Frugal Mom Challenge: Results

Are you a working mom trying to save money? Check in with our Frugal Mom Challenge and find out what worked, what didn't, and how much we actually saved.

I embraced the Frugal Mom Challenge. For one month, I attempted to pack my lunches, make my own laundry detergent, inhibit my impulses to buy Starbucks and order take-out, and be more energy conscious. What follows is a list of every money-saving challenge attempted, how I did, its working mom rating (was it do-able, not do-able, etc.), and the estimated amount of money saved for the month and for the year.

Frugal Mom Challenge: How we did

A list of every money-saving challenge attempted, how I did, its working mom rating (was it do-able, not do-able, etc.), and the estimated amount of money saved for the month and for the year.



#1. Bring a thermos of coffee to work each day, rather than buy a cup from McDonalds or Starbucks.

Okay, I broke down once and bought coffee (it was an awful day, and I earned it, d***it!). During the first two weeks of the challenge, I made a pot of coffee in the morning, poured it into my massive Stanley thermos, and threw it in my bag; however, as the month progressed, I became lazy, sipped water at work, and pretended it was coffee. I went from buying an average of 12 cups of coffee per month to one. Not too shabby. Overall, I would say this money-saver is do-able.

Monthly Savings: $22.66

Potential Yearly Savings: $271.92

#2: Pack lunch every day. (I’m not too excited about this one..)

As expected, this one was tough for me. By the time P goes to sleep at night, the last thing I want to do is pack my lunch. Our mornings are so chaotic that my lunch-making doesn’t happen then either. Prior to the challenge, I was buying lunch twice per week. This month, I bought my lunch three times (at about $6.00/lunch). While do-able, this was my least favorite money-saver.

Monthly Savings:  $30.00

Potential Yearly Savings: $360.00

#3. For Chad and my monthly date night, look for a Groupon or Living Social restaurant deal.

Date? What date? This month, Chad and I were too consumed by life to gallivant around town.

#4. Only “eat out” twice during the month (date night included).

Food is our weakness; especially when we don’t have to cook it. When both parents work full-time outside of the home, and one has an irrational fear of the crockpot catching on fire, ordering take-out is bound to happen. In the months before the challenge, our family was spending about $131.00 on take-out; in the month of October, we spent about $80.00. We made a valiant effort. My rating: difficult, but do-able if you try really, really hard.

Monthly Savings: $51.00

Potential Yearly Savings: $612.00

#5. Compare the prices of grocery staples in our household (e.g. rice, noodles, frozen veggies, and frozen fruit), and buy wherever I can find the best deal.

While I didn’t check every store, we settled on a grocery store trifecta: Giant (a big chain grocery store), Aldi (a chain discount grocery store), and Target. We have a Target Red Card (which is linked directly to our checking account), so with each purchase, we save five percent. It’s not much, but we use it for diapers, wipes, and those delicious Target brand banana-chocolate cereal bars..mmm. A few months ago, we were only shopping at Giant, and spending about $120.00 each week on groceries. With the trifecta, we’ve been spending, on average, about $90.00. Getting groceries at three stores can be a pain, but it’s do-able, especially when you have a husband willing to brave the Sunday shopping crowd.

Monthly Savings: $120.00

Potential Yearly Savings: $1440.00

#6. Locate and use coupons, if possible.

Ain’t nobody got time for that. Rating: not do-able for this mama. Also, what’s up with having to buy three of something before you save a few cents? I don’t need or want three cans of mushroom soup..

#7. Make, rather than buy, desserts.

This one wasn’t too bad. We didn’t make them from scratch; instead, we purchased bagged cookie mix; you just have to add water and butter. Definitely do-able. The cookie mix costs $1.20; the required stick of butter costs about 0.25 cents. So, “homemade” cookies cost about $1.50, while a package of Chips Ahoy costs about $3.50. Calculations are based on eating one batch of cookies per week. I guess it might be more affordable to stop eating cookies, huh?

Monthly Savings: $8.00

Potential Yearly Savings: $96.00


#8. Find, and do, one free family activity per week, rather than pay for an activity.

We kind of flew by the seat of our pants on this one. Over the four weeks, we took P to a new playground across town, had a lovely afternoon at the “play-place” at the mall, and went to the pumpkin patch. I would say this money-saver is do-able, but since we only occasionally pay for family activities, I wouldn’t say we saved much (if any) here.

#9. Downgrade my smartphone to a regular, “unsmart” phone.

Done. Though, the strange look the Verizon salesperson gave me when I told him I wanted to “downgrade” gave me doubts about my plan. While no access to the internet, Facebook, etc. took some getting used to, this money-saver is definitely do-able, provided you don’t have a job that requires you to be checking e-mail constantly. Without my smartphone, I am much more productive at work, and at home, knowing I don’t have the option to surf the ‘net.

