Weirdly, one of my favorite things about saving money and staying on a budget is actually buying things. While most people don't think of it, when you're actively finding ways to cut your spending, there's a lot of opportunity for saving that comes with making new purchases. I don't mean things like programmable thermostats and energy-efficient light bulbs. Yes, technically, both of those would pay for themselves. But no one gets super excited to head out and pick out new light bulbs. These are fun things to buy! Everything on this list is something I've purchased myself and has paid for itself in savings plus some.
1. Xbox/Roku/Blu-ray Player:
This is one of my favorites! We were spending $185/month on a phone/cable/internet package. We canceled our cable and phone. We use our cell phones as our house phone. We got Amazon Prime for $8.25/month (or $99 a year) to watch movies and TV Shows. We have access to HBO Go, Netflix and Hulu through family's accounts but if we didn't, I'd probably pay for either Hulu or Netflix. We purchased an Xbox 360 plus Kinect for $255. The Kinect was well worth it to us, the kids can play games where your body acts as the remote, so rather than “playing sports” in a game sitting on the couch, they're “playing sports” standing up, moving around, and doing the same actions that the sport requires. It's pretty fun to play. You can also use it for work outs, dance instruction or Pilates. It can tell how your body is moving and correct your stance as you move. You can also use it to video chat with family which is great when you have kids that can chat with grandparents. The Xbox can play DVD's, traditional video games (like Call of Duty and Minecraft), play movies and TV shows through the above discussed apps and rent movies. Our TV Viewing experiences got better with this change, we got tons of extras and saved $774 our first year and $1,029 every year after that. At this point, it's been 5 years since we switched, so we've saved $4,890 in total. The Roku and the Blue Ray Player have the same capabilities to replace cable and are worth considering if you wouldn't use the extra features of an Xbox.
2. Lasik Vision Correction:
The average cost of Lasik vision correction is anywhere from $299 per eye up to $4,000 per eye depending on a ton of factors like whether you have astigmatism, where you get your surgery, and whether your insurance covers any of it. I got Lasik in 2002 (13 years ago for those who are counting). I paid (okay, technically my awesome parents paid) $3,000 total for both eyes. I went from not being able to read the shampoo bottle in the shower to having perfect vision. 13 years later, it's still perfect. My plan came with free vision correction for life if I ever do need another correction. My contacts had cost $518.00 per year, but insurance paid about $150 of that every year, so the cost of contacts were about $368/year. It took 8 years for my surgery to pay for itself, but at this point I've saved $1,840. By the time I'm 70, I'll have saved $12,144 and enjoyed a lifetime of perfect vision, not having to worry about glasses or contacts.
3. A Food Processor (and a 5 cup measuring cup, giant mixing bowls, casserole pans, and a slow cooker):
When I learned to batch cook for the freezer, I learned how much money could be saved by making one recipe several times and buying bulk ingredients for a discount. When we eat from our freezer, I was able to buy our food for about $250- $300 a month. That's a HUGE savings from the $120/week that I budget. But with the once a month cooking sessions we did, cooking day was not fun. I wasn't equipped for these large batches. I took my savings in one month and purchased a giant slow cooker, an 8 cup food processor, large capacity measuring cups, extra measuring spoons, 3 giant bowls, extra casserole pans and a 20 quart stock pot. Cooking day is so much easier now and that helps me continue that savings from month to month! The equipment paid for itself the first month!
4. Kinetic Sand (or high quality toys):
I started a war on toys. We had about 65 million toys that I don't even want to think about the total cost of. At one point, I realized that there were so many that no one was playing with anything. So we ditched them all, stored them away, picked out 20 favorites for each kid and that was that. Bliss. The kids actually have room to play with them and they aren't overwhelmed at clean up time. The other things I've noticed is that some toys have longevity. Meaning, they almost never lose their appeal and when played with, keep kids entertained for a while. We have 5 great quality toys that will be played with for years: tricycles, a Melissa and Doug art easel with a chalk board and dry erase side, Aqua Doodles (a large mat with a water filled “marker” that makes the mat turn colors), Kinetic Sand, and Brio train sets. I can keep a kid playing happily all day every day with just those 5 items. We have extra toys that they like, but those are really all we need. I figured out a while ago that when it comes to toys, more is not better. Not for the kids and not for us. Stop buying toys all together and invest in a few toys that will keep their attention and be appropriate for a few years. The best way to do this is to round-up all the unused toys (except for their top 20) and sell them on Ebay, Craigslist or a Facebook yard sale group in groups of toys based on gender and age.
