For years I have been building a toolbox of ways to save money. Over time these tools have helped my family live the way we want. For example, we live in a home we love on 3 acres of land in a great area; we currently live on one income so I can care for our young daughter at home; we take several vacations each year (at least one to Disney World because I am a FREAK about it) and so on. Saving money and time helps us live the rich life we’ve wanted.
I want to share the strategies in my toolbox with you so maybe you and your family can find more money and time in your life for the things you really want. These are the cornerstones of The Frugal South. So here are the tools we use and a short explanation of each.
- Get stuff secondhand when possible
- Buy new stuff online & ship it for free
- Eat at home & save money on groceries
- Travel for cheap
- Manage debt wisely
1) Get stuff secondhand when possible
I try to not go overboard with this, but I do attempt to find quality used items whenever possible for our family. I buy mostly secondhand clothes for myself and my daughter; I search Craigslist first when we need furniture, an automobile, or an appliance; I buy used books when I just need a reading copy. This may give the impression that we are surrounded by beat-up, worn-down stuff. But I am super picky about buying used items and most of what I buy is really in “like new” condition. Buying secondhand also helps reduce my impact on the planet’s resources and that is important to me. Here are a few of my strategies:
- Ask around about the best thrift and consignment shops – I’ve learned that there are certain prime places for getting great secondhand clothes and other goods. For example, this Goodwill in my town has amazing women’s and kid’s clothes as well as kitchen items. I have scored high-end small appliances (think bread machine, ice cream maker, espresso machine), designer clothes and an entire wardrobe for my little one for a small fraction of what they would be new. If you ask around you will save time visiting every store around and find the best spots for scoring quality stuff. Make friends with the consignment shop owners and they might even watch out for certain items and let you know if they get them in.
- Online consignment shops offer a great selection – I have place orders from two online consignment sites and have been thrilled with the results. thredUP sells high-quality women’s and kid’s clothing and has reasonable shipping rates (starting at $2.95). I got a great fitting pair of Calvin Klein Jeans for $5 along with some shirts I practically lived in this past summer. When I ended up with something that didn’t fit, they paid for the return shipping and gave me a full refund. Plus new customers get $10 off their purchase with this link. I have also ordered kid’s clothes and toys from Swap.com and had a similarly positive experience. You can often get clothing for $3 or less so it is overall cheaper than thredUP, but I find the quality is lower, too. New customers get free shipping on their first order as well.
- Buy used books and movies – For years I have used Half.com to find cheap used copies of books and DVDs for my or my family’s use. If I can’t find a book at the library (which is often since our library is pretty small), I will search out a decent used copy. I can often score books for $0.75 plus a few dollars shipping. If you can find multiple items from the same seller you will save on shipping. I have also bought DVD box sets both new and used.
- Get good Craigslist karma – I am convinced that I have gotten amazing deals through Craigslist because I regularly give items away or sell them for cheap on Craigslist. Just kidding (mostly)… but really, Craigslist is a great resource for finding local secondhand items. I have bought windows, furniture, cars, a scooter, an oven, and many other various and sundry items through the free site . We are lucky to live in an area with an active Craigslist community, so that helps.
- Don’t be scared to eBay – I have been an active eBay member for 12 years and counting and have had so many positive experiences. Though I don’t use it that often, sometimes it is the best option for finding certain items secondhand.
2) Order new stuff online and get it shipped for free
While we do buy a lot of things secondhand, of course there are things we have to buy new (hello, toilet paper!) I have saved us thousands of dollars and countless hours by being a savvy online consumer. While I’m sure there are many folks out there better at this than I, here are some of the services and websites I use regularly:
- Amazon.com: I have saved countless hours and dollars using Amazon. We get many of our household essentials delivered automatically every month using Subscribe & Save. You can learn more in my post how to stretch your dollars with Amazon.com.
- Drugstore.com: I order most of our toiletries from Drugstore.com. I save 25-50% off what you would pay at your local drugstore and get it shipped for free. Learn more in my post How to stretch your dollars with Drugstore.com.
