Creative Ways to save Money?

Updated on February 17, 2010
J.F. asks from Atkinson, NH
17 answers

Hi moms, just looking for you to share some ways you save money each month...with 2 kids in daycare, money is really tight. We rarely go out to eat, we shop at the cheapest grocery store, etc.... I'm looking for some creative ideas on how to save on utilities, groceries, etc...Thanks so much!

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S.S.

answers from Boston on

Hi,
I've actually found food shopping with only cash helps, that way we can only get what we came for! We also use coupons (try www.wow-coupons.com) for everything we can possibly find! Hope this helps!

1 mom found this helpful

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S.K.

answers from Boston on

Hi J.,

sorry this is long but i've been where you are and we've been doing this for almost 2 years now.

i agree with a few items on here - we had to carefully look at our budget when i didn't go back to work after having my son (my second - paying for daycare for 2 was going to be my entire paycheck - so we're still taking home the same amount of money - with out my pay and daycare - with out all the hustle and bussle of getting 2 kids out the door and commuting - less gas, less lunch/dinner out, less drycleaning) we did alot of prepping before i had him - the whole year before we used every penny we could to pay off debt, all credit cards and my SUV were paid off before we had him.

#1 whole-hartedly is the budget - we have an excel spreadsheet - that keeps track of everything. paycheck comes in twice a month (1st and 15th). we pay all the bills for that period (and now portion into savings), - we have about $300 discretionary that goes towards upcoming birthdays, dinner plans, family outings, for that period. we take that $300 out in cash and use it for that - once it's gone, it's gone until the next pay period. anything we use the cash for - we get a reciept and put it in the envelope at the end of the period we analyze what we spent it on - and see if there was something that we really didn't need.

Budget items - what ever our budget is for an item - if it comes in at less - the rest goes into savings - example - we budget $300 a month for car gas. if the bill is only $250, the extra budgeted $50 goes in savings. if i don't spend the full grocery/BJ's budget - the balance goes into savings.

utilities - get on budget billing - this way you pay the same amount each month - so you don't get the spikes in your bills for heat and A/C.

we changed every single lightbulb in our house to the CFL - including the bulbs in the range hood, and exterior ones, and dimmable ones for the ceiling fans - it's a little bit of an investment to get them all - but well worth it in the end. we have power strips for the TV/DVD/Sound System, and Computers - when we're not using them the power strip is off. we up got a new Energy star Fridge, put the old fridge in the basement (10 years old) and got rid of the older 25+ year old fridge that we had. also got new washer and dryer - energy start etc. between all of that we've cut our electric bill in half. if your dishwasher has a delay button - run it in the middle of the night - ours goes at 2/3AM ish - electricity cost less then.

we had to finance the appliances to get them originally - but made sure we paid them off before the intersest hit - now we don't finance anything. we have to save up for it to get it.

we had the Mass Save audit too - and we got our whole attic re-insulated for $750 (they paid $2500, and our portion was $750). and programable thermostat - it's 66 at night and most of the day. goes up to 68 between 7-9am and 2-5pm. we're all out of the house by 9am (activities, preschool etc). we're home by 1, lunch and naps (the sun keeps the house pretty warm) need to turn it up a bit in the late afternoon. but then cooking dinner warms up the house for the rest of the night, while we're awake. we've saved at least 25% on our heat.

Gas - we got exxon credit card that we use for gas only - we get 5% back on all purchases at exxon (and antoher 3% if we used it at any other store) i know Hess has a similar program.

really work on being more efficient with running errands, plan your trip out so you're traveling in some sort of order and not back tracking, if you're doing alot of driving try to use your more efficient car. my husbands car is more efficient than my SUV - just b/c we have the kids doesn't mean we need to take my truck every where. unless we need the double stroller, we take my husbands car whenever we can.

car insurance - we switched to progressive - it's down to $1,000 a year. we did raise our deductible to $1,000 - that's something that you'd have to be comfortble doing - but we figured if it was an accident that we caused - anythign under $1,000 in damage we wouldn't want to report to insurance b/c it'd raise our premiums. and if it was someone else's fault their insurce would be covering it. and it's not like we have driving teenagers in the house.

