Tips for saving money right now
October 1, 2022 12:19 PM   Subscribe

I was recently laid off and, while we have a modest cushion, we are about to enter a period of serious belt-tightening. It has been a while since I've had to deeply worry about / closely monitor daily expenses, and I'm looking for some good, contemporary tips for saving money that might not be immediately obvious to someone out of practice.

I've done it in the past, and I know that many of the traditional rules still apply, but I'm curious what I might be missing.

We're a family of 4, w/2 kids (9 and 11). Food costs are an area of particular concern, but I'm casting a broad net here. Frugal MeFites of 2022, teach me your ways!
posted by ryanshepard to Work & Money (36 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Check out r/Frugal. These people are the experts. For food, Jack Monroe, the bootstrap cook, has some incredible frugal recipes. Anything of hers I have made has turned out well.
posted by roolya_boolya at 12:44 PM on October 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

Go into Google play/the Apple store on all the phones/computers in the household and review all the active app subscriptions. Ruthlessly cancel subscriptions on anything you can live without. Do the same for any streaming services if you use those. Leverage your library if possible for books and entertainment (e.g. Kanopy, DVDs).

Are you using or tied to a major cell phone carrier plan? Look into some of the cheaper plans like Consumer Cellular, Mint, or Republic.

Check Facebook or Nextdoor in your area to see if there's a Buy Nothing group. There are a few in my area and people are constantly offering stuff, as well as occasionally requesting basic or one-off needs.

If it's coming on winter where you are and your house is drafty, put up plastic coverings on the windows to save on heating bills.

Depending on your holiday and family traditions, now is the time to lay some groundwork that you'll only be giving gifts to kids, taking a step back from materialistic gifts, are focusing on experiences, won't be traveling by plane ("creating some memories and traditions at home this year") or whatever language feels right for your family setting and how your finances might intersect with gift giving.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:46 PM on October 1, 2022 [29 favorites]

Cook yourselves. Eat less meat, more rice and beans. Make double recipes and eat leftovers or freeze them. Buy staple foods in bulk. Shop your local foreign grocery stores, especially for bulk. Get a slow cooker or instant pot, they can cut down the time you spend making meals if you’re not used to it. Buy store brand for almost everything (except where the difference is unacceptable, like peanut butter.) Use what’s on sale to guide meal planning. Make coffee at home, don’t buy it made. Set the thermostat two degrees lower (or higher). Trim down to one streaming service at a time. Check how much internet and phone you really use and see if cheaper plans are available. Pay off your credit cards. Buy some quality shoes and coats for the adults so they’ll last years. Discover the thrift stores near you. Most of our kid’s clothes come from a local consignment place, then go back when he outgrows them. We use our credit there from selling last season’s clothes to buy the next season’s clothes. Combine trips to save gas. Keep your car until the wheels fall off. Stop washing the car except for road salt in winter.

Get a separate bank account for expenses. Do your budget and only put the budgeted amount in it, refill every month. Only spend out of that account except for emergencies.
posted by Ookseer at 12:48 PM on October 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Shop around for a new insurance policy.

I recently went through the substantial time-suck of getting a new quote for home and auto insurance. I had not done this for a while because we had some tickets/accidents on our record that I needed to age out. We still had one accident on our record, so even if your record isn't perfect, it's worth a shot.

The research I did led me to Amica - they have good ratings in Consumer Reports for both policy costs and claim response. I had to fill out their online application and then spent an hour and a half on the phone with their agent, who called me to complete the process. It was a lot of time and it involved providing a credit card number over the phone to someone calling me, which was a hard one to get past. But here we are, 3 months later, and I have the same coverage levels I had with Safeco, my policy is real and through a highly-rated insurer, and overall I went from $4,500/year to $2,300/year, so I'm saving almost $200/month. And I added earthquake insurance, so I actually have more coverage now.

Had we qualified for USAA I would also have gotten a quote from them.
posted by happy_cat at 12:54 PM on October 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

As well as an Instant Pot, invest in an air fryer, which will pay for itself in terms of reduced fuel costs. Healthier too - it's really easy to roast a basket of cauliflower, peppers, onions, carrots, etc. in ten minutes - and roasted veg tastes so much better than steamed.

Only use the oven if you're cooking several things at the same time, rather than just a single item.

Shop towards the end of the day when fresh produce gets marked down. If you have an Indian supermarket nearby, buy rice, chickpeas, lentils and beans in bulk.

