A Penny Saved…Wait, Can I Even Get a Gumball With That?

Another blog I read recently featured a post about saving money. The blogger, who seems pretty awesome, asked readers to share their tips for saving money. I started to reply in the comments, but um, I was going on a little long, so opted instead to just head over here and post myself.


1.) I rock the crock (pot). Crock pots are great for saving time and money. Momtrolfreak says she doesn’t cook, but some CP recipes are pretty hard to mess up. One of my favorite CP recipes is also one of the cheapest to make; it’s almost always made out of produce I already bought, but wouldn’t get a chance to finish before they spoil. You can find the recipe at the bottom of this post. As a bonus, it freezes really well for things like packed lunches down the road. Six quarts of something cheap is still six quarts. Crock pots are remarkably energy efficient little buggers, so you won’t lose your savings to energy costs.

2.) I clip coupons. I get my coupons from the Sunday paper, store circulars, the mail, and the internet – one of my grocery stores also allows me to “clip” coupons on their website and add them to my store loyalty card. I also look through the ads for sales on products I buy most. I don’t have the space to stockpile for Armageddon and I abhor clutter, but I do have some storage/closet space and I try to use it wisely. I also know what a “good” price is for the products that I use most and try to combine the best prices with coupons.

3.) Weather, time, and geography permitting; I walk, bike, or take public transit. Parking and gas are both expensive. Since I do not buy a monthly pass, public transit is not always cheaper than driving for me.  I hold an expectation that it ought to be and I want it to be, but sometimes I have to stop to think. “Stopping to think” is often a great way to save money.

4.) I switched my cell phone plan. Down went the minutes and up went the media. The cost difference between plans is negligible, but I cut a lot of ala carte and overage costs – that’s where they “get” me anyway.  As a bonus, when annoying people call me, I can use this change as a legitimate reason to request that going forward, they email me versus calling.

5.) The library is a great place for free entertainment – movies, cookbooks, cds, etc. Some libraries, including mine, even offer free passes to local museums and attractions.

6.) I purged my closets, storage bins, and pretty much everything else and made a major donation. While the tax deduction from this is minimal, it drew my attention to what I actually need, use, and wear. For example, I thought that I was in need of some new jeans. When I went through my stuff, I found a few pairs that I don’t wear at all…some I’ve quite possibly never worn. They were from two stores and I had no high-usage jeans from either of this stores. So, this tells me that even though I THINK I’m going to like jeans from there, guess what? I’m not going to wear them. I need to not buy things there as that is a waste. I also found a couple of things that I forgot I had and am totally going to use. The reduction in clutter helped me to get a better idea of what I already have.

7.) I researched which stores tend to have the best base prices on the products I use most. I know the base price at Target for my shampoo is 2.99. The base price at Walgreens is 4.49. Guess where I generally buy my shampoo? However, with those same two stores, I know that Walgreens often has my toothpaste on sale and runs frequent in-store coupons on it as well. I can combine those with a manufacturer’s coupon and get almost-free toothpaste. This is much cheaper than at Targ.

8.) Shoes. I am not a shoe whore. I like sneakers. I have small feet. Do you know what this means? Children’s shoes fit me fantastically. Yes, I did have to deal with the fact that I ordered winter boots called “snow princess” but you know what? They are fantastic boots, don’t look princess-y at all (I have standards), are my favorite brand, and WERE HALF THE PRICE OF THE WOMEN’S VERSION.

9.) I opened a free email account for all store emails, special offers, enrollments, etc. If I’m not in a buyer mode, I just don’t log in. Momtrol is using her spam folder, but Momtrol might have better self-control than I do.

10.) I’m going to continue to not get manis or pedis (unless I am in a wedding party), along with continuing not to get my hair dyed, chemically straightened, or permed. So I don’t feel like a schmuck and all out of place, I’m also going to continue not to take fancy vacations.


WAYS I AM NOT SAVING MONEY (and hope to keep):

1.) Gym membership. I really, really want to join the fancy-pants health club down the street. It’s clean, the equipment is new, the class offerings are plentiful, and IT’S DOWN THE STREET. It’s also over $100/month. I might be able to get $20 off per month from my health insurance, but still: that’s a lot of money for the privilege of sweating. I’m considering trying to negotiate with them (Are other people really willing to pay that much? I don’t live in a fancy-pants neighborhood.) or buying a membership at a corporate or other discount rate from someone on craigslist. I’m also going to try to hold out until the winter, as I know I’ll go more then, but depending on the contract, that might just stick me with summer months after the New Gym Novelty is gone. I also might get a membership at the slightly further and dirtier, but significantly cheaper club and reward myself with an eventual upgrade. The fact is that I know myself well enough to know that I am eventually going to join the fancy-pants health club. I used to belong to one and I loved it. I worked out more, tried a variety of classes, and enjoyed it more than any other health club I’ve ever belonged.

2.) Internet. I am not giving up my high-speed web access. I’d like to cut cable television, but the services are bundled and I don’t see my roommate going for that.

