Money Talk: Little Ways We Stay In Budget

I don’t know about you, but I’m simultaneously militaristic about sticking to our budget and constantly prone to justifying different splurges. Here are a few ways we avoid that and stick to our budget!

1. Put a limit on the cost of clothing items.

Honestly, this is really difficult for me, because when I like something I really really like it…like really. And I’m a bargain hunter. And I’ve never been a great thrifter, which is where a bunch of great deals are.  And I already have a policy that if I am shopping for clothes and find something I like, I decide whether or not I can live without it. If I can walk away from it and not have my entire day affected, I do. If I can’t do that and it’s over what I’m comfortable spending without some extra thought, I put it on hold and see I feel the same way the following day. If I do: SPLURGE. If I don’t: it stays at the store. Living within walking distance from the mall and Target helps not at all in this arena.

But with all the changes post-baby, I’ve found self-control to be so hard! Part of me is in building-an-entirely-new-wardrobe mode, and the other part of me lives in the budget spreadsheet. That part also has my husband’s voice narrating sure-to-be-coming conversations…”You spent HOW much on that?!” 

So I’ve instituted a new rule: Nolan and I have limits on the price we can spend on each item. Mine is $15. Nolan’s is $3.50. I’m willing to break this from time to time for a special and/or high quality item, or in emergencies, but generally this is the rule. And actually, I’ve found a lot of great deals for Nolan at or below his price, even new things!

2. Wash on cold.

This seems silly, I know. But we pay all the utilities for a house of four adults and a baby (our wonderful tenants downstairs have utilities wrapped into their rent, but we try to save as much of that as possible, so this is where we are), and anything we do to cut down on the resources we use actually makes a difference in our utilities bills. So:
– we wash laundry once a week.
– everything but our whites gets washed on cold so that we don’t use the gas to heat the water.
– we use the natural light from our windows as much as we can and keep the lamps off in the evening until it just doesn’t make sense anymore.
– I use my crockpot at least twice a week because for serious. So. Little. Energy.
When opportunity or need arises, it’s also helpful to purchase Energy Star rated appliances for your home. While we’re not necessarily full-blown tree huggers around here, we do treat the world like a public restroom: go in, feel comfortable, take care of your business, and leave it better off than you found it. Energy Star appliances are good for the environment and good for your utility bills, so it’s a win-win.

3. Employ local thrift stores.

I’m a Goodwill junkie (when it comes to anything but clothes…I’m working on it, my best friend is going to give me lessons) and I get so excited about different finds. So many reasons to frequent thrift stores, not the least of which is their prices! Baskets, table linens, baby towels, the list of things that are available goes on and on. For example, I recently got a couple frames at Goodwill for $0.99 each. I used leftover mats from equally sized frames I’d used for another purpose, popped some scrap fabric in there, photocopied some of my great-grandmother’s recipes, and now they’re hanging in my kitchen. Literally a $2 project, and they’re so special! I’ll post a picture soon. I can hyperlink, why can’t I post a picture??

4. Beans.

Honestly, beans aren’t all that exciting on their own, but salt-soak those suckers and toss some bacon in there and you’ve got a winning dinner for pennies. Nobody will mind that you’re serving them up their weight in beans for dinner because they’re just that good. From Italian white bean soup, to Mexican black bean soup, to Cajun red beans and rice, the flavors can vary so much. When it comes to the grocery budget, beans are my saving grace. I know too much about foods and where they come from to skimp on the quality of produce, meat, and dairy products (so…basically all of our eats), and it adds up, so eating meat at every single meal isn’t an option. Pop a bean recipe on your next meal plan and add up how much it costs you to make it, then send me a thank you note. I’ll post some great bean recipes soon. Because I CAN hyperlink.

5. …on that note: fish.

I know you think that seafood is too expensive. I know you think it’s tricky to cook. I know the little bones are annoying and you just don’t want to deal with them for heaven’s sake. There are solutions for all of these things, especially here on the west coast where we have a plethora of wild domestic seafood to choose from. Instead of wild Alaskan halibut, eat Pacific cod. Instead of trying to grill delicate filets, start with baking them. Instead of picking through little bones, ask your fishmonger to debone your filets, or get a pair of boning tweezers and take them out yourself. Instead of assuming that all farmed fish is going to give you cancer (which is not a terrible assumption, let’s be real, but it might be slightly misguided) talk to your fishmonger about the sources of the fish they carry (example: it’s illegal to sell wild-caught trout in the States, so my fishmonger sells trout from a farm in Idaho that raises the fish as organically and naturally as possible, just as if they were in the wild. “Wild” farmed fish for $6.99/lb.).

6. Comparison shopping.

I have a baby, so it’s not like I go around to fourteen different grocery stores to find the absolute bottom price for an organic jalapeño, but I do make mental notes about how much things cost at different places and unless I’m at the “Best Price” store for a particular item, I don’t buy it. Unless I’ll die without it. Then I buy it. I’m actually putting together a spreadsheet with all the items we buy and how much they cost at the different stores we frequent to see if I’m right about purchasing things where I do. However, I expect this endeavor to take most of the remainder of my life, so we’ll see if it ever helps.

7. Sell stuff.

Remember the Space post? No? It’s cool, I’m not offended that you didn’t read it. But all that stuff I wanted to do to create space in my life after we returned to England…it’s happening. Because I’m being proactive and making it happen. And since it takes a little bit of money, it’s happening because a rug that we took to a consignment store sold, and we got half of the sale price. Generally we wouldn’t be super satisfied with half of the sale price, we’d want ALL OF THE MONIES, but Kyle’s had these rugs for as long as I’ve been out of high school and they just weren’t going into our house. So many rugs. So many colors. So not going in our house. And do you know how hard it is to sell a RUG on Craigslist?? Too hard, cowboy. Consignment stores are awesome for not all of the things, but a lot of the things. One of those things is rugs. By selling stuff you don’t need/use/want anymore, you can generate some extra money to either save or use for stuff that’s not strictly in your budget right now. Consignment stores, Craigslist, OfferUp, eBay…these places are great for selling just about anything. We’ve sold so many things on Craigslist. I’ve also recently begun to use Poshmark, an app for selling clothes. I really like it! The company takes 15-20% of the sale price and that helps to pay for the shipping. Once an item sells, all you have to do is package it up, print out the shipping label, and mail it off. SO EASY. If I can do it, anybody can. That’s not a joke.

8. DIY

You have a white lamp, but that corner of the room needs a pick-me-up. Paint it! You have an empty wall, but a limited budget for artwork. Send some of your photos to a professional printer, get some appropriately sized Goodwill frames, spruce them up, and ten dollars later you have a fantastic display that has great personal meaning for you. Your family goes through applesauce like water, and at $2.99/jar it eats into your grocery budget a bit. Can your own! These are simple little things that do take some time, but they’ll save you plenty of money in the long run.

Do you have any great, sneaky, money-saving tactics you use to master your budget?