How We Save Money on Groceries

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One of the biggest ways Nathan and I have been able to save money over the past several years has been by drastically reducing the amount of money we spend on groceries.  For years we shopped at one store – the store closest to our house! – and regularly spent anywhere from $900-$1200 per month.  We tried to shop sales and we took advantage of the store’s “15% off Tuesday” on the first Tuesday of every month, but no matter what we did, we were never able to keep our spending less than our budgeted amount, which was $700.

It’s taken a long time – and a lot of trial and error! – but we’re finally consistently under budget for groceries each and every month and have been since August!  This past month our total on groceries was $521.61 – including groceries and household items (such as paper towel, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, cleaning supplies, etc.).  There’s definitely still room for improvement, but getting down to $521.61 from $1200+ was HUGE for us!

How did we do it?

  1.  We organized our cupboards and refrigerator.  We made it easy to see what we had, and I made it a habit to look through the fridge and cupboards before I started making my grocery list so I could use up what I already had.
  2. We planned our meals.  Breakfasts at our house are pretty laid back – toast, cereal, bagels, oatmeal.  Nothing fancy.  Lunch is sandwiches or leftovers.  I only plan our dinner menu but we stick to it pretty rigidly.  If I know we have to go out in the evening for a hockey game I either plan a slow cooker meal that will be ready as soon as we get home – or cook dinner in the afternoon and put it in the fridge to warm up when we walk in the door.
  3. I made a shopping list – and I stuck to it!
  4. I started shopping at different stores.  This one was hard for us, because we love the store close to our house.  It’s clean, the staff is friendly, it’s convenient, and they always have what we need – but they’re far from the cheapest place to buy groceries!  Nathan is unfailingly loyal so rather than drag him away from his beloved store, I started grocery shopping on my own.  I tried several different stores before narrowing it down to three, which we visit each week:  Wal-mart (where I buy most items), Save-On Foods (where I buy a select few items that are cheaper there than anywhere else), and H&W (a local produce store with enormous savings – I spend less than half of what I would spend anywhere else when I shop at H&W!)
  5. I started shopping without the kids.  If they’re not with me, they can’t beg me to put extras in the cart!  I always, always, always shop when they’re both at school!
  6. I started shopping on different days.  I used to do all of my grocery shopping on Fridays but one week I had to switch to Thursday for some reason, and I discovered a HUGE difference in prices on meat at one particular store!   Two of the three stores I frequent have sales running from Friday-Thursday – now I typically shop on Thursdays, and there are usually some pretty significant markdowns.
  7. We use our points wisely.  We love Save-On but don’t buy a ton of things there because they’re so expensive.  We are members, though, and we collect points.  It’s not really worth it to use the points on items you’re already planning to purchase, so we save ours for gift cards.  I think right now you can get a $10 Save-On gift card for 6000 points – we collect gift cards and exchange them for free groceries!
  8. I shop sales and stock up when items are on sale.  Nathan laughs at me because the trunk of my car is almost always completely filled with toilet paper – but when it’s on sale for $4.99 instead of $9.99, of course I stock up!  I don’t think I’ve paid full price for toilet paper in more than two years!
  9. I keep a price list.  I buy a lot of the same things week after week after week, so I know when I can score a better deal.  I don’t spend more than $4.99 for toilet paper, $5.99 for a 20 pack of coke, or $1.67 for a box of pop tarts.
  10. I use the Flipp app. Oh my goodness, this app is AMAZING.  I’ve always been pretty good about looking through the weekly flyers, but Flipp has them all in one place.  You can search through the flyers for each store you frequent or search for specific items.  If you don’t want to go to a ton of separate stores every week, don’t!  Just use Flipp to determine the prices of the items that are cheaper elsewhere and ask your preferred store to price match.  Most of them have no problem doing so, as long as it’s the exact same item.  Okay, sure, it’s a little awkward to pull out your phone to show the cashier the app and how it’s cheaper somewhere else, but so what?  I’ll deal with a little awkwardness if it means being able to pay off our debt!!!
  11. I shop weekly.  I’ve tried shopping for a month at a time and I’ve tried shopping for two weeks at a time but I found that food got wasted.  It’s hard to plan meals that far in advance – it’s only March 1st, how will I know what I want to eat on March 13th?  Our schedule changes depending on my work and my son’s hockey schedule (playoffs start this weekend!  Go Warriors!) so it’s hard for us to follow any meal plan that extends further than one week.  I shop once a week – if we run out of something, or something goes bad, we do without it until the next planned shopping trip.  Sometimes I have to get creative!  Last week we were supposed to have turkey manicotti but I didn’t have manicotti noodles (I thought I had purchased them but apparently they didn’t make it into the shopping cart!) so I used lasagna noodles we had on hand instead.  It turned out fantastic – now we have a new family favourite to add to the rotation:  Turkey lasagna roll-ups!  Recipe to follow (seriously, they were SO good!).

