Wednesday, January 1, 2014

How I Accidentally Saved $200,000.

Our Home school poster teaching
money basics. It's from the thrift store ; )

A while back, I was somewhere on the Internet (don't remember where, unfortunately), and read a blogger who said that she had saved more than ONE THOUSAND dollars by getting rid of cable T.V. a year ago. I was stunned! I had no idea that cable T.V. cost a thousand dollars a year. Last time I lived in a house with cable T.V. was more than 20 years ago. I suddenly realized that I had saved 20 THOUSAND DOLLARS without even knowing it!  (if you're a blogger and you think I read this on your blog -I left a comment- please tell me so I can insert your link here!).

I began to wonder after reading the Cable Savings Post where else I had saved a lot of money without noticing? I have to say that I while I enjoy being frugal -its a fun hobby- but I almost never cut back in a way that is uncomfortable or inconvenient. So, it was really a shock to me that I had saved $20,000.00 without realizing it - and I was intrigued. I started thinking back . . .


The Spending Diary Experiment

More than 20 years ago, I was young, single, and had a decent income - not wealthy, but made plenty of money to be comfortable. I had several friends with the same employer, and we all made about the same amount of money. One day it occurred to me that some of my friends had a sizable savings account. Some of my friends had some very nice purchases they had bought with their income. But, I had neither savings nor purchases. Why not? What were they doing that I wasn't?

I set out to analyze my spending patterns, and figure out where the holes were in this sieve of a budget of mine. For one month, I wrote down every penny I spent. Then, I sorted my spending into neat categories. What did I discover? It was quite surprising to me at the time . . . my money had ALL gone to things that only cost 50Cents - or a Dollar - or Five Dollars - maybe Ten Dollars at the outside. A soda from the machine at work. A sandwich from the snack bar. A taxi ride where I wanted to go. Admission to a movie. A casual dinner out. I had been "nickled and dimed to death" as the saying goes.

I started watching those little purchases that don't seem like very much at the time. The things that advertisers like to tell you that you can have for "only $1 a day!"  And then, I eventually stopped noticing that I was doing it - it was just habit.

Which brings me back to my surprise discovery that I had saved $20,000 - and my curiosity about other savings that might have escaped my notice . . .

We'll start with the Cable entry, Above

Our retired television. It doesn't get digital, and as you
can see, it has seen better days!

Cable TV $20,000

Figured at the rate of $1000/year for 20 years of no Cable TV. I originally cut it to save money, but over the years have been absolutely elated not to have that junk in my house, so after the original cut, it was completely painless : )

Beverages $20,000

There was the day that I was talking to a sales lady at my house. She absolutely hated the fact that she had to work outside the home - she much preferred to stay home with her three kids, but just couldn't figure out a way to finance it. I offered her a soft drink from the fridge. She declined - she said she'd just drop by McDonald's on the way to her next appointment and buy one there. She said she did that about three times a day. I realized that she paid about $1000/year on Soda -above and beyond what I pay for my occasional grocery-bought soda or coffee (I have long avoided purchasing either Sodas or Coffee out - except on rare occasions).  I am only including soft drinks and coffee in this calculation, not hard drinks - on which you can save substantially more. I was not raised with the habit of buying hard drinks out, so that has never been in my spending calculation. Over the last 20 years, had I saved another $20,000? Who knew?

Hair Care $20,000

There was the time I was speaking with a friend who told me what her salon bill was - and how often she went to the salon. I think her bill was probably pretty normal, but it was a shock to me. I haven't been in a salon in 20 years. I bought a clipper set, scissors & attachment 20 years ago, and watched a library video on how to do my own cut (which means it costs me $1/year for cuts!). When I began coloring my hair, I didn't even check salon prices - I started buying home hair color for about $8 a pop. (My hair started turning grey when I was 12 - so I'm not even mildly embarrassed to tell people I color it!) Which, as it turns out - saves me about $1000/year over the salon rate. Does my hair look as nice as my friend's? No. But I can live with that - it looks the way I want it to look. So, that was another overlooked $20,000.00

My haircutting scissors. From the dollar store, of course!

