I just received an email from my gas company regarding the increase in home gas prices for January 2023. The cause was attributed to a nationally unprecedented cold snap. The effect? An expectation for this month’s gas bill to double in price. During a time of inflation, this isn’t necessarily the news home owners want to receive for the new year. Here, I wish to share a few thoughts on how to lower the gas bill in your household.
First and foremost, I should acknowledge that not all these tips might apply to your particular situation. Take what you wish and leave the rest behind. We are lucky enough to live in Southern California, which avoids the frigid temps of winter. Ignore my call to keep the heat off. I don’t mean harm to anyone’s health! But perhaps alter the thermostat. Lowering a thermostat setting by 2 degrees will do wonders for your bill. This is because your home will lose heat at a slower rate when set to a lower temperature. If you continually heat your home to a higher temperature, it will lose heat at a faster rate due to a higher difference between interior and exterior temperature. Enjoy these simple savings tips!
How to Lower Gas Bill
Turn the thermostat down. Lower the heat setting to the lowest temperature you can tolerate. Heaters are the biggest gas guzzlers in the winter. Opt to cuddle under blankets for warmth. Bundle up in sweaters and fuzzy socks. Sidle next to cats, dogs, kids, or significant others. In a similar vein, hang out with all your family members in one room. The more body heat in a closed environment, the lower you can keep your thermostat. When I was young, my siblings and parents always spent evenings in the living room together – playing games, solving puzzles, reading books, or even watching a movie. It’s easier to warm a small space rather than a large one.
Turn the thermostat off when you are away. Of course this doesn’t apply if you have pets that need to stay warm. But if your thermostat is pre-set for a certain temperature and you don’t have pets, do not forget to turn it off when you step out, go to work, or go on vacation. A really easy way to do this is to get a thermostat that you can control with an app on your phone! We’ve owned the Google Nest and loved it!
Be mindful of the laundry. Only wash clothes when they really need washing. I am not embarrassed to share that I reuse pajama pants and sweaters throughout the week. Actually, I literally own one pair of pajama pants, which I wear only to bed, for the entirety of a week. It’s a habit my mom created and one that works well for my minimal lifestyle. And when you do run the washer, opt for the cold cycle when possible.
Hang dry clothes instead of using the dryer. Or at least do a combination. I get that clothes don’t feel the same when hang-dried. For people who aren’t used to the starchier feel of the fabric, I recommend half-drying clothes to save on gas. Set the timer for 15 minutes of drying time, to soften up the clothes, and then hang up to dry completely. This will save you so much money, as the dryer is probably the second source of gas usage in the home.
Skip the dryer setting on the dishwasher. We run our dishwasher every night, but open the door and pull out the racks to allow the dishes to air-dry. This saves electricity as well as gas! And in case you missed it, I have a long list of ways to save electricity here!
Utilize window treatments. Opening the blinds and drawing back the curtains during the day allows maximum sunlight to naturally heat up our homes. Likewise, in the evenings we draw in the curtains to reduce the amount of heat escaping our home. It also helps block out the chill from cold window panes.
Improve sealing around doors and windows. Making sure all doors and windows are properly treated with caulk will help to keep temperatures stable within a home. Caulking is an easy sealing process that you can do on your own! We just recently caulked a shower faucet after replacing it. The tube of sealer cost us less than $10!
Turn off kitchen and bath exhaust fans within 10 minutes of cooking or bathing. This will reduce the amount of warm air sucked out of your home.
Upgrade to an electric water heater. We have a tankless, electric water heater in the garage. Combined with the installation of solar panels, this can lead to huge savings!
Track your usage. Last but not least, track your gas usage. Log into your account and view how much you’ve used in the billing cycle thus far. Set a budget for gas usage and try to hit that goal! Be creative in how you do it, too.
I hope this list was useful to you. If saving money is one of your New Year’s Resolutions, sign up to learn how to set up a budgeting tool that works! My readers have found great success in reaching their savings goals by setting up a budget. This could be your year to do the same!
My sister and I grew up resourceful. Having less means than those around us, we’ve mastered the art of getting things for free. Not in any sort of illegal sense, but by inheriting from others who are better off and less grateful for what they own. I remember the joy we used to get collecting freebies from school events. I ended up marrying someone obsessed with optimizing freebies on his birthday. And in our friend group, I am known to accept hand-me-down clothes. Currently, fifty percent of my minimalist closet is made up of second-hand items gifted by gal pals. Truth be told, I once dug out perfectly good food (still packaged in plastic!) from the trash when my roommate threw out unwanted pantry items. Needless to say, scrappy sis and I try our best to buy nothing.
But the phrase “Buy Nothing” is not just an act of non-doing. It is a group title as well. And one I am proud to be part of. Joining a local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook is worth a try. A community formed around the act of giving is rare but lovely. To be on the receiving end inspires one to donate items in return. Having trust that the community will provide in the future is refreshing. Respite from the individualism we’ve cultivated in our modern world.