What are some ways you save money on groceries?  

Why I Budget Every Week

The other day I got a call from a friend.  “What are you up to?” she asked.

“Oh, not much,” was my reply.  “Just working on our budget!”

She was immediately concerned.  “Your budget?!?  Is everything okay?  ARE YOU GUYS OKAY?  Do you need anything?”

I laughed.  “We’re fine!  I work on our budget all the time!”

She was shocked.  “Seriously?!?”

Seriously.

I block off time every single week to work on our budget.  It’s my Friday morning ritual:  Drop Topher off at school, come home, make a hot chocolate for myself, turn on Puppy Dog Pals for Ellie – and work on our budget.

It’s not a huge job, since I do it every week.  I enter any income and receipts and pay bills as we receive them.

We used to just enter everything at the end of the month, assuming we were on budget – but we usually weren’t!  Some months we’d be $500 over our grocery budget (!!), $100 over our eating out budget, and our miscellaneous spending really had no cap. At that point it wasn’t a real issue, since we weren’t trying to save for anything or pay off debt at that point, but now I can’t even fathom not knowing how much we were spending from week to week.

Since I’m checking in all the time there are no surprises at the end of the month!

I’m also very goal-oriented, so I like to keep track of what we’re saving each week.  This month my goal is to out $800 towards the line of credit.  We use my income and then anything extra we have, so at the mid-point of February I knew exactly what I had earned ($275.12 from typing + $97.92 from Usborne = $373.04) – so we’re just about halfway there!

 

How do you create a budget?

Firs things first:

Take a regular month, keep all of your receipts, and figure out what you’re spending and where.

Make a list of your fixed expenses (items that are typically the same each month: automatic withdrawals, bills, etc.) and your variable expenses (expenses that may change week to week or month to month, like groceries, clothing, gas, etc.).

Here’s a look at our spreadsheet:

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Nathan created a blank template for anybody who’s interested – just drop me an <a href=”mailto:hellohollynore@gmail.com”>e-mail</a>!

Keep your receipts!!

Like I said before, I used to enter them all at the end of the month but found it a) time-consuming and b) pointless, since entering all the receipts at the end of the month meant we had no idea what we were actually spending throughout the entire month!  Now I schedule “budget” as a Friday chore:  I enter any receipts we have into the spreadsheet, pay any bills that are due, and transfer anything extra from our chequings account to our savings account.  We keep a base amount in chequings and everything else goes into savings.  We don’t touch our savings account until a specific savings goal has been reached.

In 9.5 years, Nathan and I have:

  • Paid off $25,000+ in student loan debt.
  • Paid off a $25,000+ car.
  • Purchased a second vehicle for $12,000+ and paid for it in cash.
  • Saved $30,000 for a down payment for a house.

That’s $92,000.

Budgeting works!

 

Extra Income

When you’re trying to pay off debt, one of the first things people always say is “If you can’t cut back on spending, EARN MORE.”

It’s not always that easy, though!

Nathan and I decided when Ellie was born that I would stay at home with the kids until they’re both in school.  I was fortunate that my boss agreed to let me work from home, so for the past four years I’ve been working as a contract worker whenever my employer has work available.  It’s not a bad gig – I work evenings and weekends so I get to spend lots of time with the kids! – but it’s unpredictable.  Some weeks I work 5 days a week, some weeks I work 2 days a week, and some weeks I don’t work at all.   We’re using my income to pay off our debt but it’s frustrating because it’s not something we can control!

So we’ve been looking for other ways to earn income …

I’m not at the point where I can do much for work outside the home, since Ellie’s only in preschool for three hours, two days a week, but last summer I did discover something I could do from home:

I started selling Usborne Books.

I know, I know.  Direct sales?!? Multi-level marketing?!?  I can see your eye roll!

