Teach yourself to save

25 January 2009
There is no doubt about it, things are grim. Jobs and homes are being lost, prices are rising and it looks like it won't improve for a long time yet. I know there are as many different financial situations out there as there are readers but one thing is common to us all, we need to save what we can. If you've never been in the position before of having to cut back and watch your money it's very confronting. But don't be anxious about it, this is just another skill you need to learn, and when you do, you'll get better at it.

If you haven't yet worked out how much you earn and spend in a week or a month, now is the time to do that. You need to work out your current financial situation, start to track your money and then, with your partner, write out a budget that you both stick to. The most important thing to remember is that most of your savings will be small amounts. Don't worry that they are small, they all add up and will make a huge difference over the course of a month and a year. I promise you that when you get to the end of that first month, and when you look back on a full year of cuting back and saving, you'll be as proud as punch. And you should be, you will have made a big difference to your life.

So what are all those small savings you need to teach yourself about? Start at the supermarket because that's where we spend money every week. If you have several supermarkets in your immediate area, go to each one and compare the regular shelf prices, not the specials When you're satisfied that you have the cheapest one that is where you should do your regular shopping each week. But then you should check out the specials and loss leaders of each store by looking at their advertising and flyers - a loss leader is the super special a store will advertise to get you into the store. If the loss leader is something you need, buy it, and leave. Remember, you'll be doing your shopping at the cheapest supermarket from now on. If you have enough money, buy extras of those things you use all the time when you see them on special and start a stockpile.

Other supermarket/food things you can do are:
  • cut down on the number of meat meals you serve during the week.
  • buy generic or store brands - always check the country of origin before buying these and buy from your own country.
  • check your local farmers market, if you have one, they often have the best and cheapest food.
  • use your leftovers.
  • cook two or more meals at once to save the cost of energy, and your time.
  • serve smaller portions if you think your portions are too big.
  • instead of serving a large portion of meat to everyone, serve a small portion and add a dessert at the end of the meal. A nice rice pudding or fruit cobbler will fill them just as much as meat will.
  • Don't buy too much. Make use of everything you buy and don't waste one thing.
  • Make your own bread - it's healthier, cheaper and tastes better.
  • Make your own cleaners - buy pure soap, washing soda, borax and bicarb at the store and make what you need at home. The recipes are here.
  • Pack lunches for work and school.
Other money saving strategies in the home include monitoring your electricity and water meters. Turn off the TV and lights when you leave the room and ask your family to do the same. Turn off the computer when it's not being used. Change your light globes to the energy saving ones.

If you have space, plant a small vegetable garden. Grow what you eat but if you only have a small amount of time for gardening, grow those vegetables you eat that are expensive, like tomatoes. If you do grow tomatoes, barter some of them with a neighbour to get things like honey or eggs.

It's not easy saving money but it's very rewarding. When you have a successful month you'll take pride in a job well done. And it will bring you closer to your goal of living simply - all the things I've written about here are the practical day-to-day tasks of a simple life. So don't be scared of doing this, don't think it's too hard or that you really want those new shoes. Now is the time for action and if you can do this, if you can cut back and teach yourself to save, you'll put yourself and your family in a much better situation if the economic situation gets worse.

If you're doing something a bit unusual and it's helping you save, please tell us about it. There are many readers here who need help and a bit of encouragement, so if you can help with your suggestions, please do. We are all in this together.

And before I go ... happy Australia Day to all my fellow Australians. :- )


  1. Here in the eastern U.S., frozen veg in the winter can be cheaper than fresh, and is probably "fresher" too, as it was frozen just after picking. I can buy chopped bell peppers for about a dollar for a 16-ox. bag, for example, whereas the fresh ones are anywhere from $1.99 to $3.99 a pound.

  2. Could you share some easy bread recipes... or some secrets to making bread...mine comes our dense and tasteless...

  3. Great post ! Lots of good information here !

  4. Another great post.

    Saving money is about starting small. I find it is all the small things that I waste money on. Over a month it can really add up.

    It can be hard to break bad habits (that is how I see the non-essential spending) but reading posts like this helps no end.


  5. One thing I do is draw a set amount of cash each week and when it is gone, it is gone. I do not draw more. It is a game to see how much I can have over each week after shopping, which goes into a "stash" tin for special treats. It works!

  6. Good reminders! I am saving more by driving less. We have a young family and are not in a postion to have one car. However, there are days my car doesn't leave the drive. We invested in decent bicycles and the boys ride to school most days. I combine errands into one trip instead of daily. At times I insist to family and others that I am not leaving the house today. Usually the reason for this is that I need to cook and clean, the savings in petrol are a bonus.
    Now that fuel prices are lower its a good time to double the savings, rather than become careless.

