Tuesday, September 25, 2012

50 Ideas to Maximize Your Household Economy

My friend, Katelyn made a comment on my last post that I thought I would respond to by blog post. Her comment was a question about how to balance self-reliant living on a one income salary.

A lot of stay-at-home moms, like myself, do not view staying at home as a luxury but as a necessity and a worthy sacrifice. And to make that possible we must and do scrimp and save and pinch and stretch every penny we have. Almost all of the tips I'm going to share with you, are things we already do around our own home, or things that we are gradually working to incorporate in our lives on a regular basis. Let us not forget this awesome quote:

“A small leak will sink a great ship.” – Benjamin Franklin

Wasn’t that Ben Franklin wise? He was. Or at least he sure did say a heck of a lot of wise and eloquent things during the course of his life. This blog post is all about tackling the leaky inefficiencies in our own household economies. 

(This guy really takes that advice to heart)

But, just in case you’re not up for dumpster diving, re-using paper towels, or separating your two ply toilet paper, here are some more user-friendly ideas for saving money. . .

Things to Do:

  • Talk to your grandparents. Grandparents lived in a different era than we do. They lived more frugally and simply. They didn't waste. And they certainly weren't advertised to like our generation is today. Talk with them to get some perspective on your wants vs. your needs. They are sure to have good tips to help you manage your household on less.
  • Sell stuff. Go through your house and sell all the stuff you've been holding on to for who knows what reason for so many years. If you haven't used that fondue pot you got for your wedding 10 years ago, chances are that can go too. You'll have a cleaner, clearer house, and less stuff to manage.
  • Buy stuff and then sell it. Increase your knowledge about a particular item. (i.e. Sewing machines, tools, coins, cars, houses, etc.) Purchase these items at screaming good prices from thrift stores, garage sales or craigslist. Learn how to tune or fix it up the items in need be, and sell them on eBay and make a little cash on the side.
  • Make stuff and then sell it. If you have a propensity for crafty or artsy stuff, channel that energy to a shop on etsy.com or your local craft fair. With a quality product at the right price and a little bit of advertising, you might be surprised to find a nice nest egg from your hobby.
  • Giveaway at least 10% off your total income to your church or to other charitable organizations/endeavors. Call it Karma, call it crazy - I personally call it God's blessing from heaven. When have found that when we are generous with others before we serve ourselves, there always seems to be just enough or plenty to survive on in the financial department.
  • Read lots of good books. Read books about finances, read classical literature, read books that helps you learn about the world around you and history, books that teach you new skills, and stuff that challenges you to be better. Certainly don’t forget to study The Bible and other religious texts! I’m personally a big fan of The Book of Mormon. ;) Expanding your knowledge is always a great way to help get your mind thinking of ideas of how to better manage your life and home.
  • Make sure your career lines up with your calling in life. I read Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love just over a year ago. It gives great insight into this topic. If you (or your spouse) are doing what they feel called to do to make money, chances are that your (their) passion will also yield great financial success. Check it out if your family needs improvement in the cash flow arena of life.

Buying things for less:

  • Only buy cars cash. Did you know a new car loses 70% of its value within four years of it being purchased? Did you know that if you follow the prescribed payment plan to pay for your car on a loan, you will probably pay 2-4x's what the car would have cost you cash? Buy used. And buy it outright. Your checking account and budget will thank you.
  • In fact, just buy everything cash. With the exception of a home or possibly your education, you should buy everything with cash instead of credit. Things bought with cash don’t have the slightest possibility to accrue interest. You get better deals on everything buying cash. And using cash to buy stuff means you are limited to what you actually have – not to imaginary numbers that can snap you up in a trap of never-ending calls from debt collectors. Did you know that if you buy things with cash, you will actually save an average of 12-18% more than if you use debit or credit? That’s because buying with cash actually registers physiologically in our bodies as pain, whereas debit and credit do not.  Pretty crazy stuff.
  • Buy Furniture for Cheap. Don't buy your furniture new from a fancy store! Buy your furniture off of craigslist, at garage/estate sales, or from one of your local thrift stores. You will be surprised what awesome deals you can get on quality furniture pieces you can find if you are patient just long enough. We have bought several beautiful Ethan Allen designer pieces (see this blog post for a couple pictures of one of them) for our home for a miniscule fraction of what they would have cost from the store at retail price. And my overstuffed armchairs that I recovered? Only cost $10 each from our local Thrift Store.
  • Buy everything cheap. Avoid paying retail wherever and whenever possible. Simply avoid browsing through anything but the clearance racks in the stores. Buy things used (or new – but cheaper) off of craigslist, ebay or Amazon. But don’t just buy stuff because it is cheap. Know what you need to buy before you go shopping it, and then maintain the self control to only buy that item.
  • Look for and buy items Made in China. Haha. NOT!! Cheap quality stuff is almost never a good investment. Buy items made in the USA whenever possible! ;) With patience and with careful searching in the right places, you can buy things that are quality for amazing prices.

