A few months ago on Instagram I asked if there were any topic requests for blog posts. One of the requests was about budgeting and here is the exact request from a sweet reader:
“Budgeting! You have amazing style for you, your kids, and your home. Do you follow a budget? Or just try and spend conservatively? I feel like it must cost a lot to have everything looking so put together all the time.”
First off, thank you! I’ll be honest though, my house and my family are a hot mess a lot of the time so it’s sweet that you think we look put together all the time. Secondly, we don’t have a strict budget, per se, but do try to spend conservatively and we do make conscious choices about ways to save a good amount of money. Truthfully, I do love clothes and I always have. As a West Point cadet and as an Army Officer I wore uniforms almost exclusively for over 9 years. Having the ability to now wear what I want to wear is so much fun for me and I do shop a bit more often than I should. And I loooooove dressing up my kiddos. But, most of the time I try to limit myself to what we truly need and I know we will use. I did a little brainstorming and came up with 12 things that we do that make a huge difference when it comes to spending less money each month:
1. Buy a Car and Keep it Forever. I bought my car (a sedan) used in 2008 when I was a senior in college. It was 3 years old at the time and I am still driving it. Every month I paid more than I needed to and completely paid it off in 2011. I’ve been car payment free for over 7 years now and it has been liberating. At this point the car is 13 years old and is still going strong. It’s not ideal with two young kids but it does the job. We are probably going to get rid of Tom’s sedan and replace it with a minivan soon, but we will keep my car and Tom will drive. I swore I’d never drive a minivan but now I kind of want one! I did a survey on Instagram recently and the 3 most popular options seem to be Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna. We will probably check out all 3 pretty soon.
2. Avoid Student Debt. I went to West Point, which is free for everyone, and Tom did ROTC and worked as a Police Officer and was a Reservist when he went to college. Neither of us have ever had any student loans to repay and that makes a significant difference each month. It’s not possible for everyone but military service for both of us was a wonderful choice college-wise and job security-wise. In return for 4 years of free school I had to serve 5 years on Active Duty in the Army and 3 years as a Reservist. I decided to continue serving as a Reservist though and have the goal of reaching military retirement after 20 years.
3. Minimize “Self-Care” Appointments. I love getting pampered and used to get my nails done all the time, but when we went from 2 incomes to 1 that was one of the first things I gave up. I now get a mani/pedi once or twice a year for special occasions, I pluck my own eyebrows most of the time and only get them waxed maybe 3 times a year, I get my hair cut once or twice a year, I haven’t dyed my hair in over 10 years, and massages are a special occasion or an as-needed thing. By making this choice to not spend money this way we save a significant amount. I choose to keep my fingernails paint free most of the time and give myself a pedicure every few weeks. Essie gel couture is my favorite nail polish and I rotate between the 4 colors I own.
4. Weigh all Options when Choosing a Gym. We have a state of the art gym very close to our house and it touts a kid’s splash pad, fancy equipment, interesting workout classes…yet the childcare costs money every time you use it on top of the exorbitant membership fees. I would have loved to have joined that gym because it looks incredible, but it simply didn’t make financial sense for our family. Instead, we chose the more humble and 10 minutes farther away YMCA where the family membership fee is reasonably priced and we get 2 hours of child care for free each time I work out. (And some days I just go to the Y and work on my computer because you just can’t beat 2 free hours of childcare.) Sure, some things are dated and worn but the people are nice and there is a real sense of community there. And was save a whole lot of money.
5. Don’t be too Proud to Hunt Thrift Stores or do DIY Projects. Most of our home is furnished with second hand items. Most are vintage from thrift stores that I’ve made over and turned into unique pieces. Aside from our fancy marble dining table that I bought brand new, the most I’ve ever spent on an item is about $150, and that is for a massive solid wood dresser. The used pieces I find often require an imagination and then some elbow grease, but that makes things more interesting. Don’t feel like you always have to have things that are shiny and brand new. Used items add character and tell a story that new items never could.
