One of my big goals on the homestead is to get our budget down as low as possible. We have farm goals, business goals, and savings goals that require us to live modestly. The lower we can get our budget the easier it will be to survive off the things that the farm provides us. I have spent the last 5 years mastering the ability to live off of less. So I have developed this article to share some of my secrets.
Some of these tips may seem extreme, but when you have a goal to reach or a budget to balance every penny counts. If you live in the city some might not apply to you, but there is something here for everyone!
- Buy fruits and vegetables in season – If you are buying your produce out of season you are paying a large markup. They are also likely coming from a greater distance, which is not exactly environmentally friendly. When you buy them in season, and in abundance, it will be significantly cheaper.
- Can, Freeze, and dehydrate – When possible purchase large amounts of fruits and veggies then freeze, can, and dehydrate them in order to have them available during times when they are out of season. If you shop at the peak of a fruit or vegetable’s season you will find them cheap and in abundance at farmer’s markets.
- Ask for a bulk discount – If you are shopping at a farmer’s market ask the farmer if they can offer you a discount if you purchase a large quantity of product from them at once.
- Plan ahead and shop once a month – I always plan out all my meals for the entire month and do one large shopping trip. I purchase everything I need for the entire month (including fruits, vegetables and bread) and freeze everything I don’t plan to use right away. I found the less I go to the store the less I spend because it is too easy to decide to get a special dinner, or treat because you are already at the store. Not to mention the gas used to get to the store. I occasionally make trips to pick up things I need, like fresh fruits and veggies, but I make a list and do not divert from it.
- Make a shopping list – Always shop with a list and only purchase things you had planned to purchase
- Check out the discount produce rack at the grocery store – You may not even know that your store has one! It’s rarely in a noticeable spot. I walk by ours half the time and I know it’s there. People don’t seem to want to buy produce if it has any sort of blemish, but what is a store suppose to do with the fruits and veggies that are less than perfect? Many grocery stores have a rack of these fruits and veggies that don’t make the cut at a discounted price. Almost every time I check there are bananas that are bruised. These may not be the best to eat straight but they are perfect for banana bread! Less than perfect produce is not going to hurt you! Cut out any blemishes and freeze the remainder if you don’t plan on using it right away.
- Shop locally – You will often find things at farmer’s markets to be cheaper. Produce is also fresher… so there will be less waste from food going bad. When you shop locally you are also supporting families and your community, not a huge cooperation.
- Visit farmer’s markets towards the end of the market – When preparing for farmer’s markets farmers will collect produce and often they collect more than they are able to sell. If there isn’t something you specifically need, and won’t be disappointed if they are sold out, try visiting at the end of the market. If they have a lot of something left, like lettuces that will not last until the next market, they might sell it to you at a discount. Eggs are always the first to sell out, so if you are going to buy eggs I wouldn’t suggest waiting.
- Cook vegetarian more often – Meat is expensive… especially if you are eating free range, pastured, and/or organic meats. Include at least one more vegetarian meal a week.
- Keep the staples in your pantry – Keep things like rice, beans, and frozen veggies on hand at all times. You can make many cheap, quick, healthy meals with these basic staples.
- Make your own bread – Pick one day of your weekend to spend the morning making the bread for the week or even the month (and freeze what you won’t use within the week).
- Purchase a whole, half, or quarter cow – Purchasing beef in bulk not only saves, because you are getting many premium cuts for a lot less than the grocery store, but the quality of the meat is going to be better as well. You are also supporting a local farm… which is always a plus!
- Calculate how much each dinner costs – If you know how much you are spending each time you make a certain dinner it may help you decide whether that dinner is worth it or not. You might really love a certain meal but finding out that it’s more expensive to make than you expected you might consider making it less often or saving it for special occasions.
- Eat leftovers for lunch – I love leftovers. I actually plan ahead and make big meals the night before the kids and I have a busy day. That way I only have to heat up lunch rather than make it from scratch.
- Pack your lunch – It baffles me how many people purchase fast food for lunch every day. Not only is it terrible for you, the cost adds up very quickly. The thought of eating greasy food everyday makes me cringe. Packing a simple lunch like a sandwich, a piece of fruit, some veggies or even the leftovers can save you so much money.
