Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Brainstorm with Me: Ways to Cut a Budget to the Bone

I have a confession to make. I love to spend money.

While some women may fantasize about their next shoe or handbag purchase, I am decidedly low-maintenance in those departments. Our vehicles are modest, paid-for (thank you, Dave Ramsey), and we plan to run them into the ground. I don't even wear my wedding ring on a regular basis, so jewelry is not a temptation of mine, either. But I do like to spend money on things that interest me - books, preparedness items, homesteading paraphernalia, and poultry.

Who knew poultry would hold such fascination for me? It's become a passion and a small business.

It is that crazy love for poultry that has motivated me to tighten our budget. You see, I really want to build a much larger poultry house that will comfortably hold more birds. Since we do not believe in going into debt, I've got to save up all the cash to fund my project ahead of time.

I started by brainstorming a list of ways that we could cut our budget significantly. Here's where the list stands. Try not to laugh if you have this frugality thing down pat!

Ways to save money: 

1) Stay away from frivolous, impulse purchases! No more tempting items from Amazon.com "just because". I also blow a lot of cash at Sam's Club on a regular basis. I get sucked into their magazine and book area and leave with a lot fewer $ in my pocket. I think I'll just need to stay away from that part of Sam's entirely.                                                                                                                                                                     

2) Try buying the kids' clothes at thrift stores or consignment shops. This will be a completely new experience for me, but I know this will cut quite a bit from our budget. We spend about $2,000 per year (gulp) on clothing for our four kids at the moment. Hubby Dear and I spend very little on clothing for ourselves but I'll definitely check out what they have for us as well.

3) Eat out less. We spend about $175/month on eating out. I will make an effort to eat at home even when it would be easy or convenient to eat out. 

4) Spend a lot less at Christmas. Hubby Dear loves to give gifts and he really spoils the kids at Christmas. We've already been talking to the children about how we have too much "stuff" in our house and that we are going to focus on the true meaning of Christmas this year. We plan to slash our gift budget and buy things for people in need instead. 

5) Coupon more. I am a coupon drop-out. I thought that it was taking up too much of my time for too little benefit. But when you are saving every penny, coupons can make a difference. Too bad we live nowhere near the stores where you can get the best "extreme couponing" deals.

6) Cut back on paper towel use. With four children at home, we go through a lot of paper towels. I am going to buy some more dish cloths and try to reduce the amount of money we spend on paper towels that way. 

7) Eliminate Cut back on pop consumption. I am a complete and total Coke Zero addict. I know it is unhealthy for me and it certainly is not cheap. I am going to try and drink less pop and substitute either iced tea or water with lemon. Pray for my family while I go through detox! ;)

8) Recycle all those aluminum pop cans for $. I'm not sure people still do this any more or if it is available in our area.  I'll need to check this out. 

9) Stop buying the pricey Omega 3 supplement for my chickens. It is $15 per bag and we use at least 3 bags a month. It adds up quickly and I'm definitely not making it back with egg sales. (It costs me $3.12/dozen to produce eggs and I'm only selling them for $1/dozen. Oops.)

10) Reduce processed, prepackaged foods in favor of cheaper alternatives. Bagged salads, gone. When we don't have salad greens growing in our garden, I'll have to wash and assemble my own salad. The Holy Grail of breakfast time at our house, cold cereal, is on its way out, too. My kids (and husband) inhale the stuff. I can make whole wheat pancakes and waffles ahead of time and freeze them in single-serve portions. I can make instant oatmeal packets directly out of our food storage. And of course we always have eggs around here. :) Snack foods are going to be a bit of a hard sell. I already make all our bread. 

11) Shop around for insurance. We've had the same car and home owner's insurance for 5+ years. Time to shop around and make sure we're getting the best rates. Hubby Dear is unsure of this one since he finds it very important to "shop local" and we don't have a lot of choices for insurance agents out here. He may change his tune if it save us a lot of $$. 

12) Find some budget-friendly meals. My family will not go for the Hillbilly Housewife's $70/week meal plan, but I can certainly be more cost-conscious of the meals I fix. I also need to pay more attention to planning meals by sales the grocery store runs. 

Now that I read over the list, it seems pretty pitiful. I'm not sure a list of generalities is going to get me very far towards the chicken house of my dreams. Any ideas on more ways to save money and live frugally? I sure could use them!  

