When you have money, you save money Saturday, Mar 12 2011 

I’ve never been so happy to spend money on something I didn’t need yet.

In late August, I called my natural gas company to get their advice on locking in the winter’s fuel price. I had no idea whether to choose a rate lock, a pre-pay or a budget plan.

I learned that if I topped off my tank  in August, the price would be $2.74 a gallon. If I pre-paid my winter’s fuel I’d pay $3.09 a gallon, the sign-up fee would be waived and there would be no delivery fees all winter. Or I could do a rate lock where I’d pay a fee for the lock (about $100) and a delivery fee each time they came out plus the cost would be $3.19 a gallon. A budget plan would spread the cost over the entire year, not just the heating season.

So many choices! I talked it over with the nice gas company rep. Since I had money in the bank, I decided to spend now to save money. I pinch pennies all the time to have them pile up to dollars. Having done that, I got to make my dollars save us hundreds more over the winter. Now that gas prices are soaring I’m even more thankful that I could spend money to save money. If I didn’t have any money it would spiral the other way. You don’t have money in reserve, so you choose to let go of the least amount possible today. You choose the greater cost per gallon and a payment that comes later. If you don’t have the money when it comes due, you pay late fees. There is an upward spiral and a downward one. If I say no to lots of little expenses like a new DVD, fast food and clothes, I can get on the upward spiral.

All it took was about 10 minutes on the phone to save over $300. There’s a benefit of being a stay at home mom! You can be the family’s financial gate keeper. Your input into the family is felt in many ways and finances IS one of them.


Free Clothes, Part 2 Thursday, Feb 4 2010 

I look at my current outfit and realize I spent $1 on the new cashmere blend socks, maybe $12 on the shoes, and about $15 on the bra & panties. Microfiber blazer-zero, courduroys-zero, long sleeved tee #1-zero, longsleeved tee #2-zero. Some days the socks, shoes and undies are also free and my entire outfit cost me under $10. Some items come from clothing exchanges and others are hand me overs. I’m not a jeans and sweatshirt kind of dresser either. I want to look nice and I wear clothes that would exceed some people’s idea of business casual for my career as a stay at home mom.

I dress my whole family in other people’s cast-offs and I’m delighted with it! For one thing I have friends and neighbors with good taste and ample budgets, so it’s not junk. The other reason I’m delighted is that I’m over the pride thing. If there’s a perfectly good item of clothing my neighbor no longer wants, what could prevent me from accepting it? Nothing!

As a large family there’s an assumption that we are open to hand me overs, but I make sure that people are comfortable calling me when they’re cleaning out closets by opening the conversation, offering to share what I have with them. Here’s an example. My first son came after 5 girls. We were delighted and so were our friends who were generous with clothing. By the time he was in first grade I had 6 big black bags of clothing for a small boy and my next  three children were girls. Letting good stuff stagnate in my house bothers me so I gave the six bags to the lady next door who had 2 small boys. My thinking was that if God sent another son, that would be the miracle and I could totally count on Him to sent the clothes too!

Naturally when we had our second son (and 10th child), God sent the clothes by way of the neighbor across the street who after years of infertility had a son 9 months before mine. He was a large boy who grew rapidly and his family is well off. I have not had to buy my son 5 items of clothing in his six years of life. Hand me downs are often lovely or brand new. I’m glad I have a network of neighbors who help meet each other’s needs. We talk and share toys and tools, take meals to the sick or grieving among us, and clothe each other. Yes, I’ve lost my pride about being able to buy everything my family needs. I’ve gained so much more.

Grocery Saving 101 Wednesday, Jan 27 2010 

How do I feed 10 people for under $500 a month? What I don’t do is stroll through the grocery store dropping everybody’s favorite foods into my cart. I also never run to the store for a missing ingredient for a recipe. If I’m out of something, I change plans or improvise.

I use sales at the grocery store. I stock up on specials, especially half price items. This way I build my own grocery store at home using my freezer, my kitchen pantry and shelves in the basement. An extra freezer is almost an essential for saving money to the degree I do it. Even apartment dwellers can get a small chest freezer. The savings on food will have it paid for within 6 months. I buy much of our food from a frozen food co-op which gives me a huge amount of food for a very low price.

I travel to go to Aldi, a no-frills grocery store about every 3 months. At Aldi I get chips, crackers, canned refried beans, soup, vegetables and fruits. A trip to the warehouse store every couple of weeks is part of our routine too. At Costco I get dairy products like milk, cheese, butter and sour cream. For a family, savings on dairy products alone can pay for your membership at the warehouse store. Costco is also a good source for large size baking supplies like 20lb bags of sugar, 25 lbs of flour and 1lb of yeast.  Paper products are generally good deals too, but often you can do better with a sale at a grocery store or drug store.

I rarely go to more than one grocery store each week. I just select the one with the most good deals. Because I buy in quantity, I use food from my pantry instead of going to the store. Produce and bread sometimes run low, and I’ll stop into the store just for those things. I can go 2-3 weeks without a big shopping trip if I pick up bread and produce between larger shopping trips.

I get free bread from the food pantry. They get more baked goods than they need and make it available to the public. I often find organic and whole grain breads which I use for French toast, sandwiches and bread pizza. If I’m getting free bread, I’m thinking of ways to serve bread. I use whatever comes my way rather than having a meal plan and going in search of the ingredients. The deals come first, then the menu.

While the deals are important to me, it can’t be at the expense of eating healthy foods. We eat very well but we pay very little. We’re not eating white bread and Kool-aid. That would lower our food bill, but we’d spend more at the doctor’s office! We eat simple whole foods, bake from scratch, and eat lean meats. Salmon, chicken breast, roast whole chicken, venison, roasts, steaks and ground beef are all found in our dinner menus. Occasionally there’s some bacon or sausage. We also enjoy some meatless meals like mac and cheese, quiche or cheese fondue. Meat stretchers like rice, potatoes and noodles help us make the meat go further. Lunches include leftovers, soups, and sandwiches. Breakfasts include bagels with peanut butter, omlettes, and cereal with milk. In the winter we enjoy hot cereals with our choice of toppings like raisins, brown sugar, nuts and honey. We have fresh fruit on the counter constantly for snacks. Baby carrots, yogurt, pretzels, popcorn and cheese are also our snack foods.

 How can people get started lowering their food bill? Step one is to get a Sunday newspaper and scan the ads and coupons. I take a marker and circle the items that are good prices. My book has a target price list so you know what you’re aiming for. I cut coupons for any items I ever use and file them in a baby wipes box in envelopes according to category like: baby, baking, cereal… When a sale item’s price can be further reduced by a coupon I can really save. I get some items free and have even had the store pay me for some foods! My Mom and neighbor save their coupon sections for me so I can buy  several of the good deals.

My Sunday paper scanning routine takes me about an hour and a half a week. But it saves me time in the store because my decisions are already made. I can take my ad and list with an envelope of the correct coupons and shop very quickly. I don’t stand in the store wondering what to get. I spend more time planning at home than most, but I pay about half what other people do and shop quickly once I’m at the store. My 6 hours a month saves at least $300 for a payback of $50 an hour. Pretty good pay for a job I can do while watching a movie!

Even if there’s no way you’ll match coupons to sales, grab the ad as you enter the store. Quickly scan it for produce sales especially “buy one get one free”.  Also look for half price deals on other groceries. If you only spent a minute looking over the ad, you could still begin saving a lot by stocking up on your favorites when they are on sale.