- Plant your own garden – It doesn’t have to be a big garden, you don’t even need to have a yard. You can easily grow many plants in containers.
- Plant herbs indoors – If you are someone who is used to buying fresh herbs for cooking consider keeping potted herbs in your kitchen window. Those packages of herbs that you buy at the grocery store generally cost 2-3 dollars each and because they are cut they often go bad before you can use them all. For that same 2-3 dollars you can get a potted herb that will go much further. You can start them from seeds for even less.
- Save seeds – As you collect produce from your own garden save the seeds to use next year. Do not attempt this if you have plants that cross-pollinate or that are hybrids. You will not the get plant you expect the second time around. If you want to save seeds of a certain plant try only growing one variety of that plant or leave a huge buffer (at least 50 feet) so you don’t have an issue with cross pollination.
- Attend seed exchanges – If you have seeds to spare find a seed exchange. You can trade those seeds that you might have an abundance of for seeds you need. Google it… You will find there a huge groups out there that do this.
- Eat out a lot less – We very rarely go out to eat. There are times that I miss it, but the amount of money that we save is incredible. After a while you begin to prefer to eat in anyways. More often than not when eating out I question whether it was really worth it after I see the bill. We just work really hard on our own culinary skills!
- Have date night at home – When you are trying to save money and you have kids it can be hard to have a date night. Kevin and I will do “date nights” at home. We will wait until the kids are in bed then sit down and have a nice, adult dinner. You save by not going out to eat and by not having to hire a babysitter.
- Make your coffee at home – Getting your coffee at a shop adds up so quickly. You may not have the ability to make all of those fancy drinks, but really how necessary are they?
- Raise chickens for eggs – You don’t need a lot of space to raise chickens and having fresh eggs is a really wonderful thing. Before we got our chickens we rarely had eggs for breakfast. We would maybe go through a dozen a month. I would often resort to cereal for breakfast because it was quick, which is not exactly a healthy option. Now eggs play a large role in our diet. Between breakfast and cooking, our family of four easily goes through 3 dozen eggs a week. We reduce our cost of raising chickens by allowing them to free-range at least part of each day and giving them garden and kitchen scraps. Chickens will pick up most of what they need on their own if they have enough space.
- Buy whole chickens and cut them down yourself – You are paying a premium by purchasing cut meats. If you buy a whole chicken and cut it down yourself you will save quite a bit, and then you will have bones left over to make stock. There are plenty of videos on YouTube showing you how to cut chicken down.
- Use your chicken leftovers (bones and meat pieces) and veggie scraps to make chicken and veggie stock – These aren’t the pieces that you would use for meals. It’s the bones and the parts of the vegetables that you wouldn’t eat, like the tops of the celery or anything else that you would normally send to your compost pile (nothing that had gone bad obviously). If you don’t have enough all at once to make stock throw everything in a freezer bag and collect items until you do. Don’t let anything go to waste. Everything can and should be used for something… Whether it is for stock, animal feed, or compost.
- Raise chickens for meat – This requires more space and isn’t a huge money saver unless you have been buying organic meats. It also ensures that the meat that you are eating was humainly raised and had a good, healthy life.
- Get a dairy goats – It costs less to raise goats (you need at least two) than cows and their milk is easier for humans to digest and tastes just like whole cow’s milk.
- Order bulk from Amazon – Not long ago I conducted an experiment. I took my receipts from a grocery shopping trip and compared them to buying on bulk from Amazon. In most cases I was saving a small amount of change up to a dollar or more. It adds up especially since I don’t have to pay the gas to drive 25 miles to the grocery store. My plan is to make it so most of our food comes from the farm or the farmer’s market and then order the non-parshibles from Amazon to avoid the grocery store all together. This might not be a plan that will work for you, but you can maybe save a little each month not buying these items from the grocery store. You can set up subscriptions so the items come to you on a recurring basis. You don’t even have to think about it. For things you know you use it’s great… Things like toilet paper, teas, snack foods, etc.
