Before Brian and I met and married, we each had years under our belts as cash-strapped single parents. We both managed to climb out of black financial holes (or maybe that should be red?) and create decent lives for ourselves and our children.
We’d rather not go back to the austere days of pinching every penny and agonizing over growing kids and too-small clothes, or about how we’d pay for an unexpected car repair bill. Our past experiences dealing with tight finances does have an upside, though: We both developed mad cheapskate skills and can put them to work now, voluntarily, to help us reach our goals.
While some of our tactics had roots in saving money, they became preferences when they benefitted us in other ways. Each item on the list that follows is something we are doing, right now, to pay for our RV and eliminate debt. While I don’t want to turn Wandering Porcupine into an advice blog, I will from time to time write about things I think are helpful – especially if they buck some kind of status quo 🙂
Let’s get into it, and see if we can’t give you at least a few ideas that’ll help you cheap out wherever you are.
1) I do the majority of our grocery shopping at Walmart or Aldi
I absolutely hate grocery shopping. Not only that, but I’m no good at it. Faced with a store filled with tens of thousands of items, my brain goes into overload, then practically shuts down. I leave with things I didn’t intend to buy, and forget some of what I came for.
When I used to shop my preferred grocery chain (Publix) this discombobulation cost me dearly. I’d have to go back to the store repeatedly and start the whole overload/distraction/forgetting cycle over again. I paid higher prices because I’m a snob when it comes to the surroundings in discount chains like Food Depot and Walmart. Back in Aldi’s early days in the US, I wasn’t a fan, either. Walked in, got the willies and walked out. It wasn’t until years later when Aldi opened a new location in my town that I gave it another shot.
Meat and produce notwithstanding, if you like the good stuff cheap, you need to go to Aldi. Some of Aldi’s meat is pretty good, but you have to check packages for tiny print indicating it’s pumped and plumped with salt water. I like Aldi’s stores. They’re small, so I can get in and out of without a lot of stress. Aldi was my go-to until I had the option of not going into a store at all. Yes, please!
Never thought I’d see the day when I gave Walmart the edge, and most of our grocery dollars. But they have got it going on with their grocery pickup service. Online grocery shopping works with the way my brain works. I can see and easily add all the things I normally buy. Instead of walking all over a store and being distracted by a bazillion cans, bags and bottles, I just type what I want in the search thingie and boom! I get a list of whatever they have in stock that applies.
Walmart’s Grocery app shows cost per unit so it’s easy to see which item is the best buy. Plus, my total is visible the whole time I’m shopping, and it’s easy to remove things from my cart if I go over my limit. I get to choose a pickup time when I place my order. Then I show up in the pickup area at the appointed time, let the Walmart folks know I’m there, and they come out and load everything in my car for me. I loathe grocery shopping and we can’t get grocery delivery in our area, but this is pretty darn close.
I suggest the same caution with Walmart meat as with Aldi’s – some of it is “enhanced” with salt water, and the grocery app photos aren’t always large or clear enough to see the “Contains up to an XX%” verbiage on the labels. If I’m not sure, I’ll check the item on the Walmart Grocery website.
While I’d like Walmart to do a better job with in-app item photos and descriptions, overall I am elated that Walmart’s grocery service is an option. If you want to try it, here’s a $10 off link that also throws a $10 credit my way: http://r.wmt.co/folHm
2) We almost never buy packaged beverages
We get our vitamins and minerals – and a whole lot of other good stuff – from food. For hydration, we drink water. When caffeination is called for, we drink coffee or tea – usually made at home. The one exception to the packaged beverages rule is alcohol, which we consume in moderation.
Well, I do, anyway 😉
Speaking of booze, if you are a cheapskate who likes wine, you can’t beat Trader Joe’s “Two-Buck Chuck” or Aldi’s Winking Owl brand.
Soda, sweet tea, flavored drinks, fruit juices, so-called green drinks – even diet soda – no longer have a place in our house or our grocery budget. Health is as big a reason for this as budget.
I used to buy orange juice because I believed it was a healthy source of vitamin C. Bought the high-dollar, not-from-concentrate stuff, too. Then I found out that OJ isn’t the vitamin C powerhouse that orange growers associations make it out to be.
Juices – orange or whatever – are actually not a good way to consume fruit. They’re more like fruit’s bastardized offspring: 3x the sugar (21 grams in a glass of OJ) and almost none of fruit’s fiber (to keep you sated). Cutting the budget was why I originally quit buying OJ, but once I stopped kidding myself about the health value of fruit juices I realized they all needed to be permanently banished from our grocery list.
