Author Topic: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?  (Read 8715 times)

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« on: April 08, 2012, 07:20:24 PM »
Hi all,

I've been working pretty hard to get my spending down, but have been having trouble making any significant headway.  I've been frugal for a long time, but I know there are possibilities to cut spending still.  Right now I spend more than I make because I'm only working 20 hours a week since I'm in grad school.  I have no debt since my job subsidizes most of my tuition, and I still have some money saved up from working between undergrad and grad school.  This year, I'm making $1,200/mo and spending $1,550/mo, down from $1,660/mo last year.

How have you been able to really cut spending?  I'm trying really hard to cut food costs, but haven't been making much headway even though I rarely go out to dinner.  I think the problem is that I won't buy food at cheapo places due to ethical/health concerns about where the food comes from, and though I've cut down on eating out expenses, I have somewhat regular dinner parties/gatherings which cost me.  I've been able to cut food costs down by $25/mo between this year and last year (total of $350/mo at present for groceries, toiletries, eating out, drinks with friends, etc.) and I've moved to a cheaper place cutting down on rent by $50/mo. 

Every month I try my hardest to be frugal, but surprise expenses keep occurring that I cannot avoid: shots for grad school - $100,  fix a chipped tooth - $100, bridesmaid's dress for my best friend's wedding - $150, bike repairs - $100.  A couple things like this seem to come up every month which really cut into my saving ability.

fruplicity

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 69
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2012, 07:48:29 PM »
I also find food expenses a constant battle. I swear by the price-per-unit in stores - then you can at least get the cheapest price for the quality you want (assuming where you shop has at least a couple of options that you're willing to choose between). Do you have any farmer's markets/CSA's in your area that would be cheaper?

I let my guard down for a little while but now am trying to stick to specific numbers for each trip to make my monthly goal (right now $350 for food/groceries for two). This has meant less groceries overall and a little more creativity in the kitchen to use what I have.

In terms of bang-for-your-buck... I think it's just important to challenge yourself/think out of the box on things that you've started thinking of as status-quo. Like your gatherings - can you start sharing hosting duties with anyone else? Research local restaurant specials to take advantage of when you do go out with friends? how about your use of utilities (if you pay for them) like water, heat, electricity? Cell phone? It's great that you've already moved to reduce rent!

And can you increase hours at your job at all?

Finally, it took me a while to acknowledge this, but those "surprise" expenses (sounds like they're related to basic life maintenance - of your health, family/friendships, and primary mode of transportation) are ALWAYS going to be there. A month without these kinds of things is an exception in my experience, so better to assume and plan for them to always occur - then when they don't it can be a "bonus"!

sol

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8492
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Pacific Northwest
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2012, 08:39:39 PM »
You spend $350/mo just to feed yourself?  That's what we spend for a family of four.  You can do better, without trying very hard.

Otherwise, the big savings come from your biggest expenses.  For most people, this is rent and transportation.

I was a starving graduate student for more years than I care to admit, but my sharing a place with two roommates I paid several hundred dollars less per month in rent than virtually anyone else in my department.  Some of them talked about how much they like the privacy of having their own place, but an extra $300/month in your pocket goes a long way towards buying compensating luxuries.

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2012, 09:55:41 PM »
The $350 is not just food, it's also all soaps/cleaning products/toiletries.  This also includes occasional restaurant visits and drinks out with friends.  I've been trying to get more comfortable having only one drink when I go out, as this will save me some.  But honestly, I don't go out to eat or for drinks all that much.  The main thing is that unlike some of MMM's recommendations, I can't justify shopping at Rainbow or Cub.  Environmental sustainability is really important to me, and I believe in voting with my dollars.  Which means that I shop at Trader Joe's with supplements from the natural food co-op.  This is pretty much an area of no compromise, so I'm just trying to figure out how to bring down my food expenses without sacrificing food ethics.

Rent, utility, and transportation costs are already as low as they can go; I have a roommate and live in a condo that my parents own.  I bike most places but maintain a car for visiting family out of town, plus winters in Minnesota are painful without a car.