By the way, check out this Rural Revolution blog post. Patrice is collecting links to blogs with money-saving tips as well as sharing some of her own. 


  1. Hey Emily, one thing I've found that helps with the budget...using Sunlight dishwashing liquid, the kind for handwashing dishes - for laundry. In my well water it takes about 2 tbsp. for a load. I have a very small measuring cup that I fill and add to the water as it's running into the machine. (I use only cold water too).

    I kept one of the name brand big liquid soap bottles that has the nice push button dispenser, and I refill it from the Sunlight jug.

    Costco often has Sunlight on sale a couple of times a year - I really stock up then. It's amazing the difference in price between a name brand liquid laundry soap and a bottle of dishwashing soap. Plus I use way less. Dishsoap is meant to cut grease - works great on clothes.

    My septic system seems to be working fine with it. The pumper guy said he wished everyone on septic was using liquid soap and not powdered.

    1. You'll need to find some other dish soap than Sunlight unless you can find it in some of the stores in the East. The manufacturer isn't making it at this time. Much to my dismay. There is hope that they will start producing it again...

  2. Hi Emily, I found your blog through Rural Rev. With the couponing, I would highly reccommend thegrocerygame.com . I've been a customer of theirs for about 4 years now. It really helps me know when to stock up on a particular item and I routinely save between 35 - 50 percent on my grocery bill. I also meal plan for the week based on what shows up on my grocery game list and/or what I have stocked up on in weeks past. It's not for everybody, but they offer a few weeks free trial I think.
    Also, consignment shops are where I find most of my & my kids clothes. I have to watch it, sometimes they try to sell a brand from Wally World for too much; but for the most part I find quality clothes in good shape.

    1. Lara,

      Oh, how I wish I could do the Grocery Game! I know it would be well worth the small amount you pay every month. Unfortunately, our small town grocery store isn't covered. I'm glad to hear you are so successful with using consignment shops. I'll definitely give it a try.

      Thanks for stopping by and giving your input!


  3. Yes, you can still recycle soda cans for money - many recyclers will take them, but check ahead of time - some don't, and some have weight minimums or multiples they pay. For example, my local scrap place does NOT take aluminum cans and they pay in multiples of 100 lbs for the scrap they do take, so only large amounts are worth taking to them.
    Depending on where you live, you may be able to take cans to a state that has a deposit and get more for them - at 5 or 10 cents per can, it can add up quick and be worth the trip!

    1. Jonathan H - Thanks for the info! Sounds like I have some research to do, but this might be a feasible way to earn some money. I still see people on the roadways picking up cans, so someone must be buying them.

  4. Just a couple comments: 1) the more you eat whole foods from scratch (especially if you start buying local) and reducing the number of paper products and household chemicals, the less useful couponing will be for you. Now when I look through the coupon section, I think - what a great deal, except then I have to eat that cr**. We have a couple of favorite brands, such as Tom's of Maine toothpaste, which occasionally do have coupons or go on sale, and then I stock up.
    2) If you like cold cereal, you can make a wonderful whole-ingredient granola with rolled oats, nuts, raisins, honey - it has a decent shelf life so you could easily make 2 weeks worth at a time. I don't know that it is cheaper by the ounce than boxed cereal, but if you buy your oats and nuts in bulk it probably is. There are a million recipes for it, but my husband posted his at http://www.andrewseltz.com/2012/03/01/recipe-how-to-make-granola-at-home/
    3) We just don't eat meat every day, certainly not at every meal. We are 2 adults and 2 little kids. I buy two whole chickens and about three to four pounds of ground beef a month (we do splurge on local grassfed beef and pastured chickens). Sometimes I will supplement that with a package of chicken thighs, or something. We do lots of soups, beans, pasta with cheese, peanut butter, eggs, etc - we get plenty of protein. Usually our week has one beef dish, a chicken that morphs into soup, maybe one meal of tuna and the rest "other".
    4) Don't forget to look at your utility usage. The way you do dishes or even the timing of when you run your appliances can add up - many places have "prime time" and "off peak" rates for electricity. Weatherproofing your house (sealing cracks, windows and doors) and using a programmable thermometer to reduce HVAC usage when you are gone or sleeping can really add up over the course of a year.
    Good luck and hope your chicken house arrives fast!

