Tuesday, June 28, 2016

10 Ways We Drastically Cut Our Monthly Expenses

I've been thinking a lot about the life Lisa and I have created in the past 5 years. There have been so many changes. At one time, in early 2011, our plans were to move back to New Hampshire and start a family with human kids. That didn't exactly happen. We decided to find a home here in Connecticut, Lisa kept her job that she's been at for almost 15 years and we have furry kids who have paws and poop in the yard.

Throughout these past 5 years, I have made several adjustments in my career path. In May of 2014, "after visiting various shelters, foster & rescue homes, and spending a copious amount of time with the shelter pups, something happened. I changed. The universe shifted a bit." At the time, Bodacious Biscuit Love was in its 7th month.

A month later, I cut my hours, bid farewell to a few clients, stepped down from the corporate ladder, and we made the decision to dedicate more time to what we were passionate about. Coco was our only kid. A little over a month later, Sophie joined our family. In January of 2015, Lobo was transported to our home as a foster and, two weeks later, we adopted him.

Prior to all of the universal shifts, and fate throwing in her two cents, we made really great money. Each week, we had enough to set aside in savings, pay bills, and there was still plenty left over to spend on whatever we wanted. We didn't spend frivolously. We weren't stupid about spending money. It's just that we didn't have to think about it as much as we do today.

Between cutting my clientele in half and expanding our family in the past couple of years, Lisa and I had to sit down and discuss our finances. We needed to figure out a budget that would allow us to save money every week, cover the bills, allow us to add to the emergency fund and have a little extra spending money.

In doing this, we had to examine areas where we were basically throwing money out the window. We also had to tackle areas where we could exchange time for saving money.

So far, since 2014, we've managed to conquer this task with flying colors. Surprisingly, it wasn't that difficult.

1. Goodbye cable. On April 1st of 2015, we cut the cord. Our cable bill was close to $200 a month. Only $65 of that was for internet, which we need. The rest was for cable TV. On average, we watched TV maybe 2- 3 hours a week. Between work, Bodacious Biscuit Love, visiting our local animal shelters, our kids, etc., we didn't have the time to lounge and watch TV. At the end of the month, we were paying $135 for a service that we were utilizing less than 10 hours a month. At that point, an hour of TV was costing us between $13-$15. It wasn't worth it.

2. Utilizing what we already have. Seriously. During the process of elimination, you'd be surprised at what you already have on hand.

3. Homemade instead of takeout. A couple years ago, we were ordering takeout 2-3 times a week. It got expensive. I sat down and compared what we were spending on food per week between takeout and grocery shopping. It was obnoxious. I started making most things homemade. Instead of spending $20 for a single large pizza, I made 2 large, homemade pizzas, crust and all, for about $7. Yesterday, to celebrate our special day, we bought 4 good sized lobsters for $38. We each ate one with a baked potato for dinner. With the other 2 lobsters, I made 4 lobster rolls today. If we would have gone out for lobster dinners yesterday and purchased 4 lobster rolls today, the cost would total $125+.

4. You can keep the bells and whistles. Last fall we purchased a new vehicle. A few months ago, we purchased a new sofa. Both purchases were much needed and long overdue. Before shopping around, we made a list of what we were looking for. We didn't need all the extras like heated seats, USB ports, power recliners, etc. By eliminating the need for all the bells and whistles, we were able to stay well within our budget.

5. No more admission fees. There's a lot of stuff to do around here, however, the admission fees are a little hefty. Last year we talked about going to a nearby aquarium just to do something different. We knew we wouldn't be able to stay all afternoon because of the kids, however, a 2-3 hour visit was all we needed. That idea was tossed out the window after discovering the general admission for one person is $34.99. The same held true for several beaches we wanted to walk. In order to park and have access to any of the beaches we chose, it would have cost us between $20 - $30. No thank you. Since then, we have found a couple of beaches we can walk after-hours that are free.

6. Plan weekly menus around seasonal produce and what's on sale. Lisa and I used to do our grocery shopping together at one store and one store only. We don't get out much together so we grabbed any opportunity we could. In the long run, this was costing us big bucks. Now, every week, we sit down and browse the ads for several grocery stores and base our healthy, weekly menu on seasonal produce and what's on sale. We don't use a lot of coupons because most coupons are for processed foods and other items we don't eat. Lisa stops at the grocery stores on the way home from work. It's a little more effort, but on average, we have saved 35%-55% a week on groceries.

7. DIY baby! Between Lisa's experience with tools and building stuff and my experience on the crafting end of the spectrum, we've fully embraced DIY. Not too long ago, we made 3 toy boxes for our kids for under $20. Had we purchased these, it would have cost us between $75-$300 plus shipping. We have a list of cool DIY projects we want to tackle in the weeks ahead. By going down the route of DIY, we save a ton of cash.

8. Sales, clearance, and coupons. I've been working with deal sites for almost 10 years and I learned early on that buying anything at full price is unnecessary and ridiculous. In March, Lisa needed new work apparel. I waited for the sales, gathered a couple of online coupons and shopped on the overnight while she was sleeping. I purchased 3 pairs of pants, 4 collared polo shirts and 2 pairs of summer shorts for a total of $110. I saved over $200 that night. With a little planning, research, gathering online coupons and waiting for the big sales to hit, we save a considerable amount of money on purchases from clothing to housewares and everything in between.

9. Enjoying our surroundings. We have everything we need to have a great time here at home or spent with a few neighbors who have become family. Whether it's firing up the grill, enjoying appetizers and cocktails, lighting the fire pit, enjoying good conversation and lots of laughs, movie night, taking a dip in the pool...it all happens here or walking across the street to this house or that. We have the best times and make lasting memories.

10. Think before spending. This is a big one. Think about how many times you've got into Target for a bottle of Windex and paper towels and two hours later walked out with $200 worth of merchandise. It's a standing joke. People have created memes about this. Yes, it's funny, but there's also a level of truth to these shopping expeditions. I'm just as guilty. When all is said and done, it adds up. A lot of times, stuff I've purchased has sat in the closet for years and the decorative pillows that were 75% off didn't last for more than a few months. In the here and now, we put thought into the purchases we make. Do we really need it? Do we have room for it? Is it necessary? Are we going to wear it as often as our favorite articles of clothing?

The list goes on...

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