wholesale club - i use BJ's b/c they have coupons, and they have better portions - it's great shopping at a wholesale place, but sometimes their stuff is jsut too big. i have a budget of $240 a month to spend there. i go once a month. i created a spread sheet of all the things i get there and their prices. (some items i have to get every month - diapers, wipes, frozen chicken, some items i only have to get every 3 months or so - dish soap, laundry soap, trash bags etc). i use my spreadsheet to mark off the things i need to get that month, and it totals it - so that i know i'm on my budget before i even walk in the store. if a month i'm only at $200, i know i can get a couple of extra things that aren't on my list - books, clothes etc. or i can stock up on other things that are on sale. the quarterly items (cleaners, papergoods etc) i try to spread those out so that i don't need them all in the same trip.... month 1 get paper towels, next month get dish liquid, next month get laundry detergent - so they are rotating.

you can do the same thing with the grocery store too - we have $250 a paycheck - about $115 per week.

also look at your cooking - use your leftovers - i found i was cooking almost every night and there were left overs that we weren't eating and just throwing away. depending on the week - i cook on mon, wed and fri - and eat left overs on tue and thur, and with a busy weekend we end up eating other places. other times i cook Mon, Tue, Wed and Thur and then left overs on the weekend. this week i cooked a 24lb turkey. we at it monday night, took the left overs and made turkey salad for lunch and made a casserole for dinner for 2 more nights. (layer of ptoatoes, gbeans, corn, turkey and stuffing) . or bring your left overs to work for lunch everyday.

plan your week of meals out before you go grocery shopping - to try to avoid going back during the week - i'd go in b/c i need a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk mid-week and come out spending $20 - i don't clip coupons, and i don't really browse the circular - i just don't have the time. but being wise about what you buy is all you really need.

Also Calzone's - you can take any sort of left over meat - throw it in a pilsbury french loaf - glaze it with an egg - 25 mins - done - i do this with chicken fingers/sauce/mozz cheese, onions/peppers/chicken/fajita seasoning, steak/bbq sauce/ onion/peppers/swiss cheese.

getting to go out to eat - when we do go out we go out for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner - cheaper than the dinner prices - and you don't have the temptation of having beer/wine with your meal (which can add $20+ easy to your tab).

Christmas - It's a killer - you over spend for Christmas spend 6 mos trying to pay it off your credit card - and BAM it's summer time and you're on vacation and spend a little money and spend 6 mos paying it off and BAM it's chrstimas again. if you can go back and make a list of what you really spent on christmas this year - tree, alcohol/food to bring to parties, grab/swap gifts, christmas cards and postage, gifts etc. try to have that money saved up by Nov 1. make a budget with pricing estimates and stick to it! pay with cash or your debit cards - no credit cards. take advantage of black friday ads online shopping - don't do the crowds for blackfriday - but alot of places will start their sales online thanksgiving day - i got 1/2 my shopping done tgiving day online - Old navy - i added everything to my cart and saved it a week before. i logged in tgiving day, my cart updated the pricing and i checked out. and free shipping. 2009 was the first christmas we stuck to the budget (the swap/grab gifts and bottles of wine always sent us over). we came out of christmas with nothing on credit cards and it's so great. also liquor stores usually give you a discount for buying a case of wine (mixed bottles) so we go before thanksgiving and get a case of wine to get us through the holidays - dinners, gifts to hosts etc. so you're not running out the last minute to get something.

A couple of things that have come back in to the plan - now that we have some room:

Morning Coffee - my husband gave up his morning Dunks stop and was making coffee at home. that was $40-$50 a month. now that we've been doing this so long, with a few raises and some other leeway - he now gets coffee 1 -2 times a week.

we like to have wine a couple of nights a week with our dinner (especiallly the nights we eat after the kids are in bed) but we'd never finish a bottle and end up throwing it away - we get a box of wine at BJ's for $22 - it contains about 4 bottles of wine (which would be about $40 for individual bottles) , and b/c it's in the box -there's no wasting a whole bottle just to have 1 glass - and it lasts about 5 weeks and tastes perfectly good.

we've been doing this for 2 years now, and we have no credit cards and minimal debt: 1 car payment (and will never have 2 car payments again), mortgage,student loans, home equity line (for siding and windows). Our goal for 2010 is to get $10K in savings (we have $2k now).