  5. This is a little longer than I was intending! We are going through the same thing but not to build a chicken house but to pay off debt! I know what you mean about Sams Club and Amazon! Very dangerous! I wish we had a Costco near us though, as you get a dividend back once a year and most people say it pays for itself! So we have been considering doing larger shopping trips so we can go to Costco and Aldi's. We will see. Costco also offers discounts on insurance!

    We buy most of our kids clothes at the thrift store our girls mostly wear dresses they are I think $2.00 or so a piece We will buy shoes if we can find them and they are nice. I can't buy undies, socks, and pants the girls wear leggings and the I can hardly find any boy clothes at all! I also buy winter coats/overalls at the farm store (Fleet Farm, Tractor Supply, or the like!) I believe the material is called duck cloth they take more of a beating the ones from last year look faded from washing but very nice. I also buy gender neutral, which is brown (I know not fun...but my oldest is a girl, boy in between and then another girl) I also buy even sizes and figure they will grow into them.
    My favorite money saving blog is below she keeps me inspired! Also some good recipes http://theprudenthomemaker.com/index.php/component/content/?view=featured
    I can however only bring myself to eat soup when it is cold out and I NEED meat.

    I also really like Freezer meals. Fast and easy that has helped us cut back our grocery bill.

    I will say I have only tried this a few times but I am going to start packaging them up so I can have easy meals http://chickensintheroad.com/cooking/homemade-hamburger-helper/

    Christmas is hard! I love giving presents too but had a real wake up call at birthday time this year when we only bought them 2 presents and a Bible and their favorite was the Bible! Never once did they play with the toys we bought! So for Christmas we are mostly doing family presents (an audio series we wanted, a book series we want, and a dvd series we want!) A couple of family games and 1 individual useful thing a loom for the oldest, woodworking tools for the boy...and not sure about little girl and a few books a piece!

    I am also working on cutting down on wasteful products like paper towels, toilet paper, female products, diapers etc...so foolish when I think how often and how much money I have thrown away! Literally! (My goal is to each month purchase one of these items so we can live more sustainably!)

    I also love having a cold home and bundling up! So our house is usually set at 65 during the winter (and the summer I am working on that however!)

    I thought this was interesting too.

    We also have a soda stream and I really like it! I enjoy a real pop every now and then. It isn't exactly the same but it is a good substitute.

    We also don't drink milk around our house and I use almond milk for baking (You can make your own I have yet to do that though). I will sometimes add some chocolate syrup to the milk for a treat for the kiddos.
    These are just some of the things we are doing or working towards! Best wishes on your chicken house!
    Mrs. W

    1. Thanks, Mrs. W. Lots of great hints here. I'm glad you spent the time to type it all out.

  6. Couponing, even if it is in small amounts will save you dollars every week. I used to be an extreme couponer but now I just shop one store and their sales, with gas costing almost $4 a gallon. I actually save more money doing the one store locally that doubles coupons than I do running all over 4 counties for deals. I get extra coupons off ebay. If you can find a source for large amounts of coupons you can post the extras you don't need on trading forums such as www.afullcup.com or sell/trade them on ebay. Save money and make money.

    We could probably save more money by cutting back on our cable bill but we don't go to movies or rent them and I enjoy a lot of the shows on there. If someone needs to cut back on their cable tv, many people enjoy Netflix for $15 a month for movies and online viewing. We tried it and it just didn't work well for our viewing.

    I did not work this year and though you would think we'd be in a pickle, the money not spent on fast food at work and home, gas, salon hair and nails and additional clothing needed for business, we actually came out ahead as my income didn't push us into another tax bracket like last year. Seriously, many families don't add up the real cost of the additional spouse working, from the possible bump into another tax bracket to extra gas, daycare, clothing and food. I'd encourage every family if you have two working in the home, look at the REAL cost of having that extra job. We saved and paid all our bills just fine this year without me working.

  7. I know this is an old post, but I wanted to add a tip that most people don't think about....homemade cloth pads. I bought a garbage can with insert and lid, flannel and fleece from the sale bin, and made tons of pads of different thicknesses and sizes custom made to the way my daughter and I use them. Once you use cloth pads, you will never be able to go back to those horrid disposable ones and it saves us beaucoup bucks.