Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Start Stocking Up

The key to success at the grocery store is knowing when to buy, when to pick up an extra item, and when to stock up. There's a simple bit of math that will answer this question. I've been using this system for a year now and it is great.

When to buy an item:
  • Feel free to buy any item you need for affordable family dinners. Guess what? It's OK to buy one box of Zesta crackers if you are planning to have soup for dinner. And you can buy one tub of sour cream if you are going to use it to make tacos or enchiladas. But that's the key. Just buy what you need...that would usually be ONE item. 
When to buy an extra:
  • Weekly sales. Generally the savings here are 35-40% off regularly priced items. When these items go on sale (and they are items your family will eat) buy TWO or THREE. This works best for non-perishable items, like spaghetti noodles or boxes of cereal. These sales usually cycle through the grocery store every 4-5 weeks. It will feel like you are spending MORE than usual when you do this, but it really does pay off in the long run...just make sure that you stay within your budget.
When to Stock up:
  • Big sales, seasonal sales, or sales price + coupon. Any time an item is more than 55-60% off, THAT'S the time to stock up. When you can find regularly used products at these prices you should buy FOUR or more, depending on your budget and/or how many coupons you have.
Here's the trick. You have to BUDGET for items to stock up on. I couldn't figure this out for quite some time...I kept thinking, "How am I suppose to budget extra money for items that I don't even know will be on sale next week?!?"

Ready for this? It's so simple:
  • 90% of your weekly/monthly grocery budget should be used normally.
  • The other 10% should be set aside, kept in your wallet, ready to use when you see a sale. If you don't use that money one week, keep it! Now you've got even more money to use to stock up on the things you usually use.

With this system last month we were able to buy 12 large boxes of cereal for about $18. Sure, there are even crazier deals out there, but come on...these boxes were about $1.50 each. Compare that to the normal price of $3.99 and you can see that the savings is around 62%.

Here are a couple examples so you can see how this really works:
 You can also see the best months to buy:

 The more often you are able to stock up on items, the less money you will spend overall. You'll even find yourself at the store much less often. After a year of doing this I am to the point where I only buy cereal 4 times a year, and I probably spend a total of just $80/year on cold cereal instead of the $140-$200 I use to spend. Imagine always having something to eat in the morning! No more reaching for a cereal box and realizing there is less than a 1/2 a bowl left.

We buy flour and sugar once a year.
Meat: twice a year
Pasta: twice a year
Tomato Sauce: once a year
Yeast: once a year
Soup: twice a year

And we have set this up without spending ANY extra money.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Helps for Husbands of Working Moms

Organization is one of the natural results we've seen since we started working hard on getting out of debt. This has been especially helpful for my husband in the mornings. I begin my work day much earlier than he does, so it is up to him to get the kids up and ready for the babysitter each day. (And he does a better job than anyone I know!)

I thought I'd share some of the things that help in this process. Some of them are classic ideas, others are things I've seen on Pinterest, and some are things we did when I was growing up. There are ideas here that could cost a bit of money. These are things that we've purchased over the last few years...I would NOT recommend anyone trying to get out of debt go purchase all these things at once.

1. Family Calendar
We took a classic white board and used permanent marker to draw a calendar. We keep reminders here for trash day, late nights, days off, and days to pay our babysitter and preschool teacher. (Here's one at Walmart for about $16)

2. Breakfast
We have found that the key to staying organized is to be able to SEE everything. Because our kids are still pretty small, we keep the cereal on the bottom shelf. This helps our 5-year-old be independent enough to pick out his own breakfast and take it to the table.

3. Getting Dressed
This is one idea on saw on Pinterest several months ago. I'll be honest, it seemed like a silly idea at first. Why not just keep all your clean clothes in your drawers and use those to get dressed?!?

But at our house we've found that if we tell the 5-year-old to get dressed he will come out of his room wearing shorts and a sweatshirt in September, or swim trunks and a tank-top in the middle of January. So we gave this idea a shot. Each shoe "shelf" has an outfit for a different day of the week. This way the kids have complete outfits (including underwear and socks) within a single reach of the arm. My husband swears it saves him at least 20 minutes each morning. (We found our hanging shoe shelves at Target, on sale for $12)

 4. Jackets and Backpacks
Not long after we moved in to our house we hung hooks in each bedroom and in the living room. It has been a great way to get jackets, scarves, backpacks, and purses off the floor, AND to have each child's items in one place. (Home Depot is a great place to find these in every price range and style)

In our room we added a little shelving organizer underneath the hooks. We picked up the unit and the baskets at Target during a New Year's sale last year. This is where we keep our shoes and socks. It fits perfectly behind our bedroom door.

5. Missing socks?
One of the down-falls of being a working mom is that laundry usually has to wait until the end of the week. But then there's always the missing sock problem. I HATE putting them with the paired socks because when I'm getting ready in the morning I don't want to grab a single sock or spend the time looking for a pair. So we have a very special place that our missing socks go:

Each Saturday (laundry day) I pull out this basket and look for pairs as each load comes out of the dryer! This is one trick I learned from my mom.

6. Hair Bows
If my husband can get our 1-year-old to sit still long enough, he brushes her hair. And if she's sitting still an extra long time he can quickly grab one of these hair bows and clip it into her hair. (This is sort of rare though!) I know I didn't invent this idea, but I explained it to my husband one day and he threw it together for me!

