Friday, January 8, 2016

How to Save Pennies (When Pennies is all You Have)

When I did my recent review post for 2015, I got a lot of wonderful wishes for a prosperous new year (thank you to all who did that and the same to you!), some encouragement (once again, thank you) and in the midst of it a couple of cries for help when some people realized that I'd been paying off bills when we have no money to speak of and asking me how I did it as they are in the same type of situation.

I almost didn't write this as it's kind of involved, but if I can help even a few people out there to save money and lead a better quality of life...heck that's why I started this blog, so really it's worth a shot.

I have a couple of things to start off with, though.  One:  I'm not a financial consultant person or anything like that, so please don't assume I am.  I'm merely sharing what works for me in the "saving money" department.   Also, these are things that work for me in my unique environment.  For instance, I don't have credit cards to use to buy things like groceries...the closest I come is my check card, so this system might not work for you if you do.  Also, this is all separate from things that I do myself around here to save money (make do and mend types of things) as those are kind of self evident, but I'll cover a few things here.

Right, now that we got that out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks.

When you have no extra money in your budget and desperately need to save some money, here's what is working for me.

1.  Take a Page From Embezzlers

Woah!  Before you start thinking I'm telling you to break the law or something, hear me out!  I'm not talking about stealing money...well kind of, but it's stealing money from yourself.  Right, now that I've thoroughly confused you, allow me to explain.

A classic embezzler trick is to take small amounts of money out of transactions at, say banks, and then no one will notice that money is missing until they are walking away with millions of dollars.  That is what I'm proposing you do with your bank account.

First, you're going to want an accurate balance on your checking account, so wait until the month's bills are paid, or you have four or five days where you can sit and wait for things to clear and get a good accurate balance of what you have in the bank (if you have everything reconciled in your check book, all the better here).  Start with that balance on a piece of paper, separate from your actual check register.  This is going to be your "working balance sheet".

Now, every single time you do a transaction, say a trip to the store, and the amount is an odd amount, say 54.30, always estimate that amount UP and put that in your working balance sheet.  In this case you'd subtract 55.00 from your balance.  Do this for every transaction you do throughout the month, big or small.  This includes utilities, credit card bills, whatever.

I go even further and try to estimate up to the nearest hundred if it's a large bill.  Like say your mortgage is 1250.00 a month.  I'll round up an amount like that to the nearest hundred.  I do the same to a lesser degree with utilities by estimating to the nearest ten.  Like my phone bill is 112.00 a month right now (plus or minus a few cents).  I round that up to 120.00 and use that as my monthly phone bill cost on my working balance sheet.

Another trick I do is I started getting 1/2 tank of gas whenever I could get away with it, but I'd put the cost of a full tank of gas into my working balance as that's the amount I always have running in my head on what gas would actually cost me.

At the end of the month, take the accurate reconciled balance from your checkbook and subtract your working balance sheet from that.  Record that amount on another page as your "monthly savings".  You can, if you wish, transfer that amount from your checking to your savings, but I don't bother as the interest rates just aren't high enough to bother with right now.  You might be surprised how much you start saving this way, or you might look at it and say, "That's it?" at the end of the month, but trust me, even small amounts start to add up.  Once I get to 50.00 or more in my "savings" right now I immediately throw that as an extra payment on my husband's tooth bill.

This was the only way I could find to save money that I didn't miss said money on a day to day basis.  And it does's just not as clear cut as taking say 10% of your check and putting it into savings or something.

2.  Consolidate Your Expenses

 This one works if you track your expenses at all and if you don't I definitely suggest that you do. It can hurt when you first start doing it, but it really does give you a better picture of where your money is going.

When I decided that I needed to start saving money STAT and that we had no money to save, I came up with the system described in number one and than I tried to think of ways to cut expenses back as well.  I started to look at our budget and thought hard about how I could make some more cuts somewhere and then decided that, "Household Expenses", "Meals and Entertainment", "Clothing", "Thrift Store and Yard Sale" and "Grocery" could all be put together under just "Grocery"  if I was really creative in my budgeting, and I mean really creative.   I then kept my grocery budget exactly the same, but started to put more strain on it with the other categories, thus saving me about 50.00 a month between  all of the other categories getting erased.  As a result of this my 150.00 a week grocery budget started to encompass a whole lot more stuff and I ended up having to get a lot more creative in my choices to make it stretch.  I've managed pretty well overall.

