how to be totally awesome {at saving money}

I know we've been EXTREMELY lucky that we've not felt a huge blow from the economic turn. I still have my job because it's a contract position with the government. Jonathan's company is still stable and the spring/summer months look good {knock on wood}. We even took advantage of the lower interest rates and refinanced our house.

We have a nice home and don't want for much (but hey! We are a two-income household with no kids!). Our only debt as of right this second is our mortgage and a modest student loan balance. We have a good savings. And even though I have a case of the wants, as illustrated on this blog, I don't really BUY a whole lot (I'm *mostly* a window shopper). And when I do buy, it's typically well-thought-out and hunted down at a bargain.

It might sound painful, but I think of it like a game. Our savings goes Up-Up-Up just a little each month, and I don't feel like I make that many sacrifices to do it.

We are an anomaly among our age bracket; Generation Debt, anyone? But really, we are just frugal in the areas that cause us the least pain to do so. It's easy. Here are some of the ways we save that I wanted to share (and to help reinforce them for myself!):

General stuff:
  • I take advantage of all my employee benefits. Of course I use my company's health benefits. But I also take full advantage of their 401(k) match, tuition reimbursement program, and health & wellness incentive. My company is matching my 7% 401(k) contribution, paying for me to get my MBA, and giving me a $75 incentive each quarter for tracking and committing to my health and fitness goals.
  • I take advantage of services I already pay for. For example, I already pay a gym membership. So in addition to working out there, I also use the sauna once a week to relax and detox; use, not lose, the free smoothie passes I get sent periodically; and catch up on celebrity gossip by reading all the magazines while I'm on the elliptical machine. They also have cable on their TVs; since I don't have cable, I get a HGTV fix for free while I work out on Sunday afternoon.
  • I try to borrow first, before purchasing something. With kitchen gadgets (and in last week's case, a kitchen table) I ask my mom to borrow hers first. If I decide I can't live without one, then I can buy it. Jonathan does this with tools; he's got brothers, cousins, and a dad who all love them some power tools. Someone probably has one, and they won't miss it for a day or two. And we are happy to reciprocate!
  • This is a new one for me, but it's so easy. I picked one day a week I can't spend a nickle. No coffee, no newspaper, no granola bar from the vending machine. On Tuesdays I do not run errands, I don't stop for coffee, I make sure I bring lunch and snacks to work, etc. This means one less day of potential impulse buying, and it forces me to plan ahead; definitely a habit I want to reinforce. If it's easy, I'll bump it to two (or maybe three) days a week.
  • We rounded up on our car payments. We paid $300/month on my car payment that was only $220 and paid it off 18 months early. The $300 we were used to paying now gets put immediately in savings. We are considering applying half to our student loan debt (which means our student loans will get paid off earlier, too).
Household stuff:
  • We refinanced our mortgage. We now save $180 a month on our house payment, which goes into a vacation fund.
  • We DIY our home improvement projects. My husband is super-handy and we haven't hired out anything. From installing a new water heater to building a shed, he's done it all (with help from family).
  • We don't have a land line. We pay enough for our cell phone service as it is.
  • I clean the cheap/earth-friendly way as much as possible. I clean my sinks with baking soda and vinegar. I use Mrs. Meyers concentrated cleaner to clean most everything else, from counters to cabinets to floors. It's incredibly affordable, environmentally friendly, and smells amazing.
Entertainment stuff:
  • We don't have cable. Our channel surfing is limited to the 5 major networks and PBS. This saves about $60/month, and I save hours each week by not vegging on the couch every night. Instead I read, study, blog, or work on craft projects when I'm home.
  • We rarely go to movies, and we rent movies at the Redbox. Jonathan won't watch the old movies, but when he's out of town I stock up on free rentals at the library.
  • I do check out books at the library, but I like to own books I know I'll want to refer to again and again. I buy nearly all of my books on decorating, cooking, gardening, etc used from Amazon.com or elsewhere. Even with shipping, I'll pay about $5-$7/book, compared to $30 new.
  • I use Pandora.com (free Internet radio that lets you pick the genre). I'd never pay for Lil' Wayne iTunes tracks, but I'll totally throw on "Lil' Wayne Radio" for free while I clean house, if the mood hits {and it totally does}.
Food stuff:
  • We eat at least 3 meat-free, inexpensive dinners per week (and often more like 4-5) such as pasta and marina sauce, veggie stirfry with brown rice, veggie and cheese omelets, etc. These are fast, relatively healthy, and only cost a couple dollars for the two of us. This saves about $80-120/month.
  • Pack a lunch (and snacks). I bring lunch to work with me 4 days a week; leftovers from the night before, a sandwich, or a salad. I keep a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge at work so all I have to do is toss lettuce and veggies in a tupperware container in the morning. I save about $100/month doing this.
  • My weakness is a giant vanilla latte. I allow myself to indulge occasionally WITH A FRIEND, so it doubles as a social outing. $4 is a lot for a cup of coffee, but it's a BARGAIN for a good chat with a good friend. To not feel deprived the rest of the time, I keep a box of chai in my desk drawer at work to make a tasty ("fancy") beverage when I need an afternoon pick-me-up.
  • We eat left-overs. Sometimes I'm creative with them and disguise them as a new meal (extra rotisserie chicken gets thrown into quesadillas, for example...).
  • We also avoid throwing away food as much as possible. The easiest solution is grocery shop/meal plan around what I already have at home that needs to be used. I make a loose meal plan for the week every Sunday around the things I don't want to spoil, and shop for the few additional things I need in one trip.
Beauty stuff:
  • I use Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap to refill hand soap pumps, as body wash in the shower, on my face every morning and night, and in the bathtub to make my skin soft. It's AMAZINGLY concentrated and smells awesome, it's Fair Trade and organic, el cheapo, and the label is jam-packed with crazy religious rantings to entertain you in the tub. LUV.
  • As a moisturizer at night time, I use a tiny bit of olive oil. {I learned this from a gorgeous, clear-skinned, tree-hugging friend.} I have very dry skin, and this helps like no layers and layers of expensive lotions can.
  • I don't wear foundation, concealer, powder, etc, and I don't buy eye makeup or lipsticks in experimental colors anymore. I've pared my makeup down to bronzing powder, eyebrow pencil, charcoal eyeliner, and mascara.
  • I perform my own manicures, pedicures, facials, etc. I also color my own hair. To me this is normal and doesn't seem like a money-saver, but then I'm reminded when friends or family tell me how much they spend on these services!
  • I only wash my hair once every two-three days. Like my skin, I have SUPER dry hair, so this is actually a necessity. If I do wash more often, I let it air dry periodically, and embrace the waviness once in a while. This saves on hair products, water, AND time (the blow-drying/straightening ritual takes about 40 minutes).
  • Jonathan's even better. He gives himself haircuts, and he totally rocks the David Beckham look.
Clothing stuff:
  • I love buying new clothing, but I limit myself to affordable shops like Charlotte Russe, Forever 21, Target and the Old Navy clearance rack for most of my new wardrobe.
  • Skirts and dresses are SO EASILY thrifted because the sizes are more forgiving than with jeans for example, and the styles on simple skirts are timeless. Tailoring a skirt or dress length is also super-easy. I own about 12 skirts, 8 of which were thrifted for around an average of $3 each.
  • If I lose buttons, rip a belt loop, or stain something, I don't throw it out and replace it without trying to fix it first. I have a couple items pending me working up the courage to over-dye them because I either spilled something that left a stain, or I don't like the color much. I'll post results when I get around to trying this!
  • I hang up pants/skirts/jeans/hoodies/jackets and wear them 1 or 2 more times before washing. Less washing makes clothing last longer, and saves water and energy.
I'm not a perfect money manager, however. I have plenty of spending pitfalls and weaknesses I plan to work on. Here are the biggest money mistakes I make over and over:
  • I often purchase all the supplies for a craft project I want to try, then never get around to it. I generally put the stuff away for a later time and forget all about it. I come across stuff in my craft room all the time that makes me think... hmmm... what was this for, again?
  • I'm not an organized gift-giver. So I'm often left to last-minute and full-priced gifts, gift cards, etc. When I do remember to plan ahead, I can think of something more meaningful rather than trying to make up for the lack of meaning with a heftier price tag.
  • I'm addicted to junk jewelry. I can't hit Target for groceries without stopping by and being tempted to grab a pair of giant peacock feather earrings or a gaudy rhinestone cocktail ring.
Anyone want to share some of your money saving/managing techniques?