- Prolong your purchases – We buy almost everything from Amazon. Being so far out in the country it’s cheaper and easier than running around and driving 30+ miles to shop, also Amazon is cheaper than most stores. If there is something I think we need I will find it and put it in our Amazon cart. I come back to the cart later in the week or month and if the item is still needed and didn’t end up just being an impulse desire I go ahead and purchase it. There are some exceptions to this. There are things that it is obvious that we need it right away but for most things they can wait.
- Avoid buying items on credit – I’m not exactly talking credit cards here. If you pay off your credit cards at the end of each month then buying things with credit isn’t a big deal (if you aren’t paying off what you spend each month, well that’s a different story). I am more talking about big purchases. Plan ahead and put money away each month… This includes car purchases. I have never paid a car payment. It may have taken us 5 years to save up for our current car, but at least we are avoiding all of the extra interest. You might not want to wait to make a purchase, but think of what you could do with that money you were going to spend on that interest. Don’t wait to start saving up either. Buy your “new” car then immediately start saving up for the next. That way you aren’t forced to buy a car on credit because your old car is having issues.
- Purchase in bulk at Sam’s Club or Costco – If you have space buying bulk is almost always a money saver… as long as you aren’t wasting and allowing things to go bad
- Get a credit card that has rewards that you will use – We have a card that gives us cash back. We put all of our expenses on it each month and then pay it off. We don’t end up paying interest and get cash back for our purchases.
- Call your service providers – Ask for a discount or to be added to whatever current deal they are running. Ask to speak to the “retention department.” It is suggested that you do this every 6 months. Companies want you to stay and will do what they can to keep you.
- Learn to live without cable. Back when we had cable we would say getting rid of it is a last resort. I really didn’t think I could live without it… and our DVR. It was the last real luxury that we allowed ourselves, but there came a time when we were trying to rework our budget and we felt the cost could be better spent elsewhere. I realized that most of our “TV time” was spent doing other things while we passively listened to the show. We also could only actually think of a handful of shows that we would really miss and those few shows didn’t seem worth it anymore when you divided the whole cost of the bill across them. So, we got rid of our satellite tv and satellite internet and decided to upgrade my phone so we could use it as a hotspot for the house’s internet use. We set up an antenna so we were able to see our local channels. It wasn’t a week before we were used to the change. There is enough to watch during our down time (PBS Create is my favorite!), and if there isn’t anything on it pushes us to go do other things that are a better use of our time anyways. Years later I don’t miss it at all.
- Evaluate how much data you actually need for your phone. – Track your data for a few months and see what you actually use. Don’t pay for data that is going to go to waste. You also don’t want to be paying for overage fees.
- Evaluate if you actually need a smart phone. – If you have a smart phone I am sure it seems impossible to live without one. I know we couldn’t be without one since we use it as our internet and it’s how we run credit cards for customers at farmer’s markets, but if all you do is text and browse Facebook do you need the extra cost of data? Texting can be done on a regular phone and Facebook on your computer.
- Assess if you actually need a landline phone – There are some instances where a landline is necessary, but for most it’s not. It’s been well over a decade since I got rid of my landline.
- Adjust the temperature – Keep your AC at 75-76 degrees in the summer and heat at 65-68 degrees in the winter. You will get use to the cold/heat and even a few degrees saves a decent amount of money.
- Monitor your thermostat – Your HVAC system is one of the larger energy consumers in your home. Having it properly maintained is important but so is having it properly controlled. Setting your thermostat lower when you are sleeping or out of the house can save money. If closely monitoring your thermostat schedule is not something that seems like your idea of a “good time” look into a programmable thermostat. You can even look into a “smart” thermostat like NEST, which not only pays attention to your schedule but also has sensors to tell if you are home or not. It will quickly learn your schedule and preferences and make adjustments for you.
- Cover your windows with plastic in the winter. – It will help keep cold from seeping through the windows.
- Be smart about the sun when heating/cooling – You want to make sure that you are working smarter, not harder. In the winter the sun is your friend. In the summer it is your enemy. Be conscious of having the curtains opened or closed at the best times to ensure you are harnessing the power of this free energy source. So in the winter you would want to open your south facing curtains during the day, then close them at night to try to keep this heat in. In the summer you would want to use a reflective window cover on these windows to keep then sun’s energy out.
