Uber Frugal Week Day 3: Saving More Money In (almost) Every Category Of Your Budget
Welcome to Day 3 of my pandemic-inspired, 8-day, what-do-I-do with my money, Uber Frugal Week series. For more about the series, including an overview of what I’ll cover each day, check this out. I recommend you read the series in order; start with Day 1 here. Read disclaimers about me and the series here.
While the Uber Frugal Month is an email program, the Uber Frugal Week will appear right here on the blog in a series of posts. I’ll publish Uber Frugal Week posts as quickly as I can but, in all honesty, I haven’t written all of them yet because pandemic means both of my kids are home all the time and my husband and I are both working from home. I’m writing as fast as I can, I promise!
Uber Frugal Week: Day 3
On Day 1 we categorized our expenses as Fixed, Discretionary, Reduceable, or Forbearance Eligible. Day 2 addressed what to do with Forbearance Eligible expenses, some of which are Fixed, such as rent/mortgage payments. Today focuses on Reduceable and Discretionary expenses.
Saving more money is something you can control and start doing right away. Earning more money and/or diversifying your income is important, but it’s also dependent on someone else paying you. We’ll cover income-generating ideas in a future post, but we start with how to save money because you are in control of your spending and you can make changes to it immediately.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
As you go through the Uber Frugal Week, please understand that my advice isn’t going to be perfect–or applicable–for everyone.
- The series is designed to get you thinking about what YOU need to do with YOUR money. And what you need will be different from what the next person needs.
- This isn’t a time to judge our neighbor’s spending (or saving); it’s a time to look inward and identify what we can–and need to–do for our families.
- Some people will spend more on groceries (that would be me!), some will spend less. Some people will keep cable, others have never had cable. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know your own situation and what you need to do in order to come out of this recession as intact as possible.
Lend a hand, if you can:
- If, like me, you find yourself in a fortunate position, please consider supporting others. I’m focusing my philanthropy on my local community by donating to local relief efforts. The New York Times offers this article on where and how to give back during the pandemic.
- Everyone’s ability to help during this time will be different and everyone has seasons of being able to help and needing to receive help. Please do not feel guilty for whichever group you fall into–we all experience both over the course of our lives. If you need help, please reach out. If you can offer help, please reach out.
Now’s the time to set aside judgment, partisanship, and sanctimonious-ness and just help each other out.
Step One: Reduce The Reduceables
To recap, Reduceables are things in your budget that are mandatory for your existence, but aren’t Fixed or Forbearance Eligible (such as your rent/mortgage or federal student loan repayments; see Day 2 for a rundown on what to do with those).
Reduceable #1: Groceries
The near-universal need to eat costs money but is necessary for, you know, survival and all that. While it’s easy to assume a grocery bill is unchangeable, that is false. Here’s the top line on how to reduce your grocery bill:
In general, the farther foods are from processing, the cheaper and more shelf-stable they’ll be. For example, instead of buying a loaf of bread, buy the raw ingredients to bake bread (flour, yeast, etc). Buying bulk, raw foods gives you the most flexibility in your cooking and costs less (source: me).
The doubly good news is that this cheaper stuff has a long shelf life, which is ideal for limiting trips to the grocery store. I know that cooking from scratch is not everyone’s jam. I, myself, do not like to cook. But people, if there was ever a time to bust out your great-grandma’s bread recipe, it’s now.
I’m not saying you have to love it, I’m not saying you have to do it forever. But if you need to save more money–and, since you’ve put up with me for this long I’m guessing you do–buying raw and cooking from scratch is a darn good way to do it.
Additionally, buy generic or store-brand of everything. Avoid name brands and avoid pre-made, packaged foods. That giant bag of dry beans? Oh you want it. That enormous sack of uncooked rice? It’s got your name on it.
Groceries In The Time of Pandemic
All of the above advice would be great during Normal Times, but we are not in Normal Times, we are in Pandemic Times. My family is no longer going to the grocery store every week (we’re going as infrequently as possible; roughly every three weeks) and we’re no longer going to the cheapest stores. Instead, we’re going to the stores that offer curbside pick-up, no matter the price.
We’re flipped our prioritization metric from price to social distance. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t save more on groceries right now. Don’t put your health in danger to shave a few dollars off your food budget. Do what you have to do to feed your family and limit your exposure as much as possible.
Plus, grocery stores are out of a lot items right and so, we all have to be flexible with what we buy. In general, simplify as much as possible–focus on the rawest form of all ingredients and accept that your menus might be a bit unusual for awhile here. It’s Pandemic Cooking and it’ll probably be different from Normal Times Cooking. The more you can lean into it, the less stress you’ll have.
A few things that’ve worked for us to limit our contact with people while food shopping:
- Curbside pick-up of fresh produce from a local produce store
- Buying farm products (eggs and beef) from our neighbors via porch/barn pick-up
- Going to a convenience store/gas station when it’s empty of customers:
- Since it’s a much smaller space, my husband was able to wait in the parking lot until the store was empty (except for one cashier) and then go inside. This would never be possible at a large grocery store.
- Curbside pick-up of flour and baking ingredients from King Arthur Flour
- Ordering bulk raw foods online, such as dried beans, oats, cornmeal, yeast, etc
It’s a hodgepodge and it’s different from how we normally shop, but it’s working for the time being. You may need to get creative and cook foods you wouldn’t normally cook and shop where you wouldn’t normally shop.
Rather than plagiarize myself, I’m going to link you to my best rundowns on cheap groceries:
- Our Complete Guide To Frugal, Healthy Eating
- The Dirty Secret Behind How We Cook At Home
- My Healthy Oatmeal Pumpkin Bars Recipe + How I Get My Kids To Eat Kale
- …and everything else in my Food category (except for all the stuff about potlucks. Don’t be having pandemic potlucks, people!)