Things to Drastically Limit or Completely Avoid:

  • Friends like those Jones's.  No, we don’t mean you Garrison and Valeri Jones! Haha. You guys are awesome! We mean those friends who make you feel like you need to buy stuff you can’t afford, who make life a financial competition of who has the most stuff, the ones who choose to spend their money on activities you can’t afford to join in on. Their pressure isn’t worth breaking your budget (or emotional well-being) over.
  • The latest fads. So, you have an awesome iPhone 1, 2, 3, or 4. Do you really need to upgrade to an iPhone 5? Do your really even need a phone with continual internet access? Do you need to upgrade your phone every 6 months or year just because you can? Does your phone still work? Do you really need that new laptop? That new TV? That new gadget? And in the fashion world – do you really need to buy a whole new wardrobe just because the seasons changed, or school started? Or because blinding neon skin tight pants and color blocked maxi dresses and moon boots are suddenly “in”? I can answer these questions for you. No. You don’t need any of these things. As a general rule of thumb, it’s good to ask yourself if loosing or breaking one of these items in your life would cause you financial distress or pain, you shouldn’t buy them. You can’t afford them. Invest in stuff that works, that is used, that is cheap, but that is good quality and will last. For your clothing, invest in classic pieces that can mix well with other things in your wardrobe and fit you well. Then use those gadgets, and wear those clothes until they fall apart. If you can, fix them up. And then use them some more.
  • An expensive mortgage or rent payment. Don't spend more than 35% of your income on your mortgage (including costs associated with home-ownership that would be covered if renting) or rent each month. If you are, you are paying more than you can afford. The lower your mortgage payment as a percentage of your income can be, the better your lifestyle will be.
  • TV. Do you pay a cable bill each month? Netflix? Hulu Plus? ESPN? Other subscriptions? Not only is this an expensive habit, but watching too much TV often takes the place of constructive activities or real human interaction in a home. It also often adds to the already copious amount of ads that Americans view every day of their lives - which plant in minds products to buy that you really don't need. Ditch your TV and see how much you save and gain in the process.
  • Expensive Hair/nail/waxing habits. If you must go to a salon for a haircut or special aesthetic treatment of some kind, go to a local beauty school, or use a groupon (that is my personal referral link) to get a decent deal at a higher end salon. Avoid coloring your hair, or learn to color it from a box at home. Learn to care for your own nails, pluck/wax your own eyebrows, etc. 
  • Eating Out. Eating out often can bust your budget like little else. Make your meals from scratch at home, and pack your spouse's lunch to save big. Put limits on how many times you will eat out. And if you do, try to never pay full price by taking advantage of coupons and lunch specials, etc.
  • Addictive habits. Don't drink soda. Don't smoke cigarettes. Don't drink alcohol. Don't do drugs. Don't go to Starbucks. Don't buy porn. Don't gamble. Put all that money you would have spent on those habits in a nicely-diversified mutual fund, and see yourself become a multi-millionaire in about 30-40 years. Oh, and enjoy your freedom, health, and clarity of mind while you're at it.
  • Wasting gas. Do you really need to take that extra trip to the store or place? Try to combine as many errands into one outing as possible so as to reduce the gas you use. See if carpooling to work, school or other regular activities in your life is possible. That way both you and a friend or two or three can save. Think about walking, riding your bike, or taking public transportation where possible to cut your gas bill down to size.
  • The mall or other retail stores. Don’t spend lots of time wandering aimlessly around the mall. It will only make you feel like there are things you need to buy, that are simply wants. If you need to hit up a retail store, get in and out with the item you planned on purchasing beforehand. Hopefully it was on sale! ;)

