• Wed, Feb 19 - 3:00 pm ET

BrokeAss Mama – 10 Easy Ridiculously Easy Tips For Novice Cheap Asses

As you all probably know, parenting ain’t easy and it certainly ain’t cheap. According to Think Progress, the average cost of raising a child from the womb to his or her first college kegger is $241,080. That’s a lot of bank to lay out on a person who may or may not make it rich and buy you a fancy summer home in Boca. But never fear! There are tons of ways to save a quick (and sometimes not-so-quick) buck, and lucky for you, I’ve discovered them all.

Much like the beautiful weirdos from TLC’s Extreme Cheapskates, I am a massive cheap ass. Not I-don’t-use-TP cheap, but definitely coupon clipping, make-my-own-laundry-detergent cheap ass. But saving money isn’t all soap making and swimming in a Scrooge McDuck money vault. A lot of what I do are easy as pie and things you can start doing today. Things like…

10. Think outside the box

Cheesy, I know, but true. There are tons of weird ways you can save money. I read once about a lady who cuts her sponges in half. She uses the first half for a week or so (until it gets super grody) and then tosses it and uses the second half. Twice the toddler-mess-cleaning goodness for the price of one!

9. Get it for free…

There are tons of awesome resources online for getting free shiz. I love Freecycle, but the Craigslist free section is great too, as well as Kijiji in Canada and Gumtree in the UK.

8. or borrow, borrow, borrow!

Did you that in addition to books, magazines and comics, you can borrow DVDs, CDs and even video games from the library? There are also cool services online such as Paper Back Swap, where you, um, swap paperbacks. But you can borrow more than just media. Depending on where you live there are tool lending libraries and parking spot bartering. You can also rent things on the cheap from places like Zip Car, Rent The Runway and Handbag Envy.

7. Think beyond your store bought toys

If there is one thing I hate, it’s crafting, but toy making is a definitely exception. One of my hobbies is wood working, which makes this easier, but there are tons of great toy making tutorials on Youtube and on various parenting blogs. If that’s something you don’t have time for or aren’t interested in, there are still plenty of things in your home that can double as a toy. My kids loved playing with our pots and pans, and doesn’t every kid toss the new toy away after 30 seconds to play with the box?

6. Buy in bulk

Stores like Costco and BJs are a cheap ass mama’s best friend. Typically I will buy only non-perishables like pasta or toilet paper from wholesale stores, but you can get pretty much anything there including produce, dairy products, and even a new television. I once bought a 400 count bag of sandwich baggies from BJs that lasted me 3 years. THREE YEARS. You can’t beat that with a stick.

5. You don’t need the newest car/phone/stereo etc.

I know that there is a lot of pressure to have the latest gadget or toy, but you must resist! I’m not saying you should dig up your old 1998 Nokia brick phone and resign yourself to reading physical books like a heathen, but think before you upgrade. Do you really need the newest iPhone? This goes for almost anything. Spending $800 on the newest Bugaboo stroller is hella crazy, especially when you can get an older model dirt cheap or even free (see number 9).

4. Swap meets are fun AND cheap

money saving tips

Salon de Maria

A few years ago, through the power of Facebook, I discovered the beauty and wonder that is the swap meet. You can also find these events through Meetup.com and even Craigslist. If you’ve never been to one, swap meets work by every attendee bringing an item or two to swap with other people. Easy peasy. Because one mom’s trash is another mom’s kick ass Elmo blanket.

3. Generic products are NOT the enemy

I know, this one might be difficult for some moms. I can be picky about certain items too. Typically, I refuse to go generic on things like dairy or anything else uber perishable. Also, ketchup for some reason. But beyond that, if I can find a generic version for cheaper, that’s what I’ll get. These items are often exactly the same, and occasionally even made in the same facilities. Why pay a premium price for fancy packaging and a recognizable name?

2. Make it yourself

With the beauty and wonder that is the Internet, it’s never been easier to teach yourself how to make things at home. I make my own Febreze-type solution, dish soap, detergent and floor cleaners. I made my livingroom curtains out of discount fabric from JoAnns and iron-on hem tape. No sewing necessary (because who is going to trust me with sharp objects like a needle?) and they were a fraction of the cost of fancy-shmancy drapes from a store.

