Saturday, April 30, 2016

Thinking Outside the Box : Money Thoughts

I do not feel like I am an expert on talking about money and all the ways to be frugal or wise when it comes to spending. I feel as if this has been something that I have continually had to tweak and test out. I feel as if I am still a beginner, and the idea of even blogging about such a subject seems irrelevant coming from someone like me. However, when I truly and honestly think about it, being careful with saving and spending, and being smart about money, has been such a common theme in my life for so very long that it almost seems weird to not spend a day chatting about it.

I find that without even fully realizing about it, my little family and I have continually had to make finances and saving a priority simply for survival sake. I got married young and my husband was in progress of gaining his Education degree at the time. Figuring out student loans, how much groceries we needed on top of rent, the amount of money we needed to have coming in vs going out - this was our normal. We had to be careful with what we were spending our money on. We had to be wise about the amount that we placed on our credit card. Some years were easy, and some were hard. Sometimes mistakes were made and we had to adjust or tweak things so that they could work better for us.

Over the years things changed. Degrees. Jobs. Cities. Our little Lovebug entered into the world. Regardless of it all, we continually needed to figure out what worked best for us when it came to saving our money. Whether student loans, rent, groceries, a nice vacation, a new baby - whatever the year brought us - we had to ask the questions of what needed to be done and how we could make it work for us specifically.

Financial responsibility was a huge learning experience for me and it still is. I still continually need to tweak and figure out works best for us. Sometimes its a chore and sometimes I feel like its more of a game. We play the game of balance: what can we do to save here so that we can spend there. We weigh our options, we test the waters, we dive in. Sometimes our plans fail, and sometimes they thrive.

When I came across Credit Card Insider, I was challenged to write about my tips to save money. Credit Card Insider is an educational website that helps people understand credit scores and what credit card is right with them. Today I wanted to share with you some of the ways that we save our money. I am still not an expert, but there are little things that I do that save us money and that make me happy all at the same time. Now seems like the time where a bunch of my friends are talking about taking vacations or buying a new home, I feel like the topic of money is on everyone's mind. They are talking about financial plans, ways they can be frugal and fruitful, and ways that they can clean up some of their spending habits in hopes that the money can go towards something else. I know that these tips have worked with me over the past and that is why I wanted to share them with you. They are the ways that encourage me to grow more, to try out new things, to expand and be the frugal woman that I want to be for our family.

The 5 Ways We Save Money:
1. Meal Planning : I have a love/hate relationship with meal planning. Some weeks I feel inspired and I love to sit down with my recipe books or Pinterest and plan out all of my meals. We have a weekly grocery budget that we have figured out works best for us, and knowing that figure has helped me immensely when it comes to my meal plans. I try to familiar myself with the groceries that we bring into our home regularly so that when it comes to plan, I know if we can afford chicken or beef depending on what is on that list for the week. Now, there are weeks that I absolutely hate this tip. Sometimes I just cannot think of what to make or what I want to eat, I have no inspiration at all. Those are the weeks that we spend way too much money on food, where produce goes to waste, and when we don't eat very many healthy meals - or worse we get takeaway. From experience I know this, and that is why I try to take meal planning seriously.
2. Making Coffee At Home : my husband and I are huge fans of coffee. I love dark roast coffee, caramel lattes, mochas - basically anything with caffeine in it. Unfortunately, the downside to this love of ours is that, depending on what we order and how often we order, it can be expensive. For my birthday a couple of years ago, my husband bought me a little espresso machine. Now, I know what you are thinking - I thought you were talking about ways to save money, not spend it. This is where that game comes in that I was telling you about. My husband took a chance and gifted me something that, not only did he think that I would love and use all the time, but that he also hoped could help us save some of our coffee by making the coffee at home rather than buying it. There are months where I use this machine daily, usually as we are trying to save up for something special; and then there are times when I won't use it for weeks. I love that this little machine can help in such a big way when we need it to.