Good Habits to Develop:

  • Turn the lights/fans off in rooms where they are not being used. Make sure you aren't air-conditioning an empty house either. Turn the cooler off when you are out running errands.
  • Don't keep the water running if you aren't using it.  When you brush your teeth, is the water running even though it doesn't need to be? When you wash or rinse your dishes, does the faucet run the whole time? Maximize your efforts and save water with one sink full of water instead of a constant drip. Do you let water run for long periods to let it heat up or cool down? Microwave water to make it warm, or keep a pitcher in your fridge to keep some cold. Do you shower longer than is needful? Consider a military shower every now and then. Or time yourself in the shower to keep them shorter.
  • Eat healthy foods, be active each day, and get good rest, because being sick is expensive. The savings on your health bills and your increased energy for life will be your reward.
  • A penny found is a penny earned.  Pick up loose change you find on the sidewalk or abandoned in the grocery store parking lot. Save all that change and all the change you acquire through spending and such in a nice big coin jar. You’ll be surprised how fast change can add up to hundreds of dollars. And the saving of it is pretty much painless too.

Living the good life for Less:

  • Don't pay full price for date night. Get deals on food and activities on websites like groupon.com or livingsocial.com. Better yet, go on dates for free by finding free activities in your community on your city's website.
  • Do childcare swaps. Do childcare swaps with your close friends so that you both get the benefit of date night and/or appointments kid-free without having to pay for a sitter.
  • Don't pay, trade! Do you have a skill that you could charge for? Does a friend you know also have a marketable skill? Trade your skilled labor/expertise for theirs. For example: My mom is a fantastic cook. She catered a wedding for a friend for only the cost of food. As a trade, the dad of the bride did some awesome wrought iron work on my parent's house. Build shelves for some plumbing work or for a computer clean-up. There are so many ways to get creative on this one. The sky is the limit.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Upcycle:
  • Wash and reuse your undamaged Ziploc bags, plastic cups, and plastic cutlery. You can also invest in nicer Tupperware (I love my Glasslock containers) for leftovers, or for packing lunch. Many companies sell washable sandwich bags now too, so you could get even much more than just the 2-3 times of use out of the re-used disposable bags.
  • Wash out glass and plastic jars and canisters and reuse them. I like to have some of these around for when I bring a meal to a friend in need. It prevents me from having to buy expensive disposable trays and containers from the store. Plus, there are always fun crafts and activities to do with old plastic bottles and jars for kids.
  • Bring re-useable shopping bags when you shop.  At our local Sprout’s (think health food, hippy organic type of grocery store), we get a 5-cent discount for every re-usable bag we bring, every time.
  • Re-use any plastic grocery bags you have for your small trash cans. One less thing to have to buy!
  • Cloth beats paper. Use old rags or dish towels to wipe up messes and save yourself from buying paper towels. Consider making cloth napkins for everyday use to ditch your paper napkin bill too.
  • Learn to upcycle your "junk". Find creative ways to use the fabric from old jeans, clothing or bedding to make other useful or decorative items for your home. Pinterest anyone?

