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10 Ways Working Moms Can Save Money

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, The Juggle, Working? Living?


piggy.jpgThere were a lot of questions about my food budget after I wrote about how I spend more on gas than I do on food, and so I thought I’d share a few of my family’s tips. And then I saw this great thread in the Frugal Mom’s group, about how to save $100 a month, and I started to chime in, but when my reply grew to, well, blog-length, I thought I’d move it here. And then I thought, “Hey, those two ideas could be related. Let’s write about both!”

So. Ready? Here are five things we do to keep our grocery bill down:

1.) We use our big freezer. We have a huge freezer in the basement. I love my freezer. I buy meat and divide it into meal-size packages and freeze it. I buy extra bread when it’s on sale and freeze it. I cook extra meals and freeze them. I roast tomatoes from our garden and freeze them. I make homemade dairy-free ice cream and freeze it. On hot days, I fantasize about standing over my open freezer and gazing lovingly into its icy depths for long, cool hours at a time, but I restrain myself.

2.) We buy in bulk. What, you don’t have a huge freezer in your basement? You can still buy in bulk, just buy non-perishables like toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, laundry detergent, and stash those in your freezerless basement. You’ll still save money.

3.) We buy ingredients instead of products. Those little single-serving Jell-O packs that my preschooler loves cost about $2.50 for four. But a package of actual Jell-O costs 39 cents to 50 cents and makes five to six single servings. I know that Jell-O hardly counts as an ingredient, but you get my point: It often costs less to buy the acutal ingredients than it does to buy the finished product.

4.) We make ethnic foods. We eat meat often, and it’s a star ingredient, but it’s not the biggest thing on the plate. The USDA recommends that adults eat five to six ounces of cooked meat a day – that’s about the size of a deck of cards, and most people eat a lot more than that in a single serving. A painless way to reduce the amount of meat you eat is by making ethnic foods like Indian-style curries or veggie-intensive stir-fries.

5.) We shop to replenish my pantry. Aside from perishables like milk, eggs, and vegetables, we rarely shop for food to use right away; instead, we shop to replace the items we’ve used from my pantry and freezer. So, if there’s a great sale on something we use often, we can stock up without it blowing our budget.

And now, five ways to save $100. (At first, I thought the question was how to save $100 a WEEK, and I went all dizzy. But $100 a month is doable):

1.) Bring your own lunch. If you buy lunch at work, and you spend $7 per lunch, bringing your own lunch four days a week (treat yourself on the fifth, if you want) saves you $28 a week, or about $112 a month.

2.) Bring your own coffee.  I drink tea at the office, but I love a good cup of coffee (or three). Invest in a sturdy travel mug and commute with your own coffee instead of buying it on the road; you’ll save anywhere from $5 to $35 a week or more. (If you can’t live without your latte, put some milk in a container with a tight-fitting lid, shake it up well, and voila! Frothy goodness to go!)

3.) Drink tea at work. Did I mention that I drink tea at the office, even though I’m a coffee drinker at home? There are two reasons for this: a.) the coffee at work costs $2.50 a cup and tastes like brown crayons melted in a hot water, with a little ground mulch for flavor, and b.) a box of 20 jasmine-green tea bags costs less than $1 at my little local Asian grocery store, fits nicely in my desk, and hot water is free. So, instead of paying $2.50 for a cup of gak, I pay five cents for a cup of jasmine-scented deliciousness. Two cups a day saves me about $25 a week. (OK, fine, $24.50.)

4.) Ditch the juice boxes. Last summer, I was packing seven juice boxes A DAY into my kids’ lunchboxes. That’s 35 juice boxes a week. That’s crazy. This year, everyone is getting a screw-top Nalgene bottle filled with homemade lemonade, and I’m saving at least $10 a week, maybe more.

5.) Cook an extra dinner on the weekend, and stash it in the freezer. There are plenty of recipes — chili, stews, curries, lasagna, pork chops — that take practically no extra effort to double up. Later in the week, save the $10 you were going to spend on a pizza and pull that extra meal out of the freezer instead.

What are you doing to save money right now?

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17 comments so far...

  • Ha! Crayons and mulch! Well, I don’t have any constructive money-saving ideas to add right now. Hey, it’s after midnight… But I do have a question for you, oh queen of the budget: is it worth going to stores like Costco or Sam’s?

