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Frugalship: 37 ways to save a buck

Frugal: to be careful about spending money or using things when you do not need to; using money or supplies in a very careful way; not wasteful. Synonym: thrifty


One of my sons commented that while many people he knew would boast about how much they spent on an item, I would boast about the great bargains I scored. It comes from growing up in a family that, though we were not “poor,” had to carefully consider every purchase. If you had a jacket, you didn’t need another jacket. One can of tuna made six sandwiches. And thrift stores made it much easier for me to clothe six kids.

We also enjoy it when we can spend less than expected. It comes from wanting to stay within our means, and we believe that spending less today means that there will still be money left for tomorrow. Or if not, then at least we tried our best! We think of it as “good stewardship.”

We are certainly given examples in Scripture that we should prepare bread in summer and gather food in harvest (Prov. 6:6-8), provide for our relatives (I Tim. 5:8) and plan our ventures carefully (Luke 14:28-29).

Going to Scripture

Besides being told to manage it well (Luke 12:42-43; Prov. 13:22, 21:20), the Bible also has this to say about money:

Even in our attempts to be “frugal” we need to keep an eye on our attitudes and motives. We get so used to planning for our own needs and desires, that it can come as a surprise when we read Ephesians 4:28:

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

What does God say is the purpose of working? So that we can give to those in need, and so that we can give to the Lord. Being thrifty and getting a good deal ought to lead us to give more as well. As we read in Luke 12:15:

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

That’s true even of the possessions earned through thrift!

Eat, drink, and be frugal

Since many of us do appreciate being thrifty, below are some ideas for ways to spend less money in our households, and even when purchasing vehicles or homes.

  1. Eat and drink at home. The most wonderful sandwich, burger, or steak at a restaurant can be duplicated at home for a fraction of the cost. It has become fashionable to buy coffee from vendors, but you’ll save a bundle by making it at home. You can pack an awesome sandwich, chips, dessert, and beverage for your lunch instead of eating out.
  2. Pre-shop the flyers. Check the ads and purchase items that are on sale. Having the app for your local store can provide information as well as coupons.
  3. Cook for several meals at once. You can save on energy and time by baking 8 chicken breasts or two large roasts, or frying 4 pounds of ground beef all at once. Then you will use them in varying ways the next 2-3 days or freeze the cooked meat. Bake enough potatoes or make enough rice or noodles for 2-3 meals. Google ideas for using “plan-over” food to make other meals.
  4. Check out the discount rack for expiring food; use ripe bananas for banana bread, wrinkled apples for baking or applesauce, and day-old croissants to make ham and cheese sandwiches in the oven. Buy “seconds” for strawberries in season and freeze them in flattened bags. Use these to make jam throughout the year.
  5. Make your own dressing by adding ingredients to the last of the mayonnaise in a jar and shaking it all together. Seek recipes or get creative. Use a rubber spatula to limit waste.
  6. Mix a buttery spread: Mix 1 pound of butter, 1 pound of margarine, and 1 cup of water. Mix on high until well-blended to create a spread that tastes like butter.
  7. Leftover Surprise Soup is a winner. Collect scraps of leftover meat or vegetables in a covered container in the freezer. When it’s getting full, use it as the base for homemade soup.
  8. Bake your own hostess gifts. Homemade bread, muffins, or candy make a wonderful hostess gift, and they are less expensive than wine.
  9. Create your own cleaning agents. Wipe down counters with a homemade spray made of water, a bit of bleach, and a drop or two of dish soap instead of buying expensive cleaning agents.
  10. Shop later in the day when meat and produce are being discounted. Freeze the meat immediately.
  11. Keep easy-meal items on hand. On a tiring day, when you are nearly out of food, or when you get surprise company – always have the ingredients for a quick nourishing meal. This will keep you from having to order out or run to the store. Examples:
    • Chicken alfredo: canned chicken breast/alfredo sauce/noodles/frozen peas.
    • Tuna noodle salad: Canned tuna/macaroni/Miracle Whip/chopped veggies.
    • Taco soup: ground beef, green beans, corn, creamed corn, diced tomatoes, sour cream, and a packet of taco seasoning.

