Saving to Buy a House

I’ve written a hundred iterations of this post but never hit publish before.

I shared in this post that D and I were planning to spend 2022 fast-tracking our savings in order to purchase a house. I see a lot out there that talks about how to save money, and a lot that gives unrealistic ideas for how to store up funds in order to do so.

I’m not interested in setting myself up to fail.

So, instead, here’s some of what we’re doing in order to store up money, and how much we’re saving by doing so.

Please note: this is all in the very unrealistic-for-everyone setting of living with my mom and dad. I 100% acknowledge the privilege that’s inherent in being able to safely and comfortably do so for any length of time.

Not Buying “Stuff”

Whenever I go to organize or declutter a space, I pull all the items out and sort them into piles of like items. Inevitably, I end up with a pile of “stuff” – objects that don’t have a category, that I’m holding on to for no clear reason (not even sentimental reasons!) but can’t bring myself to toss. The hard truth is, these items came into my space because I brought them in here.

As a general rule, D and I try really hard not to buy things that don’t serve a purpose. But it happens – you’re walking through the grocery store, hardware store, anything store, and something catches your eye and you impulse-buy it. Those things are typically what make up my “stuff” pile.

We’re avoiding buying “stuff” the surest way we know how: by staying out of stores. This is easier for D than it is for me since I’m typically the grocery and present shopper. Instead, I’m ordering the majority of our groceries online and picking them up (no fee for that at most stores!) except Aldi, where I often find a better deal by going in the store. In Aldi, I stay out of the weird aisle that’s floormats and socks and benches, because I will buy something from there.

The other shift is harder: presents. We have a lot of people we buy for over the course of the year – D and I together have nearly 15 people just in our immediate families. I’d like to say that we handmake all our gifts and wrap them in paper we recycled, but that’s often more costly than buying a pre-made item (we do sometimes handmake items). Instead, I don’t go to a store for ideas. I sit and think about that person – young or old, male or female. I think about what my year with them has been like since the last birthday or holiday, and I take my time coming up – on my own – with a gift for them. Then I purchase that one thing.

Believe it or not, people gave gifts in this way for literally 1,000’s of years before Amazon was invented.

What I’ve found is that when I take the serious time to consider the individual, I’m so confident about what I’m getting, that I don’t feel compelled to buy any more than just that.

I also buy fairly generic paper and use it for all occasions. I switch up ribbons and name tags, etc. to with the holiday. The exception to this is David’s niece. She’s four and could care less about the wrap-job, and we typically buy her one large item. I almost always get a roll of wrapping paper for just her at Dollar Tree. It works out to be more cost-effective.

You may have noticed that I did not mention a strategy for shopping at the mall or department stores. That’s because I’m not doing that for the next six months. That’s it. I bought some leggings, a shirt and a dress at the end of 2021 to make sure I could get through the six months. The end.

A while ago, I went through five weeks of spending and averaged it. The average for five weeks: $152.83.

Our goal is to bring this to $0, but let’s give us $10, for the sake of human error (the reality that sometimes I just straight up forget my lunch). That’s a savings of $142.83 per week.

Eating Lunch for Under $2.00

My mom told me not too long ago that she tried to always make dinner for under $2 per person. I was fascinated by this idea – that she picked what we ate based on money. I grew up eating balanced, delicious dinners and I figured she’d based what we ate off of nutrition and taste. Nope. She set a financial parameter and made it work.

I haven’t gotten there with dinner yet (I’m close!) but I’m there when it comes to lunch. I think I’ll do a whole post on this because y’all over on Instagram seemed to be really intrigued with my lunches when I was working from home. I’m a hardcore meal planner and prepper, so usually, I make myself three lunches for the week, and I bring two days of leftovers (at least). To keep costs down, I eat a lot of vegetables, but when it comes to buying and storing vegetables, I do a lot of freezing. For example, two weeks ago, I bought a head of cauliflower, which will never get eaten if it’s not chopped on the day it gets home from the grocery store. It did not get chopped. So, before it had the chance to get bad (about a week after buying it), I chopped it up, left a little in the fridge (which got eaten), and froze the rest.

This is essential.

I was throwing away a crazy amount of produce, and I’m sure you do too! But most non-leafy vegetables can have the yucky part cut off, and then be stored in the freezer to be roasted, boiled, steamed, whatever! They’re definitely not great to have as an uncooked snack, but they can 100% be used for cooking. So, I stick with veg for my lunch (even for protein), shop my freezer, and bring leftovers.

I went back through roughly six months of lunches (vaguely; I tend to eat pretty similar stuff, so I was able to estimate), including going out to lunch or buying a coffee and calling it lunch and found that on average, I spent $5 per lunch, or $25 a week. My goal is to max out at $2. Even on the high end, that’s a savings of $3 per meal, or $15 per week.

Eating all the Leftovers

See above – ha!

Let me start this by saying that we enter into dinner with the goal of not having leftovers. And that doesn’t mean that we eat mountains. It means that over the last five years, we’ve really worked at assessing how to cut down what we’ve made – maybe there could be less potatoes, or less meat, or even just cooked in a smaller pan. By figuring out how to cut down the meal to be the right size for two people, we limit the number of leftovers that we have to eat in the first place.

