Financial Management for the Newly Independent: Part Two

In part 2, we’ll talk about some of the everyday money-saving tactics my partner and I use to make the most of the money we do have. Some of these tips take almost no effort, and others are a bit more labour intensive (but worth it, in our opinion).

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Groupon and Dealfind
One of my favourite tips is not for shopaholics, or people with no self-restraint :) If you think you can control yourself from purchasing things you don’t need, I highly recommend you sign up for groupon.com or dealfind.com, or both, if they’re both available in your area (in fact, there’s at least 5 or 6 companies offering similar programs now, scope out your area and see what’s available). I use Groupon the most, so I’ll explain that one in more detail. Basically the way it works, is you sign up and select your city (or city closest to you, if you’re rural like us), and provide your email address. Then, every day you get an email from them with the ‘deal of the day’, which is always at LEAST 50% off the regular purchase price of a good or service in your city. If you want that particular deal of the day, you go to the groupon site and purchase the coupon, and then print it out and take it to the business in question in exchange for the item in question. It’s called ‘group’on because a certain number of people have to purchase the deal before it becomes effective, but in my time using it, I’ve never seen the minimum cut off not be met. This site can get you huge discounts on meals at restaurants, groceries, services, and so on. The reason I say you need self-restraint to use it, is that you’re only actually saving money if you’re using it to buy things you would have bought anyway. So for example, if you normally eat out at a restaurant once a month, it’s worth it to buy one groupon a month for restaurants if they come up (there’s one deal per day, it’s not always for restaurants), and you are saving money, but if you don’t normally eat out, then you’re spending extra money that you wouldn’t have otherwise spent.

$5 Jar
Another tip my partner and I recently started using is a $5 jar. Lots of people have change jars, but they take a long time to add up. My partner and I made a jar that we keep on our desk for $5 bills and toonies. At the end of each day, we put any $5 bills or toonies we have in our wallet in the jar (unless it’s reserved for something specific, ie. you know you need milk tomorrow, and you’re saving the $5 for that). The money adds up quickly, and we use it for any large expenses that aren’t in our usual budget (like a trip to Barrie to see my partner’s family, or Christmas shopping). We found that the small bills and toonies in our wallets typically went to non-essential expenses, like stuff from the vending machine at work, or picking up a magazine at the store (we’ve since subscribed to our favourites, much cheaper) – so both our wallets and our waistlines benefit from not having those toonies or bills in our wallet, where they’re easily accessible.

Our next few favourite tips are good for both our finances and the environment, a cause that’s important to us. Double benefit!

DIY
One of the easiest way to save money around the house is to make your own household cleaners. All those bottles of surface cleaner, glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, kitchen cleaner, etc, add up, and they don’t last particularly long either (at least not if you like a clean house). A 2.5L bottle of white vinegar on the other hand, costs about $3, cleans just about anything, and lasts forever. 1 part water mixed with 1 part vinegar will clean and disinfect just about every hard surface in your house (except marble!), from the kitchen, to the bathroom, to your floors and windows. And most importantly, the ‘vinegary’ smell vanishes as soon as it dries, and just leaves a natural clean smell. Lemons are also great, especially for polishing metals and cleaning up soap scum or hard water deposits. Baking soda is also a great cleaner for really tough stains. Sprinkle baking soda over the stain (say in a really dirty oven) and let it sit, then scrub it off with steel wool and warm water (obviously don’t do this on surfaces that are easily scratched). Our total cleaning arsenal costs us only a few dollars a year, and keeps harsh chemicals out of our house.

Break the Consumption Cycle and Reuse!
From early childhood, we learn the phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, but many people forget about the first 2 parts, and focus on the recycling. Recycling’s great of course, but reducing and reusing are essential parts of the cycle as well. In a culture that’s obsessed with having the latest ‘it’ thing, it can be hard to break away from consumption and constantly buying new ‘things’ for your home. One thing we found suprising was how quickly the desire to constantly consume faded when we got rid of television. It wasn’t a decision we made specifically to avoid consumption, but that was the side effect. I didn’t realize how much being constantly bombarded with ‘buy me!’ ads was affecting me until they were gone. Now everything in our apartment (except for our bed) is second-hand, the ‘reuse’ part of reduce, reuse, recycle, and we love it. It’s eclectic and it doesn’t necessarily match, but it works, and we really enjoy scouring kijiji and antiques markets to find that perfect piece of furniture when we’re in need of something, and it’s fun to repurpose something old into an entirely new creation.

Learn to Cook
Chris and I love to cook, so that makes this last tip a little easier for us than it would be for someone who doesn’t know their way around a kitchen. For many reasons, financial, ethical, environmental, and health-wise, we started making most of our food from scratch. Pre-packaged foods are expensive, as are pre-made sauces, baked goods, pre-seasoned meats, etc. Making food from scratch can save you a lot of money, especially if you learn to eat in season and locally, which is also good for the environment. Making certain things from scratch involves a certain level of commitment to save you money. For example, making bread from scratch saves you a lot of money IF you do it regularly enough to justify buying all the ingredients in bulk. If you don’t, homemade likely costs the same or more than buying it at the store (although it tastes much better and has no preservatives, but that’s another story).

Since this is a cause Chris and I are committed to, it’s worth the labour for us, but it won’t work for everybody. If you truly hate to cook and bake, this tip simply won’t be practical for you. However it’s a great money-saver for the chefs or chefs-in-training out there. We eventually hope to make everything completely from scratch. We’re learning how to can and preserve, and are very fortunate to have access to a good sized plot of land for next summer so we can grow a lot of our own produce. We bake our own bread, and are learning how to make other bread products, like tortillas from scratch. We make all of our sauces and marinades from scratch as well, and enjoy having creative control over the flavours. We’re learning how to make our own soups and stews, and learned a great tip for making stock economically (and without all the sodium!). Every time you cut up a vegetable, there’s often little bits left over that you don’t eat (like the end of carrots). Instead of tossing these out, throw them in a container in the freezer. These are perfect for making stock! Once you have enough saved up in the freezer, you can toss them in your slow cooker (or in a heavy pot on the stove if you don’t have a slow cooker) and make an extremely economical, low-sodium stock that you can use for soups, stews, gravies, and marinades.

Anyway, there’s the (wordy) overview of our favourite financial tips – if you have a favourite tip that wasn’t included here, please share it in the comments! I love learning new ways to be frugal :)

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