There is a farmer's market that will start in May a couple blocks away, so I intend to utilize it fully!  Thanks for that recommendation.  I just wish it was scheduled to begin sooner.

tannybrown

  • Guest
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #4 on: April 09, 2012, 12:00:35 AM »
Rent has been our best tool for cutting spending.  When we were dating, my wife and I rented rooms in houses rather than getting our own place.  Now that we own, we rent a spare room.  Either way, it addresses what's usually the largest line item on any budget: housing.  Renting also has ancillary benefits, by splitting up the spending on utilities, internet, etc.  You're already doing this though.

Restaurant spending usually has a lot of 'play' in budgets but it's hard to tell how much of that $350 is just for groceries/toiletries.  Perhaps breaking this out into smaller categories could allow you to tackle the discretionary spending separately from the necessities.

I've not personally done this, but IP Daley's thread on using VOIPs and MVDVs (or some other such acronym) to reduce cell phone charges may be another good place to start.

If you are friendly with your neighbor, you may be able to share your internet subscription to shave costs -- it's likely that many condos could utilize a single wifi connection without much hassle.

There are some obvious other things that may or not be in your budget: cable tv, data plans, etc.  But at $1550 per month, you may not have much wiggle room.

« Last Edit: April 09, 2012, 12:11:08 AM by tannybrown »

MEJG

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 276
  • Location: Northeast US
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #5 on: April 09, 2012, 05:47:52 AM »
I applaud your commitment to voting with your dollars.  We take the same stance, we just cannot buy ALL the things we want local, fair trade, and organic.  I would encourage you to analyze all the purchases you make at TJ and organic markets. 

To cut back on groceries look at this thread: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/forum/share-your-badassity/dumpster-diving/msg4168/#msg4168  Trader Joes is NOTORIOUS for throwing good food out- which is one of the reasons my family does not shop there.

To cut back on drinks out look at this blog: http://nomoreharvarddebt.com/  and search for his posts about using a flask.  I would either keep yourself to one cheap drink (no $10 carmel apple martinis) or better yet be the DD or bring your own flask.

Toiletries and cleaning products should not need to be bought monthly for just one person.   Think about skipping the shampoo and conditioner all together and going No poo (better for you and better for the environment).  Buy a good bar soap like Grandpa's pine tar soap (less plastics, less chemicals, really awesome for your skin).  And clean your home with natural homemade cleaners - vinegar and water, baking soda, a little bit of bleach and some elbow grease are generally all that is required.  Also look into making your own citrus cleaner http://cleaneatsinthezoo.com/index/2012/03/23/homemade-citrus-cleaner/ 

For dinner parties host pot lucks.  Have everyone bring a dish in the theme (mexican, indian, comfort food etc), or better yet have everyone take a turn hosting and make it potluck in a theme.

Sounds like you're doing a good job on all the biggies, so getting down to the nitty gritty is really where you have to go next.  Those surprising $100 here and there monthly costs for medical expenses and maintenance are just a part of life, so budget for them.  '

Your other option, of course, is increasing your income :-)

arebelspy

  • Administrator
  • Senior Mustachian
  • *****
  • Posts: 27774
  • Age: -999
  • Location: Traveling the World
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2012, 07:48:51 AM »
Good question.

Food may not be the best place to cut, in fact, because it could be quite a sacrifice to go from $300/mo to $200/mo (cutting 1/3 of your spending!) to save $100, but there are lots of other places to save $100 easier.  (Not saying you shouldn't optimize the food, but your question is a good one.)

Housing is a big one.  Cutting your rent from $1200 to $1000, immediately gives you 2x the savings of that food cut, with possibly no noticeable difference. Refi-ing could do the same thing if you own.

Discretionary spending is similar - coffee, alcohol, etc. all may be easier to cut or trim.

Shopping - whether your vice is clothes, technology, or just trinkets, cutting this can work well.

Food is a place many people start at, but go for the big wins first.  It's one of the things I'd optimize later (at least grocery shopping - I'd cut eating out right away).
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

BenDarDunDat

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 84
  • Age: 49
  • Location: Raleigh NC
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #7 on: April 09, 2012, 09:16:09 AM »
Hi all,

I've been working pretty hard to get my spending down, but have been having trouble making any significant headway.  I've been frugal for a long time, but I know there are possibilities to cut spending still.  Right now I spend more than I make because I'm only working 20 hours a week since I'm in grad school.  I have no debt since my job subsidizes most of my tuition, and I still have some money saved up from working between undergrad and grad school.  This year, I'm making $1,200/mo and spending $1,550/mo, down from $1,660/mo last year.

