I’m eagerly counting down the months till March. Like most people, I live for that fantastic day when we get our tax refund. Even though we changed my husband’s withholding on his paycheck when I first started staying home to get more money per check, we still get a decent refund each year. Last year, along with our savings we were able to renovate our basement into a master bedroom, and this year I can hardly sit still for joy of thinking about paying off our debt consolidation loan. Yes, it sounds glamorous I know. This is the year we get rid of all debt save the house related debt. Three years ago, we were in deep to the tune of roughly $20,000 and come March that’ll be the end of that chapter and hopefully the end of just scraping by.

I’ve done some crazy and some not so crazy things to get us through the lean times over the years while staying home with our kids. I’ve also enlisted the advice of other moms on Facebook. In no particular order, here are 20 ways to make ends meet when you’re just scraping by.

Local U-Pick Farms like Dubois Farms in Highland have fantastic fruit and veggies for great prices, they also give the family a fun outing together that teaches kids where food really comes from.

Local U-Pick Farms like Dubois Farms in Highland have fantastic fruit and veggies for great prices. They also give families a fun outing together that teaches kids where food really comes from.

1. Budget – I can’t tell you how much having a budget helps. Even if you can’t stick to a set dollar amount per category it’s invaluable for seeing where your money is going and figuring out where you can trim the fat. Need help getting started? Try Every Dollar‘s free online budget tool.

2. Lower My Bills PLEASE – I’ve called pretty much all our bill collectors and asked for lower rates or asked how to scale back on services to lower my bill. One year, I saved hundreds of dollars on our propane bill simply because I asked for a better rate. It helps if you’re current on your bills. If a company is unwilling to match rates or help you lower your payments, it’s time to shop around for new companies. Here are some negotiating tips.

3. Meal Plan – When shopping don’t just plan for the week’s meals, plan for the week’s leftovers. Buy bigger cuts of meats and use them for two meals instead of one. Take leftovers for lunch. Read more about how to stop feeding the trash.

Not only am I not ashamed at shopping thrift and consignment shops, I'm pretty thrilled with the deals I get. I got 4 pairs of jeans for $14 on Salvation Army's family day which is every Wednesday. Most items are half off.

Not only am I not ashamed to shop at thrift and consignment shops, I’m pretty thrilled with the deals I get. I got 4 pairs of jeans for $14 on Salvation Army’s family day, which is every Wednesday. Most items are half off.

4. Buy Used – I have ZERO shame about shopping thrift and consignment shops. I think of it as a treasure hunt. I often find more expensive quality brand name clothing for my family then what I could buy new at Wall-Mart or Target. Tip: Hit up Salvation Army on Wednesday when most items are half off. Read more about what you should know before you pop them tags. Tip: Goodwill gets brand new items from Target that didn’t sell.

5. Buy GENERIC – I know there is a huge stigma for some surrounding store brands or stores like Aldi which carry very few name brands. Most store brands are just as good, if not better, than the brand name. It’s totally worth it to give them a try. Generic medicines and baby formula have the EXACT same ingredients so why pay more for them? If you’re at the doctor, make sure they write you a prescription for the generic version of the medication if there is one. If you don’t ask, you could get stuck paying a lot more for the brand name. I even found that I could get free birth control pills just by switching to a generic brand that is fully covered by my insurance.

6. Say NO A LOT – A big part of choosing or having to be frugal is learning to deal with temptation, which is EVERYWHERE. When friends innocently suggest you go out to eat, suggest a potluck instead. When it comes to sales based parties I have a strict “No Go” policy. It’s not that I’m trying to be rude, I just won’t put myself in a position to have to say no or else buy something out of guilt. Many of the fundraisers that come home from school go straight to the recycling bin. We do some fundraisers and give to charity, but we have to be selective about where we give. My kids know that if they want a new toy they have to wait for their birthday or Christmas, whichever comes first. I have a strict “don’t ask me for anything at the store” policy on those rare occasions I have to take them with me.

One of the best part of living in the Hudson Valley are the many local farms available to pick fresh produce at prices cheaper than you'd find in the grocery store.

One of the best part of living in the Hudson Valley are the many local farms available to pick fresh produce at prices cheaper than you’d find in the grocery store.

7. Buy Direct From Farms – Get fresh veggies and fruits and preserve them by canning or freezing them. Lots of people reap the benefits of food shares and food co-ops and the Hudson Valley is full of great farms to choose from.

8. Cut The Cable – We ditched our cable and now do Hulu and Netflix for a teeny tiny fraction of the cost we had with Direct TV. Streaming subscription services can cost as little as $8 a month and with Sling TV, Hulu, Netflix and others you can pretty much get anything you want a la cart for a LOT less then even those bundled cable packages.

9. Refinance – If you have a mortgage or loans, try to refinance them if you can get lower interest rates and you’ll save a ton of money on interest. We refinanced our mortgage three years ago and saved $280 a month, plus the month while the loan was processing and we didn’t have a mortgage payment we were able to pay off a small personal loan with that would be mortgage payment.

10. Take Out Your Own Trash – I know what you’re thinking- that’s gross! Honestly, I go to the dump twice a month with our coupon booklet that makes each bag $2. We used to spend $26 a month on a collection service and while saving $120 a year isn’t a lot per say, it does make you reevaluate just how much stuff you throw out, encourages you to recycle as much as you can because it’s free, and it gives you an opportunity to recycle oil, scrap metal and even drop clothing in donate bins instead of throwing them out. It might even encourage you to stop buying disposable items like paper plates, napkins, utensils, cups, and perhaps even diapers. You pay for these items once at the store and pay again to get rid of them. I’m not ashamed to admit it also gives me an opportunity to snag some free coupon inserts, which also save me money.

Read more about how to move from “survive to thrive” when money is tight. Stay tuned for the second part of this post and feel free to share your money saving tips here.

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