How to Spend Less and Save More (a look at our spending over the last 14 years)

posted by Andrea | 02/4/2020

how to spend less

I’m always interested in how to spend less and save more, so, during the month of January, I usually spend some time looking back on our personal finances and my business stats from the previous year. 

I know I might be weird, but I really enjoy combing through the different spreadsheets and comparing our income and expenses to previous years. 

NOTE: I use GoDaddy to track all my business finances, and I use our simple Finance Tracking Workbook to keep tabs on our personal finances. 

This year, I immediately noticed our 2019 grocery spending was 40% LESS than our 2018 grocery spending! That’s HUGE!

I’m confident this is directly correlated with the fact that I did almost ALL my grocery shopping at Aldi last year!

Now I’m curious to see how our grocery budget fairs in 2020, since Aldi recently raised their prices!

how to spend less at Aldi

how to spend less at Aldi

These grocery spending stats piqued my interest, so I looked back over our grocery spending from 2006 (when we got married) through 2019.

Then I took it one step further and compared ALL our spending from 2006 through 2019. Yup, I definitely know how to have a good time!

The chart below details our YEARLY spending for the last 14 years on groceries, restaurants, entertainment, and clothing (rounded to the nearest “10”).

a graph of our yearly spending

 

I wasn’t super surprised to see that aside from 2019, our spending on groceries has gone up every year as our children get older and as we entertain more frequently (although $9,000 in one year was pretty “YIKES” for me! Glad we got that down a bunch last year!) 

However, I was honestly SHOCKED to realize HOW LITTLE we spend on restaurants, entertainment, and clothing year after year. I even went back to the notes I leave within the spreadsheet to verify that I didn’t have my numbers totally messed up!

We average only $27.62 per month at restaurants, $23.75 per month on any type of entertainment, and $26.96 per month on clothing… for a family of 6! 

This is PROOF that I’m not lying or exaggerating when I write about staying home, eating at home, and buying used whenever we can! 

how to spend less by staying home

playing in the snow

playing LEGOs

how to spend less by playing outside

how to spend less by eating at home

eating together outside

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A Few Clarifications: 

GROCERIES = ALL food, diapers, cleaning supplies, medicine, cosmetics, and paper products I buy from Aldi, Costco, Meijer, health food stores, bulk food stores, farmer’s markets, local produce stands, and online. 

RESTAURANTS = ALL prepared food we buy — fast food, take out, pizza, coffee or other beverages, donuts, ice cream, food courts, hot lunch at school, and sit-down restaurants.

ENTERTAINMENT = ALL activities outside our home — travel, vacations, date nights, movies, bowling, day trips, the zoo, Rebounderz, community activities, church activities, or any other forms of entertainment.

I do not count our Netflix membership as entertainment since it’s at home (I consider it a utility bill). I also do not count “gasoline” as entertainment — I have a separate line for gas. 

CLOTHING = EVERYTHING we wear — socks, shoes, underwear, everyday clothing, church clothing, swimsuits, snow gear, backpacks, purses, diaper bags, jewelry, pajamas, sunglasses, hats, gloves, uniforms, costumes, seasonal items, school gear, etc. 

I do NOT include gift cards in these totals — so if we are given restaurant, coffee, or store gift cards, I don’t log that amount within our expenses worksheet. We were also gifted with a quarter cow 3 times during this 14-year period, so there were times when we didn’t need to buy beef for several months in a row. 

Even still, I think we’re doing pretty well for a family of SIX! 

a graph of our yearly spending

 

Of course, I keep track of so many other areas of our finances too (spending, investing, utility bills, home renovations, charitable giving, income, etc.), but these 4 categories are the ones I’m questioned about quite often.

So… how do we keep our spending down month after month, year after year?

I don’t think there’s one answer to this question — nor do I have a step-by-step process to follow to achieve the exact same results.

Rather, I believe there are several factors that affect our ability to keep our monthly and yearly spending SO LOW! 

