Thursday, January 17, 2013

Five Small Changes that Can Save You Hundreds Each Year

You know those articles Yahoo occasionally posts about changes you can make to save you money (you could save thousands every month if you fire your housekeeper!!! You don't say...). Yeah, I hate those. They're changes for rich people. Here are a few to try if you are a little less than rich, but still looking to save some money. I should tell you that these ideas are fairly easy and that I tried to make even trades. However. However, there is going to have to be some change made if you'd like to save a little money. Some of these require a small bit of extra effort or time. Some require a small sacrifice or the changing of habits. Some require the threatening of children. I've tried to keep things reasonable, but I recognize that we all have limits. My mom used to wash out her generic Ziploc bags. That's my limit. I just don't do it. Below are some things I usually do do (though I still give myself permission to splurge or slide sometimes).

1. Do not buy individually packaged things. From GoGurt to GoGo Squeez apple sauces to Cup o' Soup, it's going to save you a lot of cash to do your own packaging. Let's take yogurt for example. If I splurge on an Aldi GoGurt-style yogurt, I get 8 two-oz servings for $1.99  or $.25/piece. Yes, it is convenient for my kids' lunches. But if I get a 32 oz. carton of yogurt from Aldi, it is also $1.99 (often; it varies a bit) and I have gotten twice as much. If I get one yogurt item each week, I could save $8/month. Or $96/year. From switching up just one item. Do that with all the packaged foods in your family's lunches and this could add up.

2. Eat oatmeal instead of cereal. For a box of Aldi cereal, I pay $1.99 for 15 servings. For 30 servings of oatmeal, I pay $1.99. Even when accounting for an addition of brown sugar ($1 for 30 servings and we are pretty generous), the oatmeal costs about $1.50. But the real kicker is that my kids inevitably eat at least 2 servings of cereal every morning (and sometimes even more than that), but usually one (or even 1/2) serving of oatmeal fills them up. So you're looking at a food that in reality ends up costing about half as much. Yes, we eat cereal too sometimes. Yes, it's convenient and easier for my kids to get for themselves. But this is a blog about saving money and eating good food, and making oatmeal is actually only going to cost you 5 extra minutes each morning. If you eat  4 boxes of cereal/week, you'll save $4/week by switching to oatmeal or $16/month or $200/year. Even if you only change it out half the time, you'll save $100.

2 1/2. Even if you are dead set against changing your cereal habit, make your kids drink their cereal milk or pour less milk into their bowls. Recently, I measured out the amount of milk my son had left in his bowl after he was done with breakfast (a whopping bowl of cereal as usual). It was a generous cup. That's $.10-.15 every day if you eat cereal every day. If all my kids did that (they don't; Mark's the main perpetrator), we'd be spending an extra $.40-.60/day or $3.50/week ($14/month; $180/year). Just down the drain. I saved my son's milk, showed it to him and told him that he was going to pay me $.15 every morning he left that much milk. We came to an understanding. Ah--understanding.

3. Cut junk food in half. Literally. My mom used to divide the packages of Little Debbies in half in our lunches--I got one; my sister got one. We never got a full package of 2 Little Debbies. I know, it's pretty much child abuse. And, yes, a little part of me always yearned for that full package like my friends. But, really, not all that awfully much--I didn't even need counseling later in life. Truth be told, I was fine with my treat. I even learned to eat it slowly (nibble of the ends of the Swiss roll, then roll it out and lick off the "cream," then eat the cake part. Still a fond memory after all, even though I bet those Swiss rolls would make me gag these days--maybe. Now I'm having an urge to go out and buy some.) Also, I was a skinny kid who grew into a thin adult. I can't complain about that. So thanks Mom. And the fact is that most of us wouldn't be hurting too much from cutting most of our treats in half and saving the other half for another time. Using our Little Debbie example, you'll save about $1/week or $50/year per kid (an estimate--I remember Little Debbies from childhood only; I've never bought them as an adult; except that now I have to go buy some Swiss rolls). It's not a super ton of savings, but this is just the savings from one treat and it's money saved off of food that we could all benefit from eating less of. (So, go ahead and figure some health care savings into that mix too.)

4. Cut out soda or juices (or coffee or booze or cigarettes--please, you'll be loaded by the end of the year). Who even needs them (I said need, people)? If you do want to splurge, try the 2 liter bottles of soda or the 1/2 gallon jugs of juice or even cheapter the frozen concentrate juices. Occasionally, my kids beg for juice in their lunches. Occasionally I give in. But I pour a couple ounces into their water bottles instead of buying the juice boxes (usually--I even splurge there occasionally). The kids don't seem to care and their friends don't seem to either. I realize that sometimes it's the box (aka some kind of social status thing) to bring a box of juice and if it is you'll have to decide what to do about that. But if it's really just the drink your kids are wanting, you can save some money by skipping the packaging. And of course you'll save more money by just sending them water (and the cycle of abuse continues to my kids--wow--thanks a lot Mom). If you give your kids water (yup, I take it from the tap) instead of juice boxes you'll save $1.25 per week per kid. That's $5/month/kid. Or $60/year/kid. What if you just gave that money to them at the end of the year instead? I bet they'd like it better. What about your drinking habits? Let's say you drink 7 sodas a week at $.50/pop (this strikes me as moderate soda drinkage among soda drinkers btw). You've saved $3.50/week or $14/month or $180/year. Would you rather someone just gave that to you at the end of the year? It's a question worth asking. If you drink a glass of wine each night instead of a soda, then that cost has multiplied by at least 10 (that's $1800/year--would you like to have that?). Please don't write me nasty emails about how I'm trying to take away your favorite, most relaxing habits. This is just here for you to think about.

