Since the year 2000, my husband, kids, and I have lived on one income. It hasn’t always been easy (especially when we had to pay 2 mortgages for six months due to moving), but we found a way to make it work – without handouts and without loans.
Learning how to not live in the moment and put aside your wants for your needs wasn’t always easy. I remember a couple of times in the early years when I spent too much on things we didn’t need. In 2005, I distinctly remember walking out of Gymboree with coordinating Christmas outfits for my girls. They were incredibly adorable, but cost almost $200. When I stepped out of the store, I excitedly told my husband (who was outside the store with the kids) about my purchase. As I told him about the clothes and the cost, I knew I had made a mistake. Not only were they full price items, but they were completely unnecessary. I walked right back into Gymboree, head bowed, and returned everything. Lesson learned.
Since people are always looking for ways to save money, I figured I would share some of my pointers. You may have already heard of most of these, but perhaps one or two tips may be new and can help with your financial future. Obviously saving money requires time, so if you don’t have a lot of extra time, you may have to set some aside to create your plan. Some of these tips may be easier since I have older children and thus have more time, but every bit of penny pinching you can do will add up.
- Pay yourself first – Directly deposit money from every paycheck automatically into savings.
- Budget and invest wisely – A few simple rules and advice: don’t spend more than you make; and put your savings in index funds, age-targeted 529 plans for college, or retirement-age targeted funds (do it all through Vanguard to simplify your life and keep your fees low). Recommended books: The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing, The Wealthy Barber, and The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio.
- Refinance your mortgage when interest rates drop
- Always pay off your credit card bills every month to avoid interest rates – If you can’t pay off your credit card bills, you are spending too much.
- Only have one car payment, if any – Isn’t one enough?
- Find the lowest interest rates for a car loan before you buy
- Shop around for the best price for auto and home insurance – For insurance, it’s best to take your current plan and shop it around every few years to ensure that you are getting the best, most competitive rate. This has saved us thousands of dollars over the years switching between various companies. Also, insurance companies usually give discounts for having multiple policies with them.
- Be a GOOD driver to keep your car insurance rates down
- Save loose change – We keep a container just for loose change. When it’s full, we make a deposit at the bank. Almost every change deposit yields us at least $80.
- Use coupons – You can cut coupons the old-fashioned way or use smartphone apps like Retail Me Not and Target’s Cartwheel app.
- Limit meat, soda, and pre-cut/pre-made items – The cost of meat and soda can add up. Have a few meatless nights a week to save money. Drink water or tea instead of soda. Avoid pre-cut fruit, vegetables, and meats. Stay away from out-of-season produce as it will cost more.
- Buy generic instead of name brands – Often, generics taste just as good as expensive name brands. Here’s a link to a previous post I wrote about which generics are the best to buy. I’ve found generic cleaners from stores like Target to work just as well as name brands.
- Join a warehouse club – If you have a larger family, buying in bulk from places like Costco and Sam’s Club might be right for you.
- Only buy items that are on sale – Come back later and purchase when the item is marked down.
- Don’t buy prepackaged portions – You know those little lunch sized bags of chips and cookies? You spend a lot more just to have them conveniently ready to pack. Spend five minutes and make your own bags/containers of chips/cookies. The same goes for prepackaged drinks. Use a reusable bottle to save money and the planet!
- Buy reusable containers for lunches – Instead of going through hundreds of Ziploc bags a year, spend a little money up front on good lunch containers that you can use for years.
- Shop Goodwill – There are a lot more thrift stores in our area lately. Sometimes you can find incredible deals on barely worn items. Try Goodwill for a Halloween costume too!
- Buy items (like clothes, grills, etc) at the end of a season – Stores price seasonal items low to clear them out of the store and make room for new inventory. Click here to visit Lifehacker.com and see what items are best to buy during certain times of the year.
- Only buy items that are on your list – This makes you buy what you need, not what you want.
- Join Rewards Clubs – Stores, airlines, hotels, and other businesses often invite you to join their clubs (only join for free!) and compensate you with coupons, free perks, or sales. It’s their way of getting you to shop more at their store, but you win by spending less money.
- Do your own yard maintenance and house cleaning
- Make more homemade meals and desserts – Save money by cooking and baking from scratch instead of buying prepackaged meals or boxed desserts.
- Pack a lunch for work and school – Eating out everyday adds up, as does cafeteria food for the kids.
- Install a Nest thermostat – Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. A Nest thermostat learns the temperature you like and will program itself after about a week. It automatically turns itself down when no one is home and turns itself on when you get home. Click here for more information about the Nest. In addition, check for rebates when buying one. Our local energy provider offers a $100 rebate when you buy a Nest.
- Get rid of your telephone land line if you aren’t using it
- Limit cable and cell phone expenses – Every year, my husband calls the cable company and our cell phone carrier to make sure that we are getting the best price for the service we need. Packages and discounts always change so sometimes a call to the company can result in a decrease in your monthly bill.
- Wash your own car and do whatever auto maintenance you can do on your own – Also, be sure to get regular car maintenance because a little money put into prevention will save you money in the long run.
- Plant a garden – Grow your own vegetables in the summer!
- Turn off lights and appliances when not in use – Why waste money on utilities you aren’t using?
- Plan meals ahead of time and be conscientious to minimize food waste
- Take care of your cell phones – Cell phones are expensive. Invest in some good cases (like OtterBox) and decide if adding a protection plan is a good idea.
- Use a clothes line – Dry clothes, like delicates and those with moisture wicking fabrics, by air to save money and keep them looking nicer and lasting longer.
- Use powder laundry detergent – When you buy liquid detergent, you’re buying water and detergent. You get more for your money with powder.
- Guys can cut their hair at home – Invest in an electric hair trimmer and save $20 a month.
- Skip the manicures, pedicures, and color treatments – Women can do their own nails and color their own hair at home. These are not needs but wants.
- Buy refurbished electronics – You can often save a few hundred dollars buying something that’s been repaired, retested, certified, and resold.
- Sell on eBay – Do you have old, potentially valuable stuff around the house that you no longer like or need? It’s worth a shot to sell it on eBay and make a few bucks off of it. Plus you can free up some space!
- Limit trips to Starbucks/coffee shops – Make your coffee at home and the savings add up!
- Limit dining out
- Check out books, music, and movies from your local library – Rent for free instead of paying to buy.
- Engage in activities that don’t cost a lot of money or are free – Go for a walk, play an outdoor or indoor game, have a picnic, or volunteer. Going out to the movies isn’t cheap. Find free or inexpensive things to do for entertainment.
- Travel during shoulder seasons – Summer months and the time around the holidays are the most expensive times to travel. Prices often spike around Spring Break as well. If you can arrange your travel for when the rates are cheapest, you’ll save more money and get the added benefit of less tourists at your destination.
I know there are many other cost saving measures you can take like carpooling to work, cutting back on water usage, taking public transport, etc. However, the ones included here are the ones that we utilize and have had the most success using. Not everyone has time to do all the things listed; but as long as you’re conscientious about what you are spending your money on, you should be able to start seeing more savings.
Living on one income isn’t glamorous. It was never meant to be. However, cutting back where you can will allow you some luxuries here and there, whether it be new furniture, home improvement, or a trip of a lifetime.
I hope this information has been helpful. Being observant, having good judgement, and a little persistence will go a long way to ensure your financial future.