1. Or grow it yourself

money saving tips

buyagift

Full disclosure, I am TERRIBLE at this one. I try and try to make things grow, but I only have a 20 percent success rate. So this might not be the best idea for me to save money, but for all you ladies who don’t have a brown thumb, this is a good one. You can grow things like basil, parsley and even tomatoes and peppers right in your own kitchen or balcony. I have neighbors will full gardens on their terrace, so I think this can be done pretty much anywhere.

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  • Alex Lee

    I can get behind the warehouse-club suggestion but with a caveat: it requires an outlay of cash to start. Yes, you can purchase enormous quantities of product but be prepared for a $400 receipt at the register. That, plus the annual membership fees to actually get into the store.

    My approach would be to take a look at where the money is going and prioritize. If you’re paying for a landline phone service and you have broadband internet, investigate cutting-the-cord and switch to VOIP or eliminate the service altogether and just use your mobile phone. Trim back on your cable tv package. Choose a lower-tier internet package. Check out alternative mobile phone (MVNO) providers for a lower cellphone bill. (there may be early-termination-fees associated with switching plans depending on your situation).

    If you’re paying a mortgage, keep an eye on rates in your area with sites like Zillow and Bankrate. Refinancing is fairly involved, also typically requires an initial outlay of cash, but can definitely help with monthly expenses. Bankrate is also good for finding a savings or investment account with possibly better interest rates than what is locally available.

    Protip: BJ’s will honor manufacturer’s coupons (i.e. Sunday newspaper inserts) on top of their monthly book coupons and bulk pricing. I do this because I can’t grow plants.

    • keelhaulrose

      Costco has the ‘executive membership’, which is twice the price of the regular membership, but one of the benefits is they give you a “gift check” for something like 2% of your total purchases for the year you can spend in-store. My dad bought that membership for me, and I shop for my family, my parents, my brother, my sister, and my grandmother. Our check is usually more than twice the price of the membership. If you’re going to buy a lot from the warehouse, that’s the way to go.

    • elle

      So true. And if you don’t spend the full amount of the check they give you cash back. I’ve always wondered if you could just take it to a register/guest services and cash the full amount out.

    • Lee

      Keep your eye out for groupon deals for wholesale stores. I found one to Sam’s for $45 but with all the freebies thrown in it ends up being pretty close to free if you actually use them.

    • Kay_Sue

      You can also split the membership cost with someone in some cases. We have a Sam’s membership with my folks. It’s $50 a year, but because we each pay half, that’s $25. I comp that cost just in what I save on buying my husband’s coffee for the first half of the year. I don’t know if Costco or others do it, but it was entirely “legal” in our Sam’s, despite the fact that we have different names and addresses.

  • keelhaulrose

    The growing things works very well when you know what can grow with less attention.
    We grew cilantro, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini in our garden last year. Everything went really well but the cucumbers, which were choked out by the zucchini. This is despite my black thumb. We only didn’t grow green beans or peas because they took over the whole bloody garden despite our efforts to keep them in check. Maybe it’s because we splurged a little and bought already-growing plants, which did well just getting put in the ground.
    Also, in the realm of being cheap, my husband has given a few friends “basic car maintenance” classes, and advised a few others to take a first-year course at a community college. You can save a lot of money by not taking it in for every little rattle.

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    I was told going to a Salvation Army in an affluent neighborhood or a poor area that borders an affluent area is a great way to get gently used, high quality clothes. If you live in a big city, especially NY, it is not uncommon to find high income areas next to poor areas.

    • SusannahJoy

      Yup! I used to live in Bakersfield (big redneck farming town) and would do all my thrift store shopping in Santa Barbara (yuppies). I have a weakness for designer jeans, and would find brand new ones for $10-15. Woo!

    • Guest

      I do this too- thrift shops in really nice areas and I can find great clothes barely touched for soooo cheap

    • SarahJesness

      I recently found a resale shop that only takes in really nice items. Certainly not as cheap as a regular thrift store, but if you’re into nice things but don’t want to spend a lot, it’s a pretty good store. Went in once and found a GORGEOUS necklace + earrings set, 20% off the normal price, total to a little over $8. Don’t know what it was made of, (the paper on it said “stones from Brazil” and I didn’t think to ask the woman what they were) but it really looked like real diamonds. I ended up giving the set to my mom cause I figured she’d appreciate it more, but when she found out I initially bought it for myself she offered to send it over if I wanted to wear it. If she visits my town any time soon I’ll bring her to the store; she’ll probably like the clothes.

