Cutting Costs- Some Ideas We Have Implemented
As I have said before, it is necessary to set priorities and develop a spending plan with your spouse and family in order to utilize your financial resources to achieve life goals. If you have followed along so far, you’ve documented your current income, your fixed expenses, and your flexible expenses. You have begun to consider other sources of income and maybe ways to cut expenses. Hopefully, you have also taken time to get a healthy perspective on money and its roles in your life as well as your spending habits. Have you determined that you are an emotional and spontaneous spender, a “keep up with the Jones” spender, or someone who is afraid to spend at all? Are you working to get discipline on these unhealthy habits? They are bad habits that prevent us from achieving all that we could otherwise achieve. No one has unlimited resources. We all must use them wisely, whether they are money, time, energy, or anything else. So let’s talk about some of the methods, considerations, and ideas that our family has applied and/or seen as a benefit to our friends and family.
Set very specific goals for how money is going to be used and allocated each month, remembering that each person may still need to have a little spending money of their own for “surprises” or “treats”. If you are well disciplined, major changes in spending can be done solely in writing and followed through written documentation, but most of us do best with tangible cash in envelopes for flexible expenses to help us literally see how much money is available for each of these budget categories. When our “dining out” money is gone, we know there will be no more meals out. When we see that the envelope for “family entertainment” is a bit heavy from saving up for a period of time, we know that we can count it and look forward to a day at the amusement park or maybe look forward to a really nice vacation, depending upon the budget envelope’s contents.
To use an envelope system, take regular envelopes and on each one write the name of a budget category and the monthly amount to be deposited in the envelope. For example, write “Groceries – $850” on the envelope that is to contain cash for purchasing the family’s groceries. The envelope may contain more than $850, if there was extra left from the previous month(s). You may be saving up for the purchase of a side of beef or seasonal sales and not need to spend your whole budget each month. However, having the monthly budgeted amount on the envelope will help on the day of the month that you withdraw cash from the bank to distribute between budget envelopes. You will know that you need to “deposit” $850 into the envelope for groceries.
You won’t need an envelope for every budget category, like the mortgage and utilities, if you pay for these electronically. However, you may need to electronically purchase some of the flexible expense items. As you may recall, I buy a lot of things from Amazon, using our Prime membership. I am able to use our credit card for these purchases and then place cash, taken out of the appropriate budget envelope(s), into a “bank deposit” envelope. This envelope’s contents are periodically deposited back into our bank account. If using a credit card versus a debit card, be sure to pay off the credit card charges in a timely manner to avoid interest fees! If you do not want to use a credit card or don’t have one but do have a debit card with a Visa/Mastercard logo for purchasing, then be sure to leave a base line balance in your bank account to cover electronic purchase amounts that might occur over the period of time until you get your budget cash deposited. If you only go to the bank once a week, you should keep a week’s worth of expenses in the account as a base line. At the end of the week, you will take the contents of the “bank deposit” cash to the bank to replenish you account for the next week of electronic purchases. In this way, we have discipline to prioritize our spending. Just this week, there were some things I really wanted but didn’t need. I have put them on a wish list until the 15th, when we will re-distribute our budget income for the month. At that time, I will decide if those items are still as important as they were and worthy of their cost. Sometimes, I find that the excitement of the items has faded and I don’t really need them at all. Other times, my desire for them remains strong and I am confident in my purchase. A little delay is usually a good thing, as it makes me think well about purchases and prioritize. I must consider the whole family’s needs, too, not just my wants as strong as my wants may be.
As you work with this budget process, be willing to talk through what is working and what isn’t. We have had to make adjustments to our budget many times. Priorities change, costs of goods change, and our circumstances change. It needs to be a dynamic plan but one that is well thought about and agreed to with eyes kept on the long-term goals and life priorities.
Think about the home that you are in and your location. Do you really need this much space? Are you in the right location? Have the children grown up and you could now downsize and put some of that money elsewhere, even into a bug out location? Do you have enough land where you are located? Where you live is one of the biggest decisions you can make. Living in the city is getting more and more dangerous all of the time. Is there an option to work from home that would allow you to move to the country? Have you even explored this? Maybe this is the time to look into it and consider relocating (or at least getting further outside of the city where your friends live). Getting a few hours drive away is better than living right inside the city, and your closest friends and family would likely come visit on the weekends or you visit them, right?
If you have your budget under control and are satisfied with where you live and have extra funds, you can look at a bug out home. You might want to check out SurvivalRealty.com website for property that you or a group of friends or family members could purchase together as a vacation home and bug out location.
If you are where you want to be right now but still have a mortgage, can you begin paying off your mortgage at an accelerated rate? Check into this. You may be able to pay it off much, much sooner than you think by making an extra full or partial payment each month. Maybe this should be one of your priorities and budget goals with the monies left over each month after necessities are paid for.
