Many people have told me that they would like to have more children, but they just can't afford to (as they are drinking expensive coffee). Or, they wonder how we can possible afford to raise our family and pay for our adoption. We are a family of seven people living on one computer programmer income.
So, if you are looking for ways to cut costs, here are some of the big and small things we do:
1. Frugal grocery shopping - this is such a huge topic (close to my heart) that it will have to be a separate blog post.
2. Eat at home. According to Zagat's, nationally people eat out (or have fast food or take-out) an average of 3.1 times per week. ( http://www.zagat.com/node/3695295 ) If each person's meal with beverage costs an average of $5 (a very conservative guess), That would be over $100 per week and over $5,200 per year for our family.
We do eat out occasionally. Our family eats out about once per month (usually when we are traveling) and I go out with my friends once per month. Every couple of weeks I'll take one individual child out to eat on a date. And Ben and I TRY to go out on a date once a month, usually using a buy-one-get-one free coupon. Ben also packs a lunch to take to work. We don't go out for coffee, buy a fun treat at the mall, or go out for ice cream unless it is a specially planned event.
If we spend approximately $75 per month eating out, we save about $4,300 more than if we went out as much as the typical family.
3. We buy used vehicles - and Ben does the maintenance and repair work on them. This saves oodles of money. Hooray for a handy husband.
4. We hang clothes on the line whenever we can. I read somewhere that it costs about $1 in energy to dry a load of laundry. Considering I do about 10 loads a week including bedding and towels, I can save quite a bit during the nice days of Spring, Summer and Fall.
5. Old technology - Our phones aren't smart. They ring and we answer them. We have no apps. We don't text. We bought our beast of a 65 inch TV for $200 off Craigslist. Our computer and monitor are, well, ancient and cobbled together. No flat screen for us; the monitor is about a foot and a half deep. We bought a used laptop. We don't own IPads, IPhones or IPods. We don't have a car navigational system. We don't own surround sound, nor do we have portable DVD players. We are practically Luddites.
6. Just Say "No" to Hot Lunch - Hot lunch at our school costs $3 per meal. I can pack my children's lunch for an average of $1 per meal. Assuming costs don't change, at about 170 days of school per year from K-8th grade, I will save over $15,000 in lunch money alone for my five children. If they don't rebel, and still take cold lunch through high school (or buy their own lunch) I'll save nearly $7,000 more.
7. Hand-Me-Down Clothes - We have been the fortunate and grateful recipients of many tubs of hand-me-down clothing for the children. We supplement this clothing with garage sale purchases. On any given day, the only new clothing my children will be wearing are socks and underwear. We share the clothes with others when we are done. Our own clothes are purchased at the 75% off sales at the end of the season.
8. Cheap Furnishings and Housewares - Here's one of the best little known websites ever: http://www.twincitiesfreemarket.org/ We have given away things through this site and have gotten many treasures to furnish our house.
We've gotten bunk beds, a Nordic track, a treadmill, our VCR, a small entertainment center, two bookcases, a basketball hoop with stand, shrubs with the nursery tags still on them, a desk, a sewing machine, a business sized mail sorter that I use for scrap booking supplies, and more that I probably can't remember. When we need to buy furniture, we nearly always buy used. I love finding an incredibly made, garage sale bargain that often just needs a coat of paint and a little bit of love to look great.
9. Stick to the List (also known as No New Toys) - My kids know that when they go shopping they will not get a toy, except the occasional garage sale purchase. Other than birthdays and Christmas, there is no reason to buy a bunch of toys. Sure, I will buy sidewalk chalk at the beginning of the summer and replace a popped rubber ball, but other than that, I'm not buying them anything. They are extremely excited when the occasion comes around that they do get a new toy.
10. Wait and Save - I have my wish list. I am desperate to replace my yucky, partially melted in spots, (exploding pan of brownies - long story) circa 1968 Formica counter top with Silestone. I've been dreaming about this for years. However, it isn't in the budget now; we have other priorities. We'll save and some day we'll replace it. My washing machine is, shall we say it - temperamental. After a load is done I often have to turn the dial back to the spin cycle and give the poor thing a jump start by manually moving the drum. It will need replacing. Soon. But I can get by for now. Yes, we have enough money saved up to buy these things right now if we wished, but they are not our current financial priorities.
Our home has been in various stages of construction practically since we moved in. We complete projects as time and money permit. I'd rather wait and save till I can pay for my purchases. By not buying immediately, we can be sure we are in a good financial position and not pay interest. And I refuse to diminish our retirement savings for things we can save up for.
