Friday, January 28, 2011

Show me the money...

 So, today's post is admittedly not as fun as before & after pictures. I don't really like talking about money, probably because we have very little of it! As college students who are financially independent and  parents to (almost) two kids, money is tight. We have to make sacrifices and things are difficult from time to time (like living without central heat for 8 weeks this winter...during which time we had TWO snows in Georgia). But having less inspires us to be resourceful in many ways, from decorating to grocery shopping, and we try to make the most of it.

One of my 21 Before 21 goals was to make a budget and follow it. With the start of the new year, it was a good time for us to sit down, pull out the calculator, and analyze our bank statements from the previous year and make changes for this next year. What we found was quite shocking, and many of our pre-concieved ideas were way off track.

Myth # 1: If we go out to eat more, then we spend less on groceries that month.

-Simply not true! There was very little correlation between going out to eat verses how much we spent on groceries. Which means that if we spent a lot on going out to eat, it was just costing us more, period.

Myth # 2: We both made guesses on how much we thought we spent on going out to eat each month. 

-Several months we spent nearly DOUBLE what the lowest guess was. Ouch.

Myth #3: Most of what we spend is "necessary" and there are not very many opportunities to cut spending.

-There are definitely places we can cut spending! Primarily in our household spending and going out to eat.

So here are our strategies and goals when it comes to budgeting and cutting spending this year:

1. Limit eating out to once a week: This is especially a challenge for us during midterms/finals, and on nights when we don't get home from classes until nearly 7 PM. So far, we have kept this goal in January. What helps us make this possible is:

-Keeping easy and fast meals on hand, like spaghetti, soup, grilled cheese, and sandwiches
-Plan when we go out to eat. If we look ahead at our schedule, we can decide which night we need to eat out most. For instance, we have to travel to the midwife's house for an appointment this week, so that will be our out to eat night since it requires us to be gone about five hours after being in classes all morning and afternoon.
-Pack snacks for the car. Sometimes I feel like we live in our car. Because we only have one car, and we don't have a parking spot on campus, there is a lot of driving and dropping each other off at classes and work every day. Bringing snacks and water helps with the munchies and keeps us from stopping somewhere.

2. Skip the dessert: While neither of us would usually order dessert out, ever since I have been pregnant/breast feeding, sometimes it's hard for me get full. To cut down on our dessert intake, I am making sure that I order an extra filling entree or order a small side to go with it.

3. Couponing: One of my New Year's goals was to become better at couponing, while I'm no expert, I am definitely obsessed!!! I can already see how much money it is helping us save on household items and toiletries. A few sites that helped me a lot are: Couponing 101 & Organic Deals.I buy two copies of the Sunday paper every week and I have a big binder in which I organize all of my inserts. I also print a lot of coupons online. I have been able to save around 50% on household items like toilet paper, razors, mouthwash, etc.and I expect to save more the better I get at it.

4. Shop gas prices: So this one is not a major saver, but every little bit adds up. Thanks to the website Gas Buddy, I found out that by stopping at the most convenient gas station to us (which we pass on our way out of our neighborhood, basically) we were spending 10-15 cents/gallon more than if we stopped at a gas station a little ways away from us. Now, we don't drive out of our way. That would seem wasteful too...but when we are near a cheaper gas station, we make sure to fill up as opposed to waiting for the empty light to come on and feeling forced to stop at the nearest station. (An added perk, there is less chance of running out of gas!)

A few other steps we've taken:
-I analyzed our phone bill usage over a several month period and switched plans to avoid overages
-We keep the thermostat dialed down (64 actually feels quite warm compared to 50-55..which is what our house was at when we did not have heat)
-Fixing simpler meals with less ingredients to cut down on groceries

So do you follow a budget? What steps do you take to save money?


Tanya from Dans le Lakehouse said...

Great post! We are also very budget focused. We use a spreadsheet to track spending and after entering receipts, we see what categories are our trouble areas (groceries, for us too - we don't eat out a lot but we sure buy a lot of snacks). Seeing in black and white our spending to date helps us manage our spending throughout the month. We also switched to a super cheap VOIP phone service - $10 /month all inclusive. No long distance charges helps a lot.

Unknown said...

I could go on and on about this! Eating out is definitely the biggest burden to our joint account in this house. The tips you listed are really great. Since school has started I've switched back to a vegetarian ( + fish occasionally ) diet and minimal processed foods, which is great for our health, but not so convenient. Each Sunday I've been making quinoa muffins, homemade black bean burgers to put in the freezer, and some kind of bean and dark leafy green soup for some protein and fiber-rich treats to snack on throughout the week. You're so right about keeping snacks in your car - I keep a box of tea, whole grain pita chips, and dried fruit and nut mix in my car for post-class munchies. That alone has really cut down on the number of horribly fattening refried bean and cheese burritos I scarf down on a regular basis!
It's funny that you just wrote this - mapping out a budget/wishlist plan is actually on our agenda this weekend!

Anonymous said...

Eating out costs a lot. Buy your groceries and plan meals for the week. Starting next week I am going to be doing some meal planning so look for it. It may help!

Unknown said...

