The Financial More of Less
As we wrap up Organizing for Dollars month, I want to share with you the many ways paring down your belongings can actually save you money. After all, who doesn’t want more of that?
The less you own, the easier it is to keep your home tidy, organized, and accessible, meaning:
If you take some of the advice I’ve shared this past month on using items you already have on hand to fulfill a need or creating your own inexpensive organizing solution, you’ll save even more money. Making wise purchases that serve as multi-taskers means buying and storing less. Add all of that to the time you’ll save from having less to manage and navigate around at home, and you can see that less really is more...more time, more space, more peace of mind and yes, more MONEY!
And if that’s not enough, you now have a chance to score a $15 gift card just by visiting my Facebook page and commenting on the 1-Day Challenge post at the top telling us something you had been planning to buy and what you ended up using that you already had instead. Everyone who answers both parts of the question in a comment by July 31 will be automatically entered into the prize drawing. Easy Peasy!
Stay tuned next week, because August is Keepsake Organization month. I’ll be sharing tips on how to add functionality to your sentimental objects, curate your keepsake collection to tell your story, preserve memories without having to keep a pile of stuff that triggers them, and organize the precious items you save.
Stop Acquiring More Stuff!
Living life seems to require a lot of stuff. We need stuff to wear...stuff to cook and cook with...stuff to sit, sleep, eat, and work on...stuff to entertain us and stuff to help us entertain others...stuff to help us work more efficiently...stuff to read, write and communicate with...stuff to decorate and create with...stuff to keep us safe and healthy...stuff to make us more comfortable...stuff to keep us smelling, looking and feeling our best...stuff to help us relax...stuff to give each other and stuff to wrap it up in...stuff to keep us warm and stuff to keep us cool...stuff to fix and clean all our other stuff with...and stuff to keep all this stuff organized and accessible when we need it. And every single piece of stuff we own comes with a price tag...not just a financial price tag but also a time, space, effort, convenience and opportunity price tag. Reducing the amount of stuff you own also reduces your overhead costs. Minimalism is about getting by with less stuff so that you can focus more on all those other things that really matter in life. But you don't have to be a minimalist to benefit from making do with less.
July is Organizing for Dollars Month, so today I’m going to share a few strategies for shrinking your pile of stuff to save you money...plus a whole lot more.
One reason we get so overwhelmed by all of our stuff is that most of us own waaaaayyyyy more than we need or have room to accommodate. We go through phases where we get so fed up we decide to weed out our closets and donate our excess...and it feels pretty great for a while. But eventually, we end up right back where we started, because we never changed our thinking about what we really need versus what we just want. To change your mindset, you must begin challenging yourself to stop acquiring something new to fulfill every new need that arises. With a little resourcefulness and creativity, you can meet most of your needs by shopping in your own closet. If you don’t believe me, why not try imposing a moratorium on new purchases for one whole week and see for yourself how well some of these seven strategies can work:
1. Use up what you have first before replenishing
How many skincare samples, hotel shampoo bottles, and still-in-good-shape gift bags are you hoarding? For what? Start using them. Get them out of your way before you buy more of the same. Plan meals around the food that’s been in the back of your pantry or freezer and needs to get eaten. (Read this great article on the myths of food expiration labels before you pitch it.) Use items in your craft supply stash or some of those leftover DIY materials in the garage to create something you need rather than pulling out your wallet to buy it. You’ll be amazed how much money and space you’ll save just by using up the various odd bits and pieces that are currently filling up your cabinets and drawers.
2. Review your stashed decorative items
Are your closets and storage areas filled with framed photos or artwork you took down but may want to use again...someday? What about all those cute tchotchkes you’ve been saving in some bin somewhere because they have sentimental value but no good spot to call home? Review these with a critical eye and make some decisions. Perhaps some can be made into functional objects or to freshen up your current decor. Others may make wonderful gifts. If you’ve been meaning to hang it up, then do it now! You’ll free up valuable storage space and fulfill a need without spending a cent.
3. Gift/regift new items you know you’ll never use.
Rather than spend valuable space on something you don’t need/want, give it to someone who would. You’ll save time and money on gift shopping, not to mention space!