Potatoes were the big one for us. I know they’re not super expensive but we eat them often, and leftover potatoes are only good the day after Thanksgiving on a sandwich. Otherwise, no thank you. So we started out with three yellow potatoes for D and two for me when we made mashed potatoes. From there, we figured out that D eats two potatoes and I eat one. So now we make mashed potatoes with three potatoes instead of five. That may not sound significant, but we probably have mashed potatoes twice a week. That’s roughly 50 pounds of potatoes per year, which is about $50. Now, $50 may not sound like a lot, but that’s $50 for one side dish twice a week. Imagine if you did that with something more expensive, like meat, or salad dressing. Or if you did it with every side dish every day of the week. Suddenly, you’ve made a significant dent in your budget. But I digress…

I make a specific point of eating the leftovers if they’re something I like, and if they’re not, I try to repurpose them into something I do like. If you aren’t following @shelfcooking I highly recommend it. It’s definitely changed the way I think about things.

Fridge, then Freezer, then Pantry, then Store

This is another one that I should probably do a whole post on. Fridge, then freezer, then pantry, then store is the order that I “shop” for groceries. So, I make a monthly meal plan, and it’s flexible. There are a lot of repeat items in there. D and I could both eat tacos every day of the week, so it’s on our meal plan weekly. Same with spaghetti and chicken salads. What this means, is that if I open the fridge and discover an overabundance of something, or know that something is about to go bad, I kick out a repeat meal and cook that instead.

But something I didn’t talk about when I wrote about the monthly meal plan is that I make it in order to clear out the fridge, then the freezer, then the pantry. That’s the order that the items are most likely to go bad, based on the way that we purchase. We got a deep freezer about a year ago and it has been a total game-changer in how we operate. I am well aware that not everyone has the luxury of owning an item like that whether because of cost (I got mine during the President’s Day Sales, combined it with a coupon and gift card which made it about $60) or space. BUT, this system follows either way. I keep a list of what’s in the freezer on the actual freezer itself. When the cats inevitably walk on it too much, I wipe it off and start over.

Pro Tip: Wet Erase markers. Not Dry Erase. Dry Erase comes off too easily.

Since a lot of what goes into the freezer has different “best used by” dates, and it’s SO easy – even on the freezer that’s attached to the fridge – to lose what’s in there, I found it was easiest to just sort by date and that’s the order we use it. This freezer is filled with:

  • Meat that was a crazy cheap price
  • Vegetables we grew ourselves
  • Vegetables that were a crazy cheap price
  • Meals for the week that I didn’t eat because I was eating leftovers

So I start by looking at the fridge and seeing what’s going to go bad soon, then follow that process with the freezer and pantry. And THEN I make my grocery list.

By making these changes, and by committing to eating leftovers, our grocery bill has dropped from $1000 per month to $600. My goal is to bring it down to $400. So, let’s do a conservative estimate that we’ll be saving $200 per month. This doesn’t include the work that’s been done to get it down to $600.

Why am I talking so much about groceries?

It’s the most malleable part of your budget. We can talk about this more if you want, but I think it would be better if you tried something. Take out a piece of paper and write down the top five things you spend the most money on. I would guess it would look something like this:

  1. Rent/House payment
  2. Groceries
  3. Utilities
  4. Transportation
  5. Student loans/car payment/other type of debt

Am I close? You cannot change the price of your rent without moving. You can only somewhat control the cost of your utilities without freezing in the winter and baking in the summer. Chances are, you are going to have a minimum amount of you have to pay for transportation, whether it’s gas or bus/train passes. You cannot change the price of your student loan, car payment, etc. without changing your payment plan and even then, that may not be significant.

But you can easily increase your groceries by impulse buying, only ever buying name brands, and cooking for the wrong amount of people. Conversely, you can tweak your groceries to lower the cost of the items you buy and change the way you shop to bring that price down significantly.

Rotating Subscriptions

At one point in time, D and I had subscriptions to:

  • Netflix – $13.99
  • Hulu – $12.99
  • YouTube – $11.99
  • HBO Plus – $14.99
  • Disney Plus – $7.99
  • Audible – $7.95
  • Spotify – $15.99
  • Pandora – $4.99
  • Cable – $80

Let’s add that up, without including cable: $90.88. We started with the easy one: we didn’t need both Pandora and Spotify. We both listen to music pretty much all day at work, and most evenings, so we opted for the service we were using more – Spotify. AND, we discovered that we were on the old plan pricing – we were paying for 6 people when we only needed two. So we were able to bring $20.98 down to $12.99. Over the course of the year, that’s almost $100.

So we did this with everything – are we really using it? We kept basic cable because somehow that’s cheaper than just having internet, but we weren’t using Audible anymore, and we only used HBO Plus and YouTube Premium everyone once in a while, so we canceled those. So now we’re down to, $47.96.

So, where do we go from here: we’re going to pick and choose what we keep. Some months we’ll have Netflix; some months we’ll have Hulu. We’re going to keep Spotify for as long as they’re around, but otherwise, we’ll rotate through Netflix, Hulu and Disney Plus. That means that instead of paying $47.96, the most we’ll pay in one month is $26.98.

For those of you playing along at home, that’s a $63.90 savings per month. For the year, that’s $766.80.

Total Savings

So, here’s what we have for one week:

Not buying “stuff”: $142.83

Lunch for $1: $20

Changing the way we grocery shop: $50

Rotating subscriptions: $63.90

Total: $276.73

For the entire year, that’s a savings of $14,528.33.

Let that number really sink in. That’s a car. A down payment on a small house. College tuition at an in-state school. And that’s without removing anything significant – that’s still paying your car payment, having cable, using the heat in the winter.

So that’s one piece of the plan. We’re also obviously cutting down some significant bills by having the luxury to move in with my parents, but this alone is something you could do without having to make drastic life changes. I’d like to help you do it, so tell me down in the comments what would be helpful for me to talk more about? How can I best help you?