  1. Dave and I both grew up with frugal parents who lived well below their means, so this lifestyle has ALWAYS been modeled for us.
  2. We’ve always lived off one income (Dave’s Christian school teacher salary) so we don’t allow ourselves to live extravagantly because we know an extravagant lifestyle is not possible with 4 children on a Christian school teacher’s salary. (We use my income to invest, put towards retirement, build up our savings, and pay for house projects.)
  3. We are both introverted and very content to be at home without a huge agenda.
  4. We both have fairly “demanding” jobs in the sense that there is always more we COULD do — so when we have downtime, we just like to sit and relax at home, not go out and do something. 
  5. Dave can’t go out for lunch during the school day so he always packs a lunch.
  6. I always bring food along whenever we’re out and about.
  7. Our kids almost never get hot lunch (they prefer a homemade lunch).
  8. We both prefer mornings versus evenings, and there aren’t nearly as many ways to spend money at 4 am as there are at 10 pm!
  9. I love to cook and would MUCH rather cook and eat at home than try to navigate a restaurant with 4 young children (even if it’s free).
  10. We have no desire to travel with 4 children, and I’m currently unwilling to travel without the kids (Dave’s working on me though!)
  11. We do some sort of no-spending challenge at least once a year.
  12. We try to eat from our pantry and freezer before stocking up again. 
  13. We would much rather host people at our house than go out somewhere. 
  14. We ask for gift cards and memberships for Christmas and birthdays (Rebounderz, the Zoo, Culvers, etc.)
  15. We do TONS and TONS of free activities through our church, school, and the local community. 
  16. I buy 95% of all our things used (from local thrift stores or via Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace) for a fraction of the cost of buying new. 
  17. We simply don’t shop all that often — and it’s hard to spend money if we’re not shopping! 
  18. We’ve never been big on “date nights” or any sort of formal entertainment. We’d rather just watch something on Netflix or work on a yard project together. 
  19. We never hire babysitters (we’ve only paid a babysitter 2 times in our life!) Our parents are willing to help out some, but we really just don’t have the need for childcare as we’re always home.
  20. We are very content with what we have, and we find ways to “do without” until I can get a rock-bottom price on what we “need” from a local thrift store. 
  21. We live in a low cost-of-living area. 

mom and dad

The point I want to make is NOT that you should give up all fast food and never go on another vacation or date night ever again. 

NO, not at all! 

Rather, I want to prove that…

  1. our family truly DOES live the simple lifestyle I share here on the blog — it’s not just a show or a fake life I portray.
  2. consciously SPENDING LESS each month WILL add up to huge savings over the course of several years. 

Let’s do a little more math…

If you spent $100 less each MONTH that adds up to $16,800 after 14 years (not including interest)

If you spent $100 less per WEEK, you would amass a whopping $72,000 (pre-interest) after 14 years! 

Seriously, what could YOU do with that kind of money!?!?!

how to spend less

How YOU can spend less (and save more) each week:

I know it might seem like a lot of money when you just sit and think about somehow cutting an extra $100 from your expenses each week or each month — but in the vast majority of cases, it’s TOTALLY doable.

Here are 10 Ideas to Spend Less Each Week:

  1. Pack lunches, snacks, and drinks at home 4 days a week
  2. Eat dinner at home 6 nights a week
  3. Switch to shopping at Aldi
  4. Buy whole ingredients versus prepackaged foods
  5. Look for used and second-hand alternatives before running out to the store to buy new
  6. Stop using food, clothing, or other purchases as “rewards” (this is an easy habit to get into)
  7. Stop shopping when you’re bored
  8. Suggest meeting a friend or coworker at a park or community center to reduce the expense of going out
  9. Take a year off from vacations and plan a few local day trips instead
  10. Implement a “mini no spending challenge”

Even if you just implement a few of these concepts, I think you’ll see a significant drop in your spending.

children's cash register with play money

How to KEEP Your Savings and Not Spend it Again! 

You might be able to successfully spend less each week — but if you don’t put that money somewhere safe, you will be tempted to spend it again very soon! 

I suggest opening a separate savings account and having a specific amount directly deposited from your paycheck each period. 

Since you’re already spending less, you most likely won’t miss the extra money coming out of your paycheck. 

You can also manually transfer money into this account each week or each month if you have extra sitting in your checking account after the bills are paid. 

You might just be amazed how quickly this new account grows… and the growth will offer more motivation to continue living frugally and setting more savings aside.

one dollar bill

Every financial situation is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to saving money… but consciously focusing on spending less each week won’t hurt anyone! 

If you feel $100 a week (or a month) isn’t doable for your situation, choose a smaller amount. 