just recently we've started to utilize a credit card - we have AMEX - we put our BJ's shopping ($240) and grocery shopping ($500 a month) on amex now and pay it all each month - this way we are earning AMEX points - and we cash them in for Home Depot Gift cards to do something around the house - or a really nice restaurant for our anniver or birthday dinners - we just got $150 gift card with amex points to Capital Grill for our anniversary in Oct. we figure it's money we're spending anyways, might as well get something back for it. we feel we are able to do this b/c we've been so strict with our budget for the past 2 years. this something new we're trying for 2010. we would have never been able to do this before we started looking at our bills so closely.

hope this helps - sorry it's so long, but had alot of info to share

2 moms found this helpful
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K.T.

answers from Boston on

Hi J.! Sorry this is so long, I hope at least one of the ideas works for you!

One poster suggested getting a membership to a wholesale club, and I like her idea. However, she mentioned savings in laundry detergent. If you have an HE washer, you only need to use 1oz MAX of detergent. A lot of people use capfuls or scoopfuls... really look at how much you put it. And if you put in HALF of the recommended amts all your chemicals (laundry liquids/powders, dishwasher soap, etc), all of your stuff will still be as clean, and you'll cut your costs on cleaners in half! :)

Also consider using something like Oxy-Boost and Oxy-Prime - better for your clothes, does a better job, can be bought in large quantities (up to 50lbs at a time) and cheaper than liquid detergents. Also, I am going to try Perfect Pads - cut $5-10/month in menstrual products!! (I know it sounds gross at first, but if you take care of them, I doubt they're gross at all). They're $100 to get started and last up to 7 years. Lastly, my husband cuts his own hair and has started trimming mine, and I do my own nails and just discovered doing my own hair color as well.

To save on electric, consider buying some power strips for your entertainment devices (game systems, tv, cable box (if you keep it!), computer) and unplug the entire strip at night and anytime you aren't actively using those things. We have a Wii and I haven't plugged it in months- why pay the electricity for it to keep time...? If you have a laptop, only plug it in while you're using it..again no reason to let it sit and charge or use "minimal" power when you sleep or work or are cooking dinner.

I don't know if you like natural light, but consider the insulation/windows in your house, is it better to keep your blinds/drapes open for natural light (and risk losing your heat) or to keep them closed and burn your house lights (but save on heat)? Or if you work, keep your drapes closed AND the lights off! Lol!

Lastly, as others have said, I divided up our finances into five categories - unchanging monthly Bills, Food (grocery and spontaneous IDontFeelLikeCooking meals out), Household (pets, cleaners, paper products, etc), Cars (gas and oil changes), and Fun (date nights, babysitters, admissions, and when the food budget is maxed out, I take date night dinners from here too). I used averages from before, tightened them a bit, and took out cash. I divide the cash into envelopes for each category and pay straight from there. When the cash is gone, I stop spending. (And it's amazing...I haven't run out of cash yet!!! I am SO much more aware of what I'm spending!)

1 mom found this helpful

K.C.

answers from Providence on

Hey J.- I live in Mass and this year we have gone from two incomes down to one, so we have looked for ways to really cut back too.

I found this site really helpful for keeping track of our finances and planning http://www.mint.com

We used to use http://www.vonage.com which cut our phone bill to $14/month, but found that we were using our cell phones more often and got rid of our home phone all together. But vonage is a great option, especially if you have a lot of long distance charges.

We also cancelled our cable and use http://www.hulu.com (free) and http://www.netflix.com ($10/month) for all of our tv. Our kids watch shows on http://www.nick.com etc. also. We have http://www.playon.tv installed on my pc, which allows us to watch shows on our television set.

I also agree with the other posts about energy savings and the like. You may be interested in getting the Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn from your local library, or check out this blog http://notmadeofmoney.com/blog/ which has a lot of great tips for ways to save on groceries, etc. I find the less convenience foods I buy and make myself instead, the cheaper our grocery bill.

Speaking of the library, I use them to borrow video games, movies, tv series etc and museum passes for entertainment, and shop at the local thrift store. I actually try to stay out of stores all together unless absolutely necessary. :)

Good luck!

