Friday, October 16, 2015

Living with Less and Loving Life!

I know there are some new readers coming here from the Enderton & Mathews blog post, and I want to welcome you and give you a quick note on saving money while still loving life (or as the Enderton & Mathews blog post said, still enjoying your guilty pleasure). If you have been scanning my blog today, you have probably figured out that my guilty pleasure is all things Disney. It has been a while since I wrote on saving money and loving life, so let me give you just a brief background about me and a few tips I have learned over the years.
My husband and I have 5 kids and we have just recently finished a LONG road for his educational journey. 

He is a doctor now (please don't stop reading and think I do not understand just because he is a doctor now, trust me when I tell you, we struggled financially for the 10+ years we were married while we were going through medical school and residency). We lived far from family and had to figure out how to live on less. 
This blog originally started when I discovered the world of extreme couponing. For some time I tried to extreme coupon, but it felt like a full time job. I realized I needed easier, less time consuming ways to save, so I started to figure out how to cut costs without making myself crazy. How to cut costs so I could still have my guilty pleasures (back in the day the guilty pleasure I was skimping to keep in the budget was cable tv...I considered it my entertainment budget since I rarely went out with 3 kids at that time, and a husband gone on call as a med student A LOT).
So, now that you know a little about me, let me tell you a few of the tips and tricks I have learned along my journey:
First and foremost, I looked at my budget and figured out where I was spending the most money that I could possibly cut out of the budget, and for us, it was groceries. So my main focus was on cutting down on that bill. A lot of my tips will have to do with how to save money on groceries. Figure out what YOU spend a lot of money on that could be cut down.
Grocery Savings
  • My favorite EASY way to save money is Walmart Price Matching. If you do not Price match at Walmart, you should! Here is their Price match policy (they call it their Ad Match Guarantee). Be familiar with it! You can, and should totally use it! BUT guess what? It has gotten even easier to do over the years because now you can use the Walmart Savings Catcher and let them figure out the price matches for you! I use that every time I go to Walmart!!!
  • Another easy way that I save on my groceries is at Safeway. I have a Safeway Just for U account. (Which basically means I have a Safeway card). To set this up, all you do is get the card then register it online and use it each time you shop. (For those of you that don't want another card to keep track of, that's ok, you can just put your associated phone number in instead of scanning your card when you go through the check out-that's how I do it!). This card not only gives me automatic access to their sale prices, it gives me the opportunity to add manufacturers coupons onto my card to save even more money! (There are other grocery stores that have similar systems, but Safeway is the one I can use in my tiny town. Look for this type of program in your local grocery stores too!)
Travel Tip

Travel is my main goal in saving money these days. But as we all know, travel ain't cheap! I do my best to get the best deals I can on travel by following a few guidelines.

  • First: PLAN ahead, do your homework (research, research, research) and be flexible.
  • Compare prices. Always. I like to use Expedia first when I start to plan. I search for my airfare or hotels on there and compare the prices. Then I check the prices on the Hotel or airlines site. VERY often I have gotten flights and hotels for less simply by booking directly through them, but also often I have found that Expedia has the cheapest price. So check both places.
  • Book travel in advance. It is significantly more expensive to do so last minute!
  • Plan activities that are free or inexpensive! Even when our family goes on Disneyland vacations, we spend a couple days at the beach. The beach is free whereas a day at Disney is not. So, even when you are taking a trip that is a splurge, like a Disney trip, plan for free or nearly free activities!)
  • You can save money on food when vacationing by staying in hotels with free breakfasts. (This is a MUST for my husband when we book a hotel!)
Day to Day Activities

Besides travel, we try to save money on our day to day activities. I include in that category things like school supplies, sports, holidays, birthdays, and family time together. Below are a few om the things we do as a family to tighten the belt with those often expensive day to day things.
  • Again, I would say to PLAN ahead. We all know school is coming up in August or September, so start to watch ads EARLY to get the supplies you or your kids might need. It's great to buy the crayons when they are a quarter rather than when they cost $3. Watch the sales and buy low. :) 
  • Holidays---ug, right?! With 5 kids, Christmas and birthdays (for our kids AND all their friends) can get crazy and EXPENSIVE. One way I combat that expense becoming a huge burden is by planning ahead and watching clearance racks all year round. I have a present room. Really. It has lots of things that may end up as a present for my child to give a friend, or a Christmas gift, or whatever else. Things I know I will need. BUT I buy them all on clearance. For example, the morning after Easter last year I was at Walmart and saw all these prefilled Easter baskets on clearance. They were filled with toys and treats, and were 75% off. I bought 4 of them for $20 ($5 each). The next day there were still a few good ones left and by then they had been marked down to 90% off. I bought several more. We have opened the baskets and pulled out the toys for 10+ birthday party presents (for friends), used them for donations to the school, and given them to to our own kids. There are still 5 full baskets in the present room that will be used by Christmas I am sure (and I will not have to stress over a gift when my kids brings home a last minute birthday invitation).
  • Speaking of Birthdays, do you realize there are a lot of FREE Birthday items you can sign up for? I have an article about it from a few years ago here. The article is old, but a lot of the items are still great. 
  • Family activities: It did not take us long during those really tight years to figure out that we did not have ANY money to dedicate to going out as a couple or as a family, so we got really creative. We found all the parks and trails near us. We looked for free activities listed near us on local news. We got involved in playgroups in our community. We went to libraries. We took a lot of walks. We played lots of made up games or we played board games until they wore out. We made free fun!! 
Once you find the areas in your personal budget where you can cut costs, and implement a plan to do so, I am SURE you will be able to find you are living with less and loving life just as our family did! 

Best of luck in your saving journey! 

And please, feel free to comment with any questions you may have for me!