If you are in a great location but frustrated with aspects of your home, could you remodel or add on less expensively than selling and moving? Could you do some of the work yourself and save money? Not only have we done this, but we have friends and family who have lived in RVs while they built (or helped build) their own fabulous homes on their property. They gathered stone off their property for use on the home and went to garage sales, antique stores, demolition specialists, and junk yards for materials. They bought scratched appliances at discount. There are many ways to save and end up with a great home!
Look at ways to cut costs here. Have you implemented LED light bulbs throughout the house? There are now some very good quality LED lightbulbs. Does every member of your family really need a new iPhone, or could you get by with an older model and a small AT&T family plan with limited data? We were able to significantly cut our cellular phone bill when we had multiple children in the house by having only two cell phones that had to be shared. They were only available to our children when they were away from home and then just for emergencies, texting (not while driving!), and calling home. We, the parents, tended to use them the same way, except when we had business appointments and such. Hugh would take one with him to work but bring it home and share it. We told everyone of our friends and family that our phones were shared and we didn’t necessarily answer them, especially if driving, so they should call the house or office to reach us immediately. Text messages would eventually reach the appropriate person. It was amazing how much this has freed us also. We are no longer tied to our phones, living with our eyes glued upon them, and now that the children have grown they aren’t as inclined to be as dedicated to their electronics as other young adults either. They actually can walk away and focus on the real people who are in their very presence better than most others we know.
Another thing we cut in our household was cable television. Yep. We got rid of it quite a few years ago. Those shows that are not garbage have commercials that are, quite often! We didn’t want that in our household infecting our children. It has been refreshing and freeing to distance ourselves from the bombardment of cultural numbing of our moral senses. Because of this removal of cable television, our family (including our adult children) are still shocked at seeing sexual scenes in movies. We all scramble for the t.v. remote to fast forward, if we happen upon a Netflix movie that contains inappropriate behavior. What entertainment we have is quite intentional. We kept Internet and have always had plenty of access to books and even movies, older television shows, and news. Our children were encouraged to entertain themselves outdoors and with hobbies, art, sports, games, and developing skills. It saved us money and saved our children’s minds too!
If you live a ways out of town, plan your trips shopping and running errands so that multiple family members can get their errands run together, or one person can do all of the trips for everyone. If you commute to work, consider finding a ride partner.
Vehicle Repairs and Maintenance
We do much of our own, and Hugh has taught our children to do some too. There are courses that can be taken, even for women, to teach you how to change the oil and do some of the basics, which will save you labor costs while also teach you more self-sufficiency skills. There are also some good online resources for more complex repairs, too. Take advantage of learning about your vehicle’s repairs while the Internet is still available! Some of the auto part stores, like NAPA, will run computer diagnostics to determine what is going wrong with your vehicle, so that you don’t have to take it to a garage for diagnostics. Then, you can decide whether it is something you are able and willing to tackle or not. Use the resources available to you that are free or inexpensive before you go to a full-service, expensive service professional. You may end up there, but you may be able to change that air filter or belt yourself for minimal expense and learn something while you do. I have a lady friend who does all of her and her husband’s truck repairs, so this isn’t just advice for the men. Ladies, you can learn some of these things, too!
It is time we learned to sew, mend, and repair. Those items made in China by slave labor may be less expensive, but they won’t be around forever. We need to learn how to make some of our own. In the meantime, we can also benefit from thrift stores and then altar and modify. I have found some gorgeous designer clothes at the local thrift store, some with the tags still on! I have purchased a brand new sports jacket for my son with tags from a major department store for under $10. There are a lot of rags there, but there are some jewels, too. You just have to be willing to hunt a bit. Finding a new Talbots button-up blouse for $2 is worth five or ten minutes of my time. This is especially true of children’s clothes, because they wear them for such a short period of time before out growing them. Buy things that are not too trendy and are basic at thrift stores and then accessorize with the trendy or, better yet, the handmade items. Keep things simple, functional, and durable.
Having teens, there were demands placed upon me for certain items– specific brands of expensive jeans and tennis shoes, for example. My rule was that I would contribute what seemed like a reasonable cost for “average” brand jeans and tennis shoes. If they wanted something “special” they had to contribute the extra cost with their own money. I might pay $60 toward a pair of tennis shoes, but if they wanted those $150 shoes, they had to cough up $90. Now, they weren’t contributing to the family income at this time either, but this encouraged them to have income/jobs of some kind. If they didn’t, then they got Levi’s and ***AMAZONamazon.com/dp/B00LNHRYOO/ref=twister_dp_update?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1***Adidas. It was quite the motivator for them to mow lawns, babysit, and get jobs. They wanted their “style”, and I found that they were willing to work for it. It was a win-win situation. They didn’t buy everything, by any means, but they had to contribute the “extra” for what was really important. It made them prioritize what was important to them, too.