Non-food items

Of course, our expenses go beyond just food and drink…

  1. Consider assigning separate household budgets. One can be used to plan for groceries, gifts, gas, and home décor. Another for hobbies or sports. By managing them well, there may be more money available to switch to another category as desired. No one likes surprise invoices or fluctuating amounts at the end of the month.
  2. Combine errands or carpool when possible to save on gasoline.
  3. Keep your tires filled and your car serviced to provide the best gas mileage and to make the vehicle last longer.
  4. Watch for sales and compare prices for home goods, gardening, and home improvement.
  5. Scratch and dent. Discover whether stores near you have “scratch and dent” appliances that work as well as new ones. Purchase second hand if you know the items are from a reliable source.
  6. Make your own greeting cards, perhaps with the kids’ or grandkids’ help.

Or, you might locate stores that charge less for them, and keep a stack of birthday, get well, and sympathy cards on hand.

  1. Combine gift lists. Go shopping once for 3 or 4 upcoming birthdays.
  2. Swap kid-sitting with friends or family; staying home alone without your children with a great meal and a movie and no one to wake you up in the morning can be as refreshing as paying for a hotel and dinner out. And the kids will love being with their friends.
  3. Shop at thrift stores and yard sales. With a good eye for quality, you can find amazing bargains for your house, your clothing, and sometimes even for gifts. Example: At a thrift store, I discovered an expensive glass vase with an eagle etched on it along with Isaiah 40:31; it was worth at least $50, but it made a new bride very happy and I only spent $12.
    Years ago I bought a new-looking sweatshirt and fabric painted a super hero logo on it, delighting a 4-year-boy for only $3.

When buying a vehicle

Sometimes we think about saving a dollar at the grocery store, or twenty-five cents per liter/gallon on gas, but we may neglect the amount of money we might save on larger items such as cars or houses. Here are a few ideas to consider when you need to purchase a vehicle.

  1. There is no set amount at a dealership, and negotiating is actually expected. If you aren’t very good at negotiating, find a relative or friend to go with you to assist in making the deal.
  2. Purchase a one-year-old vehicle. A nearly-new vehicle with 10,000-40,000 kilometers can still come with a warranty, but cost you thousands of dollars less, and still have that new car smell and security.
  3. Buy an older used car. If possible, have your mechanic look it over first. Also, put in the research to learn whether that particular model has a good reputation.

Selling a home

I spoke with Ashley Wright, a local realtor, who shared 7 essential tips for selling.

  1. Hire an agent whom you love and trust, who is hard-working, and knowledgeable about your area. Interview several before you sign – don’t just use a friend/relative’s buddy whom you may end up clashing with.
  2. Price your home correctly. The best price will keep your home from looking like a loser by sitting on the market for a long time.
  3. Sell at the peak of the market. Even if it still needs some work, it’s best to sell at peak time and lower the price a bit if necessary.
  4. Stage your home so that it is uncluttered, spacious, totally clean, and generic so the buyers can imagine themselves living there. Store family photos and some of your furniture if necessary.
  5. Get professional photography and videography so it will attract people.
  6. Bake cookies before a showing to provide a winsome aroma. Leave bottled water and the fresh cookies on the counter for the “lookers.”
  7. Close the deal as soon as possible. Keep away from rent-back and contingent offers if you can.

Buying a home

Wright had 7 tips for buying a home too.

  1. Hire an agent whom you love and trust, who is hard-working, and knowledgeable about your area.
  2. Shop around for interest rates for your mortgage. Having the highest credit score will lead you to the lowest debt. Sometimes it’s better to pay your debt to improve your score, but other times it’s better to hold on to your cash and buy down your interest rate.
  3. Be pre-approved by a lender, not just pre-qualified.
  4. Keep your options open. Don’t be too picky – there is almost always a good deal out there, even in a hot seller’s market. An ugly home with poor pictures could provide you an excellent deal, and you can use the savings to improve it later.
  5. Offer less, and ask for a quick answer, 1 day if possible, but include an escalation clause (for example: “I will pay $1000 more than someone else’s bid up to $X amount”).
  6. Close the deal as soon as possible, which might be between 30 and 45 days.
  7. Move on if necessary: if your agent isn’t working hard for you, you can quit them and hire someone else, even if you have signed an agreement.

On the other hand

One last thought to remember is that the laborer is worthy of his hire. Therefore, if we are hiring a relative or a brother/sister in Christ to do work or service for us, or buying their goods, we should pay them a full amount and not expect a discount. They have families and bills as well, and though we do love our bargains, this might not be the most loving place to press for one. It’s a good feeling when we can learn to be happy with our brother’s or sister’s gain and not just think about ourselves.