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M.C.

answers from Miami on

I see that your from NH and the site I'm going to recommend is really for southern states...but even if you poke around on her site she has LOTS Of great and free advice...I have to assume there is another mom out there doing what this lady does but for stores in your area. I found this lady on Facebook and she updates stuff daily!!

http://www.southernsavers.com/

1 mom found this helpful

E.T.

answers from Boston on

Hi J., You are definitely on the right track. Having spent years trying to be frugal, I have a couple of other suggestions to go along with what you are already doing.
Are you a coupon clipper? Although it can be tedious, it does save if you are particular in choosing them. For example, do you have a CVS near you? Every Sunday, the Boston Globe (if you don't read the Globe, it may be true for your Sunday paper also) has a section of all coupons. In a separate CVS flyer in the same paper, they have various sales advertised and will note on the actual ad if there is also a coupon for that item in the Globe that day. By cutting out the coupon & using it at CVS, you get the item on sale and are able to use the coupon as well, bringing the cost down even more. I think the trick with coupons is to just cut out the ones for products that you usually use. I shop at Stop & Shop and use many of their store brands that I have found to be just as good while being much cheaper. Along with the S&S brand, they also feature their more natural or more healthy version called Nature's Promise, and I buy a lot of that, such as the whole wheat bread, etc. With the coupons, I keep them in a coupon holder & go through them about every other month to discard any that have expired. I usually take it with me when I food shop so that if I see something on sale that I normally buy, I can check to see if I have a coupon for it to bring the price even lower. I also try to check Walmart every so often when I have time to purchase any food products there that might be cheaper than S&S.
With regard to utilities, we have started turning off lights, radios, tv's, etc. in any room that nobody is in. We also make a point of unplugging the toaster, coffee pot, can opener, etc. as we read recently that these items are drawing on electricity even when they are not "on". Cell phone chargers are a big draw when they are plugged in but not connected to your cell phone; so we now unplug that when not being used to charge the phone. Everything with those LCD little green lights that show up at night are sapping your electric and adding to your bill. I feel that it is a small inconvenience to put the plugs back in to use something.
I imagine you already use the resource of Children's Orchard and other used clothing stores - I have purchased hundreds of top brand beautiful items for our children and grandchildren over the years that we never could have afforded at regular stores. You can buy snowsuits, jackets, boots, and all sorts of clothing in great condition for next to nothing - just takes time and effort to drop in once a month to see what they have.
I hope these small ideas might be helpful for you. Please feel free to ask me anything else. E. Taft [email protected]____.com

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M.L.

answers from Hartford on

Hi,
who doesn't want to save money these days... I've found a few things that have saved me some money...
Check rates for cable, wireless phone (family plans), telephone etc... check every 6 months to make sure you are getting the best deal and not spending on something you don't need.
Instead of using plastic baggies for kids snacks, get a few containers to hold them.. better for the enviornment too.
I use small washcloth size cloths to wipe up spills, crumbs, mouths etc... instead of ripping off a few paper towels, saves on buying and the trees...
Shop at Sams club or costco and freeze if you have room or just buy paper goods or non perishables in bulk.
The big one for me is I used to shop at Stop and Shop (thinking they were competative on price) and used coupons... now I shop at Price rite and realized how expensive S&S was! I cut my food bill 60%!~!!!
When shopping for "wanted" items (not needed) I always ask myself if I really need it or is it a want... sometimes I treat myself but most times, I put it back on the shelf.
Find free things to do with the kids around the state... there are plenty! See your library, town or kidtivity.com
Freecycle.org is a great site to find stuff or shop consignments for baby stuff/clothes, they grow out of it so fast anyway!
I hope this helps, good luck. M.

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J.M.

answers from Boston on

If you use a dishwasher, turn off the "dry"cycle (half the stuff comes out wet anyway). We just started line drying to avoid using the clothes dryer so much (I'm in MA - and the clothes dry even in the winter. I will often throw in a load first thing in the morning, go hang it out before I go to work, and take it in when I get home. It's actually kind of a nice way to spend 10 minutes in the morning). We eat vegetarian about 3 times per week and that really helps keep the grocery bills down.

We also started keeping a spreadsheet with our monthly expenses in 3 categories - groceries (food), needed (cleaning products, co-pays, diapers), and extra (eating out, new clothes). We looked at past credit card bills and came up with reasonable averages. (We knew we needed the "extra" category, because even with money so tight we knew it was unreasonable to say we were never going to order a pizza or buy a birthday gift, etc). We figured out how much we have to spend in each category and then just type in how much we spend per purchase and it automatically deducts. I can't believe how much it helps! We cut a huge amount just that first month because we were so much more aware of what we were spending. But you have to really commit to keeping track of everything - even that 1 dollar cup of coffee.

