Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How To Be Thrifty: We Cut Over 40K From Our Annual Expenses

Involuntary Simplicity:  A Job Loss Meant 40K in Annual Budget Cuts for Us

When my husband lost his job last year, we had to take a hard look at our budget.  With less money but more time, our mission in life became how to actually live better on less money. We started collecting ideas from frugal forums and books from the library, and listed below are the actions we took to cut 40K from our annual budget. Listed below are a few of the big ticket items we eliminated to reduce our spending. 

Work Related Costs Eliminated: 13K Savings


Man at train station
Not having to take the train to work every day saved $2,400 a year.

With no job, there were no longer any work related costs to pay for out of our own pocket. While my husband was working outside the home, he spent over $13,000 a year just on expenses just to support his job.  These included:

  1. Train tickets to and from work every day.
  2. Daily fast food or restaurant lunches.
  3. Vacation "buys" to get extra vacation days.
  4. Driving costs to and from the train station.
  5. Business casual work clothes.
  6. Monthly parking at the train station.
  7. Dry cleaning pants and having work shirts professionally laundered.
  8. An extra car for work meant saving for a replacement car, registration, maintenance and insurance costs. 

We actually made a little extra money the first year by selling his commute car.  We aren't down to a one car family because our kids still have cars.  We are just a one car less family now.  

How much is your job costing you? This is an especially important question for parents to ask if one or both wages aren't particularly high and you are paying for day care.  Being at home means having time to do a lot of cost saving activities such as making meals from scratch, price shopping insurance every year, renegotiating your cable bill and many other money saving techniques. Is your job really worth what it is costing you?

Switched to FoodMaxx: 3K Savings

FoodMaxx is a local pack it yourself warehouse store.  They match all of the local retail stores weekly sales prices. Their regular prices are 20% below retail.  By trying to stick to brands on sale, we tend to average a 30% discount over the local retail stores prices. For us this meant saving $3,000 a year on groceries just by switching stores. The local store is more convenient, but we decided it wasn't 3K a year convenient.

Cold Turkey on Fast Food: 3.9K Savings

When we both worked full time, my husband had a long commute and I worked from home while trying to juggle school car pools and soccer practices.  With our busy schedules, we didn't think twice about grabbing fast food several times a week.  At $25 per meal for our family of four, this really added up.

Now our "fast" food is spaghetti or hamburgers with a side salad made at home.  For nights we are really short on time we will go to Trader Joe's and get a prepared meal, but we can buy two entrees there for $10 instead of less healthy fast food for $25.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Free and Inexpensive Bay Area Events, Museums and Attractions

Everyone knows that the cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is higher than other parts of the U.S., but one of the great things is that the cost of fun can be much lower if you search around a little bit. We always manage to find more more free or low cost activities than we have time to do each month.

Listed below are just some of the things we have done or have planned to do for 2012 at free or reduced admission prices:

Aquarium at Academy of Science
  • Academy of Science - free admission with a library pass.
  • Oakland Zoo - free admission with library pass, $7 for parking extra.
  • Asian Art Museum - free admission with library pass. We saw the special exhibit on Maharajas: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts and it was truly spectacular.
  • Civil War Days at Fort Point - free event.
  • Village Theater in Danville, "Laura", reduced admission through Goldstar.
  • UC Berkeley Gardens - free admission the first Thursday of each month.
  • Muir Woods - free entrance during National Parks Week.
  • Earth Day Festival at John Muir Historic House - no charge for admission.
  • Borges Ranch - visit the farm animals and hike the hills at this free East Bay Park.
  • Archery in a Redwood forest at Roberts Regional Park. You need your own bows and arrows for this activity. The range is free but donations are appreciated since the park is maintained courtesy of the Redwood Bowmen Association.
  • Lesher Theater play "A Call to Arms" - Reduced admission through Goldstar
  • U.S.S. Hornet Tour - free with library pass.
The total cost for the above attractions came to $30 for the four play tickets (2 plays X 2 tickets x $7.50 each). Everything else was free except for transportation and parking. Before we decided to become super thrifty entertainment consumers, we used to pay more than $30 for a restaurant meal for two on a Friday night alone. Now we have figured out how to spend less than $30 a month and still do a lot of fun and interesting activities. There are so many fun things to do in the Bay Area at no cost that we spend very little money on entertainment these days.

Here are some helpful links:

Event Lists - These Lists Contain Both Free and Fee Events, So Be Sure to Check the Prices Before You Go

SFGate - San Francisco and beyond.
Mercury News - South Bay.
Bay Area Insider - Oakland and beyond
The Concord Patch - Concord and surrounding communities event list. 


