After we had Lion, we were astounded by the costs of daycare. In the DMV area, a center-based daycare can be the cost of a mortgage (or even more)! Add a second child plus our other expenses like law school student loans (times two), a mortgage and a car payment and we had to seriously rethink how we spent our money. I’ve talked before about how I’ve found ways to earn extra money as a work-out-of-house mom, but here are the ways we’ve saved money, rather than generated money.
I love these two dearly, but my goodness are they expensive! Photo credit: Eric Elofson.
Cut cable. Prior to having kids, we had cable. We mostly used it for sports, particularly during football season. While we watched shows on other stations, I knew we wouldn’t miss it and like many people of our generation, we cut cable when we moved while pregnant with Lion. Instead, we got an antenna for $30 to get the local stations. Lucky for us, most Notre Dame football games are televised on broadcast TV and not on ESPN or other cable channels. Total savings per month/year: $45/$540.
Cut Netflix and Hulu. One of the reasons I knew that we wouldn’t miss cable was our subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu. Because we don’t do screen time with the kids generally (exceptions for plane rides and snow days), we found ourselves only watching one or two shows a night after the kids went to bed. We cut Hulu about a year ago and cut Netflix six months ago. We do still have Amazon Prime so can catch up on some shows there, but if we really wanted to, that’s another service we could eliminate from our budget. Total savings per month/year (for both services): $16/$192.
Coupons for baby formula. One of our biggest costs over the last couple of years has been baby formula. We signed up to get monthly coupons from Enfamil and they definitely come in handy! We get two $5 coupons in the mail each month, plus usually at least two coupons from the grocery store in the $5 to $8 each range. Total savings per month/year: $20-$26/$240-$312.
Coupons for entertainment. We usually rent movies from Redbox and have three accounts signed up for the company’s emails, plus our phones for text coupons. One of our accounts usually gets at least one free movie each week and we very rarely pay for a rental ourselves. Total savings per month/year: $5/$60.
Camel Camel Camel. We make a lot of purchases off Amazon, but often times the price of the day is not the best price. If the item we want isn’t pressing, you can put the link to the item from Amazon into the site Camel Camel Camel and you can see the history of the pricing over time. You can then set an alert for a particular price and wait for it. I also set an alert for items we buy frequently, like diapers or certain snacks, so I know when it is at a good price. The alert will also tell you if it’s the best price the site has tracked. I’ve gotten some pretty good deals this way, including when I was tracking the costs of different strollers. Of course, it’s important that we only use this site to track items that we were going to buy anyway, rather than using it to spring for something that’s a good deal that we wouldn’t have otherwise purchased. Total savings per year: $200.
Clothes spending freeze. Last year, one of my new year’s resolutions was not to purchase any clothes, shoes or accessories for myself unless I was using a gift card. I did cheat a bit by purchasing myself a $200 gift card to one of my favorite stores just before New Year’s and I had several other gift cards given to me, but I otherwise stuck to this resolution. One of the results from the spending freeze was not only reduction in spending on myself, but I was less likely to buy clothes for Mr. Dolphin or Lion because I simply wasn’t shopping. The kids really don’t need me purchasing any clothes for them because, well, first grandchildren and seven grandparents. I unsubscribed from some style/fashion blogs as well as e-mails from stores I used to frequent. Honestly, I didn’t miss shopping and when I did on occasion decide to use a gift card, I actually started to get impatient with the whole shopping experience (both online and in person). Total savings per month/year: $200/$2400.
Using the library. I used to purchase whatever books I wanted off of Amazon. I had quite an addiction to books and really ramped up purchasing books after working at Barnes and Noble for several years. When I traveled a lot for work, I would purchase books in airport newstands at least once per trip. Last year, when I applied the principles of Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to my home, I got rid of hundreds of books. When I calculated how much I had spent on these new copies of books, I was a little horrified. I still purchase books from time to time, both for the kids and myself, but I’m much more judicious about what I want to add to our permanent collections. I now go to the library every other week and we check out 60 or more books at a time for the family. Total savings per month/year: $50/$600.
Eliminating the middle grocery aisles. Last year, I noticed how high our grocery costs were and also wanted us to eat healthier. We had done a pretty good job since Lion was born eating healthy because I wanted to set a good example. More than ever, though, I started shopping only the perimeter of the grocery store when I could, avoiding the processed stuff that lives in the middle of the grocery store. By shopping the perimeter, we bought fresh foods and removed the temptation of chips, fizzy water, and other junk. Total savings per month/year: $50/$600.