  7. Something that helps me save money is carpooling (I drive some kids to school and their parents pay for my gas but if I go out to meet friends we take one car only and take turns). Also when I have errands to run, I map them out and take the best route trying to do them all in one trip. I was given a GPS by a relative, but google maps is good enough.

  8. Hi Rhonda, I am well overdue to write and say hello to you - you have proven a real inspiration to me and my husband is really proud of the tips I have been implementing arouind the home. We have been 'living simply' for a couple of years now... progressively of course and over that time I have kept a list of all the things we have changed about our lifestyle to increase our simplicity. it is always rewarding when you write about something we have already done but extra rewarding when you write about something i havent thought of yet! We have our 'simple living' down to $250 per week for ALL expenses (after having just paid of the mortgage, hurray!) However, we have our first baby arriving in April and i am a bitworried that a baby is going to be really expensive. I know it doesnt have to be and I have been sewing, knitting and borrowing things in preparation. Anyway, I just wanted to say hi and let you know you are a real insipration around this house. Thanks for all you provide to us! Kirsten

  9. We sold one of our two cars and both bought bicycles. We don't use them as much as we should but using them at all saves us money on gas, extends the life of our remaining car and keeps us healthy.

  10. I am awful at saving money! BUT, I found this free website called www.mint.com that tracks all my spending and lays it out for me in pretty pictures and graphs. And THAT motivates me to save, when I can see it visually like that.

  11. Beth,
    For more flavorful and very easy bread try googling "no-knead bread". These sorts of bread doughs sit for hours and develop wonderful flavor. I use whole wheat or rye flour and have wonderful results with a recipe from Mother Earth News' site.

  12. We don't do anything special to save money, just live simply. Thankfully we learnt this lesson young and had zero debt by the age of 29. I think that tracking your spending by writing it down helps keep track of where your money is going but also the added bonus of making you try harder to not spend on unnecessary things.

  13. Happy Australia Day from a kiwi.

    For singletons, like myself, keep an eye out for cheap seasonal vegetables and fruits, and freeze them. Recently there were enormous heads of brocoli on special. Way to much for me to get through while fresh, so I blanched and froze most of it. Still cheaper than buying frozen broccoli, and prepared to my liking.

    Roll on the Chappell/Hadlee series!

  14. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    Just popping in to let you know that I have that baby in my arms finally. Alice Elizabeth born January 22 at 1 minute past midnight! 8 pounds, 10 ounces. It was my best birth - no medical intervention needed and reasonably quick. I have some pictures up on my blog.
    Rachel L from NZ

  15. Happy Australia day from the West of our country!
    I have found some main things very helpful in cutting down on spending:
    * Not buying commercial toiletry items or cleaning items - I'm having to phase them out gradually as my husband is a bit scared lol
    * Recycling - I have a little one and just small stuff like buying toys or craft supplies can be expensive but she has just as much fun with stuff we create from containers and packaging .... as do I!
    * Going back to the good old days and I've put my hubby in charge of the money and I ask for housekeeping money in cash at the beginning of each week...aim to come in with leftovers for saving but if you overspend you get no more.
    * Not ducking into town for stuff....to stop ridiculous trips to town I've bought in UHT milk so that we can roll our trips to town into perhaps one a week.

    We are trying to do heaps and we are zero debt because we don't own our own house etc but I feel very liberated saying that.
    The only other thing I must say is that whilst growing your own veggies may seem like a good option...examine it carefully as my husband got a bit over the top building our veggie patch and it cost him WAY too much and so far is only costing us money....look for cheaper ways of doing things (using recycled materials and getting to know your neighbours to share seeds and plants) before you plan the patch lol

  16. Happy Australia Day, Rhonda Jean & Hanno

    So many people around the world have a connection to you through your blog and I am so happy to have you as my ambassador for our great country. When people read your blog they can rest assured that there will be no bulldust, just commonsense advice and musings of living a wonderful, simple life. You do us proud!

    Have a lovely day - Joolz

  17. I really like the idea of serving dessert instead of a large helping of meat. It takes a lot of persuading to steer (pun, ha) people away from meat. Dessert just might do it.

    Working hard at sccworlds.com

  18. As usual, so much usefull information.

  19. This is such a timely post! I am sure we have places where we can scrimp and cut out spending. I am going hunting for them.


  20. I had a look at your cleaning products link and couldn't see any suggestions for washing the dishes or for dishwasher powders. Would you use the same ones as for the washing machine?

