A single mom of three found eight ways to cut her spending. Watch and learn.
A little over five years ago, I left my job to start a career as a freelance writer. My goal was to have more time with my kids, more energy and more time to be a better mom
. I didn't expect to get rich — but I didn't care. All I needed was to be able to pay the bills so that I could get back to writing my books. I expected to make a lot less money and I was willing and prepared to live on a lot less, too.
I would be leaving my job with no savings above a couple of months' expenses, no contacts in the writing field, no experience writing professionally and no idea how long it would take to become self-sufficient. What I did have, though, was a pretty good idea that the lower my monthly expenses were when I worked my last day, the longer I would have to get going and the more freedom I would have to write about what I wanted to write.
Although I've never been much of a spender, I found several ways to cut my expenses to the bare bones — and I actually had a lot of fun doing it.
Because my budget was already pretty tight (recently divorced, three kids still at home, mid-level management job), I really had to look closely at what I was spending in order to figure out ways to cut my budget even more.
I discovered there are really only four areas where you're free to cut at will, meaning that everything else is either a necessity or out of your control like rent, utilities, medical insurance, etc. Those four areas are groceries, entertainment, clothing and personal upkeep, and miscellaneous. To me, miscellaneous includes purchases I never think about, like a pack of gum or hair ties.
Here are seven ways I slashed my expenses dramatically, even on an already tight budget.
1. Swap fast food for good food.
Every mom on the planet knows what I mean when I say you don’t usually plan for (or even want) half of the meals you go out and buy. But you ran late at work, you forgot to turn on the crock pot, and you end up at an inexpensive restaurant just to get dinner ticked off the to-do list with minimum time and energy.
What really got to me was that we rarely actually enjoyed these meals. It was just calories. So I decided fast food was off the table. Non-negotiable. I planned ahead, I used the crock pot, I cooked two meals at once, I did a little freezer cooking on weekends but I made sure that we never had to go out for a meal, just because.
However, I occasionally enjoy a nice meal out (and I wanted my kids to have incentive for this change) so I earmarked $40 per month for a really good meal out (we don’t have expensive taste). This $40 was far less than the $200 a month we were spending.
MONEY SAVED: $160 per month or $1920 per year.
2. Be your own barista.
I'm a coffee snob. I grew up on Cuban coffee, called café con leche, which is similar to a latte. I cannot and will not drink American swill. When I was working outside the home, I spent a huge amount of money at Starbuck's and I knew I had to cut it out, so I got myself an inexpensive espresso machine and a really cute travel cup and started making my own — and the best part? It tastes better!
MONEY SAVED: $75 per month or $900 a year.
3. Skip the grocery store; try a grocery salvage.
One thing I have never been able to scrimp on is nutrition. As a kid, I knew what it was like to be hungry. I have always made it a top priority to have plenty of food in the house and to make it as nutritious as possible. That meant organic dairy and produce and stuff to pack healthy lunches for the kids.
I used to spend about $600 a month for the four of us, which included plenty of coupons. Then I discovered our local grocery salvage and my first trip there, I swear I heard an angelic chorus singing. (For the record, a grocery salvage isn't about dented cans and expired store brands. Grocery salvage stores typically buy stock of both fresh and pantry foods by the semi-truck load and pass the savings on. Those savings are enormous.)
Here are some of my recent buys:
A case of 14 fresh, marinated 3 to 4lb chickens - $11
A case of 24 Muller Greek yogurt – 99 cents.
½ gallon of Full Circle organic almond milk – 79 cents.
Whole fresh cauliflower – 2/$1.00
A case of 26 rib-eye steaks - $35
12-oz. wedges of brie cheese - $2.99
2 lb. marinated and frozen Hormel pork loins - $2.99
Organic cantaloupe – 2/$1.00
1 lb. bags of fresh organic kale and spinach – 4/$1.00
As you can see, you can get huge deals on really high-quality foods, in addition to normal canned and boxed goods. Since I started shopping almost exclusively at the salvage (I sometimes have to get milk or eggs or butter at the grocery store) my monthly grocery expense has dropped to $300 per month.
