If your family is anything like mine, then you are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. With rising gas prices, astronomical grocery bills, and two teenagers who always seem to be in need of something, we have had to tighten our belt…to the point of suffocation. It came down to this, I either had to release one of my children into the wilderness to fend for themselves, or find ways to spread my household budget as far as it can go. It’s pretty thin right now, almost to the point of transparency, but we have managed to survive by making the following small changes.
Gas Costs: Experts advise that a car in good working order gets the most fuel efficiency. Regular oil changes, tire care, and tune-ups keep your car operating at peak efficiency. Another way to help save at the pumps is taking advantage of fuel discounts. Grocery stores that also provide gas services offer discounts simply by earning points on the groceries you already purchase. Most offer a substantial discount if you purchase gift cards through the store. If you know you are going to be shopping at Best Buy or Home Depot, then purchase a gift card inside the store and earn maximum points for fuel discounts.
We’ve also started combining all our errands into one trip in one car. We all load up in one car and complete our errands together. With three drivers in the house now, we have all learned to make the most out of the gas we have. It may mean sitting in the car for thirty minutes until one of my kids gets off work, but it gives me time to hone in on my “Angry Birds” skills.
Grocery Stores: Grocery stores play the game well. They put the expensive items at eye level so they are the first items we see. Manufacturers pay a premium to have their items placed at eye level and at the end of the aisles. It gives the appearance that these items are on sale, when in fact they are not always discounted. Use coupons, shop the ads, and find stores that are willing to price match. I am not a huge fan of Wal-Mart who has 36 check-out lanes and only opens 3, but they are willing to price match any item as long as you bring in the advertisement from another store. This means you can get all the sale prices at one stop. It may mean gathering and organizing your ads, but you won’t have to waste the gas driving to each store.
Dollar Stores: It is no surprise that dollar stores are the fastest growing retail stores in America. Everyone is looking for a deal. These stores are a great place for gift bags, paper products, and basic craft supplies. I load up on glue sticks, glitter, pipe cleaners, and floral wire. Most now offer a pretty wide selection of food. Instead of buying snacks at Wal-Mart for the kid’s lunches, I buy them at Dollar Tree. I have noticed that in the last year that box sizes are getting smaller. Some products may not be a savings when you compare size and price. Their products also change frequently. If you are already making a trip to pick up gift bags and ribbon, it may be worth a trip down the food aisles.
Thrift Stores: My teenage daughter used to cringe when I’d suggest shopping at the local thrift store. I figured out though, if I gave her a budget of twenty dollars, she could roam the store on her own and put together an entire outfit. Yes, it requires digging through bins and scouring the racks, but once she saw how much she could get for twenty bucks, she got into the spirit of thrift store shopping. Thrift stores offer coupons, clearance days, and incredible deals on books, furniture, and fashion accessories. We can’t always find what we are looking for, but occasionally we find a deal. Last October, needing home-coming heels, we found a pair of silver shoes for $3.00. After bedazzling a $2.00 package of rhinestones onto the heels, they looked brand new.
Library: The local library offers far more than book borrowing. The kids can now rent movies and video games. Video games are the biggest con out there. Sixty bucks for a game that the kids will beat in three days anyway. It is far cheaper for me to use my gas to run to the local library. The library offers programs that help the kids get involved. Reading groups, teen support groups, and book clubs are just a few perks that our library has. Almost all libraries have a toddler reading and activity group. For stay at home moms this offers a chance to interact with other parents and lets their children play with other kids. Our local library even helps with resume writing and job searching.
Eating Out: Eating out is our downfall. With all four of us now working, we are rarely at home at the same time. Sometimes it is easier to all meet up somewhere. I keep a barrage of coupons in my purse just in case. However, it is so much cheaper to eat at home. When I carefully plan meals and grocery shop accordingly, I save all around. We are working on eating out less, cooking healthier food more, and having quality meals together as a family. Also, the left-overs can be taken to work the next day for lunch, thereby saving us even more money. I guess we need to tighten the belt a little more. We are a work in progress.
With the economic crunch threatening to strangle us all, there are small ways we can cut back. It can be as easy as clipping coupons before shopping or bypassing Starbucks on the way to work. One thing I know for sure, if the entire family commits to each cutting back on something, it can make a monetary difference. I know all of you have creative ideas for stretching the household dollar. What are some ways you have cut back to save a few bucks? Do you have any tricks for saving at the grocery store or gas pump? Please share your ideas; we are always interested in getting the most for our buck!
By: Jill Aldridge