I am writing this end of year post as a thank you and as a final report for the 2009 frugal challenge year. Many of you who read this blog on a normal basis already know that my original 2009 challenge: Spending only $1200 for the entire year ($100 a month!!!) ended in June... well, that is how far we made it on $1200! So, we spent $200 a month, but this was big savings for us! We reassessed our budget here at the Frugal family household and determined that a more comfortable budget (read: realistic for us) was in the range of $300 a month. I know, I know!! A far cry from $100 a month. But, really, it was a shot in the dark number that I was basing on NOTHING other than a guess! I didn't even know at the time how much we spent every month for our family of 5, with 4 pets to feed! Well, let me tell you all, I learned A LOT those first 6 months and I had a great time tracking, photographing and sharing deals with you all. I did not feel like I failed really, though some readers were disappointed! LOL, it's easier to be disappointed when you aren't the one doing it!!
However, I did have many readers doing challenges of their own. I invited many of you to challenge yourselves, along with me, to see how little you could get your monthly budget to go for the year. Some really dug right in, some just watched! Some of you petered out during the year as life happens for sure, and some of you stuck with it! Soooo.. congrats to those of you who stuck with it for the entire year! Whether you adjusted or not, you were successful because you made an effort to save your family money, and you made sacrifices! Some of you made huge sacrifices! Some of you HAD to sacrifice because of family issues and an economy gone awry. I know we were amazed at how much money we could save, how little we could spend if we REALLY REALLY tried, and how nice it was to know EXACTLY how much we were spending each month on groceries, health and beauty items, pet food and eating out. Though we did NOT include dog food in our grocery budget, we did sometimes include it. I absolutely wanted that leg room because we have a large dog, and he eats a lot of doggy food. The truth? We most definitely can include dog food in our budget this coming year. I will miss the extra to play with, but we can do it!
We got really creative with our spending.. we used our monthly gas budget to buy gas gift cards at the grocery store to get our amount higher so we could use $5 off $50 coupons more often. We also gave away so much more this year! More than any year before! God blessed us with so much extra, and it seemed like as soon as I put together a huge package/box/bin for one friend, we were loading back up our storage shelves with new things to use and share. We were able to make smoothies for the first grade, give gifts to our girls teachers in school, Sunday school and for relatives. We were able to help with an entire ham, bread and cheeses for a funeral. We added hundreds of dollars, (and I mean hundreds!) to our church giveaway in December that included meds, soaps, shampoos, laundry detergent, pantry staples, razors, feminine needs, paper products, bandaids, hair supplies (brushes, etc.), makeup, office supplies and clothing. We blessed some of our friends this year with food, household items and more. We really had an abundance. Yes, we had to be creative, but it was more than do-able! It was a blessing!!
I have no doubt that through our giving, God blessed us with more than we could have had otherwise. As long as our giving was strong, our shelves were constantly stocked.. and emptied!
The most amazing thing to us, was that in December, we even used our $300 budget to get almost ALL of our presents for our kids! It included some Walgreens shopping for smaller things and stocking stuffers, but it was amazing how it all fell into place. The month of December at Walgreens was a little crazy as most of you know! There was a week where you could get about 8 items for free after register rewards..that was a busy week for me! I also made a profit on lots of those items because I had coupons. I then used those items (and lots of fillers, like Christmas bags, stockings, candies, etc. for stocking stuffers, gift wrap and more) for giveaways, presents and sharing. I used the profit (in register rewards) for buying things like eggs, OJ, cereal, honey, oatmeal, toilet paper, paper towels and more! As for gifts, we got a nice Conair hair trimmer for my hubby, journals for the girls, some pretty toy ponies (like the name brand, only not), some TY beanies, a bank, winter scarf/mitten/hat sets, candles, chocolate, books, cash register toy, puzzles, clay buckets, scrapbook kit, and more! So here is a BIG THANK YOU to Walgreens for really put out the deals this December..and for all of the employees that are SO NICE at my Walgreens, so helpful and always polite and courteous! Thank you!
So thanks, dear friends, for coming with us on this journey! What is in store for 2010? I'm not sure!!! I know we will continue to shop the deals, and continue to budget. Our new budget may be exactly like our current one.. $300 a month. What does this include? It includes for our family of five: eating out, all food and household items like paper products, cleaners, laundry, over the counter meds, pet food and supplies. What doesn't it inlcude? Prescriptions, usually gifts (for birthdays, anniversary, etc.), gas or other personal items like clothing and shoes. Many times I DO find a nice gift that I use my grocery budget for, but not always. Sometimes we get a prescription from Publix for only $4 or for FREE and even have used a coupon or two to get a free $25 or $10 gift card for filling a prescription there. Here are some other ways we saved:
Swagbucks: earn points by doing online searches. Even the people who sign up because you sent them a link or email invite earn points for you. I earned enough to get several Amazon gift cards with this!
