Do you dream of less financial pressure and less debt? More choice and more adventure?
My husband and I have never had two full time incomes and yet we have been raising four children, had our own home, and managed some traveling too.
This would not normally all add up, but thankfully there’s no limit to the things we can do differently that reduce the cost of living. Small changes here and there add up to a LOT over a year, and a fortune over 10 years.
Making thoughtful choices as consumers means less pressure, less debt, and means some dreams can come true.
Here I will share 35 cost reducing strategies we have learned and used over decades.
35 THINGS WE SPEND LESS ON
Cars.We have always bought quality, nice cars. However we always buy cars that are roughly 8-12 years old. Cars in this age bracket are quite cheap and yet not bombs. We personally prefer to put money into our own than cars, as cars depreciate so rapidly, houses do not. When we buy a car we also research thoroughly and hunt out a good one in our price bracket. My current Toyota Rav4 has been brilliant for years and is beautiful to drive, and I got it for only $5000. People think new cars are cheaper to run but I do know people who bought new or newish cars and they did not escape costs on repairs.
Petrol. We fill up our cars every Monday as where we live it is 20-25% cheaper on Mondays than other days. If you study the price pattern where you live and fill up on the cheapest day you can save too. This simple Monday discipline saves us around $600 per car, per year!
House size. We live in a 1950’s size house. It is just 100m (1000ft). This means our costs on heating, cooling, water, cleaning, maintenance, decorating, furnishing, and gardening are so much lower than when we had the big house life. Also if we had bought a big house here in the hills we would have a much bigger mortgage. We and our two younger daughters who live here with us have been surprised that it is totally fine! We use outdoor areas as extra living areas plus other small house hacks you can read about in my article on that topic. (Of course we don’t crowd it with stuff either. ) We have come to LOVE small house life. No turning back for us! There are lots of fantastic townhouses and apartments that can enable smaller house life. It is better to live in a smaller home with less money pressure than have a big house and have to always be out at work to pay for it.
Holidays.We have saved untold amounts of money by doing smart holidaying. We have done a lot of house swaps with friends (see my earlier article on that here), camping, caravanning, and also staying in cheap airbnb places. In Asia we have also found very cheap but great accomodation just by searching. (check apps like Agoda/Airbnb).
Bank fees.We use ING (Australian) and there are no bank fees for our transaction accounts. Previously at our old bank we paid $10 a month approx which is $120 a year! Shop around to find a bank that does not charge fees. Check out Dave Ramsey, or The Barefoot Investor (for Aussies) for good finance tips like this. Of course home loan interest rates are a huge cost that one must shop around for. We use a mortgage broker and find that a good way to get good leverage and a good rate.
Outings. When we do outings as a family we do low cost or free ones like going to a cafe (we love cafes), the beach, art galleries, picnics, parks, visits at friends, or nature walks. The internet is full of guides on things to do. Having lots of fun does not need to impact your finances.
Fast food.We only do fast food about once a month and usually get whatever is cheapest. When the kids were young we did have hot chips on the beach every Friday night in summer but we only got chips (very delicious but very cheap) and I made a salad.
Restaurants. Where we live going out to a restaurant with two adults and two kids costs about $120 on average. We save a fortune by just going out for coffee instead or having picnics. When we are occasionally travelling in Asia we eat out a lot then as it is way cheaper.
Cleaning products. We use one very simple product to clean most things: vinegar! We have various spray bottles around the house with vinegar and a bit of dish detergent in. Great for cleaning windows, the bathroom, the kitchen, the toilet, stains on clothes (works on most), any surfaces, and I add it to the mop water too. For cleaning cloths I just use cotton flannels which I buy for about a $1 each at Kmart etc. This all saves a ton of chemicals and much cost.
Washing detergent.We only use around 40% of the recommended dose. We have always done that and yet our clothes have always come out clean. Over a whole year that is a lot of money and many kg’s of chemicals we did not need to use. I personally find Aldi is cheaper for such products.