Student Loans $30,000

Then, there was the person I knew who took out student loans. She took $5,000. in loans, but when she graduated, could not get  a job in her chosen field. But, she also didn't have the "luxury" of staying home to raise her children because the loans were due. The Federal government-imposed fines, penalties, and interest began accruing & compounding. The next thing you knew, she owed $50,000.00! (Which means, that she lost $45,000.00 with absolutely no benefit!) When I studied, I refused to take any government loans - partly because of this cautionary tale. I was determined to find ways to finance my education without participating in the government student loan program. I decided that for me, I would either get an education without student loans, or I would remain uneducated!  I did incur some minor personal debt (the same amount accrued on average by students who DO take out loans) - but none affiliated with the federal student loan program -and it was all paid off quite quickly when I was done with school. When I was done, I had saved $20,000 in comparison to the national averageI had ALSO saved the average $10,000. in interest the average person pays (or $25,000 in interest the person with Extended payment pays - but I'll go with the lower number here.) I know someone else in a similar predicament to the first person I mentioned here. Except she owes $100,000.00 for student loans. She cannot be a stay-at-home Mom as she wishes because she has to work -not to support her family - her husband does that - but she works exclusively to pay her student debt.

So - what do we have so far? $90,000? 

Transportation $40,000

OH - then there's the car. I've never driven a new car, or a car with a car payment. The average new car costs $26,000. After interest, you end up paying $33,000. And, lets assume a less-frequent than average new car replacement of every 8 years - meaning I would have bought 2 cars in 16 years of single adult life, for $66,000. In reality, my cars' purchase price AND maintenance has come in at well under $20,000. So, that's another $40,000.00 saved - without my even noticing. And, just for the record, maintenance on my used cars has not been the difficulty that new car buyers assume - it's generally been a pretty simple matter.

There were several years in which I did not choose to have a car - in those years I saved substantially more - probably thousands - but I'm not entering that into this calculation because it is a solution that may not work for everyone - depending on the quality of public transportation where you live and the walkability of your community.

Food $20,000

Of course- then I went Vegetarian about 18 years ago. And Vegan about 4 years ago. I'll conservatively estimate that I saved $1. a meal on meat, dairy & eggs (I believe the actual savings are higher, not to mention possible lower medical bills which are really hard to estimate -but I'm being cautious here). I make it a policy not to replace expensive animal foods with expensive vegetarian imitations - I generally eat very inexpensive food.  I'm guessing that's saved about $20,000.00 on food for one over 18 years. (not counting savings for the whole family, which is a more complicated calculation).  For more information on saving money with a Vegan diet, check out this post!

Vegetarian and Vegan meals can save a TON of money!

Which brings us to $150,000.

Preschool $15,000

Then, the other day, I read an article that said preschool costs about as much per year as college! By Homeschooling Preschool, we saved about $15,000.00 over two years. I pay about the same amount for books, materials, and supplies in a year as my friends do for their public school kids' school supplies. (My continued homeschooling saves the taxpayer an additional $14,000.00 per year if we selected public school, or saves us an additional $8 to $20,000.00 a year if we selected private schools - but I'll leave that out of this calculation). I did not choose to home school preschool in order to save money - I chose it for a myriad of other reasons - my Faith, my relationship with my daughter, a better quality of education, etc. The financial benefit was just a side effect.

So, we're at $165,000. - right?

Thrifting $10,000

For many years now, I have bought the lion's share of clothing & household goods at thrift stores. When I worked, I got my work clothes, including several business suits for $20. each that would have retailed at $300. As a housewife, I bought my Slow Cookers, Baby Equipment, Food Processor, Toys, Home school Equipment, Clothing, Luggage, Books,  (those that weren't from the library, anyway), and many other items all at about 80% off retail (depending on the item). I think it is very safe to say that I've saved $10. a week this way (Of course, I could have saved even more if I had BOUGHT more! ; ) . So, there's another $10,000.