    • keelhaulrose

      I once found a Louis Vitton (sp?) purse at my local Goodwill for $25. I took it to get it authenticated, and the woman offered my two hundred for it. I didn’t take it cuz how often was a broke college student going to have the chance for one of those, but now I have a purse I’m afraid to use.

    • Cat

      If you don’t use it you might as well have not bought it. So use it. It doesn’t matter if you use it to death, that’s what a purse is for, and besides you only paid $25 for it.

    • ChickenKira

      Yep, I work in an affluent area and the Salvos store down the road from my work is amazing.

    • SarahJesness

      It really is. Many resale/thrift stores in such areas can be like that. Salvation Army and Goodwill generally put that stuff the cheapest. Smaller chains and independent stores can also offer pretty awesome prices, if not always as cheap, but might be worth a look anyway. A lot of small, independent resale shops in rich areas will only sell really nice items. They might still be a bit much for a lot of people, but if you’re really into designer clothing you can save money. I don’t like to spend more than $20 for a shirt, but I splurged $40 for one at such a store because it was my birthday. Found out later the shirt (which still had it’s tags! I’m guessing they bought overstock?) was normally retailed for $250. Awesome.

  • SA

    Making your own…yes, yes!! I make a lot of things that turn out so much cheaper than boxed or pre-made. It takes just a bit of time at the beginning finding recipes that work and are simple and learning them, but I am to the point now where I can whip up a batch of muffins in like 5 minutes (minus baking time)!

  • Rachel Sea

    Throwing away even half a sponge after a week seems super wasteful. I soak mine in a little bleach once a week or so, and occasionally nuke em in the microwave for a minute and they last for months. I save a lot by using terrycloth shop towels instead of paper towels for cleaning, and using linen napkins instead of paper at meals.

    Meal planning is the biggest one for me, we’re saving about $100 a week just by planning ahead. We cook meals at the beginning of the week which make good leftovers for my lunches for the rest of the workweek, and having a plan means that we’re not resorting to take-out because we’re to tired and lazy to throw together something for dinner. It’s so much easier to control portions when we do our own cooking, I’ve dropped 20 lbs in the 3 months since we started this.

    • Emily A.

      Interesting! We’ve actually found that we spend more on groceries when I plan meals. Instead, we buy what’s on sale and I make stuff with that.

    • Kelly

      I combine the two methods. I plan my meals based on what’s on sale. It works really well for us.

    • Rachel Sea

      We’re spending more on groceries, but almost nothing on prepared food or take out, which had been a more significant chunk of the food budget. Our plan is loosely structured so it’s easy to take advantage of sales and whatever produce looks best. I know that tonight I’m making fish with a veg and a side of pasta, tomorrow my wife is making chicken with a veg and potato. I buy frozen fish, chicken breasts, and dry pasta in bulk when it’s on sale, so it’s handy when it’s our day to cook any of those.

    • Toaster

      We definitely spend more on groceries when meal planning because fresh produce is stupid-expensive where I live :( But we’re still saving since we don’t eat out anymore!

  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    I would add BARTER! Maybe you need a haircut. Maybe you make a post on your facebook/twitter/whatever asking if anyone local cuts hair and would be up for a barter. Maybe you have a friend who cuts hair. Maybe friend would be willing to give you some free haircuts in exchange for redesigning their salon website. Or printing their business cards. Or driving them somewhere. Or cooking them some food. Or whatever.

    • Rachel Sea

      My friends and I do this a lot. My wife and I haven’t spent money on pet-sitters, or paid cash for t-shirts or sweatshirts in years because we trade our labor and expertise for our friends’. I also trade homegrown vegetables for show tickets, or wine, or cow-shares.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      YUP!
      My mam did a beautician course, so if I’m ever going out, she does my make-up for me.
      She saved me €50 on my Debs by doing my make-up for me.

      My partner’s niece also is training to be a hair stylist so she does it for free (I always throw her a tenner to say thank you anyway) all she asks is for before and after pics for her portfolio.

      It pays to ask around. I also do clothes swapping for the kids online, there’s a lady on ADVERTS.IE who has a daughter the same size as my stepdaughter, tall lanky 10 year old, but she also has a smaller 8 year old girl.