- The list of foods we bought for pandemic preparedness is here
Reduceable #2: Cell Phone Service
Get excited: this is the easiest, least painful thing to reduce because all you have to do is sign-up for cell phone service through an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). MVNOs are wireless service resellers; they resell brand name wireless service (such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc) at dirt cheap rates. This is not a hoax. Nor is it a gimmick, which is what I assumed before I tried it myself.
Ever the willing guinea pigs for you folks, Mr. Frugalwoods and I went on an odyssey of testing out different MVNO providers last year and I’m here to tell you that they work.
They legit work and they legit cost PENNIES compared to traditional cell service providers. If you’re not already using an MVNO, now’s the time to convert and repent, my friends. Actually, don’t worry about the repent thing. Just convert.
I use and recommend the MVNO Ting. Another MVNO you might check out–especially if you use a lot of data–is Mint (these are affiliate links). Get the details on how to make the switch here: My Frugal Cell Phone Service Trick: How I Pay $10.65 A Month
Reduceable #3: Internet and/or Home Phone Services
In this wild time, I think it’s worth calling your utility providers to see if you can negotiate a reduced rate for things like internet and home phone. And if you can get by without a home phone right now? Cancel it. Remember that this doesn’t mean you’ll never have a home phone ever again. It just means that right now, you need the savings more than you need the phone.
Note: some internet companies are offering reduced rates or forgiveness for non-payment. Check out the Day 2 post for details.
Reduceable #4: Utilities
Now’s the time to turn down the heat and use less water. Guys, I know this sounds extreme and it is. The goal here is to try and save money in every possible area and, using less electricity and less water is a way to save money.
I have several posts on how to reduce your electricity and water usage:
- 11 Frugal Hacks to Stay Warm and Save Money This Winter
- You Can’t Buy Your Way To Green: How Frugality Is Environmentalism
- Environmentalism, Frugality, and Minimalism: The Triumvirate That’ll Save You Money and Simplify Your Life
Note: some utility companies are offering reduced rates or forgiveness for non-payment. Check out the Day 2 post for details.
Step Two: Make Discretionary Substitutions
For everything you categorized as “Discretionary,” now’s the time to decide if you want to axe it or find a cheaper substitute. If you’ve lost your job–or fear you might very soon–then I highly recommend you delete these items from your budget. If you’re still employed and aren’t in immediate danger of being laid off, you might consider implementing some of these cheaper substitution ideas.
Discretionary Substitution #1: Cable TV
I realize this is at odds with the fact that we’re all trapped at home right now (written by a person who would like to do nothing more than watch Outlander and Call The Midwife all day long while eating Cheetos… ), but, Cable is usually THE MOST EXPENSIVE way to get entertainment. Now’s the time to explore your streaming options.
If you just broke out in a cold sweat because you’re not sure what “streaming options” mean, please be in touch (remotely; don’t actually touch them) with your adult children/grandchildren/local tech geek neighbor or friend. They are also stuck at home and can help you figure out what will work best for you and can probably even–GULP–set it up for you remotely.
If you’ve been dragging your feet on canceling cable, drag your feet over to the phone and cancel it now. RIGHT NOW. I’ll be here when you get back. Sign-up instead for a much cheaper streaming service and…
Free Trial It Up:
Lots of streaming services offer a free trial period. If you sign-up for one free trial at a time, you could have MONTHS of free TV and movies. Here’s how:
- Sign-up for Netflix’s free 30-day trial
- Once your free Netflix trial is over, sign-up for Hulu’s free trial
- Then, sign-up for Amazon Prime Streaming’s free 30-day trial (affiliate link)
- Next, sign-up for a 7-day free trial with Philo TV
- After that, sign-up for Sling’s 14-day free trail
- Then, there’s the Disney Plus free trial
- And check out the 500 hours of programming that HBO just made free
- There are even more free trials out there, but I got tired of Googling them
Once you’ve run through all the free trials (which, to be honest, will take you a REALLY long time), sign-up for a super cheap streaming subscription, such as Hulu’s $5.99/month plan.
Explore Other Totally Free Entertainment Options:
- See if your local public library has options for no-contact lending of DVDs, books, and videos.
- PBS is always free!
- Check out the many, many, many free events and activities happening all over the internet right now. This post has a bunch of ideas.
- Watch videos of your grandchildren dressed as dinosaurs running into each other while singing “Row Row Row Your Boat.” Just, for example.
- Teach your cats to jump through a hula hoop (hat tip to my parents for that one).
Discretionary Substitution #2: Haircuts!
I’ve been preaching the Home Haircut Evangelism for years and I feel like I may finally have my moment. All of a sudden, LOTS of people are asking me how to cut hair at home. LOTS of people are furtively texting me for advice on self-administered bangs trims. After years of being That Weirdo, the time of the home haircut is upon us and I AM HERE FOR YOU.
My husband and I have been cutting each other’s hair for years now. Several key points:
- We’re still married (celebrating 12 years in June!)
- Neither of us has ever had to go to a salon for a “repair”
- It’s not that big of a deal
- We’re all supposed to be staying home right now anyway, so no one’s going to see your hair if something bad does happen
- I am not a haircutting professional and will not be held responsible for any pandemic-related hair emergencies
I have not one, not two, but THREE tutorials on how to cut your own hair:
- How to Give Home Haircuts in 8 Easy Steps
- Final Frontier Of Frugality: My Husband Gave Me A Haircut
- Sunk Costs, Paralysis By Analysis, And Why I Finally Cut My Hair Short
And folks, I’m not the only one. The internet will provide a tutorial for whatever sort of hair you have and whatever sort of cut you want.