Over the years I’ve had plenty of opportunity to join other direct sales businesses but I wasn’t remotely interested.  I love Jamberry, and I use Norwex, but I couldn’t picture myself selling either.  Then Nathan’s cousin invited me to an Usborne party and I was hooked!  I ordered a bunch of books for my kids through her party, and a month or so later she contacted me to let me know they were having a kit sale.  For $40 I could get $200 worth of books and everything I needed to start a business of my own.  The only stipulation was that I had to sell $200 worth of books within my first twelve weeks.  If I didn’t, I would have to pay out the remainder of the starter kit — and if I did, that was that, I was free and clear.  I could continue the business if I wanted or just take the books I already and and be done with it!

My goal was to pay off the starter kit.

I did that within one week, between two parties.

I actually ended up selling over $2000 worth of books within my first twelve weeks as a consultant, earning a commission on every sale and free books for my kids when certain sales goals were met.

It’s been a lot more fun -and a lot more rewarding! – than I expected!

Like any direct sales business, you get out of it what you put into it.  I honestly don’t put a lot of time into it – my goal is to do one party every month, either online or in person.  I did two markets before Christmas (which were SO fun!  A whole day of adult time!!!).  I’ve already booked six markets for this year – and turned down three others!

I haven’t made a ton of money with Usborne yet, but at this point every penny helps!  I can see myself doing a lot more with it when the kids are older and I have more time to devote to it.  For now I’m enjoying the money I do make, and sharing the perks with my kids :)

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If you have any questions about Usborne books, feel free to send me an e-mail!  We ship nation-wide so I can do online parties for anybody in Canada!  I also offer baby shower “book showers” as well as “book raisers” for daycares and preschools.

Valentine’s Day

heartcookiecuttersNathan and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.

When we were dating we had a “romantic” dinner in his parents’ basement (he picked up Swiss Chalet on his way home from work …) but after that we decided to celebrate on our dating anniversary instead.  There’s less pressure, restaurants are less crowded, and everything is cheaper!

Now that our kids are old enough to actually be into Valentine’s Day, I want to do something special for them.  I don’t want to spend lots of money on chocolate and candy that they don’t really need (and they get enough of that stuff at school.  Seriously, they get almost as big a haul on Valentine’s Day as they do at Halloween!), but I want to make the day fun.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1.  Wear pink or red.  Both of the kids have to dress up for parties at school/gymnastics, so I figure I might as well get in on it too!  I don’t think I own anything that’s red but I can pull out my Dragonfly Inn hoodie!
  2. Make a fun breakfast!  I’m not a morning person (at all!) so while I would love to make them heart-shaped pancakes before they head off to school, I’ll probably be using my heart cookie cutters to turn their toaster waffles into hearts instead.
  3. Make a special after school snack.  There’s never a bad time to make sugar cookies!  As an added bonus, it will probably take Ellie most of the afternoon to decorate them, so I’m pretty much guaranteed time for a shower on Wednesday!valentinesdaysugarcookies1
  4. Make heart-shaped pizzas for dinner.  In the past we’ve ordered heart-shaped pizza from Boston Pizza but this year I’m just going to turn our regular Friday night flatbread pizzas into hearts! I’m even going to use my teeny tiny cookie cutter to make pepperoni hearts!

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  

Expect the Unexpected

I didn’t feel much like writing yesterday.

I still don’t, but the whole point of this blog is to share our journey of making our house a home while paying off debt –

So I need to be transparent.

At the beginning of the month I was really excited.  January was a good month for me at work, so we were on track to make a decent payment in February.  If we could manage to pay at least $800 our debt would officially be 25% paid off!

But alas.

The right front tire on my car has had a slow leak for the past few months.  On Wednesday we decided to take it in and see if it could be repaired …

On Thursday we got the call that it couldn’t.

Unfortunately you can’t just buy ONE new tire for a car – you have to buy two — and just like that, between the cost of the tires and taxes and labour — we had a $396 bill.

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As if that wasn’t enough …

On Thursday evening we dropped Nathan’s car off at the dealership for its scheduled oil change.  He’s part of the loyalty program at the dealership so he gets his oil changes for free!

But mid-morning, he got a call from the service department, letting him know that his car needed new tires.

Four of them.

And the estimate they gave was $1016.

I feel like this whole paying-off-debt thing is one step forward, two steps back sometimes.

We’re going to shop around a little bit before we replace Nathan’s tires.  The estimate the dealership gave us was for the most expensive tires they had in stock so we’re confident we can find a better price somewhere else!

Fortunately we do have an emergency fund we can use in a situation like this – but if we use our emergency fund we’ll need to build it back up, meaning smaller payments towards that line of credit.

Ugh.

At least the month isn’t over yet!

