Thomas and I are constantly working on improving our “systems” around the house, such as our pantry system, our budget system, and our chores system. To be fair, our grand plans for organization and efficiency have had varying levels of success so far. (If my housemate is reading this, she is probably wondering when I am actually going to clean all the bad vegetables out of the fridge. Soon, I promise!) We have only been married for a year and a half, so it’s all definitely still a work in progress.
Marriage, for me at least, has turned out to be the ultimate life hack. Instead of trying to handle all the decisions and stresses of life on my own, I now get to share them with my lover and closest friend. My husband is the type of person who can make the most routine and tedious activities enjoyable, so even boring things like going to Walmart or doing yard work can be fun if I get to do them with him. Better yet, marriage sometimes helps me get out of dreaded tasks altogether. The divide and conquer method is the essential marriage hack, in my opinion, for dealing with cleaning, bills, taxes, dishes, thank you cards and pretty much anything else that we try to avoid.
So, Thomas and I made a list of some of our current favorite life hacks to share with the IBiL community. Our hope is that others will be inspired to try some of our strategies with their families and that some readers might even be willing to share their creative ideas with us as well. (Because the only thing better than telling someone about a life hack that saves them money is stealing their greatest hacks for yourself!)
1. The Freezer is Your Friend
Did you know that milk freezes really well? So does ground beef, fish, tortillas, and a lot of other basic staple foods. I used to think that buying in bulk only worked for people with large families, but I can tell you now that I live in Hawaii (where groceries are incredibly expensive), even just two people can save hundreds of dollars a month by shopping at Costco. The key to making this work and not having all the food go bad before we can eat it is to freeze almost everything as soon as we get it home from the store. We divide things like meat and rolls into two-person sized portions right away as well, so we can just grab and go from the freezer when it is time for dinner. It takes a little extra time and an investment in gallon-sized Ziplocs, but we get so many more meals out of a single grocery trip if we do this. The only thing that our freezer has not helped us with so far is fresh vegetables. So if you know a great produce hack that I’m missing out on, please pass it on!
2. What Bills Do You Really Need?
One of the most effective ways to save money is by cutting back on reoccurring monthly expenses. Obviously there are some bills that we all have to pay regardless: rent, loan payments, utilities, etc… However, beyond these core expenses, Thomas and I have tried to be very selective about which additional bills we are willing to take on. For example, we don’t pay for cable, and we only signed up for the extra life and health insurance options from our work that we really need. We also just sold our second car, so now we only have to pay for registration and coverage for one vehicle.
Now, this is not to say that we deprive ourselves, because we totally don’t. Thomas and I may not have TV, but we do pay for Netflix and a couple other streaming entertainment services because they are worth it to us. We do eat out for date nights two to three times a month and even have a special budget for it. I even have a gym membership because I found one that is inexpensive and close to where I work. The balance of which expenses are necessary and which can be cut out is going to be very different for every family. The important thing is to be conscious of where your money is going every month and to seriously consider living without expenses that you simply don’t need.
Thomas’s and my best bill hack, however, has been to share two of our biggest expenses with other people that we trust. Right now we split the rent on a two bedroom house with a friend from our church. It’s different than living on our own, but having a housemate has actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Similarly, we share a large family cell phone plan with my husband’s parents and siblings. Although these particular situations probably will not work for most people, there are lots of other ways that I have seen families work together to share costs for childcare, produce, and other necessities. Thinking outside the box for monthly expenses can be a very important money saver when the circumstances are right.
3. Yes, We Are Addicted to our Smartphones
Strong communication is ultimately at the core of all of our schemes for improving efficiency. If Thomas and I are not on the same page about our savings strategies or the tasks that need to be accomplished, we really won’t have much success with any of our life hacks. For better or for worse, our smartphones play a big role in helping us stay on track. We have an app for just about everything: a cooking app, a grocery list app, a budgeting app, a bible app, a calendar app, an exercise app, and even an app to keep track of all the passwords for our other apps. It might seem a bit excessive, but I for one am grateful that there are ways for me to easily share and organize information with my partner throughout the course of our busy days. For example, I can add forgotten items to our shopping list even after he has left for the store (AnyList—we use the free version). And he can see up to date information about our budget immediately after I have paid the bills (You Need A Budget—$50/year, and, although I’m usually not an advocate of spending money to save money, this program is worth every penny). Our phones even help us do a morning bible study together on the way to work (You Version Bible App, Glo Bible, and Jesuit Prayer are some of our favorites). Apps make things simple and convenient for us, and I’m a huge fan.
I would love to hear how things worked out if you have ever tried these life hacks for yourself or your family. Please also feel free to comment if you have other great strategies or apps that I need to know about. Thomas and I have a lifetime for creatively hacking the system together ahead of us, so we are all ears for new and better ways to improve.