Money Saving Tips for Frugal Families
My daughter loves the American Girl Doll franchise so we read the books, watch the movies, and she even saved up seven months worth of chore money and birthday money to buy her own Caroline Abbot doll! Man, that really taught her the value of a dollar like no other lesson she’s ever had! But I digress. Recently, we were watching the movie made about Kit Kittredge, an American girl who grew up during The Great Depression. A theme throughout that story is cutting costs and making do with what they had. From making dresses out of flour sacks to keeping chickens and selling eggs, Kit and her family had to work hard to keep food on the table. We aren’t in the Great Depression anymore, but for many of us, money is tight and we have to cut costs whatever way we can to make our budgets work. This means going back to the basics and doing things that families used to do themselves all the time like butchering hogs or letting out dresses. Back before technology experienced such a boom, people really knew how to provide for themselves independently of society. Now, we are so used to the convenience of things being done for us, and the blessing of plenty found in a disposable style that we almost have to retrain ourselves to do certain things like make it ourselves or re-purpose. Like many families have done, we have recently gone down to a one income household which means that the belt is super tight and we live on much less money than I ever thought was possible. When times are tough, I find that God gives us the ability to rise to the occasion and make do, and through these lean times, my family and I have learned lots of tricks that make our dollar stretch.
1. Make your own
This is a BIG one! You can make just about everything on your own and save money. It is a lot more work so don’t try to take it on all at once, but start here and there with one project and then another and soon you’ll get used to time managing the different projects you’ve taken on. I’ve made all sorts of things myself: cloth diapers, sandwich bread, yogurt, taco mix, Bisquick, handkerchiefs, towels, deodorant, cleaning products, and laundry detergent. I also like to make gifts for people: from painted superhero peg dolls for my son and his friends, to hand knit cuddly dollies for my daughters and their friends, to aromatherapy bath salts for my sisters and mother. Everyone (even kids) seem to appreciate a handmade present. A friend of mine made my daughter yarn dolls—just about the easiest and simplest dolly you can make—and they were one of my daughter’s favorite sets of dolls for awhile, even without faces.
2. Use Reusable products
Our first step in being more frugal was to switch to cloth diapers. When we looked at how much we would be spending every week on diapers that would be thrown away, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. We decided to cloth diaper and never looked back. From there, we’ve switched a lot of our products to reusable options. We use cloth napkins, hand towels instead of paper towels, mama cloth (cloth menstrual pads), and I even have a box of cut up squares of old tee shirts that we use as handkerchiefs to help supplement our disposable tissues. Many people go so far as to use cloth toilet paper (family cloth), but we are not those people and never will be. I have to draw the line somewhere.
Along the lines of making your own stuff, you can use any of your talents to do it yourself around the house. My hubby used to do construction work and he has put his talents to very good use making built in shelves in the living room, tiling the bathroom floor, and making a beautiful cedar swing set in the back yard for our children. I’m a decent seamstress, so all of our curtains are handmade from beautiful fabric I found at a discount fabric store.
We recycle and upcycle whenever possible. I keep two big bins of unwanted clothing downstairs and use it as free fabric to make cloth diapers, cloth wipes, super hero capes, leggings, shorts, dresses, pajamas, and skirts. I also do crazy things like keep spaghetti sauce and coconut oil jars and use them for storing homemade chicken stock in the freezer or remade coffee concentrate in the fridge. Just remember, if freezing something in glass, leave plenty of room on top for expansion without breaking the jar. If you live in a bottle return state, recycling will give you an actual monetary payout. I used to live in a state with bottle returns and sometimes my mom would let me or one of my siblings keep the money if we did the work of returning those bottles. Recycling goes further than just plastic and tin, though. Recycling your kitchen scraps can give you a beautiful and fertile compost soil for your garden. We used our compost soil on our garden this year and the seeds from produce we had composted actually sprouted and we are growing far more vegetables than we actually planted, including a mystery squash that has yet to produce fruit (my guess is cantaloupe!).
5. Grow your own garden
I have never had a green thumb, but as I always tell people: every year I stink a little less at gardening. My mom only ever kept flowers in her garden and I’m more of a practical girl who sees no use for flowers, so I didn’t follow her example. However, having fresh produce at my disposable for nearly free is a pretty awesome selling point, so each year I experiment a little more than the year before and I’ve found the things that I can grow with little to no effort in my garden, and those that haven’t worked for me due to my ineptitude or simply the type of soil and pests we have in my part of the world. We have found that our tomatoes and peppers are prolific with very little effort on our part so we always grow them. I also like keeping a little strawberry patch because strawberry plants are pretty much a delicious fruit-producing weed that will take over if you let it. We keep mint in the front “garden” as ground cover for the same reason that we keep strawberries. I’ve experimented with different types of squash but I dislike using pesticides and we always have squash bugs come and destroy our plant just when the harvest is about to get good, so I finally ditched growing zucchini and her cousins. Squash is so inexpensive in our rural town anyway that there is very little point putting out all that effort to plant it when I can get some that someone else planted for pennies to the pound.
