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Living Better For Less

Blue Jean MamaA great many people, myself included, have overspent and under saved in their lives. Financial establishments make it very easy to have your wishes granted with the swipe of an easy to secure credit card. Things pop up. The kids have a birthday, your friends want to get together for a dinner out and a show, the family wants a vacation and someone wants the latest fad or new fashion.  The list of money robbers goes on forever. You just keep popping out the credit card and then…the bills arrive. Financial stress sets in and many arguments with the pointing of fingers begins. Many times the stress over money will result in a family parting ways. It is so unfortunate that instant gratification can cause so much grief after a VERY brief high of the, I just had to get it or I deserved it, impulsive purchase.

If you want to live a secure life, it is up to you. By making a few changes in the way you are currently spending your money you can become financially secure. Sure, that is easy to say, but, it really can happen with some planning and soul searching.

Living a self-sufficient life means many things, but one of the most important is to become debt free as fast as you can to make your independent life more fulfilling. You start by committing to change. It is just like a diet, there has to be an “ah-ha” moment when you realize the time is NOW. Once you are ready to make a change, things will start to improve. It will take some time but with each hurdle you cross you’ll be one step closer to independence and a more relaxed life.

Monthly expenses

The Plan

  1. Start by writing down EVERYTHING you spend for a month. Don’t leave any item off your list no matter how trivial.
  2. Make a list of every expense you owe. The VERY first bill on your list should be a debt to yourself. Pay yourself a set amount even if it is only $10 a month. The more you can pay yourself the better. It will add up. This will include your mortgage or rent, all the costs to keep your home (power, cable, insurance, etc.), all credit cards (both the balance, minimum payment and the interest rate), vehicle loans, car insurance, food, clothing, medical payments, student loans, and ALL other bills you pay. There is a great resource, Mint.com, that can help you keep track of all your financial matters and it is free to sign up.
  3. Make a list of your income for the month and where it comes from. Do you have any money you expect to receive from onetime sources such as cash rebates, a bonus, a tax refund, overtime earning income, a raise, a gift, an inheritance, or money from selling some belongings?
  4. List the items you have that hold value (assets) such as collections, jewelry, vehicles, equipment and any other items you may have.

Once you have your lists made and you have a month’s worth of items you spent money on, sit down together and look over where your money went. I bet you will be shocked at how much you spent on things that had little value. There is a phase heard often when someone spends money, “it’s only a little,” but all those littles add up big time. The other thing that most people don’t think about is the interest they pay when using a credit card. The item you got on sale, if not paid off at the end of the month, will cost you more than it would have with cash and at the regular price. Those interest rates just keep adding up and over time will destroy you financially.

Get your whole family together and include everyone in your plan to financial freedom. Kids think there are no limits. I remember when my children were little and they would ask for something and I would tell them we didn’t have the money for what they wanted. Their response was, “Write a check, Mommy”. These types of situations are very teachable moments. Let them earn an allowance and make sure they save a portion of it each time they receive their pay. Take them to a bank and let them open up a savings account. This will instill a savings mentality.

In your family meeting, explain that you, as a team, will be changing the ways you spend. Let them know you will be working together to save. In time this new way of living will allow for you to have more money to do some nice things together. This could be a good time to let them, if they are old enough, research available activities that everyone can do together that do not cost money. The Sunday newspapers generally post many activities that are being offered. Check out another valuable resource from the newspaper, the coupon flyers.  There is gold in the coupon circulars and sometimes other coupons dispersed throughout the newspaper. Clip the coupons and keep them organized. You can make this a game with the kids. Make your weekly meals around the sales items and matching coupons. If you save the coupons from week to week, you will be able to apply more coupons as the weeks go by. Coupons from this week’s paper may not be on sale this week but may be on sale sometime during the month. Your register tape usually shows the amount of money you saved buying sales items, using rewards cards and coupons. Take the money you saved and put it towards paying down a bill. If you do this once a month you will be able to see your bills decline even faster. Make sure you sign up for every rewards card the stores you shop in offer. The cards can save you a great deal of cash.

Live below your means. You don’t have to keep up or try to surpass your friends and neighbors. Often, your acquaintances are in the same shape you are in and are living on the edge of financial disaster. Realize you don’t have to have the newest gizmo, the hot car, house and jewels to make an impression. If more people would live below their means they would be much less stressed and more likely to have happier spouse and children. People need solid relationships and love more than they need “stuff”.

