The new year is wonderful for fresh starts, but unfortunately not everything can automatically be made new just because the calendar changes. And one of the things that follows us into the new year is those pesky credit card bills. January is an awfully tough month financially for many families. Huge bills are due, and the money just isn’t coming in.
But one thing that we often forget is how much money we already have tied up in stuff inside our four walls! So today I thought I’d write about ways to save money this month by Using What You Actually Have. I know that sounds revolutionary, but hear me out.
It used to be that people let nothing go to waste. I’m an avid knitter, and I remember reading about a pioneer woman who used to try out new cable stitches using the string that came tied around the butcher’s packages, because she couldn’t afford to waste yarn. So even string was valuable!
Today we often buy stuff and then it sits in a cupboard, forgotten. If money is tight this month, maybe it’s time to figure out what’s inside those cupboards!
The average family has between $250-$400 of groceries inside their home at any one time. And I’m pretty sure that’s a low estimate if you include what’s in my freezer!
So this month, why not make it a challenge to actually use the cans that are in your cupboard, and the meat that is in your freezer? Don’t buy stuff at the store–even if it’s on sale. Use up what you actually have.
Those tins of cranberry? Use them. Those tins of tuna? Figure out how to make a casserole.
I’m guilty of hoarding lentils and dried beans. I keep thinking I’m actually going to cook with them, but then I rarely do. I think it’s time that I actually tried!
Recently I made chili with various miscellaneous dried beans and all kinds of hamburger and turkey patties left over from the summer that we never got around to barbecuing, but which probably wouldn’t taste that good if I left them until the next barbecuing season. When you mash them all up, they’re pretty indistinguishable from ground beef. And my freezer looks a lot better without all those boxes.
I’m prone to periodic bouts of eczema, or just really itchy rashes. So a while ago when it flared up I bought a tube of hydrocortisone cream. After I had used it I had to figure out where to put it, since it’s not a normal medication. When it occurred to me which drawer it would most naturally fit in, I opened up that drawer only to find–two other tubes of hydrocortisone cream. I don’t know if I’m getting forgetful in my forties or what, but no one needs three tubes of hydrocortisone cream to deal with the occasional flare-up.
The solution? Have a central place in the house where all medications are kept. I used to be really organized with my medicines, but I’ve found it a challenge now because my teenage girls have their own bathroom, and so they often stick medications in there, too. The solution I’ve come up with is to stop keeping medications in the bathrooms and start putting them in a central drawer in the kitchen. That way we won’t have three bottles of Advil floating around, or three tubes of hydrocortisone cream.
My oldest daughter likes to say that the way you can tell a girl’s bathroom from a boy’s bathroom is the amount of product on the counter. Girls, she says, are incapable of having just one of anything, because they have to try out different things!
Are you guilty of that? I know I can be. If I dig under my bathroom sink I’ll find half used cans of mousse, or conditioner, or foot cream. But honestly, most of those products are completely interchangeable, despite the brand.
My husband started consolidating things by taking all of our leftover sunscreen after the summer and pouring it into one bottle. I thought that was a good idea, so I’ve started doing it with moisturizer cream, too. Instead of lots of half-filled bottles, I’ve got one big one. And I won’t buy anything else until that big one is actually used!
If you have stuff under there that you bought at a Mary Kay party once or something, why not start using it? You’ll feel prettier, and you’ll get rid of clutter taking up space under your sink! Getting rid of stuff you don’t use brings peace–and space to organize again.
4. Gift Cards
Many of us receive different gift cards at Christmas. But do you necessarily need them all?
One neat thing Canadians can do with gift cards is to join CardSwap and then swap out your gift cards for things you really need. So if money is tight this month you may not need a gift card to Chapters (our equivalent of Barnes and Noble), but you may really need it for a drug store. So join CardSwap and consolidate your cards into one big one you’ll actually use. I hate having $10 left on one card for one store and $15 left on another. I’d rather just have one big gift card for one store that I go to frequently.
Before Christmas my daughter cashed in $110 worth of gift cards and received about $100 back to use on Christmas presents. Yes, they take a cut, but to her the cash was worth it, because she didn’t really NEED stuff from that store. So, Canadians, check out CardSwap!
I think it’s a great service. Do they have anything similar in the U.S. or the U.K. or Australia? Let us know in the comments!
When you want something to do at night, what do you automatically turn to? The video store? Amazon movies on demand? Even your TV? Here’s a thought: why not save the $1 or $5 or whatever it would cost and instead play a board game? We’ve all got them stuffed in those cupboards, but they rarely come out. Let’s make it a habit to actually use what we buy, including our games, rather than turning to entertainment that doesn’t necessarily entertain–and that costs us money.
So I challenge you this month to use up what you actually have. It will save you money, but more than that, it makes us think differently about how we use our money. When we throw it away carelessly, buying stuff we don’t really need, then we’re not being responsible or grateful for what we have. Actually using what’s in our house teaches us more about what we should be spending money on, and teaches us what we don’t really need!
Have you ever tried to Use What You Have to get you through a tough financial period? Let me know in the comments!