Check out thrift stores and church sales for unexpected bargains - I recently bought a never-worn pair of Skechers for £25. People donate some really good quality stuff.
posted by essexjan at 1:05 PM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Go through the last few months of your bank account and identify every recurring expense. Yes, winnow your streaming services mercilessly. It won't be obvious from bank records, but you may have some bundled subscriptions like Apple One where you only really use 2/5ths of the services, and it would ultimately be cheaper to just pay for those separately.

Cook all your meals, for sure, and make double portions for leftovers. I find the secret to effectively using leftovers and minimizing food waste is labeling. I keep a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie in a kitchen drawer and label every leftover container with its contents and date. No more mystery means things get used in a timely manner or discarded before they spawn new life. Both are victories.

As you probably recall from having done this before, there's something of an ascetic "low power mode" mindset that you have to downshift into, short-circuiting any predisposition to indulging in retail therapy and re-learning an appreciation for simpler pleasures. I've never had to do this with kids though, and I imagine that will be the most challenging part.
posted by mumkin at 1:14 PM on October 1, 2022 [7 favorites]

Sorry about the layoff, and good luck in finding a better situation.

Second the r/Frugal folks. The content seems to mirror strategies I’ve pursued when money was tight. A few specifics—

* In my area, meat has stayed expensive since the worst of the pandemic. We eat much more vegetarian fare than in past, and most of our meat purchases are bulk.

* The price of gas, assuming you are driving, has impacted the benefit that accrues from in-person comparison shopping, or from hunting to find something in person. I’ve done the math a couple times, and (in sum) I rarely get in the car to go out for a single purpose anymore, or I buy online.

* I usually wait at least 24 hours to make a significant purchase. This has saved on unnecessary expenditures when I came up with cheaper alternatives or realized I could go without.

* Consider YNAB or other budgeting tools. And then use them religiously.
posted by cupcakeninja at 1:19 PM on October 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Another thing I have done is contacted my ISP / cable provider / online news subscriptions / any subscriptions that feel expendable, and told them I can't afford it anymore and need to cancel. The majority of the time that's gotten me to the Retention department, which then makes me deals. I accept the deal if I really want or need to maintain the service, and I reject the offer if I'm okay cancelling the service for real. I've successfully negotiated pricing on ISP (need to agree to a year contract) and news subscriptions. We don't have a TV so we only use streaming services. We cut some and kept some.

We also had a pet pass away, unfortunately. Not getting a new one has meant a substantial reduction in expenses.
posted by happy_cat at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The sooner you cancel things the better. Some things to look at:

- if you're not commuting can you get a reduction in car insurance?
- nthing looking at all your auto-pay things. Pick one streaming service. Put things on hold. Go right back down to basics. Can you pull a vehicle off the road? (No shade if you can't!)
- negotiate as per above.

Sustainability/fun: Start some low- or no-cost family traditions now. Swap shopping for trips to the library and you may find a treasure trove (my library gives me access to streaming services, classes, audio books, etc. as well as books and fun workshops.) Dust off the soccer ball/badminton set. Start a Friday night walk around + warm drink when you get home tradition, or a Saturday homemade pizza and DVD night. For you and your partner too...we used to put the kids to bed and then bake together.

Over the pandemic I was laid off, and my youngest son and I spent every garbage day walking around seeing what things we could rescue - lawn chairs we repainted, boxes we turned into crafts, a spice rack at one house and a bag of beads at the other so we sorted the beads into the spice rank, etc. This is actually now one of our best memories together and man, people throw a lot of good stuff out.

Food: I wouldn't buy things to do cooking things, I would just modify any menu choices to match what you have. For example, if you have a slow cooker and not an Instant Pot, slow cook and soak your beans overnight instead.

Look at where you shop. I don't know what it is like where you live, but where I live shopping in Asian or discount grocery stores saves big bucks. Shop on loss leaders - check the sales and then plan meals.

Peasant food recipes from all cultures have so many hidden gems. Mujadara is our go-to along with pea soup and minestrone (for feeling rich with few ingredients). But also potato and/or rice dishes from just about everywhere. We have an Incredibles-style "leftovers night" once a week that can be really fun.