How have you been able to really cut spending?  I'm trying really hard to cut food costs, but haven't been making much headway even though I rarely go out to dinner.  I think the problem is that I won't buy food at cheapo places due to ethical/health concerns about where the food comes from, and though I've cut down on eating out expenses, I have somewhat regular dinner parties/gatherings which cost me.  I've been able to cut food costs down by $25/mo between this year and last year (total of $350/mo at present for groceries, toiletries, eating out, drinks with friends, etc.) and I've moved to a cheaper place cutting down on rent by $50/mo. 

Every month I try my hardest to be frugal, but surprise expenses keep occurring that I cannot avoid: shots for grad school - $100,  fix a chipped tooth - $100, bridesmaid's dress for my best friend's wedding - $150, bike repairs - $100.  A couple things like this seem to come up every month which really cut into my saving ability.

Hi Wideawake, we've been able to save by working on recurring expenses.  We dropped cable.  +$60 per month.  We went prepaid on cell plans. +$60 per month.  Cut my own hair +$15 per month.  Do many of my own home repairs +$1000 per year.  Do many of my own car repairs +$1000. 

I deal with some of the same problems you face with these harder to predict expenses.  It can be demoralizing to scrounge and sacrifice to save up several hundred frugal dollars, only to have to fork over $6 grand for a roof job. To trim grocery expenses 25%, only to go out to eat with inlaws and pay $100 for one single dinner out.  I just try to tell myself that I would have had to pay these expenses anyway and keep trying. 


AJ

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 906
  • Age: 36
  • Location: Oregon
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #8 on: April 09, 2012, 11:07:18 AM »
If you are already frugal, there comes a point when reducing any further comes with significant lifestyle changes. Having a roommate in a two bedroom is easy - having a roommate in a one bedroom is harder. Having several roommates in a one bedroom requires significant changes in your daily life. If you are already eating cheaper foods (oatmeal, rice & beans, etc.) then to reduce your food expenses you would need to start shopping somewhere cheaper, which would compromise your morals.

To get any further down, you would need to go line by line on your budget and see if there are any more changes you are willing to make. I like to look at each item and think "If I really had to, if I was dirt poor, how would I reduce/eliminate this expense?" Then I have to decide if I am willing to make that sacrifice.

To answer your original question:

* We have been able to make serious headway in our gasoline bill by changes to our driving habits and buying a used hybrid when it was time to replace our old car. We used to spend $500 a month in gas (for one small sedan). Now, our gas bill is $120-$150. (Could be much lower, but we chose to live in the country w/o a decent bus line).

* We reduced interest payments by paying off debt.

* We spend less on Xmas presents by making special custom presents for family rather than buying. Xmas is a big deal in my family, and spending is really high for it. One year, we invested in a screen printing kit, ordered blank hoodies, and make custom hoodies for everyone. It went over really well. This year, we are writing children's books with the recipient as the main character. We'll have them printed thru Lulu.

* We reduced our energy consumption through a variety of oddball methods. We try to never use lights (we have a lot of windows for daytime light, and bought hand-crank lanterns for after dark. We're trying to learn to live on a more natural pattern of going to bed when it gets dark and waking at dawn. It has not been easy.) We also bought hot water bottles to keep in bed so we could turn heat totally off at night. When we needed a new fridge, we bought a dorm sized one rather than full sized.

* My cell is a TMobile pre-paid, which costs $100 a year for 1000 minutes. I make longer calls from my work phone, or our Magic Jack if at home.

The next items on our list to do are biking to/from work, growing our food, hanging our laundry (we do sometimes, but not always), building a solar oven to cook in this summer, and re-negotiating our internet bill. I'm sure there are others, we're always a work in progress.

It should be noted, too, that at some point your time and creative energies are better spent increasing your income rather than shaving a few more cents off an already low budget. I think we're at that point, but I still get a kick out of trying new frugal things.