- ShopRunner: This service provides free 2-day shipping from many online retailers. If you have an American Express card, you can get free membership in the ShopRunner program. This service gives you free 2-day shipping at many retailers, including Drugstore.com.
- ShopDiscover: If you have a Discover Card, you can save substantially by using the ShopDiscover website. I often go through the ShopDiscover website to earn 5-20% cash back at many retailers. There are sometimes promotions that double your cash back for a period of time as well. The sites I most often use through Shop Discover are Drugstore.com. Orbitz, Hotwire, and Home Depot. You can use your cashback bonus to make purchases on Amazon, use it to purchase discounted giftcards, or have it credited to your Discover Card account.
- Sierra Trading Post: For years I have used Sierra Trading Post to get great deals on high-quality clothing, outdoor gear and items for the home. You can read all about it here: How to Stretch Your Dollars with Sierra Trading Post: Tips & Tricks.
- RetailMeNot: Before I order from any other online retailer, I always check for a promo code first. RetailMeNot is my favorite source for reliable promo codes for discounts at thousands (dare I say most?) websites. My husband even loves to check for promo codes before he places an order on the web and gets so excited when he finds one… “Baby I just saved $17.21 on this case of bullets!”
3) Eat at home & save on groceries
For many folks groceries are the second largest expense for their household after their mortgage/rent! Finding ways to reduce your grocery budget while still eating healthy, nourishing food is a great challenge. Eating out is also a huge expense and if you can cook at home even one more day a week instead of eating out you will save hundreds of dollars each year. Here are some approaches that have worked for us:
- Find out how much you currently are spending then set a weekly spending goal – The first month I diligently kept track of much much we were spending on groceries, toiletries, diapers, etc. I was totally shocked. No longer was I wondering… “Where does all of our money go?” I suggest keeping track of your spending using weekly rather than monthly goals. I use a single white envelope clipped to the fridge to keep track of our grocery etc. receipts for the month. I have adapted the method I learned at Fun Cheap or Free to meet our needs and it works for us because it is simple. I am currently trying to get our grocery bill under $500/month which is a big challenge for us!
- Use a credit card that gives you cash back to buy groceries. I rack up between $400-$500 each year in credit card cash back just by buying our groceries. I pay the card off each month and get between %2-%6 cash back on our necessary purchases. I realized I was loosing out on this free money if I was buying with cash or a debit card. You can even keep a card that is just for groceries to help you track your grocery spending more easily.
- Learn to cook, starting with the basics if needed – When I turn 30 and realized I was completely useless in the kitchen, I took a bunch of cooking classes. I learned some basic cooking techniques and how to do important things efficiently, such as how to chop an onion (really). These classes gave me the confidence I needed to start cooking for myself more. Now I love to cook and am very adventurous, but I needed the confidence from those basic classes to get to this point.
- Have a repertoire of go-to recipes – When I am feeling uninspired about dinner, I have a few go-to recipes that are easy to prepare and are always winners. For me they include quesadillas, chili, and one-pot pasta dishes. Find what works for you and your family and then keep those recipes handy!
- Keep a small stockpile of some basic ingredients – Along these lines, there are certain supplies I try to always have on hand so I can make something at home in a pinch. These include canned beans (chili beans, black beans and garbanzo beans are most often used here), pasta, diced tomatoes, rice, shredded cheese, frozen veggies and some frozen meat. I can always whip up something to eat with these basic ingredients as long as I have some on hand.
- Shop sales and use coupon match-ups if possible – I am not a big couponer by any stretch of the imagination. I guess I’m just not organized enough. But if I find an online coupon for something I know I will buy (the coffee we drink, for example) or find a coupon that matches up with a current sale at our local grocery store, I print it. I use the smartphone app Favado to find weekly sales and matching coupons (read more below).
