I've mentioned here recently that my husband is starting college this fall, and we've made a commitment to stay debt free and pay for his school without student loans. We pay tuition monthly, and that payment is almost as big as our house payment. The payment felt impossible when we first realized how much it would be, but for the past three months, we've made it somehow without dipping into savings or living off credit cards.
I do not take the credit for this because God has blessed us rich with good jobs and extra income through this blog, but we have learned a lot about how to stretch our budget, cut back when it feels like we don't have any wiggle room, and still live generously. Here are a few things that have helped us save money and manage to pay for college without student loans.
Step One: Analyze Your Bank Account
The first thing we did was printed out our bank history and anaylzed it with a fine tooth comb. Actually we analyzed it with five different color highlighters. I went through and highlighted things in different categories like eating out, groceries, gas, etc. I highly recommend this as a first step. Before I did this, I was SURE we had no where in our budget we could cut back, but then when I actually went through it and analyzed every transaction and added up each category, I realized that we were spending money more frivolously than I imagined.
Step Two: Make ONE trip to the grocery store per week max
The first thing I noticed when I did this is that the amount we spent on groceries was insanely high. I typically go to the store for a "big" grocery trip once a week, but what was killing us was the random trips we made to the store to pick up "a few things." You know what I mean-when you need one ingredient for dinner like cheese but then you walk out with wine, apples, ice-cream and cheese-its? That was our life and if we did that 2-3 times a week that was an extra 50-60 dollar a week we were spending! We decided to make a rule of only going to the grocery store ONCE a week and to do this, we had to be faithful about our next step-meal planning.
Step Three: Meal Plan
To avoid 100 trips to the grocery store, we got back into regular and faithful meal planning. We were kind of doing this all along, but weren't always doing it well. To save money, not only is it important to plan your meals, but also write down every ingredient you need for the meals so you can get it in your weekly trip. A lot of people say try going meatless for a few meals, but honestly, we love meat so much we haven't done this. What we have done is plan meals that can be used for lunches the next day and feed us more than one time.
Step Four: Eat At Home and set a Eating Out Budget
When we analyzed our budget, we realized that we were eating out more than we thought. It was the five and six dollar lunches here and there that were really adding up, not big elaborate meals out so much. When we both forgot to pack a lunch 2-3 times a week and then ended up grabbing something at a restaurant nearby, it was 12-20 a day, and could be up to 60-70 a week! Since tightening our budget, we've both been bringing our leftovers and packing lunch every day and its helped a lot.
Step Five: Give Yourself (And Your Spouse) An Allowance
For some reason, we resisted this idea for a long time, but we decided to give it a try and its been really helping us a lot. We each get a certain amount per week of "fun money" for us to spend on whatever we want, no questions asked. Right now, that amount is fairly small, but it allows us room to grab coffee a few times a week, go out to eat with friends, or download books for our kindle. Doing this has caused us both to be much more conscious of the things we spend our money on because once that amount is gone, its gone for the week.
Step Six: Use Cash
This tip can be really inconvenient, but it helps us stay on track with the budgets we set for groceries, fun money, gas, etc. It can be a pain to go to the bank but theres something psychological that just hurts when you see your cash supply dwindling. I dont get that feeling when I swipe my card so using cash definitely helps.
Step Seven: Use Coupons
I am not an expert couponer by any means, but my mom is really good at it and she has been teaching me just how much money coupons can save. We went to the grocery store last week and saved over $22.00 in one store, and I don't consider her an "extreme couponer." We just look in the paper and online for coupons for things we buy often, and we shop the stores where things are on sale. Sometimes this means we go to two stores in one day, but it saves a lot of money. Things that personal hygiene products, paper towels, laundry detergent, and meat are things that we are always looking for coupons/sales on because it saves so much.
Step Eight: Use Netflix/Hulu versus cable.
We save over 25 a month by paying for both Netflix and Hulu + instead of cable. Almost every show we watch is on one of those two services, and it makes it really easy for me to binge watch shows that I take up an unhealthy obsession with. Win-Win in my book! Sure its annoying sometimes to not get to watch a TV show the night it goes live, but most of our shows are either available on the free channels with an antenna or we can just wait til the next day when they show up on Hulu.
Step Nine: Tithe First
As Christians, we believe that everything we've been given to us has been given to us by God. We are thankful for the jobs he's blessed us with that pay the bills and allow us to live comfortably. Sometimes it doesn't feel "comfortable" when we have to make a sacrifice and choose to spend our money wisely, but in comparison to the rest of the world and even here in the US, we know we don't have it bad. Sometimes it feels hard and my flesh thinks sacrificing eating out or buying a fancy coffee every day is the worst, but I know that we have been richly blessed. Because of this, the first thing we do when we get paid is send our tithe automatically. No matter how tight money is for us, our tithe is the first thing that gets paid and God has completely blessed us and taken care of us. We've never gone hungry, we've never had our heat shut off, we've never been homeless. He's always taken care of us and we know He will continue to do so.
What are your money saving tips? Keep in mind-this is just what is working for our family right now. Each situate is different, and I am not a financial expert, I just wanted to share what has helped us but am not saying that this is how you should manage your own finances. I'd love to hear any suggestions though as we look for more ways to live frugally!
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