- Line dry your clothes. – For some reason this is a chore I really enjoy. It can save you a ton of money! The sun is also great for getting out stains.
- Unplug vampire electronics – Electronic devices such as cable and satellite boxes, routers, hard drives, Printers, etc. can be power vampires without you knowing it. Some devices use very little standby power, but some might surprise you. Look for anything around the house that has a light or display on it which is not an LED. Check your computers and electronic devices to make sure they have, and are using, standby modes.
- Use smart power strips for your electronic devices – While it’s probably not cost effective to replace your power strips, if you are in the market for a new one look into smart power strips. These devices usually have an outlet which is power monitored. You would plug in your “main” device to this outlet; computer, TV, etc. When the power is turned off to that device this strip senses it and cuts power to the other accessory devices on the power strip. So when you shut off your computer it will also shut off the printer, scanner, etc.
- Use CFL or LED bulbs – Ditch your incandescent bulbs!! If you are a little energy conscious to begin with you may be using CFL light bulbs in place of incandescent already. Even so you should really look into LED replacements. LED bulbs can last on average 40 times longer than incandescent and 6 times longer than CFL. When considering the replacement of bulbs over time the LED bulbs can cost 10 times less than incandescent.
- Try to schedule things to run at night if your kilowatts cost different – Many energy companies now offer time-of-day based energy consumption. Check with your utility company to see if you are eligible. It may require a new meter on the outside of your house so the utility company can see how much energy you are using on a more real-time basis. By doing this you may be able to adjust your schedule to use more energy in off-peak times where your energy costs less per kilowatt-hour.
- Energy monitoring appliance – If you are serious about making big changes in your energy consumption, or if you really can’t figure out how you use so much energy, you may want to look into a monitoring device. These are available in various forms and range from simple devices that you plug in between an appliance and the wall to measure it’s usage, all the way up to whole-home systems that you install in your breaker-box to monitor every circuit in your home.
- Lower the temperature on your hot water heater or use a smart water heater – If you are in the market for a new water heater you can choose a smart water heater, or instant water heater, which doesn’t waste electricity by constantly heating water you aren’t using. Hybrid water heaters, though expensive, combine both of these technologies so that the water is heated efficiently, but also stores some for you.
- Insulate (both traditionally and creatively) – Insulate, insulate, insulate! This is one of the most important things you can do. Take every measure possible to make sure you don’t have air leaking into your house. You can also work to insulate in less traditional ways. Of course these won’t take the place of a properly insulated home, but can be creative supplements. Keep heat in using thick curtains, walls full of books, carpets, etc.
- Heat your home with a fireplace or wood stove. – We heat our home with a wood stove. Before using it as our only heat source during the coolest months our bill could be over $300!!! Now it’s down to around $100. It involves more work. You have to make the fire obviously and you also have to cut the firewood, which is time consuming, but worth it for us. We have a Blaze King Princess Insert stove. It’s incredibly efficient and you can control the temperature! We were able to purchase it used and got a “like new” stove for a very small fraction of the original price. The company who installed it had it for sale, so if this is something you are considering ask if they have any used models available.
- Ask your power or gas company for an energy audit. – We’ve never done this, but I know it is an option. They can come in and tell you where you are using too much energy and how to fix it. I know based on our heat bills (back before we used the wood stove) that our house still has some insulation problems.
- Cloth diaper – You can save so much by cloth diapering. It was huge for us. We used both gDiapers and Bumgenius diapers. We loved both. gDiapers cost less per change and create less laundry, since you only change the pad each time, but it doesn’t hold as much pee, so we used them during the day. They didn’t work very well for us at night, even doing multiple pads. Bumgenius diapers are bulkier and cost more per change, but hold enough pee to get the kids through the night. They can be double padded as well if your kid is a big soaker. You can use the diapers with multiple kids (if you are doing it at the same time make sure you are using vinegar during your rinse to kill bacteria and yeast… you don’t want to pass it back and forth between kids). One set of diapers can get you through all of your kids!