4. Gift wrap creatively
Instead of buying special occasion-specific wrapping paper, you’ll get more mileage out of it if you use neutral gift wrap suitable for any occasion and embellish it with items from your garden or leftover craft supplies. Reuse gift bags that are still in good condition or re-purpose all manner of materials as creative wrapping. An old sweater you’ll never wear plus a needle and thread and some ribbon are all you need to make a one-of-a-kind gift bag for Christmas.
5. Furnish your home with “double-duty” pieces
Look for opportunities to double up on the functionality of your high ticket items, like furniture. Some examples are using a storage trunk or ottoman for a coffee table; turning a narrow cubby-style bookshelf on its side and adding a seat cushion to the top to create seating with book or toy storage; mounting a small ironing board to the top of a rolling storage cart. Look for end tables with drawers, console tables with shelves underneath, and desks with built-in filing drawers.
6. Rely on multi-taskers when entertaining
Instead of overstocking your kitchen and dining room with specific serving pieces and party supplies, try some of these substitutions using what you already have on hand:
7. Give your kids experiences as gifts
Let’s face it: raising kids is expensive, especially if you want them to experience life to its fullest. Instead of spending money on tangible gifts you’ll just need to find space for, use it to splurge on a fun trip or activity you may not otherwise be able to afford to celebrate a special occasion or holiday. One bonus is that these gifts are a lot easier to wrap too!
Obviously, the more organized your home is, the easier it will be to fulfill a new need with an old purchase, because you’ll have a better handle on what you already own and know where to find it. And the less you own, the easier it is to keep everything organized and accessible. If you’re drowning in belongings, the first step is to turn off the tap and stop acquiring! Once you get used to looking for a solution in your own closet instead of a store, it will become a habit.
In case you missed it, this month’s EasyPeasy 1-Day Challenge is to substitute something you already own for something you were planning to buy. To enter the monthly gift card drawing all you have to do is visit my Facebook page by July 31 and comment on the July 1-Day Challenge post at the top of the page telling us 1) What you were planning to buy and 2) What you found in your own home to fulfill the need instead. You must include both parts to be entered into the prize drawing. I can’t wait to see how clever and resourceful you all are!
Home stores are making a killing marketing tools and gadgets to help you save space and organize your cabinets, closets and drawers. The problem, aside from their pricetag, is that many of them turn out to be uni-taskers, that is they can only be used for a single purpose. When your needs change, many of these specialized items are no longer useful and merely clutter up your home...which is the very last thing you need when trying to restore some order.
This week, I want to share with you just a few of my favorite DIY organizing tools that are not only helpful space-and-sanity-savers but also very easy and economical to make yourself. These are just a few examples. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, you can come up with more of your own just by looking through your pile of excess stuff with an inventive eye.
I am listing the materials I used for each of the projects below and have estimated what it would cost if you had to purchase them all. However, it is my hope that you will be able to use whatever you already have on hand or acquire items for free from friends or neighbors who may have some to spare to reduce your costs...perhaps down to nothing. Substitutions are encouraged! Your local Nothing Project or Freecycle groups can be great resources for scoring free materials.
(See the photos above for reference.)
Keep jewelry easily visible, accessible and tangle-free while saving boatloads of space in your bedroom with this simple DIY organizer you can hang on the inside of your closet door.
Cost: Approximately $10
Cabinet Door Rack
Increase storage space in the kitchen and bathroom for as little as $1 with this quick and easy project. You’ll want one for every cabinet in your home.
Cost: under $5
Tip: Increase the versatility of these wire door racks by fitting them with small plastic cups or jars that can hold items that would otherwise slip through the wires.
Garbage Bag/Paper Spool
This clever trick keeps rolls of garbage bags, food wraps, paper towels, and wrapping paper at your fingertips and saves space in your overflowing cabinets!
Cost: You can make several for about $7 total
Keep everyone in your household on the same page with a fun chalkboard wall. Why limit yourself to one chalkboard when you can have an entire wall to write messages, share important info, and keep track of upcoming events, all in a central spot in your home.
Cost: About $8
Set up a cute coffee station in your kitchen or dining room to save oodles of kitchen cabinet space and make it easy for guests to help themselves to hot beverages when you entertain.