Here’s the rundown on my family’s haircutting regime:
- My husband has a buzz cut and we’ve been using these two Wahl products for at least eight years now (these are affiliate links):
- I have a chin-length angled bob (shorter in the back, longer in the front) and my husband uses the Wahl clippers to buzz for length and then a pair of kitchen scissors to trim up any loose ends (in my experience, special “hair cutting scissors” are totally unnecessary).
- My daughters both have long hair and I trim straight across (while their hair is wet) to take care of split ends. My four-year-old jerked her head to the side during her most recent trim and, voila, she now has layers!
Discretionary Substitution #3: Beauty Regimens
You will be 100% unsurprised to hear that I insource all of my beauty rituals and have done so for years. And I don’t look like a Yeti! I swear! I have several posts on how to DIY your beauty care, including fabulous compilations of advice from Frugalwoods readers:
- Reader Suggestions: Beauty Routines Of The Frugal And Fabulous
- Reader Suggestions On How To Fight the Pink Tax from Birth Control to Bras
- Less Makeup, More Confidence: My Frugal Beauty Manifesto
- How I Let Go Of Caring What People Think
Discretionary Substitution #4: Take-out, Restaurants, Coffee Shops, and Bars
Unfortunately, the pandemic is taking care of this for us right now. Sadly, since most restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are closed, this is a chance to save on those line items. As I discussed in this post, if you’re financially able to support your local economy (through getting take-out or buying gift certificates for future use), please consider doing so.
For ideas and inspiration for at-home fun, check out the following:
- Reader Suggestions: How To Make Frugality Luxurious and Longterm
- Reader Suggestions Of Frugal Date Ideas
- Reader Suggestions Of Cheap And Fun Things To Do This Summer
- How To Stop Eating Out According To Frugalwoods Readers
Discretionary Substitution #5: Subscription Services, Gym Memberships, etc
Now’s the time to review the recurring subscriptions that automatically deduct from your accounts every month. This isn’t to say you’ll cancel them, but it’s important to have an awareness that they’re there. If you’ve forgotten you even had a subscription? Might be a sign you can cancel it.
There’s also the inconvenient fact that we’re in a pandemic and Pandemic Life might mean you need to sign-up for services that’ll enable you to stay home, such as grocery delivery, Amazon Prime, or streaming services (affiliate link). But if you come across something that’s not seriously adding value to your life? Cancel it.
In light of the pandemic, a lot of companies/gyms/exercise studios/etc are offering no-penalty cancellations or delays of membership. It doesn’t make sense to pay for a gym membership you can’t use, so it’s worth calling your gym to see what they have on offer.
Additionally, now’s the time to do Cancellation Math. In some instances, it’ll be cheaper in the long run to pay a cancellation fee and not pay the monthly subscription/membership fee.
Don’t assume that anything in your budget is immutable right now–pretty much everything is up for grabs.
Discretionary Substitution #6: Rotate Toys, Games, and Books for Kids Instead of Buying More
On the third day of no school total isolation life, I very nearly bought a $200 indoor mini-bounce house for my kids. And I still might. But then I remembered something I learned in my most favorite book ever, Simplicity Parenting (I lent my copy to a friend, so I have to paraphrase):
Children engage in play more deeply, and with greater intention, when they have fewer toys and clutter overwhelming their environment.
This is the principle we try to follow with our kids and I have to say, it totally works. Sounds counterintuitive, but the fewer toys and books we have out, the more inventive my kids are with the stuff that’s available. Since we own WAY too many toys (courtesy of hand-me-downs and yard sale-ing), I’ve implemented a system of toy rotation.
How To Set Up A Toy Rotation
In our basement, I keep boxes of toys sorted by type: there’s a stuffed animals box, a dress-ups box, a blocks box, a trucks/cars box, etc. Every few weeks (more often during Pandemic Times), I rotate the toys that are out for our kids.
I select one (or two) items from each tub and swap them with the current toys. My kids have at least 35 stuffed animals, but they only have two out at any given time. They have at least 15 different cars/trucks, but again, only one or two out at a time. Increasingly I’m doing two from each category because they like to play with the same stuff at the same time. We still own WAY more toys than we need, but by swapping them out, we never feel overwhelmed by toys because there aren’t that many out at any given time.
By doing this, my kids go weeks–months even–without seeing a toy, which preserves the novelty of each toy. It’s like buying brand new toys every week without actually buying anything. I’m amazed at how well this system works and it keeps our home from becoming overrun with toy clutter. The other advantage to this approach is that it’s much more manageable for my girls to clean everything up at the end of the day. They have to put all of their toys away before bed every night and I think it would be impossible if they had to wade through mountains of toys.
- If you have the space, time, and quantity of toys, consider reducing the number of toys available to your children. Store toys by type and rotate them often.
- Resist the urge to bring out too many toys at a time. Really and truly, try it and see.
- If possible, consider having just one of each type of toy available (or one per child as I’ve found works best). For example, bring out: one baby doll, one stuffed animal, one puzzle, one set of blocks, one small box of dress-ups, one doll stroller, one truck, one large toy (such as a doll house or indoor basketball hoop), etc.
- Rather than buy new toys, books, and games, try rotating the stuff you already own.
- Bonus: this is an opportunity to organize and purge toys your kids no longer play with.
- Double bonus: rotating toys can be an activity in counting and organizing for older kids–my four-year-old is getting into it and loves helping me! The two-year-old, not so much.
- Note: if it upsets your kids to see you putting their toys away, do it after they’re in bed and then it’s like Christmas morning when they wake up (I love the look on my kids’ faces when they come downstairs to all “new” toys).
Inspiration and ideas for decluttering (with kids):
- How Decluttering Saves Me Money, Time, And Stress
- My Quest For A Clutter-Free Life
- How I Try To Balance Minimalism With Frugality
Step Three: Identify De Facto Savings
Pandemic Times equal savings in several categories that, during Normal Times, wouldn’t be possible. It’s not ideal, but it’s where we are. Be sure to factor in these savings when you calculate your new monthly budget:
- Gas for the car. Unless you’re an essential worker, you’re likely not driving much these days.