Another tip is 'stretchers." Example: make a pot of chilli, enjoy. Make rice and make a chilli-rice casserole the next night. Make baked potatoes or sweet potatoes the next night and top with the last bit of chilli, or have chilli dogs and homemade potato wedges and make a big fuss about it. Chicken, then chicken a la king over homemade whole-grain bread with peas in it and carrots on the side, then make chicken stock from the bones, then have chicken noodle soup with a panzenella salad on the side (using the staler bread.)

Your kids are the perfect age for making inexpensive food items a fun activity - make your own pizza dough, focaccia, other breads, gnocchi, soaking beans, cutting up pumpkin and roasting the seeds, putting tomato sauce through a strainer, making your own muffins and so on.

Where I am squash and root vegetables are in season right now, so our menu is focused on that. I also cook up several pumpkins or butternut squashes (they are almost the same plant) and puree it and freeze the puree and use it for muffins/cookies, soup, or the vegetable in mac and cheese with squash.

Go for food, not brands. So for example, oatmeal with a sprinkling of sugar or applesauce or peanut butter is like a zillion times cheaper than most cereals on a per-serving basis. For my kids when making a change like that I would still buy whatever pricier thing they love, and tell them "oatmeal today and cream of wheat tomorrow but on Thursday it's Cheerios!" or whatever. Having something a bit less often is not the same as deprivation.

Pro tip for snack-like food - if you can take up baking and make things like banana bread based on what you have (or the cheap brown bananas at the back of the produce section), that ends up a lot cheaper and depending on how you make things, healthier than store bought anything.

This will depend on your kids' tolerance and whether you have subsidized lunch but my kids have Themoses and take fried 'rice' (I use a multi-whole-grain blend) and pasta a lot of days.

If more food tips are helpful just say so as I have weird childhood issues that result in me running a calculation per serving for every meal.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:51 PM on October 1, 2022 [13 favorites]

Finding income is always better than budgeting if you can.

Do you have anything you can rent out - a spare room, extra parking spot, or covered garage?

Sell unused belongings! Clear out your clutter and sell it off. Look on Facebook marketplace to see how people photograph and describe things since a good listing is what boosts the sales.

If you’re artsy, you can buy old furniture from thrift shops and repaint it and sell it. I used to do this a lot and consistently made a few hundred dollars a month. Taking beautiful listing photos is key.

Photograph items for sale in natural light, on a clean background (white posterboard works well). Get a $5 pothos plant and trail the leaves into every shot. (Cel phone photos are fine! Just compose them well.)

Sell small items in “lots”, for instance; 10 items of kids clothing for $20, or a batch of 15 toddler books for $20. Old kid toys, outgrown kid shoes and jackets, bikes, toddler gear, furniture, tools, etc.

Note that adult books and adult clothes are hard to sell, likely not worth the effort. But kid stuff and furniture sells quite well.

Add tags to each listing with related brands and items (for instance if selling a stroller, also tag it with the words “crib, baby, toddler, and a few baby gear brands”. Tagging helps more people find your ads. Selling on FB marketplace is good since you don’t have to worry about shipping, local people will come.

Can anyone in your family make a little extra cash-
Pet sitting
Handy tasks for others
Baking for parties
Propagate houseplants and then sell them in cute dollar store pots

The most important thing is - do NOT invest money into selling things! So if you’re going to try selling baby houseplants, don’t invest more than about $20 to create your first batch, til you know for sure if they’ll sell.

Good luck!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:04 PM on October 1, 2022 [12 favorites]

The thing that always helps us the most with reducing food costs is meal planning. It really streamlines what we buy at the store in the first place and also significantly reduces food waste. It can be annoying work, but I have friends who do weekly themes by day (Monday is always some kind of tacos, Tuesday is always a pasta dish, etc) to remove some of the decision-making. If someone in your house is a decent cook, we found it cheaper to buy something special/fancy every now and then to make at home instead of doing a meal out, and then going to a family friendly brewery or something like that during an afternoon to get out of the house for “dining out” without paying for a full family meal out. I think it’s important to have some small indulgences sometimes in areas you’re cutting back so you don’t get too discouraged and blow your budget from frustration. Maybe you do meat free dinners for the week but spend a little extra to get a nice roast for the weekend sometimes, things like that.
posted by notheotherone at 2:12 PM on October 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I should have noted that we are all vegetarian and solid home cooks, w/a decent set of gear - it's the recent spike in food prices at the grocery store across the board that have me spooked. Thanks to everyone that has commented so far!
posted by ryanshepard at 2:17 PM on October 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