- Free smartphone apps can save you money on groceries – I use several different smartphone apps to earn cash back on groceries I already buy. I’ve earned upwards of $100 since I started this a few months ago. And it is kind of fun. Read more at my post free smartphone apps that can help you save money on groceries.
- Have a loose plan for what you will cook that week when you go shopping – This one is the hardest for me. Something in me rejects the idea of menu planning. It takes me back to 8th grade Home Economics and seems so lame and un-spontaneous. But I have been trying to have at lease a loose plan for what I plan to cook for the week when I go grocery shopping. I can make multiple recipes with ingredients before they go bad and end up being less stressed out about what I am going to cook.
4) Travel for cheap
My husband and I both traveled a ton before we got married. Collectively we’ve been to all lower 48 states and I’ve been on several trips abroad. Of course we can’t travel as much now that we have a family but we still like to take a few trips a year. Doing this while on a strict budget is challenging but it can be done! Here are a few of my strategies:
- Take advantage of generous credit card bonuses to fund your trips – In the past few years I have earned our family almost $3,000 in free travel just by opening a few new credit cards and using them to pay for our basic expenses. There are tons of great resources out there for how to travel for cheap or even free using free miles or other credit card sign-on bonuses. I suggest checking out the Frugal Travel Guy’s Rookie Guide for more on how to get started. A great first card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
- Get alerted when flight prices drop – I use the website Airfare Watchdog to get email alerts when the prices of flights I am interested in drop. I have scored the lowest possible prices on flights this way many times. Sometimes airlines will run ridiculously cheap promotional fares on new routes and if you are instantly alerted you are likely to get one of these cheap tickets. I got a round trip flight from Raleigh to Cleveland for under $80 once thanks to a fare alert.
- Get highly discounted hotel rooms through Priceline and Hotwire – There definitely is a trick to having success with this strategy! Hotwire and Priceline are websites where you can book a discounted hotel room in a certain location that has certain amenities. However the name of the property is hidden until after you pay for your stay. I know a few people who have had a bad experience with these sites and ended up staying at place they’ve tried for years to forget. However there is a way to know with almost 100% certainty which hotel you are booking before you book it. The site Better Bidding has lists of hotels that regularly appear on Hotwire and Priceline and a forum where folks report on what hotel they received and how much they bid. These resources have helped me 1) Discover the secret identities of the hotels available and research them on the web to see if I really want to stay there and 2) Pay the lowest possible price for the room using a savvy bidding strategy. I have paid $38/night for a room at the Radisson right outside of Disney World and save 50% on rooms when I visit my family in Ohio. It takes a little detective work but I think that’s kind of fun anyway.
- Find the very cheapest rental cars – If I can find a great rate we sometimes rent a car for a long road trip instead of putting the wear and tear on one of ours. We have done the math and if the total out-the-door rate is under $25/day, it makes more sense for us to rent a car instead of putting tons of miles on ours. Last summer I got us a great little SUV to take to Ohio for a week for around $150. I use the site Rental Car Momma to get a heads up on the current specials offered by the different companies. When I find the company that is offering the best deal for the car/dates we want, I use RetailMeNot to find any current promo codes for that company. Then I go to the rental company’s website and try out the promo codes to get the best deal. It sounds complicated but the total process only takes me about 10 minutes and has saved us hundreds of dollars.
- Use Orbitz for multiple discounts – I have booked many hotel stays through Orbitz and received discounts up to 45% off regular rates. First of all, Orbitz lets you combine their promo codes with current hotel sales. So if Hilton has a 20% off sale going, you can get an additional 15% off by applying an Orbitz promo code (try REVIEW15, it has worked for a while now). You can also earn up to 5% back in “Orbucks” that can be applied to any future stay and so far I have earned $114 in Orbucks. If you are new to the program you can get a $25 off code through this link. And on top of all of this savings you can get 5% cash back if you book through the ShopDiscover site and pay with your Discover Card! Phew!
5) Manage debt wisely
This page may contain affiliate links. Please read our Disclosure Policy for more information.