In the last two budgeting posts, I talked about making a list of all of your expenses + income and how to allocate said income each month for said expenses.
But what do you do when prices fluctuate (I’m looking at you gasoline prices!) or your income varies from month to month? Something’s gotta give when there’s more money than month, right?
I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a guaranteed set amount of take home income my entire adult (i.e. since undergrad) life, but I realize many others don’t have a set salary. The percentages I shared in the last post should still hold true as much as possible — we know rent rarely changes unless one moves somewhere cheaper or takes on some roommates. Everything else is where I’m about to share some tips on getting the most for your dollar/pound/euro and stretching them out to make it to the next payday when you have no control over price fluctuations for certain items.
I know many use the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest gas … but honestly, unless you find a station that’s already on your daily route, you’re probably not saving much, if anything, if you’re going out of your way to save a few cents a gallon. I primarily use this while traveling so I know what station brands are in an area (yes, I’m a gas brand snob!). Around here, I stick to about six gas stations (two in my hometown, two along my route, and two in the city I work in) where prices tend to be lower than others to begin with.
I also take advantage of credit card rewards for gas purchases — Discover Card just ended a quarterly promo where one could earn 5% cashback on gas purchases — over the three month period (excluding the last four days of September that are on the current billing period), I earned $36.11 in cashback rewards just on gasoline purchases for July through September; for me, that would currently buy nearly 12 gallons of gas. The amount I earned in September allowed me to hit the minimum required for a statement credit; I can also redeem the cash back for gift cards as well as towards purchases at Amazon.com. My Chase credit card also gives users 2% back on gas purchases as well. Since October 1st, all my gas purchases are going back on that card. I can use the rewards as a statement credit or I can also use them on Amazon.com, which is what I plan to do when I have enough accumulated for a few wish list items.
Other options include carpooling if you live close to coworkers. I have two coworkers that currently do this and two others that used to; one drives one week and the other one drives the next week. The person driving covers the gas cost for that week. And if you’re lucky to have public transportation or live close enough to walk or bike (unlike us East Texans!), definitely take advantage of these more affordable options.
I live in a small town (well, small to some, its bigger than the blip in the road I live in the first 12 years of my life!), so grocery options are limited. We have a WalMart, a regional grocery store, a discount grocery, a salvage grocery, two drugs stores with limited grocery areas, + a small farmer’s market part of the year. The regional grocery store is the highest priced of the bunch — and for reason including and aside from that, I limit my shopping there to items I can’t find anywhere else. I have quite a few more options in the city I work in … but I hate the traffic to get to some of them, so those are occasional shopping trips when I need to stockpile stuff! I’ll also hit up Aldi and Trader Joe’s whenever I or a family member ventures to the DFW area.
That said, I do most of my shopping at WalMart — primarily due to the low prices as well as the fact they have the best produce selection (in terms of how long items last once they get home); I know many have issues with WM, especially how they treat their employees, but at the end of the day, my budget + supporting the locals that DO work there wins out. When I can drag myself out of bed early enough to hit the farmer’s market, I’ll pop in there + I’m lucky my dad loves to garden and has expanded the items over the last few years to include items I’ve asked for, which saves me money too.
This past weekend, I bought the following items for approximately$53.45 from three stores. The steak and turkey bacon came from the discount grocery store that cuts meat daily. The bread products from the discount bakery store in the city I work in, and the rest was purchased at WalMart. Several of these items will carry over into the next week or two before they are used up … I also had items left over from last week that carried over into this week.
Tip #1: Bread and bakery products.
If you’re local to a bakery (think big scale, like Wonder Bread, Sunbeam, Mrs. Beard’s, Nature’s Own, Orowheat), see if there’s a bakery store located in town. We have one in the city I work in that’s right across the street from the bakery. I stop in here regularly for loaves of bread, hamburger/hoagie/hot dog buns, bagels, and English muffins; rather than paying $2 to $3 per loaf/package, I can get them for 99 cents each. The two bread items I picked up last Friday, October 3rd (pictured above) had expiration dates of October 7th and October 12th. If I know I won’t use them within a week or less, I refrigerate them. Better yet, the store I stop in has a ‘get a free loaf with every $5 you spend’ deal. If you know you’ll use them up (or have storage space), take advantage of getting six items for less than the cost of three!
Tip #2: Perishables (Meat, Produce, & Dairy).
