Starting out a new year is always a good time to start, or continue, saving. If you are like me and Fabgrandpa,you are probably on a budget, and need ways to make every penny count. Luckily for you, here is my list of 14 things that will help you start the new year out right.
1. Create a budget.
As simple as it sounds, making a budget is a starting point for anyone who wants to save a few or a lot of dollars. Making a budget can be as simple or as complicated as you like it to be. You might be someone who can just make a simple list of things you owe each month, and total up the monthly payments to get a real idea of where your money goes. Or, you might be someone who creates an elaborate spreadsheet, that lets you adjust payment amounts for each item and still come out under a certain amount each month. But, any way you do it, making a budget gives you a starting point to get an idea of where you might save money.
2. Start a savings account.
Whether your savings account is a quart jar or an actual account in a bank or credit union, making a place to park you savings is a postitive step toward meeting your budgeted savings goal. At some banks, you have to have at least $100 to open an account. At the credit union that Fabgrandpa and I use, the minimum deposit amount for a savings account is $25. If you don’t have enough cash on hand to open an account, start putting your pocket change or your dollar bills in an envelope or quart jar. You will be surprised at how fast you can save up that minimum. Once you have opened your account, add the budgeted savings amount each week. Even $5 a week comes to $260 by the end of the year.
3. Make a monthly meal plan.
In the past when I have had to feed my family on a really tight budget, I have taken the time to sit down and make a monthly meal plan. Doing this helps me use every bit of my food dollar wisely. I start with a list of different meats that can be stretched out to 2 or more meals, then build my calendar around them. I also plan at least one meal a month that is meatless, since meat is the most expensive food budget item. If you have a good plan, you won’t end up eating Ramen noodles at the end of the month.
4. Serve a meatless meal once a week.
Since meats can be the most expensive menu items, it makes sense to cut them out of at least one meal a week. There are all kinds of other things you can serve to take place of meats. Beans are a good source of protein, and there are many different kinds of them. Kidney, pinto, black, lima, and navy beans are all delicious and provide fiber as well as protein. Other things you can serve instead of beans are macaroni and cheese, quinoa, peanut butter, and tofu. You might try this recipe for Eggplant Parmesean, a delicious entree that does not contain meat.
5. Always make a shopping list for groceries.
I know this may sound silly, but even when you go to the grocery store to just pick up some bread and milk, making a tangible list to hold in your hand can help you stay on budget. I have a rule for myself in tight months that if it is not on the list, I can not buy it. So, if you think you might want candy or cookies, put them on the list, otherwise you are not allowed to buy them. Here is a screen shot of one of my monthly meal plans with a shopping list attached
You can download a Word doc file of it here: Monthly Menu. As a bonus, it is linked to some of the recipes I used for that menu plan. You can see that I have the monthly menu and the shopping list for everything I would need to make all those meals, plus things for breakfast. I can print off the sheet and take it with me to the store. Which brings me to #5.
6. Shop your pantry first.
Once you have your monthly menu planned, and the shopping list of things you need to be able to prepare the meals on your plan, print it off. Then, shop your pantry. Mark off all the things that are on your list that are already in your pantry. You save money by only buying the things you need. This method also helps to clear out older items in the pantry, so that they don’t expire before you use them. Nothing says wasted money quite like groceries that get thrown away.
7. Use coupons whenever possible.
After you shop your pantry, and only have things on your list that you really need to buy, go through all of your coupons, and match them up to the things you are planning to buy. Whether you use only one or two coupons, or you are an extreme couponer, you can save money using coupons. You won’t save money, though, if you only buy something because you have a coupon for it. Staple or paper clip your coupons to your shopping list so you remember to take them with you to the store.
8. Stock up when things you use all the time are on sale.
With all of the above being said, if you get to the store, and there is a great sale on something you use all the time, stock up by buying as much of that item as you afford, and that you have space for. Things like chicken broth, tuna, canned chicken, chicken thighs, and ground beef are things that I tend to stock up on, even if I only buy one more than what I need. I am also not opposed to make a change in the meat part of a meal plan if I get to the store and see that another type of meat is on sale. If I know that I can substitute pork for beef, or beef for chicken, I guy the one that is on sale and make the adjustment at meal time.
9. Get a small freezer.
One of the best purchases I ever made when my children were young was buying a small freezer. There were lots of times that people I knew would offer me free food, like a half bushel of green beans, or five pounds of ground beef. If I had not had that freezer I would not have been able to take advantage of the offer. I don’t have anyone giving me free food nowadays, but I do have a small chest freezer. It lets me take advantage of a good sale on chicken or ground beef. I stocked it up with fresh from the farm peaches, squash, and okra over the summer.
10. Plant a small garden.
Even the smallest yard can support an herb garden. A square foot garden can provide tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, green beans, and bell peppers, and save a ton of money over the summer. I also love that by planting an herb garden that I can have fresh parsley, oregano, basil, and dill whenever I want them, and they don’t cost a king’s ransom. All I have to do is walk outside and cut them.
11. Start measuring the serving size.
With only two people in the house now that our children are grown, when I cook a whole chicken we are able to eat two or three meals from it. For several years after the kids had moved out, though, when I cooked a whole chicken or a pork roast, of something like that, I put the entire thing on the table when I served dinner. What happened next is that we both ate too much, and we wound up not having enough left over to make another dinner. So, I started only putting two servings on the table, and the rest went into the refrigerator. It was like the pieces on our plates were all there was. We both stopped eating way too much, because we could see what an actual serving of beef or chicken or pork looks like. By measuring the recommended serving size, we can make those meats last for two or more meals.
12. Make your own cleaning products.
You can save a ton of money on cleaning products by simply changing what you use. Simple household items like White vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, salt, olive oil, Ivory bath soap, washing soda, borax, and essential oils can replace many of the chemical based cleaners you now use. They cost less, and are a lot healthier for you to use as well. You can find many recipes and directions on how to make simple household cleaners online. For instance, I buy a pint bottle of the cheapest vodka I can find, and mix in a few drops of lavendar and mint essential oils, shake vigorously to blend, and it makes the best smelling air freshener.
13. Join Amazon Prime, and buy in bulk with free shipping.
If you make a lot of purchases from Amazon.com, you should seriously consider joining Amazon Prime. With Amazon Prime, you get free two day shipping on millions of products that you use every day. Many of Amazon’s prices are lower than local big box stores, and with the free shipping, you are not spending the money for fuel for your automobile to get the products you need and want. Other benefits of Amazon Prime include free streaming of 41,000 movies and TV shows, and more than 350,000 Kindle book titles to borrow for free. The cost of joining is $79, but I easily saved way more than that in just shipping costs in the first three months of the year. You can also give a Prime membership as a Gift!
14. Recycle, reuse, and thrift.
Last on my list but equally as important as the other tips, is to recycle, reuse, and thrift. This means that if you need a gadget in the kitchen, like a ladle or a colander, check in at your local thrift shop first. I have found lots of kitchen tools for as little as 25 cents, compared to paying $5 or $6 for the same thing new. Thrift shops have good used clothing in all sizes, kitchen items, books, home decor, and the list goes on and on. Making use of these old items that still have some work left in them is a great way to save money. If you drink a lot of soda or beer that comes in cans, save them in a plastic bag and take them in for recycling once a month. You can help save landfill space, and get paid for doing it! What other forms of reuse or recycling do you use in your home?