Prior to this year, we only had enough holiday ornaments to count on our fingers. They fit nicely into a child’s shoe box. However, two days ago, a kind neighbor donated 90% of our current ornaments via our Buy Nothing Group. I was so grateful to unveil the goods I stowed away in my frunk. Red and gold globes glittered back at me, as if to say Hullo. I didn’t mind that a few were missing hanging clips, as I have twine in the kitchen cupboard to makeshift a dangle out of.
The best thing about Buy Nothing is that it goes in-hand with waste nothing. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Well I’ve always treasured the unwanted and unpopular. Depending on your local Buy Nothing group, you may find a plethora of well-to-do items. We are lucky to live in such a neighborhood. I joke that it’s a way to off-set our HOA fees.
Equally as useful, it’s a place to give to others. Rehoming things is quite the task, especially if you have a penchant for reducing waste. I’ve sold items on Poshmark and Craiglist, but there are some things not worth selling. I refer to the time it takes to post, the gas it takes to pick up, and the hassle of arranging a meet-up. But the Buy Nothing Project gives me a space to give guilt-free. I just set it out on my porch for pick-up at whatever time is convenient for the receiver.
And for those who are in a pinch, throw a call out to the universe. Post with the title ISO (“in search of”) and hope that a friendly neighbor would answer back. I’ve seen moms ask for costume props or event decor with the promises of returning if the borrower so wishes. Ripe bananas for the taking have been snatched up by someone hoping to make bread. Left-over zucchini avoids meeting the garbage man. Used baby items and dog beds run amok.
Anywho, for someone who writes about saving money this holiday season, I thought this was worth a mention. By now, Buy Nothing has taken off and become popularized by many financial independents. Perhaps you’ll find a gently used toy for gifting to a child to a need. Or a new duvet cover to replace a tattered one for a college student. I just snagged some puzzles for the winter season, with the hopes of slowing it down. It’s on the advent calendar somewhere. For those looking for a frugal life hack, this is certainly one of the best.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Are you worried that inflation will cut into your holiday budget this year? Finances starting to feel tight as the end of the year draws near? That’s quite alright! Don’t let that be a damper on the holidays. There are many ways to make the holidays feel less consumerist (stressful?). As a frugal minimalist, I’ve pretty much gotten the holidays down pat. I created a list of ways to save money during the holidays, just for you! Some of these won’t be popular to all. But I hope you find one or two things that resonate.
Write a list. Not writing a list of people to gift to during the holidays is like not writing a list before grocery shopping. Sometimes, things end up in the proverbial cart, unplanned. Most likely, those things were emotional purchases. Use logic. List a lucky few you want to prioritize. Keep the list short. Not everyone needs a gift.
Offer a gift exchange. If you come from a huge family, offer the idea of a gift exchange. It is much more doable to buy a decent gift for one person rather than for twenty. And cost-efficient!
Create a no-gifting letter. Me and my sisters have created a no-gifting rule over the holidays. We used to buy each other gifts every year, until we turned thirty and realized we were only shuffling money around. It sounds kind of silly, going through the hassle of getting someone a $50 item just to receive a $50 item back. I stopped gifting my sister after she moved to Spain in 2020 upon her request and my immediate acquiesce. My SIL and I haven’t been exchanging gifts since 2018! Have a conversation with friends and family who have similar money and life goals as you. You may find that they don’t value gift-giving either. Or rather, they value other things more! If you’re having trouble, I did write a holiday no-gifting letter here that you can borrow. Plus a few tips on how to collect the courage.
Get rid of expectations. Holiday traditions are usually social constructs. Sometimes, it’s hard to ignore social expectations. Not everyone is as open to ditching tradition like your closest sibs are. But choosing to opt out of an office potluck or gift exchange could mean saving $50 for someone you prioritize more. Likewise, by simply reducing what you think it means to deliver an “acceptable” gift or contribution can mean saving precious dollars during this time. It may be emotionally difficult, but becomes surprisingly easier after a few tries. Think of it as reframing your actions to match your values. Where do your true priorities lie? By investing your hard-earned dollars on many mere acquaintances, you are taking away from those closest to you, too. Every yes is balanced by a no. Good reminders during this special time.
Make homemade gifts. I published a list of simple (mostly home-made) gift options before. Something as simple as baking pie or making cookies would do. If you’d like to get crafty, making wax candles, bars of soaps, or decadent essential oil blends would be appreciated.
Make consumable gifts. My husband and I love being in the kitchen and we will oft make jars of homemade sauces, gift baskets of pasta meals, or homemade syrups for coffee. For example, this orange simple syrup recipe is perfect for fancy Cafe Nicos. I have one girlfriend who makes candied almonds, toffee bars, and other sweets and ships them to our door. It’s a family tradition she’s been keeping for years, and they make a whole event out of it!
Shop second hand. Thrift stores aren’t as inexpensive as they once were. Nowadays, they could cost as much as buying brand new. But there are other ways to shop second hand. For example, we joined our local Buy Nothing Group. It’s a great way to acquire another man’s trash and turn it into my own treasure. If you love to scout, this may be a great version of online, second-hand shopping. And some people give away things with tags still on it! Young kids especially love any kind of toy. They’re just so happy to unwrap a box!