6. Preserve your food.
If you find a great deal on raspberries in the produce section, make and can homemade jelly that can be enjoyed by your family all year long. If you grow tomatoes, make salsa and can it. I didn’t grow up canning and I had to look on the internet and ask lots of friends questions until I became comfortable enough to try it, but the little bit of canning that I have done has yielded wonderful results and it’s delightful to have the taste of my garden tomato sauce in the dead of winter when it feels like fresh foods are so hard to come by.
7. Buy Used
You can buy most things used without any problem. For instance, I never buy my children’s clothing brand new. I either find it at the thrift store, a yard sale, or it’s given to me in one of those beautiful bags of hand-me-down clothes from a friend. We’ve also purchased many other things used like baby seats for our bicycles, bike helmets, strollers, swings for our play set and tools. Of course, it’s not prudent to buy everything used. For instance, when it comes to purchases like mattresses and car seats, you really should buy new.
8. Borrow the big stuff
My husband and his friends always borrow things like wet saws and grass seeders from each other when they have big projects at hand. For instance, today a friend down the road borrowed my husband’s reciprocating saw. Why buy a big tool that you may only use for one project when instead you can just share? Along the same lines, I built a stash of newborn cloth diapers that was passed around to different girls in my church as they had babies. Newborn cloth diapers are usually only used for about 2 to 6 weeks or so, which means they stay in really good condition compared to their one size fits all counterparts. It doesn’t make sense to purchase an entire new stash when you can just share a stash that multiple people have contributed to. I also have ended up with tons of different types of diapers so I often lend them out to friends who are looking to try cloth diapers for the first time and don’t know which kinds they will prefer. I currently have a stack of pockets, AIOs, fitteds, flats, covers, and prefolds that I will bring to a friend in church tomorrow. There is one or two of each type of diaper and she will be able to use them at no risk to herself so she can decide which she and her husband prefer.
9. Buy and sell at Yard Sales
We have so much stuff in our culture that we have entire rooms dedicated to storing it. We have rooms full of stuff that we don’t use but we may need one day. Case in point: My children have so many toys that we keep most of them downstairs and rotate them up to our living space a couple of boxes at a time. This means that a large part of our unfinished basement is devoted to the rest of the toys we aren’t using. We could keep all the toys and have much more stuff than we really need, or we could really go through and decide what we don’t need anymore and sell it at a yard sale or on ebay. I’ve found that kids stuff always sells quickly at yard sales so selling toys, baby furniture, and clothing is a great way to bring in some extra spending cash. On the same note, rather than go out and buy that expensive stroller or that Dora play set brand new, why not get it at your neighbor’s house at an 80% discount? You’re eventually just going to get rid of it anyway and your kids like cardboard boxes so they won’t even notice if it’s a little bed worn.
10. Shop at Discount stores
Aldi’s and the bent and dent store down the road are the only way we are able to purchase enough groceries every month on the amount of money we have set aside for food. In every town I’ve lived in, I’ve always found that somewhere there is a bent and dent or discount grocery store. If you don’t know where it is, ask around and you’ll find it.
11. Use All Natural Remedies
We try to keep our family healthy by eating well and using essential oils to protect us from sickness and help us heal when we are sick. Also, when we get sick we try to use natural remedies first before going to the doctor or purchasing medicine. Things like garlic and honey are great for colds, mint from the garden or steeped ginger root is great for nausea and stomach issues, and garlic ear drops or breastmilk are wonderful for treating ear infections. When we have rashes, we use coconut oil or breastmilk, we put lavender on our bee stings and burns, and we put peppermint oil or witch hazel on itchy bug bites. This isn’t to say we don’t go to the doctor or use pharmaceutical remedies, but we try these methods first as they are better and less invasive to our bodies than drugs.
12. Cut electrical use.
Our electric bill can be so high, especially in the hot summer months, and I know that the dryer has a huge impact on that. In addition to unplugging any appliances when they aren’t in use, we’ve been line drying our clothing. It not only dries them quickly and makes them smell wonderfully, it gives me and some kids some much needed vitamin D during the super hot days when we would much rather stay indoors in the air conditioning. On that note, in the winter, keep your heat low and in the summer, keep your temperature as high as you can stand. We use fans to help circulate the air from our air conditioners and I try to keep the curtains closed during the day so as not to let the house get too hot from sunlight. I like it cold so in the winter it’s usually not much of a struggle to keep the heat down to save money and the rest of my family has grown accustomed to that.
13. Use cold water
When using your washing machine or dishwasher, use the eco cycle or the cold water cycle as much as possible to save the cost of using the hot water heater. On that note, switch to a high efficiency washing machine, especially if you aren’t washing cloth diapers. Old fashioned washing machines are best for washing diapers, but they use tons of water. We have both and we only use the old one for diapers.
