July 10, 2017

Striving to be a frugal mama

Some of our cloth diaper stash drying out on the line.

I'm taking a little break from recipe posting today. Today I'm going to talk about my life as a frugal mama of twins. Or, at least ways I'm striving to be a frugal mama. Before the twins, my husband and I were already Mr. Money Mustache followers. We were working hard to pay down our student loan debt while saving for a house. We started tracking every single penny that came in or out of our household (we still do this) to identify areas that needed improvement while also holding ourselves more accountable for random spending (you'd be amazed how much this can change your outlook on money and spending habits). We dropped our expensive phone plans and switched to Ting, we cut the cable cord and streamed Netflix, restaurants and take-out became for special occasions only, and so on. All of these changes helped us immensely to pay down our student loans and stash cash. On the flip side, we were also spending quite a bit of money trying to build our family. But, we were okay with that because it was a priority for our lives. All of these changes allowed us to buy a home (and just in time as we found out a couple months later that twins were in our future!!). Fast forward to me becoming a stay-at-home mom after my grant-funded job ended the same month our twins were due; our need to really ramp up our frugal skills emerged! My husband and I both work in the environmental field - so not the most lucrative or stable job market. So, we decided that I'd stay with the twins and see how it went since the timing worked out well with my job ending and because daycare for two infants is extremely costly. It's been almost a year and it's both amazing and difficult being home with them! I'm so glad to have this time with them, but I do sometimes miss my work. I'm not sure what the future holds on that, but these are some things I've learned as I strive to be a frugal mama.

Aldi is a lifesaver. This is where we buy most of our groceries now and it saves us TONS of money. We fill in at Wegmans and Walmart. I never used to shop at Walmart, but guess what? We needed to supplement our twins with formula (and then switched completely after I was very ill for a few weeks when they were around 6.5 months). I spent a lot of time comparing prices and I wish I had done it sooner. Walmart brand value tub is the cheapest I found by far (seconded by Aldi brand). I'd estimate that switching to the store brand saved us on average $15/wk (depending on how much they were drinking and if we were still using any breastmilk). That's almost $800 for a year.

Ibotta has been helping us with grocery costs too. It's a free app and it's so simple to use. I use it when I do our fill-in shopping. In terms of baby items, they regularly have rebates for any brand baby food, Gerber cereals, butt paste, name brand formula, and more. We also get rebates for many other groceries and toiletries we use all the time. It's worth having. Almost every week there is a 25 cent "any receipt" rebate (occasionally it is $1). This is just for scanning your receipt for your normal shopping, no matter what you bought. There are frequently any brand rebates for produce, milk, eggs, bread, and other staples. I've earned almost $80.00 in just about 4 months. I also use Swagbucks. I use it for online shopping, to print coupons, and I will do some other activities when I have a chance. I use it to earn Amazon gift cards. If you print coupons from coupons.com, you can enter the site from your Swagbucks account and earn even more when you print and use them. Of course, meal planning is important as well as sticking to your list. I try to take a morning each week (while the twins are napping) to browse through Ibotta, the Aldi flyer, coupons.com, and then make a meal plan. Then I'll make our grocery list. We keep a small white board on the refrigerator that is divided in half with one side for writing grocery needs when they come up and the other half has the dinner menu for the week.

Enjoying some time at one of our many free local parks.

Cloth diapers and store brand diapers have made a huge difference in our lives. I registered for a few different packs of these pocket diapers and we received three packs. We use them and disposable store brand diapers from Aldi and Walmart. It's difficult to estimate if the cloth are saving us a lot of money because they do cost more to wash (water, detergent, dryer) and I also use liners so as to not need a sprayer. Now that the weather is nice though, we use the clothesline to dry diapers, sheets, etc. as much as possible (another great money-saving tip)! Aldi also has good prices on baby wipes and other things like puffs, yogurt drops, wearable blankets, and much more. Their new baby line is excellent!

Making your own baby food does not need to be complicated.