Gift free books from your Friends of the Library. We live in a community with lending libraries. I walk by it every day when I do my dog-walks (check out how I make $1k a month taking care of pets here). By checking in each time, I find random books of all genres, most of them very good. I’ve got a few bookworms in my life. So I package a few of the same genre to gift to my friends, along with a pouch of hot cocoa or bar of chocolate. I LOVE finding books they would want to read.
Use up old gift-cards. There was one year when I discovered that Mike had been hoarding gift cards. Not in any intentional way. He just didn’t want to shop at those particular stores. I nabbed them and spent them to buy other people gifts. Or when I was really lazy, I just re-gifted the gift cards! They were in a box collecting dust and we were able to declutter them, which was a win-win.
Gift based on love-language. I once wrote a post on how our enneagrams can determine our financial strengths. Likewise, our love languages affect the way we receive gifts. Thankfully, not everyone has the same love language. Some people like acts of service, so gift ideas would include babysitting their little ones while mom and dad have a date night or coming over to help gift-wrap. Other people’s love language are words of affirmation. A really well-written card that tells them what they mean to you is all they want for Christmas. For those who like quality time, perhaps puzzling at home or cooking a meal together will do. If your significant other loves physical touch, maybe a foot rub, facial or massage at home would be wonderful to them! And even if your person likes gifts, did you know that gift-lovers care more about the significance of the gift rather than the price tag? You can buy someone a diamond ring but if you let the concierge choose it or the recipient feels like you didn’t take their style into consideration, then it could mean very little, even though it cost a lot!
Say no to junk-for-junk gift exchanges. You know that White Elephant game? I almost never sign up for those! Only a lucky few walk away with something worthwhile. Most of the time, I call these junk-for-junk gift exchanges, especially when the price limit is set low. I try to avoid them or when I participate, I opt for the most practical gift. Last year, I fought for a pasta kit. I figured I might as well take home dinner!
Socialize selectively. This is a BIG one. When I first started my financial independence journey, I decluttered my friends. I realized that some of the people I hung out with still loved to party, or loved to shop and spend their money. I reprioritized my life to set myself up for who I wanted to be. And then I selectively said yes to certain gatherings, and said no to ones that did not add value. It was the best thing I ever did. I remember the days when I would bemoan, complain and physically dread certain events that I was only going to out of obligation. By being socially selective, I’ve eliminated stress, my sense of fakeness, and that which wasted my time. This holiday season, socialize selectively.
Be creative in your get-togethers. Get-togethers don’t have to be fancy. They also don’t have to be expensive. Be creative. Make dinners a potluck. Do a boardgame night. Or watch movies with popcorn. Play music like you’re in a band. Our friends and I love gathering for pizza or bowls of pasta, and playing video games on the Switch. The girls gab while the boys have the time of their lives. We also used to do Fantasy Football together on Sundays. Creating a league meant an excuse to eat food and gather at someone’s house on the weekends. For the holidays, be creative in your get-togethers.
Plan your get-togethers around something other than dinner. Hosting a dinner party for 12 can be quite expensive. If “potluck” isn’t an option for your circle, why not plan your get-together around a different time? Doing a breakfast gathering is simpler and cheaper than cooking an elaborate dinner. Breakfast gatherings are actually me and Mike’s favorite! We love to do coffee, bagels, donuts, pancakes, or waffles. A one-pan quiche is amazing! Bowls of fruit or a box of croissants really isn’t that difficult to get-together, and it’s affordable. Other ideas include an afternoon tea party with tiny sandwiches and cookies, a light cocktail mixer with appetizers, or a ‘fancy brunch’ with charcuterie and mimosas. Doing this can cut your grocery costs in half.
Cut costs elsewhere. One way we cut costs is by dining out less. Since we are already attending a number of gatherings and eating tons of heavy foods, we try to cook more dinners than normal and eat at home. Another place one can save is on entertainment. Skip the movie theatres and opt for a bit of family time instead. To be honest, we are usually exhausted from the social events this month. We relish any time to just stay in.
Opt for e-cards. This is the first year we are sending a few holiday cards by post with Basic Invite. But for the past five years, e-cards is really all we do. It’s convenient, efficient, and free.
Find free holiday activities. We love free holiday activities. I prepare an advent calendar each year which contains fun things to do throughout the season without spending money. This was one I made a few years back! It’s literally my favorite list I have ever made.
Return unwanted gifts. Some people think this is mean, but as the queen of decluttering, this is one of my favorite things to do. My family, by now, has been warned of my distaste for clutter. I have asked them many times to skip the gifts. Shall they choose to continue gifting me things that aren’t things I need or want because of their own merriment, well that’s up to them. But I do return unwanted gifts, and they know that I will. Most members simply enjoy the task of shopping and wrapping during this season, without a care what happens after the giving. If that’s what it takes to spread joy, I’ve learned to let that part go.
Use nature for decor. Holiday decor gets expensive and requires storing year round. As minimalists who practice small space living, we don’t have much other than a fake tree and a handful of ornaments. We have two stockings to hang and three tabletop pieces we thrifted years back from Goodwill. One can save on holiday decor by bringing in garlands, berry branches, acorns and other natural elements into the home. This year, we plan to pick oranges from the groves by our house and make dried orange ornaments out of them.