Fabric softener. Why spend more money just to add more chemicals to the clothes your children will wear on their skin (skin is the biggest organ of your body and quite porous!).
Dishwasher powder. We halve our cost and chemicals by using powder instead of tablets. Firstly, powder is much cheaper, secondly with powder you can use 1/2 the recommended dose unlike with tablets. Our dishes are always clean! We sometimes also use a natural alternative which is: 1 tbspn bicarb soda plus a dash of vinegar, put in the DW powder compartment.
Food. We spend much less on our food shopping because we go to shops with great prices like Spudshed and Aldi. The prices are significantly lower. If you save even $40 a week that is $2080 a year!! We save more than that though. Probably easily $3000 a year. We mainly buy the things we know we use all the time. In previous decades we bought a very wide range of veggies and I could fill a truck with all the rotten veggies that we forgot to use and chucked out over those years. Using a list is important too so we don’t forget things. That means we can just go once a week and that is best practice for keeping finances under control! I seriously can’t be bothered going more often than that. A big strategy for us when we had the 4 kids at home was to buy large quantities of things on special, IF they were things we always used. I have always had a separate extra stocks cupboard where I keep extras I have bought marked down. A good sized freezer helps with this too.
Eggs.We have 3 chickens. Every day we trade with them: 3 organic eggs for all our food scraps and some grain. Everyone is happy. We bought a little chicken house off Gumtree, and with a few stakes and 10m of chicken wire my husband made a small run under our mulberry tree. Anyone with a bit of a yard can do this and have their own supply of fresh, organic protein, in the form of free range eggs. Since organic eggs cost at least $6 a dozen these 3 chickens give us $46 worth of eggs each month!
Vege garden and fruit trees. We have quite a few fruit trees and a vege and herb garden. Our neighbours do too. We all share our various crops from time to time. Upsides: save money and get to eat fresh organic produce. Also grow community with your neighbours!
Meat and fish and poultry.We do eat these but use smaller amounts (e.g. 1 chicken breast in a large stirfry). Sometimes we skip meat and use beans/lentils instead. If a family reduces meat intake the food bill can easily reduce by around $50 a week which is $2600 a year!! Getting your head out of the mindset that everyone needs a large piece of meat each night saves a ton of budget and it is much better for your health to eat mostly vegetables. (research it)
Shop bought cakes and biscuits, lollies, chips.Keeping your pantry stocked in these processed and sugary things, like most Aussie families do, costs your health and your bank balance a lot. In our house we may still get the odd pack of chips or lollies on a weekend, but we mainly eat a bit of fruit or nuts or dates for snacks and treats. They are cheaper, have nutrients, and are free of funky unnatural ingredients like colours, flavours, numbers and preservatives.
Furniture and most large things. We have really nice, new looking furniture, but we actually got most of it secondhand on Gumtree. I like IKEA furniture and I love that if I get it on Gumtree (like Craiglist) I can pay 40-50% of the new price and not have to assemble it! Yay! I am fussy though and only get things in excellent condition. Once I did a total makeover of our lounge room, changing all the furniture to a more modern style. I sold all the furniture on Gumtree and also bought the ‘new’ items on Gumtree. I ended up with $20 leftover (!!) from my makeover despite having bought newer and more modern sofas and shelves. My daughters and husband were mega impressed by this. You can have a fabulous house on a small budget by shopping on apps for secondhand stuff e.g. Gumtree/Craiglist. Having a trailer for pickup really helps. I got our trailer on Gumtree too!
Small stuff. Temptation to buy small stuff is strong. $20 here and $5 there does not feel like much. You know: cushions, vases, kitchen utensils, lamps. But all these small purchases deplete our bank balance of hard earned and taxed money. They also mean I have more stuff to tidy and maintain. Forever more.