Skills that will save you money:

  • Become a coupon master and stock up your family store with toothpaste, toilet paper and pasta beyond measure. Save a lot of money while you do it too.               
  • Learn basic sewing and mending skills. Learn to darn up that hole in your sock, or to sew on a new button, or to patch up a hole in the knees of those jeans, or to add a fashionable fabric flower or ruffle border over the tear in that old cardigan of yours.
  • Learn to fix stuff around the house. Youtube can be your friend in this regard! If the washing machine has a leak, figure out what to open to find and fix the problem. Learn to plunge and prevent clogs in your toilet. Learn about how to maintain and fix the mechanical appliances in your life and you will certainly save money.
  • Learn the basics of car care (changing/refilling oil, changing brake pads, changing tires, refilling washer fluid, changing spark plugs, etc.)  Maintain your car well, and you won't have as many problems pop up. You'll save money on the little stuff by doing it yourself so that when big stuff happens, you'll be able to afford it a bit better.
  • Learn to build stuff. Have you ever seen this website? www.ana-white.com It's awesome. And you can find all sorts of plans to build beautiful furniture for your home for a fraction of the cost it would be to buy it from a store, and with better quality materials too. Take Lincoln's toddler bed for example - solid wood and beautiful. Only about $60 with stain and lacquer. Fabulous!
  • Learn to make bread from scratch. What could be tastier, healthier, more delicious to smell or eat than freshly baked bread right out of the oven? Not much. Let me tell you, not much. There isn’t much that could be cheaper to make than homemade bread either. Making your own sandwich bread can be cost-effective, tasty and healthy. All that is required are your two hands, a few simple ingredients, and a little practice.
  • Learn to garden. Grow a garden in your backyard if you have one. Or get creative with your windowsills. Then enjoy the fresh fruits and veggies of your labors. Learn to can them, and you can enjoy them year round.
  • Learn a marketable skill that can get you money on the side. Learn to build things. If you play a musical instrument proficiently, learn how to teach that instrument to students, and get some. Tutor children on a subject you have a high aptitude for. The possibilities are endless.

Big Baby Money Savers:

  • Cloth-diaper your baby. If the initial entry into cloth seems too expensive, buy used (or new!) on craigslist or other websites online. You may have to deal with a bit more poop, but your savings will keep a smile on your face while you do it.
  • Breastfeed your baby if at all possible. Breast feeding is free, delicious and nutritious for your baby. Formula is so expensive. Do what you can to make this happen and you will certainly save big.
  • Make your baby's food. Don't buy expensive baby food with extra preservatives and other non-recognizable ingredients. Make it! With just a few extra minutes each night during dinner prep, a few ice cube trays and ziploc freezer bags, your baby can eat nutritious food without hardly adding anything to your food budget for the first year of his/her life. (That is until they start throwing their food all over the floor.) :)

Managing your Money:

  • Make a budget with your spouse, and stick to it. This is so key to managing a healthy household economy. We follow a zero-based budget plan where together we sit down and decide how we will spend every dollar of every check on paper on purpose before we ever spend a dime of it. My husband made a beautiful Excel spreadsheet template that we would be happy to email to you by request: abitbackward at gmail dot com. After we budget our money, we take out cash for certain categories of items we would normally buy with debit/credit (i.e. Groceries, restaurants, toiletries, entertainment, hair care, blow money, etc.) We then only buy things with cash in the corresponding envelope. When the money is gone, we stop spending. No messy paperwork. Simple and straightforward. Just count the money in the envelope to know how much money you have left to spend! No overdraft is possible because we only spend cash. Plus we save 12-18% of what we would spend if we were still using our debit or credit cards for everything. And who do we have to thank for getting us hooked on this ingenious budget system? Dave, of course.
  •  Save a portion of every check. The way in which a rainy day will hit a family is unpredictable, but they fact that one eventually will hit is not. Every family should save up a solid and healthy emergency fund of 3-6 months expenses. If that seems daunting, start with a smaller goal of $1,000 and go from there.
  • If you’re in debt, get out. If you’re not, avoid it like the plague. To be truly financially free, you need to be debt free. The Bible tells us that, “The borrower is servant (or slave in some translations) to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7) This is a true principle. Don’t be a slave to debt. Do everything you can to get out of debt as quickly as you possibly can.
In closing, I just want to mention an essential and key part to making this all work – prayer! God is always there to help us make it through tough times. He can help us make it through the tight living and financial struggles we face if only we trust His help. I’ve seen that time and time again in my life.