I've found that when you consolidate expenses this way it does work, but it does require you to get really creative to make it work.  Even if you just consolidate "gas" into with your grocery budget, you'll save yourself money, so look over your budget and see what you can do to make your pennies stretch that much further.

3.  Pinch the Pennies Until The Copper Melts in Your Palm

I know anyone who comes to this blog knows this trick, but here's some of the things I started doing to make sure that my pennies stretched as far as I could make them go on top of what I talk about from day to day on the blog.

One big lesson to learn is that if something is on clearance or reduced that does NOT mean that it's a good deal.  You might be proud of yourself for getting meat 50% off at the store, but if you looked at the price per lb and realize that you just paid 6.00 per lb for those steaks you might feel a bit differently about things.  Especially if you'd looked at the weekly ad and realized that those same steaks were on sale for 4.99 lb if you'd taken the time to look (and yes, this is based on a real live incident with a friend of mine who felt really stupid when I told her about the sale).  So, always pay attention to the little things.  Just wanted to pass that lesson along :).

So here's a few ways I have been pinching pennies this last year:
1.  I only buy meat if it is below 2.00 per lb, OR in the case of more expensive meats I must get it for below 3.00 per lb on reduced price or below 5.00 for a package of meat (preferably the less than 5.00 route as I can get beef ribs and things decently cheap from time to time).  I have to stick to this resolution until further notice, but the cost of pork has gone up significantly the last bit (3.99 to 6.99 lb for pork???  Ouch!!!) so...we will eventually grow feathers around here eventually I'm thinking.

Also, don't discount processed foods.  They do have their place.  I have started to order things like Beef a Roni and tamales (obviously from my shopping goals for this month) because I find that beef is so expensive that once I include the cost of the other items to make said dish, it's just easier to order it in a can form.  Will we be eating these things every day?  Heck no.  But, they are good to have and it gives you a bit of variety in your diet.

2.  I have started to try and do one meatless meal a week, or close to a meatless meal (I'll use bouillon or something to help flavor things so I can't call it "meatless", but close enough).  I have found pasta is an excellent help in stretching the food budget.  It's filling, it's cheap, requires few condiments to make it different and everyone in my family enjoys it.

3.  Try to cook so there aren't any leftovers.  If there are leftovers, either freeze them before they go bad or make sure you pack them for lunches and things so that they get used.  Nothing makes me cry more than wasting food.  Honestly, I'm pretty sure I gave myself mild food poisoning a couple of times this last year eating things in the fridge that were past their prime because I didn't want to waste food.  Now I really try to catch things before they are more than a few days old, just to be safe.

4.  Only do laundry or dishes when there is a full load.  I know that neatness lovers out there are flinching at the thought of dirty dishes being in your sinks right now, but it does help to save money and water consumption on top of that if you just wait and do it when you HAVE to versus when you want to.  This one won't be for everyone, but I do's usually not a problem for me, though, with my family *laugh*.

5.  Simplified the cleaners.  I used to buy whatever dish soap was on sale, but then I discovered that my local bulk store sold gallon sized things of dish soap for commercial restaurants and stuff cheap, so I just bought one of those and am refilling my dish soap bottles as I run low.  It really has saved me a lot of money.

I use vinegar for a lot of different cleaning chores now a days (it works just as well as Windex and is a LOT cheaper to buy if you get it at the bulk stores) and soap and water does wonders as a cleaning solution.  The only cleaners I have bought recently was Resolve carpet cleaning foam for my stairs (stomach flu badness that wasn't coming up without it), Clorox wipes (this just recently to sterilize the bathroom after my son used it for a few weeks to kill the stomach bugs) and some toilet bowl cleaner (because getting rust and calcium deposits off the inside of the toilet sucks without it and I wanted to sterilize the toilet too from...well you get it).  I buy sponges for .69 a piece at my local bulk store (they sell them individually and in bulk packages, but I found the individual ones were actually cheaper, so I go that route) and I'm ready to rock.

6.  I'm using a lot less paper products around here.  The Prudent Homemaker turned me onto POM toilet paper, which luckily my local bulk store carries and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical that it would work as well as toilet paper I was buying from Amazon, but I was wrong and that stuff lasts FOREVER compared to the Cottonelle I was using.  I'm super happy with that as toilet paper isn't cheap!

With paper towels I make a point to keep dish towels handy and if we are using napkins they are cloth.  It has definitely helped to cut down paper consumption around here.  And double bonus when I had to clean up things that I DIDN'T want to clean up with dish towels when my son was sick I had the paper towels to use.  
Now will those things help you to save money?  Well, in a round a bout fashion by cutting your expenses you will have more money to save, which is a good thing.

