It's the last day of 2010 and I've been taking some time to reflect on the year's many joys and challenges. A lot of things have happened in our family this year (many of them too personal to share on this blog). What I *can* share are some of the frugal changes we made over the course of the year that have been the most satisfying to me.
1. Finally ditching cable...for good.
This one seems like a total no-brainer; after all it's practically Frugality 101. We canceled our cable service in January. For a family that previously lived without a TV for a couple of years, I don't know how we ever managed to get sucked into cable, but we did. We had it for about seven years, and in hindsight it's definitely one of those "what were we thinking?" situations. Neither my husband or I are big TV watchers in the first place. We discovered after we canceled our cable service that a simple pair of rabbit ears given to us by a neighbour allows us to receive the 3 or 4 channels we most commonly watch. Since we're in Canada, we don't have access to Hulu; however the netflix streaming service is now available in Canada and if we wanted to spend $7.99 a month we could stream it through my boys' Playstation 3 system. Right now we've been very content to watch shows on DVD from the library (we're fortunate that our library has an extensive DVD collection). The only thing I've really missed is being able to watch baseball games during the summer (we listened to them on the radio instead).
We had our phone, internet, and cable services bundled through a single provider, so when we canceled cable, we reassessed our phone service and switched to a less expensive package (this was a new package that wasn't available when we first signed on with our current provider). These changes allowed us to cut our bill in half, from $162 and change a month down to just over $82. That means we saved $960 over the course of the year. I'm so pleased we made this change, but really wish we'd done it a lot sooner (or better yet, never succumbed to the lure of cable in the first place).
2. Switching to a cash system for groceries and miscellaneous spending.
I've always paid fairly close attention to how much we spend and allocated specific amounts for each item in our budget. Most of our bills are paid by automatic withdrawal, so they're pretty easy to keep track of. The two categories in our budget that were the most difficult to keep a handle on were groceries and miscellaneous spending (which for us includes everything from personal care to general household needs, gifts and haircuts). We finally decided to switch to a cash system for these two categories, and it's worked out beautifully. It's so much easier to track how much we've spent and how much we have left for the rest of the month. I simply put the designated amounts of money into envelopes at the beginning of each month, and once it's gone, it's gone (if there's any left at the end of the month, I roll it over into next month's envelope). This method has really helped us stay true to our designated budget without spending a lot of time trying to track our purchases.
3. Switching to reusable feminine hygiene products.
This is a change I had been meaning to make for a few years now. I tried the Keeper several years ago, and I really *wanted* to like it, but it just didn't work out for me (it was uncomfortable to wear and I had some kind of reaction to it). I planned to sew some cloth pads and never quite got around to it (my bottomless mending pile has a lot to do with that). I definitely didn't want to spend the amount of money required to purchase pre-made cloth pads, but I'd had enough of purchasing disposable products (not to mention all the unnecessary waste they create). I finally came up with a very simple, no-sew solution that took me all of five minutes. It's worked well for me for several months now. I'll share more details in a future post.
4. Learning how to make my own homemade deodorant.
Not only is this a money-saver, it's very satisfying to find an all-natural solution that actually works! My husband and I have been using this recipe since the spring and we both love it. I add a few drops each of tea tree and peppermint essential oil for extra anti-microbial coverage and a fresh, clean scent. This discovery has blossomed into an interest in making more of my own personal care products, and a few weeks ago I discovered the awesome blog CrunchyBetty.com. Since then I have enjoyed making Mocha-Frappuccino face masks and Winter Face Scrub and am itching to experiment with many more concoctions in the new year.
5. Perfecting my homemade yogurt and granola recipes.
I definitely know my way around the kitchen and generally have no trouble creating a wide variety of tasty foodstuffs from scratch. The perfect yogurt and granola recipes seemed to have eluded me for years, though. This year I finally got them both right! I can now consistently turn out a vanilla yogurt that my family loves, and have achieved what I consider to be "granola perfection" - flavourful, crunchy, but not too sweet (recipe here).
What were your biggest frugal successes in 2010?