When we decide to make a coffee drink at home, I will write down the amount (ish) that I believe it would cost if we were to buy it, and we contribute that amount to our savings. I keep a book or a list on my computer and I add in all of the entries. I can use this tool for anything that we are saving our money on (think carpool, choosing to eat at home rather than the splurge of fast-food, getting something from a garage sale instead of new . etc)
3. Being Creative At Home : Having a little toddler in my home makes me the happiest. I have always wanted to be a mom, and as she has grown from baby to almost 2 1/2 years old, I am still struggling with ideas on how to keep up with her. She is busy, she is smart, she loves to learn and play. Luckily, having a toddler is very cheap when it comes to daily activities and things she likes to do. One of my favourite things to do is find a new activity for her to do. Whether she is playing with bubbles, making pretend food in her kitchen, or drawing on a box - she loves to explore different elements and learn as she goes.

One of our decisions this year was to get rid of Netflix. It was just something that was becoming too much of a daily habit, so we made the choice of getting rid of it in hopes that we could find more creative ways to spend our time. This challenged us to think outside of the box, to find ways around us that inspired or encouraged us. As a family we have been drawing more, playing with lego more, doing more puzzles, and reading way more than we did before. I don't want to say that Netflix was keeping us from doing all of these things, I honestly just think that the act of cancelling it helped our eyes see all of the potential that was around us. There are so many ways to have fun and be creative in our home.

Another thing that my husband and I do is a "home date." It is an evening where we will just spend time together playing a game, talking, reading side by side, or even making popcorn and watching a movie. This was another challenge that we started when we have had to save money, and it kind of just stuck with us. My husband and I can have so much fun together being in our house, spending time together without needing to go out on the town.  I love the creativity that comes from our home dates and I especially love that we can do things as a family together without it costing us anything at all.
4. Exploring Our City : Sometimes we do need to get out of the house. My family loves to travel. We appreciate nature, love to camp, love road trips, and really enjoy exploring the world together. However, depending on destination, time, and finances, sometimes we do not get out as much as we want to. I remember last year my husband and I talked about all of the camping we wanted to do in the mountains as well as the couple of vacations we wanted to take. He was still in school so we needed to figure out a way to make this work. Without getting into too much detail, almost none of our plans happened, we only managed to get out to camp twice. It was devastating and almost seemed like a "waste" of our beautiful summer weather.

This year, I have challenged our little family to explore the city in which we live. It is definitely not near mountains or an ocean, but the concept that I ultimately want to learn is that we can still have fun, still explore, still be immersed in nature without needing to travel miles away. We don't need to spend money on hotel rooms or camp grounds. We can walk around our neighbourhood, explore the river valley, find treasures in gardens, and laugh in parks.

I was angry last summer because I felt like we didn't do much of anything. This year I would love to see all that our city has to offer, and if that also means that we are saving money by staying close to home, how excellent that sounds.
5. Thinking Outside of the Box : I grew up in a very crafty home. My father was a woodworker and my mother quilted, knitted, and made wreaths (among many, many other things). I am a knitter, I press or dry flowers, sometimes I sew. The idea of making and crafting has always been a significant part of my life and I find great joy in it. Because of that love, I enjoy finding ways that I can make a little extra income for my family. Whether it be for that something we are saving for, to pay off credit cards, or to enjoy some fun money,  I do love it when my crafts can play a role in this. I enjoy selling my knitted goods in craft sales, I love making items for friends for Christmas, I enjoy thinking outside of the box.

I also had the absolute privilege of watching my friend's son. She needed someone to watch him so that she could go back to work, and I thought, 'why not me?' It was so nice knowing that I could help her out, that the little boy could help me out by playing with my little girl, and that I was bringing it a little bit of cash to help my family out.
I really hope you enjoyed these little tips that we use to save our money. There are so many things that can be done in order to help financially, to help reach a goal such as vacation or paying off credit cards. These were just a few of my favourites. This was a very fun post to write and it has ignited my passion on ways that we can be even more responsible with our money. I would absolutely love to hear about some of the ways that you save your money, feel free to leave your tips, suggestions, and thoughts in the comments below. xo

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