The Smartest Changes I Made in 2010
My husband and I are extremely blessed to good jobs with good salaries, but last year, many of our beloved family members were hit with lay-offs and serious financial hardships. We decided we wanted to commit to helping each financially, but it meant we would have to alter our lifestyle quite a bit.
Both of us grew up in homes that could not be categorized as wealthy, middle class … or even lower middle class! Growing up, neither of our families had much, but it never felt that way. Recalling the austere lifestyle of our childhoods, we both discussed the creative ways our mothers could stretch a penny and our father’s could fix just about anything and we decided to apply their (among many others) strategies to our lives Thus began one of the most fun and resourceful years of my life. Though it wasn’t always easy, it was very empowering. My husband joked that saving money while keeping fun in our lives became my "favorite sport”!
By the end of 2010, we had helped all our family members get back on their feet, avoid foreclosures or bankruptcy and find jobs – which took some up until October. We increased our giving to our church and charities. We paid off major bills and put thousands into savings. In spite of all that, we still had fun. We traveled. We enjoyed books, music and movies. We ate VERY well. We had friends visit our home. We improved our wardrobes. Our marriage became even stronger.
Although I am in no way finished with these strategies (in fact, I am only getting started), I made a list of the “Top Ten” changes that had the biggest impact for us this past year. I am sure there are many of you who did even better, but if you will indulge me while I reflect, maybe it will be an encouragement to all of us in this “frugal” club!
1)Organized the spending year.
I am “one of those” folks who not only maintains very detailed planners, but saves the planners in a storage box each year. We made a list of everything we knew was due: annual memberships & fees, vehicle taxes, income taxes, gift occasions, travel. Eliminating surprises and constantly thinking of upcoming expenses helped us plan and resist temptations to spend unnecessarily. We also inventoried the house. We decided to stop buying things we already had: batteries, makeup, office supplies, extension cords, paint supplies, etc. By doing a detailed inventory of all our supplies, we saved time and money.
2)Review and Reduce.
We examined every bill we had and “tweaked” it as much as we could.
Electric: we paid more attention to the thermostat. We adjusted to a temperature that was more economical but still comfortable. We made sure we altered it when no one was home. I unplugged any appliance that didn’t have a clock to re-set and cleaned the coils of my fridge. We put a timer on our water heater. I began to washing dishes by hand and hanging laundry (my husband put a line up in the laundry room). Our bill went down by, $25 - $30 dollars a month.
Cable: This one was hard for me, but since we both have cell phones, we removed our home line, and got rid of DVRs, stopped any pay-per-view and got rid of premium channels. We changed to “broadcast cable” and internet only. We were mainly watching the regular channels anyway and still have stand-alone DVR which requires me to research TV schedules, but still tapes everything without monthly charges. We modify the rest with Netflix and Hulu. These changes saved $130.00 a month.
Monthly services: I cancelled our yard guy, our trash service and all newspaper/magazine subscriptions. We did our own yard work, took our trash to the local dump our taxes pay for (which helped us do significantly better with recycling) and used internet news sources. I still bought a Sunday paper for the coupons!
Grocery: See #3
Auto: We located the lowest price gasoline (but still good quality) in town and made sure we always filled up there. We washed our own cars at home. My husband changed our oil and performed other maintenance services. This saved us a couple of hundred last year, if not more.
And on it went … we scrutinized everything from haircuts to vet bills (we have a dog, 2 cats, 2 horses and four chickens). Some of the savings were big and some were small, but it all added up and we were able to shift the saved funds in other directions.
3)Reduced the Grocery Bill.
This definitely had the biggest impact for our monthly savings. I began a price book (see Tightwad Gazette) to help identify a really good deal. I planned menus. I shopped grocery sales. I bought in bulk then divided it. I used coupons strategically. I went to close-out stores, day-old bread stores and dollar stores. I began cooking from scratch which helped us eat healthier and reduced our trash significantly since pre-packed foods are a lot of preservatives and packaging. I began using my crockpot, freezer, meat grinder and other appliances that had I had not used in a while. All of this shaved at LEAST $200 a month off our food bill – probably more when you considered we enjoyed food at home much more than restaurants and take out.
4)AVIDLY Used Free Resources.