List out all your expenses and categorize them as needs or wants. Then slash the wants ruthlessly. You gotta eat, pay the rent/mortgage, health insurance, etc. So knowing what your needs actually are will tell you what your minimum monthly spending can be.
posted by COD at 2:47 PM on October 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Get Amy Dacyczyn’s Complete Tightwad Gazette from the library. Yes, it’s older, but in addition to having many practical suggestions, it will help you with thinking about frugality. One thing she stresses especially with kids is that frugality without creativity is deprivation, so she has tons of great ideas for low-cost fun stuff for children. And since you’re concerned about food, people find her price book idea life changing.
posted by FencingGal at 2:56 PM on October 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

Work out what is seasonal for you and buy that. More importantly, don't buy the fresh veg that isn't in season. As an example, sweetcorn is literally 90% cheaper for the weeks in summer when the biggest harvest comes around, round here. (Frozen is stably priced year round, as far as I can tell.) I'm not paying a dollar for an ear of corn just because it's January; I'll have a baked potato instead.

Root veg is often cheaper in bulk and has a good shelf life. It doesn't need to sit in the fridge if you have a cool, dark outside space you can store it. We lived out of 56lb bags of potatoes, growing up. (Half a hundredweight, if you're wondering.)

I've found big (25lb) bags of flour in the bulk-goods supermarkets and Costco - apparently not many people know that, because bread flour was readily available in those sizes even in the middle of the pandemic bread baking craze. They're often about twice the price of a normal bag of flour for 5x as much. Don't buy self rising, just add the recommended quantity of baking powder to AP, and that's one less thing to store. Similarly, around here, the Asian supermarkets will sell big bags of rice.

I've had pantry moths and weevils, and that meant I had to throw food away, which is wasteful. Airtight containers are really helpful to ensure what you buy is still good when you want to eat it. I've found big polythene rice bins before at a Japanese store; Walmart sell cheap, big screw top polythene containers; and ball jars come in quart and half-gallon sizes in multipacks and work fine for dry goods.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 3:09 PM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Depends on your location, but look up whether there are nearby restaurant supply stores that are open to the public? There's one in my area, and it's a delight! Mine has both super-bulk-size items and lots of nearly-retail-size items, and almost all of it is cheaper than an ordinary grocery store.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:09 PM on October 1, 2022

This will depend on what you're spending money already - it's hard to give advice without knowing what your budget is currently.

- it's the recent spike in food prices at the grocery store across the board that have me spooked.

I hear you, but many foods are still under a $1 a pound: bananas, potatoes, canned tomatoes, dried beans, cabbage, onions, etc. When I was needing to be a strict budget, I enjoyed getting creative with cheap ingredients - cabbage, for example, can be quite versatile.
posted by coffeecat at 3:23 PM on October 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Frozen vegetables are often good value and good quality and less expensive than fresh, depending on what's on sale.
The Buy Nothing group in my area has great stuff for kids - clothing, books, etc.
Turn up the AC/ use fans. Turn down the heat/ wear sweaters, socks, hats. I hate to be cold but acclimate pretty fast to 65F during the day, and turn it down to 45 at night. It seldom gets that cold, and I pile on blankets and use a hot water bottle when it's really chilly.
Absolutely get rid of most subscriptions.
If you have 2 cars and only need 1, see if you can park 1 and save on insurance.
Know anybody with a rosemary plant? I was given quite a bit, and tossed it in the pantry cupboard, and it really reduced grain moths.
Is there a discount grocery? I went to the local one on a good and stocked up on foods I eat and enjoy at a real discount. It takes time for this to pay off, but saving 25 - 50% is a big deal. If pasta's a loss leader, I'll buy 10 boxes.

Housing is wildly expensive. If you own a house and/or have space, a roommate might be so happy to rent it.

Dog walking is good exercise and can pay well. Or doing house cleanouts/ helping people de-clutter. I keep looking for someone to help me with this work, they want to advise me, but not help me move the rugs taking up space.
While you are not fully employed, you may be able to get temp work.
Go to the food pantry. This is what it's for. Apply for heat assistance, Internet subsidy, etc. Even if you didn't start the school year being eligible for free lunch, you can re-do the application. Many schools serve high quality meals.
Libraries have puzzles, games, so many resources.
Most of my wardrobe is thrifted and generally high-quality and nice-looking. The key is to shop more often.

