So being cheap is something I think I have gotten pretty good at. I think a lot of people think you have to give up all fun and luxury to live frugally. The reality is, you just have to be creative and do things a little differently. Here are a few little things we do to save money without sacrificing too much.
Going out to eat
My hubby and I end up doing this more than we should. It is a weakness of ours for sure. Whether we are being lazy and don't want to cook, or our friends invited us out and we don't want to pass up a social opportunity. Even at cheaper restaurants it's easy to rack up a large bill. Two sub-par meals and a couple ice teas can easily amount to almost $30 after tip.
After being disappointed many times and feeling slightly sick about the money we spent we finally figured out a way to enjoy a nice meal out without breaking the bank. 1) We ALWAYS split. We go through the menu together and find something that sounds good to both of us. 2) At many restaurants you can add extra meat or veggies for a small up charge. At P.F. Changs for example, it's only a couple bucks to add extra meat and/or veggies to your dish, AND you can have as much steamed rice as you want. So instead of paying for two separate meals at $13 a piece, you can get almost the same amount of food for $15. Another great place to split is Red Robin. You already get bottomless steak fries (like I need that), and you can add an extra patty (beef, garden or boca) to any burger for a dollar. They even split it for you and bring it to you on separate plates. That's only like $10 for two meals. 3) Skip the drinks. Water is good and good for you! If you are already eating out chances are you are already splurging on the food anyways. If a cold beer really sounds good, stop at the store on the way home and pick up a six pack for the price they charge for 1 glass at a restaurant. 4) Skip the appetizers. If you need a small snack before your meal, have it at home before you leave. 5) DON'T cheap out on the tip. As a former server this is one that really gets to me. In most states servers make somewhere close to $3 an hour. They depend on our tips to pay their bills. Just because you saved money by splitting doesn't mean your tip should reflect that. If we split a meal we tip as if we got two. It was just as much work for her to serve us so she should get paid just as much.
Going to the movies
Now this one does really depend on where you live. When we used to live in Oregon even the matinees were getting pretty pricy. Here in Kansas City though, you can see a matinee at Cinemark for only $4. Skipping the concessions and bringing your own trail mix and water bottles makes it a pretty inexpensive outing. Also, be sure to check your local theater's website. Many theaters offer special family discount showings, free early bird movies, student discounts and more.
Date night in
Now that we have a little one, going out is much more of a production than it used to be, especially since I am nursing around the clock. Often times when date night rolls around we just want to cuddle up and stay in. We LOVE Netflix. We stream it instantly to our TV through our Wii. They have tons of movies and shows to choose from. If you don't have a Wii, you can stream through many different devices including blu-ray players and computers. It's only $7.99 a month for unlimited streaming movies and shows. That is cheaper than renting 2 movies at the local video store. Another option is Redbox. The trick is RETURNING them the next day. If you can't be good about that then don't bother. If you are however responsible enough to get your movie returned by 9pm the next day, go to this website to get a current promo code for a free movie rental. You sure can't get much better than free :)
Snacks are a must. No movie night is complete without. Invest in a hot air popcorn maker. A big bag of popcorn kernels only costs about a dollar and will make enough popcorn to fill your kitchen. Not only can you pop your corn without the extra oil, you can season how you want to. Feeling like something sweet? Make a large batch of cookie dough from scratch and with a little plastic wrap and a freezer you can make cookie dough rolls just like the pre-made stuff from the grocery store. It is great to have something tasty on hand for movie nights and company, not to mention the fact that making the dough is another fun cheap activity!
If you are looking for a way to cut your grocery budget, I have a the solution. Stay away from the center of the grocery store. All you will find there is prepackaged versions of the things you can find along the outer edges. Buying food from the bulk bins is a great way to save money. You can get loaded up on your rice, beans, grains and pastas. Canning jars are a great way to store your food. Not only do you get a better deal you reduce the amount of packaging that is being put in landfills. Try to buy local and in season produce, it's fresher and usually cheaper. Look up your closest farmers market and make a family outing of it. It takes a little time to change your habits, so do it one item at a time. Learn how to make more meals from scratch. We like to make a double batch every time we cook and freeze half of it in serving size portions (Costco has great deals on GladWare), that way on nights when we are tired and out of groceries we have some homemade microwave dinners to choose from.
Around the house
There are several things that can help you save money around the house. I will just name a few that we do.
1)CUT OUT THE PAPER TOWELS! Having disposable kitchen rags is by no means a necessity, just something we have gotten used to. Getting in the habit of using re-usable rags takes a little time, but it is easy peasy once you get in the swing of it. We buy big bundles of bar rags and keep them in an easy to reach kitchen drawer. When they are dirty we throw them in a pail under our sink and wash every couple days. If they get too gross they graduate to our cleaning rags stash which is reserved for gross jobs like baby puke, and around the bottom of the toilet. To keep your pail from getting nasty use a re-usable pail liner. Diaper Palz has great ones in lots of fun colors and their prices are sure hard to beat!
2) Get some soap foamers and a refill container of your favorite hand soap. By using the foamers you save yourself from using too much soap. You only need to put about an inch of soap in the bottom and the rest water. So that refill container will last FOREVER. I just LOVE Mrs. Meyer's hand soaps. If I used it as is I would be spending quite a chunk of change, but this way I use that same refill container for months.
3) Wash clothes on cold. Most of the time you can get your clothes plenty clean washing them in cold water. Save some money on your energy bill and keep your washer on it's cold setting. You can also air dry your clothes instead of putting them in the dryer. Get a nice folding drying rack or clothesline and let time and fresh air do the job. If you want to fluff and soften your clothes a little toss them in the dryer on low once they are dry for a couple minutes.
4) Use cloth diapers, and hey while you are at it you might as well use cloth wipes too. Many people scoff at that notion. Trust me it is not NEARLY as scary as it sounds. The benefits far outweigh the "extra work"(which in reality is just simply load of laundry every other day or so). There are plenty of husband/daycare friendly diaper systems out there. Things have come very far since folding, pinning and plastic pants. If you are scared to take the plunge, buy a handful of a few different styles and try it out while you are at home. Nicki's Diapers has a huge selection of diapers and diapering accessories so no matter what you are looking for you will likely find it there. Diaper Swappers is also a great place to find them used. Often times you can find barely used diapers for a fraction of what they would cost new. Just make sure you do your research if you decide to buy used.
We are always looking for fun, inexpensive things to do and new ways to save some cash. This list is just the beginning of what I hope is a complete lifestyle change. Maybe I will do a part two post in the next few months. It is my goal to reduce my carbon foot print little by little (that is another blog entry for another day), and reduce our spending at the same time. Tips are welcomed, feel free to share your little tricks!