- Car insurance. Speaking of not driving, some car insurance companies are offering rebates or reduced coverage rates. Call your company to inquire.
- Travel and vacations. Sadly, those are not happening at present. If you have excess travel points (or points that will expire soon), consider donating them to frontline healthcare workers who need to travel in order to treat patients or would prefer to sleep in a hotel so as not to expose their family to potential infections.
- Concerts, movies, entertainment in general. Also not happening right now.
- Fewer olive bar impulse buys at the grocery store. The olive bars–and salad bars–are closed at the grocery store. This means no more garlic-stuffed jalapeño olive impulse buys. Just, for example. Not that I know anything about that…
Take these savings and, if needed, utilize them to offset a higher-than-normal grocery bill or a higher-than-normal subscription/streaming service budget.
There’s no one right way to save money. There’s no one right way to get through a pandemic. Don’t beat yourself up if you find you’re spending more money right now. But don’t feel helpless either. Take the time to comb through your spending and figure out what can give and what can be used to offset new expenses. Not everyone NEEDS to save more money right now. But if you do? Go through these exercises and see what you find. Remember, the Uber Frugal Week isn’t about judging anyone else’s spending, it’s about looking at your own spending and making the choices that you want–and need–to make.
What questions do you have about the Day 3 exercises?
Here’s the link to the next post in the series: Day 4
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Much like HBO, Apple has made a bunch of its Apple TV+ originals available for free without a subscription during the pandemic, including Dickinson, Ghostwriter, Helpsters, For All Mankind, Servant, Snoopy in Space, and The Elephant Queen.
I try to convince people to switch to cheaper phone plans lol. My wife and I pay $60 a month for Total Wireless and the service is just as good as Verizon. Not the cheapest, but we haven’t had any service issues so far and it’s half of what we were paying with Verizon.
I’ll definitely be going through some of the posts you suggested to see if there are some ideas I can implement. Thanks!
I wouldn’t be able to tell if you told me you got your hair done from a professional btw
As for free entertainment, don’t forget library subscription services!!! No matter where you live, you may be eligible for an e-library card at the largest library in your state that gets you streaming movies/tv shows, in addition to more commonly known about ebooks and audiobooks (and more). I listed MANY movies based on books that you can watch and read online for “free” with library or common subscription services here https://bookishfamily.blogspot.com/2020/03/100-movies-great-books-free.html
OMG yes! Libraries these days offer so much digital content – not just ebooks and audiobooks, but movies and magazines too! It’s a treasure trove, so often overlooked! And best of all completely free.
Librarian here, thanks for shouting out online services! These are going to be a much safer, more attainable option during the pandemic than figuring out lending of physical resources as suggested in the post. I think this Twitter thread offers a great explanation: https://twitter.com/mrbnatural10/status/1252324167023833088
Peloton is offering a FREE whopping 90 day trial of their app. This includes yoga, meditation, outdoor walks and runs, core workouts, dancing cardio and weight training (for those who have dumbbells at home). No need to own a Peloton bike. The content is amazing and FREE for 90 days.
This is an awesome tip!!! Thanks Faith!
I rotated toys when my kids were little too !! Worked great for us. I also had a play dough box, art box , etc that got brought out . And with play dough let each kid pick two things from my kitchen drawer (the potato masher was a favorite). We were also lucky that I was able to babysit neighbor kids for some extra cash so we got to rotate friends sometimes too ! 🙂
Any recommendations of sources for online bulk grain buying?
Bob’s Red Mill in Oregon – shop online – great products!
I was just on Bob’s Red Mill site, and they are out of almost everything. You can buy some things in bulk only sizes. I have been looking for whole wheat flour in our area (WA state) for about 4 weeks now, and nothing 🙁
I have not personally tried them but have heard good things about Azure Standard.
I just got a large order from Foodservicedirect.com. It took 7 days to get but I was able to get 20 lb. barley, 25 dried chickpeas, 25 lb black beans, 50 lb flour, pasta, and crushed tomatoes. I did pay shipping, but was willing to pay since we were out of beans and none to be found in stores. My daughter is vegetarian and we eat a lot of vegetarian foods. I think shipping is free over 750. 00? I know they had many other grains available.
How are you all storing your bulk goods? I’d love a non plastic container, but I can’t find one that is clearly food grade. I’d love any suggestions for the 50 lb bag of flour we just acquired!
Tractor supply does carry five gallon buckets that are food grade. You just need to check the label to be sure. I obtained a twist off lid from the paint department at lowes, easier than the pry off lids.
If anyone in your home is a student and has a student email address, many of the media subscription services offer discounts. For example, I was able to get spotify, hulu & showtime for $4.99/month
Amazon Prime always has (or had) six months for any .edu email address. This includes school employees as well as students.
I have a question. My stimulus check landed today. It is listed as a “refund” from the IRS. I have a sneaking suspicion that as that our tax refunds are miniscule…if we get them at all, that I am going to have to pay back my “refund” on my 2020 taxes….when I don’t get a refund. Do you have any insight/advice about this one?
Allegedly they are not taxable….but who knows….I’d google it
It’s a tax credit, so will reduce your 2020 taxes. Lots of info on Google.
So if next year I’m supposed to get a $200 refund, it will calculate as though I already received $2400, so I will have to pay $2200 in taxes that year?
No-you will not have to pay. It is truly $ in you pocket. Even if you end up making too much money to qualify for the credit you will not have to pay it back. Forbes had a good explanation, but I don’t have the link right now.
oh, and in case this helps someone else- if your previous tax returns has too much income to qualify for the full credit, but you make less money this year, when you do your 2020 taxes you will end up getting the correct amount as a refund.
