Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pinching Pennies

So lately, money has been really tight for our family. Earlier this year we were able to pay off all of our credit card debt and student loans, but we still have a pretty significant chunk of money owed to the hospital. Because of all of Rubes' medical expenses, our cash flow has been seriously reduced and it has been a big adjustment for us. Our grocery and general family needs budget has been cut in half, and it has required that we get a bit creative with our money, and really try to save where we can.  And although our income has been significantly reduced while we are paying the hospital, we still have things that we would like to do and save for, like taking the girls to Disney next year and running some races and fun-runs, which adds some additional pressure.

I do have to say though, that I would have walked out of that hospital with $1 billion in debt, if it meant that I got to walk out with Rubes. So while it does make things somewhat difficult now, it is NOTHING compared to how I would have felt if she didn't come home. So I'll take the debt and my baby, thankyouverymuch. I don't want it to come off as though I'm complaining about our medical debt, I'm just writing about how we are having to adjust because of it.

Although I've always been a thrifty shopper, and pretty money-minded, we have definitely had to step it up a notch in the savings department. My husband, God bless him, is a spender by nature, but even he has gotten on board with pinching our pennies. We want to avoid putting anything on our cards, and increasing our overall debt, so we are doing all we can to reduce our monthly costs. 

The first thing that has really helped us, is clipping coupons. I have always used coupons in the past, when I would stumble upon them, or if they came from certain stores' rewards programs, but never did much more than that. Now I have been actively using couponing websites, the newspaper, and printable online coupons to save some money. A few of my girlfriends said that they don't see the value in clipping coupons, saving $0.50 here and $1.00 there isn't worth the time an energy to organize and clip them, which I couldn't disagree with more. On average per week, I spend about 60-90 minutes getting coupons clipped, printed, organized, loaded onto electronic cards, etc., which is time that typically comes late at night when I can't sleep or when the girls have finally gone to bed. And while that is a good chunk of time total, I typically don't sit down for 90 minutes straight. It's 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there over the course of the week. 

Over the course of the last month, I have saved $167 in coupons alone. That seems like a lot, but I have only been buying something if I have a coupon, and trying to stock up on necessity items when there are coupons available. I promise I'm not turning into one of those crazy extreme coupons with 1500 tubes of toothpaste in her basement, but I do have a small little stash building in our garage. It's mostly some body washes, laundry soap, toilet paper and bottled water. Things that we will need eventually, and that we will definitely use, and can save us a lot of money in the long run. 

Another thing that I have started to doing to save money is planning my meals. Not just planning them in my head as I buy stuff, which was what I used to do, but putting them down on pen and paper. Then I make a list of what I need, based on the meals that I have planned. I make the list as specific as possible, like "2 Russet Potatoes" instead of "Potatoes" and I'm sure to shop my pantry and fridge first. If I need cumin, peppers and cheese for a recipe, I double check to see if I have any already before I buy some more. This seems like something that could be easy to skip, but it SO IMPORTANT to do. When I was meal planning as I was shopping, I had so many ideas swirling around that I *thought* I was keeping track of. But every time I would wind up over purchasing, and not using veggies and meats fast enough, which would inevitably go bad, or go unused. Or I would have tons of repeat items, like canned tomatoes, pasta, rice, etc. that I thought I didn't have, when it turns out I did.

So after I make my shopping list (I like to divide it up, and make smaller lists specific to each store), I try to find coupons, deals or rewards for the things that I need. I also check the weekly ads to see if it would be cheaper to get it at Target or the grocery store. All in all, not too big of a deal and it doesn't take too much time, but it helps me not to over spend and to just buy what we need for that week. We try to go shopping once a week, and really avoid going shopping between our weekend trips. I find that if I go shopping to "just get 1 or 2 things" I end up with WAY more than I intended. So to eliminate that extraneous spending, I eliminate the extra trips.

These are just a couple of the small steps that we are taking to reduce our monthly expenses, so we can pay our bills a little faster, and save for some things that are important to us. We will have one of our hospital bills payed off in a few months, which will free up a good chunk of money per month for us after that, so we can use that money to be set aside for savings. We want to build up a nice "safety net" first, then start putting that money toward paying off the debt faster.

What are your money-saving tips? Let me know how you have been penny pinching and saving where you can! 

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