Stay home for the holidays. I understand not everyone has the privilege of living close to their loved ones and staying home for the holidays. But holiday travel can get expensive (especially with today’s gas prices!). Staying in makes a huge different. Even if you have to travel to see relatives, maybe stay home more often in the month of December. Those few times you skip driving can add up! Limit your grocery runs, forgo the movie theatres, and shop online (hopefully there’s free shipping).
Borrow what you need. My mum luckily lives down the street and owns everything one would ever need for the holidays. I make sure to ask her for bakeware, cardstock, and even ingredients, prior to buying some of my own.
Reuse old wrappers and bows. This is another thing I can find at my mum’s house and my SIL’s. Avid savers of gift bags and bows, my SIL has even gone so far as to fold up used wrapping paper neatly. She doesn’t tear into gifts like I do. Instead she flicks the tape off neatly, as does my husband.
Regift gift cards and other gifts. Does this sound audacious to you? Not to me! I grew up watching my parents do this all the time! My mom works at a school and receives candles, soaps, Starbucks gift cards, and boxes of chocolate from her students year round. She would save some of the unwanted scents or fast food gift cards and gift them to nieces, nephews, and friends!
Limit your own luxuries. I like to remind myself that the holidays are a time to give to others. That’s the true meaning for me. So I skip my coffee runs while I’m out shopping. I skip spending my fun money, getting my nails and hair done, ordering wine with dinner, plus other little luxuries you can think of.
Travel outside of the popular dates. If you must travel, try to do it a few weeks before or after Christmas. You may find the flights and hotels are a bit cheaper. Another popular idea is celebrating after the holidays. Last year, Mike’s side of the family got a bout of COVID and our holiday party got postponed two weeks. Because it was in January, we were able to buy gifts on sale, groceries on sale, and avoid the crowds! Woo-hoo!
If you like this list, please subscribe to my email list to get more finance tips! Or pin the photo below to Pinterest and save for a later time. Lastly, I would love to hear your ideas as well. Comment below and let me know how you save during this time of year!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Wow! It’s finally happening! High-yield savings account rates are up. Today, we are seeing the highest return since the pandemic in 2020. Marcus HYSA (high-yield savings account) are at 2.5% but my readers get an additional 1% APY bonus if they sign up through my link here. That means that by signing up today, you can secure 3.5% rate of return on your savings for the first 3 months. I wrote about what HYSAs are here, but I thought I would provide an explanation as to why I this is the perfect avenue for short-term savings in today’s post.
HYSAs are low risk investment options for short-term savings:
HYSAs are low-risk investment options for short-term savings. How is this different from the stock market?
I like to use the stock market for my buy-and-hold strategy. Because of fluctuations in the market, the value of my investments could go up or down any day. The only way to beat the market is to buy and hold long-term. Historical data has proven that staying in the stock market for a long period of time is the best strategy.
The stock market’s volatility also means that I would not want to keep my short-term savings in it. Short-term savings refer to money that I am saving up for a particular event. In my case, my short-term savings was for the resumption of student loans. With the student debt interest rate at 0% since the pandemic started, we had decided to put our savings in a HYSA to earn interest on it over time. Unlike the volatile stock market, this rate of return is guaranteed, and can not go negative.
Examples of short-term savings:
Saving for a house
Saving for the birth of a baby
Preparing for student loan repayment to resume
Saving for next round of school tuition
Saving for an emergency fund
Saving for a wedding
Planning a trip/travel
Buying a new car
Why are HYSAs better than a savings account?
Savings account at other banks have a much lower interest rate. For example, I do my banking with Chase bank and at the time of writing this post is 0.01%. Compare that to 3.5% that you get by using my referral sign-up bonus! That means that if you have $10,000 in your savings account, you will earn $1 from Chase, and $350 from HYSA every year. That’s a no-brainer for me.
Why choose Marcus for your HYSA?
Marcus provides a return rate that is 4x the national average. It also is FDIC-insured for up to $250,000. That means you can put your savings here to rest without worrying about the value going down. Marcus in particular is backed by Goldman Sachs, a long trusted company. They also have same-day transfers up to $100,000 to and from most banks. This means that your money is readily available should you need it.
Would it be better to pay off credit card debt or save in a HYSA account?
While HYSAs are perfect for short-term savings, I think it is always better to pay off credit card debt first. The reason is because credit cards charge an interest rate much higher than what you would earn by stowing away dollars in a Marcus HYSA. That being said, if you struggle with credit card debt, may I recommend The Credit Pros and their expert services? (*aff) Paying off credit card debt was the first thing we did on our student loan repayment journey, and it was the thing that catapulted us forward towards financial independence. I highly recommend!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. A friendly reminder that this is an opinion piece written by yours truly and should not be considered professional financial advice.
