- Discount grocery stores— this is currently my top budget-slicing method. At Costco, one basket costs us about $300-400. At my discount grocery stores last week, I got 3 basketfuls of groceries for just over $150. It takes creativity, and a little more time (we went to 2 stores, 45 minutes away, rather than just 1 store here in town), but for us, it’s a no brainer. This one choice saves us boatloads of money and allows us to purchase specialty items and organic foods that we normally wouldn’t spring for. I stock up on good deals and then cook from what’s in my pantry.
- Thrift stores– our favorites are our local Goodwill “pay by the pound” bin-stores (I’ve not seen these in other cities we’ve lived in, but I feel certain this can’t only be a Portland thing), even though it means more digging. But if I don’t have time to dig and need a particular style and size, there are thrift stores (like our local “Value Village”) that are more sized and organized so I can still get a bargain rather than paying full price. (A few things I don’t do this with: undergarments, big boys’ shoes starting around adult size 3, and boys’ pants start being hard to find around size 5/6.)
- Stay home. Truthfully, no matter what, when we head out together, I spend more than I’d planned. Gas fill up. Should we run by that store we keep forgetting? Oh we need this too– put it in the basket! Uh-oh, forgot the snacks. Oh, we’re right here, why not stop by Goodwill on our way home? Need to grab dinner because we’re out later than we planned. Etc. It’s better just to stay home and keep the money in our pockets. The more we stay home, the less money we spend. It’s just true.
- Coffee filters to divy out snacks in the car. If we’ve got snack time going in the car, instead of doing individual-packs for each child, I can grab one large box of nuts/crackers/dried fruit and use these pennies-a-piece cone-shaped coffee filters to make a tidy little bowl for each child to use, and discard afterward. I keep them in the front drivers’ door pocket so I can always tell when I’m running low. It keeps the van cleaner (ha! our van is a mess… so don’t think this means our van is clean. It’s just cleaner than it would be without these), and we save the money we’d spend on getting the more expensive individual packs.
- Use storage bins as a bedbase. When our 5-year-old recently asked if he could move in to the room (closer to us) where his 2 little brothers sleep, we pulled out a toddler mattress (because there’s not much space in the room and he still fits in that size bed) but didn’t want to buy an entire new toddler bed set for $100. This season passes so fast, before they’re on to a twin-sized bed. So I used 4 of my favorite clothing storage bins (psst: they’re much less expensive at Lowe’s/Home Depot!) to make a perfect-sized support for his mattress. He was delighted, and I was glad to have the bins tucked away. We also do this with my daughter’s full size bed (it’s supported by 10 storage bins).
- Use Facebook groups and Craigslist to find deals. We’re planning out a garden path, so I’ve been scanning Craigslist for weeks, pouncing on “free brick” ads. And since I’ve been jogging lately, I got this $240 jogging double stroller for $60 on a Facebook group. Barely used! This last weekend, I scored 6 1-year-old laying hens AND their coop and play yard for $50 (when getting feed at the farm store, I saw a much smaller coop for $475, no lie!).
- eBay is still a good option. Occasionally when we need something specific, I’ll go and look, and voila! There it is on eBay. No getting in and out of the car. No gas usage. No hunting, digging, or waiting. Click. Buy. Done. I did this recently with sprucing up my maternity wardrobe and am very happy with my eBay finds!
- Choose friends who share our values. It’s hard to cut back and be frugal if you’re the only one doing it and everyone you know is living high on the hog. But if you’re a part of a group of families who prioritize family and saving money over big TVs, fancy birthday parties, staying up-to-the-minute on fashion, and eating out often, just that one fact about your life can total up to big bucks saved over a years’ time.
- Scissors & sewing. I bought this sewing machine from Amazon 6 or 7 years ago, and it’s still going strong (and is still listed at a great price)! When I’m sick of a skirt for me or it gets a stain, I can usually trim it down and turn it into a skirt for my daughter. Or a kitchen apron for my son. MeiMei (my almost-10-year-old daughter) and I make clothes for her dolls, and I’ll often do homemade costumes for the kids. If pants have holes, we trim them down into play shorts for summertime! I’m no amazing seamstress, but having basic sewing skills saves us money and enables us to make double use of many garments.
- No cable/Netflix subscription. We have an Amazon Prime membership for $99/year, because we do so much of our shopping on Amazon, and that ends up paying for itself and (bonus!) gives us tons of viewing options for times when we do want to sit down as a family and watch a show. So we don’t have to mess with other services, or a massive cable bill.
