For most of our time together my officer and I have had to be budget conscious. Until just a couple of years ago, one of us was always in school and the other was working a subpar job (or two, or three). Now that we both have full time careers in our fields we make more money, but have still been focused on paying off debt and then on putting away towards savings. I know that a lot of other law enforcement families feel strapped financially and need realistic ways to cut back a little. There’s way more drastic things you can do and systems to use (I highly recommend the course Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey; book here) but here five easy things we personally do to save a little bit each month that don’t involve second jobs or giving up all date nights:
Make coffee at home most of the time. I’ve always been a big coffee person-I worked as a barista throughout both undergrad and grad school and really just love that joe! My officer didn’t become a coffee drinker until he began academy. We now both drink coffee on a regular basis, both at home and at coffee shops. However. Those $4 lattes add up! As someone who worked in coffee shops for years I know first hand how marked up espresso and “handcrafted” beverages are. We’ve always had a coffee pot at home, but last year we also got this keurig. With it we can make regular coffee, iced coffee, lattes, cappuccinos-even cold foam for our cold brew! It takes regular kcups (including the reusable ones you can fill with your own grounds) so the cost per cup is very low. We still enjoy the occasional Frappuccino on the way to the park or peppermint mocha while on our way to Christmas shop, but our coffee budget is now set to $20 a month instead of…well, imagine a much higher number.
Meal plan as much as possible. I’m not a gourmet chef and we both have pretty crazy/nontraditional/shifting work schedules, so I don’t meal plan and prep all of the time. However, I do try to sit down once a week (usually this is on Sundays, but some weeks it’s on a Tuesday or other random evening) and plan out suppers for the week. I look at both our calendars to see which days a crockpot meal ( we have this programmable one) makes the most sense, when to schedule in leftovers, and even if we can sneak in a date night out. Then, I grocery shop once per week for all of our ingredients, including snacks and lunches. Often I forget something (real life 🤷🏼♀️) and need to run to the store midweek, but I’ve found that planning ahead saves money at the store, keeps us from spontaneously ordering out, and cuts way down on our food waste. You can also save at the grocery store by using a grocery delivery or pick up service-it cuts down on all of those waiting in line impulse buys! It was one of the most suggested “hacks” by y’all in this post here.
Keep subscriptions to a minimum. My officer and I have never had cable. Gasp! In college we typically had roommates and were all too poor to split anything but internet, and as we’ve gotten older we’ve realized that we can get almost anything we need online or on Netflix. We pay for WiFi/internet, Netflix, and Amazon Prime-and those things give us access to 90% of the shows we want to watch. We get RedBoxs when there’s a movie we want to see, and there’s sports packages that you can look into for a specific game or season if that’s a deal breaker for your family. For us, one of the best ways to save money is to say no to most subscriptions-they seem affordable or even cheap at first, but can quickly add up as the months pass.
Use a budgeting tool/keep rack of where we’re spending. It’s easy to plug your ears and la la la your way through spending, but that’s only delaying the inevitable! We regularly look at our accounts and sort out where our spending is. Did we blow a lot of money at the gas station for snacks this month? Was last month a pricey one for eating out? Is there a recurring charge we forgot about that’s unnecessarily draining our account? By looking at our spending on a regular basis we can see where to cut back and better understand what a realistic budget is. This includes money set aside for entertainment, travel, restaurants-it’s more practical and realistic to include a budget for fun things then to try to completely cut them out. Eating out isn’t it a bad thing at all-but it is an easy way to spend a lot of money if you’re not mindful about it.
Have a no spend week on a regular basis. Months and months ago we decided to do a “no spend” the last week of the month. This is essentially a freeze on anything nonessential. Bills still get paid, we still put gas in the car-but besides that, no spending! Before the week starts I carefully plan our meals, then there’s no eating out/picking up treats/last minute grocery runs for the remainder of that no spend week. It helps us use the random food in the fridge or pantry, saves us money that we put towards something particular (like a special savings account or upcoming vacation), and is a good wake up call about everything we wanted to or usually spend money on! No $1 diet cokes in the McDonald’s drive through, no buying a lunch because I was too lazy to pack one, no spontaneous ordering of the cute shirt because my favorite blogger shared it was on sale, and no late night blizzard runs “just because”.
I’m not a financial expert by any means, but these are some of the simple ways we save money as a police family! What are some of the realistic and easy ways that you budget for your family?