Basic Budget Ideas

I get asked a lot how we make it as a single-income family in this economy and still get to do and have a lot of the same things as a dual-income family. No, it’s not because my husband makes oogles of money, far from it. It’s because we became thrifty (even more so than we were before, which I didn’t think was possible).  We don’t eat out much, we don’t go out to movies and bars (we have a two year old- who has the energy!) and most importantly, I am very careful about what I DO spend money on.  Here is a rundown of some basic shopping methods written to one of those handy memory techniques. You’ll notice the bold sections headings spell the word “BUDGET”, the ultimate goal of someone who employs these methods.

Blogs

A lot of money saving comes in the form of coupons and sales. But unless you are a stay home mom with a lot of computer time or have a VERY understanding boss, chances are you don’t have time to troll the internet for deals.  This is where you track down those random mothers who DO have the aforementioned time.  There are several sites you can go to where moms (and the occasional dad) have signed up for all the ads, coupons, and sales flyers that stores send out and post the information on their website or blog.  Two that I can think of off-hand are www.dealseekingmom.com, which is a nationally oriented site that is a bit more cluttered, and http://mommyof3kiddos.blogspot.com/  The second is the blog of a woman I went to school with and it is more locally focused site with stores such as Cashwise listed.

Use Coupons-Snip it or Skip It

Once you’ve found those coupons on the internet-use them wisely!  Don’t cut coupons for items you wouldn’t normally buy or wouldn’t normally use, then you are spending more money and defeating the purpose.  Sure, it would be nice to have a can of Redi-Whip for those occasional nights you make cocoa, but would you buy it if you didn’t have a coupon? No? Skip it.  Now, look at that coupon for bacon…everyone uses bacon so snip that sucker. And if you are thinking to yourself, “But I have bacon right now,” end that thought with, “However I know we will use that up and I can put this batch in the freezer until then.”

Also, make sure you look for the grocery stores that offer coupon doubling, usually up to a $1 value.  Thinking about coupons this way when you are cutting them, also helps you decide which are really ‘good’ deals.  This means you can take that $.50 coupon for bacon and turn it into a $1.00 coupon, now that makes it worth it.  If you are concerned with hitting two different grocery stores because one maybe doesn’t carry some items, don’t worry, lump all your coupon purchases onto one list and one trip, you’ll save enough gas money to make it pay.

Discount Stores

Three years ago this would be a harder sell than now. Back then, there was no recession and where you shopped was a status symbol. Now people are more concerned with saving. However, I still run into the occasional hold-out who think shopping at Wal-Mart or (locally) Cashwise is ‘beneath them’.  The reasons for this vary from person to person, but seems to fall into one of the following categories that I address below.

                Poor Quality Products:  Wal-Mart especially gets berated for this. However aside from a few big ticket electronics, the household items at Wal-Mart are EXACTLY like the items at Target or JC Penney.  If you don’t believe me, check online for item numbers next time you are looking for something like a blender. Target will have the same product, but it will generally cost more.  (This is excluding sales.)

                Cleaner:  I hate this argument for one reason: You are throwing away money so you can shop somewhere with a cleaner floor…really?  Think of what you could use that money for and then decide what matters more to you- a new bike for little Tommy or a less grimy floor to walk on. As for the racks and shelves, that falls to the customers. If you would expect to put things back where you got them from in your own house, why on earth would you walk into someone else’s home or business, pick something up, and then not put it back in the place where it should be?

                Happier Clerks:  Well, if you are still thinking about what I wrote above, consider this; how good of a mood would you be in at work if an endless stream of people strolled past your desk and dropped something on it or knocked things over and then, GASP, expects you to clean up after them?  Generally I have found clerks at big box stores to be pretty content, especially having worked with them off and on over the years.

Generics

When it comes to groceries and medicine, you can usually find a suitable equivalent generics or ‘store brand’ item.  This being said, it can be hard to find a generic that you think tastes the same as the name brand without testing several different choices. The method I’ve found works best for me is to look at the directions and see if they match the directions of your favorite store brand product.  Secondly, and probably the most common, is to look for the store brand with the packaging that most closely matches the label of the name brand.  Now, I will admit there are a few things I won’t buy the generic form of, such as Heinz Ketchup or Miracle Whip, because I haven’t found a store brand with the same taste. There will always be things like that. However definitely buy the store brand wherever you can, especially in staples that get mixed into other things, such as cream soups, broths, and sugar.  There is little if any change in the flavor from one brand to another of these.

Enlist your friends

As with the blogs above, everyone also has a friend who we consider a ‘super shopper’. I have been called one when it comes to the grocery store and the internet, but when it comes to something like clothing, I know I pale in comparison to my friend Emily.  She knows all the store deals and the timing of sales.  If I can’t find a discount for something at Gap, I know she will be my first stop. (If the day ever comes that I shop there.) Think about your own friends, and you’ll be surprised.

The Kitchen is Your Friend

So how to put this all together?  Before you start paging through the ads and coupons of the Sunday paper, buy yourself a good, general cookbook. My favorite is the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Once you have one, page through and look for recipes that fit your palate and timeframe. In the BH&G book especially, recipes will be labeled things like ‘Fast’ and ‘Low-Fat’.  Pick some recipes for a list, probably between 10 and 20.  Write down your chosen recipes with the page number by them and put it on the fridge. This is a good basic menu. I let my hubby pick things on the list to be made the next day so there is no “What should I make for supper?” debate.  Others I know set it up with certain things for certain nights so they can reuse leftovers or cut up extra veggies one night to use the next night, etc.

Now build a grocery list using these recipes and the sale papers. These two steps can be interchanged based on how many ‘staples’ you keep around. A well stocked chef would probably be able to do the menu first, however a novice would need to start with the sale papers and cookbooks side by side to pick and choose things that are on sale.  Oh and if you’re wondering about you cooking skills or what ‘staples’ are, this is also why I love the Better Home and Gardens Cookbooks for beginners- they list information like this in the front. It is very much a ‘learning’ cookbook.  Also, I have several working mom friend who swear by crock pots-they are generally inexpensive, just make sure you get one with a removable insert and use Pam on it before you put the food in to save clean-up.

The end- now stop reading and start planning.

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