October 6, 2014

31 Days of Frugal Living: Day Five

I know, I know. I didn't even make it a week before I missed a day of posting. oops! That's what traveling 10 hours with little ones will do to you! But don't you worry, I plan to catch up this week. So let's get back to it!

Today's tip is a simple one: meal plan!

I don't think I need to explain how to meal plan. All it takes is a little bit of time, a cookbook/Pinterest and a notepad. Meal planning not only prevents you from eating out, it also guides your grocery shopping for the week. If you plan a week's worth of meals you won't be running back and forth to the grocery store during the week, which saves time and money.

I do my grocery shopping on Wednesdays so I meal plan a week ahead of time. To stretch the most out of our budget I only serve meat two-three times a week. Our weekly meal plan includes a beef night, a chicken night, a breakfast night, a bean-based meal night, a homemade pizza night and the remaining two suppers are leftovers. (If we don't happen to have any leftovers we eat waffles or pancakes with peanut butter.) Meal planning allows me to get the most out of my groceries for the week. Say I'm making chicken enchiladas for dinner on Tuesday. I'll probably serve them with some corn and Mexican rice. Then for my meatless night on Thursday I'll use the leftover corn and rice along with some cheese, lettuce and tomato to make loaded nachos. Simple, right?

If you're new to meal planning I would suggest writing your beef/chicken meals first (or whatever two meats you choose). As you write your meals down on a notepad, jot down the ingredients you need on another sheet of paper. After getting your two "big" meals on paper, look at your shopping list and see what other meals you can make using the same ingredients. This is one of the easiest ways to make your family a wholesome dinner every night while still keeping to a strict food budget.

If you're looking for meal inspiration I'd suggest a good old fashioned cookbook. To keep things easy I always work from one cookbook for an entire week's meals. Pinterest is also a great resource for recipes. Here are my favorite cookbooks:

(I have a few from this series of cookbooks and they're all great!)

In the last six months I've also gotten into couponing. I am NOT an extreme couponer, but I have found that coupons allow me to further stretch our food budget. I'll go into more detail on how I coupon tomorrow. Come back if you want to hear more!

October 4, 2014

31 Days of Frugal Living: Day Four

Today's topic is one of the most useful I'll give this whole month. Maybe budgets scare you right now. Or maybe you're like I was and you believe the common notion that credit cards are the "easiest" way to shop. Whatever your income, regardless of how you budget, you - yes YOU - can live a more frugal life by doing one very important thing.


It's simple. If you only have a $20 bill to use when you go to Target, you'll only spend $20. Not $20.05. JUST $20! I've talked to so many people who say, "well I use my debit card but I record each purchase in my checkbook." Or I commonly hear, "I use a credit card but pay it off each month." I don't care if you pay it off each month. I don't care if you keep record of your debit card purchases. The point is that you do not buy as much if you use only cash. Money hurts more. And when you can see your whole grocery budget spread before you every time you shop you realize that you don't need those Oreos and that juice boxes are far less economical than a liter of juice.

The concept is simple. When you set your budget for the month you go to the bank and remove the cash for all of the categories that aren't bills (since most bills are paid online or by check). Then you divide your cash-- according to your budget-- into various envelopes, each one labeled by category. Yes, that means if you have categories for food, cosmetics, toiletries, cleaning, laundry, healthcare and kids then you have seven different envelopes, one for each category. This not only ensures that you stay on budget, but it also keeps your spending aligned with what your family needs.

The cash system has worked beautifully for our family. The only things we don't use cash for are our bills (which we pay electronically) and gas (which we pay via debit card, simply because it's easier to fill up without having to prepay.) I'm curious to know,
Do you use cash? 
If so, how? 

October 3, 2014

31 Days of Frugal Living: Day Three

Today's topic is a somewhat complex one. It's also my least favorite thing to do, but essential in living a frugal lifestyle. Today I'm talking budgets. (dum, dum, dum)

Budgets are essential to living a debt-free life. It's a pretty simple concept: if you don't purpose every penny you make, you'll fall prey to spending mistakes. Let's say you bring home $3,000 a month. Your budget should represent every penny of that $3,000 so that every single cent is purposed.

John and I have found the Dave Ramsey forms to be the easiest to use. We use the "Monthly Cash Flow Plan" sheets found here. These budget sheets list pretty much any category you can imagine and give a place to write in the amount to spend in that category. Of course we don't need all those categories so we just write in our amounts on the appropriate categories. Dave's website explains how to use the Monthly Cash Flow Plans much better than I ever could, so I'll just let you read here if you want all the ins and outs.

A few key notes to remember as you work on your budget:

1) If you're married, the budget will only be effective if both husband and wife work together. Trust me, I speak from experience, you must fill out these forms together.
For example, let's say you leave the monthly budgeting up to your husband. He might not know that you're out of blush that month and won't budget in the cosmetics category accordingly. Then you'll end up spending money from another category on said blush and find yourself in an argument over why you don't have enough food money that month. BUDGET TOGETHER.