The exact dollar amount isn’t nearly as important as developing a frugal mindset, learning to live below your means, occasionally doing without, and delaying your gratification just a few more days.

Stop making excuses and instead make a choice to put aside a little money from every paycheck for the foreseeable future… and start looking for ways to cut back on your monthly expenses. 

You’ll be amazed by how much savings you amass after a couple of years!

It might be enough for a fun family vacation, a new-to-you car WITHOUT a loan, a new furnace when your old one dies, or just to continue building your savings for a “rainy day”! 

How do YOU spend less and save more? 

Filed under: LifeFrugal Living

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31 comments

  1. Jean

    02/17/2020

    I love the encouragement to be frugal and practical ideas. We live in the country so dining out was typically more inconvenient than not so we stayed home and could throw together a decent and basic meal quickly. We sent our kids to private school k-8 and saved for college. What are your plans for college tuition for your kids? Will you assist? I have always been a Meijer shopper but shop at other stores for convenience at times. I’m not an Aldi fan because I know they don’t treat their help well (it is definitely a sweat shop and understaffed) so their low prices feel at the expense of others. I would rather pay more for my groceries and support a responsible employer. I’ve often bought thrifted clothing – I enjoy the hunt and like quality fabrics/garments that you can find at thrift/resale shops. We are fortunate to now be retired and able to spend the winter months in a warmer climate in what feels like paradise- but those frugal habits, engrained after so many years stay with us.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Jean,
    Here’s the post I wrote several a few years ago about our plan for saving for college.

    I realize our thoughts might change as our children get older and/or if our own financial situation changes — but right now, we don’t plan to make our children’s college savings a priority. We will continue saving aggressively for our own retirement as well as just practicing frugal-living principals, and when the time comes for our children to go to college, we’ll probably help them on an as-needed basis.
    There’s a chance they might not even go to college, depending on what type of profession they want to pursue, so we honestly don’t think or worry too much about it at this point.

    [Reply]

  2. Diane

    02/17/2020

    Hi Andrea, I enjoy reading your different ideas. I am a true thrift shopper myself, can’t imagine life any other way. I have started another grocery plan though. I am now shopping on line at Walmart, the prices are the same and so are the choices as in the store. They do NOT charge and no tipping allowed. What I also like about it is no impulse shopping, I spend a day or two going thru my list and add or subtract to be careful I have it just right. Love your farm house!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Diane!
    Our local Walmart doesn’t offer the pick-up service, otherwise I would be tempted to try that too! Glad you can capitalize on this frugal and time-saving way to grocery shop each week!

    [Reply]

  3. Karla

    02/11/2020

    We scrimped and saved to this degree for years. We also worked really hard. It helped us get to a place where we can now say “yes” where we used to say “no”. We do several trips, vacations and camps every year. We also see movies, go to the theatre and have season tickets for hockey and football. Our kids also go to a private school. I’m so glad we had the discipline early on so that we have the freedom now. Though it was hard to transition to saying “yes” when we had been doing without for so long!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes definitely! We enjoy spending money on our home and entertaining others in our home. We couldn’t have done that all years ago, but now we can, thanks to our efforts to save back then!

    [Reply]

  4. Sue

    02/09/2020

    We have been doing this sort of thing for years. I am a saver, but one thing we do have that you do not,.,,, we live in a higher cost area. ( that can be rough)
    The greatest tip I give people all the time that ask me when how do we save money. Is to always put some sort of money away each paycheck. Even if it is only $5.00. You never know when you will need that emergency money.

    Sue in NJ

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we are thankful to live in a lower cost of living area — one of the reasons we chose to settle where we did (versus where Dave was living in California before we got married! )

    [Reply]

  5. Kim

    02/06/2020

    I would love to see a list of your favorite items (besides produce) you regularly purchase from Aldi, if you ever have the time. I have about 20 items, but am thinking I need to expand my purchases there.
    Thank you!
    We also keep yearly data, which the refer to as “The State of the Union.”

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    great idea — I’ll get working on that post!

    [Reply]

  6. Christine Meurer

    02/05/2020

    Haha I had to laugh because I’ve been using your spreadsheet to track our finances, and I’ve roped my husband into a weekly finance meeting (“Friday Night Finance” finally after 13.5 yeara of marriage!). Last week as I excitedly sat down to work on my spreadsheet, he looked at me like I was weird, and I said, “I just love Excel so much.” I have a math ed degree, but I probably should’ve gone into accounting..