The biggest push back I get when I talk about cutting costs and saving money is that it’s difficult. People fear the word ‘budget’ because they associate it with negative implications. As a writer of intentional living, I can tell you that is not true. The point of budgeting is not to deprive yourself of things that make you happy. Rather, it is a curation of activities that you choose to engage with in order to prioritize that which makes you happiest. Because of this, budgeting is a personal task. There are some things that may be easier for you and your family to cut out than others. I recommend you start there! Today, I want to share my top 10 easiest things to cut out of my budget.
But first, have you tried YNAB? YNAB stands for You Need a Budget. It is our favorite budgeting tool from day one! I recommend YNAB to all budgeters, and we still use it to save thousands of dollars each month! You can try YNAB for free using my affiliate link. We are so grateful to have an easy, user-friendly app that is convenient and always accessible! Now I’ll share the top ten easiest things I’ve cut out of my budget.
Top 10 Easiest Things I’ve Cut Out of My Budget
Shopping for clothes
Personal Maintenance (manis, pedis, haircuts, etc.)
Certain groceries like snacks, bars, soft drinks
Paper towels (went fully green in 2018 and never looking back)
Entertainment (Bowling, Movie Theatres, Theme Parks, etc.)
Buying books (yay for libraries!)
As you can see from my list, I can easily give up food, activities, and goods for myself. I wrote an ever-growing list a long time ago, but these ten were the easiest to let go by far. It’s been a while so I do have a caveat that some of my thoughts on the items on the ever-growing list have changed. But in exchange are other things current me won’t spend money on. Of course, everyone is different. There are things I would not sacrifice, such as good coffee and quality goods. That is totally okay! The point is not to deprive, but to thrive.
With current inflation at a high, I think we all need to practice what I’ve been preaching for the last five years. Which is, to flex our frugal muscles as best we can. We may be in it for the long-haul, but the better we are at managing spending, the more we can shoulder the weight of rising prices. If you’re new to the space, do check out my course, Mastering a Budget. It’s helped a lot of people get started!
Back in 2020, I wrote a post about celebrating our quarantine birthdays by collecting as many birthday freebies as possible. It started off as a request for Mike’s birthday. Since then, it’s definitely become a thing. I made fun of him for it at the time, but I secretly enjoy it. My birthday is in June. Which means, I recently signed up for as many freebies as I want. It took me about fifteen minutes, because I did a majority of the work last year. (Every club membership keeps giving back year after year). You kind of just build onto your repertoire of freebies, y’know?
Birthday freebies are a major giggle. Imagine zooming around town on your birthday month, just picking and choosing from a list of desserts, drinks, and food. I definitely recommend trying it – especially for the little ones!
There are hundreds of birthday freebies to be had out there, including local hidden gems. I only sign up for the ones I want to pick up. I don’t always get around to all of them, but at least the option is there. Had a bad day at work? Grab a freebie! Have a busy week? Pick up a freebie for dinner. Running late and couldn’t pack a lunch… you get the gist. Birthday freebies are a great pick-me-up and add a little extra support to make your birthday month more enjoyable. Here are a list of my favorites across the U.S.
The Best 2022 Birthday Freebies
Denny’s – Free Grand Slam on the birthday month
Chili’s – Free dessert for the birthday week plus free chips and salsa anytime you dine in
Red Robin – Free birthday burger
Sprinkles – Free cupcake, redeemable until the month after your birthday
Auntie Annie’s – Free pretzel, redeemable until two months after your birthday
Wetzel’s Pretzel’s – Free pretzel for downloading the app, and another free pretzel on your birthday
Baja Fresh – Free Burrito (with purchase of beverage) , valid until the month after your birthday
The Habit – Free Charburger, valid for two weeks
Jersey Mike’s – Free Sub and 22 oz. drink
Baskin Robbins – Free ice cream scoop or soft-serve, plus $3 off an ice-cream cake
Ben N Jerry – Free ice cream scoop, plus $3 off an ice-cream cake
Buffalo Wild Wings – Free birthday wings valid until end of the month
BJs – Free Pizookie for signing up for rewards and also for your birthday
Breugger’s Bagels – Free bagel with cream cheese for signing up and also on your birthday
Einstein Bagels – Free bagel egg sandwich with purchase on your birthday – usable for 14 days
Nothing Bundt Cakes – Free Bundtlet valid for one week
Buca Di Beppo – Free pasta after signing up and a $20 birthday gift voucher
Chipotle – Free chips and guacamole with $5 purchase
Cinnabon – Free Iced Coffee on your birthday and free BonBites for signing up (must download app)
Chick Fil A – Free ‘birthday surprise’ when you download the app
Cold Stone Creamery – BOGO coupon for your birthday and for signing-up.
A & W – Free root beer float for your birthday
Acapulco – Free entree on your birthday and free appetizer for signing up with entree purchase.
