I'm bracing myself for a barrage of hate mail for posting this, but my recent discovery has brought me such freedom that I simply must shout it from the rooftops!
I'd like to think I've proven myself as a reasonably frugal consumer. When I say "frugal", I mean that I am budget-conscious and put some effort into finding decent bargains while also recognizing that my time is at least as limited as my finances.
First an admission: I do not coupon (gasp). I found it to be too time consuming and confusing. On top of that, in order for couponing to work, you have to actually remember to give the cashier your coupons...oops! I used to be a regular shopper at warehouse stores like Sam's and Costco because of the low per-unit price you could get by buying in bulk. But then I realized that while spending $400 in one week for 3 different items may save me money in the long run, my short-term cash flow was precisely that...short. So I began shopping at a discount grocery store that stocks mostly off-brand products but where the prices (and the quality) are at least as good as the coupon and warehouse deals without the hassle or the huge outlay.
Finally, I had managed to secure a low unit cost without having to purchase a high quantity. I began to see the benefits of fitting normal-sized products into my tiny pantry (pictured left...I just love my pantry). Gone (eventually) were the 2-liter bottles of soy sauce and vats of olive oil. Crackers, pretzels and cereal were no longer going stale before they could be consumed. I was able to reclaim part of my garage for storing other items besides overflow food. And it no longer took the National Guard to help me unload all the groceries each week.
Unfortunately, I kept buying more cans and boxes than I actually consumed each week out of pure habit..."just to have some on hand". I still had one large shelf reserved in the garage for storing all my extras. In the garage, mind you...where I hate to go. I would send the kids down to get stuff for me, so I lacked a keen sense of what was actually there. I was always buying things we didn't need and not buying something we did need simply because I assumed we already had more of it down in the garage.
And then something happened to knock some sense into me. I fell down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder...badly. I could no longer carry as many groceries and was forced to shorten my weekly shopping list to only what I knew we would use in the next week or two.
Eureka! Now I can fit everything into my pantry where I can easily see at a glance just what we need. Everything is fresh and actually consumed rather than wasted. Putting the groceries away is quicker and easier, and I now have even more room in my garage. I feel so FREE!
All of this has made me realize that being a "frugal" consumer means respecting not just your financial and time limitations, but your space limitations too. My father used to always say, "Space is at a premium." It surely is a precious commodity to be used wisely. Don't squander your spacial budget just to stretch your financial or time budgets. Find a balance of all three.
How do you balance your financial, time and spacial budgets?
Note: Your Sam's or Costco membership may still be worthwhile for purchasing household items, office supplies, electronics, etc. at a great price or for when you are feeding a large crowd. I am not suggesting you ditch it! Just don't let bulk purchases of regular groceries eat up all your space.
An organized clothing system will save you time in the morning, keep clothes in better condition longer, and -- my favorite -- reduce dry cleaning bills and ironing. Yesterday I was asked by a client for my best advice on keeping clothes organized, so here it is:
Teach your little patriots some history with a July 4 treasure hunt! Create 10 multiple choice question cards, each with three options (A, B, and C). Place one question card in an envelope along with three tent cards...each one labeled on the outside with A, B, or C. Glue or tape a clue to the location of the next envelope inside the tent card labeled with the correct answer and leave the other two "wrong" tent cards blank. The last clue should lead to the prized "treasure".
In addition to teaching them about history with the question cards, you can use the clues to teach kids about rhyming, figurative language, relative positioning, or anything else you want them to master.
Below are the 10 questions I used, but you can modify them to the appropriate age level of your kids and can adapt the theme to any topic:
Question 1: Who was the author of the Declaration of Independence?
Question 2: Who is called the "Father of our country"?
Question 3: What city is the birthplace of our national anthem?
Question 4: Which of the following was NOT one of the 13 original colonies?
Question 5: What do the 50 stars on our flag represent?
Question 6: Where is the Liberty Bell located?
Question 7: What is the name of Thomas Jefferson's home?
Question 8: Which country helped us to gain our independence?
Question 9: On what holiday did George Washington make his famous crossing of the Delaware River?
Question 10: Whose face is on the $20 bill?
The clues you use depends on where in your home you will be hiding the question/answer envelopes, but a couple of examples are:
Get creative and match the difficulty level to your kids' abilities.
To say that my kids are "growing like weeds" takes on a lot more meaning if you have ever seen my yard. To say that my garden could use a little tweaking is a bit of an understatement. Sure, I appreciate beautiful landscapes, but I don't do bugs, snakes or itchy creepy crawly stuff. Thus mine is a tangled patch of overgrown weeds that I can't keep up with...much like my kids. Do you see where I'm going with this?
Like most moms, it's important to me that my progeny look presentable, but clipping day or my daughter's gnashing of teeth at the mere prospect of having her hair braided. Apparently I could teach the CIA a thing or two about torture.
I gave up the stripes with plaid and boots with shorts war years ago due to pure battle fatigue. They are now free to express themselves (within reason) with their wardrobe choices. I've even recently developed a new "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy toward tears and stains after discovering the multiple holes my 9YO son created in the crotch of his new shorts...I just don't want to know. I simply don't have the time, energy or budget to stay on top of it, and some days this weary mom feels lost in the weeds.
It is upon this backdrop that I looked up last Sunday evening and realized that my son's sleep pants were about 5 inches too short. They have worn well and still fit perfectly in the waist. More importantly, he loves them! But so pathetic did he look in them, that I had to do something to save my poor child from the certain ridicule that awaited him if one of his neighborhood friends should come knocking at the door after he was ready for bed (as they sometimes do). My solution was so quick, easy and free that I had to share it. After all, it isn't often that he and I are both this thrilled with a wardrobe solution. All it took was a pair of scissors and within five minutes, he had 6 pairs of adorable, comfortable, summer sleep shorts!
This simple yet elegant solution got me thinking about other ways that I stretch (literally) the kids' clothing budget. Here are just a few:
What shortcuts do you take to stretch your time and budget?
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.