No, here is a quote from an email sent by my (awesome) Congresswoman:
Do rebates need to be repaid?
No, rebates do not need to be repaid. If an individual experienced an income loss in 2020 or if they have an increase in family size, they may be able to claim an additional credit of the difference when they file their 2020 tax federal income tax return in 2021.
Are rebates subject to federal income tax?
No. The rebates are federal income tax refunds and are not subject to federal income tax.
Thank you everyone!
2 years ago, I found myself suddenly single and totally in charge of my savings/spending… both scary and empowering. An omnivore at the time, I have morphed into a “soft core” vegetarian. I love vegetarian meals, carrots keep better than chicken and it has been a nice way to trim my grocery expenses. “Soft core” means that if ribs are on sale, I am there😊!
I’m also plant-based but not vegetarian. I don’t buy meat for consumption at home (and very little dairy or eggs as I prefer nut-based ‘milk products’) but I do eat it when I’m out if that’s what I want. Vegetarian and meat options vary little in price at restaurants so it doesn’t cost me any more. And not consuming at home is better on my wallet and the planet.
My kids are saving us money on transport right now as they usually travel to school (seconday school and university) on student discount bus passes. This is a regular expense easier to quantify. I’m not making my not-as-predictable bus trips either.
Another possible savings folks might consider- if you are already nearing (or at but in denial) the point where you don’t really need the seat numbers of a big gas guzzler for your family anymore ‘ think about buying a smaller used one that is less expensive to run (we noticed eventually that we were only all together in the car to travel forholidays, so we downsized- you can always rent a bigger car or hire a cab). If you live in an area like we do, which is well served by public transport (and where car insurance is prohibitively expensive for young drivers) and your kids are old enough to navigate it, you might consider getting rid of your second car. We’re down to a nine year old hybrid. I’ve been tempted to get rid of that too, but I worry about the financial fallout of becoming an uninsured driver, if we wanted to own again.
I find I am reading more and am so appreciative to bookbub. They offer free and discounted ebooks through your email. Costs nothing to sign up, you check the categories of reading that you like and each day they send books to your email for you to choose from. There are always at least 2 that are free and many for 99 cent and some that are more expensive. I have hundreds of free books on my kindle paperwhite reader for free. The service is through Amazon. Enjoy and stay safe, we will get through this.
On the saving money on utilities part: do you have any recommendations on lessening use of air conditioning and/or other ways of cooling a house? I’ve read in your other posts that this isn’t an issue really in Vermont, but oh man it is in the South, where I like. We’ve already broken 85 several times. My biggest issue is at night; I don’t mind being hot or half-naked during the day, but I can’t sleep if it’s very hot.
Normally in the summer, I turn my thermostat up during the day so it doesn’t come on unless it’s 88* (because I start to worry about my musical instruments if the inside of the house gets into the 90s), and then turn it down to 78* at night. This saved me a bunch of money last year, so I’m going to keep doing that. Also ceiling fans on at least at night, and putting up my heavy comforters. Since I’ve been home more I’ve been experimenting with keeping the windows open during the day and keeping the fans running; jury’s still out as to whether this actually cools the home or makes it hotter.
On the other hand, this weather is great for clothes line/rack!
Great tips on haircuts. I’ve been cutting my own hair for years for this reason 🙂
And a tip on streaming services, especially perhaps to older folks who may not be familiar with them: share with your family, your friends, your friends’ parents, your friends’ exes, etc etc etc. Seriously, before signing up, ask around in your close circle and see if anybody has an unlimited account they would add you to or give you the login for. Netflix and Disney Plus let you add profiles. This seems like a super-obvious tip, but it’s an important one! I have access to…. 5 streaming services? And only pay separately for 1 of them (Netflix); Hulu is bundled into my Spotify. Also, if you’re a student, even if you’re an adult taking a night class, a lot of services offer student discounts, including Spotify which is half-off.
Would appreciate any other tips you’ve got on utilities (and feel free to share these!).
We have to run out AC more in the summer because of my husband’s allergies, so he can sleep at night. I think you’re doing the big stuff but using curtains or blinds to block any sunny windows during the hottest part of the day might also help. I personally hate to do that because I love to have the sun stream in. But it does prevent rooms from heating up too much in the summer. Our old house had a massive west-facing window that we pulled the blinds over during the afternoon and that made a noticeable difference.
We don’t run our central air unless absolutely necessary, at night we run window units in 3 bedrooms and still manage to save money over central air. During the day I put a fan in the bedroom with the window unit running and circulate that cool air into the rest of the first floor. Also, if you have a basement (probably not in FL), put a fan at the bottom of the basement stairs and one at the top, the air is usually a steady 71 degrees below ground so circulating that makes a big difference.
Agree with Amanda, the blinds/shutters make a huge difference! I’m from FL and it’s true that the summers there are kind of unbearable, but since I’ve been living in Europe I’ve noticed that even in very hot places there’s little AC because people here think it’s bad for your health. I have also noticed that it’s a comparison thing—there’s little AC here, so you notice the heat less. You know what I mean? So I’d say maybe avoid places with crazy AC so you notice the difference less? Hard to do, I know, when everywhere you go has the thermostat set to 70*!
We have the same issue with needing the bedroom cooler at night to sleep. We put a window unit in our bedroom, set the rest of the house to stay at about 80 degrees, and run the window unit at night to cool the bedroom more. Our bedroom is the hardest room to cool with the central AC and this approach keeps our overall costs lower.
About electricity- I checked to see whether electric companies in my home state of PA have options for paying lower rates when using electricity at off-peak times. They do, called time-of-use, but you need to register your interest in this option with your electric company. I think the roll out of smart meters, when it’s finished, is meant to automatically charge according to time of use (I could be wrong- I know that’s the goal where I live) but that won’t be done for a few years.
