Sometimes I feel guilty because I don’t work. I work raising our daughter, cooking, cleaning, and helping to manage our finances but I don’t work in the bringing-home-a-pay-check sort of way. When my Facebook news feeds are full of friends “doing it all” and making money through home businesses, their invitations to “join our team” hit me like a brick to the face. I am absolutely not a salesman – no way, no how. I am the anti-salesman. If there is a way I can copy-cat, DIY, or buy for half price on Amazon… or simply live without a product – I am all about that!!
For a brief, guilt ridden moment I considered selling essential oils. They seem to be all the rage and even mainstream medical research confirms their benefits in aiding health and wellness. However, after looking over fact sheets and various companies my very next thought was… why don’t I just grow these herbs myself and have enough produce to supply a year’s worth of tinctures, teas, balms, and extracts?
sigh. See what I mean?
So after a few days of pouting and shame I decided to give myself a little reminder and share my own financial advice! This won’t make you bucket loads of cash but it’s helped us to never feel wanting, to never think twice about bills or rent, and given us the ability to make extra payments toward our college loans.
- For those of you who are married: Combine your finances.
There is no reason in marriage for each partner to have their own savings and checking accounts. It doesn’t matter where the pay check comes from because you are both working at life together! Stop calling the money, mine and yours; it has become ours. This will force you to consider your family’s and partner’s needs before your own when you want to buy that bigger TV. Even when I was making a pay check, Keith and I have always discussed large purchases with each other before hand. Because we’ve never held a “it’s my money, I can do what I want with it” attitude, we’ve never felt bitter about asking permission to use it for little personal comforts.
- Track your spending and create a reasonable budget.
Budget wisely. Don’t budget $100 for groceries for the month only to feel guilty when you actually needed $200. Many banks now have online financial trackers that will show you exactly where your money is going – look back at the last few months, are there areas of spending you could live without or limit?
- Discuss big purchases before you make them.
This has to do with those personal comforts I mentioned and requires you set a limit for what a “big” purchase is. It can be anything over $100 (that’s $100 for one item, not a collection of items) or for us it is any electronic purchase as they always seem to be a bit on the expensive side.
- Shop sales, shop locally, and price compare.
Try to never pay full price for anything and shop at local farmer’s markets before going to big box stores. Usually they have better prices, better products, and buying locally helps boost the local economy. Also, price compare. My favorite bread at Walmart is always about $.30 cheaper than at the grocery store but I NEVER see it go on sale at Walmart whereas my local grocer often puts it out for buy one get one free.
- Learn how to freeze foods.
We don’t eat enough English muffins to warrant ever buying three at a time – except when they are buy one get two free in which case we eat one and freeze the others for later use. If you’ve ever made too much food and know your family won’t eat the left overs, freeze them and reheat for a quick meal some other time.
- Pick your own fruits.
Many farms offer a lowered price for picking your own fruit versus buying it off the shelf so take advantage of this fun money saver. On a sunny day, picking blueberries is a fun family outing and we always pick enough to freeze and eat all winter long when fruit prices sky rocket! This year we froze 18 quart sized bags of blueberries, 20 quarts of strawberries, and were given 7 quarts of frozen peaches from our in-laws. You can’t beat a delicious fruit smoothie in the dead of winter. Also, if you can forage for berries, do so! We live near a state park that has a trove! of wild huckleberry bushes we pick from in season.*
- Reuse and repurpose.
If you have a need, look around your house and see if there is anything you can reuse or repurpose to help you troubleshoot the problem. I say this, though, with a grain of salt because if your problem requires a specific tool or part and repurposing something else is only going to aggravate the issue in the future – then spend the money now to fix it properly rather than doing a patch job that will cost you in the future. I reused some old juice cartons from the recycling to plant my garlic sprouts in rather than buying planting pots from the store.
- Buy used and buy quality.
Used items are cheaper, plain and simple, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for something someone’s dog chewed up. Wait for a quality item which you won’t have to replace in a month’s time. If you can fix it up and make it quality without paying the initial price of the unused item, then do so.
- Limit your personal spending.
Based on your budget, set yourself an allowance for personal items and don’t go over it. Also, just try to buy fewer personal items! Do you really need to visit Kohl’s very month? How much clothing do you need?!
- Cancel or do not sign up for cable.
We have never had television. In our area there is only one cable provider and they charge an exorbitant amount but even so – TV will rot your brain anyway so save money and read a free library book, play with your children, or start a garden! If you can’t live without shows then use Netflix or Amazon prime which are cheaper and don’t have those annoying commercials.
- Do not upgrade your phones!
If your pricey smart phone is working perfectly fine, why are you going to pay for an upgrade? If they didn’t come out with the swankier version would you still be dissatisfied with the phone you have? Then you don’t need a new one. Also, if you don’t have text and picture mail or a smart phone… then don’t get it! Right now you don’t know how awesome all those things are but if you get any of them you’ll figure it out and won’t want to go back to saving money. Stay ignorant, stay cheap!
- The only thing you should finance is a HOUSE.
Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Which is also the reasoning for our next point.
- Use your credit card like a debit.
