In 2009 I wrote a popular blog post about how I made things work financially while being unemployed for nearly a year and in school to get my nursing degree. It outlined all the ways I had worked to pinch pennies and after putting it all down on paper, I realized I was more resourceful than I thought. It was then I really embraced frugal living.
In the years since, I’ve re-visited this topic a few times (like last year here). I still struggle financially (hello massive student loan debt, medical bills, and poor spending habits!) but I try to make better choices every day. Living on a tight budget can be super stressful and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to decrease the stress when you have limited funds, sometimes it just takes a little creativity and flexibility to embrace frugal living!
Where do I find ways to save money? Here my top 35 tips on getting by on less:
- Consignment. When my son was small, I consigned his clothing at a local consignment shop as he grew out of it. It took some advance planning to make sure I had the right seasonal stuff at the right time, but it was worth it. I then took the money I got from consigning his clothes and picked up things he needed in his current size. I’ve done this with Ella’s clothes as well. Every year, our city has a city-wide huge consignment event. Last year I consigned Ella’s baby clothes and used the money I made to buy an entire season’s worth of clothing for her for less than $100.
- Garage sales. I sit down once a week and look at the garage sales, choosing to hit up those in well-to-do neighborhoods as they typically have the name brand clothing I’m looking for. I’ve found this is usually better for baby/toddler clothes as they tend to have less wear as the previous kid didn’t wear them for long until outgrowing it, but I’ve found some stuff for the older kids as well here and there. I once spent weeks looking for a pair of sandals Hannah would wear – shopping every clothing/shoe store in town with no luck because she was so darn picky. Eventually, I found a pair of sandals at a garage sale for $1 that she loved and wore all summer long!
- Ebay. I’ve bought tons of nearly new clothes myself and the kids on Ebay for next to nothing. Everyone in this family seems to like Under Amour clothing – I’ve routinely gotten hoodies for the kids for as little as $15 and for myself for as little as $20, all of which looked brand new. I wanted a pair of Ugg boots this fall but couldn’t justify the price tag, so I scoured Ebay for a few weeks until I found the exact pair I wanted for $30. Hannah loved them so much she wanted a pair of her own, which I found for $20. I also bought Hannah a pair of North Face hiking boots for under $15 and some Chuck Taylor Converse shoes for under $10.
- Thrift stores. I’m not happy with my weight currently as I have about 20+ pounds to lose post-baby (yes, I know she’s almost 2!) so I don’t want to invest much in clothes I know aren’t going to fit me when I get with it and lose the weight. I recently got a $75 pair of blue jeans for $3.49. You can’t beat that.
- Wait for sales from retailers you like. I like buying the kid’s clothes at The Children’s Place but I never pay full price. They often run sale and promotions that can save you big. This Christmas, they had almost everything on their website 60% off, plus you got double cash coupons to use on future orders equal to the amount you spent. I shopped the clearance section and I scored tons of shirts for the girls for under $3 each and pants for less than $5. My kids have a closet full of cute, trendy, name brand clothing for next to nothing. I love Monkey Feet for moccasins for Ella. I wait until their classic mocs are on sale for $12.50 (from $20/pair) then stock up.
Note: I always buy things like undergarments and swimsuits new.
- Craigslist. Both times I had my daughters I hadn’t planned on having another child so I’d sold most of my baby stuff. I have picked up a bunch of good steals on Craigslist for my children, including a brand new Boppy for $5 (savings of $15), a Mamaroo for $100 (savings of $150) and a jumper for Ella for $20 (savings of $60). I turned around and sold those items when I was done with them for what I paid for them, making them essentially free to use.
- Breastfeeding/Pumping. This saved me a TON of money with Hannah and Ella. I don’t even want to think how much we would have spent on formula if I hadn’t been able to breastfeed. We ended up spending $50 to get an extra freezer for all the breast milk I pumped while feeding Ella and resold it for $75 a year later.
- In-home daycare. We are lucky to have a wonderful woman who takes Ella and Hannah part-time in her home during the week. It’s far less expensive than having them in a daycare center. When I was living in Madison, I paid $1,200/month for daycare at a center for my daughter who was there about 25 hours a week. In comparison, here where the cost of living is lower I pay $280 a month for the same number of hours.