Del Taco – Free regular size premium shake
Dunkin Donuts – free beverage on your birthday
Edible Arrangements – Free 12-count chocolate dipped fruit box during birthday month as long as you’ve spent $29 in the past calendar year as a member
Godiva – free birthday chocolate
Hooters – 10 free boneless birthday wings
Ihop – Free shortstack pancakes on your birthday
Krispy Kreme – Free doughnut
Marie Calendar’s – ‘exclusive offer’ for your birthday and wedding anniversary – slice of pie and $5 off your check
Olive Garden – complimentary dessert on your birthday – no sign-up needed
On the Border – “special surprise” on your birthday plus free dessert with purchase of an entree
Pinkberry – Free yogurt if you download the app
Starbucks – Free beverage or food item as a member of Starbucks Rewards
PF Changs – Free dessert or appetizer on your birthday month
Applebees – Free dessert on your birthday when you dine-in, plus if you sign up for their EClub, you receive a coupon for a free entree
Benihana – Free $30 gift certificate redeemable any time during your birthday month
Corner Bakery Cafe – free baked good
El Pollo Loco – Free 2 piece chicken meal or a free chicken tostada salad
Yogurtland – free 3 oz yogurt if you sign up for their rewards
El Torito Grill – Free entree for your birthday plus a free appetizer when you sign-up for their EClub
Jamba Juice – Free smoothie
Johnny Rockets – Free hamburger when you purchase an entree and a drink
Panera Bread – Free pastry
I randomized it so that they aren’t presented in any particular order. To be honest, we usually pick places that are closest to us to save on gas money. I would not recommend driving far just to get a $5 freebie, especially considering the gas prices. You can make it more efficient by going on one endeavor and mapping out the best route to take in order to hit the most number of stops. I prefer to spread them out throughout the month. The best part is that Mike and I are two weeks apart, but our birthdays are in different months. So for some rewards, we overlap and we both get free food. For others, we do a back-to-back trip and split the treat.
When it comes to keeping a low budget, one of the first questions I get asked is how I am able to do so and still eat healthy. Let’s face it. Healthier foods tend to be more expensive. Or at least, that’s how it appears. However, I have proven over the past five years that healthy eating can be achieved with a very low budget! Here I will share my secrets on how to eat healthy on a budget.
But first, have you created your budget? Do you struggle sticking to it? Check out my FREE course on how to create a budgeting tool that works for you and your family.
Healthy Foods Are Expensive is a Myth
Firstly, I would like to debunk the myth that healthy foods cost more money. There is a discerning factor that makes it so, and that is the availability of the foods you are buying. It is more accurate to say that convenient healthy foods are more expensive. Convenient foods include pre-made, pre-packaged, frozen, or bottled foods at the grocery store. It also includes foods that you buy when dining out or at a farmer’s market. Since healthy foods are increasingly popular, the companies that make them can charge more because there is a perceived value associated with them.
However, REAL healthy foods need only take up more time, not more money. The truth is, pre-packaged foods are less healthy than if you made them from scratch. Take any product in the grocery store and look at the ingredient label. If there are big, scientific words on there that you have trouble pronouncing, then I would wager it is less healthy than if you made that same product in your home kitchen.
The first time I noticed this was when I was making my own sourdough bread. Sourdough bread has three ingredients. Flour, Water, Salt. Even the starter that makes it rise is made of flour and water. Yet every ‘healthy’ sourdough bread at my grocery store had complicated, unpronounceable words on their labels that made me wary to eat it.
The second time I noticed this was when we nixed plastic from our home. We wanted to create less waste so we experimented with avoiding buying anything packaged in plastic when we went to the grocery store. If you’ve ever tried this yourself, you would know that the grocery store is an unfriendly place. By doing this we had to make our foods from scratch. We could not buy a majority of snacks (yay for healthy!), frozen foods (yay again!), most dairy products and pre-made sauces. Instead, we had to buy produce and make our own sauces from scratch.
Once we started doing this, I learned how few ingredients it really takes to make a product. I learned that 75% of the ingredients listed on a product label are unnecessary, which begs the question, ‘why do we ingest it?’ I learned the importance of sourcing good ingredients to create the foundation for healthy food. And most importantly, I learned that healthy food is not expensive. Only pre-made industrialized food is.
Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget
With that myth debunked, here are more than ten ways to eat healthy on a budget.
Avoid dining out.
This is our number one way to stay on a budget. A co-worker once told me that him and his wife spent $800 a month dining out. If you are shocked at that number, then you would be devastated to hear that some millennials I know spend over $1000 a month on dining out. If you want to be frugal, limit dining out to a minimum. The shocking truth is that making your own food from whole, simple ingredients is healthier than some ‘healthy’ restaurant items out there. And it will be a much cheaper, too!
Avoid pre-packaged foods.
Pre-packaged foods include chips, snacks, granola bars, frozen foods, sauces and dips, and anything already cooked and prepared. All of these foods will be priced higher. Think of it as a convenience fee. These foods will also have unnecessary ingredients that our bodies do not need. Have you ever eaten these things and not felt satiated? A lot of these foods contain empty carbs or are heavy in salt, both of which makes us want to eat more and buy more. And even though they are deemed healthy, if the ingredient label is complicated, I would just skip it. I prefer to control what I ingest anyway.
Avoid buying packaged snacks.
Have you noticed that the foods that call out to you at a grocery store are generally unhealthy snack items? When I was in college, I ingrained it into my mind that snacks are unnecessary. I did this to cut my spending to $25 a week. I convinced myself that snacks are a waste of money, because they are empty carbs that do not nourish my body. They taste good, sure. But instead of helping support me, it actually is bad for my health.
