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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Don’t Waste

“Waste not, want not.” We’ve all heard the phrase, but are we following it? Purposing to not waste food is a simple thing, but it can make a big difference in our grocery budget. Here are a few ideas for eliminating waste:

1. Make the Most of What You Have

Back when my husband was in law school, we often only had $17 to $20 to spend on groceries for an entire week (all 21 meals). I quickly learned that creativity was a poor cook’s best friend.

I usually stocked up on mark-downs, loss-leaders and the rock-bottom deals and then concocted the best menu I could based upon these. I rarely ever followed a recipe exactly as written, because we usually didn’t have all the ingredients and couldn’t afford to buy them. But I discovered you don’t always have to follow a recipe perfectly in order to get a fabulous end result!

AllRecipes is a great resource if you’re working with an odd assortment of ingredients. You can plug in what ingredients you have and don’t have and it will pull up recipes you can make. You also can find lots of great substitution ideas online, such as at these sites: Emergency Kitchen Substitutions and Ingredient Substitutions.

2. Repurpose Leftovers

Instead of pitching those leftover mashed potatoes or vegetables, why not repurpose them? Once again, AllRecipes is a great resource. There are also some excellent ideas in these articles: How to Turn Leftovers Into Scrumptious Meals, Creative Uses for Leftovers and Leftover Recipe Ideas.

3. Use Up the Last of the Bottle

My mom taught me never to throw out a bottle of anything unless you’ve used up the last drop. When the bottle of ketchup or salad dressing or laundry detergent is almost empty, add some water, put the lid back on, and shake it up to get the last remains cleaned out of the bottle and stretch it just a wee bit longer. It’s a small little thing, but the little things can add up to make significant differences.

4. Use Half the Recommended Amount

Did you know that you can get by with using a whole lot less than the recommended amount of shampoo, laundry detergent and so forth? Challenge yourself to try it and see how little you can get by with using without noticing any difference.

Want to do something really radical and inexpensive? Try the No Shampoo Experiment. I’ve not gotten that brave yet, but I have friends who have done it with success.

Put a rubber band around the neck of pump-style soap dispensers to limit the amount of soap dispensed per pump. — 40 Practical Tips for an Ordinary Rubber Band

What simple things have you implemented in your home to eliminate waste? I’d love to hear your ideas to possibly try!

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Q&A Tuesday: How do you track your money?

“What kind of system do you use to track your money?” -Ruthanne

[My apologies that it’s Wednesday and I’m just now getting the Q&A Tuesday up. I had good intentions, but it just didn’t happen yesterday!]

First off, contrary to what people might think, I’m more the creative and entrepreneurial one in our family and my husband is the numbers nerd. Without my husband’s attention to detail and love of spreadsheets, we’d be sunk.

What’s crazy is that over the last seven and a half years that we’ve been married, my creative and entrepreneurial spirit has rubbed off on Jesse a great deal, but, unfortunately, I’ve not become any more of a spreadsheet-lover.

So that’s why I’m so thankful for my husband. He has a sophisticated system he uses to track all of the money which comes in and goes out and he keeps us on track with our budget. We review these numbers quite often together to make sure we’re headed in the right direction and on the same page.

In the beginning years of our marriage, he used a ledger to keep track of all of our finances. This worked well, but it took at least an hour each week to stay on top of. He switched over to Quicken a few years ago and it’s been a huge time-saver. Plus, it’s so fun to be able to see all the instant graphs and spreadsheets available with a click or two of a mouse. (If you don’t already have access to Quicken, Mint.com is a very comparable free software which my husband recommends.)

Every single debit card transaction and check we write is accounted for in Quicken so that we can know exactly where we are financially at all times. Since we actually don’t spend a whole lot of money outside our regular bills and what we purchase from our cash envelopes, it usually just takes Jesse about 1-2 hours per month to input our receipts and make sure everything reconciles.