6. Buy Timeless Clothes That Last. I like to try out a trend every once in a while but for the most part I stick with timeless clothes that last me year after year. If you took a look at my closet you’d see shirts that are from 2011, striped espadrille wedges from 2007, pants and shorts that are over 5 years old, and a whole bunch of quality workout clothes that I bought in 2011 when I first discovered lululemon. By sticking with relatively simple clothes that fit well and are good quality I’ve been able to keep things longer than most people do. (If you’re looking to build a timeless fall wardrobe check out this blog post I wrote a couple weeks ago about all the staples that have been in my closet for ages.)
7. Cut the Cord. We “cut the cable cord” when we moved to Hawaii last June and honestly haven’t missed it. We have our tv connected to internet and use an affordable Amazon Fire TV Stick. We have Amazon Prime which offers and abundance of shows, and we also have Netflix and Hulu. By not paying for a bunch of channels we don’t need we save so much money. We tried out Sling for a while but realized that it wasn’t worth it even though we did enjoy it. If you decide to cut the cord you should also get a digital antenna if they work in your area. You can get so many free basic channels that way! Unfortunately a huge mountain range blocks the signal from getting to our house so it doesn’t work for us here in Hawaii. We will get one when we move back to the mainland though. My parents have used one for years and they don’t miss cable at all.
8. Shop Sales When you Need Clothes. Most of my kids’ clothes came from an unbelievable discount store in the Kansas City area (Morefields Supersaver) or I buy them during end of season sales. I’d never pay full price at shops like Janie and Jack or J.Crew, but their end of summer prices are typically cheaper than things you’d find at Target. I’ll admit, I do love nice clothes for myself and my kids, so I always wait until things are on sale. It does help that we live in Hawaii so I can buy summer clothes and always know that whatever size I choose they will be able to wear it eventually. Obviously this is harder to do for those of you who live in places with seasons.
9. Eat at Home. I love to cook and have mastered lots of meals that taste better than things we could find at a restaurant. I also find it fun to improvise, and have learned so much that way. We don’t eat out very often and save a lot of money by simply eating at home. Another thing we do to not waste money is keep our fridge relatively empty. By not cramming it full we are less likely to lose things in the back where they end up going bad before using them. Plus a jam packed fridge totally stresses me out, so that’s another reason we keep ours clear. No excess condiments, no things hidden in the back, just nice and open so I can see everything. Meal planning would be another way to cut down on wasting money, I have yet to master this though and mostly just end up improvising.
10. Make Small Changes. We have a Keurig but only use refillable coffee pods and fill them with whole bean coffee from Costco that I grind myself. Not buying disposable pods saves money and is also more environmentally friendly. I also like the ability to make single servings of coffee so that I don’t end up wasting a pot if I make too much. I rarely get a cup of coffee from a coffeeshop, and only do so when I hire a babysitter so I can work on my computer in a coffee shop or if it’s been one of those mornings with the kids. You moms know what I’m talking about 🙂
11. Stop Buying Home Stuff you Don’t Need. I’ll be honest, this was a tough one for me, but I quit cold turkey a few years ago and now only buy something for our home if I’m really in love with it or if it’s something we need. I find that once I open up pandoras box and start shopping it’s hard for me to stop, but if I refrain from it all then it’s no big deal going without. I’ve also stopped following many retail companies on Instagram because we simply don’t need much these days. Once we are in a forever home with more than 1000 square feet I will need to buy more home stuff, but at this point we’re about at max capacity. I’m not perfect and slip up from time to time but I definitely spend way less on home stuff than I used to.
12. Loyalty Programs. We are big believers in loyalty programs, especially when it comes to airlines and hotels. We’ve flown to Europe for free by using Delta Skymiles, and because we have the Delta American Express Reserve credit card we get a free round trip companion ticket every year (for domestic travel). We used it this summer for Jack when we flew to visit family on the East Coast. Obviously don’t get a credit card if you can’t pay it off, but by using one that helps us earn things we have use for we save a lot of money when it comes to travel. Oh and if you fly with your kids sign them up for their own frequent flyer miles account! My parents did this for me as a kid and it was amazing once I was able to use them as an adult. (Delta miles never go bad so that’s a perk if you have kids.) As far as hotels go, we always stay in the same family of hotels. We move pretty often (so live in hotel for a while each time) and Tom travels for work so it’s easy to rack up points that way for us to use for other occasions.
How do you and your family save money? If you have any great tips I’d love to hear them!