- Ask your friends if they have something you need that you could borrow for the time being. When Ella was born I wanted an Exersaucer but couldn’t justify spending upwards of $80 on one that she’d use for maybe six months at the most. I posted on Facebook that I was looking to borrow one and one of my friends offered to lend me hers. Six months later, Ella was done with it and I returned it.
- Ask for specific gifts. If there’s something you know your child wants or needs and you don’t have the funds for it, ask a relative who may be getting them a gift anyway for their birthday or Christmas if they’d be willing to purchase it.
Note: I always buy car seats new. Buying a used one is not worth the risk in my opinion. Safety first.
- Craigslist again. When furnishing our new house, we were in need of a sofa as our old sectional wouldn’t fit through the door. I turned to Craigslist and found the perfect sectional (that fit through the door!) for $200. We sold our old sectional for $100 on Craigslist, so it only cost us another $100 to find something that worked in our home. Having small children, I don’t want to spend a fortune on nice furniture only to have it covered in food and God knows what else. We’ve also gotten a ping pong table, a desk and a bedframe off Craiglist in the past.
- Thrift stores. I needed end tables for our living room but didn’t want to pay furniture store prices as again, I have young children and things in my house tend to be well-loved. I found the perfect set of matching cherry end tables that matched the rest of our living room furniture at Goodwill for $30 each. When I had a sewing studio, I needed something to store my fabric in and found a beautiful solid wood buffet at St. Vincent de Paul for $50 that fit all my fabric perfectly. Other great finds include a $5 rocking chair I recovered for my daughter, tons of Pyrex which I collect and display in my kitchen, vintage wood I’ve used to cut and make into frames for two large mirrors in my living room, vintage milk crates I use to store baby toys, and a variety of vintage decor like old kitchen scales, a tool caddy, ceramics and more.
- Know the sales cycles of your favorite stores. Hobby Lobby rotates through what’s on sale in their home decor category weekly. If what you’re looking for – say picture frames – isn’t on sale this week, it’s likely going to be on sale the following week and that’s the time to buy them when they’re 50% off. Michaels does the same.
- Shop around. Recently I redecorated the girls’ room. Hannah fell in love with a rug from Home Depot that was soft and beautiful and cost upwards of $300. We were able to find a similar, just-as-soft rug at Target for half the price. Read here about how I decorated their room on a budget!
- Use nature to decorate. Take a walk outside and look for decorations for your house. I have a large ivory pillar candle in a bowl on my dining room table, surrounded by pine cones I’ve picked up on walks in the neighborhood. I also have a small glass greenhouse on a sofa table, filled with little trinkets (and, in turn, memories) from walks on the beach with my husband – smooth stones, driftwood, shells and even a very beautiful bird’s nest.
- Automotive. We don’t have car payments – huge savings. We don’t have the latest, greatest vehicles (no heated seats and leather interiors) but they get us where we need to go and that’s what counts. My husband does all the auto repairs himself, often watching YouTube videos from mechanics to learn new skills. This has saved us thousands in shop costs.
- Cell phone. Research cell phone providers. I went with a company that offered 20 percent off my plan because of where I was employed. This saves me about $20/mo. Consider whether you really need insurance on your phone. We were paying an additional $10 line (2 lines) for insurance. When I looked at the deductible for phone replacement I found out it was essentially equal to what we owed on our phones, so it made no sense to keep paying the additional $20/month. If you already own your phone, consider going with a discount plan or pay-as-you-go, depending on your needs.
- Eliminate cable. In the past, we’ve done without cable TV. We paid $9.99 for Netflix and $7.99 for Hulu Plus each month and used a digital antenna to get local TV stations and didn’t miss it one bit. We have it now because bundled with our high-speed internet, it was only about $20 more (and now my husband can watch football).
- Make your own products. I make my own laundry detergent. It costs about $12 for all the ingredients and it lasts about four months and we do a lot of laundry. You can also make many of the household cleaning products you use for pennies. Check out this post on Natural Cleaning Recipes for tons of cleanser ideas for your home!
- Eat your leftovers and pack a lunch. Enough said. We also don’t eat out unless it’s a special occasion.
- Don’t use credit cards. We don’t have a single credit card. If we can’t pay cash for it, we don’t buy it.
- Prescriptions. Shop around for the best deal. One month we didn’t have insurance and I needed to refill a particular medication. The cash price at Wal-Mart was $419 for a one-month supply. The same medication at a small local pharmacy was $119. Consider asking your doctor for free samples, if available. I take a medication that costs $250/mo. with insurance and a manufacturer discount card. My doctor’s office has provided me with free samples of that medication for the last four years. (That alone has saved me $12,000 in those four years!).
