Have you ever tried to actually use what you have before you go to the store?
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!
This week I’m talking about new beginnings and starting the new year off well, and today I thought I’d give you a challenge I also gave a few years ago on this blog: let’s start the year saving money by Using What You Actually Have–sort of a “no buy” month challenge. I know that sounds boring, 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. Even string was valuable!
Today we often buy stuff and then it sits in a cupboard, forgotten. I mean, I actually forgot about several Christmas gifts I had purchased over the course of the year for people, only discovering them after Christmas has passed! So if you and your husband have decided that one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to get a handle on your finances, then maybe it’s time to open up those cupboard doors and figure out what’s there.
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.
Before we leave food, one other thought about saving money: My friend Tiffany from Don’t Waste the Crumbs has just created a new course on how to save money on groceries this year, and I’m really impressed with it! It’s all about how you can eat real food (in other words, not processed stuff), and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
The average person taking her course has reportedly saved about $180 in groceries each month. That’s amazing!
And she has three videos up that are absolutely free, along with worksheets and printables. So if you want to check out some free training on saving money with groceries, head on over to the Grocery Budget Bootcamp!
2. Use What You Have: Toiletries
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.
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!
And don’t even get me started about how much extra makeup I have…
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.
3. Use What You Have: Medications
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. This was hard for me when the girls were living at home, because they had their own bathroom and would 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.
Do you often buy stuff because you can’t find what you already have? I’ve got a trick for finding things I thought I’d share. Usually when I’m looking for something I wrack my brain thinking, “where in the world did I put it?” And I try to remember back in time. I’ve since learned that a smarter question to ask is, “if I were going to put it away right now, where would I choose to put it?” And chances are that’s where it is! Instead of trying to remember, I just think logically about where I think it would belong. It often works!
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4. Use What You Have: 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 also find that the challenge with gift cards is that I have so many that they take up too much room in my wallet. But there are lots of apps now where you can enter your gift cards and then throw them out, so the gift card balances are on your phone. Or, alternatively, put all your gift cards alphabetically in a drawer, and take them out when you’re going shopping.
5. Use What You Have: Fun!
When you want something to do at night, what do you automatically turn to? Amazon movies on demand? iTunes? Even going out for ice cream (which we do often just because we’re bored, not because we necessarily need ice cream). 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.
Or how about picking up that hobby you used to do that’s gone by the wayside? Maybe you started a knitting project or a cross-stitch. Why not get it out? Or, alternatively, actually read some of the books on your shelf. One of my challenges this year is to read a book a week. I think if I work through the “fun” that I’ve always planned to finish that’s already at home, I’ll have far less need to go out and spend money.
So I challenge you this month to use up what you actually have.
It will save us 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!