Real Life On A Budget: Alison's Money Saving Tips & Ideas

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I wish I could say I bring home the big bucks as a writer, but I don't. Our family of four has a budget, it's tight, and we have to stick to it. In the last 10 years of marriage my husband and I have tried different strategies, wrestled through problems, argued what must be different sides of how to save money. At the end of all that, here are 7 things we've found truly work.

1. Prioritize getting rid of debts. My husband and I live loan-free and credit-card free, and I can tell you, nothing helps our marriage more that this. We are without the stress and fear of "how/when will we pay this back". I know this might seem a very distant dream for some readers, but make it your priority! The faster you get rid of debt, the less interest you will pay, and the quicker you will be free of debt-related anxiety.

2. Use cash. The people who say you should use cash to curb your spending are right. Each week we withdraw one lump sum from the ATM, and segment into jars money for groceries/entertainment (see point three), and "spending money" for myself, my husband and each of our kids. "Spending money" covers any irregular expenses for ourselves - clothes, outings, toys, haircuts, makeup. If the money isn't there in the jar, we can't buy it. Simple as that.

3. Set up a system that rewards you for being good. At our house, we have a common fund for groceries and "entertainment" (eating out/date nights/concerts etc). Whenever we are careful to save at the supermarket, it means we have more to put in the fund for special evenings. This helps us all to think more carefully at the store - "do I really want this jumbo size packet of chips...or do I want the money for half a movie ticket next week?"

4. Try to limit your exposure to advertising/new goods. Looking at new things is what makes you want to buy new things. For me, the more I spend time trawling sales at cool homewares stores online, the more I want to buy. Maybe for you, it's the mall. Is there a store you can't leave without buying something? If you know you need to save money - don't go to the mall! Don't look at those sites. Find something fun to do in your spare time that is a shopping, even "window shopping", free zone.

5. Shop at the uncool supermarket. We have friends who shop at the lovely supermarket down the road: it's close, it has car shopping carts for the littles, it seems brighter and cleaner and cheerful. But shopping there adds at least $20 to our $100 food bill, every single time. The uncool supermarket still has healthy goods and organic produce (though maybe a little harder to find), but no fancy carts and the staff are grumpier. But it is worth the savings. $20 each week adds up to $1040 a year!

6. Learn to appreciate the value of the secondhand. With every purchase, the first question you need to start asking is, "can this be bought secondhand?". We go secondhand for kids snow gear, kids clothes, our clothes, furniture, appliances, books, you name it! We do secondhand at thrift stores, yard sales, library book sales, abebooks.com, Craigslist, eBay, the Apartment Therapy classifieds! It is better for the environment, and better for your wallet. Start getting excited at what bargains you might find!

7. Remember, even a small saving on a big item is worth it. Here's a funny thing about our brain, that retailers do know about. We will go crazy for a $1 saving on a $3 punnet of strawberries, but when it comes to a big ticket item like a mattress or a washing machine or a car, we think "oh, what's $50/$100 really?". It's still 100 lots of those $1 you were so desperately saving just last week! The next time you are buying a big ticket item, do shop around, do wait for sales, do negotiate on price. For the sake of your family's savings, $50 is worth it.

(Image credits: Jenny Butler)