Since protein is an important part of my diet (fitness/weight loss reasons), I spend quite a bit on meat; I load up on meat on shopping trips on my payday weeks (which was not last week!). I buy chicken breasts and tilapia fillets frozen instead of fresh and split up the bag into smaller freezer sized bags with the number I plan to fix at a time. This way I only pull out what I need each weekend when I meal prep for the week. When on sale, I’ll buy the 3 or 5 lb rolls of ground turkey or beef and split them up into 1 lb increments to freeze so I’m not buying a 1 lb roll every single time. I’ve also lucked into coupons in Sunday newspaper coupon circulars for Jennie-O ground turkey a few times. As for fresh cuts of meat, I only buy steaks this way. I have the advantage of a relative that works in an area meat department that gives me the heads up on upcoming sales so I can stockpile certain cuts. I’m also, thanks to him, picky about what I do buy. Pick out cuts that have most of the fat cut off (this time was an exception since the steaks I wanted were not out in the cooler) — it’ll last longer that way as well as you’ll only pay for the actual meat you’ll consume. Also, don’t be hesitant to check out the markdown section in the meat market; if the meat isn’t horribly discolored or doesn’t have an odor to it, get it. Just be sure to prepare it within a day or two or put it straight into the freezer.
As for produce, check to see if your grocery store has a mark-down area for items that are brused or are getting too ripe/going bad. Many times you can get a bag with several dollars worth of produce for a dollar or two. I know some people are picky about their produce (I am too), but if I spot a bag with bell peppers or something else that I know I can salvage the majority of, I will snag it. If I know I can’t use it all before it goes bad, I chop it up and freeze it until I need it!
And dairy … like with meat, grocery stores will start marking down items a day or two before their ‘sell by’ date. If its stayed in the cooler the entire time and you can get it home within a short time span, it should still be good for several days. I don’t buy much in the way of markdown dairy products, but will snag pint sized chocolate milk this way as a cheap after workout treat!
And — with anything with a date on it — check them. I know a few times I’ve gotten home after a rushed grocery store trip and days later realized that I bought something that should have been pulled anywhere from a week to six weeks earlier!
Tip #3: I love extra savings beyond catching a sale on something I regularly buy.
A) Have a store that matches ads (like WalMart does)? Take advantage of this, there’s no point in burning up gas driving all over town just to save a few cents here and there! Granted I’ve noticed the area stores differ on policies on what they will and won’t match, especially on produce. I have had luck with getting some cashiers to go ahead and match on items that are questionable when I point that fact out, especially when I know others at that store will do so … and are matching ads that are outside the mileage range that WM states the competitor must be located.
B) Rewards programs. Have a CVS, Walgreens, or grocery store rewards card? Use it! Some stores have bonus sale items you can load onto your card or, like with CVS, you can get Extrabucks back towards your next purchase. However, don’t buy a product for the rewards if you won’t actually use the original item. Let’s not forget reward points either. Some chains, like Kroger/City Market allow you to use your rewards points towards purchases at certain gas station chains (i.e. Shell).
C) Take advantage of BOGO deals. I recently did this with stockpiling some vitamins and supplements at CVS (see below). I got nearly $25 worth of vitamins and supplements for less than $13 that’ll last me awhile.
D) Speaking of WalMart yet again, install the Savings Catcher app on your phone and scan those receipts in within six days — they say seven days, but if you forget and try to scan a receipt on day 7, it won’t process it. #insertsadpanda. Also, there’s a seven receipt limit per week. Since I put the app on my phone in August, I’ve ‘gotten back’ nearly $4.00. Its currently loaded on an e-gift card; once I have a decent amount on there, I’ll redeem it.
Additionally, there’s one plus I’ve discovered to scanning in those receipts. If you’re trying to stick to a certain dollar amount while grocery list planning, pull up the app and note the prices of items you buy regularly; that way you know before you get to the store how much you have left for items you haven’t purchased recently if at all.
