9 Easy Swaps to Help with Frugal Budgeting
[Editor's Note: This great list of suggestions spans clothes to food to utilities.]
Budgeting and saving doesn't have to mean sacrificing. It might just mean making small changes or tweaks in what you've been accustomed to. Swapping should be easy and painless, it just takes creativity and preparation!
Secondhand books and clothing are honestly just as good as new most of the time. Buy new only for gifts and buy used the rest of the time and you'll save a ton, especially when it comes to kid's clothes. My tip is always to buy the best that you can afford, so I'd much rather have a nicely made but gently used item than something new but cheap and poorly made.
I have sung the praises of ThredUp previously for their great variety and high quality of gently worn (or new!) clothing, handbags and shoes. When my kids ask, "Is this new?", I tell them, "Yes, it's new to you!".
Consider pulling together a few girlfriends and host a swap. Bring jewelry that doesn't get worn, shampoo or lotions that was only used once, or best-selling books that you've read and shelved. Trade or borrow and make those things "new to you, too!".
Know Where to Shop and What to Buy
Know your stores and where you get the best deals. Pay attention to prices and specifically your cost per ounce. Take notes if that helps you with your budgeting and shopping list.
I'm a Target lover, but I know that if I buy my office and craft supplies or fresh fruit and dairy there, the price will be at a premium. However, for some grocery items like canned soup or shampoo, it's often cheaper for me to purchase at Target than at the grocery. And of course Costco is king for bulk so we only buy our peanut butter, bread, dairy and meats there. I know that Costco isn't the best place for me to buy cereal, because I can usually score a better deal at the grocery store with a coupon. And of course, there are always the dollar stores to consider especially for party and craft supplies.
Talking about bulk, consider items you purchase now in single uses that you could be purchasing in bulk and dividing up. Yogurt is number one for us. Instead of the 75 cents or more for one tiny yogurt, we buy a huge tub at Costco for around $5 and serve a scoop of it into a reusable container to take with us for breakfast on the go. Same with snacks for my kid's lunches. The single serving chips and cookies are very pricey and often more than I want to give my child as "one serving" anyway, so I buy bulk and divide items up into individual baggies in advance.
I love a nice glass of orange juice as much as the next gal, but juice is expensive and frankly, sugar-laden and unnecessary. At the very least, juice should be watered down 50/50. If you need flavor (and believe me, I am not much of a water drinker), squeeze in fresh lemon to make it more palatable. My favorite is to drop a few frozen raspberries into the glass and it will flavor your water tremendously, without the cost or calories.
Work in Leftovers
Eat your leftovers ... or don't prepare as much in the first place. If you always have leftovers and they sit in the fridge untouched until they spoil, you have several options.
- When preparing something, plan what the following day's meal will be so you can work any leftovers in.
- Freeze leftovers for future use. I doctored up a jar of spaghetti sauce the other day with sauteed green pepper, onion and ground beef. I immediately divided up half into a freezer bag to save for another meal.
- Don't make so much! Make only enough for each person to have one dish to eliminate leftovers.
- Have a leftover night (I call it "potpourri night") where everyone has their choice of leftovers from dinners during the week. We round it out with a green salad and call it good!
Many foods are marked with a "sell-by" date that is mistaken for an expiration date. Read here to see lists of foods that are still good to eat after their "best by" date so you aren't mistakenly tossing food that is still good.
Shop Less Often
If you are used to running to the store every day to "just pick up a few things," you are probably spending more than you need to. You should be doing the bulk of your buying only once a week (or every two weeks if possible) with perhaps just one side trip for fresh fruits and veggies.
In that vein, try planning meals one week out to make sure that you already will have all necessary ingredients on hand and eliminate those last moment trips to the store.
Don't throw it away if you can wash and reuse. This goes for paper products, including plates, towels and napkins. I only use that stuff if I'm having a party and need mass quantities. For everyday use, we use our dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner, melamine plates if we are eating outside, dish towels instead of paper towels and cloth napkins instead of paper. Very easy to toss the place mats, towels and napkins into the hamper after dinner for washing and reusing and nothing has to be thrown in the trash.
If your kids are good about remembering to bring home their lunch bags, then of course a bag that can be washed frequently and used everyday is going to be more economical than paper bags. Same goes for reusable containers and sandwich bags rather than foil or plastic zip-top bags. Unfortunately I have one child who lost three lunch bags and the reusable containers inside last school year and at some point I had to cut my losses and start sending her with a paper sack and plastic bags. With the cost of the lunch bags down the drain, it was going to be more economical for me to use paper bags instead. Consider what is best for you and your family in cases like this.
Turn It Off
If you aren't using it, unplug it or turn it off ... I'm looking at you blender, toaster, ceiling fan and nightlight! Get in the habit of turning off electronic devices when not in use to save batteries (I only buy rechargeable). This goes for water, too ... turn it off when you're washing pots and pans. We even turn off the shower water when we're scrubbing clean and then turn back on to rinse. Saves us from wasting gallons, which is very important in our drought area.
The DIY Alternative
Why buy if you can make at home? A quick search of Pinterest and you can find the DIY alternate for everything from bleach to Bisquick. The DIY alternate is almost always going to be cheaper, just as effective and infinitely more satisfying to use when you see the dollars you save!
And Yes, Finally ... Make Your Coffee at Home!
This also goes for making your breakfast at home instead of driving through fast food for something expensive and unhealthy. A smoothie at home is going to be better for you and help you pocket the $3.50 or more you'd spend buying it out. Packing a salad-to-go instead of buying a premade one at the deli could save you $6.00. It's all in just being prepared for the days ahead by making sure you have it already on hand so you aren't scrambling out the door without a plan.Helpful links:
Ready for Zero - Budgeting tips
Holy Craft - Things to Buy in the Dollar Store
Pinterest - DIY Alternatives