I always bring it back to health because, as a medical professional, I know how expensive medical treatments are. Eating unhealthy snacks today not only makes me spend money now, but also in the future when an unhealthy body may lead to more health problems, which require treatment. Even the snacks that claim they are healthy contain a long ingredient list with words I can’t pronounce.
As always, go back to the ingredient label. If there’s anything unnatural sounding on there, I would question how healthy the food really is. When it comes to snacking, I opt for whole foods such as nuts, fruits, or veggies with a home-made hummus dip.
On the heels of the previous two sections, I just want to drive the moral of the story home. Avoid pre-packaged stuff. One of the ways to do that is to avoid buying any plastic when grocery shopping. It will cut out a lot of options. But it will also point you towards the more healthy food choices.
Mike and I get asked a lot how we are able to maintain our weights. This was back in our late twenties when we did not work out. We joked and said we followed a simple diet plan – it was called the ZERO-PLASTIC diet. Do you know that 80% of your physique is based on what you eat, and only 20% is based on your physical activities? We stayed skinny because we were avoiding plastic waste. Which meant we were forced to make our foods from scratch, without preservatives, high amounts of sugar or much salt!. Since my thirties, I have started to work out too, but I don’t really attribute my skinniness to that. It’s what we eat that counts!
We grew up consuming a lot of dairy. Our parents told us to drink milk for good bone health and growth. We ate cereal and grilled cheese, had milk with our cookies, and watched as our favorite celebrity doused their upper lip in ‘Got Milk?’ ads. However, we now know that dairy isn’t exactly good for our gut health. We are the only species that drinks another species’ milk. Our guts are not evolutionarily developed to process cow’s milk and it wasn’t until the Industrialized Revolution that we started to drink a lot of it. This explains why many of us feel discomfort, bloated, or gassy after having dairy. Some of us are lactose-intolerant altogether. Avoiding dairy is good news for your wallet as it is one of the most costly items you can buy at the market and it doesn’t even have a long shelf-life.
Less red meat, same protein.
Some red meats are more difficult for our guts to digest than others. I started to eat less meat in my 30’s after learning that red meat tends to stick around (up to 48 hours) after ingestion. I felt more energetic, lighter, and comfortable when I significantly reduced my meat diet.
However, meat has it’s important qualities too so we shouldn’t get rid of it all. The protein structure of meats provide necessary collagen which our bodies significantly make less of as we age. If you don’t want to eat meat, I would still suggest making broths from meat bones and carcass to drink. You’re skin will really thank you! Meat is also touted for being high in protein. Even if you eat less meat, I recommend eating the same amount of protein. Substitutes to red meat include fish, beans, legumes, tofu and eggs.
Personally, once I switched to these substitutes, I really did not crave much meat anymore. I found meat to be less flavorful than these other options. But also, these alternatives are way kinder to my bank account. Fish might be more expensive than meat, but I eat way less of it. Alternating with beans, legumes and tofu makes it worth it.
Opt for whole ingredients.
The more whole an ingredient is, the cheaper it will be. I learned this when I started baking bread and bought a mill for my bakery. The mill turns grain into flour. While I always thought flour was cheap, I realized how much cheaper it was to buy grain! Now, not everyone has a mill, but let’s take the example of tomatoes. Whole tomatoes are cheaper than canned tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, or tomato sauce. Whole heads of lettuce are cheaper than the pre-washed, pre-cut, pre-packaged tub. Dried beans are cheaper than canned beans. Well, you get the picture. In general, buying whole ingredients are cheaper, because you are not paying for the convenience of having it partly prepared.
Make foods from scratch.
Making foods from scratch can save you a lot of money. Once again, it’s that convenience fee you are paying for. I can make a loaf of gut-friendly, amazing sourdough bread for $1. This same loaf sells at a farmer’s market for $10! We can also make a tub of guacamole for $2.50, but a small serving of guac and chips at a restaurant costs $5-$8. Even spaghetti sauce is pricey! A jar of tomato sauce now runs for $5-$8. But for the same price, Mike and I can batch produce 8 jars of tomato sauce.
My favorite savings is on broth. We used to pay $5 for boxed broth, but now we just throw left over veggies, meats, and bones into water in our crockpot and let it simmer for 8 hours to get the most delicious and healthy broths!
Our plight to reduce plastic waste led us to the realization that the convenience really does comes at a premium. To our delight, we found that we have been eating better tasting and healthier foods simply by making foods from scratch!
Cook simple meals.
This one is for all the people out there looking to experiment and make fancy meals at home. While that is super fun (we love doing that too!), it is not necessarily sustainable. When I go online and look for recipes, I see a plethora of complicated, difficult, but pretty posts. I think that Instagram has changed the way we consume food, in that the image of food has taken center-stage.
Unfortunately, these same recipes require one-off ingredients, fancy garnishes, and a bit of decor. When did food get so… fashionable? Granted, we do make fancy meals on special occasions. But after doing this for a long time (I have been eating with a budget since my early 20’s!), my one advice is to keep it simple.
