What to Do When You’ve Already Pinched the Penny

20 Helpful Hints for Raising a Family in Our Economy


Check out this hilarious video of a family that went to extremes--watering down milk, making fake offbrand clothes ("Hoolister," anyone?), bathing with their clothes to clean both at the same time and save on the water bill, etc.--all in the name of saving some money so they could get some nice family photos.

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Video Companion
"Budget Cuts" - Pretty Darn Funny Season 2 - Ep. 3

(Learn more about Pretty Darn Funny here.)

Hopefully you don't have to take canned food storage to school or work for lunch, but you may be looking for other ways to save money. Here’s a great list of ideas--some of which you might be already doing--but we hope that you’ll be encouraged at the multitude of ways you can provide for your family, even when you’ve already pinched the penny.

1. Bake from scratch. What does this really mean? Can you buy scratch? This means when you see those colorful boxed meals and frozen lasagnas, you keep walking and purchase a box of lasagna noodles instead. Add that to some canned or bottled tomatoes, and you’ve just saved around $7.00 on your lasagna (and I bet you’ll have leftovers!).

2. Eat homemade bread. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, trust me! There are thousands of recipes, tutorials, and friendly neighbors who can help you learn how to bake a loaf and save your family around $2.00/loaf. I bake four loaves at a time, slice them with an electric slicer, and store them in the freezer. If you go through 1-2 loaves a week, this skill could save you around $10-$15 each month. And if you’re using Natural Yeast, you don’t even have to buy yeast, saving even more. (Info on Natural Yeast here.)

3. Save money on cleaners. Make your own laundry detergent to save upwards of ten cents per load—that adds up quickly around our house! There are several recipes for DIY household cleaners utilizing natural ingredients that are safer for children and save you money at the same time. Get a free recipe for powdered laundry detergent and tutorial here.

4. Help your home save for you. We hear about conserving energy and home efficiency but do you recognize the impact it can truly make on your energy bills? Setting your A/C just two degrees higher or your heat three degrees lower could save you upwards of $10-$15/month. Making energy efficient improvements like adding insulation, upgrading windows, doors, and appliances coupled with company rebates and government tax credits could save you even more. Learn more about the little improvements you can make around your home to save the earth and your budget.

5. Get the kids involved. Create a fun game to remind kids to conserve electricity and water. Use two jars labeled “SAVINGS” and “ENERGY MONSTER.” Each time you notice your children doing their part to conserve energy, they get to put a coin in the jar (pennies, nickels, dimes work well to associate true savings). When you find a light left on in an empty room, the back door open, or a faucet dripping, take some of the coins from the “SAVINGS” jar and deposit them into the “ENERGY MONSTER” jar. 

6. Upcycle. This is a favorite if you browse crafty websites and blogs. Use that shirt your husband doesn’t like anymore to sew a cute skirt for yourself or your children. I’ve seen sweaters made into leg-warmers, shirts made into dresses. If you like to sew, you could end up making something for free instead of paying for new material.

7. Don’t eat out. Pack a lunch for work. Not only is this healthier, but on average, Americans spend $7.00/day on lunch at fast food restaurants. That’s $35/week or $150/month!

8. On vacation or short day trips, take food with you instead of eating out. Bring a cooler/lunch box and stop at a grocery store. Instead of “Lunchables,” buy your own meat, cheese, and crackers and you’ll save at least 50%.

9. Plan a STAYcation where you do something with family around home. Every community has various resources—take advantage of them whether they are outdoors or indoors.

10. Purchase a quality reusable water bottle and a filter instead of buying cases of water bottles.

11. Create a master grocery list with a weekly budget for groceries. Limit trips to the store—the more times you go, the more impulse buys you have and the more money you spend.

12. Cut up credit cards. And while you’re at it, ask for a lower rate of interest on those accounts that hold a balance. If you have a large balance, apply for a card that has 0% interest for 12-18 months and transfer the balance over. Make sure the card has no annual fee. This incurs a 3% transfer fee that is much less than interest charged. Then cut up your cards and pay off the balance.

13. Price match and clip coupons, always checking if it’s better to buy off-brand name products.

14. Buy produce at farmer’s markets or Bountiful Baskets.

15. Buy what’s in season. Freeze produce when it’s plentiful and often discounted; then you can enjoy things like raspberry smoothies all year long.

16. Plant a garden, garden box, or container.

17. Consider a fruit tree over a shade tree. Many fruit trees double as great shade trees and when cared for properly can give a bounteous harvest.

18. Join rewards clubs for gas, hotels, and airfare.

19. Do regular car maintenance to keep gas mileage up. Small things like changing an air filter, replacing belts, keeping your oil changed, and coolant filled all helps your car run more efficiently, saving you money in the long run.

20. Convert your phone to a free internet service. I save $600 a year and was able to keep my phone number through Google Voice.

Don’t get overwhelmed! There are many ways to infuse your household with more wiggle room when it comes to saving. The important thing is finding what works best for your family. Try one or two new things at a time; each week focus on a different area in your household budget that could use tightening. Successfully implementing even half of the tips mentioned could save your household upwards of $150/month.


Rachelle J. Christensen is a stay-at-home mom of four cute kids—two girls and two boys. She has an amazing husband, three cats, and five chickens. She loves reading, running, singing, and playing the piano. She is the author of two suspense novels and one nonfiction book. You can learn more about her books at rachellechristensen.com. For more fun ideas to create and save, visit Rachelle’s website mashedpotatoesandcrafts.com.

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