We invested in a front loading washer, which uses less laundry soap and water and is more gentle on clothes as well as seems to get clothes cleaner. My dryer also does an awesome job of steaming (yes steaming) to freshen up/de-wrinkle clothing, too! I am no longer inclined to use the professional cleaners for dress shirts and other garments any longer, thanks to the ease of use and effectiveness of my laundry system. It is a significant expense up front, but I believe it is one that eventually pays for itself (not only in terms of lower cleaning bills and reduced soap/water costs but in reduced car/gas use, time savings, and increased longevity of clothing) and makes for a happier household. Also, with the Dryel (and other) dry cleaning bags/freshening cloths, I can deodorize and spot clean many “dry clean only” garments between visits to the cleaners. If you have a professional or someone who must dress up for work in your household, reducing trips to the cleaners can sure help the budget. Set up a system to make it easier and more pleasant to do the laundry at home. Get the children involved, too, in doing their laundry to help out! They can begin folding towels when they are very young. This is, after all, a family matter. Everyone wants a roof over their head, food in their belly, clothes, security, transportation, and utilities as well as many other comforts and conveniences. Get everyone involved as much as they are capable and able.
Homemade laundry detergents and deodorizers are another way to cut costs as well, especially when ingredients like Borax and Fels Naptha are purchased in bulk. There are some wonderful articles on SurvivalBlog describing just how to make laundry detergents (and other soaps for the household and personal hygiene, too). Additionally, I found online instructions on the Internet for making homemade Dryel-like freshening cloths using things like warm water, Borax, oxygen bleach, and lavender (or other) essential oils.
It is my opinion that gifts should be about the person who is the recipient. The cost of the gift isn’t nearly as important and the thoughtfulness and how personalized it is for the recipient. It may be far easier to just spend a bunch of money on the latest trendy gadget for someone than to spend a lot of time thinking about the person, their interests, their history, and what would be meaningful to them, but it won’t have as big an impact usually on your relationship (unless they are a very materialistic person) and it will have a big impact on your budget. When it makes sense, look for things you can make or personalize that would be significant to the person. Is there something you can hunt for that is rare that they would really appreciate. Do they have a favorite author/politician/famous person? Maybe you can find a nice print photograph of this person and a favorite quote from him/her and make a wall hanging. Maybe your best friend loves all things about chickens, and you can make a chicken-shaped birthday cake and take it on a chicken platter that costs only $25. The effort and thoughtfulness will count more than the money spent! There are many ways to give a big gift without spending a lot of money. Sometimes, the way that the gift is given is part of the gift itself. Treasure hunts are great fun for the kids (and can also be fun for sweethearts, too). Use your creative resources instead of just your bank resources in gift giving. Make your gifts truly gifts of the heart and not just gifts of the pocket book! They will usually mean more.
Also, when it comes to the children, don’t spoil them with gifts and goodies every time you go to the store! Let treats really be treats and special times rather than the routine. What becomes routine becomes expected and loses meaning, while at the same time a lot of money gets wasted on “junk” and bad eating habits can be formed, too, as candy bars, lollipops, gum, and so forth get picked up at the check out line. If you have a youngster (or two or three) who gets hungry and cranky at the store, I suggest taking a healthy homemade granola bar or baggies of apple slices and/or carrot sticks from home. That way they will have a snack to keep them busy while waiting in line and you have something to give them when they each ask for the candy bar or bag of sugary treats that aren’t good for them and each cost a dollar.
While raising our children, we had responsibility charts and reward systems in place. Our children had to take care of their things. As they grew to be able to handle more responsibility, they were given responsibilities around the house and on our property, too. They got rewarded based upon their effort/performance in handling household and yard responsibilities, just as we adults get rewarded for handling our jobs. If their job wasn’t handled properly (or to the best of their ability), it was noted and they didn’t get compensated for that job. At the end of each week, they got their financial rewards in the form of “pay”. Sometimes, there were situations where they were expected to go above and beyond, because we were family and just had to help each other out. We made sure that it was clear that these jobs and responsibilities would some day be expected without pay, but while they were learning and until they could get jobs outside of the house we would reward their effort for caring for community areas and teach them how to manage money. Then, we expected them to buy what they wanted with this money. Hugh and I bought what was needed, but we didn’t buy “wants”, except on holidays and birthdays. Again, this taught them to make decisions with their money. They had to prioritize their wants. We also taught them that they had to save some of their money for gifts for their friends, too. If they got invited to a birthday party, they had to buy a gift of at least $10 (minimum) for the friend who invited them or they could not go. If they got invited by a friend to go to the movies, they had to pay for the movie. If they didn’t have the money to go, they didn’t get to go. There were some tears on occasion, but the lessons learned young were better than the lessons they would have to learn now. This taught them to put money back to be ready for opportunities that might come up. Some of our children learned to save more readily than others, but all of them eventually learned this concept.