Drive beat-up old vehicles we wait, watch, and pay cash for. I’ll be honest, this one is sometimes not super-duper-fun to live out, on the front end, but on the back end, we’re always glad to own our vehicles outright. We purchased our last (12-passenger ext. cab) van for $2600 (from an ad on autotrader.com), drove from Texas to Missouri to pick it up, and ended up selling it for a small profit when we moved up to Washington. The 15-passenger van we have now has a broken side door (so we have to open it from the front passenger door), an almost-non-responsive volume button on the radio (but when it responds, it responds! So you can go from barely able to hear it to blast-your-ears-off in 3 seconds, ha!), and other quirky features like a persnickety gas tank that auto-shuts-off about 87 times for every fill-up. So each gas-fill-up is an exercise in patience for me. 🙂 But we got it for only $2000, cash, and after 2 years of driving it, the mechanical side of things are still dependable and strong. With 300,000+ miles you might think it’s on its last leg, but we got it just after it got a completely new engine, so it has many years of life left in it. Because we pay so little for our vehicles, it does take patience on our parts (to deal with the uncomfortable things), but we have no payments. For us, that’s a huge win.
- Don’t buy the latest gadgets. We tend to wait to buy things, and enjoy what we have. So upgrading phones isn’t as important to us as making full use of the ones we already have.
- Stock up on unusual bargains (like end-of-season sales). Last year, I bought my daughter some long jean shorts on a rack at WalMart (in Sept? Oct?) for $2.00. This year, they fit her perfectly. At the end of summer last year, we also bought 2 oscillating fans on deep discount at Target. When a thrift store was selling kids’ jeans for $1/each, I bought 15-20 pair in all varieties of boys’ sizes. I only do this for things I know we’ll use, but I’m always glad to have done it when I can pull out items from our bins or closet, rather than paying full-price when I need it.
- Wait until we can pay cash. We recently did this for my computer. We went to the store, paid for it in full, and headed out with it in a bag. No ongoing payments, no signatures. Good feeling.
- Always ask, “can I walk away from this?” before purchasing something. This is something I picked up… from, I don’t know where. But I realized that when in the store, looking at an item, I would often justify poor choices by saying, “well, I’ve never seen one like this…” or “we can probably use it.” or “This will probably fit him.” But by asking, “can I walk away from this?” it helps me sort out what’s really needful, and gives me permission and the willpower needed to walk away from the “maybes.” (Sidenote: I’ve never been sorry when I’ve walked away.)
- Store old clothes and reuse EVERYTHING we can. We have 6 boys, so I’m quite cautious about throwing out boys’ anything. Yes, we’ve read and put into practice KonMari’s style of reducing what we own, but for the kids, I’ve not been nearly as vigorous in purging. Because the likelihood is, someone WILL wear it. Even when not in the most pristine condition, I hang on to extra t-shirts and play shorts for summer. Extras rarely go unused, especially with active boys.
- I buy convenience foods for occasional use. This might sound like it contradicts #1, but it doesn’t because I’m talking about cook-it-in-a-pinch options. The reality is this– there are some nights where 4/5pm rolls along and the last thing I want to think about is putting together a meal. Safeway makes a great chicken enchilada pan that they put on sale often for $8.99. Paired with a can or two of refried beans, it feeds our whole family. Convenience foods give me a fall-back option that only costs $10-12 rather than eating out (which for us, costs $30-65 a whack).
- We buy eyeglasses from Zenni.com. For all the glasses-wearers in our family. We pay $30-45 for 2-3 pair of glasses. Yes, that’s the total price. It’s shockingly inexpensive, and we’ve always been very pleased with the selection and quality.
- I give haircuts to Doug & all of our children. We use this classic Wahl set of clippers and color-coded guards. The color-coding makes it easy to determine which guard is which length– especially nice with all my boys!! I watch YouTube videos if there’s ever something a child wants that I don’t know how to do (like Maranatha’s side-sweep bangs last year). In an average year, I probably give 40-50 boys haircuts, 15-20 husband haircuts, and 2-3 girl haircuts. ($$ saved? even if each of those was just $8/pop? roughly $520/year!!)
- We willingly accept hand-me-downs & other gifts shared by friends. If someone wants to split up their hosta plants, offers raspberry shoots, or asks on Facebook if anyone would like a bucket of plums from their trees, we take them up on it! We show up at a time of their convenience and are happy to use things that are free to us. Just last week, a friend offered his organically-grown leeks, and it inspired me to make homemade chicken noodle soup. Confession: I’ve never used leeks before in my life, but what a gift! This goes for hand-me-down clothes, too. We’re definitely not “too good” to accept cast-offs from others, if we can put them to use!
- We have extra freezers and bulk-buy meat whenever we can. Even buying the 20-pound pork shoulder at Costco yields a better price-per-pound than getting it from the local store. We use Zaycon (which has amazing prices on basic meats like chicken breasts, chicken thighs, bacon, and ground turkey) and we once purchased half a cow’s worth of beef from a local cattle rancher. Any opportunities we have to get meat at lower prices, we take it!
These are 21 ways WE save money as a large family.
IN THE COMMENTS, SHARE: What would you add to my list?