I hate it when adults tell their children that credit cards are for emergencies. No. Your savings account or secondary savings account is for emergencies. Credit cards should be used like debit cards – (again) do not spend money you don’t have. We use our credit cards for every purchase we make because we know that when the bill comes we’ll have the money ready to pay it all back immediately. Also, using a card like this helps us rack up rewards points which we can put back toward our bill. AND! With both of our cards we earn 5% cash back for groceries, gas, and eating out and 1% everywhere else.
- Make paying off debt your number one priority.
Making one extra payment a year on a mortgage significantly lowers interest and the life of the loan. For college debt, choose one loan at a time (start with the highest interest rates) and put extra money toward it every month. Then when that loan is paid off, take the principle you were paying, plus the extra, and put it toward the next loan. For example, I will put $100 extra toward my 6.5% loan that only requires I pay $75 a month. When that loan is paid off I take the total $175 and put it toward my next highest interest rate loan and so on. This method is known as snowballing and is helping us pay off our collective college debt in 3-5 years on ONE income! Finally, do not make any life decisions that would hinder you from making extra payments toward your debt. For example, if you have college debt and are in the market to buy a house, set a price point that would still enable you to put extra toward your loans.
- Put money in your savings. And don’t touch it!!
If you are dipping your fingers into savings every month then you need to reevaluate your expenses! It doesn’t matter if you put in $500 or $50, put something in your savings account; it is your emergency fund for life’s inevitable break downs.
- Vacation wisely.
Dealing with money is stressful so go take a vacation! Seriously! But do it wisely. Set a budget and don’t go over it. Plan it months in advance so you can start putting money into savings for it. Go some place in the off-season; it will be cheaper and less crowded. Do not stay in hotels – the rooms are expensive and you will have to eat out every night. Rent a house with friends or family members and take turns making meals. Find as many FREE things to do at your vacation destination as possible. Pick a place within driving distance – that means the gas and tolls will be significantly lower than the cost of flying.
- Cook at home as often as possible and “Date” at home too.
Eating out is unhealthy and expensive. The food is so delicious because it is full of artery choking carbohydrates, salt, and sugar! If you’re craving your favorite menu item, try to copy cat it at home first. Like this recipe which copy cats Olive Garden’s Zuppe Toscana. Or if you really aren’t in the mood to cook and just need that fix, order out and eat it at home – this saves you from the temptation of dessert and needing to pay tip. If a date night is what you need then send the kiddies to Gran’s house and order in or make something for yourselves! Here are the top 20 stay at home date night ideas.
- My favorite: Don’t shop when you are hungry.
Sounds silly, I know, but my mom gave me this advice when I got married and boy was she right. I never did much grocery shopping before marriage and if I go to that store hungry… MAN! Everything looks good! Eat a granola bar first if you have to but DO NOT SHOP HUNGRY. 😉
- Only shop the outer edges of the grocery store and buy store brand.
Unless you grocery shop at Walmart, almost every grocery store is set up the same. Around the edges are Vegetables/Fruit, Meat, Dairy/Frozen, and Breads. These are not only your healthiest dietary choices, they are the least expensive. Once you start shopping in the isles you are paying for processed, packaged, and preserved flim-flam that you don’t need. We only shop four isles: Vinegar/Baby food, Oil/Spices, cereal, and the International isle because Goya canned goods are usually less expensive and we really love making curries! Although, even in those isles we only buy items which are on sale or we buy the store brand.
- Don’t buy soda, iced teas, or sports drinks.
Not only are they loaded with sugar and caffeine, they are very expensive! Make the healthier choice and drink water or make your own herbal iced tea with honey.
I could go on but these are the main ways we’ve been able to save money and scrimped together a savings. This month I actually kept every receipt and tracked every penny we spent. Let me tell you – I can not WAIT till this child goes on regular milk because formula is absolutely killing me! Unfortunately I stopped producing milk around 7 months so we’ve had to resort to formula and even though we buy store brand – this booger drinks it like it’s free!!
A few other money savings techniques I’m planning on trying out in the coming months are baking my own bread, canning homemade sauces and condiments from the vegetables in our garden, and looking into making my own baby wipes. I’m not much of a baker so cross your fingers for me and say a prayer because we might be looking at a lot of loaves de sawdust before I make an edible bread.
All of these points aside, our general principle when approaching money is to live within our means. We’ve found a comfortable lifestyle that meets our needs without giving in to unnecessary wants. I believe that our mindset is one everyone can achieve: There are things we would appreciate if we had them but there is nothing we want which we cannot afford. Meaning, we don’t waste our time pining after material possessions that do not fit our budget.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:25-34
Even though the current focus of this blog is gardening, the bigger picture is moving toward a healthier, less wasteful, and more self-sustaining lifestyle. Recently I’ve become aware of this “back to the land” movement known as modern homesteading and I want in! Do I plan on working a 30 acre farm, stockpiling absolutely everything in a massive basement, and dressing like the Amish? NO! Target and I are still very good friends but in practical terms, for us, modern homesteading is growing as much of our own fruits and vegetables as we can, not letting anything that can be used go to waste, being more conscientious about our environmental impact, and stewarding our resources responsibly.
If any of that interests you I hope you’ll come on this journey of discovery with me and that my information and advice will help you along the way! Post hesitate to comment or question if there is any other way I could help.