Let us always remember that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully . . . for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6-7).

Save more so you can give more!

Sharon L. Bratcher is the author of a collection of 45 RP articles entitled: “Soup and Buns: Nourishment from God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles.” To purchase this book, contact her at [email protected].

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Economics - Home Finances

Can you cut your grocery bill in half?

A summary review of Steve and Annette Economides' Cut your grocery bill in half with America’s cheapest family ***** Is it possible? The title of Steve and Annette Ecomides' book Cut your grocery bill in half really caught my attention. Who doesn’t like to save a dime? Or actually cut half off your entire grocery bill? Wow. While I have 3 young kids I still feel new to the role of stay-at-home mom, homemaker, wife, and all the adventures that brings! One thing I realized early on in my role was how much of my life now revolved around food: preparing meals, cooking, serving, eating and cleaning them up 3 times/day, plus baking, some gardening, and canning/freezing produce in the fall, plus other miscellaneous activities such as blending and freezing baby food and making meals or baking for other families or events, and, yes, grocery shopping.  MAMA KNOWS BEST I think I am like a lot of RP-readers. I was raised by thrifty parents: we grew up in hand-me-downs and ate a lot of potatoes.  We rarely ate out at restaurants (unless it was McDonald’s, with coupons). We baked cookies every week for school lunches and squares for after-church coffee. With groceries, Mom always had a list that she stuck to, she used coupons, she bought in bulk, and she knew her prices well. As a mom now myself, and “head-grocery-shopper” in my own little family, I’ve tried to follow my mom’s lead. My parents seemed to have good spending skills and I wondered if this book could truly challenge my skills (and even my mom’s) to really be able to cut our grocery bills in half.  It turns out though, it was worth a read! I have attempted to summarize some of my findings below, while adding my own thoughts. I am certainly no expert in this. Perhaps my mom should have been recruited to write this, or some of our grandmothers who have all sorts of cost-saving tricks up their sleeves! Don’t many of our grandmas reuse tin foil, wash and reuse ziplock bags, and use yogurt containers as Tupperware? Do I? Does this generation? Should we? Is it wrong if we don’t? The topic is endless! I feel as though grocery bills are scraping the surface of the larger issue at hand: being a Christian steward.  A COUPLE WITH A PASSION FOR SAVING MONEY The authors, Steve and Annette Economides are a husband and wife team with 5 children. They are really passionate about saving money, eating well, and spending time together as a family. In their opening chapter they write “We are on a crusade to convince the world that frugality produces freedom (and fun) while a debt-riddled lifestyle only produces distress (and destruction).” While they are Christian, the book is not explicitly so (the only extended mention made of God's call for us to be stewards comes in the last chapter, which seems slightly tacked on). I respect their mission and appreciate the experiences they have been through (e.g. living on a limited income as newlyweds), and I believe that much of America (and of course Canada!) can learn from them, “America’s cheapest family.” I heard recently that 50% of Canadians spend more than they earn. It is easy to see that if we spend more than we make there will be significant consequences! Are we being blinded by the materialistic, keep-up-with-the-Jones, buy-now-pay-later mentality that society bombards us with daily? SO WHAT CAN WE DO? Bringing this back to our grocery bills, what do the Economides advise? Skimming the book’s table of contents quickly shows some of the key areas of focus. Planning ahead, being shopper-savvy (e.g. buy in bulk, no impulse buying etc.), coupon use, cooking to save money, stocking up on items, and useful tools (e.g. consider buying a meat grinder to grind your own meat). They also dedicate a chapter to promoting families eating together, as well as a chapter to feeding kids for less (e.g. how to make your own baby food, filling up hungry teens on inexpensive snacks such as air-popped popcorn). Finally, they discuss how to eat out at restaurants wisely and in moderation, and the benefits of gardening. Bonus material also includes how single people or couples without kids can save on money (e.g. buy in bulk and share savings with other singles or couples). Several tried and true family recipes finish off the book. 1. PARTICULAR PLANNING The Economides recommend planning a monthly menu for all meals, and they offer steps on how to do this effectively by considering what is already in your pantry at home, what’s on sale in the grocery store, and what’s practical for your schedule. They compare prices and sales from different supermarkets and carefully plan what is best to buy where and when. Learn to be organized. List meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and brainstorm on how to use leftovers best. Waste nothing. Don’t let food spoil. Aim to go grocery shopping only once a month (store fresh produce correctly so it lasts, and freeze your milk and thaw when needed). Eat what is in season; if you crave asparagus wait until it is on sale! And no picky eaters allowed! 