5 Little Tips That Will Save You Big Money

I’ve come into the new year swinging at debt, you guys. I have thought of every little way we can save money. I’ve stared at our budget (post coming!), and have done all the math, which you know I hate doing. From an Amazon, Target, H-E-B, shiny object-loving Mom to another, I give you these 5 little tips that will hopefully help you save money like they’ve helped us!

Tip #1 – Plan your dinners monthly.

I know it’s annoying. I know it’s time-consuming. I know it seems unreasonable and kind of gross. But TRUST ME, it can be done! Print out a blank monthly calendar. Write in a dinner per day, or any other meals you want to plan, like breakfasts. Grab another sheet of paper and write down the main ingredients you need from the store, going from one day to the next until you finish the whole month. Write them in store categories if you can. E.g. Spaghetti means I need spaghetti noodles, spaghetti sauce, and hamburger meat. That’s the pasta aisle and the meat aisle, so write those in two separate aisle categories. If you already have spaghetti noodles, don’t write them on the list. It seems primitive, I KNOW, but it’s worth it. It’s January 21st, and the Smith Family has NOT spent $1 on fast food or last-minute dinners. I have had a meal planned and prepared every night this month, and it’s been fun tracking along with what we’ve cooked and what’s left. Budget a certain amount on main groceries ($100/person) and then $100 a month ($25/week) for fresh stuff like salad, fruit, milk, etc. Freeze what you can. I’ll be doing a YouTube video on my detailed process for February so STAY TUNED!

Tip #2 – Unsubscribe from marketing emails.

I am in marketing, you guys. It’s my job to market, and I love to be marketed to. So it seems a little weird for me to be telling you to unsubscribe from marketing emails, but if you’re like me, and you get a Scrapbook.com marketing email, you’re going to head right on over there (through the link conveniently provided to you on the image!) and spend WAY too much money on stuff you don’t need. I haven’t received a marketing email from any scrapbook stores or craft suppliers in months, and I’m embarrassed to say how well “out of sight, out of mind” works. As long as I keep my eyes closed to the distractions, I don’t see them! Try it on a few subscriptions you can live without at first. You’d be surprised how you *don’t* actually miss it. Bonus points for cleaning up your inbox too. If you have a red circle with a number like “3,892” showing on your email app, we’re not friends anyway.

Tip #3 – Create a list of free or cheap events in your area.

In our house, we’ve called our free outings “Nature Walks,” and for the four and almost-two year old in our house, those Nature Walks are the best thing since sliced bread. It’s easy for this mama of littles to say “do something free!” But honestly, even older kids appreciate the time you spend with them. Get your tennies on, and go look for some bugs outside. Go take a walk on a trail, and see how many different leaves you can collect. Bake some cookies and share them with a neighbor. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to go find an adventure. If you really have an itch to get something new, head to the thrift store and see what kind of treasure you can find for under $1. Have a list of backup ideas that vary in location and category in case of bad weather, or if you just don’t feel like digging for bugs.

Tip #4 – Grocery shop online.

I’m going to catch a lot of crap for this one, but I’ll take my chances. I LOVE grocery shopping at the store as much as the next guy, but since we’ve had kids, we are online grocery shoppers ’til the day we die, or at least until our kids don’t scream/throw fits/want everything from the store. You should definitely support local if you can, but if you’re a family like ours, you know EXACTLY what you need from the grocery store (especially if you planned meals!) and you don’t need to get distracted by the Doritos on the end cap. Again, I’ve saved an embarrassing amount of money by just getting what I need. If you have been wanting something that’s not on the list, the next tip will help you figure out what you need to do.

Tip #5 – Wait 10 days.

I’m a millennial, and in classic form, I want things, like, right now. And I want them shipped to me in two days or less or I’m throwing a fit. But set aside your lack of patience, and put the splurge on a 10-day wait list. I was Mrs. Impulse Buy, so I’ve had to teach myself to *really* think about if it’s something I want or if I’m just being a brat. As part of your self-care routine, I definitely think it’s important to get things that actually bring you joy, but the things really worth waiting for will still be there in your heart and mind after 10 days. And those really cool yoga socks? They’re still cool, but you’re probably going to figure out that you already have 3 pairs, and you don’t really need 2 more.

If these tips don’t exactly work for you and your family, adapt them as necessary and figure out how to make small changes that will make a big difference. I bet you’ll come up with other little ways to save money, and DAMN it’s gonna feel good when we pay off some debt, huh? Share your ideas with me too. WE GOT THIS.