      So I’ll ask the 10 year old what clothes no longer fir her, send pics to this lady, she chooses what she likes, she sends me pics, and we swap. All we do is cover the postage cost.

      Charity shops are brilliant too. For the little one’s Communion, I found a black lace dress for €5, NEW ankle heels boots for €5, an old bolero I had (also charity shop) and I wore my leather leggings I got for €2.

      Only realised after that the dress was ZARA hahaha!!

  • Lee

    Another good way to save is to not grocery shop at only one store. I have 5 different stores on a regular rotation and I typically know what is cheaper where and I stock up when I hit up that store. Know which stores have lower traffic. You are much more likely to find lower milk and produce prices because there because they don’t want that stuff to expire on their shelves. Also put food that will expire soon in the front of the cabinet or at eye level in the fridge. I find that by doing this I am much less likely to waste food by letting go bad. If you have pets but the stupidly big bag of food. I realized the other week after doing a little math that by doing that I can save $12/month or $144/year.

  • Crusty Socks

    Other tips:

    Share internet service with neighbor, cut rate in half (might have to avoid porn sites, unless you’re both into that stuff)

    Share DirectTV with neighbor, cut rate in half (just buy an extra receiver)

    • Bethany Ramos

      Steal cable like Jerry Seinfeld…

    • Alex Lee

      “Terms of Service Agreement”?!?! Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    • Crusty Socks

      What you don’t read can’t harm you

  • Emily A.

    Seriously, check out your cell phone situation. You likely don’t *need* a data plan… and can get a pay-as-you-go for about $15/month.

    And this brings me to my all-around-best tip: be honest with yourself about what you *need* and what you *want*. It’s not bad to want stuff (heck, it’s kind of weird if you don’t) but confusing the two can be a budget-buster.

  • kay

    great thing about buying in bulk is it also saves you from impulse buys-it’s so easy to run into target to just get baby wipes and leave with $40 worth of stuff you didn’t mean to buy. The less you go to the store the less crap you buy.
    (this is said by someone who has bought giant bags of lollipops twice this week. For herself. I am the worst at impulse buys)

    • Bethany Ramos

      The lazy equivalent is amazon prime!!

  • Bethany Ramos

    You are awesome. This was so smart/hilarious! I am all about buying generic, and I’ve noticed that our local grocery chain at least has really good generic items for almost everything. Win!

  • Alicia Kiner

    I run my sponges through the dishwasher every time I run it. Keeps them from getting Grady and they last about a month or so. I also make my own cleaning solutions from cheap basics.

  • Kay_Sue

    I looooove this topic so much, I’m thinking of devoting a blog to it. It’s part of my “reclaiming my family from the push of consumerism” obsession, which I think is retaliation to my years in retail.

    I can really get behind the making it yourself suggestion. It’s amazing how much you can save on cleaning products alone. My cleaning kit now is about $30 worth of raw materials, if that. Before…I don’t even want to think about it. I think I had just that invested in my bathroom cleaners….Same with food of course. Not only is it cheaper to make french fries or mashed potatoes with 5 lbs of potatoes for three bucks, but they taste soooo much better. I’m forbidden from using instant potato flakes anymore (isn’t it cute? My husband actually thinks he can forbid me from things! :-P). And I was surprised too that it wasn’t the time commitment I’d always imagined. My mom was a working mom who defaulted to boxed and processed meals because she was tired and busy, so when I was working, I automatically assumed that I had to do the same thing–or be prepared to eat fast food. Now that I’ve actually learned to cook, I’ve got all kinds of time-saving hacks that make dinner the easiest thing I do most days (a major exception: any time I try a new recipe for the first time or two, I always wind up with a mess that takes FOREVER to cook and clean up after).

    I mentioned in a reply to someone else’s comment that some wholesale stores will let you share a membership. My mom and I share one, so we each pay half of the cost for the membership, which is easier to make up in savings than paying the whole bit.

    If you are up for it, try to go paperless. Not only do you save on buying paper towels (which we go through like crazy), but it’s earth-friendly. We don’t use paper towels anymore, but I am not brave enough to forego toilet paper….nope, not this lady. I phased them out a little at a time, first with cleaning rags, then cloth napkins.

    I’ve also made inroads on our electric bill that I am kind of proud of. #humblebrag

    I’m a cheapskate. And I love it. It’s like a challenge. ;)

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    Cloth napkins are a cost saver. We only use paper towel for cooking and cat-related messes. Every other possible use it’s cloth.