These projects are just the tip of the iceberg. Unleash your creativity and see what you can create to suit your organizing needs using stuff you already own. Convert a storage trunk into a filing cabinet or a piano bench into a giant jewelry box. Make a scarf hanger by taping shower curtain rings onto a hanger. Send photos of your creations to email@example.com or tell us about them in the comments.
Visiting Pinterest for ideas before ordering fancy organizers online can save you lots of money you can use on something way more fun than organizing your closets or pantry!
Don’t miss next week’s blog, where I’ll tell you how to shop smart and get more bang for your buck out of the stuff you own so that you can own less stuff.
If you’ve ever been inside The Container Store or gone shopping for new food storage bins for your pantry, you know just how overwhelming -- and expensive! -- it can be to purchase the tools all those home magazines say you need to get organized. It’s enough to scare off even the best-intentioned from getting started. So my first piece of professional advice when it comes to shopping for baskets, bins and drawer dividers to create order in your home is...just don’t. At least, not yet. And maybe never.
For starters, acquiring more stuff, no matter what it is, is probably the very last thing that will improve your situation. Most people already have way too much stuff, which is a primary factor leading to the current disorder in their homes. Purchasing more will only exacerbate the problem. Secondly, you can’t possibly know what to buy until you know how and where you will be using it. Guessing (and likely guessing wrong) will cost you time and money you may not have and lead to greater frustration. I’m assuming you already have plenty of that, am I right? Finally, your shopping excursion will feed into the false notion that it is a lack of organizing tools that has created the disorder in your home rather than the lack of an organizational plan. I’m sorry to tell you that there is no magical invention sold in the home goods section that will transform your chaos into calm without a solid understanding of how you use your space and a plan that reflects this.
Now that we’ve dispensed with what you shouldn’t do, let’s turn our attention to what you should. Obviously, you’re going to need a place to put all your stuff once you’ve purged your excess and sorted it into tidy categories. The good news is that with a little resourcefulness and a smidgen of creativity, it doesn’t have to cost you a single red cent to organize your home.
Start by raiding your recycling bin for jars, boxes (shoe boxes are great), plastic containers of varying sizes, and old shopping bags. Gather some ziploc bags, scissors, tape, a stapler, a few labels (or blank paper if you don’t have any) and a marker. You are now ready to begin purging your excess stuff, sorting what’s left into categories and designating homes for each category according to how you use it and how accessible it needs to be.
Once you know where you want to store your items, select or create holding spots or dividers as needed to keep them neatly separated and labeled using the materials you’ve gathered. Need drawer dividers? Make some using strips of cardboard and some tape. No crock to hold all your large kitchen utensils? No problem. Just grab a large jar, flower pot, or an old pitcher. Lots of earrings but no jewelry box? Repurpose a box grater to hold the danglers and a small glass dish for your studs. You are limited only by your imagination.
Yes, I hear you...you want a pantry worthy of Instagram, with matching jars labeled using trendy fonts. The good news is that if that’s your thing, you can still have it. The even better news is if that’s not your thing, or if you can’t afford that level of luxury, you can keep your homespun organizing solutions until you can...or forever. The functionality will still be there, and if the cardboard tears over time, there’s plenty more where that came from. Either way, you end up saving money by testing out your new organizing system without investing any money in pure aesthetics. If you plan to upgrade later, start making a wish list now of the organizing tools you want to purchase. Include specifics like what size, shape, material, color you want that will work in your space. If you used a transparent container to store something but are bothered by the visual noise, make a note to purchase an opaque version. If stacking your open bins would save more space in the cabinet, consider buying ones with lids. The longer you wait to go shopping, the more likely you’ll make wise choices to suit your needs once you do.
Save big bucks and add a personal touch to your space by repurposing purely sentimental objects into functional ones. This is an excellent way to place the object in your path where it will trigger all those wonderful memories instead of consuming valuable storage space in the back of a closet where you will rarely encounter it.
You’ll be amazed how easy it is to divide your spaces, create holders for items both large and small, establish zones, extend your storage, and make items more accessible by using everyday objects you already have lying around your home. Here is just a smattering of examples:
Don’t let a lack of fancy organizing tools or funds to purchase them delay you from getting started in restoring some order to your home. Visit my Organizing Outside the Box board on Pinterest to get more ideas for using everyday objects instead. If, after that, you still need to acquire something to get the job done, don’t overlook your local neighborhood giveaway groups, yard sales, thrift shops and dollar stores as viable sources. Remember, you probably won't be giving your guests a tour of your drawers and closets, so save your money for decorating the areas they are more likely to notice.