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2012, 11:11:43 AM »
Lots of good recommendations, thanks!  Especially for the potluck idea.  I should coordinate so instead of making a couple dishes myself, I make one cheaper main dish and tell everyone else what to bring.  I've also decided that for dinner parties I'll allow myself to go to a cheaper grocery store to get supplies, otherwise these events can really add up.  I do eat simply: oatmeal, rice, beans, eggs and a lot of produce. I don't buy any prepackaged food, and cook a lot at home.  So I'm planning to save all my grocery receipts starting from now to see where I could cut back.

As for other recommendations: My rent is very low for Minneapolis at $475 with one roommate.  I pay about $30 total for electric and internet.  For cell phone and car insurance I'm on plans with my family, but cell just went up so now it'll be $75 for the two.

I make my own cleaning products from water/cheap vodka/essential oils/Dr. Bronner's soap/baking soda, and I make my own laundry detergent, moisturizer, and make-up remover.  There do end up being personal care/cleaning products expenses every month, but that doesn't mean I'm replacing everything once a month.  This month I had to refill conditioner and soap bottles at the co-op and buy supplies for making detergent/all-purpose cleaner since I was out.  Last month it was toothpaste/floss/dish soap.

As a grad student already working 20 hours a week, I can't feasibly increase my income since I'm already very busy.  It's fairly inevitable that I'll have to take out some sort of loan, but I should finish my MPH with less than $5,000 in debt.

Gerard

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1379
  • Location: eastern canada
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2012, 11:31:12 AM »
I agree with the previous few commenters. There's a limit to how low you can go. Also, I don't think increasing your income is a good idea in your situation, if it involves decreasing the hours you have available for study. You're a grad student. You're incurring very little debt. Unmustachian as this may at first sound, I would focus on being a really good grad student while not going crazy with the spending.
But, as you asked for money-saving ideas: can you get together with some other students and do a sort of unofficial buying co-op? Maybe you can't go through big sacks of chickpeas or flour or wheat berries by yourself, or a bushel of red peppers from the farmer's market, but six of you could. Maybe you could even build some of your get-togethers around this.
It would be easier to advise if we knew where the non-food $1200 a month that you're spending is going. I'm tempted to say that your car use is a bigger problem (both ethically and financially) than your food, but I'm afraid that would be taken as provocative or insulting (which is not my intent).

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2012, 12:47:22 PM »
Monthly breakdown over the past 6 months:

$475 Rent
$350 Food
$190 Shopping (Ugh, this is probably my problem.  I really don't feel like I shop a lot! This is $100/mo on clothes and $90/mo other, but included buying a new winter coat and boots, and a bridesmaid dress which account for $300 of $1140 over 6 months)
$97 Bicycle ($582 over 6 months which included some repairs on my old bicycle last fall, new helmet, and winter-riding gear, and buying a new used bike last month for $315)
$77 Car ($40 Insurance, $37 gas, so about 1 tank per month)
$40 Utilities
$47 Health and Fitness (doctor's bills - terrible, but free, health insurance results in lots of bills and grad school requires certain shots and tests, yoga classes)
$36 Entertainment (Apparently some bars got categorized under entertainment, also buying a rare CD or seeing a very rare movie)
$30 Gifts (Christmas)
$30 Fees (Got my car towed last fall, one problem with driving rarely is not realizing when they're doing street sweeping on the street you're parked on, $180)
$20 Education (Books/supplies, etc.)
$160 Mystery - Uncategorized on Mint includes a plane ticket to visit a friend, cost of fostering a dog which I did in the fall, and other random things

tannybrown

  • Guest
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2012, 12:51:35 PM »
Based on that breakdown, your wiggle room is in Food, Shopping, and Mystery.

