My Australian sister-in-law, Clara V., wrote this sometime back and gave me permission to publish it as well. There is some very useful advice here, and it is very timely these days!
Growing up, my family was never over-indulged with a flow of cash. With four daughters and a sick wife, my father was the sole provider and I remember my parents struggling to make ends meet. Years later things looked up for them - they had no conviction about single young ladies being homemakers, and each of us got a job and paid board and finally my parents started coming out on top of their finances. As a single young lady, I was not poor, however I made poor choices and before long I ended up with negative bank accounts and debts. The time when I was doing well had been brief, and here I was back to the familiarity of struggling to make ends meet. And it has been that way ever since!
Considering my long history of balancing budgets, I thought I might share some of the tricks I've learned over the years. This list may include some tips from [my husband’s] side of the family - his parents were missionaries in Africa and once they returned to America, his dad pastored for many years while doing piano tuning on the side, and they too often struggled to make ends meet...
Even if you don't have this struggle with financial hardship, there is a lot to be said for frugal living. God's Word shows us that God is our provider, it is only through Him that we have what we have. And, we see two specific stories that Jesus told that show us that God expects us to be good stewards of what He has given us, rather than squandering or being unfaithful with what He gives us. Read Matthew 25:14-30, and Luke 16:1-8. As the Lord Himself said, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much." (Luke 16:10)
~ Go shopping the least amount of times possible each month. We try to do our main shopping once each month - other than that we just drop in to pick up milk and other perishables such as extra fruit & vegetables. The more times you meander through the store, the more times you are tempted to buy a little extra here or there! Monthly shopping takes a lot of planning, and some people actually sit down and write a list of menus for a month so they will buy for the exact things they are going to cook. I tend to just bulk buy the varying ingredients I commonly use and if I have an interest in some unusual recipes, buy the extra ingredients for those too. The other thing to do is to base your monthly menu on what you are able to find that is marked down rather than sitting down and planning what you will eat before going shopping.
~ Buy in bulk. You will usually find that bulk buys work out to be less expensive in the long run. Sometimes this might require you spending a larger amount up front, but the product will last you longer!
I buy meat in bulk packages, then take it home and divide it into the size portions I want, and put them in sealed bags in the freezer - this way we only buy meat once every 3 to 4 months!
~ Take a calculator with you when you do your grocery shopping (a lot of cell phones have inbuilt calculators, which makes it easier)! Sometimes you will see "specials" or "supersavers" in the store... *beware* Sometimes these products don't actually save you money! Sometimes you will notice there are two sizes of a product on the shelf, and one will be marked down and the other won't... use your calculator (or your head if you are mathematically wired!) to figure out which is actually less expensive dollar per weight. For example, pasta in a pound package might be marked down to $1.65 and the pasta in a 3 pound package is not marked down but costs $4.50. Some would say well, of course I buy the marked down product, it has to be less expensive! Do the math... you will find that the full-price bulk product still works out to cost less.
Take care to always do the math, because sometimes you will find that the markdown DOES make the product cost less, and then if the smaller size product works out less, you can buy more of them to make up to the same quantity as the bulk product or whatever quantity you need to bulk buy.
~ Don't automatically go for premade goods. For starters they are often extremely unhealthy, being loaded with msg [monosodium glutamate] to enhance the flavour, or full of other additives and preservatives. Be adventurous, check through your recipe books or online and make as much as you can from scratch. If you buy the ingredients in bulk and hand make the foods, you will often find you save money in the long-run.
~ Forget your pride and forget brand names! Often generic brands or "cheap" brands will produce food that tastes exactly the same as the expensive brands, and at a much lower price!!
~ Don't buy fresh fruit and vegetables in bulk unless you are sure you will use it before it perishes. If you want to buy vegies in bulk, try the frozen vegetable alternative. You might be surprised to know that frozen vegetables can be more healthy than buying fresh - companies who make frozen vegetable packages are required to use the freshest possible products to freeze, whereas the fresh fruit and vegies in the store might have sat there for several days before you pick it up! Of course if you can grow your own fruit and vegies, you are even better off!! :)
~ Set a budget before you go shopping, and try to never go over that set amount!
~ When shopping for clothing or furniture and other such products, you can often find what you want at a secondhand store for a much, much lower price than brand new. Sometimes you may need to clean things up before they look as nice as you want, but there's nothing like a bit of hard work to make you feel even more pleased with your purchase! The more work you put into something, the more value it holds! [Editor’s note: Some second hand stores in the U.S. lately have been raising their prices. Check around and know your basic prices from the cheaper retail stores. Why buy something used when you can get a similar item new for the same price?]
~ Avoid eating out at all costs! Expensive restaurants are just that - expensive and not worth breaking the budget over. And cheap restaurants or cafes or take-aways often produce food that really isn't as healthy or as tasty as homemade meals! If you enjoy the experience of eating out because it is different than your own dining table, be adventurous and make your meal and take it out somewhere to a nice park or something! Picnics are always fun (unless the weather is inclement, of course!)... on days when the weather is wrong for picnicking, why not do something different within your own home? For example, make yourselves comfortable on the loungeroom [living room] floor with cushions and eat sitting on the floor before the fire. Either it will make you appreciate your dining table a whole lot more at the next meal, or you will find it fun and different! You might be able to come up with even more creative ways to make eating a meal different and fun :)
~ Always make the best use of leftovers that you can! If a lot is leftover, use it for dinner the following day rather than snacks, or freeze your leftover meals and eat them another time when you're short on time to cook!
~ If you're going out for a day adventure, take packed food rather than spending money at convenience eat-outs. You really will save a lot if you are prepared beforehand.
~ Turn off lights when they don't need to be on, and open windows whenever possible if the weather is better outside than how your house feels - save on your power, cooling and heating bill! Check for cool breezes outside regularly and open the window rather than leaving your air-conditioner on.
~ Wash full loads of washing rather than a small load of clothes or linens, and hang your clothes outside to dry whenever possible rather than using the clothes dryer! God created a sun that will often dry your clothes very well :)
~ If the dishwasher is not full, don't use it! God gave us arms and washing dishes yourself can save a lot of water!
~ Make your own birthday/greeting cards - store bought ones are often sold at premium prices - whoever you are giving a card to will probably appreciate the time and effort you went to in order to create a personalised card! Alternatively, recycle cards you have received by cutting out the picture on the front and gluing it on a homemade card!
~ Recycle wrapping paper for gifts! Sometimes if you carefully remove the wrapping paper on a gift it doesn't look terribly used, or the damage can sometimes be cut off and the paper used on a smaller gift! This can really cut down on the cost of a gift!
~ Walk rather than drive. Sometimes I cannot believe how lazy some people are! I can't believe the way some people drive to their letterbox or just around the corner to run an errand when they could very well have gotten some fresh air and exercise by walking!
~ Never discard old clothes - if they are worn through such that no-one else could ever wear them, they can be handy as rags, or sometimes they can be cut down for other uses - eg. less worn parts could be used to make doll's clothes, quilts, or a range of other creative uses!
~ Don't buy your kids every toy there is, but rather make use of your creativity and imagination and make homemade gifts or buy simple gifts that can be used for a long period of time rather than toys that wear out fast! Kids do a lot better with a small quantity of toys that require imagination. If they have a huge range of toys they will often value them less and get bored of them quicker because they don't exercise their imagination! I rotate my kids' toys - we have two boxes for them and we rotate them rather than them having everything at once. The more special toys are stored away and brought out for rare occasions so they become more valuable and enjoyable, too.