This week we welcome guest blogger Leah Ingram, founder of The Suddenly Frugal Blog and author of two books: Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less and Toss, Keep, Sell!: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out the Clutter and Cashing In. She’s writing about how her family is living on one salary so they can foot the bill for their oldest child’s college tuition.
I imagine my family is like many American families facing college tuition payments: we make too much to qualify for significant financial aid, yet earlier in our careers we didn’t earn enough to fully fund a college savings account. This fall we will send our oldest off to college, and one way or another, we will have to find a way to pay for her education.
We’ve been thinking a lot about saving money overall ever since 2007 when, thanks to the economy, we found ourselves needing to be suddenly frugal in every aspect of our life. That was the year I started my Suddenly Frugal blog, as a way to hold myself accountable for the changes we were making in our spending and to share what I learned with others.
Clearly, I was on to something as I ended up selling two frugal-living books off my blog’s concept, and becoming a go-to frugal-living expert for local TV stations in Philadelphia where I live.
After six years of frugal living, I’ve learned that changing how you spend and save isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s an organic, holistic process. Every three to six months my husband and I revisit where our money is going and reconsider what we can cut.
For example, we realized that TiVo has become obsolete in our house, especially since we have a digital DVR that came with our cable subscription. However, with the $20 a month TiVo fee on auto-pay, we’d forgotten about it. While I’m a strong advocate for automatic online bill pay — so you never miss a payment or incur late charges — it is important to continue to review those auto payments to make sure that you aren’t paying for services you no longer use, want or need, like our TiVo.
That said, finding $240 a year to cut won’t pay for college. We had to make bigger changes. That’s why a few years ago we started banking my salary. I’m lucky enough to earn close to the equivalent of one year of college. I’ve prided myself on being able to save my family money by using coupons when I grocery shop, being smart with our energy bills, and finding ways to bring in extra cash by consigning my clothes. I was even more determined to use all those tricks to pinch our pennies once we started living on one salary. For example, we continue to look for frugal ways to get dinner on the table, such as making homemade pizza dough in my bread machine so we can have DIY pizza for pennies a serving versus $20 for a pie at a restaurant. Do that once a week, and that’s more than $1,000 you haven’t spent on dinner. And that’s only once a week. Imagine how much you can save if you are cooking frugally seven nights a week.
Banking my salary and leaving it alone was easier for us because we set up a money market savings account, without a debit card attached to it. Thanks to our discipline, we were able to save just enough for one year of college.
Now that my daughter is a senior in high school and college is right around the corner, we are continuing to bank my salary and live on my husband’s. It hasn’t been easy. Some months we’ll pay all our bills and have just a few hundred dollars left to cover groceries and other extraneous expenses that might occur. But at least the stress of wondering how to pay for college that would keep us up at night — literally — has abated now that we have a viable solution.
About Leah: Leah Ingram is founder of The Suddenly Frugal Blog and Philly on the Cheap, as well as the author of Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less, and Toss, Keep, Sell!: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out the Clutter and Cashing In. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.