Food should be nourishing. It should energize us and help our bodies thrive during the day. It can taste good, sure, but it doesn’t have to be Michelin Star status. Foods are made to look good online because looking good sells people on making that particular recipe or dining at that restaurant. But in the home kitchen, it doesn’t really have to look that good.
I watch the way my mom prepares meals. This year, in fact, I have made it a point to learn one traditional Filipina recipe from my mom every month. Her recipes are memorized, and she does not look at cookbooks. The reason is because the ingredients are simple and few. The rightness of the recipe comes from taste. ‘Timpla‘ is a tagalog word that means ‘mixture’. She just bases the doneness of her cooking based on the taste of the ‘timpla‘. It’s such a common expression in cooking that she uses it as a verb sometimes too.
So you see, cooking simple meals not only limits the number of ingredients you have to buy, but also the stress involved with cooking. My favorite things to cook are meals that don’t need much editing of natural ingredients. I also like to toss together things (quite literally) in a bowl or pot. I like stews left on to simmer, or veggies that I throw into the ovens for long periods of time. It lets me get other things done while dinner cooks.
Volunteer at a farm or subscribe to a farm.
I have the privilege of living in a community with a few community farms. The residents can volunteer to work at the farms as often as they want (up to four days a week!) and each time they do, they can opt to harvest food. I try to volunteer once a week and gather the seasonal produce from there in order to cut our grocery bill. Each week, I harvest about 10 pounds of produce. I know this is not available to everyone but there are farms all around. Prior to working at our community farm, we were subscribed to receiving a farm box for $25 a week. We received local seasonal fruits and veggies and used that instead to cook with. There have been some weeks where all we needed to buy was the protein.
Create a list before going to the grocery store.
Have you ever gone to the groceries to buy a handful of things only to walk out with a full cart? This is most likely because you did not have a dedicated list. The grocery store is like any other store. Sometimes, it gets you to shop. I like to go in with a list so that I remain focused during my shopping. I know exactly what I need and go directly to the aisles that contain those needs. This way, I avoid meandering down rows that contain foods I might also want. My trick to avoiding extra is to get the shopping done, and then get out of there.
Never shop hungry.
My final advice is my most important. Never shop hungry. If I shop hungry, I spend more and will usually gravitate towards the salty, sugary, ‘yummy’ addictive foods. It’s amazing how much hunger can trigger our survival mode in our brains. This is a part of our evolution and is difficult to overcome. If you think about it, food has only been readily available in large quantities to our species for maybe 100 years. Our parents and grandparents still went through times of not having enough food for the family. Evolutionarily speaking, we still have a strong instinct to grab the saltiest, sugariest foods when we feel hungry. So eat something before doing your groceries.
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Prior to the pandemic, I had made student loans my identity, hence the name of this blog. That is the reason why I initially started to live a frugal life. I figured, accepting my surmounting student debt, face-on instead of running away from it, would make it easier. I was commended many times over for being courageous and sharing my story. The truth of the matter was, I was just hoping I could reign it in and control it before it did me.
Sometimes though, when you take a part of your life and make it the definition of yourself, it could make you forget the other bits of you. I was fiery, yes, but so was it. I was fighting fire with fire, and I can’t be sure who was winning.
That’s what the pandemic gifted me. It deferred student loan repayment (it’s been almost a two year stint now) and thereby took away the identity that was eating me alive from the inside. These past two years have been a blessing. I’ve not only rediscovered the “old me” but I also was able to shed negative bits of the “new me”. It gave me the space to be able to step back (from everything) and to re-evaluate which parts I wanted to keep. It gave me options.
But the student loans gave me good things, too. And those, I chose to keep. It taught me how to live a frugal life. There are things a frugal life affords you that rich people will never find.
“Some day in the future the West will undoubtedly welcome this magnificent gift. Muji can alternatively be called simplicity. In religious terms it might be liked to the virtue of honest poverty, a poverty that is replete with riches. The beatuy of muji is the beauty of poverty. Roughness and quiet appreciation characterize this beauty.”
I discovered the art of mindful living and the perks of simplicity. I learned the skill of decluttering and giving gratitude. These parts of frugal living I did not abandon.
So one of the negative things about the student loan deferral is this stagnant limbo I’ve been in these past two years. With the space I have now, it’s quite easy to forgo frugality. The pressure to pinch pennies has slackened. The success rate isn’t as high. But that’s the thing about frugal living. It has room for grace.
Frugal living does not mean deprivation. Neither is it black or white. It is a practice in reigning in it, just a bit, to make room for what matters more. Frugal living is another aspect of mindfulness, intentionality, simplicity, and minimalism. Those things go hand-in-hand and compliment one another, without the need to be extreme.
For those who are on the fence about trying it, why not take a it a step at a time? I find that Marie Kondo was on to something. The easiest thing to start with is clothes. Try to declutter your entire clothing closet, then set a challenge to not add anything back for 6 months. Trust me, after all that hard work, you won’t want to anyway! It’s a great place to start, because we all have too much clothes. It’s not something you would miss. Then challenge yourself little by little, day by day. Frugal living actually ends up being fun.