Next week, I’ll share some of my favorite easy peasy and economical DIY tools for creating more space and order in your home. Until then, keep it easy peasy!
A Few of My Favorite Things
One of the most common questions I get is “What organizing tools should I buy to get started?” My answer is simple: “Nothing!”
You don't have to spend a lot of money getting organized. While it may be tempting to purchase cute canisters for your pantry or boutique baskets for your closet, it is wiser to spend your decorating dollars on the spaces your guests will actually see than on organizing the stuff that's kept hidden behind closed doors. And contrary to popular belief, all those cute bins and cool gadgets from The Container Store don’t come with a lifetime supply of magic fairy dust that will automatically transform your home into an orderly oasis. Not to mention that going on a pre-organizing shopping spree, while a fun way to procrastinate on actually tackling your project, can end up becoming overwhelming and wind up adding to your problem of having too much stuff. The good news is that you are likely already surrounded by the best, most versatile tools on the market...you just don’t realize it! And all these items are easily adaptable if/when your needs change, unlike that task-specific gadget you paid too much for at your favorite home goods store.
December is Top Tips Month here at EasyPeasy Living, and this week I'm sharing 16 of my favorite things...ordinary, everyday objects most people already have lying around the house that, with a little creativity, you can transform into extraordinary tools for staying organized or just making life a little easy peasier. Be sure to follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook and Instagram, where I’ll be sharing my top five most favorite favorites in the coming week. I may not have a magic wand, but these little gems are the next best thing.
First a word of caution: resist the temptation to hoard any of these. Most will be in pretty constant supply, so you can afford to wait until you have a specific need to begin collecting.
OK, here we go!
I recently saw a picture of a wedding gown made from 10,000 plastic bread bag clips. That may be a bit extreme, but there are lots of practical uses for these little plastic doohickies:
I love lighting candles to cozy up my home on long winter nights! From October through March, I enjoy snuggling up in front of their warm glow each evening. My favorites are the jar candles because they are less messy, keep their shape, and - best of all - the glass jars can be cleaned out and re-purposed to store all manner of things once the candle inside has burned itself out. Jar candles come in so many shapes and sizes, so the storage opportunities are endless. You can even fill them with something wonderful and gift them! Some of my favorite things to store in them:
Contact Lens Cases
Do you get a new case every time you buy solution? Don’t throw the old one out! These miniature lidded containers yield super-sized space savings and convenience, especially when travelling. Tuck them into your purse, backpack, fanny pack, suitcase or camping gear. Here are just a few of the many things you can store in them:
“Disposable” Food Storage Containers (such as Take-Along or Ziploc containers):
Closet and cabinet organizing is all about function and how to fit, find and access what you need as efficiently as possible. That's why I love these inexpensive containers for storing everything from pretzels to pencils. They come in varying sizes and are transparent, airtight, versatile, stackable and easily labeled. Best of all, you can pick up as many as you need for next to nothing and easily find them at most stores that sell housewares or groceries. Or just go "shopping" in your recycle bin.
Keeping small items organized can be a challenge. I love it when a gift or purchase comes packaged in a box with dividers, but you can also purchase plastic divided boxes at most craft stores or home goods stores that are stackable and easily transportable. Here are just a few ideas of things to store in them:
Life changes fast. Sometimes you need a low-tech communication device that travels well and can change right along with it. The dry erase marker isn't just for white boards, my friends!
