Like a lot of new parents, Rosemarie Groner wanted to quit her job and stay home after her son was born. And, like a lot of new parents, she also realized her family couldn’t afford it.
But a year later, she made it happen.
“We had really worked on saving money and being frugal prior to having kids, but when my son was born that really kicked things into high gear,” says Groner. Both she and her husband were Virginia state troopers, and a law enforcement schedule didn’t mesh with raising a baby. They had been steadily improving their finances, but this would be drastic. So she wrote down her goal and gave it a deadline: cut their spending so she could quit by the baby’s first birthday.
“We really kicked butt that year,” Groner says. “We reduced our spending so much that not only could I afford to say home, but I made up my salary.”
Groner now shares her story and lots and lots of her tips at her blog (www.busybudgeter.com), which also provides some more income. But her big focus is methodically cutting her family’s spending. She’s even created a 200-point checklist she sends free to readers who sign up for her emails.
“Some of the tips should be super obvious and some are things that you don’t think of,” she says. “We’re only about 60 percent through that list ourselves. It’s all skill-building. Master something so that it doesn’t seem hard, then move on to the next thing.”
Her advice isn’t sexy or particular tricky, starting with packing your own lunch for work, buying in bulk, using your local library to the utmost, to less-obvious ideas, such as hitting the farmers market right before closing to pick up discounted produce or cutting back to three-quarters of a pound of meat in all your one-pound ground beef recipes.
It underscores what’s the most basic tenet of managing your personal finances — just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“What most people don’t realize in reducing their spending is how much of it is based on your skill level and organization,” Groner says. “If you don’t have the routines set down you’re not going to pack your lunch at home, you’re not going to have food at home to cook, and you end up eating out every night.”
At first, Groner was writing out her budget by hand six to eight times a month as she found items she’d overlooked or unexpected expenses. Eventually, she converted some categories of their spending to cash, which simplifies bookkeeping, discourages impulse buys and encourages savings as the unspent greenbacks pile up. She also moved her budget to an online program, CalendarBudget.com.
“The people that I’m writing to are people who can’t pay their bills every month and don’t have money in savings. They’re not trying to get the most out of their investments,” she says. “It’s people who can’t find money to pay the power bill on the 30th. They’re kind of in the red zone of life can can’t figure out how to make everything work.”
The way to make it work, she adds, is to work at it, slowly and surely.
“We just took everything step by step that we spent money on and looked at what we could substitute for it,” Groner says. “There are some that are worth spending money on, but in nearly every category we were able to reduce our spending some way.”
And she’s still at it, too.
“Every year we try to reduce all the categories somewhat,” Groner says. “If I can just reduce my grocery spending by $40, maybe, look how much I can save in 10 years.”
A few tips from
The Busy Budgeter
■Start a basic menu plan and stick to it.
■Cancel cable. Use Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, or Roku instead.
■If you have a reoccurring prescription, call your insurance company to ask for prices for the RX by mail program. Switch if it saves you money (it likely will).
■Make your own kitchen staples: taco seasoning, ranch mix, steak seasoning, brownie mix, etc.
■Cancel your home phone service and switch to cell service only.
■Put infrequently used appliances on a power strip to easily unplug.
■If you plan to have more than one child, buy gender neutral baby things so that they'll last more than one child.
■Buy gift wrap at the dollar store or in Costco, keep an all-occasion neutral stack ready to go along with tape, tags, and scissors to avoid picking these things up last minute at premium costs.
■Call every company that sends you a monthly bill and inquire about what you can do to lower your rate. When we first did this, we were able to reduce every single bill in some way.
■At the end of every shopping trip, take 3 items out of the cart that you can live without.