I read an elaborate yet logical explanation of using natural air movement for cooling a big old house. Figure out where the cool air comes in in the morning, and open your windows on that side at the bottom. On the other side of the house, open the windows from the top. The theory is that the cool air comes in the bottom, and hot air goes out the top. At the end of the day, when the outside air has changed, reverse the upper and lower open directions. Be sure to block the sunlight coming in the unopened parts of the windows as well, and place fans strategically. Awnings and overhanging balconies and roofs provide shade.
In other words, (because the physics of hot air is rather foreign to me), “observe” your own house and experiment! Shade your AC unit at an appropriate distance.
Even though we have central air, we put a window unit in our bedroom so that we can sleep comfortably. That allows us to keep the house thermostat up at night while we are nice and cool while we sleep.
I am living in Switzerland where summers are decidedly sunnier and hotter than my native Sweden. Still, very few homes are equipped with AC. Instead most buildings have shutters on their windows that are used to block the sun/heat during the day. It makes a major difference. I find that we can maintain a very comfortable temperature indoors by 1. Having the shutters closed during the day, or at least when the sun is at it’s highest, and 2. Keeping the windows open at night when the air is cool. If you have any means to cover your windows during the hottest hours I highly recommend it. Do not open the windows until the outside temperature is lower than the indoor temperature.
Not sure if this would be helpful in your situation, but you might save a bit of money at night by getting a window unit AC for the room where you sleep. That way you can turn the AC in the rest of the house off but sleep comfortably in your bedroom.
My husband and I feel like we’re spending more at restaurants because we’re ordering takeout from the nicer places in town and not really limiting what we get (hello, cocktails-to-go). But we’re actually spending less on restaurant food because my husband isn’t eating lunch out every workday (his vice), I’m not stopping by the fancy grocery for fancy baked goods (my vice), and we’re not getting desperation takeout when we arrive home from work late…because we’re always home. In other words, all the little tiny spending amounts are gone, and we’ve concentrated our “eating out” spending into a smaller number of nicer dinners that we intentionally choose. I actually really like it.
One thing that blew our budget was house stuff in general – now that we’re home constantly, the little things that we used to ignore (like the fact that my husband’s work chair was a cheap wooden folding chair) started to get annoying so we had an initial flurry of ordering home office supplies and whatnot, which added up. And gardening supplies for my new hobby 🙂 I think that’ll level off though.
A question about MNVOs for you guys – does anyone use one when they rely on a hotspot for internet? We are unable to get cable at our house, and satellite TV/internet is more expensive for less data than using our phones to make hotspots. We are working from home right now and completely dependent on our hotspots to be able to continue to do that, but our Verizon bill is $175/month all in because we have (and need!) the unlimited data option. We are currently using about 100 gb / month to do 2 jobs and have 2 kids log in and do school stuff. We’ve cut out all movies/TV streaming for the duration to make sure we don’t get cut off for work, but we used to stream about 10 hours of entertainment/month and I’d like to go back to that someday.
I wasn’t able to get whole wheat flour a few weeks ago and learned I can grind grain in my Vitamix. It wasn’t a frugal purchase a couple years ago but my spouse loves it. Now, with a 25 lb sack of wheat berries and a plan to get more when needed, I am baking all our bread and crackers. I definitely recommend ear protection when grinding and after all this is over I might order the dry goods cup for my blender as it vortexes in the other direction and that is supposed to be better for grinding grain but it’s working fine for now. I normally buy really pricey bread a couple times a week so this is really helping us not only by costing less but also by helping us stay home. It also leaves bread for those who don’t know how to bake.
I’m also using absolutely everything and that includes the scraps. I’ve revived my broth bag in the freezer and a few weeks ago started an apple cider jar using my apple cores. I always cut up an apple so the core doesn’t have saliva on it. Thinking outside the box has really let us feel control even if these things don’t save much cash.
Streaming is a so-so option if one does not have high speed internet. I will say that there are a number of free channels that are quasi-stream available if your TV is “new” enough – requires internet of course. But doesn’t work too bad with DSL.
In a pinch, dog clippers work for buzz cuts (best to wash the blade or whatever it is called lol). Someone I know used this on her SO. Practicing on Barbie dolls when young may have helped lol…
On TV: I haven’t had cable since 1999. I use a TV with a digital antenna. This is the modern version of the old rabbit ears I had Amazon Prime, but I cancelled it as I got laid off several weeks ago. I didn’t like the video options. What I have instead is PBS Passport. For a $5/month donation, you get access to all of Downton Abbey, and a ton of other PBS programs to stream. I just stream on my laptop.
My LA Fitness gym membership is on hold. They’re not charging while the facilities are closed. My membership is $30/month. Once the stay at home orders are lifted, I’m going to check out my town’s fitness center. It’s only $15/month and there is no initiation fee. I’ll make my decision after I visit it. I switched from Verizon to Boom Mobile a few days ago. I cut my bill by 50%. I went with a plan with more data (5GB), but $45 a month is still a lot better than $90! Thankfully I rent a small condo, so the budget amounts on my utilities are about $30/month. I do run the A/C constantly in the warmer months – allergies and hot flashes. 😀
I’ve gone through my budget with a fine tooth comb. Virtually all of my discretionary spending goes towards my scuba diving hobby (obsession?), but I’m not doing that right now, so I’m going to be putting a lot of $$ away for the time being. I’m doing a job search and the recruiters tell me employers will start filling positions (posted before the CV shutdowns) about the time the stay at home orders are lifted. I to my stimulus payment today and I should have my first unemployment check the end of the week. I’ll be OK financially. I had done a good grocery stock up right before all this happened, so I’ve just had to top off with dairy and produce. I have lots of books to read and I can get more eBooks via my local library. I *will* need a haircut as soon as the hair salons are allowed to open. I can’t go to job interviews shaggy!
