Friday, January 30, 2009

Spend to Save

With costs rising dramatically, while income levels remain stagnant, I've found myself scouring the internet for ways to trim our expenses so that we can we can continue to live within our means - this seems to get trickier and tricker every month!  I feel like I have implemented just about every money-saving measure that doesn't cost money to implement.  Cooking from scratch using only whole, unprocessed food, drinking tap water, turning off lights, carefully meal planning, making soup stock from vegetable scraps, hanging quilts over the windows to keep out drafts, avoiding disposables, you name it, I've done it.  There are, however, some money-saving measures that we could implement, but it would mean some up-front cost. Things like switching to CFL bulbs.  The cost savings are fantastic, but you pay a pretty penny for a CFL bulb up front.  Here are some more examples of things you could invest in that would reduce your expenses over time:

*Insulation:  Insulating your home will not only make you more comfortable, but will save a huge amount of money in heating costs
*Caulking:  Relatively cheap, caulking around windows, doors, and baseboard trim will significantly reduce drafts.
*Smart Strips:  these are power strips that allow you to break the power supply to your electronics, eliminating "phantom power"
*Clothes Drying Rack:  I ran an online calculator through our local power company's website.  I figured I average 2-3 loads of laundry per day (including cloth diapers).  With the low end of the estimate, 2 loads per day, we are paying over $70.00 every 2 months to run our dryer.  Canadian Tire has a good drying rack for $55.00, which I balked at at first, figuring I'd wait for it to go on sale before buying it - but considering it would pay for itself in just over a month, it's a fantastic investment.  I might just go get it today.
*Replacing disposables:  While typically this can be done for next to nothing (by using recycled materials), there are some things you might have to shell out for, if you don't have any sewing skills.  Like cloth diapers, cloth menstrual pads, etc.  If you can sew, you can make these for free by utilizing things you have around the house.
*Sewing machine:  Speaking of sewing!  A sewing machine is probably the best investment I have EVER made.   This has paid for itself over and over and over again.  I make our own drapes, all things reusable, mend things, etc.  The other night I mended a hole in a brand new pair of Norah's pants.  She had fallen on the sidewalk the first time she wore them, and left a hole in the knee.  I cut out a cute heart out of fabric, appliqued it on, and it's as cute as a button - you'd never know it was there to hide a hole!  Perhaps I'll post a picture.  Anyway, the possibilities with a sewing machine are limitless, I could never imagine throwing away a pair of pants because the zipper was broken, or paying someone to put up a hem for me.  It's easy to teach yourself to sew, and a good starter machine could be purchased 2nd hand for less than $100.00.
*Rechargeable batteries:  We've been slowly making the switch.  Each month I try to purchase another pack, until we've eliminated our need for regular, throw-away batteries.  We've also tried to reduce the number of things we use that require batteries.  
*Clothes Line:  Similar to the clothes drying rack, we use our clothes line all summer.  I think we paid $50.00 for everything we needed to set it up, and it paid for itself in a couple of months.
*Wood Stove/Woodburning Insert:  We did this a couple of years ago, and again, it paid for itself quickly, probably within the first 2 years.  Burning wood is a little more work, but saves us a huge amount of money, and makes us less reliant on the wildly fluctuating price of oil.

I'm sure there are many others that I haven't thought of!  Since we use the Envelope Method for budgeting, I've decided to start an envelope called "Spend to Save".  Where to get the money to fund this envelope?  Start by finding one or two ways to save money this month that won't cost you a cent up front.  Take that money, even if it's only $5.00, and stick it in your "Spend to Save" envelope.  Maybe this will buy you a pack of CFL light bulbs.  When you realize the savings from your reduced energy costs, stick THAT money in the envelope, in addition to what you saved without spending a cent.  With THAT money, you could buy a couple of tubes of caulking.  If you kept going like this, eventually you would build up enough money to buy some larger things, like a sewing machine, or insulation.  Eventually you might have enough money to install solar panels on your house, or a wind power generator.  Just as the snowball method works for debt repayment (as you pay your smallest debt, you roll the payment onto the next smallest debt, and keep going until you're debt free), you could snowball your "Spend to Save" envelope.  Simply make a list of things you could buy now that would save you money in the long run.  Put them in order of the cheapest (CFL bulb) to most expensive (Solar Panels), and then start snowballing!  

What are some ideas you have for things you could spend money on now to save money later?


  1. Great post! I keep meaning to really work on learning to sew better. I think the lack of maternity clothes I like may be nudging me that way. I know is would be useful, but it's easy to get frustrated with the machine!

    Other ideas - gardening supplies, better insulated windows (takes a long time to pay off though), better car if you have an unreliable one.

    For the phantom power issue, I just use plain old power strips like you use for a computer. We found we had a bunch from having separate homes in college, so I keep my computer equipment and TV/stereo equipment on them, and flip them off when we don't need these devices. I do think it helps.

    Not sure if you have freecycle in Canada, but that or craigslist can be a source of free or cheap household items, which might reduce the cost of some of what you are looking for. Or just put out the word - we got our sewing machine for free from someone who just wasn't using his. Good luck!

  2. Jennifer,

    If you have a sewing machine, I would definitely encourage you to use it! Practice makes better. :) Just think of all the great baby stuff you could sew!

    Great idea with the gardening supplies - it can be a fairly steep investment but growing your own food is one of the most frugal things you can do! I can't wait to start doing this - although I think it might be too ambitious of an undertaking for this year, considering I will have 3 kids 4 and under. :( Who knows though, we might be able to do some container gardening.

    Windows are on our list as well, but you're right, the payoff for those is a little longer. We're not sure how much longer we'll be in this house, so we're hesitant to make those kinds of investments if we're not going to be here to reap the rewards. :)

    We do have regular power strips, but they're enclosed in child-proof cases (which requires a screwdriver to get into)... makes it nearly impossible to actually use them. :) We just use them as multi-outlets. From what I understand with the Smart Strips, you determine what will be your master switch (ie - shutting off your computer), and it automatically knows to shut everything else off that's plugged into the strip. I think this would meet our needs for both the computer and the television/entertainment equipment. I think they cost about $30.00 a piece.

    We do have Freecycle, and I'm on the mailing list. I recently got 2 garbage bags full of boy clothes. A lot of it got re-donated, but I was able to keep quite a bit, mostly for clothes he can wear around the house. We have Craigslist in Canada as well, but it seems to be only for the major cities. For more local stuff I use kijiji - thanks for the reminder, I often forget to check there for stuff first!

    Great tips!

  3. Great tips! So many little things can make such a big difference. I love being able to hang dry clothes in the summer, and even have a small line and rack inside by the washing machine so that I can dry stuff in the winter. I still use the dryer a lot in the winter, but I figure every little bit helps :)

    Also, I love your veggie stock tip. I have almost a full bag waiting to cook! Plus I love I'm not just 'wasting' food by tossing the ends and extras.

    And I would love to see pics of the patch on your daughters pants. My son has a pair of jeans that are great except for the hole in the knee. I can sew (diapers, bags, easy stuff), but don't know how to do a patch.

    Thanks for your blog, you really are inspiring!

  4. Jen,
    Thanks for commenting! I visited your blog as well, you are very creative!

    Maybe I'll write a more detailed post on the veggie stock, as well - I think the original post just had pictures, but no directions. That's what I love about it as well, that I'm not throwing away all the bits and ends - it's like free food. :)

  5. One thing I started doing awhile back was making my own laundry soap. It works great even on those with sensitive skin. I can make 2 gallons for about .50 cents! It lasts us about 2 months because you don't use much.
    Here is a link to my post about it.