Books & DVDs $5,000

Which reminds me! The library! When I was young I didn't KNOW that the library carried cookbooks! It is so wonderful to be able to bring a book or video home and enjoy it. The ability to preview a book that I like, read it and THEN decide if I want to buy it has easily saved $20/month. Sure, I buy the occasional wonderful cookbook. But nothing like the HUGE collection I was amassing when I was unaware that the library offered this great service. Additionally, you can bring home magazines that are 1 month or more old, and enjoy them just as if you subscribed - if you want to be really seasonal, get the one from exactly 1 year ago. We also get most of my daughter's DVDs for viewing at the library - since we don't have a TV. So, that's about $5000. more.

Want to read the latest title? Don't drop $30 until you've read it!
Check it out from the library, and find out if it's worthy of your collection.

Meals Out $15,000

We enjoy going out to eat - and as I said, I don't often cut corners where it hurts. So, we do go out to eat when we want to. But only when we want to! I try to always keep a frozen meal or two in my freezer, and a quick-to-prepare meal or two (like pasta or bulgur) on the pantry shelf so that we aren't forced to eat out because of time or exhaustion - but only do it when it's fun. I also prefer restaurants that run about $5/ plate less than the going rate in our community. I'm not talking about fast food here, just a slightly less pricey sit-down establishment. If we skip dining out once a month because we have a meal in the freezer, and save about $30, and once a week we spend $10. less than we otherwise might, that's  $70 a month savings, without inconvenience - for about $15,000. more savings.

If you'd like ideas for stocking your freezer, try these posts:

Greek for a Week  
Indian for a Week
Make Sauce Tonight, Have Easy Meals for a Week
World Tour One
World Tour Two

I want to emphasize here: when you eat at a restaurant, the "food cost" of your meal is only 30% of the price you pay. That is a basic fact of restaurant management. The rest of the cost of the meal is for staff, overhead, rent, advertising, profit, etc. SO - EVERY TIME you eat at home, you save & 70% on food!

Having a meal in the freezer can save you from going to a restaurant
when you don't want to. Each time you avoid going to a restaurant,
you save 70% on your meal!


Gas & Electric $5,000

I have to be honest here - I really ENJOY having utilities, and I don't scrimp the way some people do. I'm chronically cold by nature, and don't enjoy turning down the thermostat and throwing on an extra sweater. I can wear ten sweaters and still be cold! I think "room temperature" should be about 78! But, I am able to keep the thermostat at a slightly more reasonable level by using an electric blanket at night, an electric throw blanket in the daytime when at my computer, and, yes, wear an extra layer in winter. The rest of the family is naturally comfortable at a temperature below 78, and this allows me to comfortable, too.  But, we employ a few simple changes that help our bill a lot. Our house has walls that are shared with the neighbors - so we only have to combat the winter wind on two exterior walls instead of four. That is HUGE. In fact, I have a friend whose utility bill on a stand alone house is three TIMES what mine is. We have a programmable thermostat, so that we can turn the heat down or off when we're not home (although more often we just manually switch it when we leave for several hours). In the summer, we try not to turn on the oven to combat the air conditioner (and since I'm always cold - we don't turn the A/C as cold as some do). I put the slow cooker outside to cook on the porch! And we close the blinds to keep the summer sun out of the living room in the afternoons. They're small savings, but over many years, they add up! We actually save about $70 a month over the average for our city (you can easily google the average utility costs for people in your city, if you'd like to see how you measure up.  Here's the link for Ohio's PUCO).

Things I didn't include here

There are lots of places that I have saved huge amounts of money, but had absolutely no desire to spend in the first place! Sporting goods, sporting events, ski vacations, dance lessons, costumes & uniforms, video game systems & games, trips to Disney, upscale home decor & furniture, pricey mall outfits. A "smart" phone (which doesn't  seem to make people any smarter at all! ; ) These, to be honest, are things that simply don't interest me, but that many people spend a lot of money on.