I hope these tips were helpful to you and yours! Now tell me . . .
What do YOU do to maximize your household economy?


  1. Yeah! You wrote a post because of me! :) Although that wasn't quite the question I asked... (My question was more political minded I suppose). But, love the ideas! Our biggest goal right now is to get out of debt! As soon as our car settlement comes (hopefully in the next month or two, bye bye debt! And then we certainly plan on doing things differently. And, if I can get my husband on board, we'll try using cash envelopes for the next 3 months... We have a very limited budget that I would love to stick to. Sometimes it's just hard being on the same page financially as the hubby. Any advice for that? lol.

    1. Katelyn - I responded to the more political elements of your question on the last blog post in the comments section. This was my answer though! Ideas to be as self-reliant as possible to avoid government assistance! :)

      Squire and I didn't both get on board with a budget together until after we went through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University home study course together. But, doing that together really got us both pumped to tackle our money managment together. I would totally recommend doing the classes or buying an old home study kit. Dave just came out with a revised home study, so the older ones are a lot cheaper right now I think. I know that costs a little money, but it would seriously change your life. I did for us anyways. But, his website has lots of fun free motivating articles and things to see too: www.daveramsey.com. For Squire though, going through FPU was what got him on board with me!

  2. I make a ton of homemade waffles and pancakes to freeze so we can have quick breakfasts without buying a ton of cereal. You just microwave them with a moist paper towel over them or throw the waffles in the toaster. With crazy school schedules it works great! Also, we find ways to get discounts like a store card with 5% every time you use it. Target has a Debit card that goes through your checking account. You save 5% every time. It's the closest store to me so I have a mini notebook that I keep track of how much I've spent money on what to keep in our budget. 5% goes a long way! I'm lucky enough to work there, too, so I have another 10% off. 15% off almost everything you buy adds up! With moving from AZ to CO we have a lot of clothing needs and we hit sales with the discount and buy things like coats second hand. We haven't started getting a newspaper for coupons yet, but we live in an apartment where we're not sure if we'd even get it! Buy in bulk! Sam's or Costco helps you save on certain items. I had a rotation going of which frozen veggies and which meat I bought each month. Buy a $100 freezer and you save that much a month! Bear in mind that it takes a little build up (2 months) before you see the savings and have a system. Make menus that use similar ingredients to save on the grocery bill. There's tons of ways! But always make sure you have life insurance to help in the worst case scenario. Avoid whole life insurance policies and get a 30yr term. You could do a 10yr but if you develop health problems the cost will go way up, as apposed to just up for being older. The goal is that you'll be financially independent enough to have your own "insurance" built up in savings and 401k's and such by then. Happy savings!

    1. Amen to all your suggestions! Thanks, Kellie! :) I hope you are doing as well as you sound, and that CO is treating you well!!

  3. I was surprised to see charitable donations as a way to save money. It's something I would not have thought of adding to this list. Even though you are just giving money away I really think it does make you more minded on your over all income and contribution to society. I think it totally fits in the context of this topic.

    1. Glad you agree! :) We really have made it through some bleak financial times, and I totally contribute it to blessings from God due to our diligent tithe-paying.

  4. These are great! A couple of other things I don't think you mentioned that I have found helpful are: Clean out the dryer lint vent (not just the filter, but the vent that leads outside). They tend to get clogged over time with bits of lint and then your dryer takes longer to dry your clothes, using more energy. We also started turning up our a/c, just one degree at a time. When we got used to it, we turned it up another degree and now we don't notice the difference, but we are saving a lot of electricity. I also get books from the library for free entertainment. I never go to the library unless it is on my errand route already, so I'm not even spending gas money.

    1. Oooh! I like the dryer vent idea. I'll put the hubby on that this weekend! :) The a/c thing - especially in Tucson is critical! Though, I have to admit I have been more picky to due my pregnant status! We usually keep the house between 78-80*F, but I have had to have it at 76*F or I go a little crazy. And free entertainment = awesome. Thanks for the comment, Melanie!

  5. Shower together. Hehe :) :)

    1. Very nice idea, Anonymous. I like it. ;)



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