    Thanks for the spreadsheet, looking forward to comparing years in years to come! You would not believe what 1 year’s worth of groceries for a family of 7 looks like in Chicago. ouch.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    LOVE this — “Friday Night Finances” is perfect!

    Glad my spreadsheet has been helpful for you — glad I don’t have to pay Chicago prices for anything! 🙂

    [Reply]

  7. Chris

    02/05/2020

    I’m super impressed, Andrea, especially at those almost no cost entertainment years. It does help that you really like to stay home. It’s awesome to love our homes and families, isn’t it? 🙂 It’s interesting how we are all different and can prioritize different things. We are in the season of life now where we are debt free and don’t have little children and thank the Lord don’t have medical problems, so we have the money to do two of the things I just love to do, which is to go out to eat, which we actually don’t do that much compared to a lot of people, and to vacation. My husband would probably be happy if we had the money and time to travel at least four months out of the year! lol We do have very fond memories of vacationing with our son. However, we only had one child so it was a LOT less work and money and stress. 🙂 I love it how you can do what “you want” – fix your home up and save for Christian school tuition. My son also went to Christian school for a few years and it IS very expensive. Thanks for this awesome post.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yeah, it was honestly pretty shocking for me to look back and see how little we spent. I was almost embarrassed to publish it — but I hope it will helpful for some to see that while we do spend a lot on home renovations and sending our kids to Christian schools, we are able to do it all because we’ve majorly scaled back in other areas.

    Eventually, we hope to do more traveling with the kids (once Clara is potty trained!) and then we’ll most likely not have any home projects expenses anymore — so it’s all sort of give and take in terms of how our spending and saving works!

    [Reply]

  8. Lissa

    02/05/2020

    Your grocery budget doesn’t include meat right as you get that as a gift or blog stuff in zycon. Also not diapers right as you got those through grove by affiliate links?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Lissa,
    Over the last 14 years, we have been gifted with a quarter of a cow 3 times — we paid for all other meat (including the meat from Zaycon Fresh — which we only utilized a couple of times before it sadly went out of business)
    As for the diapers… I’ve done different things over the years depending on our baby’s preferences. We paid for all of Nora’s diapers, then Simon and James used mostly diapers from Grove… and now we’ve paid for all of Clara’s diapers since she didn’t do well with the brand from Grove.

    [Reply]

  9. Jennifer

    02/04/2020

    I love posts like these! We sold our home and tons of stuff almost 3 years ago and moved onto a sailboat. We still continue to reduce our spending. About 6 months ago we went from paying dock fees to living on a mooring ball and paying less than $400/mo with full access to a nice marina. We chose a place to live (Coconut Grove, Miami, Fl) that has everything we need within walking distance and public transportation for anything too far, like my husband’s work, so before the new year we took a final leap and sold our car, too! We need and have room for very little. Our son loves life on the water. We love spending a lot of time on our boat and in the various parks here, and we sail to The Bahamas and nearby Keys often. We just stock up on food and supplies before we go so we don’t spend much money traveling. We live simply, but in a big way.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — that’s a fun story!
    I’m sure your son (and you and your husband) will have such good memories of this time in your life!

    [Reply]

  10. Karen

    02/04/2020

    WOW!! This is my goal. Thank you for sharing! I am inspired

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    you’re welcome!

    [Reply]