  21. If I make anything with minced beef/ground beef, I whizz carrot up with the food processor attachment on my stick blender. it becomes like 'crumbs', and when cooked in with mince the texture is the same as the meat. So you can then bulk cook bolagnaise or cottage pie meat and freeze it easily.

    This makes it really cheap as the carrots are cheaper than meat.

    Make soup with leftovers, this also saves time and money.

    If you have any left overs from a special meal (big budget blow out), freeze portions of this IMMEDIATELY after it has cooled. If wont languish in the fridge hidden by the margarine and then have to be thrown away. Then if you have an impromptu guest you can defrost it and have a feast.

    Love this post Rhonda. I will read it again a few times and the comments to see if there is anything else I can pick up.

  22. By telling us to save and be ""proud as punch"" you assume that we have enough to live on and money in excess.
    I can assure you this family does not.
    We are extremely frugal and do not have a dime to spare.
    We haven't shopped for new items for a long, long time, thrift shops provide our bare essentials even down to underwear. When you start wearing somebody else's underwear you know you're frugal.
    While I type this I'm wearing shoes with padding in them (one size too big from the thrift shop)
    This is a neighbour's computer which we earn time on by doing odd jobs for her. Please don't assume that because you have a savings account yourself that all others are able to save. Your tips on frugal living are appreciated but when once again I read about your savings I realise you are a million miles away from real frugality. Money is not a be all and end all in this family as it seems to be in yours. We have love, we struggle to get by but love holds us together.
    Jocelyn B.

  23. I wrote some comments to you some weeks ago about the stress of job loss, jobs moving, etc. I've started a blog about the process. The hard part is all the waste of moving. But deciding how to do this efficiently. What kind of house to get. Could we buy a small house and have a very small or even no mortgage? Of course, we'd also like a nice house with a good commute for my husband and good schools for the kids. Check out the blog. http://escleali.blogspot.com/

  24. You are so right about savings accumulating in small amounts. I forget that and appreciate your frequent reminders about savings. There are so many people out of work here in the U.S. and it's really frightening!

  25. Funny you should say about the bread Rhonda - I followed your from-scratch tutorial yesterday and its the best bread I've ever eaten!!

    There have been loads of things I've done to save money since coming to this blog about a year ago for the first time. Most of them are your suggestions, and the biggest one of all that's done the most good to me is:


    Thanks Rhonda - you've turned my life around :-)

    Hugs xxx

  26. Informative post as always! I've found the best thing for me to do is to just have money direct deposited into my savings account. That way I just work my budget with what I have.


  27. Great tips - I need to work on some of these!

  28. Rhonda I was just on your laundry sight Sunday to look up homemade laundry soap and funny its your post today from this day on i will make my own soap its so cheap and i can use some of the products for other cleaning as well. I have a tip for people who are tempted by drive threws i my self am not but i do this to keep my weight down and to save money always pack a cooler of carrots, yogurt, small crackers,apple soft drink or water put a frozen bottle of water in the pack to keep things cool i do this when i am out shopping so i don't fall prey to spending money on junk food and keep healthy fast snacks in my car. driving home from work-- shopping-- a day out this will save time and money trust me you all will see.i call it the happy snack save money and you don't fill up before dinner.just pack before you leave like you pick up your purse also it will come in handy if you see a homeless person begging for money if they are really hunger they will jump at the food. my husband and i do this every time we see someone in need another way to give back for the many blessing we have in our own lives never once has a person with a sign turned our food. there are more people in the us in need that most people could ever dream please pack a happy snack today you will never be sorry.Debra Lynn in the USA

  29. Hooray for this post! Something I have been doing recently is getting together with friends to make bulk freezer meals. We have done burritos in the past but will be shortly doing tamales and some sort of veggie lasagne. Not only is it less expensive, it is very fun to have a group of friends around a table working together.

  30. Hi Rhonda,
    What a great post. My husband of 15 years+ and I have always had a budget..... some years have been better than others. I am very proud to say that we are debt free(except for our house and one car). We are both using the "cash" method in our home. I have a coupon organizer and each payday, money for each catagory goes into that section. If I want or need something I look in that catagory and if there's money in there I can use it.... if not then I have to wait until the next payday. What seems to work for me is staying at home. If I don't go to the stores then I am not tempted to buy things. I have been shocked at times to see how much can accumulate over time.
    We haven't always had all the money we needed to meet our bills, especially when we were younger. We made it our goal to work at being debt free. One bill at a time... and the other goal is to remain debt free. My heart breaks for Jocelyn B and others that are truly feeling this hard time. It is so easy to talk about saving money when money is plentiful. I would like to encourage all to make as much homemade as possible. I use your laundry detergent recipe and I have saved money doing that. Also, make a menu and stick to it. I make a monthly menu and buy for what's on the menu. I also cook monthly and freeze it. I am able to do this because we have a budget in place. Don't get overwhelemed... start small.... take baby steps.