I’m not ignorant about Starbucks anymore, either. Sure, getting a coffee can be a relatively healthy and inexpensive treat. But if you don’t like the flavor of coffee unless it’s cloaked in a Venti Caffè Mocha disguise, your wallet and your waistline will hate you. Those suckers are almost $5 a pop. Black coffee is half the price and like zero calories. Pretty sure if I can learn to drink it anyone can. Insider tip: cut the sugar first, and maybe reduce the cream gradually. Fat isn’t really as evil as we’ve been told 🙂
Cutting out these little indulgences might save you more than you realize. One glass of a middling brand of OJ per day adds up to almost $150 over the course of a year. A $5 Starbucks drink a week would set you back more than $250 in a year. Got two little kiddos with a one-a-day Capri Sun habit? $180 bucks over the course of a year. Individually or occasionally, none of these things break the bank. But cutting them all from our budget saves us big bucks and makes it way easier to maintain healthy eating habits.
If you hate drinking water I don’t know what to say except diabetes is an expensive disease 🙁
3) We’re getting fit without paying for gym memberships
I’ve written about Darebee before, but it definitely deserves a place on this list. Darebee is a completely free online fitness resource run by a small group of volunteers and fitness professionals. The site offers workouts and programs for all fitness levels, and many if not most of them require no equipment at all.
All Darebee workouts are tested in the group’s workshops. The site offers a video library with short clips of each exercise so you can see proper form, and its pages look and work great with any screen size. I can even use my mobile phone to see and work through the routines. On top of all this, the group produces a PDF version of each workout program so you can use it offline. That’s a huge plus if you’re boondocking.
Darebee is my fitness weapon of choice. I find most exercise mind numbing and often feel like I’m getting nowhere. Darebee workouts make me feel badass, and I definitely see and feel the progress. The only thing I like better than Darebee workouts is Zumba, but I don’t like it enough to pay $35 per month and drive to the gym 3 – 5 times a week.
Brian has lost around 60 pounds over the last several months. Walking is his primary fitness routine. Although he finds it pretty monotonous, when he loaded up his mp3 player with audiobooks his daily walks became tolerable. He’ll probably add in some Darebee routines pretty soon, though, because walking doesn’t do a lot for upper body strength.
4) We buy our dogs’ heartworm preventive from Australia
I take heartworm prevention very seriously. I have Google Calendar reminders set up so I don't forget to give our dogs their regular dose. I've taken in two Greyhounds (Laurie, the brindle pictured here, is one) who've suffered and could have died because their previous owners neglected to give them preventive or have them tested.
There's no need to spend a fortune on preventive, though, and that's what it'll cost you if you buy it from your vet. US-based online pet pharmacies require a prescription, which can be a deterrent to keeping pets protected when they just need preventive and not a vet visit. US-based pet pharmacies are also more costly than overseas alternatives.
There are at least a few legitimate online sources of heartworm preventive. The ones I've used are based in Australia, in a jurisdiction that requires no prescription to purchase. I have used DeadFleaz.com for years, for both heartworm preventive and flea and tick preventive. You’ll find generic versions of these meds at rock-bottom prices, and sometimes Aussie versions of the same stuff you’d buy here in the US.
Note: If your pet hasn’t been on heartworm preventive continuously since a vet visit with a negative heartworm test, do not simply buy and administer preventive. Heartworm preventive doesn’t actually prevent infestation; it merely kills heartworms that are present.
When a pet is heartworm negative and preventive is regularly administered, any heartworm contracted down the road won’t have the opportunity to grow to a harmful size. If a dog hasn’t been on regular doses of a preventive and contracts heartworm, giving preventive could cause the dog to die from internal bleeding.
5) I switched to a free online business checking account
My bank charged a fairly reasonable $12.50 monthly fee for maintaining a business checking account for the simpler web. It doesn’t seem like much monthly, but over the course of a year that’s $150. Since I’m not working on websites right now, my balance slowly shrank. I’d have to close my account at my local bank when we hit the road anyway. So why keep paying my local bank when I could open a free Spark Business Checking account?
If you don’t have a business you can still get free checking from Capital One. Check out their 360 Checking Account.
I’ve been super happy with Spark Business Checking so far, but I’ve only had my account for a few weeks. I’m thinking that between the mobile banking app, 40,000 nationwide ATMs and extended customer service hours (8AM–10PM Eastern, Monday–Saturday), it could be a full-time RVer’s dream bank. Looking forward to seeing how it stacks up while we’re on the road.
6) I changed my business finance software from Xero to ZipBooks
Xero was nice. I had all my accounts running through it, including PayPal. It offered double-entry accounting, and I could send invoices. I paid $30 per month for these features. $360 per year. Perhaps small potatoes when I was doing thousands of dollars worth of work at a pop. But as I began taking in fewer projects it began depleting my tiny reserve. Enter ZipBooks. Totally free accounting software. As in zero dollars, period.