2) Be prepared to make mistakes. You won't automatically know how much to budget in each category. Your first couple months of budgeting will likely find you putting too much in one category and not enough in another. AND THAT'S OKAY. It's a learning process, but eventually you'll be doing these things in 20 minutes with your husband knowing the right amounts for every category.

3) STICK TO THE BUDGET! This is easier said than done. I still struggle with this one. You make a budget to keep your family from falling into debt. You make a budget so you and your husband don't argue over money. You make a budget so you can feel good about your financial future, regardless of your current income. Budgets work, but only if you stick to them.

Budgets are such a complex topic, and there is so much to talk about, so I'll do a few posts on this topic later this month. Hopefully this little introduction was helpful. I'll be back tomorrow to talk about the easiest and most successful way to stick to your budget. Stay tuned!

October 2, 2014

31 Days of Frugal Living: Day Two

I'm going to keep the first week of posts in my 31 Days series nice & simple. But don't be fooled; these simple steps are profound ways to live a frugal life. Today's tip is one that some people find easier than others, but everyone who does it sees the value in their wallet. Today I'm telling you to buy used.

We buy all sorts of things used. Clothes, furniture, cars, toys, even home decor. But where do you buy used?

Craigslist: I am a huge fan of Craigslist. It's a great space to sell anything and everything without the fees of online services or the extra costs associated with shipping.

Consignment Sales: Both of my kids are fortunate to have hand-me-downs from their older cousins. 90% of what they own (that isn't a hand-me-down) has come from consignment sales. I find that consignment sales offer the most bang for your buck. They provide quality clothing, in great condition, at the best prices. Just be sure to shop without kids and take a big bag. These sales can be slightly crazy! Here's a website to help you find consignment sales in your area.

Clothing Swaps: I've never done one of these but see them advertised periodically in my area. The premise of a clothing swap is simple: you donate items to the swap and in return you get to take someone else's donations home with you.

Garage Sales: In the spring and summer months John and I shop Saturday morning garage sales. I've learned through experience that 75% of garage sales have junk. HOWEVER! The other 25% out there have really great finds. We've learned to shop the higher-end neighborhoods and shop when communities have neighborhood-wide garage sales.

Thrift Stores: I must tell you I am not a huge thrift store shopper. Simply put, I don't have the time. I enjoyed thrifting on the weekends prior to having kids. But with two little ones my free time is much more limited, and without the flexible income for shopping trips, thrifting isn't one of the ways I (currently) buy used. However! If you've got the time to scour multiple stores repeatedly, thrift stores are a great resource for buying used.

Social Media: I've recently shopped for (and sold!) items on Instagram. Simply searching a hashtag, such as #Robeezforsale can pull up more than a handful of used Robeez shoes. There are also countless Facebook pages for buying used. There are even virtual yard sale groups on Facebook! Just make sure when you're buying online that you use PayPal invoices. (PayPal insures you in case you find yourself on the receiving end of a scam.)

Ebay: I've never purchased on Ebay but have friends who use it often. Again, make sure you're transferring money via PayPal to verify your buyer. Just beware of prices. Sometimes buyers overprice hard-to-find items.

What do you buy used?
What are your favorite sources for secondhand items?

October 1, 2014

31 Days of Frugal Living: Day One

I'm excited to join The Nester for her 31 Days series. The goal is simple: blog for 31 days on a single topic. I've done this once before and really enjoyed it. If you're interested, you can find my first 31 Days series about encouragement here.

As I sat at the computer yesterday morning I made a list of things I could reasonably write about for 31 days. My list was short: 31 Days of Real Mom Outfits. 31 Days of Recipes. 31 Days of My Kids. 31 Days of Frugal Living. That's pretty much the extent of my expertise these days. Getting dressed, cooking food, taking pictures of my kids and living on a budget. So I chose the topic I thought readers would likely enjoy the most,

One of the easiest ways to live frugally? Do without. Mind blowing, I know. Think about what you really, truly need. Do you need that Starbucks? Can you really not make it home to eat and you have to go though the drive thru? Do you truly need another pair of shoes? (I know, that one hurts me too.)

If you're a spender like me, it's hard to quit the habit, especially when you do have the money to justify another purchase. I love to shop the Clearance racks, but those little red tags often lead to unnecessary spending. Yes, the shirt might be only $4, but do you really need it? That $4 might be better saved for a necessary purchase down the road.

Today's tip for living frugal: Stop shopping. For those of us who consider shopping our #1 hobby and talent, this is a hard pill to swallow. But it's simple. If you don't put yourself in a situation where you'll be inclined to make unnecessary purchases (i.e. Target) you won't have to fight the battle of overspending.

Thanks for popping by! As October progresses I hope to have more easy, practical tips to help you commit to living frugal. See you tomorrow!  :)