BenDarDunDat

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 84
  • Age: 49
  • Location: Raleigh NC
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2012, 03:13:38 PM »
Monthly breakdown over the past 6 months:

$475 Rent
$350 Food
$190 Shopping (Ugh, this is probably my problem.  I really don't feel like I shop a lot! This is $100/mo on clothes and $90/mo other, but included buying a new winter coat and boots, and a bridesmaid dress which account for $300 of $1140 over 6 months)
$97 Bicycle ($582 over 6 months which included some repairs on my old bicycle last fall, new helmet, and winter-riding gear, and buying a new used bike last month for $315)
$77 Car ($40 Insurance, $37 gas, so about 1 tank per month)
$40 Utilities
$47 Health and Fitness (doctor's bills - terrible, but free, health insurance results in lots of bills and grad school requires certain shots and tests, yoga classes)
$36 Entertainment (Apparently some bars got categorized under entertainment, also buying a rare CD or seeing a very rare movie)
$30 Gifts (Christmas)
$30 Fees (Got my car towed last fall, one problem with driving rarely is not realizing when they're doing street sweeping on the street you're parked on, $180)
$20 Education (Books/supplies, etc.)
$160 Mystery - Uncategorized on Mint includes a plane ticket to visit a friend, cost of fostering a dog which I did in the fall, and other random things

One small suggestion.  We all want to do stuff. So you get folks saying, if you get a cast iron skillet, you'll never need another pan. Oh, but you'll need to buy a new spatula and some special seasoning oil etc.  Meanwhile you probably already had a perfectly serviceable pan of some sort.  Instead of saving, you just rolled out $50 for a skillet. Then you need a pot, and Le Cruchey is $125..but you'll never need another pot.  But that was a $125 that you probably didn't need to spend. 

I'd like to replace our Escape with something with better mpg.  So if we replace our car with 30 gas miser, we have a potential savings of $600.  My wife - well - she likes the Kia Soul.  I like it too, but I can't find one for less that $15K.  There's really no way possible we can save enough money in gas to pay for that. 

My point is that sometimes the most frugal thing is using what you have.  It looks like you could trim your food and clothing expenses.  I also think you could be 'overbiked' but maybe not if you are putting on mega-miles.

It's tough being in college.   

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2012, 04:20:29 PM »
Thanks for that BenDarDunDat.  I agree wholeheartedly.  I have a lot of ideas, and many of them are regarding how I can be more frugal, but they often require some investment up front and sometimes I don't even end up following through to make back the investment.  Many of these little things have worked out, but some haven't (making my own toothpaste, yuck!).

As for the bike stuff, I'd ridden my old bike for 9 years with minimal upgrades, so I was due for a real road bike to really start putting on the mileage.  I bike 8 miles round trip 4 days a week to school, and probably an additional 20 miles per week for fun/exercise so a new bike was in order.  I got a good deal, though!  Plus now my old bike serves as a bike for visitors, in fact my brother took it out when we biked to dinner yesterday, eliminating what otherwise would have been a car trip.

AJ

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 906
  • Age: 36
  • Location: Oregon
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #15 on: April 09, 2012, 05:46:55 PM »
(making my own toothpaste, yuck!).

Only tangentially related, but there is no real reason to make toothpaste. The paste doesn't clean your teeth, it is the mechanical action of brushing, which is why it is important to brush for the full 2 minutes. Toothpaste provides fluoride (and makes your mouth feel minty fresh). If your water is fluoridated where you live, and you don't need the minty flavor, you could just go without.

Bakari

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1797
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Veggie Powered Handyman
    • The Flamboyant Introvert
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #16 on: April 09, 2012, 05:51:17 PM »
Ethics and environment are very important to me too, which is why I was very happy to discover that the FoodMax that is walking distance to my house carries free-range eggs and six - SIX - different brands of organic milk.

Trader Joes and Whole Foods don't have a monopoly on organic food, they just have brand recognition (and a huge mark up).  Besides, another way to look at ethical spending:  Lucky and Safeway both have union workforces.  Trader Joes and Whole Foods both do not (in fact, Whole Foods is explicitly anti-union).  And they both have plenty of non-organic and imported-from-the-other-side-of-the-world food.

Also, see MMM's post on the cost of food per calorie: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/29/killing-your-1000-grocery-bill/
More beans and rice, less organic chicken.

You don't have to forgo going out with friends - but you don't have to get anything.  Tell them you are dieting, or you just ate, or whatever.  Have a couple drinks before you go out, so you don't need any once you get to the bar.  The important part is being out with friends, right?

Eating out was one of my biggest ones, which I didn't realize until I started using Mint.  I've gone down from around $70 to around $10 - and you know, its odd, but I don't feel like I've been deprived.  I've just been more aware.