7. Shoes
Do you have shoes all over your house? We do. One thing we've tried (and it's been a big success for us), is to have a large shoe basket by the entry. Quite frankly, I'm still looking for an even larger basket. Once the kids get dressed they come out to the living room and slip their shoes right on! (This basket came from Hobby Lobby during one of their 50% sales!)

8. Snacks
There are a couple days a week when my husband not only drops the kids off, but picks them up too. We set aside a little box for snacks on the bottom shelf of the pantry so that the kids could easily reach and help themselves...of course, it's been a bit of a trick to keep them from taking too much. I actually picked up this box at Walmart about 4 years ago when their 4th of July stuff was on clearance.

 There you have it. Just a few of our little tricks to help dad get the kids out the door each day.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tax Refund

We've always been pretty good at filing our taxes before April...although, I will admit that the process is always a terrifying one. We've had years when we've owed the state, years when we've owed the feds, years when we've owed both, and years of refunds.

This year...REFUND! Whoot, whoot.

Now this is where we usually run into problems.

In years past we usually decide to put the majority of our refund towards a bill. However, we've forever fallen into the "why-don't-we-just-take-a-couple-hundred-dollars-for-ourselves" pit. We've always justified it by convincing ourselves that we work hard and "deserve" a little fun.

This year though, I think we've finally become sick and tired enough to just throw the whole lot into the debt snowball.

So, all $2877 went toward paying off our car. Truth be told, we added our own $23 to that total to make the payment an even $2900.

Now we owe just a little under $1900 on our little car. If we make only the minimum payments we'll have it out of the way in just 6 months. But we're going to try to do it in just 3! I can't wait until I can say that I own that little fella and all the stickers that are stuck to the kids' windows!

From there on out, things should really start moving! (At least, we hope so.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February Goals

January Goal Results:
  • Spend no more than $40/week on groceries.
FAIL. I cannot lie. It was the Valentine's Day candy that got us here.
  • Double the car payment.
SUCCESS. And it felt so good!

February Goals:
  • Take a list to the grocery store each and every time we go
  • Double the car payment

And coming up this weekend...freezer meals!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Homemade Laundry Detergent and Dryer Sheets

I have heard about homemade laundry detergent for the last year, but all I could think was, "Homemade laundry detergent? Isn't that going too far with this whole money-saving-thing?" as well as, "There are just some things that I will not be a tight wad laundry detergent."
But I decided to give it a shot on this boring, rainy Saturday.

I used this recipe that I found at Why Not Sew? This is an outstanding tutorial with lots of great pictures. I didn't take any pictures because I was SO skeptical that I didn't want to end up wasting time getting cute pictures of something that might end up in the garbage. But I digress.

Homemade Laundry Soap
  • 1 bar soap (I used IVORY)
  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing soda
  • 2 gallons water

1. Grate entire bar of soap into a large pan; add one gallon water and heat until soap is dissolved...Stir, stir, stir (and DO NOT walk away. This stuff can bubble right up and over in an instance).
2. Add the Borax and washing soda (which is NOT the same this as baking soda) and stir again. This is the step where you will go from a liquid soap mixture to a gel soap mixture.
3. Pour in one gallon COLD water. Stir, stir, stir.
4. Use a funnel to fill gallon sized containers. (I used drink containers that I found at the store).

If you use just 1/2 cup detergent for each load of laundry, your 2 gallon containers will clean 64 loads of laundry. My bar of Ivory soap was $0.64, using some simple math (product cost divided by total cups of product) I estimate that one cup of washing soda is about $0.52, and one cup of Borax is roughly $0.55.

That means that I made two gallons of laundry detergent for $1.71. At the store a few weeks ago I bought two gallons of Tide for $10--and that was on sale, WITH a coupon. It's usually closer to $15.

That means that making your own laundry detergent is an 89% savings.

I immediately washed a couple loads of laundry after making my batch. Bingo. Totally clean! I NEVER would have believed it if I didn't try it myself.

Homemade Dryer Sheets

This one was a REALLY hard sell for me. It seemed absolutely RIDICULOUS to think that rags soaked in fabric softener could take the place of Bounce dryer sheets. But low, and behold, it works! I followed this tutorial to make my sheets.

  • Old rags or towels (I cut up 2 old baby burp clothes)
  • 1 cup Fabric softener
  • Plastic container to hold sheets (I used a small pencil box)
1. Cut up old rags or towels into 4 in. x 4 in. pieces
2. Place in plastic container
3. Pour fabric softener over the rags

When it's time to throw the laundry in the dryer just open the container, ring out a homemade sheet (dripping the excess softener in the container), and throw it into the dryer with the wet clothes.

This is absolutely remarkable. It leaves the clothing just a soft, smells just as good, and removes the static from the clothes just as well as name brand sheets. When the clothes come out the rag will be soft and dry and can be thrown back into the container to be used again.

I poured just one cup of fabric softener into the container. That one cup of Downy cost about $0.70. The same cup will treat about 100 loads (really, ONE HUNDRED loads). So, $0.007 per load. Bounce dryer sheets end up being about $0.05 per load.

This means homemade dryer sheets are an 86% savings.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January Goals

This year we are going to set just two or three goals. Hopefully this will help us break this whole Money Makeover into bite-sized pieces.

January Goals
  • Spend no more than $40/week on groceries (so no more than $150 this month, since there are nearly 5 full weeks in January this year)
  • Double the car payment
That's it. It's not that we're aiming low. We're staying realistic.