BART Accessible Destinations

Free Park Event Lists

Golden Gate Parks Conservancy - This is the nonprofit partner organization for the Gold Gate Parks. Beside offering many volunteer opportunities, there are numerous free walks, hikes, bikes and tours offered at no charge. For the month I posted this link, free event offerings included a Muir Wood Evening Walk, crabbing at Fort Point, and a beginning birding walk and talk in the Marin Headlands. - added 4/2/12.

East Bay Regional Park District - This park district has some truly beautiful parks with great hiking. Our personal favorite parks include Tilden, Sunol and Wildcat Canyon. As an added plus for dog owners, unlike the State Parks, dogs are welcome at most parks and on most trails. EBRPD has numerous classes, activities and ranger led hikes each month, some free and some with a cost. Check out their web site to find the free events for the upcoming months. - Added 4/4/12.

California State Park Events - Check this list for all of the state parks in the San Francisco Bay Area. - Added 4/4/12.

Golden Gate National Parks - Take a guided tour of tour of a 19th century sailing ship for $5 or take an evening stroll through Muir Woods for free. If you want a day trip, you can look for gray whales and elephant seals at Point Reyes. - Added 4/4/12.

National Parks - Check out this list of free admission days. National Parks in the Bay Area include: - Added 9/25/12

  • Muir Woods National Monument
  • Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
  • Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
  • Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Pony Express National Historic Trail
  • John Muir National Historic Site
  • Fort Point National Historic Site
  • Presidio of San Francisco 

Always Free Attractions

Sometimes you actually do get more than what you pay for. Check out these Bay Area attractions that are always free.

Farmers Market with Free Concerts - Concord, Thursday evenings (starts 5/31/12)
Golden Gate Park - San Francisco. Most of the major attractions inside the park, like the Japanese Gardens and Academy of Science, cost extra unless you go on the designated "free" days. You can still do things like check out the buffalo and have a picnic at Stowe Lake for free.
John Muir Historic House - Martinez
Randall Museum - San Francisco
Ames Research Center
Blake Garden - UC Berkeley - Added 4/6/12.
Blake Garden Grotto and Reflecting Pool

Cantor Arts Center - Stanford University
Japanese Gardens - Hayward
Fort Funston - San Francisco. Take your camera and watch the hang gliders take off and land.
Sulphur Creek Nature Center - Hayward
Emma Prusch Farm Park - San Jose
Star Gazing - various planetariums.
Free Sail Boat Rides - Compliments of the Cal Sailing Club
Botanic Garden at Tilden Park
Little Farm at Tilden Park
Marine Mammal Center - Marin
The Botanic Garden at Tilden Park - Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive in Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley, CA. Added 4/7/12.
Bay Model Visitor Center - 2100 Bridgeway Sausalito, CA 94965. Added 4/7/12.
Parks - The Bay Nature site has a list of 24 pages of parks in the Bay Area in alphabetical order. Most are free or low cost.
Nike Missile Site
Muir Beach
Triton Museum of Art, 1505 Warburton Ave., Santa Clara, CA 95050. Added 4/7/12.
The Bay Area Free Book Exchange - There is no catch. The Bay Area Free Book Exchange at 10520 San Pablo Avenue El Cerrito, California 94530 gives away books for free. You can donate your old books if you like but it is not a requirement. There is a 100 book limit per person per day.

Inexpensive Event List - Under $5 Per Person Admission

Ardenwood Farms - Fremont. Adults $3, more for special event days.
McConaghy House in Hayward

City Sponsored Events
Walnut Creek
Concord Farmers' Markets with free music Tuesdays and Thursdays. - Added 4/4/12.

Concord Downtown - list of free upcoming fairs and concerts. Added 4/4/12.

Library Events and Passes

Contra Costa Library - Get free passes for local attractions with the libraries Discover and Go pass. Added 4/4/12

Contra Costa Library Events - Search for free events at various libraries throughout Contra Costa County.

Alameda County Library - also has Discover and Go passes. Added 4/4/12

Discounted Tickets

Goldstar - This is a web site that has discounted tickets for Bay Area events and attractions. They have some tickets that are called free, but in reality everything we have looked at has at least a nominal service charge. Still, we have gone to several East Bay plays for $15 for two, with tickets that would have normally cost $40 or more. If you have more time than money, it is worth checking out the free event list once or twice a day for new additions. Recent offerings include Cirque du Soleil tickets for Totem in San Jose for $33 each, which is deeply discounted off the normal price. The free / comp tickets are usually comedy shows and very small budget theater groups. If you reserve play tickets, check the venues. Some of the smaller venues are not much larger or more impressive than my guest bedroom. Plus there are no refunds, so be careful of what you book. Added 4/4/12.

Costco - offer discounted theater tickets. We buy these in advance and in bulk. They are cheaper at our local store than they are online.