2. SUPER SHOPPER Always take a shopping list. They suggest taking a calculator to keep track of the amount you are spending as items enter your cart. Use coupons. No impulse buying allowed – e.g. resist the urge to buy something just because it looks delicious and you are hungry! Know your prices on items and snag sales when you see them. Buy in bulk. Browse the discount/clearance shelf. Be assertive and ask for a rain check if a sale item is out of stock. Always double check your receipt to be sure you paid the correct prices. 3. CUE UP THE COUPONS Coupons save you money. Take the time to collect them, cut them out, and use them. The savings add up. The authors offer tips on how to organize your coupons best. They touch on the idea of coupon stacking - sometimes it is possible to put several coupons towards one item and get it steeply discounted. Sharing or trading coupons with friends can be helpful. Look online for coupons. But, they warn, keep coupons in perspective – don’t get obsessed by them, don’t get caught up in the thrill and “game” of saving money when it starts to take over your life! 4. COOK AND SAVE Annette Economides admits she did not know a lot about cooking when she first married Steve. She offers hope that anyone can learn to cook and should! Home-cooked meals are healthier, often have less calories, and are cheaper. Grind your own meats! Learn the spice rack and use your knowledge to keep simple dishes tasty and interesting. The Economides believe in “once-a-month-cooking” days. Time is saved when you double (or quadruple) a recipe. Meal swap with others. Knowing you have meals frozen in your freezer combats the temptation to eat out or buy convenient foods. 5. STOCK THE SHELVES Know the shelf life of your items – stock up and keep track. Stay organized. The Economides list over 40 items that they find most helpful to keep stocked up. Like in other chapters, many practical tips are dispersed among the information. For example, they suggest having a rule that sweet cereals (e.g. Froot Loops) can only be eaten when mixed with a healthy (and often cheaper) cereal (e.g. Corn Flakes). They also discuss setting up your kitchen cupboards and fridge most efficiently. They advocate reusing containers and bags.  And they love their freezer! It is a 25 cubic foot chest freezer, well-organized. They list tips on how to freeze things best, and offer advice on overall freezer use. They write, “A mainstay of our money-saving philosophy is buying storable food on sale – stockpiling as much as we can safely store – and slowly depleting that supply over several months.” 6. TOOL TIME Everyone needs a spoonula! Maybe they are more commonly called (or miscalled) spatulas – the kitchen spoon-type scraper that allows you to clean out a container or pot nearly spotlessly. The Economides love their KitchenAid Mixer, though they admit it may be a luxury item. Yet, the attachments they bought for it, such as a meat grinder, have made the purchase more than worthwhile. They list various other kitchen tools they find to be essential such as plastic cutting mats (that can then be shaped to pour what you’ve cut up into your recipe without spilling a drop), blender (for making smoothies using up older fruits that may otherwise be unappetizing), Popcorn Air popper (popcorn kernels are very inexpensive and air-popped corn compared to microwave popcorn makes for a healthier snack) etc.  COULD YOU CUT YOUR GROCERY BILL IN HALF? The book is packed with so many tidbits of information on how to save money. It is worth a read. Even adopting just a few ideas will guarantee more money stays in your wallet than before. Even though many ideas seem to show just a small amount of money is saved (e.g. using a coupon to save 50 cents), the savings compound to a significant impact! Saving money on your groceries seems to be about taking on a frugal mindset. It becomes a mentality. Not something to obsess over, but something that we could all probably be more aware of. So could I cut my grocery bill in half? I think it depends on your starting point. When I read the book I felt I was doing several of their strategies already, but that I could certainly expand and improve on a lot of them. If I was someone who was used to eating out a lot, buying pre-made convenient foods, insistent on purchasing only the more expensive brands, and didn’t care about sales, I might have a different story. Which leaves us with the question, RP-readers, what kind of shopper are you? Could you cut your grocery bill in half? This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue....