30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Babysitting

Day 8

When I was a teenager, I think the most I charged for babysitting was somewhere between $4 and $5 per hour.  Times have sure changed, haven’t they?  The “going rate” in our area is at least $10 per hour.  Kinda makes you think twice about going out on a date, doesn’t it?

Now, I realize that if you have family nearby who provide babysitting for you, you’re probably set.  In our case, the nearest relatives who could watch our children live 4 hours away, so we’ve had to get creative!

The following ideas for saving on babysitting will fall under #10 in our series:

a) Find another family with kids and swap babysitting for date nights.

I’m sure there are other families in your church or community that would love to save on the cost of babysitting, as well. Why not talk with them and put two dates on the calendar: one date night for them in which you will watch their children, and one date night for you!

b) Offer some meals to a college student in exchange for babysitting.

If you have college students in your church or community who are living away from home on campus, you might find that they would be grateful for a home-cooked meal or two in exchange for babysitting every now and then.

c) Offer to walk a dog for someone from your church or neighborhood in exchange for babysitting.

Now that I have a dog, I realize just how much work they are!  A pet owner who works all day might jump at the chance to watch your children a couple times a month in exchange for you walking their dog or letting him out once during the day.

Be creative!


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Be sure to check out my previous posts on eating out, family fun, haircuts, and gift-giving.



30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Gifts

Day Seven

Gifts are on my mind today.  My husband and I both come from large families: I am the oldest of eight, and my husband is the oldest of four.  So far there are three spouses and only two nephews in the family, but we trust that those numbers will greatly increase in the years to come!  In addition to our immediate families, we both have very large extended families.  This month alone there are six birthdays in our immediate families!  Birthdays are wonderful, but can also quickly turn into a large expense category.  I will confess that this one is a bit difficult for me, because I love to give gifts.  In fact, I would just love it if I had a large, separate stash of cash designated only for gift-giving!  Ahhh… Well, reality requires that I get creative in this category so that I can still have the joy of giving.

Here are a few ways that I have learned to cut the cost of this fun, but potentially costly expense category:

8) Determine who, in addition to your immediate family, will receive birthday and Christmas gifts and set a limit on the amount you will spend.  Also, set aside money for Christmas gifts throughout the year.

Most banks offer Christmas savings accounts to help you prepare for the extra expense that Christmas can bring.  If you decide not to go this route, I would still recommend setting a small amount of money aside each month if you are a Christmas gift-giver!  No need for those expenses to be spread out over two or three months when they could be spread over twelve months.

I do have a set limit for the birthday presents I give, and if I hit a sale that enables me to purchase something less expensively for the value limit I have set, I let my budget enjoy the savings.

Give gifts of service. When my husband was in grad school and finances were especially tight, I gave him the birthday gift of  a fun little hand-made coupon book with all kinds of coupons for things I knew he would enjoy: his choice of a favorite homemade meal, a back massage, etc.  This is just one idea, but the homemade gift possibilities are endless.

Now that we have children, we often give the gift of pictures.  Target and Walmart have awesome deals for professional photos.  You could spend $7.99 on an entire package (don’t buy any extras) and have picture gifts for the entire family!

Give joint gifts.  This works well at Christmas.

9) Consider shopping at a dollar store for cards.

As much as I love cards, I am absolutely mortified at their cost! When my husband and I married, I quickly learned that cards were a big deal in his family.  I was amazed when even very small holidays would bring several cards in the mail.  Yikes!  I wondered how I would be able to keep up with the expense of cards.  One day when I was in Dollar Tree, I took a look at their cards and was amazed: they weren’t Hallmark, but there were some very nice cards to be had for only $0.50 each!  I couldn’t believe it as I walked out with all the cards I needed for the entire quarter (15) and I had spent only $7.50!  I could have easily spent that on 2 cards elsewhere!

Now, I will admit that Dollar Tree has fallen short on a number of occasions.  For instance, their “aunt” or “uncle” or “great-grandparent” selection sometimes leaves much to be desired.  Look for dollar cards at Walmart or Target: they can often be found in most card sections.  Also, look for sales on cards.  Rite Aid just had a wonderful coupon in their paper last week: $3 off 3 American Greeting cards. I had two of those coupons and a $3 off $15 that enabled me to get six very nice cards for $14.  That’s just over $2/ card, and for the cards I bought, this was quite a nice deal!

Of course you can make your own cards, as well.  I have done this on occasion (especially with a toddler…their homemade cards are priceless!).  I have an aunt who makes the most exquisite cards.  I’m sure there is some expense involved in cards like that, but it must be considerably less than the $4.99 you can easily spend on a card in the store.


What creative ways have you found to cut the cost of gifts or cards?  Leave a comment below!

Be sure to check out my previous posts on eating out, family fun, and haircuts.


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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Haircuts

Before I jump into today’s topic, I want to mention something quickly.  It is possible to see a major decrease in many of your spending categories each month, but, no sense in beating around the bush about it, you’re going to need to invest a bit of time in planning and research to make it happen. If you have read my Couponing 101 series, you will know that I save 50-80% on our groceries each month, but it requires a reasonable amount of planning and preparation to make this possible!  I have decided that the time I spend is totally worth it for the amount of money I save.

As I talk about the expense of haircuts today, I want to acknowledge that I’m sure many of you have a preferred stylist who knows you and gives you the exact haircut you want at every visit.  You may pay quite a bit for it, but it’s something you’ve decided to allow in your budget.  If that’s you…fine, you can still save with today’s first tip!

If you’re anything like me, you may only get your hair cut a few times a year, but I know that some of you maintain a “do” that requires frequent upkeep.  How much do you spend each time you walk into the salon?

We’re up to number 6 in our “30 Ways” series, so here are a few ways to “cut” your costs when it comes to haircuts:

6) Let your salon collect your info (or sign up for a frequency card) and you will receive coupons in the mail and be notified of any special promotions.  You will also receive a free haircut after a certain number of cuts.

7) Learn to cut hair yourself!  Years ago I attended a basic and advanced hair cutting class at a cosmetology school and learned enough to be able to cut my husband and sons’ hair (just did them today!). Maybe this isn’t your thing, but maybe it is!  Attend a class or get a book from the library.  I figure that I save our family $300+ a year by doing the haircuts myself.

Today I did a bit of research and spoke with two very nice gals at Great Clips and Supercuts.  I have been to both places and had good experiences each time.  Here are some ways to save with these folks:

Great Clips

adults: $13

children and seniors: $11

Occasional sale: $6.99 haircuts

Coupons available on Greatclips.com, occasionally in Red Plum, and in the mail (if you give them your address).  They keep track of your haircuts in their system, and every 11th cut is FREE!


adults: $16.95 ($20.95 shampoo and cut)

Register with Supercuts.com and receive discounts and reminders.  Also look for coupons in the Penny Saver and Val Pack.  Sign up for a frequency card and every 13th cut is FREE!  Check in-store for monthly 20% off promos on hair products.

If you go to a more pricey salon and your heart is set on staying with them, make sure you take advantage of their sales, coupons, frequency cards, promotions, etc., to get the best price possible.  Also keep an eye out for salon deals on daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social.


What ways have you found to “cut” your family’s haircut costs?  Leave a comment below!

Be sure to check out my previous posts on eating out and family fun.


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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Family Fun

Day Five

Yesterday we talked about ways to cut costs when eating out, and today I would like to discuss a similar spending category: family fun and activities.   I believe it is incredibly important to spend time as a family doing fun, active, and educational activities, but I don’t think you have to spend a lot of money to do them!  In fact, you can live “extravagantly” in this category without spending a cent!  Here are some more ways to cut your cost of living (we’re on number four, right?):

4) Go to museums on free days.

This is so cool: Target has a program called Arts and Culture in which they sponsor free days (or dirt-cheap admission) to museums and similar venues.  Check out their website to see what’s going on in your city!

The Smithsonian will be sponsoring  a free museum day to many museums around the county on September 24,2011.  The list of this year’s museums is not available until June, but you can see a list of last year’s museums HERE.

If you are a Bank of America credit or debit card holder, you have weekend access to 150 museums around the country! Check it out HERE.

US National Parks offer free entrance days on specific holidays throughout the year.  See a list of free entrance dates HERE.


Another tip: Many museums and parks offer free days, some once a week, some less frequently, but all it takes is a call or glance at their website to learn this information.  You can also try searching for the phrase “Free Museum Days [your city’s name]” in Google and you might be surprised what comes up!

Free Musical Events: If you enjoy classical music, there are no shortage of free events like pipe organ concerts in churches, recitals, and “music on the lawn” performances at local parks.  Keep an eye on the bulletin board at your local shopping center or library.  Also, you can do a Google search and include your city’s name in the search phrase.

Groupon, Living Social, and Eversave are a few daily deal sites that often post deeply discounted passes to concerts, museums, parks, memberships, and the like.


5) Rather than piling up toys, give children museum or park memberships for birthday or Christmas gifts.

We are currently on our third different “membership” since having children, and we love that we can run over to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum for a day anytime we want and let the boys play and explore in a wonderful environment.  In Georgia, we were given the Christmas gift of a family membership to Stone Mountain Park.  I can’t begin to count the number of times we enjoyed that membership, taking train rides around the mountain with our two-year old, watching fireworks and laser light shows, hiking, picnicking, and enjoying God’s creation.  For us, the visits were free every time!  Also in Georgia, we gave our son the gift of a a membership to the zoo, and we have tons of wonderful family memories from days spent there.

Family memberships to places like the ones I have mentioned can be costly, so I recommend calling ahead to find out if there are times during the year when discounted memberships are offered.  Grandparents might also enjoy giving a family fun-packed gift like this!


What ways have you found to cut your family fun expenses?  Leave a comment below!


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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Eating Out

Day Four

In yesterday’s post, we began to look at the money that could be saved by cutting back on eating out.  Did you feel motivated by the thought of saving $100-$200 or more in this category alone?  That money could go into savings or be applied to your car loan or mortgage!

Now, I will be the first to admit that there are times when it is nice to be able to eat out.  Let’s talk about a third way to cut the cost of living:

3) Don’t pay full price when you eat out.  Here are some ideas to get you going:

  • Use Restaurant.com.  This company sells $25 and $50 gift certificates to lots of restaurants in your area for $10-$15 each.  But…there are always promotions that will allow you to purchase the certificates for anywhere from 50-80% off, meaning that you can often purchase a $25 gift certificate for only $2! Through 4/4/11 the promo code is EAT and gives you 50% off certificates.  This is one of the very best ways to dramatically cut your restaurant bill.  Groupon and Living Social usually have daily deals for deeply discounted restaurant certificates as well, like $25 for $50 at _______ restaurant.
  • Eat at an establishment that will not require you to tip a server.  I love Chipotle, Quiznos, Boston Market, Qdoba, Noodles and Co. and others for this reason.
  • Drink water!  You can save 10-15% or more on your bill by drinking water.  Ask for lemon…yum…
  • Sign up for birthday or loyalty clubs with your favorite restaurants. A friend was recently telling me about how she always has a coupon for $8 off whenever she eats at TGI Fridays, thanks to the special offers available when you sign up on their website. (Be sure to check out my birthday freebies page for a long list of birthday restaurant deals!)
  • Check the websites and Facebook pages of your favorite restaurants for coupons.
  • Giant Eagle shoppers: Buy gift cards to your favorite restaurants at Giant Eagle and earn extra fuel perks!

Quizno’s $2.99 for small sub and cookie

Chili’s FREE chips and queso

Be sure to check your Groupon page for restaurant deals, too!


What ways have you found to cut your restaurant bill?  Leave a comment below!


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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living, Part 3

Day Three

If I were asked to give a thesis for this series, it would be as follows: In order to cut your cost of living, you need to have and follow a plan.

You’ll start to see what I’m talking about in today’s post.

If you’ve been following this series for the past two days, hopefully you have filled out the Monthly Expense List and highlighted your negotiable expenses. Since I want you to see an immediate reduction in your monthly expenses, I’m going to start with one of the most obviously negotiable expense categories: eating out.  You probably guessed that I would start there, didn’t you?

I mentioned the other day that my husband and I just finished our debt snowball (minus the mortgage).  While we were working to pay off our debt, I allowed us only $30 a month for eating out.  (Crazy, eh?)  This basically covered the days when my husband was home and we would find ouselves still out running errands during lunch and we would need to pick up a sandwich or something.  This is a MAJOR cut-back, but it’s possible to manage if you are willing to have a meal plan.  When you don’t have a plan, 5 o’clock hits and you find yourself needing to pay full-price for a ready-made meal at the grocery store, pick up a pizza, or just go out to eat.