Unlike many people, we keep our cash envelopes separate from our regular accounting. We just take out $425 per month to fund these envelopes and we don’t track the expenditures in these accounts.

Our current cash envelopes are:

::Gifts — $30 per month which covers wedding, baby shower, birthday gifts and so forth.

::Vacation — $50 each month for family vacations (or, if we decide, a fun family outing).

::Clothes — $15 per month per family member (except Jesse, since he has a separate non-cash budget category for his clothing). This covers shoes, socks, clothes, under things, coats, etc.

::Eating Out — $20 per week ($80 per month) which covers our once-a-week dinner out. We usually vary whether we do something really inexpensive or a little on the nicer side.

::Groceries — $40 per week ($160 per month)

::Home — $30 per month which covers home furnishings, decorations and any other home items we need to buy (for instance, last month, we used the money in the envelope to replace our DVD player which had been on its last life for quite some time).

::Homeschooling — $15 per month which covers any supplies we need to purchase and some of our curriculum (I also used the proceeds from our garage sales to purchase some of our curriculum as we splurged on the Bob Jones Distance Learning DVDs for some of our curriculum this year.)

Instead of tracking all the expenditures in each of our cash envelopes, we’ve found that just adopting the “When it’s gone, it’s gone” approach works well for us. Because in reality, after using cash for so long, we’ve found that we rarely have empty envelopes!

How do you track the finances at your house? I’d love to hear! And if you’re married, are you the numbers nerd or is your spouse?

Girly fun

A poofy dress-up skirt from Grandma and Grandpa + a swing set built by Grandpa in her back yard = hours of pure delight, fun and giggles.

Who says you have to have all them fancy toys with bells and gadgets and gizmos to make a little girl happy? Sometimes, the simplest things are the most enjoyable and memorable!

Keeping Frugality Fun

There is nothing that will squelch the joy in frugality faster than pinching your pennies so hard you never have any fun. And if you’re planning to practice thrift for the long haul, you need to strategically come up with ways to keep life interesting, exciting and fresh. Otherwise, you’ll likely burn out before a few months are out.

Just because you don’t have a lot of money or are trying to live on little doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to have fun and splurge a little without breaking your budget. Here are a few things we’ve done:

::Have a bookstore date. We did this often back in our law school days, when there was almost-zero wiggle room in our budget most months. We’d browse books, buy a drink to share (usually paying for it with a card I’d earned through reading emails from MyPoints!) and sit and read and talk for awhile. It made for a very relaxing evening that cost us next to nothing!

::Go out for coffee. Nowadays, we don’t often have time for leisurely bookstore dates, but we use our Starbucks gift cards earned through Swagbucks for fun (and free!) dates.

::Visit the pet store. Can’t afford to go to the zoo? A pet store is a great alternative. Our children love to peer into all the different cages and aquariums — and we’ve never had a pet store owner have a problem with us just dropping by to browse.

::Plan a nicer dinner each week. If beans and rice make up a large part of your diet, plan ahead so that one night per week, you have “feast.” You could go all out and re-create food from one of your favorite restaurants at home. Or, you could keep it simple and just try a fun new recipe or make your family’s favorite dessert. If you can’t even afford that, add a table cloth, your best dishes and candles to your normal fare to make it seem extravagant. No one will probably notice you’re eating beans and rice yet again if they are distracted by the beautiful candlelight. 🙂

::Stop by the library. The library was one of our favorite places to frequent when we were on a very limited income. When my husband was in law school, there was little else we could afford when it came to entertainment, so we spent countless hours and evenings at the library. And we checked out hundreds of books, CDs and DVDs. Best of all, that particular library had no late fees!

::Go shopping at CVS. This might seem a little crazy, but back when I was playing the drugstore game really hot and heavy, we oftentimes used extra ECBs to splurge. And some nights, we’d divvy them up and see who could get a better bang for their bucks by hitting up the clearance section of the store. It felt like a splurge, but it didn’t affect our pocketbook.