Here’s hoping I get lots of work over the next three weeks …

Bullet Journal Review

I’ve seen tons of posts about bullet journalling on Instagram, Pinterest, and blogs I read – and it looked pretty cool – so I decided to give it a try this year!

I managed to snag a Leuchtturm journal online on boxing day for 50% off.  $14 is much cheaper than the Plum Paper day planner I usually buy.  (That one comes to $74, with shipping to Canada!)

I had lost of pins to scroll through when it came time to create layouts, but if I’m being completely honest – I got bored with it pretty quickly!  I was pretty much done as soon as I had finished making my monthly calendars.

SO MUCH WORK.

This is what it looks like:

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I like having my monthly goals next to the calendar for quick reference!

I’ve tried a couple of different weekly layouts:

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I prefer the way the first one looks, but the second, more boring on actually works better for me.   I think it’s because it’s laid out like my favourite Plum Paper layout!  I colour code each family member so I know what everybody has scheduled for the day and week.

I’ve started a few other pages.  I keep track of my two businesses, and their expenses and income.  I have pages for writing ideas, monthly to-dos for my Usborne Book Business, favourite meals (colour coded so I know who likes what!), books I’ve read, silly kid quotes, and of course, our debt tracker!

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My biggest complaint about bullet journalling is how time consuming it is.  I think it’s fantastic for people who see it as a hobby – who love to sit and draw and doodle and make fancy lettering and create amazing layouts.  I just need something to keep track of my monthly calendar and my daily to-do lists – which I could get with just about any basic day planner.

I like the idea of the lists and other pages, though, and keeping everything together.  I can see how it would be a good memento to keep over the years, especially since I abandoned Project Life around the same time we moved into our new house!

I promised myself I’d give it to the end of the year to form a solid opinion, so I’ll check back in another month or two!  Maybe by then I’ll have had a chance to sit down and make everything look pretty, instead of just having the basics!

Have you ever tried bullet journalling?  Did you love it or hate it?

Geometric Canvas Art

I don’t know about you but this time of year I’m always scrambling to find ways to keep my kids entertained.  It’s too cold to play outside (-30 with windchill?!?  No thanks!), they’re already bored with the new toys they got for Christmas, and they’ve had more than enough Netflix and computer games.

It’s time to get creative – and yes, I do mean that literally :) It’s time to pull out the paints!

I picked up a large canvas at Dollarama and used masking tape to make random geometric shapes.  Then I let the kids loose with the Crayola washable paints that we had on hand, instructing them to completely fill each space with one colour.  They did a great job!

We waited for the paint to dry, I pulled off the masking tape, and voila!

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It’s currently hanging in our main bathroom and the kids love to point it out to anyone who comes over!

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I’m contemplating doing it again with different colours – pink, red and white for Valentine’s Day, or  different shades of Green for St. Patrick’s Day.  At $1.50, for 45 minutes of entertainment and a cool picture for the wall – why not?

My “Not Spending” Goal Tracker

I’m horrible about spending money.

Seriously.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m one of those people who shops when they have a bad day.  If I can’t make it to the mall, it’s no big deal:  I’ll just hit up the Dollar Tree on the way home from school drop-off!  If I’m only spending $1.25/item, it’s not that bad … is it?

YES. Yes it is!

Before long I’ve picked up a basket, then abandoned the basket for a cart, then I’m at the check-out swiping my debit card for a $50 purchase – and nothing I carry out of the store is something I actually need.

This year I decided I wanted to track my spending – or, more specifically, my not spending.  I printed off a goal tracker from Elise Blaha Cripe and every day that I don’t spend money, I colour in a circle.

Oh, and I added gold star stickers.  Who doesn’t love gold star stickers?

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As you can see, I spend money more days than I don’t – but like Elise says, I’m shooting for progress, not perfection!

For Now

Nathan and I bought our house knowing it needed work. The previous owner renovated from the moment he moved in until the day he stuck a For Sale sign in the living room window, but he didn’t know as much about home renovation as he thought he did.  I think he watched a combination of HGTV and DIY YouTube videos …

Our home inspector gave us a lengthy list of what needed to be done and we made a list of things we wanted to have done – and we prioritized.

Before we moved in we spent $200 on paint and painted the three bedrooms.  Ellie chose a light pink for her room, Topher selected blue for his, and Nathan and I chose a darker shade of beige to cover up the bright purple in the master bedroom.  I didn’t mind the purple, but Nathan – aka Mr. Neutral! – tensed up the second he walked into the room – so for his sanity, painting was a must!