Let’s Talk About Money, Dammit

Raise your hand if you had to borrow money from your parents this week. JUST UNTIL THURSDAY THOUGH. *Raise*

I want to preface this post with a few honest facts about what kind of money people we are, so that you can decide if this is even for you. We still pay minimum payments on our credit cards, with big plans to pay that stuff off, you know, when we’re rich. We still think $100 is a lot of money. We still get genuinely excited when it’s pay day, and we can buy “fun” groceries like Doritos, and not just “need” groceries like milk. We have student loan debt, and a mortgage, but I still had to have my mom explain to me how a deductible on health insurance works. Our savings account had what felt like a million dollars it in, and then we had Ruby. And staying home on unpaid maternity leave is expensive. So now we have $15.64 in our savings account. We usually have enough money to spend it without thinking about it too hard, and we are grateful. We are both fully aware of how we have the best kind of money problems around, and that we have to “worry” about so many beautiful, helpful things: house, cars, furniture, food. Not everyone has those things. So that’s where we are.

Before you get all judgy on me, I’ll “brag” about not having to borrow money from my parents since college, thankyouverymuch. The irony of having to borrow this week is hilarious: it’s because I re-worked our budget and attempted to pay all of our bills in a completely different way than we paid them before, and I got overambitious. Basically, I tried to be more responsible, so much so that I was irresponsible and threw invisible money at people. Nice. Real nice.

Internal conversation in my head on Sunday night:

“Here, asshole bills. Take my money. I’m responsible! We’re paying you early! Take that interest rates. Wait. Wait one second. I…I think I…so, six minus seven is…yeah, maybe don’t cash that check yet.”

I’m ready to admit something my mom was right about all this time. Listen up, Almost-Thirty-Somethings-Like-Me, did you know we were supposed to be doing something the old folks call “balancing your checkbook?” It’s where you start off with a certain amount of money, and then subtract in real time as you spend money, so that you know exactly how much money you have left over to spend on other things. Weird, I know. I can already hear you yelling at me that every bank does that for you, through online banking, and I have two words for you that I’m yelling back: pending transactions. 

I know there are so many helpful online tools out there, but I’m going to take one for the team and admit that the old people are right about this one. Stop fighting them. Do you know that the bank gives you a “register” along with your checks? I know that most of us probably don’t even use checks very much anymore, but the register is helpful because it takes into account the things that your online banking isn’t smart enough to know. Two real-life examples that speak to this: 1) I just wrote a $100 deposit check for Maggie’s birthday party venue. I have no idea when Barbara in accounting is going to cash that thing. So, if I have $100 left in my bank account, according to USAA, and I think I’m hot shit with “extra” money, and forget that I wrote that check, I’m screwed. 2) I have a Target debit card, because 5% off is always nice. But that charge doesn’t show up in our USAA account until four days later. Four days! So, again, if I have $100 left in my bank account, according to USAA, and I think I’m still hot shit (with all the adorable things from the Dollar Spot), and then that charge comes through, I’m screwed again.

Maybe these things don’t happen to you, because you always have enough money in your account to not have to worry about this. If that’s the case, I am genuinely happy for you. (I might be 6% annoyed with you, but mostly happy). If you are like me, and you’re just tryna pay your bills, build a savings, and go to Target every now and then, then you need to get on the register train like I did this week. Get your shit together with me!

You know I couldn’t just balance my checkbook on any old register, so I made my own Register Template, and I’m inviting you to download it, and challenge yourself to keep track of your money, even for a week. If you’re a millionaire, I still challenge you, because I bet you’ll be surprised at what you spend your money on after you write it down. I added a “category balance” column, because our budget is broken down into categories (e.g. groceries, vehicle, insurance, etc.) and each category starts off with a certain amount each month. This column allows me to easily see how much is left in that category so that we know if we’re falling short in one, we can “borrow” from another, as long as it all adds up. Oh, and the “credit” line means money going into your account, so add your paycheck (or Mom loans) there.

I hope you have enough money in your bank account to not have to worry, but to still be humble. I hope you get some “extras” and find ways to treat yourself.  We both have a $75/month hobby category, because it’s good to let your brain relax and forget about stressful stuff from time to time.

Most of all, take care of yourself, and be kind to yourself if you’re still trying to figure out money. Chances are you might not have a lot right now because you were busy doing nice things for other people, like putting your kids through preschool or college, or taking a family vacation that you all just really needed. Warm yourself up some SpaghettiOs, and try to make a plan. If you have your shit together, give yourself a real pat on the back, and transfer $100 to savings for us, like pouring out champagne for your homies.

Quick shout-out to the Bank of Mom for the 12-year, 0% interest loans over the course of my life. I know not everyone has that kind of banking relationship and Marc and I ‘preciate it.

I love you all, for richer or poorer. But let’s try to be richer, mkay? I’m never giving up on Target.