3.) Tax fraud. A lot of nannies I know are paid under the table. I have been to interviews where the parents/potential employers try to convince me how much “better” it is for all of us to agree to a cash system. These folks receive a polite “thanks for taking the time to interview me, but unfortunately, I do not think we are a match” email pretty much immediately after our interview. I don’t view paying taxes as an option.

4.) Food. I use coupons and I shop smart, but I don’t skip meals and I don’t buy things I don’t like to eat. I do buy a lot of produce and there are certain products that I hold ethical/health requirements  about their production.  It is important to me to eat a balanced diet.

5.) Work ridiculous hours. I’m young-ish and healthy and want to enjoy life. (Note: I can enjoy life in my living room with a friend and a rousing game of Scrabble.) There are exceptions, such as travel and when G-ma got a new hip, but in general, I am only interested in working so many hours per week. MomBoss and I talked awhile ago during which I specified my cap – barring special situations (and I gave her examples). They have a couple of back-up babysitters for evenings and weekends and I did offer to ask around to potentially add to that list.

7.) End my relationship with the USPS. It’s not that they do a great job and it isn’t that I love their hours. It’s that I like mailing things to people and people sometimes even like receiving them. My Lent project was a lot of fun and while I’m done with mailings of that scale, I’m still mailing things to people to make them smile.

8.) Stop eating bacon. Because then what would I blog about?

9.) Skip out on preventative care. I love my doctors and think they are great. I’m not going to skip out on annual appointments, because this one time, I did that for years and years and then when I actually developed an issue I lacked a baseline and my old doctor was a jerk and didn’t listen to me and it was awful and I was in so much pain all of the time and it was so sad and then I just kept getting sicker and then there was more pain and then I was sadder and I hated it and and and – Now I have a new doctor and we’re BFF and I’m not in pain all the time.

10.) Be “That Girl.” Nobody likes her. No matter how much I desire to save, I do not attend things that I cannot afford. Similarly, if I cannot afford to tip on a dinner out, I cannot afford the dinner. People that live beyond their means at the expense of others are annoying and nobody likes them.

Black Bean Soup Recipe (Adapted from Crock Pot 365)
Bonus tip: I switched from canned beans to dried beans. Dried beans are about a 1/3 of the cost of canned and so easy to use: the original just add water. All that’s missing is the nasty sludge from the can; apparently sludge is as expensive as it is vile.

– 2-3c random vegetables (pureed – this measurement is AFTER you puree them) – I’ve used pretty much everything, but usually end up throwing in some combination of celery, carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, and broccoli; and maybe some tomatoes, parsnips, or spinach.
– 2c vegetable broth
– 3 cans (or one 16 oz bag dried) black beans
– one can (standard size) of Italian seasoned tomatoes (I usually go with the diced, but IT DOESN’T MATTER)
– salt and pepper to taste
– Parmesan cheese (optional – well, as optional as cheese ever is)
Steps of Preparation:
1.) If you are using dried black beans, you will want to remove any not-good-bean bits and rinse them – ideally in a colander. Throw ‘em in a bowl and cover them with water. Let them hang out in the fridge overnight or so.
2.) Take all the vegetables you intended to eat, but totally aren’t going to eat before they spoil. Chop the vegetables into small enough pieces that they are not going to make your blender cry and/or smoke. (If it does smoke, unplug it for thirty seconds and then replug it in and continue. Blender Time Out.) I found that my blender does better if I put things like zucchini towards the bottom and carrots at the top. If I am using dried beans, I throw some water in the bottom. If I am using canned beans, I throw in some broth. Blend until the consistency of applesauce or a little thicker. Throw that in the crock pot. I am pretty sure you could make the veggie puree this ahead of time and freeze it, but I haven’t actually tried that.  Please report back if you do.
3.) If you are using canned beans, throw them (and all the goop from the can) into the crock pot. If the guck is gross to you, add water (and salt) instead. If you are using dried beans that you soaked overnight (or so) rinse them (in a colander works great) and toss the beans in.  Add additional water and salt or broth if you are using dried beans, to compensate for the lack of can goop.
4.) Open that can o’ tomatoes. Chuck it all in.
5.) Add 2c of vegetable broth. I like my soup on the thicker side, but if you are not like me, you might want to add a bit more broth.
6.) Depending on the broth, bean situation, and vegetables, you might want to be more or less generous with the salt. The original recipe calls for adding some taco sauce, but I’ve never noticed a difference when I do versus when I forget. I do sometimes add additional “Italian” seasonings, but that’s because I actually have a pretty solid spice rack.
7.) Stir it all together.
8.) Plug in crock and let it cook. I usually turn it on low and leave it on for around ten hours. On low, bank on at least eight, but I’ve definitely left it for sixteen. If you crock it on high (only if you have to – it tastes better crocked on low) you can reduce the cook time by about half.
9.) After it’s cooked, either return it to the blender and blend until smooth OR use an immersion blender. I don’t own an immersion blender, but the traditional one always works for me – it just takes a few shifts. (WARNING: Careful when blending hot things; they are hot.)
10.) I like to serve this with a little Parmesan cheese. Technically optional. Some people might like sour cream. Dream big.


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