A few weeks ago, I participated in an “Ask the Experts” segment on a huge site in the mommysphere, CafeMom.com. The focus of the project was saving, budgeting, and frugality, and my job was simply to answer questions that readers sent in. Sounds easy, right?
Unfortunately, I quickly found that I am no longer equipped to answer many of the inquiries I would have sailed through just a few years ago. A few examples:
“Do you use an app or Excel spreadsheet to track your coupons?” asked one gal eager to save on groceries and consumables.
“Is there a great coupon app?” inquired another.
“Do you make from scratch your own laundry detergent?” asked a third gal. “Do you find the effort worth it?”
Fortunately, I didn't have to answer all of the 70-plus questions and was able to skip over the ones I didn't feel qualified to answer. Unfortunately, the entire experience served as a reminder of just how many money-saving strategies I have been forced to abandon over the years. The truth is, my take on saving and frugality has been forced to evolve along with my changing role as an entrepreneur, wife, and mother. Why? Because I just don't have as much time to devote to it anymore.
My evolving money-saving strategies
For example, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had coupons coming out my years. I spent countless Saturday mornings combing through the ads, matching sales to coupons and shopping at any number of stores. My friend had access to as many newspapers as I ever wanted, too, which meant that I often had duplicate coupons for many of the items I purchased. As a result, I built a stockpile of toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and diapers, and I added to my haul on a weekly basis. And since my oldest child was just a toddler, she was more than content to come along for the ride.
Fast forward several years and I am lucky to have an extra tube of toothpaste on hand or a bottle of face lotion in my hall closet. I rarely use coupons at all unless they are right in front of my face in one of those blinkie machines at the store. Calm and organized grocery runs have been replaced with trips reminiscent of Super Market Sweep. The only difference is, now I've got two wild kids begging for various snacks the entire time — and I barely have time to go to one store, let alone five.
And Saturday mornings? Instead of clipping coupons, I now spend that time catching up on extra work or spending time with my family. After all, my daughters bounce off the wall when mom and dad don't have to work, and Lord knows I have plenty of mommy guilt as it is. As a result, I've had to prioritize. So goodbye coupons … hello family time.
Strategies for saving money when you have no time
I've heard many people express that something similar has happened to them at one point or another in their lives. When life gets busy or something changes, we are sometimes forced to let one strategy go in order to focus on something more lucrative or less time-consuming. And when it comes to money, sometimes it can even make sense to put your effort into earning more instead of saving on those little expenses. Of course, every person's situation is different. But what isn't different is that our strategies all seem to evolve over time.
When it comes to my own family, I am finding that the best thing we can do right now is simply to stay the course. We are saving a large percentage of our income and we are relatively good at sticking to the zero-sum budget we create at the beginning of each month. But instead of focusing on things like couponing, we have changed our strategies to include these instead:
- We aim for the big wins — Instead of trying to save small amounts of money, we are currently trying to focus on ways that we can save big instead. For example, our health insurance plan was recently cancelled since it didn't meet the requirements for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). I shopped around and found that we could save around $500 per month and enjoy a much lower out-of-pocket maximum if we joined a healthcare sharing ministry instead of buying traditional insurance. Those savings will add up to $6,000 in 2015, and that doesn't even count the $10,000-plus we'll save if we need to meet our deductible.
- We avoid lifestyle inflation — Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, we opt to keep our simple lifestyle instead. To avoid lifestyle inflation now, we are staying put in our reasonably-priced home, driving our older (paid off) cars, and avoiding purchases that aren't entirely necessary. Of course, this strategy can only take you so far.
- We focus on increasing our earnings — Earning more vs. spending less is a debate that never ends in the personal finance world. In our case, we are taking both approaches whenever possible in order to achieve maximum results. So in addition to focusing on how we can save big, we are also trying to earn as much money as possible. And those hours spent boosting our earnings have surpassed, by far, any extra money I've ever saved on toothpaste and floss.
- We shop sales and buy used — Even though we are somewhat limited in the ways we can save on food, we still manage to feed our family of four for around $600 per month simply by planning a menu around the sales at our local Kroger store (and by me not splurging on the snack foods that constantly call my name). We also buy in bulk when it makes sense and make it a point to eat leftovers until they are gone. These may not be big wins, but all of those small moves add up as well!
Saving where it matters lets me save when it matters
I must admit, I miss my couponing days. I loved getting toothpaste and shampoo for free and, most of all, the fun I had looking for the hottest deals. And yes, I have often wondered what the result would be if I did make my own laundry soap. How much would I save compared to the time it took? And would it work as well as Tide or any of the other popular brands?
Unfortunately, that is an experiment that will have to wait because, at the moment, I barely have time to buy laundry detergent let alone brew up my own batch.
Right now my kids are little and they need me. And since there are only 24 hours in a day, I have just had to let some things go. Maybe one day I can pick back up with the many money-saving strategies I once loved. And maybe, just maybe, my kids will want to get involved then as well. But for now, I'm not only finding more time to spend with my family in these important years, I am also finding that I save more every month using these strategies — and ultimately, spreading that gap between what we earn and what we spend is what will help us build wealth in the long run.
We all know that saving on the big stuff is important, and the little stuff matters too. But most important is what you do with your savings. I didn't have time to save the way I always had, but that reality helped me find new strategies to save so I could focus on what matters most.
How do you make time to save? Have you given up on some money-saving strategies in order to pursue others?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.