) Rent a room : Kenny and I lived with a couple who had three children. They were renting out a part of their house. This required sitting down and talking about expectations of shared space and a lot of open communication. We gave up some privacy , as did they, but all in all — we got 2 rooms and a bathroom for $450 a month. You can’t find that in Charlotte — and it helped us save a lot.
2.) Use Craigslist to write an ad : I have a friend who used Craigslist to share about what they were looking for in a house and Landlord and it landed them a sweet deal. They were living in a house that was currently empty and on the market. They negotiated for a lower rent as they might have to deal with showings — and possibly having to move out with a short notice.
3.) Negotiate for lower rent : Sometimes you can find people who have already moved and have their hose on the market, or who want tenants who will cut the grass, upkeep the home, maybe they have a guest house and need extra help around the home, etc. Use these things as a bartering system for lower rent. I’ll cut your grass, you cut out rent by $100, etc.
4.) Be willing to live in an undesirable area : Sometimes you can live in the worst house on the block in a good area for lower rent. Sometimes you have to live in the undesirable area. Willing to sacrifice on having the nicest digs or the nicest area can pay off big.
If you’re looking for more information on how to negotiate rent — Ramit Sethi has a great post here.
I hope you walked away with at least one new thing you’re thinking about trying out! This has all come from personal trial and error. Not everything will be possible for you, but I truly believe if you pick 1-2 things and give it a try , you’ll start to see some savings where you didn’t first think possible.
I’d love to learn from YOU things you have done to cut your budget. I want to be a life long learner. So send your tips my way! Comment below. 🙂