Have a family meeting, talk about how staying financially stable is a big goal that helps the whole family. Get your kids on board and helping, but, also, school kids are incredibly money-conscious and judgemental, so try to make adjustments with some style. Kids take lunch, but have nice lunchboxes and containers. If they get side-eye My folks are all about recycling and nutrition. Try some roasted kale; who knew kale could taste good or similar. I was pretty broke raising my son, and did my best to get him clothes that were not uncool, etc. Have some reward nights when whoever had a good idea gets to pick a favorite dinner or other rewards.

Good luck!
posted by theora55 at 4:02 PM on October 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've had pantry moths and weevils, and that meant I had to throw food away, which is wasteful.

I read a long time ago to always put flour in the freezer for 24 hours to kill off any bugs. I've done that ever since - also for grains. I don't know if it's scientifically sound, but I've never gotten bugs since I started this.
posted by FencingGal at 4:05 PM on October 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

I also like the Budget Bytes website, which has a large selection of vegetarian/vegan recipes.
posted by essexjan at 5:03 PM on October 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

If it helps the kids to have an occasional fast food treat, the apps for fast-food places can have surprisingly good deals. For example, split a $1 large fries at McD's.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 5:39 PM on October 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know where in the district you live or if you have a car, so literally YMMV, but Fridays at Lotte markets (Korean owned international grocers in Silver Spring and Aspen Hill) they put a ton of already great priced stuff on more sale (this week Chinese eggplants were 99 cents/lb. So were fresh crop honeycrisp apples). it's a way I'm saving a ton of money on amazing produce, and everything else (spices, different flours, noodles, etc).
posted by atomicstone at 5:50 PM on October 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

On the off chance that you drink tea? Loose leaf tea is generally less expensive than bagged tea.

To save even more money, loose leaf tea can be drunk 'grandpa style', where you just put in the leaves directly into the hot water, and wait for them to sink to the bottom. When you've drunk half the tea liquid, you refill with more hot water. Continue until the tea has no flavor.

You may eat the occasional tea leaf, but they are edible.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:58 PM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have an Aldi nearby? Groceries are MUCH cheaper there.

Dollar Tree is another place to look for cheap food. Many of them have a surprisingly robust food section. Go on YouTube and search for "dollar tree vegetarian" to get some meal ideas.

Speaking of YouTube, you might also search for "extreme grocery budget" to find videos of people making a week's worth of meals for very little money.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:00 PM on October 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

This isn't quite what you asked, but sometimes we forget that adding another source of income can be more effective than eating another meal of beans. Are there any side-hustles you can do? Especially something you like? I learned that I was very adverse to doing Uber, but that I also hate driving so that makes sense. HOWEVER, I love taking care of dogs, and could make $50/night boarding dogs at my home which added up quickly and brought actual joy into my life.

I hope things go well for you, with whatever changes you make.
posted by cacao at 7:18 PM on October 1, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: We called our internet provider and switched to the cheapest and slowest speed and saved $30 per month without any noticeable speed difference or delays in streaming. If you have unlimited data on mobile you can try just using a Hotspot instead of paying for home internet. Also, if a cheaper cell phone provider such as cricket or ting works in your area, switch.

Seconding dollar store food (not all things, some are smaller packaging and not actually a better deal) and Aldi/Lidl. Check if your grocery store has a shelf for discount produce and/or baked goods that are still good but close to expiration date. Learn to cook from scratch (dry beans not canned beans, large 10 lb bag of short grain white or brown rice vs ready cook rice, etc). Don't spend money on stuff like chicken broth or vegetable broth, use salted water with garlic and onion powder instead. Learn to bake bread.

Look for local buy nothing or free stuff groups on Facebook. See if your city or churches nearby has free food distribution.

See if your kids are now eligible for free lunch given the change at home.