- Hand-me-downs and 2nd hand stores – My friends and I are always passing children clothes around to each other. I only purchase a handful of clothing items a year for the kids. If you don’t have friends to pass clothes around with 2nd hand stores are awesome. Kids wear clothes for such a short period of time why pay full price?
- Utilize the free activities around town – Your library, state parks, festivals, etc. There are so many activities for children that are free. The library alone likely has multiple weekly activities in which your child can take part.
- Buy gender neutral clothing – If you find out that you are having a girl don’t go and buy a ton of pink. Buy more neutral items so you can use them with future children even if they end up being the opposite gender.
- Consider how much space you really need – I know most just want to get the biggest house they can afford, but you have to heat/cool all that space. Bigger house = bigger bills. How much space do you really need? Will you really use that office? Do you really need a guest room or will a trundle bed in one room be enough? Do the rooms need to be huge? And high ceilings…. wasted space where all of your heat is going to go! Our house is small and cozy. Yes, there are times I wish I had more space, but it causes me to consolidate and keeps me from collecting unneeded junk.
- Refinance your mortgage – We saved quite a bit by refinancing. It got our bill down significantly!
- Do you own home maintenance – In a day of google, Pinterest, and YouTube a lot home maintenance you can do yourself. I would not suggest anything major… electrical for example (unless this is something you are comfortable with). But for the small stuff do it yourself. I feel so fortunate to have a handy husband, but he didn’t get that way magically. He researches, researches and researches. I trust him to make most repairs.
- Save the bags people give you – We have a tupperware container under our bed filled with them. I can’t remember the last time I bought one and there are a few that I have given and received several times!
- Make your friends and family handmade gifts for holidays – I absolutely love receiving handmade gifts. To me it doesn’t say “cheap.” It says they spent actual time on me and put in an effort. Pinterest has thousands upon thousands of ideas.
- Plan your gift giving – Buy your gifts for birthdays and Christmas throughout the year and look for sales. If you know what you are going to get someone find out the best time of year to purchase it.
- Give hand-me-down toys as gifts – This might not be for everyone but stay with me here… I will say as a recipient of one of these I felt that it was very thoughtful. At my son’s first birthday one of my friends who has a son a few years older than mine give my son a bag of a few hand-me-down toys for his birthday present. Her son had gone through his toys and picked out a few that he really enjoyed when he was younger. He was so proud that he was able to give them to my son. He loved them and it was very meaningful for him to pass them on… more so than just going to store and picking a random toy. He sat down with my son and showed him how to use it and talked about how much he loved the toy when he was younger. Of all the toys he received that day those are the ones he played with the most. He didn’t care that they were used. The giver (who was 4) had the opportunity to see what it felt like to really give something. The parents saved money. I was happy.
- Limit the number of gifts you buy your children – For birthdays our kids get 2-3 gifts. For Christmas we give our children a stocking and one gift from santa, and maybe 3 gifts from us. I know many people who go crazy with gifts for the holidays, and there is nothing wrong with this, but my children have never felt cheated receiving a couple of gifts. We get them what we know they want and not a lot of filler.
- Utilize your local library – The library is an amazing resource. They have movies (both that you can attend and rent), books (of course), and internet.
- Utilize your local community college – This may just be because we are rural and most people don’t have a good internet option out here, but our local community college makes a lot of their resources available to the public. You are able to check out movies (at ours they have a better selection than the library), check out books from the library, and use their high speed internet. This is how we get away with not having an real internet source. Like I said before, we use my phone as a hotspot. Our plan has 15GB a month, but that doesn’t allow me to upload pictures for the blog or images for my photography clients. Also, since our local community college has an agriculture program they have a seed catalog that is available to the public. As long as you are contributing seeds that you have saved you can come and get seeds for free from them!
- Trade and barter – This happens A LOT in the farm/farmer’s market world, but it can/should also happen in the “outside” world. Do you have a certain skill? Offer that skill to get things you need… food, work around the house, etc. Did you get an abundance of one type of produce in your garden? Trade it for another produce item that you maybe didn’t get.
- Buy clothes for yourself second hand – A lot of times you will even find clothes with their original tags at second hand stores!
- Trade clothes with your friends – Do you have clothing items in your closet that you just aren’t using? Have a clothing exchange party with friends!