We spent a day painting before we moved in and that was that.

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The week after we moved in we called a plumber to re-do two of our bathrooms because the fixtures hadn’t been installed properly and there were leaks …

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And that’s it!

Since we’re trying to pay off our debt as quickly as we can, we decided not to do anything that didn’t absolutely need to be done — which means our house is still pretty bare, even though we’ve been here for six months.  We got rid of our ancient brown couch when we moved (FINALLY!!) and instead of putting new furniture on a credit card, we picked up a $250 pull-out couch at Ikea for the living room.  It’s not fancy, but it works!  We bought the pull-out couch with every intention of having it into the basement for overnight guests so the $250 hasn’t been wasted!

The rest of our furniture is exactly the same furniture we had in our condo.  We have room for more furniture – and our house will definitely be better organized, have more flow, and feel more homey once we have more! – but at this point, we’ve decided to make do with what we have.

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We have a long list of projects to tackle in the future …

  • There are over 7 different types of flooring throughout the house, from tile to laminate to hardwood, and I would love some sort of continuity!
  • The upstairs is currently painted lime (lime!!) and the basement is lilac – but all the drywall needs to be re-done before we can paint, even if we did want to paint right away.
  • All of the appliances need to be replaced.
  • A third of the backyard is taken up by a fish pond, which we plan to remove.
  • Both the front and back yards need to be re-seeded.
  • The fire pit isn’t a real fire pit – the previous owner cut down a tree, left the stump, then put bricks around it to make it look like a fire pit – even though it’s too close to the fence and can’t be used as a fire pit.
  • We want to put rocks alongside the garage to make a space for our dog, Chloe, to do her business so she doesn’t kill all the grass.

But the thing about paying off debt – if we’re serious about it! – is that we have to be happy with what we have, for now.

We have everything we need.

It might not be exactly what we want, but we can live with it – and that’s okay.

 

The Worst Part

The worst part about paying off debt – at least in my experience! – is having to explain to the same people over and over and over why I’m not buying things.

“But you need this!” they say, about a $2500 sectional that neither fits our budget nor suits our needs as a family.

“You deserve it!” they say, about a $200 dinner at a fancy restaurant that serves food I have no interest in tasting.

“You should treat yourself!” they say, about the beautiful but ridiculously expensive dress on the mannequin, even though I’m a work at home mom who has always been much more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.

IT DRIVES ME BONKERS.

My husband, Nathan, and I are no strangers to debt repayment.  I brought $25,000+ of student loan debt with me when we got married in 2008.  We (foolishly) purchased a completely renovated two bedroom condo at the top of our budget with 0% down with every intention of selling it within the next two years — but then the economy crashed, and the value of our property decreased by approximately $80,000 overnight.

We coasted along for the next couple of years, paying the minimum on both our mortgage and my student loan.

Everything changed when we decided to start a family.   I wanted to stay at home with our son but it was impossible with my student loan payment!

So we got serious about paying off debt — and my student loan was paid off within two years.

During that time, we (foolishly) purchased a brand new car – but we were smarter about debt the second time around!  We knew we wanted to pay it off as quickly as possible, so instead of paying the absolute minimum we paid as much as we could, whenever we could.

Our $25,000+ car was paid off three years into our eight year loan.

By then, we had a second child – and I had the option to stay at home.

In 9.5 years, Nathan and I have:

  • Paid off $25,000+ in student loan debt.
  • Paid off a $25,000+ car.
  • Purchased a second vehicle for $12,000+ and paid for it in cash.
  • Saved $30,000 for a down payment for a house.

That’s $92,000, and I think that’s pretty freaking awesome!

Last year we decided to sell our condo at a loss.  We had enough in savings to shell out the $22,500 difference between the offer we received and what we still owed on our mortgage.  It looks bad on paper, but in a deteriorating complex, with two children and a dog in a tiny condo — we felt like it was now or never.  It was time.

With the help of family, we were able to purchase an adorable three bedroom single family home in a great neighbourhood –

But we’re once again in debt.

At the beginning of 2018 we owed $9,800 on a line of credit, which we intend to pay off by the end of the year.

(My personal goal is by the end of September, but Nathan wants to be practical and allow for emergencies!)

This blog is going to document our journey of making a house a home on a budget, while repaying debt.  I plan to share everything from tips and tricks for being frugal that I’ve learned over the years to quick, easy, and cheap family recipes, to real life updates and pictures and stories of my crazy yet adorable children.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!