This year, my husband and I made a super exciting New Year’s Resolution …. getting out of debt! Blah blah blah! Ok not so exciting but something we so badly want. I feel like every year, like a lot of people, we say we want to save more money but this year we rolled up our sleeves and made a game plan of the steps we need to take to lead us to our goal. Debt has become something almost everyone (especially our age) just has. Student loans, credit cards…
“Value” is an interesting thing. Goods and services have prices that mark their value. And we, as consumers basically decide if it’s a price we are willing to pay or not. That is one thing I think Brandon and I have always been good at. When it comes to any spending, the actual dollar amount doesn’t really matter to us as much as what are those dollars going towards. And is it “worth it” to us. I think that’s a great first step. Really evaluating what some things are worth, what some things are not worth AND noting that somethings are more “valuable” over others.
Going on a budget means there will be somethings you will have to do without to get to your goal. Prioritize. When trying to plan out a budget there are some obvious ways to save. I think a big one for a lot of people is eating out. I’ll be honest this was tough for us because realistically, we only eat out or get take out once every couple months. Which is a great start but it actually made it a little harder for us, having to look somewhere else to save.
Listen. We are a young couple living off mostly one income (my husband’s). I am a stay at home mom that works about one day a week. We honestly really haven’t had much spending money since our daughter was born and I didn’t go back to work full time. Oh yeah in addition to the thousands of dollars in medical bills it cost us to have her. So we really had to get creative. How do you spend less when we really aren’t spending much to begin with?? Our main goal in getting out of debt is to eliminate the monthly payments associated with them. That’s where all our money is going. Monthly bills.
I do watch my niece 3-4 days a week and that helps does help supplement my income. What I make in a week from that really isn’t much compared to what a make in one day at work but to me, being home with my daughter is (almost😉) priceless! Bonus-I feel so fortunate to get so much time with my niece. We have a super special relationship and the girls have grown up like sisters. They are only 10months apart which is adorable and challenging at all the some-more on that another day!
I asked my husband, do we want to keep living how we are now with little spending money, etc for the duration of me staying home? Our daughter is only 18months old, with a late birthday. (Our school district considers September-December “late” and the child would start kindergarten the following year.) So we’re talking four more years until she is in free, full-time, public school. Plus we would ideally like to have another child eventually. So that will be more years added until that child would be entering school. Add in preschool expenses in between, Ahh! OR do we want to just crack down now, for a much shorter period of time and GET IT DONE! Eliminate these monthly payments and get back to living with full financial freedom!
So how do you eliminate monthly expenses? We started with our non-debt monthly bills. And honestly this was tough too. Besides our mortgage, insurances and one car payment (one vehicle is already paid off) was really just electric and cable. Obviously we need electric. And to be honest, we have always been good at keeping that bill low. Being mindful of the air conditioning, heat, lights, etc. Cable was an easy decision-cancelled! We kept our internet through our cable provider and opted to pay $10 extra a month on top of the internet fee to get basic (and I mean BASIC!) cable. Like the old school channels 1-20 something? So we have the news, etc. PLUS our provider bundles HBO with basic now so we get that for free! We have never had HBO before so it’s been a treat! Where are my “Girls” and “Big Little Lies” fans at?! The change in our package is now saving us about $70 a month. I’ll take it!
So, where else can we save? The other biggest monthly expense we have is groceries! I mean, everyone needs to eat, right? We never really had a set budget on groceries before. It kind of varied week to week. We weren’t going wild in the stores but I am self-employed so some weeks I make significantly more or less money than others weeks. If you’re talking groceries plus all household items-diapers, wipes, laundry detergent, hand soap, toothpaste, deodorant. We were spending about $170-$200 a week for the 3 of us. Groceries can be expensive (especially healthy food items) and the household items are even more expensive! So I don’t think that dollar amount was too shabby! But that was honestly where the rest of our money was going-Something had to give! I dug deep into many (MANY!!!) blogs and articles on frugal living and learned so many families were spending much less per month (or per week) on groceries.
We decided to set a weekly budget of $100/week. Again this includes diapers, cleaning supplies, everything in addition to all food. We’re just over two and a half months into the year now and it’s totally working! It wasn’t easy at first. Meal-planning has been a life-saver and I know it sounds obvious but plan your shopping list around your planned meals and planned days! Dig into those pantries and create meals around what you already have then maybe you’ll only need to buy one or two more ingredients for that particular meal. I should also mention my husband and I eat very different things and have still been able to maintain this budget! My husband is a big kid at heart (gotta love him)! And he eats like one! He loves breads, starches and sweets. I mean, who doesn’t? I have been following a low-carb, low-sugar diet for about 8 months now. I eat mainly protein (a LOT of meat) and vegetables. Guys. This budget is STILL doable! I actually think if we were eating all the same foods or if I wasn’t as strict about my food intake right now, we could get that weekly grocery budget down even lower. We now do all our food shopping at Aldi, which if you guys don’t already do, you are missing out! Aldi has an excellent selection of food, amazing fresh produce and a variety of organic and gluten free items. As for diapers, laundry detergent, etc-Walmart is where we get everything else. We literally only go to other stores if there is a crazy sale on something we want to stock up on.
