I’m drawn to frugal living websites. I know that every dollar saved is a step closer to my goal, whether it’s retirement, emergency fund, travels, luxury embalming, or whatever.
But I struggle with cutting costs. That’s why I enjoy articles like 17 Weird and Wacky Ways to Save Over $7,000 a Year (Spoiler alert: number 13 involves reuse of Ziplock bags. Dealbreaker. My grandmother could have taught a master’s-level class on that topic).
I look for savings tips with the most gain and least pain. Save $14,000 a year by switching soap brands? Sign me up. Cut $100 a month by reducing shower time by 15 seconds? I’m game! I’m all about reducing costs without sacrificing convenience.
Jump on the bandwagon.
My relationship with savings and budgets is a torrid affair. Things are exciting for a few weeks or so until calls start going straight to voicemail.
One year I got into couponing. It lasted a few months. Honest to God, I would walk around the grocery store with a blue plastic accordion file. We had a cupboard full of mayo to show for it.
This summer, after finishing the Slow Burn podcast—which I highly recommend for those who pine for plain old political disfunction—I needed to find a new podcast. I stumbled across ChooseFI, a podcast with two guys who preach optimized financial decisions. They advocate being a little bit smarter than the next guy.
ChooseFI embraces the FIRE movement (financial independence, early retirement). So, I went from Slow Burn to FIRE….
Anyways, early retirement is fine for some. But I would rather retire old or just normal.
One of the podcast hosts mentioned that every morning, he eats two eggs that cost 6 or 8 cents each. Silly as it sounds, that was a revelation. I had never really thought about the cost of breakfast. Each morning I was drinking a $2.85 chocolate shake. The shake was part of a fantastic nutrition program that changed my life. But I lost the weight and was ready to shake the shake.
Frying up a couple of eggs for a nutritious breakfast is easy, especially when working from home during a pandemic. So I did the math. Two eggs cost roughly $.15, for a net savings of $2.70 a day.
Those two eggs are saving me $82 a month and $970 a year. That’s almost $1,000 a year for my retirement account, college fund, surprise bills, or next trip.
Identify the kryptonite. Then find a convenient substitute.
In a sense, breakfast was my kryptonite. The most important meal of the day was poisoning my budget.
Saving $80 a month on breakfast may be extreme, but most of us have kryptonite embedded somewhere in our budgets (There are 23 varieties of kryptonite, so odds are there’s one that turns you green).
I’ve been able to overcome my kryptonite over the last few months because someone modeled good behavior. I didn’t even think about the cost of breakfast until a podcast host shared his eggsperience (okay, last one).
And the change was high gain, low pain. Instead of eliminating something—doing without breakfast, say—I made a substitution… a cheaper substitution of equal convenience. Convenience boosts the odds of any change sticking.
How else can our family save by making cheaper substitutions of equal convenience, I wondered?
Over the last few months, we’ve made three painless substitutions—plus the eggs—that save us $250 a month. By making a few cheaper substitutions of equal convenience, we are saving big.
Lidl and ALDI rock my world.
Lidl recently came to town. Like ALDI, Lidl is a German grocery that offers mostly off-brand groceries at a big discount. Hummus that cost me $4 is $1.50 at Lidl. Chips cost $1.10 instead of $4 at full-freight groceries. Lidl sells whole milk for half the cost of my old store. And then there’s the eggs at 6 to 8 cents each.
Produce at both Lidl and ALDI is not the substandard stuff I remembered from a trip to ALDI years ago. The vegetables and apples are great. Grapes and berries, a bit less so.
The shopping experience at Lidl and ALDI is the same as other grocery stores, but it’s more fun. It’s rewarding to track savings from rock-bottom prices. Plus, Lidl has an app with new rewards (think 30% off frozen seafood or frozen fruit) each time you pass a spending threshold.
Find yourself spending too much to feed your family? Try substituting your full-freight grocery with ALDI, Lidl, or even Wal-Mart. You’ll be amazed with their prices. It’s pretty easy to save at least 30%–without cutting or downloading a coupon.
Our savings? Roughly $120 a month / $1,440 a year.
Red red wine.
Another kryptonite in my budget is wine. Simply put, I enjoy red wine. Also, white and rosé.
Spending more time at home has only solidified wine’s standing as a superfood for many of us.
Even when purchased from Costco—my go-to wine source—a bottle usually sets me back at least $8.
I’ve been able to reduce my wine budget considerably by drinking Kirkland boxed cabernet. It’s comparable to wine that costs $6 or $8 for the equivalent of only $3.25 a bottle. Wine Enthusiast rated the 2018 KirkCab an 86, noting the “dense fruit and lightly spiced oak tones meld with a light snap of tannin to firm up the texture.” Oak and tannin melding for under $4 a bottle? Yes, please.
As far as convenience goes, KirkCab doesn’t require a corkscrew and has a handy spout. I might not serve KirkCab if the queen drops by, but it’s fine for this commoner on a Friday night.
When I want a lighter wine, Lidl has an decent rosé called Vega Del Cega for $4 a bottle. KirkCab and VDC are definitely cheaper substitutions of equal convenience.
The savings? Let’s just say $30+ a month / $360 a year and leave it at that.
Weed and feed.
I liked my lawn fertilizer and weed service. They left helpful notes like, “Remember to water your grass” and “Please spend more money with us.”
But I decided we didn’t need eight applications a year at a cost of nearly $500. Gardener Walter Reeves says that fescue only needs fertilizer three or four times a year. That’s good enough for me.
Pushing the spreader around is not quite as convenient as having someone else do it, but it’s not hard. I discovered that Amazon’s prices on fertilizer beat the orange warehouse, and I don’t have to lug the stuff to my car.
I messed up the first fertilizer application by using the wrong fertilizer, but the grass looks okay. The house is still standing.
The savings? $25 a month (after the cost of fertilizer) / $300 a year.
What’s your kryptonite?
To recap, I now eat eggs. I shop at Lidl and Aldi and drink KirkCab. And I fertilize. By making a few cheaper substitutions of equal convenience, we’ll save $3,070 this year. That’s 3 grand toward retirement, unexpected bills, college funds, or travel.
These examples might resonate with you. Or your kryptonite might be very different. The key is to find expenses that fly under the radar. The costs that you don’t consider. A convenient substitution or two just might put you hundreds or even thousands of dollars closer to your goal.