Ways to Save Money

  • Live below your means
  • Never take a cash advance on a credit card. If you have any balance from purchases the payment you will make will be applied to those charges rather than the higher interest rate cash advance. The rates for cash advances are VERY high, loan shark high.
  • Wait 24 – 48 hours before you make a purchase to see if you really have to have the item or if it would be nice to have the item
  • Ditch every credit card you have. It can be a hard pill to swallow but it is necessary
  • Use a debit card – if you don’t have the funds you won’t be able to pay it later – Cash is king
  • Shop items needed from thrift shops, Craigslist and other such used sources. It seems more people from all walks of life are looking for frugal ways. It almost becomes a game which is fun. See how much you can save. It actually gives you a bit of a high to top your last frugal move. What a great sense of accomplishment to make a great deal on an item you need at a fraction of the cost.
  • Stay away from malls or any places that you find irresistible. If you don’t see it, you can’t buy it.
  • Make a shopping list using the weekly sales flyer and stick to the list. If it isn’t on the list, don’t buy it.
  • Cook once and serve it a second time in a different way. You can also take any leftovers as a lunch for work. Cutting out the cafeteria lunches or dining with co-workers can save A LOT of money.
  • Cut out all non-nutritional drinks from your life. Soda, sugar laden juices, and power drinks are expensive and don’t contribute much if any dietary value.
  • Make your own cleaning products. They are very effective and are super budget friendly. You only need a few ingredients such as: vinegar, baking soda, liquid soap such as Meyer’s, peroxide, washing soda, borax, Zote soap or Fel-Naptha soap and depending on what you want to make a few other common household products. I make all our laundry detergent and you can too for a fraction of the cost.

Laundry detergent (Liquid)

1 cup Borax

1 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)

1 bar Zote (most of the bars I see are really the equivalent of two bars so cut it in half) or Fels Naptha  soap (grated) I cut the bar in chucks and put it in my salad shooter with the shred blade – quick and easy. I usually do several bars at a time. I bag the soap in zip lock bags – 1 bar to each bag. This makes it so easy the next time I want to make detergent.

About 5 gallons of water

5 gallon bucket with lid

You can add essential oils if you want a nice fresh smell but I don’t do this because it saves a bit more and your laundry still smells great.

Place 6 cups of water in a Dutch oven and bring the water to a boil. Add the shredded bar of soap and let it melt.

Add the borax and washing soda

Stir frequently until everything is dissolved

Remove from the stove and add water so the total in the buck is about five gallons.

Cover your bucket with a lid and let it sit overnight. I then use my immersion blender to make it smooth. Pour the detergent into used containers from past purchases of store bought detergent. If you don’t have any, ask your neighbors or just use a measuring cup to take it out of the bucket.

This may not sound like a big savings but the comparisons show it really is a BIG savings.

5 Gallons of Liquid Laundry Detergent

Homemade Zote soap Version  -  $ 3.58
Purex  -  $28.80
Tide  -  $76.80
Wisk  -  $51.20
I used Walmart prices for all items.

Homemade detergent provides a great savings and less trips to the grocery store. The less you visit a grocery store the more money you will save. It seems whenever you run into a store for one item you come out with things you didn’t expect to purchase. All these little purchases add up to major dollars over a year’s time.

There are so many ways to save money and to give yourself a real feeling of making a difference for your family. You can put all the savings towards paying down your bills so your life will become more enjoyable and less stressful.

Once you have accumulated some extra cash from your frugal ways, start paying off your smallest credit card. When that card is paid off, you will get a sense of accomplishment for sticking to the plan. Now, take the money you were paying on the paid off card and add it to the minimum amount you are paying on the next credit card. Keep doing this until they are all paid. There is another school of thought that suggests you pay the card with the highest interest rate first. You can do this as well. I like the feeling of accomplishment by paying the smallest first but either way will work as long as you stick to the plan.

You can make a huge difference in your life by making a commitment and changing bad habits. Once you get rolling with the plan, you will find it gets easier. The feeling of having a debt burden off your shoulders will make life so much better in so many intended and unintended ways. You can do it!  

If you would like other articles on living a more self-sufficient lifestyle visit my blog: Blue Jean Mama. I hope to see you there.