My other big one was rent.  I invited my girlfriend to move in with me, which cut it in half (and more than in half for her).  Any possibility you would look for a 2nd roommate?

Other than that, the obvious one is clothes.  Even allowing for the coat, bridesmaid dress, and winter boots, there is really no justification for having a clothes "budget".  Clothes should fall in that misc category of things that come up too rarely to budget for.  Clothes aren't consumables, once you buy it once it lasts for years and years.  When it is finally worn out, replace it at a thrift store.  If you feel the need to have different fashion choices regularly, replace one of your dinner parties with a clothing swap.


I was wondering, from your initial post - you said you spend more than you make, yet you said you have no debt.  How is that possible?

sol

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8492
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Pacific Northwest
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #17 on: April 09, 2012, 06:42:32 PM »
Trader Joes and Whole Foods don't have a monopoly on organic food, they just have brand recognition (and a huge mark up). 

They also have a variety of questionably ethical business practices.  Trader Joe's in particular is like the Apple of the grocery world, all hype up front and shady dealings in the back.  You're paying a premium for food that is in some cases much worse than you can get at you local chain supermarket.

Quote
Even allowing for the coat, bridesmaid dress, and winter boots, there is really no justification for having a clothes "budget".

Agreed.  There are a ton of blogs out there about repurposing your current wardrobe, and no shortage of people who have successfully gone an entire year without buying a single new piece of clothing.  We're a country in which the average frugal household turns old Tshirts into carwash rags, which suggests to me that we have too many overmanufactured clothing items already.

You're also paying for Yoga classes and buying CDs, neither of which are necessary expenses.  If you think they really add value to your life over and above the free alternatives, then by all means keep spending on them.  Just be aware that your choices are the reason you aren't saving more money.  What's really important to you?

kaeldra

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 57
  • Location: Seattle, WA
    • Cascadia Inspired
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #18 on: April 09, 2012, 07:25:00 PM »
Second the potlucks - plus they're fun! Or if you want to do a full dinner, make it BYOB. Instead of meeting friends at a bar, pick up a growler to split at one of your houses. Or try going out just for dessert after making dinner together at one of your houses (spaghetti!). Or skip drinks at dinner out.

I'm with you on the shopping for ethical food, but I bet you can get lower (I spend about $400/mo for two people all meals and household needs - caveat, vegetarian). I used to spend a lot more when I was in college but I've put a lot of thought and energy into reducing the costs since then.

Check prices on amazon (e.g. I found agave nectar much cheaper than the store). There are also bulk healthy food retailers where you team up with other people to place large orders and pick it up at one of their houses - for example, one near me is Azure Standard (they do 22 states, maybe they do your area).

Does your coop have a bulk section? My food coop also gives me a monthly coupon, so I keep a running list and make one big bulk run a month to use my 10% off rather than buying in fits and spurts. Compare prices with your TJ's, it's possible some stuff might be cheaper. I have also found that sometimes the bulk stuff is more expensive than the packaged stuff, so double check!

In general I find it cheaper to only allow myself to go to the grocery store once a week.  I also find it helps to plan all meals and snacks ahead (even if it's "Saturday dinner - eat out") so I know exactly what I need to buy. If you have a problem with ingredients going bad (e.g. half a container of tofu), meal planning helps because you realize you'll have half a container of tofu you need to use within two or three days and plan your meals for that day accordingly.

It sounds like you probably enjoy cooking / entertaining, here are some tips that have helped me... learning substitutions for fancy ingredients - use walnuts instead of pine nuts in your pesto, use yogurt+milk or milk+vinegar instead of buying buttermilk, etc. Omitting toppings you always thought were necessary (parmesan, chopped nuts, cilantro, sour cream, prosciutto) - some stuff may just be "icing" you're fine without. I get a lot of meal ideas from cooking blogs too. Try out off brands - maybe the store brand cheddar isn't that bad after all.

Any CSA's near you? I've found them to generally be a good deal if they have a small share. Or u-pick farms you could visit this summer/fall and stock up on blueberries/blackberries for the winter? (Freeze them in sugar.)