  • SarahJesness

    I’m a broke college student and I can be pretty cheap, but ah, I have much to learn! I don’t eat vegetables or fruit, so growing stuff is out of the question…

    Anyway. When it comes to buying certain recreational items, sometimes you can get REALLY nice stuff at a good price on websites like Craigslist. There are a lot of wealthy people who decide they want to try photography or archery or something, so they buy this expensive equipment, barely use it, and then decide they don’t care about the hobby and want to sell the stuff quickly. It’s how my dad buys SLR cameras.

    Being in my place of life, I work minimum wage jobs at different places. If you’re in that position, take advantage of discounts and perks when you can. My first job was a pizza place. A fairly pricey one, but with a 50% discount on food and free drinks, it was pretty cheap for me and I got to eat well on all my lunch breaks. Because the restaurant was owned by a larger corporation, I’d get the same discount (even with a group!) at any other place owned by the company. I used the discount to go to a nice restaurant for my graduation, a fun one (Rainforest Cafe!) for my birthday, and then used the 35% non-food discount to get some cool clothes before I went off to college. I’ve worked at an amusement park the last few years. My employee card worked as a season pass that also had a “buddy pass”, so I could bring in one friend a day at no charge. I would also get extra complimentary tickets. (how many you get depends on how long you’ve been working. At your second season you get four tickets, but you can trade in three of them for a “gold” season pass)

    So I could take friends and family in for free (and they don’t even have to pay for parking!) and then I could split the costs on waterpark lockers. I also got a generous discount on food and gift shop items, so the usually-expensive park food was reasonable price, and I could use the souvenir discount to buy gifts and even items me and my friends or family would’ve needed/wanted to buy anyway. (like swimsuits, flip flops, clothing items, etc.) But the BEST perk for cheap people? Every two years they have an “employee warehouse sale”. They have souvenir items and game prizes they need to get rid of, so they have a weekend where employees get the chance to buy it at crazy cheap prices. I brought a $20 bill and my change jar. Turned out they were selling everything for 25 cents (changed to 10 cents the next day) so I only needed the change. Coworkers who had kids (or knew people with kids) would really go for that; they’d fill the trunks of their cars with clothes and a few toys. I got my mom a Batman snowglobe (which normally cost like $35) and my sister 2 pairs of Roxy flip flops, and my roommate the Flash T-shirt that she really wanted. (I had to dig for that one, but since she drove me I was determined to find it!)

    I’m currently trying to get a different job. If I get the job and if there’s a discount on gift shop items, I am SO taking advantage. I will once again use it to purchase all of my gifts and supplement my wardrobe.

    Speaking of wardrobes, thrift shops and resale stores in rich areas. When I was in high school I got a lot of good, barely-used and still stylish/attractive clothes from Plato’s Closet. I also recently found a store in my area that only takes in really nice used items. More expensive than Plato’s Closet or Goodwill, but if you love really nice things but don’t want to spend a ton, it’s a good option, so maybe look for similar stores in your area. I got a gorgeous necklace and earring set there for under ten bucks. Don’t know what the stones are, but they look like real diamonds so it’s pretty cool. I ended up giving it to my mom since I can’t usually buy her gifts and I figured she’d appreciate it even more than I would. (which is really saying something because I LOVED that set…)

  • Kaili

    I save heaps by only grocery shopping online. Its much easier to directly compare prices. I also don’t become slave to the impulse buy. Case in point – a week’s plus worth of groceries for $80 dollars (saved $36). Went with the DH to Aldi and in 5 minutes he spent $100!

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    I’m mad for saving on food lol.
    I regularly go up to Tesco late (say 11pm) to check out their bargain section (or as I like to call it, the “Cheap-Ass” section)

    This is stuff that is going out of date that evening or the next day, but a LOT of it can be kept or frozen.

    Yesterday I got a whole stuffed pork roast that will do FIVE of us, for €4.
    I also picked up a bag of carrots that had a small tear in the top, for €0.85.

    The best by far was I found a full mango and passionfruit cheesecake, two packs full of BBQ chicken legs and a tray of pre-cooked potato gratin. Whole lot cost me €10.

    Can’t recommend it enough, plus in fairness, just because the date says the 10th, we ALL know it’s fine for at least two days after that!