ZipBooks is free because they make money from people who want to get paid before their client actually pays them. You and I don’t do that because we’re smart (and cheap). ZipBooks offers invoicing, and they enable you to accept credit card payments on those invoices. You can also use the platform to track time and manage projects. I probably should do those things, but the best day tracking time still makes me want to cut myself (design firm PTSD).
7) We don’t have cable TV or other video subscriptions
My priorities have never lined up with paying even $50 per month for TV. I enjoy a movie every now and then, and I admit I’m easily sucked in by HGTV if it’s playing somewhere I’m visiting. But I have better things to do with my time than sit on my ass in front of the boob tube for even an hour per night. I definitely have better things to do with my money.
I cut the cable in 2005, after a boyfriend who watched it all the damn time couldn’t get back in the house because I changed the locks moved out. I subscribed to Netflix for a while, but the discs just sat there (yep – old-school Netflix!) so I cancelled it, too.
Brian and I got married in 2008, and he and the kids moved in. I was OK with him getting cable as long as the TV stayed downstairs instead of being at the center of our home. The kids were horrified, however, when he declined to subscribe to cable. The poor things were forced to either go cold turkey on the video consumption, or spend their after-school hours watching YouTube drivel like Charlie the Unicorn. You can probably guess what they did.
In 2016, the average cable subscription bill was over $100 per month. Is The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones really worth $1200 a year to you?
8) I switched to Boost Mobile for cell phone service
Boost Mobile is cheap anyway, but when you pay on time your bill shrinks over time. Right now I pay only $30 per month. I believe Brian’s bill was down to $25 before he switched from Boost after several years.
Boost runs off of the Sprint network, which is not the best choice for travelers. To make sure we’ll have coverage as much of the time as possible while traveling, Brian and I decided we’d switch to two separate networks before getting on the road. He’s already moved over to the Google phone, which runs off of the #2 and #3 networks – AT&T and T-Mobile. I’ll eventually go to Verizon.
Sprint works great everywhere we’re at now, so I’ll stick with my $30 per month Boost plan as long as possible. In the combined years we’ve had Boost, we’ve saved hundreds, I’m sure. It’d be worth switching temporarily just to save money, I think.
9) We have high insurance deductibles
You’ll have to decide where your comfort zone is with this, but we have fairly high deductibles on our vehicle and home insurance policies. When we get health insurance (or a health share plan, more probably), we’ll go for high deductibles there, too. When deciding on a deductible, we weigh the likelihood of needing to file a claim against that particular policy, as well as the maximum we could deal with if we took a hit.
Low deductibles (and low co-pays, for medical) come with a higher price tag. The insurance company must collect more than enough to cover the potentially larger outlay, so we’d pay for it whether or not we had a claim. And then with auto or homeowners’ claims, they jack your premiums up if you file a claim.
Brian and I think it’s best to have insurance against potentially devastating things, and take care of the smaller stuff ourselves.
10) We DIY where there’s good ROI
There are at least thousands of ways the average person can save some amount of money with an investment of time and/or expertise. It doesn’t always make sense to DIY, though. Up until recently I’m sure I was the world’s worst when it came to realizing how bad a trade-off some of my DIY projects were. Sure, oftentimes it’s about results and not money, and that’s OK. But since we’re talking about money here I need to add that my time has a value, too.
I charge $125 per hour for website help; Brian brings in about that at the shop. Away from the shop, he’s got only evenings and one weekend day, so there’d better be a big payoff or he’s not doing it.
Several months back he started to work on my brakes. When it became obvious that this wouldn’t be the usual brake job, he put it back together and told me to take it to a repair shop the next day, even though we knew it would probably cost $450. It just wasn’t worth it to him to lose an entire day screwing around with my SUV. When he discovered he could handle the stuff we’ll need to do to tow the car behind the RV, and do it for $1000 less than the hitch shop, he was all about DIY. So I guess his pain point is somewhere between $500 and $1000 🙂
My DIY stuff is usually in the kitchen and does not save us $1000 a pop. But over the course of a year it adds up to hundreds, at least. I make a mean balsamic vinaigrette dressing recipe that has no weird ingredients and saves us probably $2 a bottle. That doesn’t even take five minutes (thank you, Ninja Blender).
I go through a half gallon of yogurt per week, so I learned to make my own (I can show you, too). It may seem intimidating to the uninitiated, but once you get it down it only takes a few minutes to get it started and then you just leave it alone. Making yogurt saves me at least $250 a year, and it’s fresher, better tasting and more pure than anything you can buy.
Another regular DIY project began because I hate how laundry detergent doesn’t work as well as it used to. I also dislike the perfumes most detergents include to try to mask the odors in clothes that are no longer getting as clean. So I started making my own. The ingredients are super cheap, the resulting laundry soap works better than anything you can buy, and the clothes smell like nothing but clean.