Packing lunches. Most of the time, we were already packing our lunches. But sometimes we’d be in a rush in the morning and decide to just grab something from a restaurant. We became much more diligent about packing a lunch because we always have leftovers. Instead of packing leftovers after dinner into large containers, we started packaging them into bento boxes or small serving size tupperware, making them easy to grab out of the fridge in the morning. This not only ensures less waste on food, but cuts down on unnecessary spending. Total savings per month/year: $40/$480.
Less eating out/take out. Mr. Dolphin and I never ate out excessively, but we would get take out when I was too tired to cook. I enjoy cooking and committed to doing it even more once we had kids, in part because I wanted to control exactly what was going into the meals. But, we would still get take out once ever three or four weeks. Today, we eat out or get take out much less, probably once every eight to ten weeks. Total savings per year: $200.
Walk to the metro. We live about 1.25 miles away from the metro. When the weather is nice enough, we make an effort to get out of the house on time so we can walk to the metro instead of driving there. Parking at the metro is $5.10/day which really adds up! We don’t do this every day, but it still helps when we do. Of course, I got a stress fracture in my foot again this year (the fourth time in six years) so we took a bit of a hit for a couple of months. Overall, we have saved quite a bit over the year, though. My estimated savings don’t even factor in gas costs. Total savings per year: $480.
Negotiated a new Internet service contract. Internet service isn’t something we can cut out, but when our old contract expired, the costs shot up. I renegotiated our contract by signing a new one. Total savings per month/year: $25/$300.
Reduced energy costs. We set the automatic timer on our thermostat and kept it a little cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer than we used to. We changed the hours where we had the heat or air conditioning on, which really helped us save, particularly in the cold winter months. We build a fire when it’s cold out on the weekends. Total savings per year: $500.
Total estimated yearly savings: $6,774.
Ways we plan to save further in 2017
Eat more vegetarian. This is actually something I want to do for health reasons, rather than pure budgetary reasons. I actually plan to go more pescatarian, but with fish/seafood a couple times a week rather than every day. While fish/seafood costs can be on par with meat, the cost of eggs, beans, and vegetables are usually much less. Estimated total savings per month/year: $100/$1200.
Reduce or eliminate gift exchanges. One of my friends this year said that she made a mutual agreement with every adult in her life not to exchange Christmas gifts. I really admire that and Mr. Dolphin and I have talked about doing the same thing next year, or at least severely reducing our gift exchanges. I have to admit, it’s a bit hard for me because I love giving gifts, but it has been tough the past few years to pick appropriate gifts that fit into our budget while not feeling guilty about the nicer gifts we got in return. Even if we simply reduce the number or cost of gift exchanges, it would result in significant savings. Estimated total savings per year: $800.
Additional extra savings per year: $2,000
Oh, and if you want to save even more money, you can get into a not-at-fault car accident. Just kidding! Well, sort of. Right before Lion’s first birthday, I was in a car accident (alone), but because I was rear-ended on the highway with the car seat in the car, the insurance covered the cost of a new car seat. We were planning to switch from an infant car seat to a convertible one soon anyway, so the timing was helpful. Then, last year, we were sideswiped (with both kids in the car) and again the insurance paid for two new carseats. We ended up not having to pay when either of our kids switched from infant carriers to convertible carseats, a savings of $250 per car seat. Not that I recommend getting into a car accident, but the point is that sometimes the things you don’t buy are the greatest savings. Instead of getting another infant carrier for Panda when we got into a car accident when he was nine months, we went straight for a convertible seat so we wouldn’t have to purchase it later. Sometimes, it can pay off to think ahead and invest in something that will grow with the child. For example, I often buy Lion’s clothes in a larger size so that he can grow into it. Three of his current hoodies I purchased in a size 2T last fall, when Lion was about 12 to 15 months old. They fit him then, albeit a bit big, but continue to fit him today and he wears each of them on a weekly basis. By purchasing in a larger size, we’ve made his clothes last for two years instead of one.
None of these ideas are groundbreaking, but they have helped us cut down on expenses since having kids. It’s amazing how much those little things add up!
We could always stop buying them toys, too, since they much prefer things like cardboard boxes, empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, and bubble wrap!