As we walked through Pottery Barn at the mall the other day, and glimpsed some of the prices, a friend (who knows me well, and knew I was drafting this post) joked, "Just think how much money you've saved by not EVER shopping here!"

I never started smoking - but you COULD count that as a savings of $5,000 a year! I didn't.

I also didn't include those areas of spending that I can't quantify - even though I am sure they add up to substantial additional savings. Like when I choose the $1 hand lotion instead of the $6 kind, make my own cleansers, or get a small toy at the dollar store for my daughter instead of splurging at the toy store.

The Moral to the Story

If you scan these savings, nearly all of them were savings on small, everyday, habitual purchases. Only a couple of them were "big ticket items." But the small things REALLY add up. I think this is a good lesson for many areas of life.

Just as a constant dripping of water will wear away a stone - but a bucket full of water thrown all at once will not (as many ancients observed), a little habit adopted regularly often has more impact than a big change.


The truth is, our relationship with God is the most important area of our life. It doesn't matter how much money we save if our Spiritual life is a shambles. But, of course, how we use our money is an important PART of our relationship with God. If we buy a sandwich for a poor neighbor instead of a fancy coffee for ourselves, that IS a Spiritual decision.

In areas of our Spiritual life besides finances, If we want to improve our Spiritual health, doing a couple of "little" things faithfully - every day - really adds up. A few minutes of prayer, a few minutes reading our Bible, a few minutes helping the poor, a couple of hours in Church, a small daily abstinence from an addiction, passion or vice. None of these things seem huge by themselves, but they do add up over time.
Spiritual growth is stimulated by doing small things regularly.


Reducing our intake of unhealthy food, and replacing it with healthier food - one meal at a time - will, over time, improve our overall health. Most of us (including me!) are tempted to go on drastic, fad diets or periods of extreme abstinence when we see our health or our weight sliding out of control. But, most of us cannot sustain such changes, and it doesn't last. In fact, the drastic diet may well harm our health. We want to loose 50 pounds in a week! If we ONLY lose a pound a week, we get discouraged. But, if we lose a pound a week for a year (or a half pound a week for two years), it will ADD UP to 50 pounds! If we can keep the little changes in place, we CAN improve our health, slowly, surely.

and, of course,


Keeping your eye on little purchases will often add up to big savings - without you even noticing it! : )

But, it's your decision what you save money FOR. Perhaps you want to pay off debt, help the poor, give to the Church, be able to afford to stay at home with your kids instead of holding a paying job, have a nice vacation, or finance your kids' college. Whatever your goals, the method is the same.

Keep a spending diary, and discover where you're spending money that you're not really ENJOYING what you get for that money, or where it doesn't really mesh with your values in life - and cut those areas first.

The fact is that I didn't know I had "saved" $200,000 precisely because I didn't SAVE all of it in a bank. Most of the saved money went to my other priorities. And that's a good thing : )

This is being shared on:
Fabulously Frugal Thursday, Wise Woman, Anti Procrastination Tuesday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Home Acre Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, Think Tank Thursday, Home Acre Hop,
Clever Chicks
What'd You Do This Weekend
Motivation Monday
Inspire Me Monday
Making Your Home Sing Monday
Modest Monday
Tell Me a True Story
Teaching What is Good
Teach Me Tuesday 
Friday Frugal Frenzy 
Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural
Wise Woman 
Wonderful Wednesday
Penny Pinching Party 
Healthy Vegan Fridays
GraceFull Tuesday
Traffic Jam Weekend

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  1. I love when you said small actions make a drastic difference and you're so right! Like you, I don't cut back in places it's painful, but I've learned to focus on things that are simply habit that can be a financial drain. I fully understand your dining out theory, like you we eat out occasionally but keep a quick meal in the freezer so we're eating out when we can enjoy it. Thanks so much for sharing. (Visiting from Fabulously Frugal hop)

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

    1. I'm so happy that you dropped by! I read your blog regularly, and really enjoy your posts : ) Thank you for your kind comments!