MONEY SAVED: $300 per month or $3,600 per year.
PS: To find a grocery salvage near you, check the Internet and your phone book for grocery wholesalers and grocery salvage. And don't let the outside appearance of the place fool you.
4. Ditch your cable.
When I was working outside the home, we spent $165 for the cheapest cable option and internet service. That was $1980 per year. I work online, so I needed the internet, but I knew cable was going to have to go.
I cut back to just the Internet (with another company to get a $35 deal), and we had nothing but Netflix (nine dollars) for two years. As I started making good money, we switched to a Roku and now have Netflix and Amazon Prime. I paid $99 for the Roku, $99 a year for prime and $108 a year for Netflix.
We not only didn't miss cable (the kids found plenty of stuff to watch, and so did I) but we spent more time together playing games, going to the pool or just GASP: talking to each other.
MONEY SAVED: $1872 per year the first two years and $1,674 per year since then.
5. Change your cell service and cut your landline.
When I was starting my freelancing career, I was paying for the "cool" phones for both myself and my then 13-year-old daughter, plus contract service. It cost us $170 per month. I paid off our contract the month before I left my job (it was up anyway), let my daughter keep her phone but sold mine and used the money to get a less cool phone for me and Straight Talk monthly service for both of us. Our monthly cell phone expense dropped from $170 to $90.
Also, since I was going to be working at home, I got rid of our landline and saved an additional $25 per month or $300 per year.
MONEY SAVED: $1260 per year.
6. Shop thrift.
Disclaimer: I've always loved thrift shops. But this one is for the moms who are still using your credit cards (or what little extra cash you have) to shop brand-name for you and your kids.
I'm lucky in the sense that because I work from home, I can wear whatever I want — and that tends to be jeans, yoga pants and Old Navy cargos. But when I was working outside the home, I had to dress nicely and I wore everything from Ralph Lauren to Tahari to Milly. BUT: I got everything at the thrifts. (You can't imagine the fun of finding last season's Milly dress, in your size, for seven dollars.)
Even now, I may wear jeans, but they're Seven for All Mankind, Citizens for Humanity and Hudson. My now-16-year-old daughter wears nothing but American Eagle, Aeropostale, Journeys, Buckle, Roxy and Hollister. My ten year old boy/girl twins wear mainly Gymboree. I spend about $600 per year for all of us, and that includes new thrift wardrobes every spring and fall and periodic shopping here and there.
MONEY SAVED: $600 per year.
7. Visit your library.
I'm a read-a-holic and I'm not interested in a 12-step program. I love
to read books and magazines (magazines were my weekend treat) and before I started freelancing, I spent about $100 per month on new books from Amazon and magazines from the grocery store.
A few months before quitting my job, I got us all library cards and limited my magazines to those I got for free. My monthly expenses for books went from $100 to about five dollars. I also have a Kindle app on my phone and download tons of free books for the kids and me.
MONEY SAVED: $1,140 per year.
8. DIY your hair and nails.
When I was working in management, I spent about $40 per month on gel nails and about $60 per month (all told) on coloring and highlights.
Working from home gives me more freedom to look as bad as I need to — and I get that. But I think I look just fine with my $12 home coloring every three months and my DIY mani/pedi treatment.
MONEY SAVED: $1,100 per year.
Between just these eight things I’ve shared with you, I managed to cut $12,000 a year from my expenses. That made all the difference in being able to work from home. We've had tight months since I started freelancing but we've always paid the bills from the get-go — but only because my bills were so small!
You have two choices: you can make more money or you can need less. To be honest, I like the freedom that comes with the latter.
Unomum is our space to explore the many million issues of single motherhood, but it's also for all the ladies — women stuck in shitty marriages, unfulfilled broads wishing for divorce, and happily coupled former single moms with a shit-ton of wisdom to share.
This article was originally published at Unomum. Reprinted with permission from the author.
like us on facebook
If you 'like' us, we'll LOVE you!