14. Save gas
To save gas, we try to consolidate all of our errands at once. If I run out of eggs, I’ll ask my husband to pick some up on his way home rather than making the trip and using the extra gas myself. When that isn’t possible, I try to do all of my errands at once. If we’re going to the post office, we make our trip to the library and the grocery store at the same time.
15. Cut extra services
What extras do you have that you don’t need? You can cut your cable, or your landlines, or your Netflix account if you really need to. Once we got Netflix, we cut our cable for awhile. We have it again but only because it came with our internet service which we need.
16. Keep staples in the house
When times are tight and we can’t afford all the groceries we are used to, it’s nice to have staple pantry items in the house that keep well like rice, dried beans, pasta, flour, and other dry pantry goods that can be used to make wholesome, filling, and inexpensive meals. When we have other staples in the house like batteries, pencils, crayons, detergent, etc., it also helps carry us through the leaner months without having to make unexpected purchases.
17. Buy in bulk
This isn’t always possible. If there is one thing I have learned it is that it is expensive to be poor. If I only have $20 for groceries this week, I may want to capitalize on the package of hot dogs for $.99 by buying 12 of them, but then that’s all we would eat all week long. However, for the weeks and months that my grocery budget is a little more loose, we buy in bulk whenever we can and it saves money and means less trips to the grocery store in the long run. If we can’t, then I try not to sweat it and just trust that God will continue to provide for our needs as they come.
18. Allow one or two inexpensive splurges every week or two
It’s small, but we allow ourselves to buy half a dozen donuts every Saturday from the local grocery store (which ends up being $4), and two bake-your-own pizzas for $10 from a local pizza shop every Sunday. That’s $14 that could probably be put to use getting a higher quantity of food from the grocery store, but it’s just a little luxury that my family enjoys, so we keep it. Feeling like we are “letting loose” in this small way helps to take the pressure off when times are especially tough. I may have made my own bread and fed my family rice and beans all week long (I’m exaggerating a tiny bit), but I can look forward to donuts and pizzas on the weekend.
19. Reconsider that second job
Second jobs come with hidden costs and some not-so-hidden costs like gas money, childcare, and extra clothing to wear. My husband has a very part time second job at a coffee chain. The only extra cost to him working there was getting extra polos and a pair of shoes that fit his dress code requirements. Thankfully, this job is not even a mile from his main job and his employers has been gracious enough to schedule his shifts at both places back to back. In addition, it’s given him the barista training that allows us to skip on pricy gourmet coffee on the go because he makes incredible coffee for us every morning, which goes back to the “make your own” category. However, that said, if you are considering a second job that does take you back a bit on gas or requires that you pay for childcare, really crunch the numbers before deciding to take it in order to help pay the bills. You may not come out as far ahead as you’d envisioned and you’ll lose valuable family time in the process.
20. Freelance work
I’ve found Fiverr to be a great way to freelance my special talents to the world. I write (obviously, ha ha!), draw, make videos, and speak Spanish, so I’ve created gigs starting at $5 to earn money from these particular talents. Five dollars isn’t a lot of money, but Fiverr allows you to add extras so that it’s actually worth your time. For instance, I draw a simple, 2D ink drawing with no background for $5, but adding backgrounds, shading, and extra figures can bring that one drawing up to $35 or more. If you’re a teacher or have some self-taught skill creating curriculum, consider making something nice to sell on Teachers Pay Teachers. As I spent eleven years teaching Spanish in both private and public arenas, I decided I might as well capitalize on that and continue doing what I love while staying at home with my kids, so I created a few Spanish units to share on TPT. So far I haven’t brought in a lot of money in that area, but I know of many teachers who have been able to produce enough materials there that it has become a full time income for them. I also teach classes to kids from my home once a week and have found a few families—especially homeschooling families—who really value the learning of a second language and are willing to pay for my services. Maybe you don’t speak a second language but you play violin or paint really well. You should definitely consider offering private lessons or classes from your home. Finally, if you’re crafty, consider selling on Etsy. You can sell items like cloth diapers, wooden toys, or jewelry, or you can create patterns and sell those without having to worry about posting things in the mail. I prefer to create knitting patterns to sell because it means I don’t have to drag my kids to the post office or even pay for shipping. The buyer purchases my pattern, they download it, and they pay me. Once the work of creating the pattern is done, it makes money for me without my having to exert any more effort. It’s great.
If you’re just starting to think of ways to cut costs, this might all seem overwhelming. Don’t try to do it all at once. Do what you can when you can and once you get the hang of that, start adding new cost cutting methods into your routine. It has taken us years to implement all of these tricks and tips into our lifestyle and routine. We started with just cloth diapers which lead to using more reusable products. I started making my own bread which made me think about other things I could make like yogurt and Kombucha. My garden started small and every year I stick to what I know and try only one new thing rather than trying to plant food for the year. So start small. Do what you can, and you’ll slowly but surely discover that you are capable of juggling far more than you think you can.
Do you have any frugal family tips that you think should be added to this post? Leave your comments and feedback below, we’d love to hear from you!