Another thing that has REALLY helped is we now only go to the store once a week. Pretty much no matter what! Like most households with kids, we go thru a ton of milk! Some weeks we would be running low or out of milk before the end of the week. So I would run back to Aldi for milk and end up picking up some more produce, etc. It would all be healthy stuff and a great price because it was from Aldi but I realized that in addition to our original almost $200 a week spending, I was adding on about $30 a week, almost every week! That’s nuts! I stock up on milk now. Another example, something you may need around the house that’s not urgent. My husband mentioned running to the store to get new AA and AAA rechargeable batteries. But I said no, I will add them to my list and I will get one package this week and one the next. Most likely meaning I will have to swap something out from my shopping cart for them at each visit to stay under budget but that’s ok! That’s what it’s all about. Give and take. All of these things don’t seem like much each week but they are HUGE when you look at the big picture.
This seems kind of obvious but make a shopping list! I am a huge list maker and checker in general so this is easy for me. But you need a list and you need to follow it! And be specific! Instead of just “Fruit”, really think about what you want to get (and what’s on sale) and write things like “Bananas”, “Pears”, etc. I have found it’s easier with the ahead of time give and take thought process. Say that pears are on sale so I’ll double up on those and skip apples this week. I just use the note pad on my phone so I always have it. Also, get in the habit of adding something to your list as soon as you run out. Then you’re less likely to forget something and feel like you have to go back to the store. Sometimes it seems like you run out of a lot of basic stuff around the same time. Like condiments, coffee, paper towels, etc. If you have it all planned out on your list you’ll be able to see-wow all that stuff is really going to eat into my budget this week, I need to go through and decide what can wait until week. Again, plan your meals! What do you REALLY need this week? I keep a running list for the following week’s shopping trip too, which really makes this part easy! I also keep a separate list for each store.
We also did a 7 Day Spending Strike last month. Where instead of hitting the store for my usual weekly trip I bought strict essentials. I’m talking milk, bread, some produce and that’s it! And other than bills that could not possibly wait-we spent zero dollars for an entire week. Sounds nuts but it wasn’t as hard as we thought! I packed my husbands lunch every day and we used everything out of our pantry and ate it. The BEST part of this was we were able to take our usual $100 spent on groceries for the week and apply it straight to a debt payment! An extra $100 principle payment for little to no extra work! HI-OHH! That’s what I’m talking about! That was our first official one we had done and we will be for sure doing another here in the next couple months-be sure to follow along and you can join in too! Really think about when you want to do it. We did ours during an extremely odd week in February where we had 60-70 degree weather days. Made it SO much easier to get out of the house to do free things, grill our meals outside, and lots and lots of packed lunch picnics!
It’s all super simple but not super easy. It takes weekly prep and planning and just mindfulness of spending. And guys, this is not about not having money to live life and get out and do things as a family. It’s the opposite! We are tightening our pants and just having to get a little creative with our spending now to afford an even better life sooner rather than later. And we are still making memories in the mean time! It’s all just about prioritizing! For example, what prompted our 7 Day Spending Strike was to kind of make up for some fun stuff we had done the month before. We had gone out to dinner on two different occasions (you know dang well I had a gift card to cover part of one meal, saved from Christmas😂). And another evening at the local casino for a friend’s birthday. These were NOT fancy or expensive affairs but it was a lot because we don’t go out much-it’s just really not worth the money to us. But it was seriously so much fun and much needed kid-free nights with friends. The Spending Strike was 100% worth it! Give and take people!
The best part about all of this? I’m an beyond happy to report that in the middle of March (So less than 3 full months into our new budgeted lifestyle we just made a $600 credit card payment! Guys, that is HUGE for us! No payment was due, it was between billing cycles and we were able to pay $600 straight to principle! That doesn’t include a tax refund or any other random lump sum of money. That is all just from these small changes we have made every week, allowing us to put small amounts aside week by week. And that payment has given us more motivation than ever to keep doing what we are doing. It is working and it can work for you too! An extra $600 paid directly towards debt in less than 3 months? Imagine what we can accomplish on the scale of an entire year? It’s so exciting and freeing!
There are always reasons that now is not a good time to start saving. Life is expensive and being social is expensive. Believe me, I get it. My husband and I are each in weddings this year in addition to another wedding we are attending. You know the deal. Bridesmaid dress, tux, throwing a shower, bachelor party, bachelorette party, shower gifts, wedding gifts. Shew! It’s a lot to say the least. But even with all that, we are determined to STILL make it work. My husband has been working his tail off and because of that he has been awarded at work which includes a paid trip to Florida! Guys! I am so excited and beyond proud of him (tear!)-it’s a huge honor! And it’s coming up quick-next month! And we were only given notice about it last month. We are beyond grateful our gorgeous hotel stay, flights and most meals are covered. However, there’s no such thing as a free trip! There are still a couple meals not covered, there’s parking at the airport (we won’t be able to be dropped and picked up like we usually try to do), there’s babysitting expenses for Harlow while we are gone, and unpaid time off work for me. My sister and I will do a trade for watching the kids. So it’s not money out of my pocket right now for a babysitter but I will be “working for free”, watching my niece, the same number of days ahead of time plus missing a full (unpaid) day at work. But we are STILL making it happen. We have already been squirreling extra money away for these upcoming things. Little by little, each week. It may mean more super boring chicken meals for dinner or not seeing that one movie you have counting down to see but it’s all about prioritizing. Kind of our version of “having it all”. You can have at all at the price you are willing to pay! Keep your eyes on the prize! You are able to make significant debt payments while making room in your budget for fun!
Be sure to follow along for more frugal fun and leave any questions or comments below!