I love your picture of the homemade applesauce! Making it from scratch, then canning it, is a lot of work. You are fully justified in being proud of that picture!
And homemade applesauce is soooooo good.
A frugal mindset definitely comes in handy in this situation, no doubt. Being one who has a tv antenna on my roof, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables from last summer at home, and a wood burning stove, we are controlling our costs as best we can. The one thing I would agree with you on is that there is now a large interest in cutting hair at home. We have been doing haircuts at home for years now. My two boys were quite young when my husband started giving them their haircuts at home. I bought a set of Wahl Designer clippers, he had a peanut clippers set for his beard, a couple capes and combs. I wasn’t very good at cutting hair, but my husband is really good. He uses a combination of the clippers with different attachments, as well as the hair shears to give my boys their haircuts, and the peanut clippers to get the sideburns and neckline neat, every three weeks. My boys have thick hair and last year he tried cutting the longer hair with clippers over the comb to blend the different lengths with great results, he doesn’t just shave them bald. He has given hundreds of haircuts at home. My teen boys like his work and I get asked where I take them to get such nice haircuts. I take a seat every couple months, get caped and get my long hair trimmed. He combs out, sections, pins up and trims my hair in increments using his sharp hair shears only. He keeps them sharp so they cut a clean straight line. So I am saving hundreds a year, and my boys continue to get nice looking haircuts at home while every else is scurrying for haircutting tools and supplies that are sold out and they result to craft shears and garbage bags for a cape. I will be getting a trim later this month, just an inch, and no one ever notices. My husband has given haircuts to my mom and a couple friends of mine as well as showing one friend how to give her boys a haircut. But given the current situation, I have diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, so I don’t want any visitors coming by. I am not going out, I am having hubby do the shopping and running the errands. I am definitely looking forward to my boys going back to school, they are going stir crazy and miss their friends. They will not be looking scruffy or have a wonky haircut when they go back. We definitely plan to plant a lot this spring and stock up our pantry and we are going to get some chickens for meat birds as well as keeping our hens that are egg layers. We never know what next year will bring.
Tracphone is also a great option if you don’t use a lot of minutes/data/text. I spend $125 to “re-up” for a year, which comes with texts, minutes and data. I probably add additional data about 3x/year at $10 each. My average cost per month is $13! There are apps that you can use, WhatsApp, for example that allow you to talk/text over wi-fi but both parties have to be signed up for it.
I’m finding that my daughters (age 8 and 5) love creating things with our recycling and mud in our backyard. They hardly are touching their toys! Frugal win!
Home hair cutting tools, including the product links you provide, have been out of stock for awhile.
You inspired me to give myself and 3 of my kids trims today! I certainly won’t be cutting mine again, but will continue to do the kids 😉.
Great ideas! Toy rotation works great for our family, too! And I have been so grateful to not have to buy buy buy to keep my kids entertained.
I found a recipe from The Tightwad Gazette for Lentil Rice casserole and it was delicious. I don’t even like lentils but got a lb for 30:cents on sale.
I only use over the air free TV. I got an antennae on Amazon for $29.95. I get about 25 channels. The reception is fine except when it is very windy outside. My cellphone is a refurb and I got it on a tax season savings sale and got money back from Rakuten.
We can’t stream TV here. We’re on a satellite connection that buffers video constantly and runs very slowly. I can’t even download apps on my phone because the service is so sluggish.
I would like to reduce my Internet fees but we have little provider choice here until the wi-fi towers are completed sometime this summer. Also, I tried calling them; they say there us a 45 minute wait and after about 5 minutes or less they hang up on me. So much for negotiating a lower fee- I an’t even get an agent to come to the phone!
Grocers and pharmacies won’t deliver in my area. I could order curbside if I could download apps but I can’t. So I am stuck with going into the store. I will only go into Food Lion, CVS and Fresh market as they are not so crowded as Walmart, Kroger or Aldi. My partner, who has no underlying health issues , goes into those stores for us. Farmer’s Markets are not open in this area during the CV-19.
I would also shop during the senior only hours but they are so early in the a.m.. They assume all of us seniors get up early to milk cows or something.
The explanation that my local co-op gave in their newsletter about this is that doing senior hour first thing in the morning gives them time at night to disinfect the stores so that vulnerable populations are shopping in a clean environment.
All about the cooking at home. And I’ve been getting into baking, the smell of fresh baked goods is instantly relaxing.
Also, for any fellow theatre nerds out there, Broadway streaming service also has a 7 day free trial.
Great post! We need to look into this more as the utility bills are coming in, and being at home has definitely increased our usage.
There are tutorials on youtube showing how to bathe your pets and trim their nails. Also, wash and vacuum out your cars yourself. So many things to save money on.
My son and his wife rotated boxes of toys each Saturday. Each week the children had just one tote filled with toys. They had 8-10 totes filled with a variety of toys and each Friday after the children went to bed, my son took that week’s box to the basement and brought up a “NEW” box of toys. I still remember our oldest grandson saying to his younger brother, “It’s new toy day!”
Just a quick note, signing up to those free trials isn’t necessarily a great idea if (like me!) you can be a bit forgetful; often they require credit card details and then the trial just rolls over into monthly charging without them giving you any sort of alert that this is happening
I get scared of that happening, but I just write a reminder in my diary/ put a reminder in my phone and set it for a few days earlier then the cut off.
We run a little experiment a while ago and managed to reduce our monthly food cost by 70%😱. So yes, I can confirm pretty much everything you said about groceries: there is a lot that can be saved in the kitchen!