Both the open-ended, soft kind or the hard, hinged eyeglass cases make great storage receptacles for so many objects inside your drawers, purse, backpack or suitcase. Here are just a few things you can store inside them:
One of the best ways to save space is to equip yourself with multi-taskers. Why buy and store a gazillion different toxic and expensive cleaners, stain removers, disinfectants, and whiteners when all you need is one bottle of this multi-purpose miracle? (Well okay, you should probably buy more than one bottle of it for all these uses.) Hydrogen peroxide has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-mold, anti-fungal and anti-mildew properties and is non-toxic and environmentally-friendly. And while it may be worth its weight in gold, it has a price tag you'll love almost as much as its versatility. Use it to:
Let's face it...we are all lazy about something. Embrace your laziness and make it work for you! These little turntables come in a variety of sizes. A few places they can help you spin into action instead of spinning your wheels include:
There's a reason our mothers and grandmothers kept a supply of these around! They’re economical, environmentally-friendly, reusable, versatile and inexpensive! Sold in most grocery or home goods stores by the dozen for about a buck per jar, they are a worthwhile investment. Or just befriend someone who likes to give homemade jam as gifts! Here are just some of the many ways you can use them around the house:
I always keep a stash of these on hand because they are so versatile. In addition to the obvious, use them for:
They say a picture paints a thousand words, but a picture frame can say a lot about how organized and creative you are! Try one of these ideas for putting yours to work for you:
Every well-stocked toolbox contains sandpaper, but you'll want to reserve a spot for it in other areas of your home when you see all its uses! Use it in your:
Shoe Pocket Organizers
With this little organizing trick in your pocket, you'll create storage space you never knew you had. Those transparent plastic or mesh shoe holders you hang on the back of your closet door are nothing less than a pocketful of miracles when it comes to maximizing on your vertical storage space! Here are just a few ideas for what to store in them:
So simple and low-tech, it's easy to overlook the power in their pinch! Next time you are near a dollar store, pick up a pack of those spring-loaded wooden clothespins. They will perform all kinds of little jobs around the house to make your life a little easy peasier. A few examples:
Maximize your vertical space with tension rods! No hardware or tools required to install these wherever you need to create storage.
And all these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg! Go on Pinterest or Google or just use your own imagination to find additional uses for each of these things. If you find a new one or have a favorite thing of your own, share it with me before December 27 for a chance to win a copy of James Clear’s bestselling book, Atomic Habits. (To learn more about entering the 2020 Top Tips Contest, visit www.easypeasyliving.com/news.)
With a few of my favorite things, getting organized without any fancy organizing tools will be easy peasy!
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The True Cost of Keeping
Several years ago, a neighbor friend of mine who knew that my husband and I wanted to get in shape offered us--FREE--a treadmill that had been sitting idle for some time in her basement. We were ecstatic! That treadmill was just what we needed to transform ourselves from couch potatoes to svelte beach bodies by the time bathing suit season rolled around (well okay...give or take 50 pounds). Best of all, the price fit right into our meager (read: nonexistent) budget. We’d have to be crazy to say no to that...right?
While impulse purchases are a real thing, most of us actually do weigh the cost vs. benefit before we acquire something new. Thus, something free + something we want = YES! So why are our closets and garages so crammed full of stuff we never use? Clearly, we are miscalculating something. Perhaps we're leaving something out of the equation. I propose the correct formula should be:
Financial cost + Space cost + Convenience cost + Opportunity cost = True Cost
Most of us don’t see past the money and never even think about the last three components of this equation, probably because they are difficult to quantify. But omitting them from the equation altogether is how we wind up feeling disorganized, frustrated and suffocated by all our stuff. Let’s take a closer look:
This is usually the primary and often the only cost we consider when deciding whether or not to acquire something new. If you want proof, look no further than the ridiculously long checkout lines at your local Dollar Tree. How many times have you bought something just because it was “such a great deal”? And note that I keep using the word "acquire". That's because considering the cost of something applies even to--especially to--items for which we paid no money at all. Interestingly, the more money we pay for something, the less willing we are to part with it once we realize it was a poor purchase. And the longer we keep it in some vain attempt to “get our money’s worth” out of it, the more it ends up costing us...in space, in convenience, and in opportunity. As my husband and I would eventually discover, that $0 treadmill was most certainly not free, after all.
Ah space…the final frontier! Most people completely underestimate the value of empty space. We see it as something to be consumed instead of recognizing the important role it plays in keeping us organized and sane. Every single item you own--from vegetable peeler to king-sized bed--costs you valuable space. Like money (and cake), you cannot keep (have) it and spend (eat) it too. Overspending your space--or cramming as many objects into your empty spaces as you can--leads to clutter, visual noise, stress, and sometimes even guilt. The more spacious your environment, the easier it is to maintain and control. Purging items you no longer need/use makes it infinitely easier to see, access and keep organized the things you do. That “free” treadmill ended up costing us significant space in our small basement.