11. Cut the Kids Hair - My children are not going on job interviews. They are not getting married, nor are they giving public speeches. They don't need an expensive haircut. It costs about $10 (excluding tip) to get kids hair cut and they need a haircut about 4 times a year (at least!)
I am saving $200 per year by cutting 5 kids hair. If I cut their hair till they are 18, I'll have saved $3,600 for just a few minutes work. And its just as fast to cut their hair at home as it is to load them all up, wait for them all to get their haircut and drive home. I will also occasionally cut Ben's hair. It has been agreed that it is best for me to get my hair cut (albeit rather cheaply) by a non-husband and non-child family member. Fortunately I'm not going gray yet and don't have to get my hair dyed. That will be a non-negotiable expense when the time comes.
12. Homemade Gifts - I adore receiving homemade gifts and I love making gifts for other people. Yes, there is often a large time commitment, but I enjoy making things with my hands and it is a nice bonus that it is less money than purchasing gifts. I like to give Embroidered pillowcases, homemade truffles, etc. No, I won't force my kids to give homemade gifts to their friends for birthday parties.
13. Discount Entertainment - You can provide a lot of entertainment for your kids without spending a lot of money. For a special treat, I'll take my older kids to the discount theater a couple of times a year. For $20, my three oldest kids and I can get our tickets, each have a large drink and split 2 large buckets of popcorn. At our local regular theater, I would spend $33 for tickets alone and another $20 for refreshments.
If you want to expose your children to cultural events, that too can be cheap or free, depending upon where you live. There are free days at museums or we sometimes buy annual family passes because with 1 or 2 trips we usually have them paid for! There are free concerts in the park near our home and probably yours. Kids get nearly as much enthralled enjoyment out of a high school play as a professional production. And local high school (or middle school) sports events are just as exciting as professional ones when you are holding a bag of popcorn and cheering for the home team.
14. Ben Walks To Work - My husband works in downtown Minneapolis and we live in the suburbs. Its too far for him to walk, obviously, but he parks over a mile from his work and takes a pretty walk over the Stone Arch Bridge to his office. When it is raining, he wears his rain suit. When it is cold, he bundles up. On the 5 or 6 truly awful days of the year, he will pay to park close to work. With parking around $175 per month, we save over $2,000 per year and Ben gets a bit of exercise and fresh air, which he enjoys.
15. Just Do It - We don't pay someone to do something that we can do for ourselves. We take care of our own lawn, (Having a dozen kids from the neighborhood trample the backyard grass into oblivion cuts down on the need to mow) do most of our own home repairs, cook our own food, clean our own house, shovel our own driveway, clean our own gutters, do our own landscaping, decorate our own house, wash our own windows, unplug our own toilets, fix our own broken housewares, watch our own children, and paint our own walls.
These are just a few of the ways we save money to be able to afford our larger family and adoption expenses. Before you think we don't have any luxuries, I'll admit to a few things we hold onto tightly that others might consider a waste of money. It is all about priorities.
1. Private Elementary School - Our children go to our church's elementary school. The cost of sending all of our kids through the school, grades K-8 would probably pay for a nice cottage up north. But, for our family, we are convinced that a Christ-centered education is right for our family, and we are willing to scrimp on many other things to pay for it.
2. Diet Dr. Pepper - My favorite vice in the world.
3. Cable TV and TIVO - We rarely go out. When we have time, we like to watch the few programs that we have recorded. This way we don't waste our time watching things just because they are on and we don't have to worry about missing a show or watching at a certain time. Our level of TV watching has gone down since we got TIVO. We are on a program where we paid a lifetime fee so we don't have a monthly charge. We don't have any premium channels, but love a few particular shows on cable.
4. Family vacations - Over a decade ago we bought into a vacation club and stay at time shares very inexpensively. We can have our whole family in one unit (instead of multiple hotel rooms) and have a kitchen so we don't have to eat out. We can drive the family to these resorts instead of flying. Great vacation memories are worth the cost.
5. Fresh Flowers - Whether Ben buys these for me or I get them myself, I crave fresh flowers. In the spring and summer, I can cut flowers from my garden. In the colder months, Ben often stops off to pick up flowers or I may buy an inexpensive bunch of daisies at the supermarket that will last a couple of weeks. Since I am home so much of the day, I have absolute joy, especially in the middle of winter, seeing something beautiful in my home. It is an impractical but fabulous luxury. When flowering plants are on sale, I will buy these. I consider in the same category as cut flowers because Ben and I both know they will be dead within a few weeks anyway.