Luckily I am on a fixed income (Australian pension, equivalent to US Social Security?) so my financial situation hasn’t changed. I would love to get some input on keeping fruit and vegetables fresh for as long as possible,(uncooked) it’s the one area where I still have some waste, My rent (about 55% of income) remains the same, my electricity, phone and internet are lowest available (I check every 6 months) and I use public transport. Here in Australia, off peak buses and ferries are free for pensioners, trains 1/2 price. My local council provides a taxi, $3 round trip, to a shopping centre weekly, again for pensioners.Doctors visits and medical treatment, including hospitalisation, surgery, X-Ray’s, blood tests, vaccines,etc are free for pensioners.I eat well, a blend of most economical , healthiest, and what I enjoy, don’t have a car, don’t smoke, extremely moderate drinker (bottle of gin, bottle of tonic as birthday gift from darling Brandon, (I’m guessing that’s the right ratio?)$$$ to refill gin bottle from darling granddaughter!! Daughter and youngest grand brought me lavish meal of seriously sinful potato bake ( enough for several meals!) and prawns (I gorged on them for 24 hours, would hate to waste even one!!) I miss my weekly treat, a visit to the library (closed for the duration) followed by 250 grams rump steak, salad,chips and gravy for $10, weekly special at Communal, Brisbane ( also closed for the duration!), and REALLY miss being able to hug family. here, the recommendation for everyone not working, and, especially, over 70s, is social isolation as far as is possible (essential shopping only, pretty much all other shops closed) social distance 1.5 metres apart at supermarket etc.No social gatherings (so no parties , church,sport etc if it involves more than the members of the household, plus 2 guests. The ” members +2″ applies to out door exercise also, so you and your pfriend can share a run with your personal trainer, for instance, but not the rest of the crowd. As you can see, I’m saving a little on eating out, donating that to refugees in the community who aren’t covered by the income supplements related to Covid19 related job loss.
Looking forward to some tips for my fruit and veg, also to hearing what you guys are doing to slow the virus, what we hear in the media here tends to be dominated by (I’m guessing!) the most newsworthy rather than the most sensible!!
Wrap celery in tinfoil, trim leaves off cauliflower and wrap in tinfoil, wrap leafy greens a linen napkin before refrigerating (mine go back in the bag or container they came in). All will prolong freshness. I’ve heard that you can soak strawberries in a vinegar solution, and that will prolong their life as well but I haven’t tried it; I always put a bit of paper towel in each container before it goes in the fridge; absorbing excess moisture helps keep them from going moldy. We often freeze them anyway, since we grow an abundance of berries. We eat a lot of plant based fresh foods, so buying them on sale and keeping them as long as possible is a priority for us too.
I know this isn’t exactly following the uber frugal week challenge but I hope you don’t mind the commentary. 🙂 one thing I would share with this, if there is a gym or something you are a member of, like the YMCA, if you are comfortably able to continue paying for the membership, please do so. But I only say this if you (and your family) are gainfully employed and not in an industry where your employment could stop. The reason being is those who continue to pay their memberships are helping pay for health insurance and salaries for the employees. Not all gyms are doing this, so check with the gym first before you feel guilty like me and continue your membership. But our local YMCA is in fact paying their employees and my spouse and I are in two industries that appear to be ok during this time, so we are continuing our membership as we love our local Y and how great they have been to our family. And being that we haven’t been spending money on vacations, concerts, etc (in fact our vacation was canceled and reimbursed), we are able to save almost of our discretionary money so this $66/month Y payment isn’t hurting us.
I have been able to put away almost $6,000 in the last 8 weeks. Since my kids are home FT all of the extra activities are gone. My stimulus check went right into savings. I am a nurse so I do drive 4 days a week. Gas is $1.49/gal. My food costs are up, but since we are all home that is to be expected. I have lived frugal all of my life. I am not a big stock piler, but am now buying a few extra’s if I see them. Our local Kroger has flour, milk $1.49 and eggs still for $1. I have been very blessed. Got a new roof on over the weekend and have a contractor coming in for a total gut kitchen renovation July 1st. Very excited. I have worked very hard as a single mom to do all this. House will be paid in full in 18 mos when I am 50.
So jealous that you are able to go to King Arthur for pickup. 😉 That would be a huge win for us.
We are paying more for Instacart and stalking curbside pickup times at Walmart to try to get groceries. We are spending more on this but it is worth our safety.
We are also trying to share some payments with our discretionary money. My husband is self employed and his business took a big hit. We can’t afford our full payments for daycare, cleaners, etc, but their businesses are also suffering. We try to pay it forward where we can and have cut back on other things. I put my gym membership on hold but sent giftcards for our daycare workers. Many of them can file for unemployment but it’s still a big hit for those families.
I live in Colorado and have Xfinity Mobile, which is owned by Comcast. If you have Xfinity internet you get free talk/text for up to 5 lines. They only charge for data, which is $12 per GB. I work from home so I always use my home WiFi, and if I go anywhere most places have free WiFi (grocery stores, restaurants, the DMV, etc.). They use Verizon towers so the cell service is good. I spend less than $20 a month for three lines. Comcast also has cheap internet for low income or any families with students who receive free or reduced lunch. Amazon is $5.99 a month for those who receive government services like Medicaid, food stamps, etc. It’s also $5.99 a month for the student rate. Amazon membership includes Prime Video, Kindle Books, Amazon Music, and Prime Fresh for grocery delivery. Denver Parks and Recreation is offering free online classes like Zumba, Pilates’s, kickboxing via Zoom.
For people out West (and maybe in other places, I’m not sure), there’s the grocery co-op Bountiful Baskets, which is awesome–each week (or just whenever you sign up), you pick up a basket of produce (usually equal parts fruits and veggies and often is whatever the grocery stores couldn’t take on), and it is an AWESOME deal, plus it requires minimal contact (to maintain social distancing).
Also, maybe you’ve done a post on this already (?), but I noticed in the pic with your daughters in the kitchen all of the Tupperware boxes in the back. Was that you packing their lunches for preschool for the week, or something else? Anyway, looked super intriguing!