Great post! We do this every now and then, too, and are always surprised to find out where we spend all our money. Going out to eat was the biggest money-spender for us, so we try to limit ourselves to one or two times a week. One other area we really save money on, is not having a phone line (we just use our cell phones), cheap cell phone plans (200 texts a month and no data plan), and we got rid of cable completely. We bought a digital TV converter and antennae for about $50 and spend $12 a month on Netflix. Much cheaper than cable that we don't have time to watch, anyways (and if we want to watch a show, that's what Netflix - or DTV - is for!). We also save a ton on movie tickets. :) It works for us! We don't even miss the cable (but do dream of data plans on our cell phones one day, haha!).


Katie Olthoff said...

Oh how January to-do list is sooo almost done, and February's list will be mostly preparing for baby and getting our finances in order.

We're in a little different situation. We don't have to scrimp out of necessity, but we WANT to scrimp because we are trying to pay down our farm debt enough that we can expand next year (yeah, and take on more debt.)

I'm scared to start tracking our spending. I KNOW there are a lot of places we can cut back, but I don't want to. So I guess when I said we "want" to scrimp, it means that we know that's best for us, but it's hard to actually do. I hope that made sense.

coolkids said...

first off I cannot believe you are only 20! Great tips.

Liz said...

Ways we try to save money (every bit helps)...

1.) coupons, coupons, coupons
2.) meal plan (even if you aren't spectacular at finding deals... if you stick to the plan, you'll buy only ingredients you need... and spend less in the end).
3.) bring cloth shopping bags to target and save $0.10 per bag

there are other local specific ways we save... on prescriptions, baby items, etc on my blog...

Cate said...

I've had the same experience with going out vs. eating at home. Going out is SO much more expensive on a per-meal basis that it's never really saved us any money on our grocery bill. Planning ahead is really the best way to save money in almost every situation!

Willo said...

We budget now. I haven't been very good at it in the past. We have limited out to eat to one dinner as a family and one lunch as a family per month. We do pizza and movie night once a week though, and making our own pizza or getting it cheap somewhere is a nice way to feel like we get a treat. I have also set a goal to buy nothing new for clothes or home this year. Thrifting helps.

Cassie said...

Great ideas. I'd love to get more involved with couponing, but I have trouble with it because I tend to use them on items that I don't really need and wouldn't have bought them in the first place! Share your tips if you come across them please! :)

Cassie @

Curly-T said...

My sis-in-law is crazy about coupons. See her guest blog about how they organize their coupons on the Better Life Blog and her own blog , where she talks about all sorts of organization (including freezer meals and bill tracking).
I'm pretty good at the budgeting and such, but after being married almost 8 years, I don't really blog about it anymore. :)

Unknown said...

Oh the budget! I've talked about it a few times on my blog as well. It's a challenge. We eat out a lot, and I have a book-buying problem. But somehow we survive, and usually I try real hard to stay within the budget. Our issue is groceries! I can NEVER keep the groceries within budget. I just don't get it.

Rebecca@This Present Life said...

Those are all such great ideas. Eating out was our biggest expenditure and it was really hard to cut down on that. We did the same thing and limited ourselves to eating out once a week. Not only did that save our budget, it made eating out a "special" occasion. Good luck with your budgeting!

Tammy@Beatrice Banks said...

I see we have a few things in common. We live in GA and my hubby is a college student, well med school. So, yes. We are feeling the crunch too. I've done everything you mentioned, except coupons. I don't know why other than I feel like I buy things when I have coupons that I don't really need. Eating out is a big one for us too. Won't it be nice when we won't have to live so tight?

Anne said...

Wow, I wish I had been as organized as you were at your age! You're doing so many of the right things, and believe me, you will really be glad you did down the road. If you can stay out of debt, and invest your savings well (we have been very fortunate with Vanguard mutual funds) you'll be looking at a comfortable and secure life!

Honey I'm Home Blog said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog so that I could find yours! I enjoyed reading this. I agree that eating out is so expensive (AND usually not very healthy!). When we do eat out, we usually just drink tap water--it helps on the bill! Also, we really like our programmable thermostat. It turns the heat down after we're snug in our beds & when we're not home during the day.

Warmly, Michelle

Amanda said...

I menu plan every week. Makes a huge difference. I try to look through my pantry and see what I have that needs to be used up and use that in my menu planning.

Wives said...

Caroline- great post, so helpful! have you ever been to i dont know if its a local to DC thing, but maybe check it out.

My hubby keeps the heat at 60-62 degrees all winter long. i really felt it was an injustice at first, but we only have a 1100 sq ft home, so it actually stays toasty. sometimes we notice (esp after cooking) the house is at 70, even though the dial is at 62). anything that helps with the bills :)

Anonymous said...

I think you're doing great job! If you want to know more about budgeting, how to make the most of your money and save, there's a great guy, Dave Ramsey, who has shows how to do it on his radio show, website
and in his book The Total Money Makeover. Good luck!

muhammadrazzaq said...

My suggestion to you is to work for the Green party and Ralph Nader in the next presidential election. He is the only candidate that will work toward fair consumer laws and enforcement. The other candidates are bought by election contributions (banks, insurance companies, and drug companies)