- Sign up for weekly coupons at the places you do shop (Hobby Lobby, Michaels, JoAnn’s, etc.). I never buy anything full price at those stores. Ask if other stores honor competitor coupons… you’d be surprised how many do.
- Sign up for retailer’s money saving apps. Wal-Mart has a Savings Catcher app that lets you scan your receipt and compares it to other stores in the area. If they find an item for cheaper than what you purchased it, they credit you the difference on a gift card. So far I’ve made more than $100 with this app! Target has their Cartwheel app which lets you select ten coupons to use in-store. I always check this before buying kids clothes, clothes for myself or household goods.
- Download and use coupon apps like Ibotta and Checkout51. Using these apps the past year I’ve saved $100.
- Sign up at coupons.com. I regularly get Pampers coupons emailed to me for $3 off a case of diapers. When you’re going thru three boxes of diapers a month, it adds up.
- Sign up for websites where you can get heavily discounted products. I belong to Elite Deals, a site that offers Amazon items at very low cost or even free. I’ve picked up shampoo, hair care products for myself and my son, body wash, face soap, moisturizer, face cream and other beauty products as well as an iTouch case and a silicone case for my new iPhone. Most items cost $1 and some were free. Because I’m an Amazon Prime member, shipping is free and it comes in two days. You can’t beat that and I’ve found some products that I really like that way.
Get stuff for nothing
- Sign up for your local Freecycle group or Facebook buy/sell/trade group. Not only have I given away plenty of things I no longer needed (fabric, decorations, roller blades, candles, bath and beauty products, etc.) but I’ve received plenty of things I did need. Some scores include fabric, a Belgian waffle maker, a grilled cheese maker, a baby bathtub, a wooden potato bin and a paper shredder to name a few.
- Trade things you do have for things you need/want. I used to love cold processed soap but often had a hard time justifying spending $5-6 for a bar of soap. So, I’ve traded items from my Etsy shop with other sellers on Etsy who sell soap. I’ve also traded for a very cute baby toy for my new daughter and photography for my walls. I’m not shy about approaching shops for trades… the worst thing they can say is “no thanks.”
- Scour the internet for freebies for things you do need. Check out Freebies and this great post by the Huffington Post about the top 31 websites to score freebies.
Other ways I save money:
- Haircare. I grew out my hair and keep it my natural color. By doing this I’ve saved hundreds of dollars a year, lopping off a $75 color expense every 12 weeks and a $30 haircut every 8 weeks. I wear my hair pulled back in a ponytail and a headband. If my hair is looking shaggy, I’ll drop in at a quick haircut place for a $10 haircut, which I’ve seriously done once in the last year.
- Financial rewards program. I signed up for my credit union’s reward program and earn points every time I use my debit card. These add up and I recently cashed them in for a $50 iTunes gift card.
- Clothing. Working as a labor and delivery RN, my scrubs are provided by work, so I no longer have to purchase my own, a savings of a few hundred dollar a year. I also pared down my clothing, choosing to go with a capsule wardrobe. Check out this post on creating a capsule wardrobe. I live in my pajamas most of the time I’m not working, so my clothing budget is very small!
- Books. I don’t buy books. I have a Kindle (free – handed down from my mom when she bought a new one) and I have it linked to her account. She has (seriously) more than 1,000 books on there, so there’s no end of stuff to read. Bonus: she’s always buying new books so my library just continues to grow and grow. If there’s something I want to read that’s not on there, I go to the library.
- Blogging. I will occasionally write a sponsored post and I use affiliate marketing within my blog. Some months I earn an extra $500, some months it’s more like $250. I make sure I only promote products I use myself and love and stay true to that for my readers.
Bonus: I use the wait-and-see approach for big purchases. If I want something, I hold off, I never buy it immediately. I take my time and think about it. Often I’ll see that I don’t really need it and the money is better spent elsewhere.
Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. If you have additional ideas on ways to save money, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment and get me thinking!
Here’s a bunch more resources for other bloggers I follow on ways to save money:
- 50 Little Ways to Live Frugally
- 19 Money Saving Tips for the Newly Frugal
- 97 Easy Ways to Save Money
- 35 Ways to Save Hundreds Every Month
- 29 Creative Ways to Save Money
- 50 Little Ways to Live Frugally