Check out the "too good to go" app and see if there is anything good near you.
posted by at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also, shop around to make sure you have the cheapest (but decent coverage) car insurance, homeowners insurance (if you own). Learn to like oatmeal and/or cream of wheat if you don't already and buy large containers and not packages of single serving packets. Don't buy things like pancake mix because you can make your own Learn to do you own taxes on turbotax or something like that in 2023 if you're still in this situation, vs a CPA. Learn what is a good price for food in grocery stores and only buy good deals. See if there is any ethnic store near you that has some items for less than the big grocery stores. Dollar store for surprisingly high quality bar soap (few simple ingredients/no dyes). Buy store brand groceries. Use a few tablespoons white vinegar in a cup of water instead of hair conditioner. Soap for shaving cream (for women on their body for less coarse hair if you don't have skin sensitivity issues), reduce unnecessary beauty routines. Don't be embarrassed to let friends/family know that you would gladly be hired to help with petsitting/house sitting. See if time banking is something you can get into, perhaps you can trade your services for something you would otherwise have to pay for. Air dry clothes instead of using the dryer if you have a dryer and pay for your electricity, do less laundry.
posted by at 9:24 PM on October 1, 2022

Dollar-store items are almost universally significantly more expensive per unit and so are a false economy unless it's an item you would only use [that package size] of before it went bad or otherwise became unusable.

Good and Cheap (PDF is free) is on the very inexpensive end of home cooking, but may offer some useful ideas for your most minimalist days.

At that age, family nights can still be entertaining. You can often get old board games and/or puzzles (less great choice because of potential missing pieces) for way cheap at thrift stores. Heck, even an Uno deck can make for hours of good times. Making your own popcorn is cheap! Also, Regal is now doing a thing for loyalty members (free) where movies are $5-7 (depending on location) and popcorn is half off (if you don't bring in your own, see prior sentence) on Tuesdays, for the occasional cheaper treat for the kids.

CVS ExtraCare will send you a 40%-off-one-item practically like clockwork every week. Just make sure you don't buy anything else while you're in there--almost everything they sell is cheaper at Target.

If you don't want to give up using a major carrier, at least go prepaid on the cell phones.
posted by praemunire at 11:35 PM on October 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Have you looked into food stamps (SNAP/EBT)? If a partner is still working you may not qualify but otherwise it can be very helpful, and many states have broadened who is eligible in recent years (eg no savings limit.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:36 PM on October 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it's more important than ever for you to keep your health. If you're still in DC, city residents can use the DPR fitness centers free. I haven't used them personally but based on my experiences in other big cities you can expect them to be pretty barebones but better than nothing.
posted by praemunire at 11:47 PM on October 1, 2022

One more thing: you don't need to be a member to get your prescriptions filled at Costco, either in-store or mail-order. You can look up their prices on their website and compare with what you're paying at a drugstore now with insurance. Their mail order tends to be a little slow, though, so make sure you don't put off refilling.
posted by praemunire at 12:14 AM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Occasionally rent your place out on Airbnb if you go out of town
posted by sandmanwv at 5:53 AM on October 2, 2022

A couple of modern ideas: if you use Instacart—price it out to see if it makes sense for you—be sure to compare between Instacart’s available stores. I just discovered that ShopRite is much, much cheaper than Stop n Shop. When you click on Deals ShopRite has what look like the in-person circular prices, while Stop n Shop has a small but noticeable Instacart markup.

If you have self-discipline (and a good price book as mentioned by earlier commenters) you can find grocery deals on dansdeals and Slickdeals. For example, I just got a bunch of good coffee at 23 cents/oz., a great price in my area.
posted by 8603 at 8:18 AM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Riffing off praemunire's answer, and since you said you're casting a broad net, a doctor once told me that (since I didn't live in a one story house) I could use the steps 3 times each time I needed to 1 time (down-up,down-up,down-up). Of course this only applies if a fitness center cost is currently in your budget.
posted by forthright at 11:10 AM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

The single biggest tool for me in reducing expenditure has been a fine-grained understanding of where the money goes. I do not like budgets, but tracking expenses weekly means I have good consciousness of where savings can be made.

So my suggestion is taking up doing the accounts weekly, with whatever system works for you: spreadsheets, or an application (I use Gnucash because I'm a crank) or paper and pen.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:46 AM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Go to the food pantry. This is what it's for. Apply for heat assistance, Internet subsidy, etc. Even if you didn't start the school year being eligible for free lunch, you can re-do the application.

This is what I was going to suggest. Don't wait until things are more dire to apply for any and all assistance that you qualify for. And be prepared to be persistent and invest time, including appealing if you are denied something that you should receive. Hopefully it is better where you are, but we found that applying for unemployment (and maintaining eligibility) required a significant amount of time and attention, for example.

And, make sure you are focusing on real savings rather than chasing pennies. Adding some new income (like a seasonal position) or reducing a major expense (like losing a car payment) goes a lot further than changing cereal brands, for example.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:44 PM on October 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

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