::Have a Loose Change Date. During the first few years of our marriage, any extra pennies or nickles or dimes we had, went into a change cup that we kept in our kitchen cupboard. Once a year, when we were feeling particularly like we just couldn’t keep on living like no one else and needed some sort of pick me up, we’d take the change cup to the bank and exchange it for dollar bills.

You know that money was tight, because usually after a year of putting in our extra pennies, nickels and dimes, all we’d have would be around $7-$8 collected! But that $7-$8 could meant we could rent a movie at the $0.50 movie store and get dinner at a fast food restaurant with coupons. And you know what? A little splurge like that often did the trick to re-invigorate us on our frugal journey.

How do you keep frugality fun at your house? I’d love to hear your ideas!

photo by Maddy Lou

Debit Rewards Programs

While I’m a big proponent of using cash as much as you possibly can, if you’re going to use a debit card for online purchases, to pay bills or to buy gas, you might as well earn rewards, right? Lori has some helpful information in her post below on how to get the best bang for your buck when it comes to debit card rewards programs. As always, though, remember that you’re not saving money if you spend extra just to get the rewards! -Crystal

Guest Post by Lori at Moms by Heart.

Looking for another way to stretch your dollars? Put your checking account to work for you! Here are a few banks that offer special rewards programs for debit cardholders. Each program is different, so be sure to factor in fees, minimum balance requirements (where applicable) along with ATM locations if this will be a primary account for you. Stop over here for a printable spreadsheet summary.

Chase — Ultimate Rewards Debit Card

How It Works:
Earn 4 points for every $5 in signature purchases (aka: non-PIN purchases). 2,500 points = $25 gift card to various retailers like: Amazon, Bath & Body Works, Kohl’s and more. Check them out here.

What You Need:
Chase Ultimate Rewards Checking Account — details here.

What’s It Worth To Me: $75 per year
If I spend $1,000 a month in signature purchases, I’ll earn 800 points per month or 9,600 per year. That’s nearly enough for $100 in free gift cards. Since there is a $25 annual fee, my net will be $75 per year. Doing my online shopping through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall will earn me up to 10 bonus points per dollar spent. Cha-ching.

Other Chase Rewards Programs:
::Chase Debit with FREE rewards (no annual fee, but only 1 point per $5 spent)
::Continental Airlines Debit
::United Mileage Plus Debit

Wells Fargo — Check Card Rewards

How It Works:
Earn 1 point for every $4 in Signature purchases. 650 points equals $5 account credit or $5 gift card to various retailers including Amazon. Earn up to 16 points per dollar for shopping at the Wells Fargo Earn More Mall.

What You Need:
Wells Fargo Checking Account and Check Card. Looks like fees may vary by state. In Texas, they offer a free checking with no minimum balance and no monthly fees.

What It’s Worth To Me: $18 per year
If I spend $1,000 a month in signature purchases, I’ll earn 250 points per month or 3,000 points per year. $25 cash or $25 gift cards run 2,500 points. So, the approximate yearly value is around $30. Since there is a $12 annual fee, my net will be $18 per year.

Bank of America — Keep the Change

How It Works:
Your debit card purchases are rounded up to the next dollar amount and the difference is deposited into your savings. The best part? They match your savings 100% for the first three months, and 5% for the next nine months (maximum of $250 per year).

What You Need:
::Bank of America checking account with debit card — details here.
::Bank of America savings account — details here.

What’s It Worth To Me: $69 per year for the first year, $12 per year thereafter
This will vary. Check out this page to input your info. I assumed 40 debits per month of $50 each ($1,000) with average “change” of $0.50. That gave me $69 per year in bank savings matches. Since Bank of America matches your savings 100% for the first three months, this amount is not typical. No annual fee.

