This week's Spin Cycle is all about being thrifty. How do you stretch a dollar and save a dime? I used to be quite good at this (it's amazing how you can live on near to nothing when you have to). Lately, I've been a little remiss with my budgeting. Sigh. Ok, let's be honest, lately I've been a little remiss with a lot of things. 2010 might be my "gimme" year.
Anyhow, there are some basic rules I do live by, though. Mostly pragmatic stuff. Here they are:
1) Be honest with yourself. Know what you are willing to be cheaper about, what you can give up and know when you're telling yourself a lie. If you know you like ice cream, throw a gallon in the cart on shopping day. You can have a little each night. That's far better than getting to the end of the week without a treat and feeling like you "deserve" a treat for being so good. Then you're apt to take the kids to the Dairy Queen which will cost way more than the 1/2 gallon you skipped at the market. And if you don't like cheap ice cream, take the plunge and buy the nice kind. It's your treat, after all.
The same holds true for your kids. There are some bargain brands that look and taste the same and some don't. I'd rather buy the middle priced yogurt at Trader Joe's and know that LG will eat the whole thing, then the cheaper version at the local market where he will eat about 1/2 and not want more. He doesn't like bargain brand crackers, either. It doesn't pay to save the 50 cents if it's something no one wants to eat.
2) Pay attention to what you're doing. I can't stress this enough. Don't just buy the cheap dish soap because it's only 99 cents. Pay attention to how far it goes. If you use the whole bottle in a week, try the more expensive stuff. Maybe it will last longer, and be a better value in the end. I've found this to be true with dish soap, shampoo and regular soap.
Also pay attention to the effects of your stuff. I noticed that some bath soaps leave more film on the tub. Then I end up cleaning the tub a few times a week, forcing me to use more tub cleaner. Which is a hell of a lot more expensive than just buying the slightly pricier, less filmy bath soap.
3) Pay attention to the "recommended amount" on the package. Especially on expensive items like toothpaste or laundry soap. Most people (read- kids) use way too much. You're only supposed to use a pea sized amount of tooth paste. A dime sized amount of shampoo (and use it right- you're supposed to start the lather before it hits your head, it makes it go much further!). The directions on my front load washer say I'm only supposed to use the HE soap, but the amount for 1 normal load. The cup that comes on the detergent is 4 loads if you fill it to the top. I'd be using 4 times the laundry soap if I didn't pay attention to that kind of stuff.
4) Don't wait until you need something to buy it. I bought both boys winter jackets for next year just a month or so ago. Landsend had a huge end of season sale. I got the two jackets for $30. Brand new, good quality jackets. When I got them, I tried them on to make sure they were big on them (hopefully they'll both grow over the summer). Then I put them away. For the boys, I have a box for each size. When they get to that size, I pull out the box. No worry about forgetting I have something only to buy it again.
I do the same for PB and myself. If I see a golf shirt on a really good sale on the GAP rack? I put it away for when PB tells me he has a hole in one of his. A nice winter sweater on sale at LL Bean in May? Mine. If you wait until you need something, it will inevitably be full price and then you either have to suck it up, or buy a bargain brand. I'd rather buy high quality in the off season, personally.
5) Sign up for all those silly "clubs". The Dunkin Donuts Coffee Club, the Starbucks Savers, all that silly stuff. They often send coupons for either free or seriously discounted stuff. Then you have a treat for yourself. Frufru coffee is not in our budget, but if I have a coupon for a free one? The mocha's on the menu.
6) Have a back up plan. We take LG to McDonald's as a huge treat maybe once a month. But there are definitely nights when we're running around like crazy when it would be really easy to throw a happy meal at him. Instead, I stock up on Chef Boyardee when it's on sale. I know, I think it's gross, too. But PB and LG will eat it happily. And if I get it for 79 cents a can? Far cheaper than a trip to the fast food places. Same goes for PB and I. Trader Joe's has some pretty decent "ready made" meals for two in their frozen section for less than $5. $5 is a lot less than we'd pay eating out.
7) And last, but not least, give freely when you can afford it. I know times are tough, but somewhere out there they are tougher. It's not enough to just count your blessings. You can be someone else's blessing.
And that's about all the advice I can offer. Head over to see Sprite's Keeper and see how the other folks are living large on less.