Tippetts Family said...

LOVE this post! thanks for sharing. you always dress so trendy too!

i have recently started the coupon thing for groceries. i have saved so much! the key is to get a set of sunday papers for each member of your family (so I get 5) and use the coupons WITH a sale. So for example, last sunday I got 5 schick quattro razor coupons for $4 off. then i found out kmart had their quattro razors on sale for $5. i paid about $8 (including tax) for 24 good razors. I won't have to buy them for at least a year!

another example from this week, albertson's kellogg's cereal is 3/$5 and get two gallons of milk free. combined with three $.50 off coupons, I spent $3.50 for 2 gallons of milk and 3 boxes of cereal.

i found a website grocerysmarts.com and pinchingyourpennies.com. they do all the research for you, tell you where the deals are, and which coupon to use. they also have forums, which are very useful.

it's almost a rush when i save money now.

Alicia said...

Your organization and preparation are an inspiration! Will you come cook me inexpensive, healthy meals and clean my house with yummy-smelling, earth-saving products?! please, i'll even buy a vanilla latte and chat your ear off!

Pearces said...

You are so awesome! I really liked this post, it gave me some great ideas to save money. I try, but I am not the best at it! You also have given me some inspiration to save!

Divine said...

Miss Kellie, you rock! Congrats on your uber-impressive abilities at saving money. I need to take some of your advice. Most of my money saving techniques stem from the fact that I practically have to choose between gas and food, argh! I have a lot to learn, but maybe I can just keep referring to this page. Thanks for all the good details. Love ya!

Jake said...

You're awesome Kellie! Even your "biggest money mistakes" are tiny things that are just little incentive boosters to help you saty sane. I'm convinced you must buy yourself something, even if just (in my case) a mountain dew (or 12) every payday. That way you don't FEEL limited. So, keep doing what you're doing cause it sounds great!

kellie said...

Thanks for the comments, fellow penny-pinchers!

Lyndsy, thanks for the great tips! I'm not a coupon clipper because... i hate it... it's terrible, i know. i plan to eventually plan ahead enough to do this.

Alicia, I would LOVE to come do all those things for you for a long talk and a latte. I miss you, girl, how are you???

Jake, don't be impressed... I spend money on PLENTY more stupid things, but they are things I love and won't part with, which really are necessary for my sanity, and don't make me feel guilty because they are fun! The stuff I listed as mistakes are just dumb things I do that waste money for no satisfaction (long-term anyway).