Making our own baby food! This has been quite a learning experience for me and also has been pretty fun! Some foods are cheaper to buy prepared (like peaches) rather than make your own. This will probably differ a lot based on your geographic location and the time of year. Right now we can buy up zucchinis cheaply, or maybe score them for free from a relative, but in January, that's not the case at all! I spent very little upfront - I simply used our regular food processor, ice cube trays, some freezer containers, and freezer bags. Many people love pouches, and you can get reusable ones to fill as well. Since (obviously) I already like to cook, making my twins' food was a natural choice for us. Some things I learned were to try to buy produce that's in-season or to use frozen versions. When using frozen foods, you need to cook to a boil before re-freezing. For example, I can buy a one-lb bag of sweet peas for 95 cents at Aldi and it will make me about 4 servings of pureed food, which is much cheaper than buying peas prepared. Sweet potatoes, winter squash, apples, and other foods you can buy in large quantities also make for money-saving choices. I still buy items like yogurt and cereal. Now they are eating more table foods, so it's a whole new learning experience!

Babies don't need as much as we are led to believe! It's hard as a first time mom to know what you really need and what you don't really need for your baby(ies). Every online mommy group will tell you different things, but you never really know (aside from the major things like a crib/safe sleep space, car seat, diapers, clothes, and things like that) until you are in the thick of it! As my babies approach one year, one thing I know already is that it doesn't take much to entertain them. They will choose my metal mixing bowls over "real toys" every time. We find that they love simple learning toys the most like stacking cups, rings, wooden toys, and balls so far. We intend to keep play simple and unstructured for as long as we are able. They love being outdoors and just playing on a blanket in the backyard touching grass and leaves. We want to instill a love of outdoors and nature in them from a young age. One splurge was we got them a water table and they love playing with that on these hot summer days. We don't do paid activities and classes for our babies right now. Many people feel pressure to take their infants and toddlers to classes, but with twins it's not convenient or simple to go alone and also it's quite expensive. We go for walks outside. We take trips to our local park and play on the baby swings. I look for free activities like our library's story hour (it's during nap time, unfortunately). I joined our local Mothers of Multiples Club. And to be honest, at this point, even just going to the grocery store is an adventure for all of us. We shop consignment sales for clothing and needed items as much as possible. We trade with other moms in our local groups. And, they get a lot of gifts from thoughtful people who love to buy adorable clothes. 

First time in the double cart at a local grocery store and they had so much fun.

We are trying to grow a small garden this year to save some money. We have only a small area prepared right now and we get tons of deer and rabbits so it has to be fenced. Our twins are starting to eat a lot and they love fruits and vegetables (I can't even believe how quickly they can go through a watermelon). Our garden isn't doing super well this year, unfortunately. We have a bunch of herbs, tomatoes, green peppers, and some beans. Our potato plants died (but there were a few harvestable potatoes on them). Our lettuce and radishes and peas are not doing great.... Our cucumbers never came up. But we are trying and learning. We will expand and get better over the next few years. We planted paw paw trees and hope to plant some currant bushes. We'd much rather plant things that provide us food instead of solely decoration. We are lucky to be surrounded by a lot of farmers' markets and some relatives who gift us extra food from their gardens through the summer and early fall as well. These all help immensely with grocery costs. We plan to go blueberry picking soon and we have a family apple picking day every year. I'll work on preserving more again (though I can't can until we get a gas stove).

Thank you for indulging me on this different type of post. I see many moms in my local Facebook groups looking for advice on how to save money and cut their household costs. Hopefully some of these ideas can help you! Remember, frugality is not about deprivation, it's about being able to prioritize your life, time, and money so you can enjoy and do what's most important to you.

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  1. Great post Amy, I'm a grandma now and when I had my children they were just starting with the plastic diapers, I remember thinking those things will never take off, lol! sounds like you are doing an amazing job.

  2. The twins are absolutely adorable and so happy you have found a way to stay home with them during these formative years. I am going to check out your online coupon sites. Thanks so much for the post.

  3. Love this! So informative and helpful!

  4. I read every single word of this post, even though I am not a mom. Having twins makes it twice as expensive as there are no 'hand me downs'. What great tips you have given for saving. And worthwhile for anybody. I hope your garden grows with abundance!

  5. Really good p9ost. We've always been pretty frugal (both of us worked, but lived on one income) so we could become financially independent. SO worth it. Wonderful tips -- thanks.

  6. I LOOOOOVE Aldi! I'm from PA, and we had an Aldi in the area for decades, so I'm excited that the rest of the country is getting them too. I live in Virginia now and they are building one right down the road from my house.


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