- Use a menstrual cup – It’s not gross… I promise. I have used one for almost two years. I have never… not once… had a leak. I change it a lot less (so I very rarely have to change it in public.. you will not fill up the cup.. it will NOT happen), my periods have gotten shorter (no joke.. I have no idea how this works but I went from having a week long period to having a 2-3 day period), my cramps are nonexistent now, it’s comfortable, I am not putting something that is full of chemicals in my body to just sit there, and I am not spending money each month on tampons. I bought one $20 cup and I’m still using it. I always see people commenting that it is gross… it baffles me.
- Switch to cloth dishtowels rather than paper towels – We did this 3.5 years ago. We do not purchase paper towels at all. We purchased a box of 50 dishtowels from Sams Club (the ones that they use to clean tables at restaurants) for $25. We had been purchasing those big bundles of paper towels for around $15 and we would go through it in about 3 months, meaning we were spending $60 a year on paper towels. 3.5 years later and we are still using those $25 towels. Some are in rough shape, and some have been thrown out, but for the most part we still have them. Yes, we have to wash them, but with 50 towels we only wash them once or twice a month and we line dry them through the spring, summer, and fall. Every once in a while we bleach them to really get them clean, and line drying them sun bleaches the stains out (this really works.. it works with cloth diapers as well). If we are cleaning the towel gets used once then goes to the wash. If we are using it to dry dishes or hands it gets hung up to be used again. When cleaning they go much further and have a much better scrub than paper towels.
- Instead of getting manicures and pedicures get together with your girlfriends for a girls night and do each others nails – Get together, have a girls night, get pampered.
- Be a one car family – This can be so hard, but we did it for a little while. When push comes to shove you have to do what you have to do!
- Trade babysitting services with friends – Babysitting is expensive… so expensive! When I was younger I was paid $2-$3 an hour to babysit. Now it’s anywhere between $10-$15 an hour! What!? Maybe it’s because I only trust adults to watch my children, and not 12 year olds, but this can really hit you hard financially and can keep you from having time out or date nights. Instead of hiring a babysitter consider trading services with friends. One night they watch your children so you can go out, and on a different night you watch their’s so they can go out.
- Take smaller vacations or stay-cations – This one is easier said than done for some people. My husband and I work very hard (very, very hard) but we really love what we do. I haven’t felt like a vacation was a necessity for a long time. I feel like we live on vacation. We are together everyday, we are with our children, we make our own schedule… It also helps that I am a huge homebody. A day trip to the beach would make me more than happy, but if you are in a job that is extremely high stress and demanding you may NEED to get away. Consider a weekend trip instead of a full week. Travel during the week instead of the weekend to save money. Stay close to avoid high travel costs or stay home and take advantage of what your area has to offer.
- When making purchases figure out how many hours you had to work to pay for it – For example, say you are going out to eat and it will cost you $50. If you make $15 an hour it will take you nearly 3.5 hours of work to earn enough for the meal. That is nearly a half a day of work for just one meal! This can change your perspective and help you decide if a purchase is really worth it. Perspective is key!
- Have something that you are saving up for – If you are putting yourself on a strict budget just for day to day life the sacrifices seem larger and hurt more, but if you are also saving for something in particular you have a goal that will push you past those hard times when you really wish you could spend money. That way you can remind yourself it will all be worth it when you can purchase that car or take that trip or buy that outfit. They have to be long term goals though.
- Set up a “way to save” type saving account – This is what it is called at Wells Fargo, but it will likely have a different name at other banks. This is the type of savings account where each time you use your debit card it either puts a dollar for every purchase or rounds your purchase up and puts the remaining change into a saving account. It’s a passive way of saving money. There is no better feeling than having a little savings in case of an emergency.
- Keep a budget journal – Set a limit for each category of your budget (food, entertainment, etc). In your journal track each expenditure and once you reach your limit all other expenses will have to wait until next month. This will be difficult at first but will get easier with practice. It keeps you from making impulse buys or going out to eat too much. It also helps to see where your money is going.
I hope this list helps you save money and live off of less! Did I miss anything? Do you have other ways that you save money?