Check out "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter" for cost comparisons of DIY foods.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2012, 07:27:00 PM by kaeldra »

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #19 on: April 09, 2012, 07:31:37 PM »
I spend more than I make now, but I have only been in school since September.  Between undergrad and grad school I had a full time job for almost 2 years and saved 22%, which is small by Mustachian standards but at $31,000 a year felt pretty good to me.  I also did not use any vacation time for the whole time I worked which meant I got paid out $1,500 once I left.  I've been using these savings to cover the monthly discrepancy and tuition.  I'll probably have to take out about $5,000 in loans to make it through grad school, but seeing as this could have been $50,000 or more, I think it's pretty good since my job subsidizes my tuition.

I buy most clothes secondhand or at cheap local places, but don't have many clothes at all and very few pairs of shoes.  Really I need to pay more attention to where money goes with clothes since I'm not getting much for what I'm spending.  I have been talking with some friends about arranging a clothing swap for this spring.

Yoga has become really important to me, and it's an expense that will increase, but I acknowledge that and this is something that I want to compensate for by being frugal in other areas.  I actually think it makes me more frugal by being more mindful, plus some of my friends are members at the same studio so it becomes a social activity to replace other more expensive ones.

I feel best about supporting the co-op where I'm a member, but it can really get expensive.  However, I compared the co-ops bulk prices to Trader Joe's prices and found that the co-op has cheaper options only if I buy in bulk, which is what I plan to do from now on for things besides produce and dairy.  I'm about 99% vegetarian myself, with occasional meat at friend's houses.

sowantere

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 39
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #20 on: April 10, 2012, 03:10:50 PM »
Have you tried freezing food in freezer bags to get down your food bill?  Sometimes cooking for one or two people can be frustrating as you have so much leftovers.  Things like Chili and spagetti (just the meat and sauce cook the noodles fresh) are great if frozen in freezer bags.  They also save time if that day you don't the time to cook.   Just take out a freezer bag and warm up the contents in a skillit.  It will taste the same as when you first cooked it.  These help me get around the "I'm to tired to cook lets just go to applebees excuse."  My current expense for food is $400 groceries and $100 restaurants a month for 3 adults down from $800+ when i didn't budget.  I hope to get this lower.  Drinking alcohol at the minimum amount possible helps too.  I have a hard time financing a beer. 

SoWantEre

onehappypanda

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 238
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #21 on: April 10, 2012, 05:07:24 PM »
You sound a lot like me. Frugal in terms of housing, utilities, transportation, etc. but low-income. I'm a grad student too.

I think the biggest challenge of living low-income is realizing that you have all these ideals abut you can't afford to spend money on them all. You can't shop at the fair trade/local/organic/artisan AND go to the co-op/Trader Joes AND go out with friends regularly AND have a nice bike AND take yoga classes regularly AND foster pets AND be a bridesmaid for all your friends AND have nice clothes.

You can do some of those things on your budget, for sure. But you can't do them all, not on your income. At some point you have to prioritize the things that are MOST important to you. Alternatively, you can try to justify all your expenses and take out loans, but that's not really living frugally.

This sucks to hear, I know, because I'm very similar to you and could easily have almost identical expenses. I've recently started cutting back on things I'd *like* to spend money on but just can't afford right now without taking out loans, which I'm not willing to do. Some changes I've made, in case you're interested:
- Food prioritizing. I buy animal products that are ethically raised by local farms, and free of added hormones. But that means that I eat more (whole) grains as cheap filler food and some non-organic produce. I buy much of my produce from local farmers in the spring/summer/fall when it's cheap but in the winter I go to the regular store, I only buy bulk from the coop but I price compare with the regular grocer first. It's not as eco-chic but ultimately it's cheaper and not much different from what you'd get at Trader Joe's. (Side note, but do some research on Trader Joe's practices. While they have some good natural food, I wouldn't exactly call them sustainable, they're notorious for being wasteful. Much of the highly-advertised natural foods brands aren't all that sustainable actually, a lot of it is marketing. Be skeptical of companies that make big claims.)
- If you aren't eating seasonally (or semi-seasonally) that's something to consider- it's both cheaper and more eco-friendly to eat seasonal produce.
- Feeding others. I'd love to host parties and feed all my friends but it isn't in the budget. So we have potluck parties where I ask them to bring their own side dishes, desserts, and/or drinks. Everyone still has a good time, I still get to feed people, and it's loads cheaper.
- Mixing yoga classes with yoga videos and at-home practice. I can't afford $50 a month for yoga classes, so I buy cheap videos from yogadownload.com and go to classes sparingly. Same with most fitness stuff actually.
-DIY. Join a bike co-op for cheap parts and learn to fix your own bike instead of paying someone else to do it, that'll save you loads AND you'll feel more connected and knowledgeable about your transportation. Learn to DIY shoe/clothing repair, bake your own bread, grow some veggies in plants, etc. Most things you do yourself should be cheaper than paying someone else to do it.

