Here are my most practical (and impractical) tips for saving money this year:
1. Stop shopping at Hy-Vee and start shopping at Fareway. Lance and I are very conscious grocery shoppers. We menu plan once a week and tend to stockpile when we notice ingredients that we are sure to use go on sale. We have both noticed that Fareway consistently has better prices than any other area grocery stores. They may not have quite the selection as Hy-Vee (especially if you live in central Iowa and have access to the biggest Hy-Vee in the nation), but for the average family the selection is more than sufficient.
2. Quit buying convenience foods and start buying ingredients. For example: swap your morning granola bar for a big tub of oatmeal. Portion out enough oatmeal, brown sugar and raisins (because apparently the only way for Lance to be able to consume granola is with brown sugar and raisins) for the week and you have your breakfast on the go. We don't buy those frozen pre-made Bertolli meals although I think they sound delish. They count as convenience food!
3. Get rid of your expensive magazine subscriptions! This tip is especially for me as I LOVE magazines. I am currently subscribed to seven different magazines and am currently phasing over half of them out. But am I doing without? No, utilizing my local library card, I am able to use the online reader service called Zinio to read all my current magazines.
3b. Or find a friend that works for Meredith and have them bring you magazines that you like to read.
3c. Or find a friend who will graciously let you read their magazines once they are done with them.
4. Meatless Monday. This past Monday I made a new recipe from Dinner A Love Story. I was a little skeptical (the meal consisted of spaghetti, olive oil, caramelized onions, spinach and balsamic vinegar), but was pleasantly surprised. Cheap meal!
5. Regularly read a couponing website for couponing ideas and sales. http://moneysavingmom.com/ and http://thekrazycouponlady.com/blog/ are two great ones.
6. Figure out where your money is going and then do something about it aka: setup some sort of budget. For us, we do a version of Dave Ramsey's cash envelope system. We use our credit card to pay for gas because of all the extra points we get, but typically we stick to cash. One other exception is that I have a target debit card that I regularly use to get 5% off all my purchases. But the moment I get home I have Lance hounding gently reminding me about how much I spent and if I transferred the money from our cash folder.
7. For Christmas this past year, we did not use our credit cards, even with what limited income we have. We redeemed our stockpiled credit card points for gift cards to places where we knew we'd be shopping. For example, I used a Bed Bath and Beyond gift card to pay for gifts for both of my aunts and Lance used Sears and Home Depot gift cards to buy things for my dad and uncle. We also saved a portion of all of my promo paychecks to pay for gifts. I suffered through a particularly painful Halloween promo at the mall so I knew we'd be able to buy gifts this year. In my opinion, I wasn't paid enough to do this HORRID monster mash dance that I had to lead. Don't ask, there are no pictures or videos.
8. On that note, be willing to work hard to earn some extra Christmas cash. I got up at 5am on Black Friday and wrapped presents for 11 hours at the mall because I knew we needed the money. I was exhausted afterwards. I supposed that it didn't help that I had went out the night before and did a little pre-Black Friday shopping.
8b. Start contributing to a Christmas budget early in the year. Maybe this was relieve you from having to work terrible promotional events like me :)
9. Shop craigslist and utilize Facebook swap groups. I was telling my friend Mandy the other day that I got a large portion of my maternity clothes on craigslist. My philosophy is that if you can wash it and guarantee it's cleanliness, than you can buy it on craigslist. Lu got a play kitchen and tool bench for Christmas. Again - craigslist and FB swap groups! Besides I'm saving the environment by recycling some one else's toys :) Tell that to my recycle nazi husband!
10. The 10% tithe envelope. Every time we get a cash gift or I work a promo, 10% immediately comes off the top and goes into an envelope for giving to charitable causes. There are times when something will come up that I will want to contribute but I'll have a hard time because I don't know where the money will come from. Well, now we have a "giving to God" envelope so I can donate without having to worry if we actually have the money to do that because I know that we already have cash set aside. (This doesn't include the tithe money we regularly portion from Lance's paycheck.)