5. Fancy Water Bottles, or a Deer Park Water Cooler:
Okay, I'm going to be real with you. Tap water won't kill you. In fact, it's pretty stupid to pay 50 cents a bottle for something you can get free. It's pretty much the same quality. I'm going to admit that this is totally my issue. However, considering the amount of bottled water purchased in the US, and knowing that there are few (if any?) places here without potable drinking water, I'm likely not the only one with this issue. If you stop buying bottled water, and start using a filtered water pitcher in the fridge and remember to bring water with you when you head out, you can save a lot of money! I went from buying 3 cases a week for $12 (or $48 a month) to $4 a month on average to buy the filters and about $40 one time to buy Nalgene water bottles for the family. Nalgene held up the best for us, we're on 4 years and counting plus they come in huge sizes so I can fill it up just twice a day. It's been about 3 years, and the total savings for this switch over the last 3 years is $1,544 (or $514/year).
6. Classic Lunch Boxes (and containers):
By making lunch at home, you can save a small fortune. We were spending $70/week for each person to eat lunch out at work (or dinner since I was on evening shift). That's $140 a week or $560 a month for what we now fit into our $120/week grocery budget for all meals and snacks to feed the family. You can keep yourself motivated to make your own lunch by buying cute lunch bags, easy to pack lunch containers (we're in love with Sistema's containers! No tops to lose, they're inexpensive, and they hold up great!) And plenty of ice packs.
7. An Elliptical:
Unless you go 3x a week and have done so for several weeks, do anything and everything to get out of your gym membership. I want you to be healthy, I really do. I just don't want you to spend $50/month in guilt money to try to “force” yourself to work out more. You can work out just as efficiently at home. We found a steal for an elliptical on Craigslist for $25 because the owner thought the display was broken (it needed a new battery), but a quick search of my area in Craigslist found 24 Ellipticals available for under $100. What do you use and love at the gym? How much would it cost for you to buy the equipment for your home? Think of how you can bring exercise into your home life. Do you love to run outside, but you have small children? Get a jogging stroller. Do the kids get in the way of your work out time? Play Leslie Sandstone DVDs and have them join in. Quitting the gym saves you $600 every year (assuming a $50 monthly fee for 1 person, not to mention the time to commute back and forth to the gym). This switch saved us $575 the first year and $600 every year after.
8. Super Cute Cloth Diapers:
This may not be your thing, and I totally respect that. But there were few times in my life when I got more excited by shopping then walking into Abbey's Lane Cloth Diapers in Manassas, Virginia. There were SO many adorable cloth diapers. Colors, patterns, coordinating wet bags, they had it all. Rooms and rooms filled with super cute cloth diapers. We spent $54 a month buying Target Up & Up Diapers for our first child before we switched to cloth. We then spent $270 on 11 Flip cloth diaper covers, and 18 flip stay dry inserts, and 4 wet bags (if the insert is just wet, but not the cover, you just replace the insert and keep the same cover). We just had our second baby in December and she's wearing the same cloth diapers we used for our son. Up and Up brand diapers cost $648 a year, cloth diapers are $270 for a lifetime (plus they have really great resale value).
9. Blank White Greeting Cards and Craft Supplies:
If you love crafting but can't really justify the cost than this trick is for you. Greeting cards can cost up to $4 for a generic card and a sentiment written by someone else. Let's assume you buy 10 birthday cards, 2 Valentine's day cards, 2 anniversary cards, 2 sympathy cards, and 50 Christmas cards. Assuming you spend 50 cents on each Christmas card and $3 on the other cards, you will have spent $73 in a year on greeting cards. That will buy you A LOT of fun crafting supplies (that can be used for many years most likely). A pack of 40 blank matte cards and envelopes cost about $15 on Amazon. If you aren't super artsy, try my tricks: one large word, a favorite quote, or a glued on 4 x 6 photo print are some of my favorite cards (sign up for Shutterfly newsletter and you'll get free photo deals several times a year).
10. A “New” Car:
By selling our “fancy” used car (okay, fancy to me- it was a Nissan Altima), that came with monthly payments of about $320, we bought a 2006 Chevy Uplander that had been in an accident and then fixed for $5,000. It has extra seating for our growing family, a DVD player (my favorite feature!), and it quickly became the favorite car that I've ever owned. We've had it for almost 2 years now and it's one of the best investments we've ever made.
Bonus: Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University:
At $99, Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University is fairly expensive but worth its weight in gold for getting you to change your spending and saving behavior, getting couples at opposite ends of the spectrum to get on the same page and work together, and teaching you everything you need to know about money. It was a turning point for our financial life and has saved us thousands every year through applying its principles. I would still check to see if your library has it first though, because I'm cheap like that. I can't put a specific price on it, but it was the start of a completely new level of saving money, reducing our expenses and working together.
What have I missed? There are probably hundreds of fun things to buy that pay for themselves. Is there something that you've bought that paid for itself? Comment below to let me know about it!
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