I can have weak moments at the shops so I find it is best if I don’t go. Full stop. I have better hobbies. However occasionally I have to go as we need something. At those times I focus on my list and remind myself every 5 minutes ‘we have enough’. Another cool help has been our local buynothing facebook group where people give away things they don’t need and ask for things they do. I needed a yoghurt thermos last year and asked on the group and someone had one they didn’t want anymore. Saved me $30. I have also given away loads of things I did not need on that group too. Also, the more you give away the less you want to buy new stuff.
Clothes. A small collection of clothes can be mixed and match to create endless outfit combinans. I have thought about my style and what styles suit me and what fabrics I like and I only go to clothes shops if I have a need. This helps me avoid impulse buys! I also only buy things that go with other things in my wardrobe. I stick to max 20 hangers in my wardrobe which is more than enough (plus I have some out-of-season items in a suitcase). My 16 year old daughter is more hardcore minimalist than me and is doing ‘project 333’ (google it) and says she still only uses half of the 33 items of clothing!
Shoes.Same principles as clothes. I buy with 4 things in mind: good quality, comfortable, a style I love, and they must go with most of my outfits. If you do buy cheap shoes, putting in very good innersoles (with arches etc) can turn them into a whole different pair. I would rather invest in people than invest in stuff, and that is why I am careful about shopping, otherwise I will have to work more days every week.
Magazines, newspapers and books.We do not buy magazines or newspapers but read articles online. My husband does pay for a good news app but it is pretty low cost. If you just love magazines, you could look at Apps like Pinterest and Houzz instead. At one point I realised book buying can be an addiction and I had a bookshelf of books yet to be read. So now I read them, but I read a lot of articles online too. If I must have a book I often get the cheaper e-book. Right now I am reading some of the beautiful classics my kids had as readers when they did homeschooling! Really relaxing and sweet reads!
Alcohol. Since there are a lot of alcohol shops around I assume this is a significant budget item for Australians. You can be kind to your budget and health by cutting out this cost or only getting the occasional beer/wine treat. I have seen some people lately switch to soda water and a twist of lemon. My husband also home-brews apple cider or beer sometimes.
Cool drinks and cordial. An Integrative Doctor told me that liquid sugar like juice, cordial and cool drink is the worst form of sugar you can consume. Really bad for your health. I never thought I could go off orange juice as I was addicted, but somehow I managed it. Water is free. Soda water is very cheap. Three upsides to our home after cutting them out: much money saved, health and teeth improved, and our plastic footprint shrunk a lot.
Beauty care. A few basics really are enough to make oneself beautiful. Who wants to coat their facial skin in chemicals anyway? I buy my skin care products and makeup at Aldi. They are high quality products at low prices. Also I personally use sorbolene and a microfibre cloth for makeup removal and I don’t bother with toner or cleanser though my beautician daughter probably thinks that is way too hardcore minimalism. I only spend about $20 a year max on beauty and skin care! Most women spend at least 10 times that.
Hairdresser.I have always cut my daughters hair. Even now in their 20’s they still ask me to do it because it saves them a lot of money! My husband also cuts his own hair with his own clippers. Personally I like to go to the hairdresser but I get cuts that last a long time so I do not have to go every 6 weeks. I do my own blonde highlights myself by mixing up a bit of blonde dye from the supermarket and just dragging some through with my fingertips.
Kids activities.We have always spent much less money (and energy and driving) on kids activities because we generally limited them to one activity at a time outside of school hours. They would either pause music when they did sport or they did music as an in-school activity which is usually cheaper and no driving for me.
Kids toys. One of my sisters has stopped buying toys and also pared her kids toys right right back to just leggos and some other basic multifunctional toys. Much less mess and she can spend money on experiences or clothes for them. When our kids were young we asked their Grandma (Farmor) in Sweden to please get them clothes instead of toys. They had enough toys but we rarely had spare time or money to go looking for anything more than basic clothes. She found out all their sizes and favourite colours and sent them beautiful outfits. The kind of amazing things a retired loving Grandma with time can find! They loved these clothes so much and always said that when they wore them it felt like a hug from Farmor. This also helped us a lot financially rather than them getting more toys they didn’t need.