  11. Andrea

    02/04/2020

    Wow…i’m inspired to try a little harder.
    I have a question, though, and I hope it’s not too personal. How do you keep your clothing expenses so low? Do you buy all clothing used? I know my area here in PA probably has a higher cost of living than where you are, but I feel new clothing prices would be pretty similar across the country. I used to do a lot more purchasing used, especially clothes, but in recent years, our thrift stores have really jacked up prices. Seriously, it costs the same amount for a new kids shirt at Walmart as it does for a used one at the thrift store and on more than one occasion we’ve seen an item at a thrift store that we’ve purchased new for less…it’s crazy. I also worry now because I keep seeing reports of bed bug infestations (a very expensive problem) so it seems not worth it for us.
    I look at our clothing expenses and we don’t buy a lot but some stuff is just so expensive. I mainly wear sneakers for instance and buy a new pair every few years, but even on sale I spend $30. Or last year I needed new nursing bras, and I only purchased 3 and got all sorts of coupon codes and sales but still spent $80-90. Can you share how you minimize expenses like that?
    If I could bring down our clothing expenses that would be a huge area of savings!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Andrea — not too personal at all 🙂
    Yes, I buy 98% of all MY clothing and the kids clothing from our local thrift stores (usually on “dollar day” when every item is only $1)
    There is also a really good Goodwill in the area that we can always find good items for Dave!
    We do usually buy the kids a new bathing suit every summer and new PJ’s every winter (but I still buy them on sale, so they are not expensive). We also have to sometime “splurge” on shoes if we can’t find good ones at the thrift stores — but even then, I almost always find what we need on Craigslist or Facebook market place for a deal.
    I never purchased any nursing bras (I just never felt the need) but used nursing tanks instead. I was able to score a handful of those free, thanks to a blog sponsorship several years ago — and I wore them for YEARS! IN fact, I like them so much I still wear them now — just as regular tanks!
    In general, we just “do without” until I find a good deal on something… unless it’s an “emergency” which rarely ever happens.
    HOWEVER, we have really good thrift stores in our area, so I know this isn’t an area everyone can be so frugal in! There might be other ways that are easier for you to save instead??

    [Reply]

  12. Pam

    02/04/2020

    My daughter always preferred taking dinner leftovers to school for lunch all through grade school. I did not realize how much money that saved until she reached high school and wanted to eat at school. We spend $400 a school year on just lunch when we used to spend an estimate of $100 or less per school year through grade school (and she doesn’t like some things at school so they end up in the trash). That’s a tip I use all the time…multiply expenses out beyond the initial expense. For example, $2.75 per school lunch doesn’t sound like much, but a savings of at least $300 per school year is significant. And that’s just one child.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — good for her! Dave often takes leftovers too!

    [Reply]

  13. Colleen

    02/04/2020

    Growing up my parents took 2 weekend trips without kids each year. 1 spring & 1 fall trip with Dad’s golf league. There were always grandparents or aunts & uncles willing to watch us for “just a weekend” and it gave us chance to know them better while giving my parents a reasonably priced (since only a weekend) time away together. I know my Mom looked forward to it as much as my Dad and the group they traveled with were lifelong friends. They both worked outside the house on opposite shifts so we always had one of them home & this was a chance to reconnect. Prioritizing their relationship in this way served as a great example to us kids. I realize you & Dave have far more time together than they did, but this is how I grew up, so seems normal to me.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for the encouragement! I’ll be able to leave the kids eventually 🙂
    But yes, Dave and I are together A LOT so it’s probably not exactly the same as your parents — but good to know they successfully pulled off 2 kid-free vacations every year!

    [Reply]

  14. Eileen

    02/04/2020

    Thanks so much for sharing! These are my ideals, I’m having to tell myself I’m doing “good enough” right now since having multiple foot surgeries and limited mobility with 3 small kids. If this had happened a few years ago though it would have been way more likely to have my husband pick up takeout on his way home from work but in our expensive metro area that would probably be almost $30-$40 for all of us. We now almost cook and eat every meal at home and it really does make such a difference financially. I would like to get back to Aldi but am having groceries delivered through amazon fresh right now (they actually have pretty good prices on some things and free delivery for prime members) and target drive up.
    My husband is trying to convince me when I’m out of a cast to travel without the kids too, we did when we had two kids and it really was wonderful as hard as it was for me to go. Thanks for sharing what you do!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, “good enough” is usually “good enough” 🙂
    There are so many different ways YOU might actually save more than we do (we spend a lot on home projects) so it’s just a matter of personal preferences and what’s important to you in this season of life.
    If convenience is more important to you, then the money is often a great trade-off!

    [Reply]

  15. Kim

    02/04/2020

    Where does tuition for Christian school come in now? And, once you are paying 4 tuitions?
    You are one amazing woman!!!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    That’s a whole separate expense category (obviously, it doesn’t fit under groceries, restaurants, entertainment, or clothing!)
    It’s a big expense, that’s for sure… but totally doable since our other expenses are SO low!

    [Reply]

  16. Paulette

    02/04/2020

    Wow, Andrea! You’re a rock star! Thanks so much for your financial tips.

    [Reply]