  2. I do a lot of the same things, and people never know most of my clothes (including work) are thrifted! I will mention- many think electric blankets are bad for your overall health. You're sleeping under an electrical field that can interfere with your body's own. Just a thought....

    1. Thanks so much for visiting! You may be right on electric blankets - I don't know. I've researched it a little & haven't found enough supporting science to convince me that they're bad - BUT - that doesn't mean they aren't! Between shivering all winter, keeping the house at a comfortable 78 (with all the damage to the environment & my finances that would be involved) and using an electric blanket, I've decided that the blanket is the best choice for now - pending more data. But I completely respect those who decide not to use one (or similarly have decided not to use other electrical field producing items like a microwave or a TV or computer screen) for health reasons. I strongly agree that there are many environmental toxins around us that we have yet to identify or fully understand.

  3. What a great post. I am not interested in vacations or name brand clothes, etc., and am so thankful I have never cared about those things. I know so many people who think that there is no value in life if not for materialistic things.

    Just being content in the small things saves so much in the long run. I can't wait to read back through your blog.

    1. So happy that you visited - and that you enjoyed this post! Welcome! : )

  4. I've recently found your blog and enjoy reading it. You have great recipes and wonderful ideas for frugal living.
    This post is especially timely for me as I have not been content with what has been given for many years. It has prompted me to think again about purposefully purchasing items that are needed, not wanted. And to be grateful for what has been provided.
    Our teenaged daughter has picked up the habit of thrift shopping and we have loads of fun finding stylish clothing for her at two of our favorite shops versus shopping at the mall like her friends. BTW, she always looks nice and "on trend".
    It has been a year since I've adopted a vegan diet and my health has improved dramatically -- I did overindulge over this holiday and feel it, but am back on track.
    Thank you for your blog and especially for sharing your recipes and menus.
    Happy 2014!
    All the best,

    1. Wow - thank you so much for your amazingly sweet comments! It's great to meet a fellow vegan who enjoys frugality! Welcome -looking forward to seeing you again! : )

  5. Great ideas, Anna! I've never sat down to figure out how much I've saved, or could save if I changed some habits. But I think I need to do that after reading your post!

    Thanks for sharing on The HomeAcre Hop!

    1. Thanks so much for visiting & for hosting! I love your blog-hop : )

  6. WOW! Excellent post! Great ideas! I agree with the TV! We pitched it a few years back! We decided to go for the Netflix option - only costs like $14 or so and we now have Hulu+ and I think that's like $7. So for a total of about $20-ish a month we get the programming we want VS watching very little for what we used to pay over $130 per month for crap! LOL

    I'm going to look into some other ideas you suggested, tho, too! Great ones!

    1. I couldn't agree more about the TV! Now, when I go to a public place & see the TV running - I think, "How can anyone BEAR watching that?" (with the news being one exception). It's just astounding the *JUNK* I used to have stream into my home unchecked! Now, we *choose* our videos with intentionality - and escape most commercials - it's a win-win : )

  7. I LOVED reading this post!
    hehehe I like being mindful of expenses and saving when we can! But i love your reminder that saving is useless if our faith isn't right :-)

    1. Thanks so much for your sweet words - I always enjoy your blog! : )

  8. I'm so glad you shared this at Fabulously Frugal Thursday. I need a refresher course in frugal living, and I love reading other people's ways to save money.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting & for hosting. It's a great time of year for ALL of us (me included) to reassess our financial priorities. You've got a great blog hop! : )

  9. What an interesting article. You've shown me how much money *I've* saved without knowing it exactly. And we don't have to "live poor" to do it, either, do we? And I like how you brought it all around to our faith life being the important thing.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments : ) We don't "live poor" at all! Although I have certainly been under the poverty line by American standards in my life, I've also lived in the Third World, and realized what true economic poverty looks like. Even with extreme frugality by American standards, we are amazingly Blessed with worldly goods! Thanks so much for visiting : )

  10. Your post is amazing as to how we can save more by using common sense and eleminating the small purchases. We seldom eat out, and I do enjoy my SAS shoes as they last me for many years. Otherwise brand names for clothes are out. I think we have saved a lot of money too! great thinking here. Thanks for sharing at "Tell Me a Story."