  31. It's hard to admit, but at your blog, it's just as educational and enjoyable reading comments as it is an entry! I have to agree with many people here.

    Janet is right about frozen veggies. It seems like winter lasts almost half the year in the northeast U.S. and frozen veggies are cheap and taste so much better (and better for you I bet) than the heavily processed canned foods.

    Emma is right about reading posts as a means of saving money- the more you hear it and everyone else's ideas, the easier it gets for you.

    A few people mentioned how surprising it is to see how much builds up after saving a little every week, and that's the truth! I do what Linds does- putting so much aside for the week in cash and once it's done, it's done. But, if I end up with some left over at the end of the week, I take all of it and put it into something else- savings, bills, medical, etc. It's a prime example of seeing how a little builds up to a lot fast.

    And as for freezers, I'm in love with mine and only wish I had more room. Slice of Life had it right with freezing leftovers as soon as things are cooled, you don't end up with forgotten leftovers in the fridge that you end up having to throw away. Instead, you end up with leftover surprises in your freezer that account for a whole new meal. Utilize your freezer as much as possible!!!

  32. Rhonda why did you remove your picture i think it is good to see the lovely face behind all of your wise words. please put a picture of you back up i know some feel comfort in your picture as i did. you look like my husbands aunt and she is a sweet lady. Debra Lynn happy Auusie day i would love to travel to the Aussie one day for vacation.

  33. Rhonda I can't believe you use a dish washer I live without one in the us I am 45. could I afford one yes maybe two but i feel washing my dishes make them clean it also keep them from getting scratched up. most of my friends agree we don't use dish washer in my circle of friends save water and elec stop using that wasteful machine.Debra Lynn

  34. Each week when I deposit my paycheck I get a certain amount in cash. Part of this goes to misc. items during the week and the other part goes to insurance. Vehicle insurance (liability) for two vehicles averages $10.00 a week. I have an envelope with each payday wrote on it and I "deposit" the money into this "account". When my insurance comes due every 6 months I have cash money to go pay the bill. I don't have to worry about coming up with all the money at one time. Its worked for several years now. We also drive older vehicles (mid 90 models) we paid cash for which = no payment = lower insurance.

  35. I hope this isn't too remedial
    . . .
    We are working urgently at paying
    down/off the debt and I'm confused
    as to putting money in savings or
    paying down the debt first.
    Or, should we be doing both? Put
    some of the extra toward the debt,
    and some of it toward savings,or
    all of toward debt first?

  36. It's very heartening to see so many of you working well with your money.

    Debra Lyn, I removed the last photo when I did my last changes and since then I've been too preoccupied with the book proposal to think about putting it back. I'll take a new one and put it back when I have some time. The proposal is due in this Saturday.

    I have a dishwasher but I often wash up by hand. I'm not fanatical about either way, it depends on how tired I am and how many dishes are there.

    Kirsten, well done! You've done very well and I don't think you'll need to worry. Yes a baby will increase your expenses but you've learned how to manage your money now and I'm sure you'll manage.

    Lilymarlene, I use bicarb to wash the dishes in the dishwasher, with vinegar in the rinse dispenser. I use plain homemade soap for the hand washed dishes, and sometimes I dissolve a cake of soap to make a gel and pour that in the washing up water.

    Cam, I agree, a garden is a long term investment.

    Anon, can you put a bit aside as a buffer? If so, do that, then pay down your debt first. When all your credit cards are paid off, build up your savings while you pay off your mortgage as quickly as you can. Fortnightly payments instead of monthly ones are a great idea.

  37. Great advice Rhonda.

    We opted out of the energy-saving light bulbs during the last month of my pregnancy, because they triggered migraines. Now we're back to using them.

  38. Rhonda and Hanno,
    Happy Aussie Day, to you both!
    Hugs, Aunt Bea

  39. This is an old trick of my gran's which might sound a little over the top but really does work. When your bed sheets (no rubber band, just plain sheets) are worn thin and threadbare in the middle, split them down lengthwise in the middle and sew back together on the former outside seams (remove the old seam to avoid bulk). Seam the sides. This way the thin part will be on the outer seams and the stronger material in the middle, prolonging the life of your sheets. Happy sewing!

  40. Really minor one but I boil water in the morning once and then keep the water in a flask for my days coffee.I never use the tumble dryer unless it is raining.I see there is so much more I could be doing and will try to implement a few each day till they become a habit.Thanks for the great tips


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