Life gets really inconvenient when you lack space. If you’ve ever watched one of those hoarder shows, you’ll be struck by how much more effort it takes them just to accomplish everyday tasks like cooking a meal or taking a shower. When your access to the items you need is restricted, it takes more time, energy and effort just to get them out and use them...much less to put them away again when you're done. Pretty soon, you stop bothering to put things away at all. This leads to clutter, chaos, frustration and a sense of defeat as you either lose items or they continually get in your way.
Also, the more stuff you accumulate, the less visible everything becomes. If you can’t see what you have, you’ll either buy it again or you won’t use it at all. So why are you keeping it? And owning too many belongings makes you less nimble...the sheer inconvenience of moving all that excess stuff out of the way in order to make home improvements or repairs can lead to procrastination, sometimes causing or worsening damage and costing even more money in the long run. Before you know it, you’ve increased the financial cost of ownership well beyond your initial investment.
Remember our treadmill? Well, we had to sacrifice some of the space we had been using for sorting and folding laundry just to make room for it. This made doing the laundry an even bigger chore than usual. Laundry baskets often ended up stacked up on the treadmill because there was no place else to put them. Talk about a motivation killer! If you think I’m going to do laundry first just so that I can exercise, think again! In my book, Exercise + Laundry = Forget it! The convenience cost of that treadmill in doing laundry was huge, not to mention that actually being able to use the treadmill itself was so inconvenient, it ended up just sitting there collecting dust for months. So why keep it? Good question!
What are you missing out on because you’ve acquired too much stuff? If you had just said NO to some of those “great deals” would you have had the money to go on a weekend getaway with your sweetie? If you could've just made do with fewer kitchen gadgets, might you have more space to share your love of cooking with your grandchildren? If you cleared all the “some day maybe” stuff you paid good money for out of the guest room closet, would you be more likely to entertain overnight guests?
It was summer when we said yes to that treadmill, so we forgot that the only spot we had available to put it in is where we normally put our Christmas tree...right across from the fireplace, next to the big recliner where my husband reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids every Christmas Eve before bed. There was no room for our tree in the basement that year. No enjoying the beautiful lights by the warm glow of the fire. That treadmill ended up costing us a valued family tradition that Christmas, and it was truly a bummer.
The good news is that you can mitigate the costs of the things you own if you just ask yourself a few simple questions before you acquire anything new:
We’ve all made mistakes in saying yes when we should have said no, but that doesn't mean you have to keep paying the price for your error. That treadmill? We gave it back to our neighbor and joined the gym instead. You see, we concluded that the financial cost of a gym membership was worth what we would save in space, convenience and opportunity. Don’t let what you paid (or didn’t pay) for something interfere with righting what's wrong.
With a little honest contemplation about the true costs of ownership, even saying no to a blowout sale can be easy peasy!
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Doubling Down on Multi-Taskers
When it comes to saving space - and money - nothing beats the power of multi-taskers. Getting in the habit of investing only in items that serve a double-duty function can yield some big dividends when it comes to creating more space in your home.
So what does this look like? Well, consider the many areas of your life where you can get double the usefulness objects:
The key is to get into the habit of brainstorming how you can use your belongings in more ways than one. Before you buy something new, look around to see if you already have something else that will fulfill your need. You'll be surprised how much space (and money!) you'll save...and trips to the donation dropoff too.
With a little creativity and a few multi-taskers, even creating more space in your home will be easy peasy.
An average American family of four spends between $146 and $289 per week on groceries, according to the USDA. That's an annual investment of at least $7500, and possibly as much as $15,000+!
Where you fall within that range depends, of course, on where you shop and what you buy, but it also has a lot to do with how much food you waste. With a little planning and effort, you can save significant money on your grocery bill each year without ever clipping a coupon or hoarding cans from a warehouse store. I call it my 4S approach: Strategize, Shop, Safeguard, and Substitute.
