Years ago when we decided I would stay home with Lainey, we started a saying that Brandon's job was to make the money and my job was to stretch it. It's amazing how a little work and planning can pay off big. I'm now home with three kiddos and we've paid for an adoption all on a single modest salary.
1. Restaurant.com - We REALLY like to eat out. It makes us feel good to eat out every now and then and not have to cook or do dishes. So.... rather than pay full retail price for eating out, we hop on Restaurant.com buy a gift certificate for a few bucks and then take our gift certificate to the restaurant with our cash envelope. It stretches it. The best part is that if you are on their email list, they frequently discount their own already lower gift certificate prices. I'm a fan of 60% off or more! The gift certificates aren't for huge chains like Red Lobster, but we both have a soft spot in our hearts for Mom and Pop kind of restaurants (or independently owned and run) and have found some really good favorites this way. Also we can use this when we are traveling out of town. We do have a few exceptions to this. (Cracker Barrel is one.. it's comfort food when I'm homesick and I crave it! Especially when I'm pregnant!)
Warning: check out the part of town the restaurant is in first. We ended up in a sketchy part of town one time because we were still learning our way around Richmond.
2. We buy generic - A lot of things that we buy are generic. There are a few things that we only buy name brand but the numbers have drastically decreased over the years. Most of what I buy is going in a recipe anyway so it really doesn't matter. But I carefully look at prices when I shop. Every now and then, a brand name is less than a generic. It blows my mind but I happily scoop up the brand name.
3. Use cloth - We use cloth napkins, dishcloths and burp cloths. The kids regularly use washcloths for napkins (huge pack for $2) that are bright, fun colors. I do have a nice set of white cloth napkins that we use as well. Our dishcloths are flour sack towels from a large warehouse store and I've used them for years and they are still going strong. For burp cloths/spit ups/messy baby food mouth, we use plain ol' Gerber cloth diapers. Baby wipes are for changing heiny's. Paper towels are for oil spills or cat puke. Most of the paper napkins we have around here are from certain restaurants providing too many. (We save those too!) I do have a small package of paper napkins for really messy things like ribs. I haven't successfully ventured into cloth diapers.... yet. Stay tuned!
4. Refuse to pay retail- I just flat out refuse to pay retail price and most of the time I succeed. I think it is hilarious that the girls (6 and 3) have already picked up on this. They often play "bookstore" and when the cashier tells the buyer the price, the buyer exclaims "Oh I can do better than that!" and puts the book back. Hilarious.. but oh so very darn true. Brandon teases that I can smell a sale... armed with cash and a budget, I stretch, scrape and make my pennies squeal! Coupons, extra percentages off, clearance, goodwill, consignment, etc are ALL my friend. I don't coupon for food anymore... because we use generic so much and well.. there is a slight time crunch around my place. *grin* But for clothing, books, oil changes, gifts, etc...the goal is less than retail. I've gotten a little pickier now that we live in a larger area with more competition. Last time I went to the children's consignment store I only bought things that were an additional 50%. Brandon laughed and rolled his eyes.. but he didn't complain at all! And likewise, he called when he was at the pharmacy and there was a swarm around the diaper section. They had just clearanced discontinued packaging for diapers and he wanted to see what size we needed. He bought around 10 packages of diapers for $30... I'm rubbing off on him!
5. Clothing - I buy children's clothing that is classic and not trendy. No glittery shirts or words on my girls' bottoms. Well made clothing and brands that last are at the top of my list. Since the girls are 3 years apart, I can pass down from one to another. I only keep the outfits that are in great shape when Lainey is done with them. When Julianne is done, they go to consignment. The money I get back from consigning their clothing goes back into the clothing envelope. Right now consigning is on a brief hold for most items because we are waiting to see the sex of the upcoming #4. Xander's clothes are also on hold for the same reason. Often I can buy clothes at consignment, let both girls wear them, and still consign them at the end. Anything that doesn't get bought at consignment goes to the Goodwill. They are all still perfectly usable clothes.
6. Flexible spending - We LOVE this option from Brandon's employer. We pick yearly amount and they divide it over all of Brandon's checks for the year and take it out pre-tax. Then they give us a pre-loaded debit card specifically for health care co-pays and purchases. We can use the entire amount the first day of the benefit year although we've never needed to. It comes in handy with three kiddos... Lainey's AFO braces for her legs was paid in full the day we started and we didn't have to dip into the emergency fund or find it in our monthly budget. (They were several hundred dollars after insurance.. I'm in the wrong business!) Same for her serial casting this past summer. We paid for it all up front. Julianne's emergency room trip, paid in full without tapping our emergency fund. Cold medicine, teething gel, headache medications, prescription drugs... they never touch my monthly budget because they are already budgeted for. Same with dental bills, etc. The one "catch" if you will is that if you don't use it during your benefit year, you lose it. We've never had a problem since the tiny amount we have left at the end of the year can be used for glasses, over the counter medications, etc. We just stock up. Oh and you can still use coupons too!
7. Prescription Drug Coupons - For a while we had several prescriptions to fill each month. We had our lovely flexible spending card... but we soon discovered that pharmacies are constantly at war with each other for new prescriptions and refills. We started seeing coupons that said "$25 giftcard when you get a new prescription filled here" or "$25 giftcard for transferring your refill here!" REALLY!? For just choosing their pharmacy they will pay me $25? So we did it. We figured there was a catch, but there was none. We got our giftcard, and bought other things we needed. Yeah things are higher at the pharmacy (unless on sale!) but it was essentially FREE money! Many of our co-pays were $15 or less. Then we started watching sales flyers, and the other coupons that drug stores put out and stretched the free $25. It was amazing and really helped out! It's most common to find these coupons when a new pharmacy opens. Or if the pharmacies are battling it out. I have seen them at Kroger and even Publix (for those of you in the south.. I'm JEALOUS!) Who can't use free groceries? Target also does $10 coupons.. they are in their Sunday ads. I clip these even if we don't need them. You never know when you might need a prescription. If they expire, they expire. But it's better than me kicking myself later. Also some pharmacies advertise that they take competitor coupons. These types of coupons are included in that!
WARNING: if you are on several medications be sure to let your pharmacist know all of the medications that you are on, even if they are filled at other pharmacies. This allows them to cross check them and make sure there won't be any reactions, etc.
8. Cheap Prescriptions- When a child comes down sick and goes to the doctors office, I carry a few extra things with me. I carry two lists: Target's discount drug list and Walmart's discount drug list (I used to also carry the Publix list.. but alas.. no Publix here!) If it they need a prescription, I ask the doctor if any of the drugs on those lists will work. $4 is cheaper than my best copay. It is a little harder for Brandon and I to find drugs we can use on those lists because we both are allergic to Penicillin and Brandon is also allergic to sulfa drugs. Then I use my flexible spending card for the cost of the prescription.
9. Zenni Optical- is a website that I've heard nothing but RAVE reviews about for their cheap but well made glasses. (Folks you can get glasses for $15!) We haven't ventured here (we need eye appointments) but last time we purchased our glasses (Brandon and I both wear glasses) it was almost $500! Seriously! Once we have our prescriptions and use Zenni I'll be sure to do a full review.
That is all for now... I'm off to check in on Lainey's homeschooling work and feed Xander. The natives are restless!