    Diane  |  June 19th, 2008 at 3:52 am

  • I totally agree on this, especially in buying bulks. Doing this saves not only on gas but if you’re using a public transportation—you also save a lot of money from fare. :)

    Yvie  |  June 19th, 2008 at 6:52 am

  • you made me LAUGH in my CUBE! should have warned us you were going to be so funny today. And thank you for sharing your blog entry evolution process!

    but i do have a question. what do you do if you dont have a basement?

    i am also a fan of the made at home frozen meals - but the tricky part is actually eating them and not tossing them in the trash in favor of eatin out at 10Xs the cost…

    oh but to get to YOUR question: i am saving by limiting my starbucks to less than every day and maximum once a day (you so do not want to know). it’s a start. its’ also a great weight loss strategy LOL

    still working on the whole bringing lunch to work thing. i do that about once a month or so, need to do that more often. :)

    Kate  |  June 19th, 2008 at 2:59 pm

  • Well, I’m already bringing my own lunch just about everyday. Just here recently there have been a few days where there really wasn’t anything in the fridge that I could easily bring to work. And I’ve stopped drinking coffee altogether, but we do have free coffee, tea, soda and water at work. And I buy in bulk when things are on sale. And I don’t usually buy juice boxes or jello cups *unless* there is a really good sale on them & I have a coupon. Or occasionally as a special treat for the kiddo.

    Now I need to figure out some more ways to save $100 per month…

    Jenni  |  June 19th, 2008 at 6:55 pm

  • These are great tips! I just recently renewed a warehouse membership and am excited: I bought 5.5 pounds of lean ground beef for $13. That’s $2.60/pound, FAR less than at my local grocery store. I divided it up and froze it.

    So yeah, the bulk thing helps.

    I dilute all my juice and Crystal Lite and such. It might not save a LOT, but does lengthen the life of the 2Q pitcher just a little bit (AND I drink more water).

    Lee  |  June 19th, 2008 at 6:57 pm

  • Diane: I think it is, but it all depends on what you buy, how much of it you buy, and how often you shop for it. Also, you have to be careful — some things, like produce, may actually be less expensive and of better quality at your local grocery store.

    Yvie: Ooh, hadn’t thought of the transportation angle — good point!

    Kate: Welcome! If you don’t have a basement, take a minute to look around your home — can you lift your bed a little higher off of the floor and use the space underneath your bed to store extra paper goods? Does any of your furniture have storage space, like a trunk that doubles as a coffee table? Do you have high ceilings, and can you install really high shelves in that wasted space at the top of your closets? What about shelves that hang over the doors, so you can store things on the other side? Use canned goods as centerpieces — OK, that one probably goes too far…

    Jenni: Sometimes, it’s easier if you start smaller — say, by saving $50 a month, or $10 a week. or find several things that add up to $100 a month. I’ve heard that saving all of your change every day, instead of spending it, can get you as much as $5 to $9 a week!

    Lee: We dilute juice here, too — kids don’t need all that extra sugar anyway, and it does stretch things a little more!

    Lylah  |  June 20th, 2008 at 1:36 am

  • Hey - these are great! I go to BJs (comparable to Costco) once a month. The cost of everything from meat to snacks to paper products is 40-50% less, and they take coupons! If you don’t have room for storing bulk amounts, split the cost and products with a friend — you’ll both get the good deal! We’ve gone back to less convenience foods as well - buying a big bag of chips and everyone packing their own is much more economical than the small individual bags. It’s challenging, but I’ve started making it a game for my kids to see who can come up with a new idea for stretching the $$ every week at the grocery store…. :-)

    BlapherMJ  |  June 20th, 2008 at 8:44 am

  • BlapherMJ: Making it a game with your kids is brilliant — the budget gets stretched and, more important, they grow up understanding the importance of both budging and being creative about it. I need to get my kids more invovled!

    Lylah  |  June 20th, 2008 at 9:12 am

  • We have told ourselves that in the next house we’ll have a freezer. I love having meals prepared and frozen but I’ve discovered that our current freezer (connected to our fridge. how do they do that?) is horrible for storing meat for longer than a couple of weeks. So in the end I can’t buy meats in bulk. Ironically we gave up our warehouse membership when we bought a bigger house. But I still stay stocked and buy in bulk. I’m lucky to be surrounded by several different grocery stores and shop according to where the sale is that week. I could still be doing better but in the end it’s a time thing too and what is my time worth? Then that brings up a whole other issue.

    These are great points, Lylah.