The Library - this is probably my favorite place to “shop.” We have a very good one and I used it for: Movies, audio books (I have a long commute to work, but it became my favorite time of the day thanks to audio books), music, magazines … and, oh yeah, books! We checked out the latest novels and all sorts of instructional books. (They have all the “Tightwad Gazettes” and “America’s Cheapest Family” – my favorite frugal-living resource books.) Local libraries also offer a lot of events too: book signings, workshops and kids shows, but I did not do that as often. YouTube – My husband and I became avid do-it-yourselfers this year and since we both learn better from watching, we discovered there is so much instruction available on YouTube! Here are real examples of what we learned and implemented this year: “How to make hand-tossed pizza and homemade sauce”, “How to lay a tile floor”, “How to do professional highlights at home”, “How to do ferrier work” (it’s a horse thing), “How to make sour dough bread”, “How to do car maintenance.”, “How to do an up-do hairstyle for special occasions”, “How to create a webpage”, “How to install a new shower.”, “How to plant a vegetable garden.” And on it went ….. that was a partial list, but the savings in labor services were very substantial. All of our DIY projects turned out great (even the highlights!) and I was able to give away fresh flowers and organic vegetables/eggs at work which my co-workers loved!
5)Patience, Patience, Patience.
Once I got rid of the “must have it now” mentality, I realized that I could still do all the things I wanted without the higher price. I waited for the movies to come out on dvd. I waited until I found a better deal on Craig’s List, E-bay or just borrowed from co-workers and friends for a one-time use. I waited until electronics were marked down. I researched any large purchase for months before purchasing and I saved for it. I once heard a someone say: “people in debt ask how much the payments are and people NOT in debt ask the price, then work to find it for less.” I have been saving for my next car for a while now and it will keep driving the paid-for car I have now until I find the best deal and can pay for it all in cash. It is a challenge, because I can afford to have it now, but I know applying patience will make the purchase so much sweeter when it does not come with monthly car payments.
6)Changed our gift giving.
I have a "Jib-Jab" account and I create funny videos of my friends on their birthdays which they can view and post on their facebooks – no need for cards or gifts. I use cool bottles I find to give infused vodka or homemade cocktails. I bake homemade cookies. I use eBay, yard sales and planning to find many cool kid’s gifts.
I asked my family to modify our holiday giving: I requested no adult gift exchanges – kids only with a price cap, but each family had to bring something to add to the holiday fun. No one was offended – in fact, they were relieved and happy someone finally asked! The holiday result? The kids got lots while one family brought a big screen/projector to show holiday movies; another family brought sheet music/keyboard for a group sing-a-long; Jesse and I brought our dune buggy and gave rides (even to grandmamma); another family made a massive amount of delicious stroganoff; another family brought games (Taboo, Buzzword, Outburst, Battle against the Sexes) which led to MUCH hilarity and a lot of funny new memories. It may not work for everyone, but it was a fantastic Christmas this year.
7)The little things …
I have associates who often complain about being broke, but buy a premium coffee every morning, eat out for lunch every day, and pick up takeout or eat out 2-3 nights a week. I make my own coffee, pack my own lunch and make our dinner from scratch every day. My crockpot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes is ready when we walk in from work: smells divine, tastes delicious and usually provides a few lunches. No take-out necessary for a quick meal at a fraction of the cost and less trash. (As Dave Ramsey says “If you are saving money, you shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant unless you work there!”) I polish my own shoes. I starch/press our clothes. I sew buttons and mend garments. I check out thrift shops and yard sales. I check my bank balance on-line everyday and realized they were charging me .55 cents for each bill-pay I completed, so I went back to mailing any bills. I quit buying magazines and other periodicals, etc. All small things but it added up!
8)Kept a motivational/idea budget spreadsheet.
I constantly updated monthly spreadsheets to I could record our successes, make a “game” about how much I could build my savings, revel in lowering the grocery bill from the month before, pat ourselves on the back when we found a great deal, jot down ideas or new projects to try, rejoice when I bill was paid off or journal when a family member secured employment. It not only will help us plan for next year but kept us focused and motivated.
9) I always asked “is there a way I can do this without spending money?” before I opened my wallet! Pausing to think it through before spending often showed me that I didn’t need it or I could come up with another way … necessity is the mother of invention.
10)This website & you all!
This may be my first blog entry, but I feel I know many of you. I went to savingsadvice.com almost every day in 2010. All of the above is not new but it does require a lot of focused energy. Reading your ideas and journeys everyday gave me additional ideas and encouragement. I checked out many others, but this site was my favorite. So much so, I’ve decided to join the bloggers and become more actively engaged! (I promise – my blogs will be significantly shorter after today!)
Well, there you have it! Again, I did not share anything that you didn’t already know, I just wanted to share “how we did it” strategies of 2010. Now that our loved ones have secured employment and these habits have been solidified all year, I expect to make some mighty gains this year and even give more to others in need. God is good …
How did you do? Feel free to share your ideas and strategies. I am sure there are several things I have not tried yet. Please feel free to add.
Happy New Year! May God richly bless you and your family!
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The Smartest Changes I Made in 2010