    1. Thanks so much for visiting & for hosting - and thank you for your kind comments : )

  11. A spending diary is a great idea to see where the small stuff goes. This post has been extremely enlightening as to how we can save money in the least expected ways.
    A gift for the New Year.

    1. Thank you so much for your sweet comments - I appreciate you visiting! : )

  12. I started thinking about what I had done, so here's a link, with one back to you! Thanks! Nancy

    1. Thanks - I just love the post you wrote - lots of great ideas for frugality that I didn't mention in this post! Thanks for sharing your great link! : )

  13. So do you have all,this money invested?


    1. Like it says in the last line of the article, I DID invest the money - in what I saw as better uses for the money - *my* other priorities. What those priorities are can be unique as the person saving the money - whether it's more hours at home with your kid, more vacations, helping the poor, paying off a house, giving to your Church, saving for college, or creating a retirement nest egg. It's all good - if it reflects what's important to you : )

  14. Hi Anna,
    What a wonderful post to kick off the new year!
    It is so important to demonstrate how to save more money with simple lifestyle changes.
    I too have tried to save money while improving my family's health and quality of life. I used to spend a fortune shopping for the latest fashions and high-priced, name brand skin care products and cosmetics as well as books, magazines and entertainment. I have saved a significant amount of money--and reduced my toxic load -- by making my own skin and personal care products from inexpensive ingredients. I love using our local library instead of buying tons of books and magazines. Instead of paying a premium for high-priced, prepared and processed foods, I simply buy healthy, organic fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. I like to shop at thrift shops but I have cut down on shopping period in favor of reusing and repurposing clothing that I already have and going to barter shops to trade in old clothing for barter credits. As you so aptly noted, there are many more changes that we can make to save money, preserve health and save the environment as well.
    Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights at the Healthy, Happy, Green and Natural Party Blog Hop!

    1. Thank you so much for visiting, & for your very sweet comments! You mentioned a few other things I didn't include - all great ideas! : )

      Thanks so much for hosting a great blog hop! I really enjoy linking up each week.

  15. Great post, makes one think!
    Thanks for linking up at the HomeAcre Hop!
    This post will be my feature post tomorrow!

  16. I like this post. We never have a cable t.v. but I did not really think about the savings we have for doing that,.The educational loan is a revelation. My daughter will be going to college in four years but I am already worried about it. I love your blog and thanks for visiting my site and for praying for me.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words & for visiting : ) I love your blog! Don't worry about college for now - God will provide the right thing at the right time. Check out community colleges - they tend to be a lot less expensive, the credits are often transferable to 4-year schools, and kids can live at home - which greatly reduces the temptations that so many freshman face. It's a win-win : )

  17. What a great way to look at spending. I'm with you on all of those except the student loans. I am the example of what not to do! Five years later and I've paid off less than half due to interest rates.

    1. Well - only one category isn't bad! : ) With any debt, the ideal is to make as much progress on the principal as you can - sounds like you're whittling it down. Keep at it - you'll get there!

  18. I love this point. As a teenager and young adult (when a student and working only casually), I logged everything I spent. It really made me hold back from those small 'throwaway' purchases you describe! These days with a full-time work I am not quite so vigilant, but like you, try to avoid small purchases that don't really need to be made. I also don't drink alcohol (for various reasons) and we rarely go out to dinner or to the movies, and I think that makes a huge difference relative to some of my friends. This highlights how much we can all save if we try!

  19. im a 17 year old....looking to to start saving for an audi later in the future and ways to save money, and the biggest thing you made me realize is its the little things that add up. anyone can dream...but few can make it a reality. thank u so much for this


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