    Mandy at Dandysound  |  June 22nd, 2008 at 8:28 pm

  • How about coupons. I always get coupons online. there just so much easier to print off and your good. is a great resource for this.

    Go Moms!

    Jaylyn  |  June 24th, 2008 at 3:49 pm

  • You have to be careful about computer generated coupons. Many of the stores where I live will not take them anymore because of fraudulent ones. People were printing them up on their home publishing software and passing the coupons off as legit. I would call the store and check with them first before you get in line and find out you can’t use them.

    Betsy  |  June 25th, 2008 at 2:07 pm

  • I think that clipping coupons and using store circulars every week help. I cut my weekly budget from 80-100 dollars down to 40-65dollar, thats alot of savings that add up. Check out my site at

    linda  |  July 1st, 2008 at 8:38 am

  • All of this is good advice-IF you have a car. IF you have a large freezer. IF you’re not a single mom who lives in a studio apartment.

    After reading this article, I actually had to walk away until I stopped emitting gorilla-like grunts of annoyance and begin to think coherently again.

    For the single moms who DO have a limited budget, no car and who lack a back yard or balcony (for planting), this article is a tragic waste of the very little time they do possess.

    However, living in a large multi-cultural city does have its advantages. I get produce from local ethnic grocery stores that is cheaper and of better quality than can be found in chain supermarkets and they will often have a better sale price on meat.

    Take a look in the 99 cent store, you can find fantastic deals on brand name items like sandwich and freezer bags, cleaning products, pet food, paper goods and spices.

    For large supermarket chains clip coupons! Check the half off rack for quality breads that only cost .75 to 1.09
    (If a coupon is for something you don’t normally buy, don’t clip it; you’ll just spend money on something you don’t need.)

    Be sure to wear a hikers backpack as that is the easiest way to carry home two weeks worth of groceries, water, cat food and kitty litter, yet still have a free hand for my son to hold while we ride the subway or cross the street.

    Ok, reading back I started a little harsh (sorry, I’m really tired) and ranted longer than I meant to, so in closing the last tip I want to throw out there is to google for cook one eat twice recipes.


    accelerated_entropy  |  July 1st, 2008 at 4:26 pm

  • Accelerated entropy: I can see how this article could be frustrating for the reasons you mentioned! Please note that I wrote that these are things that I personally do to save money — there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Your suggestions are great, and can apply to working moms in so many situations — thank you so much for sharing them!

    Lylah  |  July 1st, 2008 at 8:18 pm

  • Love this post and all the tips. It served as inspiration for a similar column (I linked back to this post) today for my Monday morning working mom article at Blissfully Domestic:

    Jamie  |  July 7th, 2008 at 8:51 am

  • I think that single moms should do couponing just 5 coupons saved me 20 dollars in 4 days! I went to the grocery store and bought pop-up popcorn bowls (that my daughter loves) i saved 2 dollars off of 2 boxes! its like buy one get one free! i got it out my local newspaper and for only 50 cents i bought 2 starbucks frappe in walgreens.! single moms love the taste of gum right? 3 packs of gum for 34 cents! always look for sales in stores and sometimes i take coupons off of boxes of snacks and use them on my purchase! im buying the product so i should use the coupon, okay?? and im younger than u think. Im only 27. i guess tthats young. LOL

    Lulu  |  August 1st, 2011 at 5:05 am

  • WONDERFUL ideas here, gals!!

    Regarding Moms without basements for storage, and riding only public transportation etc…one thing I did when without a car in a big city is basically never go to and from my home without carrying something. So, you can’t do a big Sam’s run, but every single time you go past the market at the end of the street, stock up on something. (Sorta like my mantra now that I never go up or down the stairs in my house without carrying something that is out of place….it really helps maintain order.) I know in some cities there are also places that deliver heavy things like bottled drinks, etc. Might be worth checking into and worth the extra money to have space to pick up other stuff in bulk. A wheeled market bag you can pull helps too, in keeping things close to you and organized and leaving a hand free to hold onto a child in traffic. Consider yourself strolling thru the airport like a well-organized flight attendant! ( make sure the wheels are large enough to go over cobblestones or whatever weird pavement you encounter though, nothing delicate!) Maybe an actual rolling suitcase? And lastly, my son has a wheeled backpack that he loves and which is never quite full of toys and books….give a child a few light things to “carry” for Mom and pull down the street. Best of luck!

    M Foster  |  April 19th, 2013 at 8:33 am