Other Bank of America Rewards Programs:
::US Airways Debit
::Nascar Racepoints Debit

Citi — Thank You Rewards

How It Works:
Earn 1 point for every $2 qualifying signature purchases and 1 point for every $3 PIN purchases. You’ll also earn bonus points based on the type of checking account you have along with other Citi services you’re enrolled in. 8,000 points = $50 cash or $50 Citi Gift Card.

What You Need:
::Citibank Checking Account — There are no monthly fees as long as you keep an average balance of $1,500 (EZ account). Details here.

What It’s Worth To Me: $37.50 per year
If I spend $1,000 a month in signature purchases, I’ll earn 500 points. In one year, that adds up to 6,000 points. There are various $25 gift cards available for 4,000 points, so the approximate value is  $37.50. There are no annual fees. However, the deal is killed by the possibility of monthly fees if I go below $1,500 average balance.

Stack Your Savings

Once you’ve selected the best program for you, you can stack your savings by:

Lori is a nurse and mom to five who shares all her frugal finds over at Moms by Heart!

A Dream Come True: Paying Cash for Our First Home

When we walked into this house, we both instantly fell in love with it. It was everything we were looking for — and so much more! Best of all? It was in our price range.

While we both were a little antsy to go ahead and put a contract on it, we wanted to research out everything more thoroughly, think it through, pray about it some more, sleep on it overnight and bring both of our dads to investigate it again with us to make sure we weren’t missing anything which we needed to be aware of.

There were already quite a few showings scheduled, so we felt it was best to not piddle around. We scheduled a time to come back and look at the house the next day with our dads and then we went home to pray and think.

Once home, we researched flood plains, tax appraisals, register of deeds documents, homes in the area which had recently sold and how much they sold for and we spent a long time praying for wisdom. We wanted to be 100% sure God was leading us to put a contract on this home. We really didn’t want to practically clean out our entire bank account for something which was not His will for us!

And the more we researched and prayed, the more the lights turned green. Based upon the prices of comparable houses in the area which had recently sold and based upon what we felt the home was worth, we decided upon what we wanted to offer.

The next day, we went back to look at the home praying that if there was any reason we weren’t supposed to put an offer on the house, God would make it very clear to us. Well, in going through the house with a fine-toothed comb again, we only came to like it even more. And our dads really liked it as well and felt the offer we had decided upon was fair.

So, with great excitement, we signed the contract. And within a few hours, the sellers accepted!

We had a hard time believing it was really and truly for real. After talking, dreaming, working and praying towards the goal of paying cash for a house, it felt rather surreal that it had actually happened.

A few weeks later, we drove Old Blue Van into town and signed our names on the dotted line to become home owners. We were chuckling while driving there about how crazy it was to be driving a clunker to pay cash for a home. We felt a little out of place when we drove up to a parking lot full of shiny almost-new cars.

But, in a way, it seemed so fitting. Being content with a clunker instead of upgrading to a newer car was just one of the many reasons we were in a position to pay cash for a house.

After signing the contract and getting the keys, Jesse and I headed over to our new home. It is hard to describe the feelings which washed over us when we pulled up into the driveway. To see our dreams come to fruition. To see the sleepless nights and long days of working and saving pay off. To see the realization of years of scrimping.

It was far from a fleeting momentary giddiness; it was a deep fulfilling feeling in the bottom of our souls. By the grace of God, we had paid cash for our first home.

And we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that God is good. We stepped out in faith and obedience at the beginning of our marriage to follow His leading to be counter-cultural and follow the Biblical principle of “owing no man anything” (see Romans 13:8). It has been far from easy and there have been many times when we’ve wanted to give up and give in. But as we’ve stayed faithful and obedient — even when the going got very tough — He has blessed that obedience and faithfulness far beyond our wildest imaginations.

Without God’s blessing and provision, we would never have been position to pay cash for a home. But He has seen fit to bless us with a spacious home that meets and exceeds all of our expectations. And it’s a testament to His goodness and graciousness to bless His children with good gifts. It is our heart’s desire that we be wise stewards of this home He has entrusted to us.