In the first One Step at a Time post, I detailed our goal for the year: make small changes one step at a time so we could do more and get big intimidating goals finished over time. We’ve been keeping up with Step 1 and Step 2 just fine and have been working on several other steps simultaneously. We feel as if we’ve nailed one though, so we’re ready to share. Step 3 is actually about less. It’s about making cut backs financially so that things aren’t quite so tight around here and really honing in on our budget.
We almost never use cash, because we like to keep track of where our money’s going. But a big long list of transactions on our online business account made it difficult to find trends that could tell us the most effective places to cut back. Enter Mint.com, an amazing (free) website that helps you keep track of your spending, set goals, and see trends. We used this site back when we lived in the loft, but we’ve been kind of slipping on our budgeting lately. So back to Mint we go.
Our favorite feature of Mint (which does not in any way sponsor us, in case you’re wondering) is it’s tools for visual representation of spending trends. If you click the “trends” tab, it will show you a nice colorful pie chart of your spending, by category. You can then click on each category and see another pie chart. So you might see that “food & dining” is taking up an awfully large chunk of your monthly pie chart, and you can click into that category and see how much of your monthly food spending is taken up by restaurants, fast food, coffee, groceries, etc. I love that you can make custom categories and sub-categories (so you can see how much that daily kiosk bagel is really costing you) and can easily edit to fit your needs/ fix uncategorized material.
The first time we looked at Mint back in 2009 or 2010, I was shocked that my coffee habit was taking up about a quarter of our food category (I had a daily latte). Mint helped us tighten our belts back then, and it’s helping us to cut out the fat and tighten our belts again now.
The easiest place to cut back was definitely in the food category. I need to give up my (now weekly) lattes and fancy locally roasted drip coffee beans for home, Jake needs to bring his lunch to work more, and we need to cut out gas station sodas and snacks. This is all really helpful (like $150.00 a month helpful – WOW!), but the biggest cut back success in the food category has been switching to Trader Joe’s.
It may seem weird to get excited about a grocery store, and even weirder to drive 15 minutes to one when there’s literally a grocery store in our neighborhood, but we’ve cut down our monthly grocery bill by almost half!
We love that Trader Joe’s is cheap and healthy. We’ve started going on Sundays (usually as a family) with a list and a plan (getting more serious about meal planning has been a big part of cutting our spending back as well – less going out to eat). Eliza loves it. She loves that there are kid sized carts, she loves the scavenger hunt for Wally the Walrus so she can earn a sucker, and she loves the samples. She likes the healthy stuff too: she wanted a stocking full of dried fruit bars and Kid Cliff Bars at Christmas.
We were just going every once in awhile, but since we realized that it makes such a huge financial impact, we’ve switched to 100% Trader Joe’s (except for the occasional nip to the grocery store to buy Oreos, because the TJ’s version is not cutting it).
Bonuses: a) Even though it takes longer to get there, grocery shopping is faster because the store is small. I don’t have to go down millions of isles just to get five things. b) We’re cutting out a lot of junk food because it isn’t there! c) We can eat much healthier and afford more fresh produce because it’s so much cheaper!!!
Warning: not everything is cheap at TJ’s. My mom went as a result of our raving recommendation, and she scoffed afterwards. “So not cheaper!” she said. So we’ll clarify: cheaper if you’re going with a real grocery list. Not cheaper if you’re impulse buying all the extra fancy yummy stuff they have, like French imported Brie and take home sushi (both delicious).
Overall, we’re quite proud of the impact that these little steps have made. It’s great that they happen to be awesome for both our bank account and our health. We’re excited to look at our pie chart for March – it will be so rewarding to see how much of a difference this has all made over the span of a complete month!
Yay for lowering our spending!
What’s up next for one step at a time? The next step on the cutting spending front: lowering student loans. The next step on the home front: doing dishes asap. Next step on the personal front: cutting out pop. What would your one step be?
Have you tried Mint or Trader Joe’s? What do you think?
What cut backs could you make?