Good luck!

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A.M.

answers from Hartford on

Cut down to basic cable or give cable up altogether. Don't buy any packaged foods... they are expensive and really unhealthy anyway. Look at your phone bills, internet bills and try to combine them. You can also get rid of a home phone altogether unless you have DSL.

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L.T.

answers from Boston on

Love all the great ideas but I have a suggestion to add....I calculate cost per ounce, etc. so I may find that a larger size using a coupon is definitely a better deal than the medium size on sale....or vice versa. If I go with a smaller size it is usually because it is an item that I do not use alot of.

For example, I use Scott toilet tissue....it lasts so long. But I try to get it for under 50 cents a roll. It means saving the coupon and watching for a sale when I get down to the last few rolls. But it is so worth it when the alternative is grabbing a 4pack for 2.99 in an emergency.

As to wholesale pricing and bulk purchasing of paper products, again, do the cost per item. I found that I can get better pricing often using the regular store sales plus coupons versus bulk shopping at Costco. This can also work for items like mayonaise or soups, etc.

Be aware of the costs of everything you buy.

And oops, I remember something else not mentioned....when I am in the grocery store, I always check for meats with an extra coupon because they need to be sold that day for spoilage reasons. Theres no reason why you cannot freeze these until you need them.

Good luck

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B.R.

answers from Springfield on

Hi J.,
Great answers form the previous posters!

Here's a few things we do to save money:

I cut all of my families hair. My husband, my 3 kids and my Mom's. I've been doing this for decades now and can't begin to add up the savings. I don't cut my own since it's too hard, and I don't want to think about what it would look like if my husband did it! I do my own color though, but only a few times a year. I don't have a lot of gray but enough. I use a Henna product from Whole Foods. It fades out so instead of getting roots the color just gets lighter.

I only dry sheets, towels undies and socks in the dryer. The rest I hang on wooden racks in the winter or outdoors in nice weather. (We're in MA) So I'd say I only use electricity to dry for 1-2 loads out of 10 per week. I think it may extend the life of the clothes too, but that's personal opinion not fact.

We rarely go out to eat. We make our own pizza and chinese food at home. You can but pre-made pizza dough at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods really inexpensively ($1.50) or make your own dough.

Vacations are spent camping at State Parks. I just booked a 4 night stay at Nickerson State Park on the Cape for $15 per night. You can bike from there to the bay beaches and bring your own food, instead of buying a beach pass for your car. Exercise, fresh air and fun all rolled into one! You have to book state park sites 6 months in advance. I booked last week for our trip in mid-August. Sites go fast so book now. You can go to ReserveAmerica.com to book at any state park.

I agree with getting power strips for your TV, DVD player etc. These things are electricity vampires so just by shutting off the power strip when you are not using them you'll save.

We only get the bare basic cable for less than $% per month. Yes the kids grumble but they can watch some shows on-line and they watch more PBS this way.

I extensively use the library and inter-library loan system to get books new movies and music all for free. In MA it's called CWMARS and you can order what you want and have it delivered to your library when it's available. We've seen all the latest movies this way although you may have to wait a bit for the popular ones. You can even get exercise videos and DVDs this way and save on a gym membership. Of course then you have to motivate yourself to do them which is just as hard as saving money sometimes!

Hope this helps. I'll be keeping an eye here too to get more tips.

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K.N.

answers from Houston on

write out your monthly bills on paper every month so you can monitor your outgoing bills. Then what ever is left over use for things lfor secondary bills like oil changes for the car, or stocking up on medicines or vitiams. This has helped me to pace my spending and priorities where my money goes. And if a month comes round where everything else is paid, then I can treat myself for a message.

I learned to do my own nails and hair, hemmed my slacks, and do a lot of the yard work myself. Also, if there is something you need, most places has layaway.

Tell yourself that things will get better, kids grow up and need less. Also shop at resale shops for clothing and other household items. Gargage sales.

Don't let this get you down, we are all in this together. Also, try to tuck $20. away in a sock for emergencies from time to time.