Just some ideas, feel free to adopt all or none. Basically, those are all ways I've learned to prioritize my spending to account for some of my ideals while still living within my pitiful grad school budget (without loans).

tannybrown

  • Guest
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2012, 11:42:38 PM »
We joined Market on the Move a few months ago: $100 and we get all the veggies we can eat and give away for a year. 

https://the3000club.org/

There may be something similar in your area. 

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #23 on: April 11, 2012, 08:22:30 AM »
Thanks all for the recommendations. Onehappypanda, I especially appreciated your post. I'm hoping that now that I've invested in some bigger expenses that my costs for the rest of the year will be lower. I have already cut my spending by $110/mo since before grad school and have cut even more when I compare these last three months to last fall.

I've definitely decided that fostering a dog is out of my money/time ability, and the friend whose wedding I'm in is my long time best friend, and hopefully this is the only wedding I'll be in for awhile. As the maid of honor I've been able to make the bachelorette party and bridal shower super frugal. I'm trying to get down to $1300 a month total for spending, but it's more of a goal than a near future expectation.

Regardless I will have to take out some sort of loan. My savings before grad school were almost exactly equal to the amount of tuition I will have to pay out of pocket.

windawake

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 435
  • Age: 31
  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #24 on: April 30, 2012, 08:14:09 PM »
Aha!

An update: I spent only $204 on food and dining this month which included a mere $150 in groceries.  AND I was able to shop at the co-op for all of them.

PLUS!  My overall spending for this month is just shy of $1,300, down $250 from usual and that included fixing a chipped tooth.  This is the first month that I've really pulled out some of the stops as far as Mustachianism goes, and I'm excited to keep learning how to up the badassity quotient!

onehappypanda

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 238
  • Location: Columbus, Ohio
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #25 on: April 30, 2012, 08:49:17 PM »
That's awesome windawake! I'm glad my post was helpful. After writing it, I was hoping it didn't come off as preachy. It wasn't meant that way, I've gone through many of the same transitions in the past year as a grad student so I can really relate!

Nice job on the food budget. I'll have to keep this in mind when I'm whining about how pitiful my own food budget is ;)

Dicey

  • Senior Mustachian
  • ********
  • Posts: 10189
  • Age: 61
  • Location: NorCal
Re: Where have you been able to cut spending the most?
« Reply #26 on: May 03, 2012, 08:52:03 AM »
First, do you over withhold on your taxes? If you have been getting it all back due to your relatively low income, you could see about tweaking your exemptions this year, which could give you more net pay now. The IRS only requires that you withhold at least 90% of what you owed last year. I do this every year and keep a small cushion in case I come up short at the end of the year. It's part of my well-stocked EF.

Speaking of well-stocked, that aptly describes my pantry. I manage my (single-person) food budget by shopping unconventionally. I use a combination of strategies to achieve this. I shop at Costco and Winco occasionally for staples. I buy my fresh produce at the 99 Cents Only Store and a local farmer's market. I rarely go into a regular grocery store. When I do, the prices are a great source of entertainment.  I also use a nearby Fresh & Easy for last-minute items. I never use a cart or basket. Buying only what I can carry really keeps me aware of what I'm spending. I have been a vegetarian for years, which really helps the budget.

Finally, don't shop for entertainment. When I get the urge to buy something, I go to the library and check out a whole pile of books and DVD's. Weather permitting, I walk to the library and lug everything home in my backpack.