DIY laundry soap is a bit of a chore to make, though, and I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll continue doing it once we get on the road. I actually decided against it and bought commercial detergent a couple of weeks ago. The results were so inferior compared to homemade that now I’m on the fence. If you’d like to try making laundry soap, here’s a recipe that’s very close to the one I use.
11) I donate plasma
BioLife Plasma Services, a company who manufactures medical treatments from donated plasma, opened a location in my town a couple of years ago. Around the time the donation center opened, its management and staff frequented local Chamber of Commerce events to drum up business. They tried to talk me into donating, but after a bad experience at a Red Cross blood drive I really wasn’t interested. The employees were too busy cutting up with one another to be attentive to donors, plus I felt like crap after the donation.
I have pretty good veins and used to donate blood every 56 days while in college. After that it wasn’t usually doable given my job and commute. Then I went to the blood drive that sucked 🙂 and retired as a donor of anything requiring vein puncture. I might never have given plasma donation a shot if a family member hadn’t begun donating regularly. Seeing a $250 coupon (five donations required) in the paper pushed me off the fence. I was like, “OK – they get one chance.”
There’s undoubtedly some stigma attached to being compensated for plasma donation, and I admit I sometimes see some hard-luck types when I donate. Compensation is loaded onto a Visa debit card that features a prominent BioLife logo so if you use it somewhere in person everybody knows :O
Here’s how I see it: I’ve donated quite a bit of blood in the past and never expected or received anything in return except Nutter Butters. Plasma donation isn’t much different, but they’re kind enough to give me my red blood cells back, and pay me for my time. Being debt free and on solid financial ground is very important to me, and I stay busy. At the end of the day, being compensated motivates me to move my reading time to BioLife, and the plasma I give helps someone else who likely appreciates the life-giving stuff.
Incentives vary depending on the plasma services company as well location. BioLife tries hard to get donors in the door with $250, but you won’t receive that much for future donations. Their current incentive for established donors requires two donations in a single week. The first pays $20 and the second $50. The center I go to is clean, modern and comfortable, and offers free WiFi (but with one arm busy you can’t do any real work).
I donate a few times per month. It takes about an hour, and other than a couple of needle sticks and being chilly (I learned to bring a blanket) when they replenish my fluids intravenously, I’m not uncomfortable. The employees are kinder and more professional than the Red Cross folks ever were. I bring my Kindle with me and read while I donate, and it goes pretty quickly.
You could donate up to twice a week ad infinitum. While I’ve had no ill effects from donation, I have read that going over 100 donations in a year might diminish the quality of your plasma, potentially affecting your immune system. I don’t mind donating when the cost is only a little time, but I wouldn’t overdo it and jeopardize my health for a relatively small amount of money.
If you want to try plasma donation and you’re near a BioLife center, use the coupon above to get the offer I did ($50 for each of five donations within 30 days). You can also find the coupon on the BioLife site. Note that this particular offer expires at the end of April, but it seems they regularly offer this incentive so Google around if this coupon is expired.
12) Brian uses Camel Camel Camel to buy from Amazon at the best prices
Here’s another tip with a crazy name; this one will save your ass when you have to spend money: Camel Camel Camel. The site knows what things cost on Amazon yesterday, today and tomorrow. You can see the cheapest price the item you want has ever sold for, and when that was. You can also set up alerts so you’ll know when the price drops to a point you specify. There are similar services, but this is the one we use and like.
Our list of things to get for the RV is a long one, and includes (or included…Brian’s done some procuring) pricey things like GPS, internet connectivity stuff and braking thingamajigs. Amazon can be cheaper than other options, but the prices change all the time and it isn’t always the cheapest. Camel Camel Camel will help you make better decisions about buying, especially when you can bide your time.
Let’s have a cheapskate party
I hope you’ve picked up at least a few ideas to help you save money toward your goal. Even better, I’d like it if you can let me know how you cheap out in relatively painless ways. What are you working toward? What do you do that is helping you reach that goal? Use the comment area below to share.
Disclosure: This blog is not a moneymaking venture, and I would never suggest you do something – in whole or even in part – because I’d receive some kind of kickback. That said, because we are working hard to increase our revenue, you will find among the numerous links in the post above two that will pay me if you use them.
If you become a Walmart Grocery customer you and I will each receive $10 in Walmart Grocery credit (up to 10 referrals for me, though everyone I refer gets the discount). The yogurt-making how-to book is one I wrote, and the link is an affiliate link. If you buy the book, as its author I will receive a little less than 70% as a royalty payment. If you buy the book using the affiliate link in this post I will also receive a 4% commission, but the price will not increase for you.
I chose not to include my BioLife referral information because using it would reward only me. The coupon included above is a much better deal for you and does not include any affiliate or referral compensation for me.