Free Classes

Free Gardening Classes - Navlet's in the East Bay has free gardening classes on SaturdaysAdvance registration is required.

Free Days

Designated free days change from time to time. The list below is beleived to be current based on web site information. As always, to avoid disappointment, call ahead to confirm the venue's current free day policy.

Free First Sunday -

Asian Art Museum - Added 4/4/12.

Free First Tuesday -

Flower Conservatory at Golden Gate Park - Added 4/4/12.
de Young Fine Arts Museum - Added 4/12/12.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103. Added - 4/7/12.

Free First Wednesday -

Exploratorium - Added 4/4/12.

Free First Thursday -
UC Botanical Garden

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
- free first Thursdays. Added 4/5/12.

UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley - Added 4/5/12.

Free Third Saturday -

Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum734 Marin Street, Vallejo, CA 94590 Added 4/6/12.

Free Days Vary Month to Month -

Academy of Science at Golden Gate Park - They have both free to everyone days and free days for San Francisco residents only. Check their site as the days vary month to month. Added 4/4/12.

History San Jose - Added 4/5/12.

Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek - Check their calendars for free admission dates and plant sales. - added 4/4/12.

Meetup Groups

Meetups - Meetups are special interest groups formed online. Some are made by people trying to drum up business and have fees, though most are free or low cost. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of meetup groups in the Greater Bay Area. One thing I've noticed is that they tend to draw a younger, more budget conscious crowd. Many fizzle out after a meeting or two. Look for groups that have a long history of past meetings if you want something with continuity. Added 4/4/12

Park and Museum Passes

Association of Science-Technology Centers Passport Program
- With this passport program, you pay one annual fee and then get into member museums for free or discounted prices. Passport costs may be tax deductible. We bought our pass at The Tech Museum for $80 and received four ASTC cards and four IMAX movie passes in return. This is a great program if you travel as you can use the cards to get in free at museums around the country for one low annual price. In the Bay Area, local attractions in the program offer 1/2 price admission discounts. You can find a list of Bay Area venues in the program at The Tech's ASTC page. - Added 4/4/12

Association of Children's Museums - This is another passport program. You pay one annual fee at the museum of your choice and gain entry to other museums for free or at discounted admission prices. - Added 4/4/12

North American Reciprocal Museum List - In the Bay Area, most of the museums in this program are art museums, including the de Young and The Legion of Honor. This is a great pass to buy if you travel around California as there are numerous museums listed for Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. If you buy your membership through the Sacramento Railroad Museum, your membership includes free admission to the museum for a year as well as free train rides. - Added 4/4/12

State Parks Foundation - For new members, the California State Parks foundation offers a special introductory rate of 7 day use park passes for $25, plus 5% off camping reservations. This pass is good at over 200 parks. After one year, the annual fee goes to $40. - Added 4/4/12.

Clubs and Organizations

Sierra Club - if you join the Sierra Club, you can go on a wide variety of hikes and other activities throughout the Bay Area each month, often at no cost to members.

Greenbelt Alliance - Check out their outings calendar for events (mainly hikes) throughout the Bay Area. Some are free and some are low cost.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

How to Feed Your Family on Under $2 a Day

I have been conducting an experiment lately to see if I could feed myself a healthy diet on $1 - $2 a day. My definition of healthy means that each daily menu has to:

1. Provide at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.

2: It has to meet my Nutribase nutrition software program's recommendations for the daily values of all trackable minerals and vitamins, including calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B12.

3. It also has to stay within the salt and fat guidelines and meet or exceed the fiber guidelines.

4. Not include any refined sugar, canned food, or commercial cereals with BHT as a preservative (which excludes most commercial cereals except those marketed to health food foodies.)

I have found that this is actually pretty easy to do, even without using coupons. They key is to stockpile staples either from warehouse stores or when they are on sale at retail stores as loss leaders. Under $2 a day is easy. A dollar or less gets tricky but has still been achievable.

The foods I have stockpiled include rice, wheat flour, corn flour, corn meal, nuts, dried fruit, pasta, dried beans and cheese. I have a stockpile of frozen meat, poultry, clams (for vitamin B12) and cheese. Fresh fruits and vegetables are bought based on weekly specials either at retail stores, warehouse stores, or ethnic markets. I have a stock up price for every staple when I can find it at a good buy.

It is hard to eat for $1 the first week but gets easier over time. Each week there may only be a handful of items at great prices between all of the different stores ads, but over time after you stockpile these items then nearly everything you are eating is getting bought at a rock bottom price.

I don't stay on this diet all of the time. It is actually more of a hobby for me just to see if I can do it. I stockpile the inexpensive foods and plan a variety of menus in advance based on my stockpiles. Then on selected days I follow one of my menu plans and take pictures.