4.  Evaluate Needs Vs. Wants

This one is tough, really tough.  We, as human beings, tend to have unlimited wants.  No matter how much we get we want more.  And curbing that tendency can be really hard.

To survive you need few things.  Clothes on your back, brand doesn't matter.  Food on your table.  A roof over your head with utilities turned on (preferably) and your family healthy.  A car, or two that run and are legal (in our case we do need two cars).   Past that it's all frosting on the cake.   So, if you go through that list and then look at what's left do you need any of that stuff?  Think about it.

We got rid of cable when my daughter was maybe six months old.  We haven't missed it at all in the near decade since we dropped it.  The majority of our movies come from thrift stores, are .01 movies from Amazon, or pawn shops.  And that keeps us more than a little entertained :).

I have a TracFone, not a smart phone, and I wouldn't have that if I didn't need the schools to be able to get a hold of me during the day in case something happens with the kids (I do love the multiple alarms I can set on it, though, I have to admit).  Don't get me wrong.  Smart phones are cool and all, but I know for a fact that I don't need one at all.

Just look at what you spend money on and think about things is all I'm saying.  You might find that there's a lot more "wants" than "needs" on that list and maybe you can cut some of those things out to help save you some pennies.  I do this constantly in my day to day life anymore and it really has helped me to better evaluate what I'm spending my pennies on.  For instance, I saw a box of reduced Christmas crackers on clearance for like 1.25.  Pasta is on sale cheap this week, so after a bit of thought I passed the crackers by to get two boxes of pasta to feed my family more efficiently. 

So there you are folks.  My "system" if there is such a thing.  I really hope it might help some of you out.  Yes, there are other things I do (coupons, sitting in the dark, blah blah blah), but I am hoping that I might have inspired you a bit to think outside of the budgeting box a bit and hopefully give you some ideas on how you can save a few pennies.  Remember, "A penny saved is a penny earned" or in my case it goes, "a penny saved is a penny saved!".

Good luck in all your money saving endeavors!!!


  1. Great post. I remember a quote I read in a novel once that said "once your needs are met, everything else is one-upmanship". I think there is a lot of truth in that statement.

    1. I like that quote. Really hammers things home. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks so much, Erika!

    I really, really appreciate you taking the time to write this post. It's very helpful!


    1. I hope there were a few things in there that might help you save a bit. I know how hard it is :).

  3. Hi Erika, I found your blog via Prudent Homemaker and enjoy it very much, but, more than that, I am *awed* by your creativity and can-do attitude in the face of both short-term and long-term challenges. You inspire us all! Thank you. I read this posting and thought, "This should be on Mavis Butterfield's blog." Are you familiar with She just started a series of reader stories about how they save money, and she's offering a $20 Amazon card if she publishes your story. See her Jan 2nd post for the details. Hope to see your story there!

    1. I checked it out. Not sure if I can answer 5 to 7 of her questions while being very interesting *laugh*, but I'll see what I can do ;).

  4. I totally agree with consolidating expenses. My husband gives me $300 every 2 weeks. We call it "grocery money" but the reality is that I use this money for everything. The cost of my daughter bowling each week, any items I buy from a store (thrift or otherwise), or any other daily expenditure comes out of that money. Therefore, if I spend money on new cloths, than I have less to use for groceries that week...end of store. I rarely use interact and the cash keeps me accountable for my spending.

    Evaluating needs vs wants it one of the toughest things that I had to learn. It's so easy to get caught up in the tangled web. Although I'm still developing this skill, I am getting better at it. One thing that I do justify spending money on are items that will help me be more thrifty in the long run. For instance, I was willing to invest some money in a meat slicer because now I can buy meat (such as ham) when on sale and slice it into luncheon meat at a much cheaper price than buying it pre-sliced at the grocery store. I'm not afraid to ask for these items as Christmas/birthday gifts either. I received a food dehydrator for Christmas and my daughter is loving the homemade fruit roll-ups in her lunch. Sometimes the investment it worth the return...but only if you can afford to invest.

    1. Oh too true. I'm a BIG believer in investing when you can in high quality tools. My mixer cost me 500.00 9 years ago. It has never even hiccuped on me and I use it a LOT. Totally worth the investment. Sometimes we have to make accommodations for what we can afford at the given time, but sometimes it's worth saving the money and investing in a high quality item that will save you money and effort in the long run.