5. Leftovers. If you eat leftovers for one night a week instead of throwing them out and you do this for every week of the year, and if you normally spend $5-10 for your family's dinner (a modest estimate), you could save $20-40/week or $240-480/year.


6. Develop a habit of making your own "bagged" salad or whatever it is at the beginning of the week. Eat it throughout the week. Yes, it's a small lifestyle shift, but if you were thinking this post was going to be about how to save money without doing or changing anything, well, I'm sorry because it's not. So whatever food it is that you want to have on hand every day and you find yourself buying so you'll just eat it, make a batch at the beginning of the week. This could be salads, soups, prepared breakfasts, or even smoothies. The internet is full of ideas for salads in jars and overnight oatmeal, so if you want to do this, you totally can. And in style too. Let's use a salad as an example. At Walmart, a head of lettuce will cost about $1.20. A bagged salad (which is really just lettuce) about $2.50. So every week you'll save $1.30. Every month $5.20. Every year $60.


  1. OMG do I love this post! I HATE those ways to save money articles.

    When my husband and I review our finances and look for things to cut, there are no yacht fees to be found!

    This is useful, practical information. The leftover milk from the cereal makes me insane! We bought a small container ($1.50 on clearance) that we put a very little bit of milk in. The kids use that to make their cereal. It has helped tremendously.

    1. Don't those articles drive you nuts. Yet I read them compulsively, just so I can be driven nuts.

      Like the idea about the milk. It was my daughter who did it this morning. I poured it into a glass and when she gets home I'm planning to threaten her too:).

  2. When you were a child, did you know you were poor, or you've figured that out as you've gotten older? I'm just curious about how our perception of our family's wealth (or lack of) shapes our own attitudes about money (and food) when we ourselves are the parents. I laughed out loud about threatening with the cloudy cereal milk. :)

    I do think the wine figures are a little off. Only because I see those small (single serve?) bottles at Schnucks all the time for $1, so if a person drank one every night, they'd have twice the soda cost, but not 10x. Of course this would probably also lead to less willpower to avoid those twin-packed swiss rolls (by the way, the Aldi ones are not too shabby, if your craving persists).

    1. I didn't really know I was poor. And then as I got older, we had a little more money (although my younger siblings maybe got more of that pie:)). I did know we weren't rich--like we didn't live in a mansion or anything, but neither did any of the neighborhood kids we played with so that didn't matter. I think my sister felt the money thing more because she liked nice clothes and things where as I was content to walk around dork-style. So....

      I do remember my parents fighting about money. Not the greatest memory, but would have happened no matter how much money we had or didn't.

      My kids sometimes talk about us being poor (please)--usually in a slightly manipulative way when they want things. Too bad for them, I don't mind them calling us poor because I know we're really not, and I think they know it too. I think they know they've got our needs covered.

      I admit to taking a guess on the wine. I figured if a bottle was $10 and you drank the same number of ounces as are in a soda, it'd be about $5/serving. But, yes, a guess.

  3. Interesting. I was always aware that we were poor when I was a child. I never knew anyone (or at least, any neighborhood) that was poorer than ours (and still to this day, I think that part of Evansville is pretty safely secure in that title). People who had more than one bathroom? or, gasp, an UPSTAIRS?! Unfathomable to me. We suffered the shutting off of utilities, ghastly reuse of bath water, and other horribleness I don't even want to mention. I think it makes me strive to not be miserly as an adult. I don't want my children having incorrect ideas - think they are rich, or think they are poor - when really they are neither (or both, it's all relative to who you're comparing). I hope this doesn't sound like I'm saying YOU are miserly because I do not think you are. :) I just think you notice a lot more how much things cost and are more okay with doing without certain things in the interest of saving money. So it just made me wonder how you were as a child.

    I am going to employ that milk-saving technique!

    1. Fascinating. We should totally talk about this sometime. We never got the utilities shut off or had to reuse bathwater (though 4 of us kids did all bathe together). My mother was intensely frugal. Even later in life when she had more money, she had trouble letting go of some of her frugal habits in a sort of halfway way. Like, she would go to the secondhand store to buy herself clothes, but then (because she had more money at this point) she would buy a whole bunch of them that she then couldn't wear or wear often or didn't really like as much as she would have liked 1 nice pair of jeans (as opposed for 4 so so pairs of jeans from Goodwill).

      Also, I was always intensely frugal--even as a small child. So I think there's something in my nature that is naturally tightwaddy. I would hoard my allowances when my siblings would go out and spend theirs. As a teenager/young adult, I was not much different. I rode my bike most places or walked or took the bus because I didn't want to invest in a car. When Kip and I got married I was still wearing clothes I'd worn in HS. In fact, it's took Kip to loosen me up and allow myself to spend money on myself sometimes, and also to buy nicer/better things instead of just buying the cheapest whatever I can find. (And, conversely, I think that I've frugaled him up just a bit, so it's been a good match:).



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