So, I did a household budget last week. -GULP- How can three people spend so much money just...living? I mean, yes: we go on vacation, I drive a new car and we don't buy our clothes at thrift shops. On the other hand, we're not flying first-class to Rome, I have a Toyota not a BMW and I tog the girls out at Old Navy instead of Tommy Girl. Realistically, I would have described my spending habits as being rather...average. Not outrageous, but also not particularly frugal.
But when I looked at it all in the cold light of day, I was shocked.
After taking a closer look, I realized that a lot of my spending goes to silly things that I could easily avoid. Things like going to the movies a lot (it's about $75 for me and the girls to have a night out at the pictures), eating out (just because I'm too tired or lazy to cook) and some of my bills, like TV and cell phone.
So unlike Greece, I'm going to implement austerity measures.
Here are a few areas where I've been able to make changes.
By re-jigging the packages I subscribe to, I saved $54/month on my TV bill, which works out to $648/year. Not too shabby!
My oldest and I both have cell phones, and somehow the bill for both (we're on separate carriers) ends up being $160/month. Now, I wouldn't give up my cell phone, but that seems like a crazy amount of money to spend. Based on some research, it looks like I could save $35/month ($420/year) just by moving my daughter's account over to my carrier on a family plan linked with my number. An added benefit is that we would be able to call each other for free.
This one should totally be low-hanging fruit. I mean, if I just planned ahead a bit, I would be able to save hundreds of dollars. With both girls in school and me at work, lunch is never an issue (I brown bag it every day during the school year), and breakfast is almost always going to be a meal we eat at home. The real challenge is dinner. I come home from work and I'm tired and nothing is ready and I don't have any good ideas of what to make and...next thing you know it, we're eating out a few times a week. Looking back over the past four months, I've spent on average $150/month on eating out. That's $1800/year. We could spend a week at a resort with that kind of money! Sheesh...what a waste.
But let's be realistic. I'm not going to give up on fast food/restaurants forever, and I need to keep a little bit of money in the kitty for the odd trip to McDonald's or a nice dinner out. So let's say I cut that expenditure in half...I should still be able to have a meal out in a restaurant (no booze) once a month and hit the drive-thru twice a month with $75. That still saves me $900/year.
Here's the thing about grocery shopping. If you're disorganized, you spend money will-nilly and pretty soon you've spent $700/month to feed three people (which is really crazy when you consider the $150 I also spent on eating out).
Now I can't pretend to be savvy about frugal living but I have seen TLC's crazy show Extreme Couponing where contestants regularly save 95-100% on their grocery bills and have stockpiles of essentially free stuff in every nook and cranny of their homes. My sense was that you could never do that in Canada, because our stores generally don't allow you to use multiple coupons at once and they also never do the 'doubling' thing you see them take advantage of on the show.
However, after doing a little bit of internet research, I found out that there are people out there in Canada who can go to the store and stock up on certain things and save 98% of their bill. Not every time and not on on everything - still it seems like they're averaging about 40% savings - but WOW. And how do they do it? With coupons, of course! Even in Canada, if you get every coupon you can get your hands on (loads are available online to print or order by mail), and pay attention to when those items are already reduced in-store, you can save a lot of money. Even though it doesn't work quite the way I thought it did, I immediately saw that with a little bit of time invested in planning (that includes watching local flyers, printing and clipping coupons, meal planning and - gasp - making a grocery list!) I can save between $50-$100/week (or maybe even more if I'm willing to drive to multiple stores to get the best deal). That's a whopping $2600+ per year!
So last night I spent about an hour online trawling for coupons. I ordered about 80 coupons that will be mailed to me, and I printed another 40 or so.
One great website I found posts all the deals in your local flyer, compares them to coupons available online, and matches them up for you - saving that time-consuming step. For instance, Shoppers has a certain brand of multivitamin on sale this week for $10.49, and there is a $10 off coupon available to print online. So, if you combine those two offers, you can buy multivitamins for $0.49 this week - I never would have known that. Now...it happens that I don't really need vitamins right now, but you get the idea.
As I sat down last night to clip my coupons, my youngest daughter got a little freaked out, "Mom! I don't want you to become an extreme couponer and go on that show and have a stockpile!"
To be honest, she's got nothing to worry about. Once school starts up again and I'm back to working full-time, it's going to be a lot harder for me to put the time into planning and preparing in order to make use of these coupons, but I figure if I put some work into it now I'll get into enough of a groove that I can at least continue to save some money.
What about you? Do you ever sit back periodically and take stock of where the money goes? Or are you a really solid budget follower all along? Are you couponing and if so, how valuable has it been for you?