MyPoints.com many of you use this already. You get emails, or shop through their site to rack up points to redeem for gift cards and more.
Ebates.com Lots of readers use this already. You shop online? Then shop through ebates! You get cashback, depending on the amount you spend and the amount back offered by the retailers. You often get $5 bucks JUST FOR SIGING UP! You have to have $10 in your account to request a check. (I think)
Shop at Home This is just like Ebates, but some people like Shop at Home better. You also get $5 just for signing up!!
Freecycle.org A group formed by area/community where everyone helps others, reduces wastes, recycles and gifts others by giving everything away for FREE. Look here to see if there is one in your area, the rules (if any) and how it works.
Craigslist.org A great, FREE website for classifieds, free stuff, bartering, job postings, rentals and SO MUCH MORE! This is by area too, larger areas have more activity. A great place to find a good deal or sell something. Use common sense though, and stay safe!
You can also barter your stockpiles for fresh produce at your local farmers market...you may want to take a sample bag around with you and just ask a few of the vendors you are interested in if they would be interested in trading fresh produce every other week, or perhaps every month for things like shampoo, razors, cleaners, dry goods, or whatever you get for cheap that they might want. Try to find someone who wants to do this on a regular basis that likes a surprise! You get fresh veggies and they get to save lots of $$$ on things they would normally buy full price! A nice deal for both of you! I plan to try this still, but haven't found a trader yet. (haven't looked yet)
Also, remember to SHOP THE SALES! Don't plan your menu then go buy the groceries! Look over/study/examine the weekly ad at your favorite store(s) and then plan your menu around what's on sale! You tend to get more veggies that are in season this way, you spend less, and you can save a ton of money! If chicken is on sale for $.69 a lb... and pork isn't and is running $1.69 a lb, you will save $1 a lb of meat by just using the sale meat for your meals that week. If you buy produce at $1 a lb instead of $2.99 a lb out of season.. you also save alot!
Stockpile!! This is a big one!!! If the butter you use goes on sale, don't just buy ONE tub or box of sticks.. buy enough to last til the next sale! Especially if it is on sale for a REALLY GREAT price AND you use a coupon! If you normally pay $2.69 for Smart Balance, and it goes on sale B1G1F (buy one get one free).. you are saving 50% on each one!! If you have a coupon for $1/1.. you use 2 coupons and get 2 packages for only $.69!!! That is about 85% off your normal cost.. so stock up! Do this every week and you will see your costs drop dramatically!
Yard Sale! You can take all your stockpiles and share them, give them away..and you can also sell a bunch of them at your yearly or seasonal yard sale! This way, you can take anything you earn and add it back into your grocery budget! Or you can just go to Hawaii! :) We didn't get a chance to do our yard sale this year, but we are planning one for late Jan. or early Feb..it is so cold though that we might change our mind and wait til late Feb and early March!
So, should I do $300 a month? ($3600 a year) ( we spent $1200 through June 09, then $300 a month from July - Dec. = $1800 = $3000 for the year.) Or maybe shoot for $250 a month? I think we will go for $300 a month (this was easy, comfortable and I loved the ability to eat out twice or so a month..). I will shoot for spending $250 though, and if I make that goal each month, will put the other $50 aside for something special. If I can do that every month, we will have $600 saved at the end of the year!
How about you? What will be YOUR frugal challenge 2010? Don't forget to ask yourself:
- How many people do I need to provide for?
- How coupon friendly are my local stores?
- Does my budget include eating out? Gifts? Pet Food? Gas? YOU decide!
- What are some EASY, instant ways you can save? Cut out eating out once a month? Once a week? For our family, eating out just once can cost $35 EASILY. So cutting that just once made a huge difference. Do you know how many groceries you can buy for $35?? I do!
- Can you barter? Can you grow some, or all of your veggies? Can you use reward points from websites, credit cards or elsewhere like Swagbucks to save even more? Even ONE earned gift card of $25 a month can stretch far!
- Why do I want to save money? Will this be enough of a reason to keep you going all year?
- Is my family supportive? You can change their minds.. or just not tell them you are cutting back in the food area, just serve what you buy! I found it was really a family effort for us. If it wasn't in the budget, we didn't get it! Even my 6 year old twins got in on the challenge, helping me sort coupons, arrange items for my blog photos, or helping me think up creative ways to serve what we had on hand. My 10 year old even started getting her own "small" stockpile going with her own money and coupons! She is doing great!
- What MUST you buy each month (milk? Organics? Chicken? Eggs? Formula? Diapers? Pet food?), and what can you do without? (sweet cereal, steaks, brand name products instead of store brand?)