Drink water, keep meals simple, and look for free outdoor events for the family.

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S.F.

answers from Boston on

You have gotten lots of good ideas. I have just one more to add (and if someone already suggested this, my apologies for being redundant). Take a look at your cell phone plans and seriously consider going on a pay-as-you-go plan. These plans charge more per minute, but if you reduce the amount you talk on the phone, you can save a ton of money. Get rid of the texting option altogether - texts are so expensive. I have a pay-as-you-go plan that costs me only $20 (plus $1.25 for taxes) every THREE months. I am charged a lot per minute - something like 25 cents per minute - but since I only use the cell for emergencies, I usually end up having to add money just to keep the account active. Obviously, if you talk a lot on your cell, this change would require you to alter that. But it's one idea that could enable you to cut your mobile communication expenses from upwards of $50 a month to $20 every three months. Good luck!

C.M.

answers from St. Louis on

Only shop with coupons (ie: make meals around what is on sale either in the paper or at the store). This may require more frequent shopping trips (once or twice a week) but if you only make food based on what is on sale, then you will save.

If you see a good deal, stock up on that item and freeze (bread, milk, cheese, etc).

Make 1 vegetarian meal per week (or more) to cut back on meat prices.

Have breakfast for dinner 1 meal a week to cut back on costs.

Start making more meals with cheaper items - eggs, bread, etc.

For utilities - if you have a programmable thermostat, set it lower during the day and while you are sleeping. But not too much lower because it's my belief that the greater the difference when it's low and comfortable (say you turn it down 6 degrees while you are gone), I believe it costs a lot for your heat to get up that 6 degrees, which will end up costing you more.

Invest in that paper that you can put over your windows to protect and seal the heat/ac in.

Carpool if you can.

Get rid of unecessary expenses (internet, cable/satellite, home phone) if you can help it.

See if daycare offers any other options such as 10 hour versus 12 hour days for a reduced price. What about part-time? Can you or hubby work different times/shifts so you don't have to take them every day?

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K.M.

answers from Boston on

Compact fluorescent light bulbs
Wear everything one more time before washing it
Pets are expensive, don't take them on or replace them
Set up a "playgroup" with friends so that parents can take turns taking breaks for errands, housework
Plant a garden come springtime
Check "free stuff" on Craigslist regularly
Barter if you can
Consign any clothes you can (keep kids winter stuff to do so in fall)

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D.W.

answers from Indianapolis on

There are some things I'd really recommend not skimping on after looking at some of the answers:
1. make sure to purchase as many fresh fruits/veggies (or frozen) as possible to give your kids the best nutrition possible.
2. call the doctor when they're sick and ask if they need to be seen - usually, they'll give you advice over the phone for free. Don't wait until they're really sick to call either, that will usually cost more in the long run.
3. Don't choose the least expensive insurance options (health, car, home). They usually have the poorest coverage and will cost more in the end out of pocket if an unforeseen catastrophe occurs.

Here are some practical ideas:
1. turn your furnace down to 65 degrees during the day if you're not there and close vents to parts of the house (and doors) that are rarely used (we do this with our laundry room)
2. Get a membership to a wholesale club - the amount you save on meats/produce/laundry detergent alone is worth the cost.

The most important I learned when I had to spend a year out of college because I couldn't afford to go back (and worked 3 jobs to earn money for the following year) was to treat yourself occasionally - it may be a family night to McDonald's or a matinee movie.

I was laid off in May, so I understand the struggles of our economy and don't want to appear flippant. I wish you well and hope some of the suggestions you've received are helpful.

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P.L.

answers from Boston on

hello - i do several of the things suggested and I know how hard it can be........one thing we did (we live in MA) is have MassSave perform and energy audit for us. The come into your home for free and check from attic to basement for any possible areas that may be wasting energy, etc. They provided us a summary made some suggestions. It will cost us a little money to update some things but there are govt plans in place to defray some of the cost as well. For us our electric bill is huge so it was worth it for us to look into and invest that way. Also, is your daycare providing a sibling discount - many often do. I def. agree with the spreadsheet - we have one with months out so I can plan ahead as much as possible - we keep all our standard/fixed bills on it but also add in those extras that come up - bdays, hair appts, etc so I know to plan for it. Good luck.

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