Computers. Our MacPros have been going strong for many years. Mine is probably 6 years old! Saves a lot of money and stress. Buying some higher quality robust things can pay off in the long run.
Electricity. We hardly ever turn on an electrical heater as we have a wood fire. My husband collects wood cheaply all through the year (e.g. a whole trailer load of mill ends for $100!) . The fire burns almost non stop all winter and doesn’t cost much at all. We also fill up the dishwasher and washing machine before putting on a load.
Flights.My husband is a bargain hunter for tickets. He looks at sights like Skyscanner or Kyak and signs up to airlines to see their specials but he quite likes to work with one agent and his preference is STA (Australian) as he finds them to have such good prices. Recently he found us amazing tickets from Perth to north Thailand for only $440 return. That price meant the difference between not doing that holiday and doing it.
Reticulation.We have reticulation in our garden. My brother and his wife are really inspiring with this as they don’t have it and if anything dies in summer they rip it out and plant a native. Plants that are native to your area only need careful watering during the establishment phase. Our garden has a lot of non-natives but we have gradually reduced the reticulation pipes and shrunk every station and even turned off some stations as the plants are established and we find they seem to be ok with less water. Experimenting is good to see where we can stop wasting money.
Plants. Many years back I realised I kept buying new indoor plants as the old ones died. So then I stopped buying plants and stuck to a few really hardy ones, or succulents, and I even have a few fake plants in areas where there isn’t a lot of sunlight. I focus more on looking at the ones out the window in my garden, or I bring in some branches or flowers and put them in a vase.
Decorations: 80% of the decorations I ever bought became outdated eventually and I stopped using them at some point. The ones I NEVER get sick of and which never outdate are items from nature. Some round stones that I have collected, some sprigs from a tree in a vase, some colourful autumn leaves, or some seashells around a tealight. One can change things with the seasons and easily find new things on a beach or bush walk. Cost: zero. If they get really dusty just find a replacement on your next walk!!
Curtains and rugs. Some people spend thousands on curtains, curtain rods, and rugs, but you can actually get beautiful low costs ones too (e.g. IKEA).
Paint for decorating. We have renovated a lot of houses. One painter friend told us how some paint shops (e.g. Solver) have a pallet full of mis-tint paints at the back of the shop and they sell at only $3.50 a litre. Mis-tints are paints that have been accidently mixed in the wrong base or shade to what the customer ordered. I once painted the exterior of our house with 10 litres of top top quality (mis-tinted) paint at a cost of $35. If I have a project coming up I drop in and check what they have.
A big thing for us, since we are people of faith, is to always pray and ask God to help us find good ways of doing things and we commit our plans to God whether it be a holiday plan or a need for a car, or whatever.
Anyway, I hope you got some good inspiration from these things we do in our house.
Remember: invest in people not stuff!
Have a great week,
4 thoughts on “How to lower the cost of living. 35 ideas from our family!”
This is a fantastic list and great reassurance for anyone thinking of taking the plunge. It’s amazing just how little you can live on by making small changes in your life and consumption patterns and there is so much to be gained in the things that really matter. We ‘drooped out’ to live on an income well below that described in the UK as being the minimum needed for a ‘decent’ standard of living and yet we want for nothing and even still manage to save a bit each month. Most importantly, we are very rich in time, freedom and contentment! Great blog, keep up the good work! 🙂
Thankyou so much for your comment (35 things our family spends less on) and GOOD on you for living slower and simpler. For living intentionally. Siobhan
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Wow thankyou so much for the encouragement!
Reassuring and encouraging others that we CAN live on less is exactly why I wrote it.
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Well, I think sharing, reading, trying things then normalising them is the way to do it. Hopefully when others see what’s possible – and what an interesting, fulfilling and happy life it creates – they will be inspired to live on less, too. I for one have never been happier! 🙂