E) Coupons. Last week I snagged three bags of Hershey’s snack sized bars in the Halloween section at CVS for $4.50 — they were that price individually before the sale price of 3 for $9.00. If you scanned your ExtraCare card at the kiosk, you got store coupon that would lower them to 3 for $6.00. And I had a manufacturer’s coupon from the previous Sunday’s coupon insert in the newspaper that netted me another $1.50 off the total price for all three. One bag’s to pass out at work on Halloween; the other two I picked up for my dad since he loves Hershey’s chocolate 🙂 Not all stores will let you stack coupons like CVS will … I still think one cashier hasn’t gotten over the steals I’ve gotten with combining sale prices with store & manufacturer’s coupons + ExtraBucks or for the ice cooler I bought one time with ExtraBucks I’d accumulated!
Speaking of deals, here is what I’ve referred to above in visual format:
(Splurge item included … I snagged these to wear under my dress at the BFF’s wedding in the event it turns out to be a cold October weekend like the one when I visited her two Octobers ago! These came out of my $50 limit on unbudgeted items.)
Tip #4: Make a list and stick to it — and shop after you’ve eaten a meal to avoid impulse purchases. The quickest way to spend way more than you planned is to go to the store hungry. This is why I rarely venture into a store on my way home from work or after the gym. I’d rather eat, shop, then workout — I take a cooler with me to keep everything cool while I’m at the gym on weekends.
As you can see below, I added a few items to my grocery list … these weren’t impulse purchases, but items I realized while shopping I’d forgotten to add before leaving the house when I got to thinking about what meals I was planning for the week ahead. (Oh and the one item checked off without a price I was picking up for someone else!)
Btw, I know my math at the bottom doesn’t match the total at the top … because I discovered that cucumbers and something else were mispriced on the shelf /cheaper at the register! The numbers with a C beside them, that’s the amount of the coupon I had for the item; I got the leave-in conditioner for 88 cents plus tax and a bottle of shampoo for 48 cents plus tax after coupons were applied.
Tip #5: Canned goods. Just because there’s a dent in it because it hit something while on the pallet in transit doesn’t mean its no good (especially if it hasn’t hit its sell-by date). Having worked for three years in a grocery store many moons ago, I periodically got to sit the back room and mark down damaged items that arrived that way from the warehouse. Look to see if your local stores have a reduced goods section — or if there’s a salvage grocery in your community like we have here. I’ll pick up canned veggies and basic staples like spices at a reduced cost from time to time. You never know what you’ll find here, so this is the one time to keep an open mind and snag something if you think it’ll work in a recipe.
Tip #6: Live near a warehouse store like Sam’s Club or Costco? Take advantage of these stores to stockpile items you use a lot of or for staples that don’t have a short shelf life. I currently lack a membership for Sam’s Club (which is in the city I work in), but the next time my employer does a sign up (we get a discount on membership rates), I plan to snag a membership. This girl eats a lot of healthy stuff that could be stockpiled at a lower cost 😉
If you can’t afford a membership, see if you have a friend/family member that’ll let you tag along on their next shopping trip & let you reimburse them for your stuff so you can check out the store and cost savings. Then you can funnel your savings from the above tips into a membership within a few months 🙂
Are there additional tips you’d add to this list? Tell me & everyone else in the comments below!
The Challenge …
As mentioned in the title of the post, I have a challenge for all of the Route Bliss readers who want to join in with me on a No-Splurge Challenge … you can join in for a week or an entire month beginning on Monday the 13th, that way you can use the weekend to put a budget to paper and figure out what things aren’t absolutely essential for the next month. What you do with any extra money left over at the end of the week or month is up to you — you can use it to pay off debt, put in the savings for a rainy day, or apply towards presents for those on your holiday shopping list/an upcoming trip.
For the month of October, I’ve limited myself to a set amount on two major categories — gas and groceries — that I can spend + pre-budgeted items I already had planned before the month began (my trip to Arkansas next week for my BFF’s wedding that I’ve already paid for the hotel and set aside most of the costs for gas, food, & admission to a few exhibits I want to see, a hair appointment tomorrow, renewing a couple of blog ads, postage to ship a wedding present to another friend who lives abroad, and a car wash before I head to Arkansas). Knowing that things do come up that I didn’t account for or the random deal I’d kick myself for if I didn’t take advantage of, I budgeted in $50.00 to cover the rest I didn’t account for (like the leggings above). Everything else after monthly bills and the pre-budgeted will go towards paying on my balance transfer or to savings. I’ll share in early November how I did overall + give some mini updates each Monday.
If you decide to join in — share your progress on social media and tag me (IG + Twitter: @christinamccall) + use the hashtag #RBNoSplurge