How much did you determine that you spend each month on eating out?  If you add up all the trips to Panera, McDonalds, Chipotle, Qdoba, Starbucks, Einstein’s Bagels, Outback, etc., I wouldn’t be surprised if the total is upwards of $300.  With careful planning and a set budget for eating out, you could save $175-$250 a month or more in this category alone! Phew!

The other night we were home eating a meal I had prepared which consisted of some modest but nicely marinated cuts of meat, steamed broccoli, and a salad.  I realized that the whole meal had cost me just under $4-TOTAL! Had we been eating that same meal out, we could have easily spent $40-$45 with tax and tip for the three of us.  That’s a savings of 90%!

So, here are the first two ways to cut your monthly expenses:

1) Have a meal plan.

2) Set a modest eat-out budget.

Simple, right?  Well, it really is, but it is going to require a bit of planning and stick-to-it-ivity. 🙂


Tomorrow we will discuss some cool ways to save when eating out.  Don’t miss it! Subscribe for my daily updates.



30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living, Part 2

Day Two


Today has been a very busy day for our family!  We’ve been out getting a great deal on a wonderful dog from the animal shelter!  I’ll tell you about our new-to-us-dog in another post. =)

As promised, I will be giving you 30 ways to cut your cost of living as we move through this series.  These first few days I am laying the groundwork for the remainder of our work, so please hang in there with me!

Did you complete the assignment I gave you yesterday?  If so, then you have at least a rough list of all your monthly expenses.  If you haven’t completed it yet, it’s not too late…take a minute and fill out the Monthly Expense List now.  Then move on to the next step:


Assignment TWO

Using your Monthly Expense List, highlight every negotiable expense.



What do you mean by negotiable? I’m glad you asked.  For our purposes, a negotiable expense is an expense that:

a) could be eliminated, if absolutely necessary


b) could be reduced

You don’t have to do anything else today except take a close, hard look at your list and truly contemplate which expenses are negotiable.  Just to get you  started, I’ll list a few of our family’s negotiable monthly expenses:

  • Groceries
  • Haircuts
  • Entertainment
  • Eat Out
  • Babysitting
  • Clothing


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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living, Part 1

Day One


Welcome to my new series, 30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living!

I’m guessing that, since you’re here, you are interested in exploring real possibilities and solutions for trimming or even slashing your monthly expenses.  Great!  That’s where our focus will be for the next 30 days!  Hang in there with me,  and I assure you that it will be worth the 2-3 minutes it takes to read the post each day.

My husband and I made the decision together that I would stay home with our two young sons, so finding ways to cut our own cost of living has been a necessary journey, but also a fun challenge.  The only proof I have to offer is that I’ve now been home for 8 months and we are living on my husband’s (ministry) income.  Did I mention that, praise be to God, we just finished paying off all our debt (except the mortgage) last week?

I plan to walk you, step by step, through the process we took as we evaluated our monthly expenses and found ways to live more frugally.  I won’t be sharing rocket science, by any means, but I hope you will find simple, practical advice that can quickly be applied for immediate results.

I never liked it when my college professors handed out an assignment on the first day of class.  Now I realize the urgency that they must have felt; we have a lot to cover in 30 short days!  So, let’s get going.


Assignment One

Print my Monthly Expense List, grab your checkbook register, credit card statement, and bills.  List all of your monthly expenses.


Okay, that’s it; not too bad, right?  Let me expound just a bit:

-If you use a credit card, list all the expenses you find on your monthly bill.

-List every expense you face, even if it only hits every other month, quarterly, or annually.

-Head over to your checking account, and list everything you spend money on…even if it’s Starbucks!

-If you get cash out of the ATM, think about how you spend it, and list those expenses, too.

-I want it ALL on your list, so be as thorough as possible.

Got your list? Great!  Bring it with you to our next meeting…tomorrow. =)


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New Series Coming April 1st: 30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living

Just thought I’d give you a heads up about a 30-day series I will be starting on April 1st; 30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living.

This series was borne out of the journey my husband I have taken to reduce our cost of living so that I can stay home with our two sons.   I’ll be sharing lots of practical tips to help you greatly reduce your cost of living.  Get ready for some soul-searching, a bit of homework, and a lot of savings!



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