Remember, that it is important to teach our children the life lessons we have learned (or are learning) while they are young. Better to learn when you are young than after you have more serious consequences to mistakes! I sure am grateful for the training I had, yet wish I had learned better what my parents tried to teach me so that I could have avoided more mistakes. Still, we do our best to teach our children and have to let them make their own choices and mistakes, just like I made mine. We are all hopefully growing in knowledge and getting better, day by day. I have much yet to learn!
There is so much to say here, but most of it has been said elsewhere on SurvivalBlog. Grow a garden, raise chickens and livestock as you are able. Can, dry, and freeze dry your homegrown foods. Buy beans, Band-aids, and bullets in bulk whenever possible, using Costco, Sam’s Club, Amazon Prime, SurvivalBlog advertisers, the LDS/Mormon store, and specialty wholesalers and retailers. (Also, don’t forget to buy Bibles, too.) Each month, you may need to focus on obtaining one type of food or prep supply in bulk, or you may need to set back some of your budget until you have the total you want to buy a whole order. Whatever you do, I suggest you do all you can. Watch for sales, too, at your local supermarket and in advertisers’ ads and then take advantage of those deals especially long-lasting loss-leader deals that are priced well below their normal price. I was surprised to get cans of quality black beans the other day for 39 cents each! There was a limit of eight, but each family member could buy eight and the sale was for more than one day, so I could make repeat visits to the store. Be smart. Be diligent! Keep on keepin’ on, saving one dollar at a time. It adds up!
Make treats using vegetable and meat scraps. Don’t waste! In looking for ways to use what you aren’t going to use in the kitchen, you will find that you are stretching your dog, cat, chicken, goat, or rabbit food. Just be sure that you aren’t giving them spoiled food that might make them sick. Keep tabs on your refrigerator contents. If it is losing texture or getting a few spots, give it to the animals, but if it is growing fuzz or is really old you should just toss it into the compost. There are, of course, somethings that just don’t go to the animals, like chocolate, peppers, onions, grapes/raisins for dogs, and so forth. (Check out some of the articles and letters on SurvivalBlog for treat recipes and “dos and don’ts” of feeding animals.) I try not to let anything get to the really spoiled point before it goes to the critters. I keep small buckets in the refrigerator of the “reject” vegetables from the garden and another for reject meat/cartilage/fats/oils. Later in the day or the very next morning it is given to the appropriate animal as a treat or put into the freezer to use in making batches of baked treats. We turn much of our waste into food (chickens/eggs) and security (dog), or it goes into compost. Be resourceful!
We do a lot of our own repairs, remodeling, and fixes. We look for ways to re-purpose things, too. We have a young friend who is making some nice deck chairs out of pallets. Get resourceful and see how you can stretch what you have without spending much! We also have found some great furniture buys on craigslist. Who would have thought we could buy the sofa/love seat combo I was considering buying at the furniture store (priced at over $1,300) for under $400 used? Watch clearance racks at home improvement stores for supplies that have been returned without packaging and so forth. You may get a great deal on a light fixture, tool, or something else you need in or for the house or property.
We have disciplined ourselves to set money aside each month for the future. Of course, precious metals (PMs) get purchased, junk silver, and some cash is kept also. It requires some discipline to know how much we can afford to “invest” in the future each month, as these are all for after a SHTF situation. Plan for this investment, if you have the other necessities covered, but you need to be sure you have food, water, shelter, and security secured before you set money aside for PMs. There is no benefit to you for having PMs if you don’t survive a disastrous event. Keep first things first. Still, there will be some emergencies along the way, and you will need some cash at times, so have some put back for those unexpected tires that blow out, that travel emergency to a family member, or something else. The banks are volatile and could close at any time, so be sure that you have a chunk of cash in hand, accessible to you even if the bank closes.
It is worth the effort to say “no” to some things, live with some older things a little longer, re-purpose something and make our own items rather than buying new, and delay a purchase in order to first fulfill a commitment and/or pursue our family priorities and life goals. It takes a bit more effort, but the savings Hugh and I accumulate through our budgetary discipline enables us to redirect our resources toward improving self-sufficiency, making family memories, increasing our Biblical training and ministry, and helping others like you learn to do the same. Are you using your resources wisely and with integrity? We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow and we can honor Him in how we live (and spend) today.
God bless you as you work to become better stewards of the financial resources He has entrusted you to utilize.