Strategize - Planning out your meals each week will not only save you time but also money. You'll be less likely to resort to expensive takeout or prepared foods if you've got a strategy in place for what to make for dinner. With minimal effort, you can plan your menu around ingredients you already have on hand and not only reduce waste but shorten your shopping list. Pull double-duty on the items you buy to get even more bang for your buck. For example, if you're buying a head of cabbage to make coleslaw, why not plan to make stir-fry that same week and use up the rest of it before it goes bad?
Shop - Creating a shopping list will save you trips to the store for forgotten items, as well as time in the store once you're there. You'll also avoid over-spending on impulse purchases. Build your list as you plan your weekly menu to be sure you have everything you need on hand, and add only what you need for other meals. Take stock of what's already in your fridge and pantry so that you don't duplicate or overbuy. Nothing breeds waste like buying more produce than you'll be able to use before it goes bad. Don't fall victim to deals that aren't really deals. Regardless of the price, if you weren't already planning to buy it, it's not really a deal!
Safeguard - Preserving your perishables until you are able to use them is one of the best ways to lower your bottom line at the grocery store. Instead of allowing excess meat or produce to spoil, prolong its life so you can use it another day by cooking, freezing, or canning it before it goes bad. Peel and freeze overripe bananas for later use in bread or muffins. Microwave and mash extra sweet potatoes for baking. Cut bread ends into cubes and freeze for later use as croutons or breadcrumbs. Protect your produce from premature spoilage with proper cleaning and storage.
Substitute - Switching up ingredients in your favorite recipes to use up what you already have on hand can also save you bucks at the store. Use up that extra yogurt no one wants in place of milk for your muffin recipe or toss that leftover half bag of frozen green beans into your casserole instead of making a separate green vegetable. Get in the habit of freezing your "throwaways" to use as substitutions later. For example, freeze the juice you drained from your can of tomatoes and use that instead of buying tomato juice for a recipe. Use some crushed up cornflakes to coat your fried chicken instead of buying breading.
Look for more outside-the-box ideas for using up what you already have to save you money.
Whether you spend your savings on a special dinner out or some nice wine to go with your home-cooked gourmet meal, the 4S approach will have you laughing all the way to the bank!
Protect Your Edible Investment
Have I mentioned how much I hate grocery shopping? The crowds. The lines. The screaming kids (usually my own). The screaming moms (usually me). The reckless cart drivers. The prices. The physical labor. The MATH! …
Fortunately for my hungry family, I love to eat more than I hate to grocery shop, so I do it anyway. However, I’m not willing to suffer this torture more than once/week if I can help it and, by golly, it’s gotta be worth the effort. This means wasting as little as possible of what I buy. I’m not lugging all that stuff home just to feed the fruit flies or to let it rot in the fridge!
Besides, have you seen the price of fresh produce recently? Eating healthy requires a significant investment of both time and money (neither of which I have in abundance), and protecting that investment is key to successful consumption (something I enjoy). Otherwise, you may as well just throw those apples in the trash as soon as you get home. Let’s face it, work is work…whether you pick those apples from the orchard yourself or pick through them in the produce aisle. And I, for one, want to do as little of that as I can get away with.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of extra time or effort to lengthen the life of your produce. You’ll not only make up that time (with interest) later, but you’ll be more likely to actually eat all the yummy, healthy goodies you lugged home. As soon as you get home, wash and dry your lettuce, fresh herbs, “bowl fruit” (apples, oranges, etc.), grapes and berries before putting them away. They’ll be ready to eat/prepare when you want them, last longer and look more inviting.
If you have the time, go ahead and bag up individual portions of fruits and veggies before putting them away so that you or your family members can grab a healthy snack any time. I find that non-organic cut bell peppers, celery, carrots, and cucumbers will stay fresh for up to a week if stored properly in the fridge. This saves me oodles of time on lunch preparation throughout the week, because I can bag it up as soon as I get home from the store and then just toss it into the lunch boxes each morning. (If you shop organic, the shelf life may be shorter, so you’ll have to figure out what works best.) One cutting board + one knife + one time washing them and putting them away = three reasons for this busy/lazy mom to smile.
Just to be clear, I don’t wash everything before I put it away…just the things I’ve found make a difference. Here are a few tips that have worked well for me:
How Balanced Is Your Budget?
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 spatial budget just to stretch your financial or time budgets. Find a balance of all three.
How do you balance your financial, time and spatial 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.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.