Monthly Savings: $40.00

Potential Yearly Savings: $480.00

#10. Heckle with Verizon to see if I can cut down on our cable bill.

After numerous calls, disconnects, and offers to upgrade my service (even though I was asking to downgrade), I was told that my services were already at the minimum. My solution: cut cable entirely. Since I signed a “two-year bundle contract,” there was a cancellation fee of $150.00, but in the end, we’ll still save some moolah. My family and I enjoy television, but we don’t have much time to watch it; we also have Netflix, so we’re relying on that, as well as Hulu, to meet our entertainment needs. I say this money-saver is do-able.

Monthly Savings: $40.00

Potential Year Savings: $330.00

(Cancellation fee subtracted from total amount)

Household/Miscellaneous Expenses

#11. Turn off all lights and electronic devices before leaving the house.

Turning off the lights was easy. Unplugging the television, iPad charger, phone charger, etc. was a challenge for this mama each morning. Some experts believe that electronics, plugged in 24-hours a day, can be responsible for five to ten percent of your yearly energy costs. So, if your yearly energy costs are $1900.00, plugged in electronics could be $133.00 of that total (assuming electronics were responsible for seven percent of the total bill (I tried to pick a number between five and ten)). So, unplugging your electronics could save you an estimated $11.08 per month.

#12. Make my own laundry detergent.

A search of the internets led me to a “homemade laundry detergent recipe”. The recipe called for washing soda, borax, and unscented bar soap. The recipe was quick and simple; it also cleaned my family’s clothes just as well as store-bought laundry detergent. The cost to make this is roughly five cents per load, compared to a Tide detergent (0.21 cents per load). This money-saver is a winner for this working mom.

Monthly Savings: $3.20

Potential Yearly Savings: $41.60

#13. Let more of our clothes “air dry” rather than use the dryer.

Yeah, this just didn’t happen. After one unfortunate Monday morning wearing damp jeans to work, I pulled the plug on this one. For this mama: not do-able.

#14. Stop letting the water run while I brush my teeth.

Easy-peasy. Not sure how much money this saves, but I feel better knowing I’m not wasting water.

#15. Limit shower time to 10 minutes (This one is going to be painful).

Okay, I’m doing to be painfully honest here. Ready? I don’t shower every day! Therefore, when my showers ran over to 12-15 minutes, I still felt I was living up to the challenge. Again, I’m not too sure how much money this saves, as estimates found on the ‘net varied significantly. I’m certain it saves something, though. My rating: do-able.

#16. Should we need more kitchen or bathroom disinfectant, use vinegar.

We were able to make do with the existing cleaner(s) in our cabinet, but there is no doubt that this is a money saver. With many cleaning solutions costing anywhere from three to six dollars per bottle, and a large jug of vinegar coming in at under $1.50, well, you do the math. Rating: totally do-able.

#17. Keep the thermostat set at 72 degrees.

I “run cold,” so this one required me to layer. Before I left the house each morning, I turned the thermostat down to 65 degrees, and kept it there until right before P’s bedtime. Because of the exact temperature, and the timing of our energy bill, I’m unable to report exactly how much money this saved, but have no doubt that it did. This money-saver was do-able for our family.

#18. Before filling up on gas, check to compare prices.

I failed this one. I admit, I didn’t look at once. I’m sure it could have saved us a few cents, but my sloth interfered. Rating: probably do-able for mamas more motivated than me.

With these money-savers in place, my family saved an estimated $314.86 during the month of October. I assume that our savings are higher, given the decrease in energy use and water; however, at this time, those costs are unknown. If we were to continue living frugally, we could save an estimated $3,778.32+ over the course of the year. While some of the money-savers were difficult for my family and I (e.g. eating in rather than ordering take-out, nixing the coffee, etc.), they were do-able.

Throughout the challenge, I kept thinking, “But I deserve a night off of cooking,” or “I deserve that bottle of wine.” When you and your partner work hard, it is natural to want to reward yourself, and disappointing when you can’t. In the short-term, that bottle of wine would be nice; but, a year from now, it would be really nice to pay off the car, or that silly Sallie Mae. I suppose it is all about keeping perspective, and seeing the long-term, rather than the immediate rewards.

3 thoughts on “Frugal Mom Challenge: Results

  1. Steph Metz says:

    Let us know in the end which ones you are truly going to continue doing and which ones you are kicking to the curb! Thanks Kristi!

  2. You are lucky your eating out expenses are as low as they are. Food is a HUGE sticking point in our house. My hubby is seriously addicted to fast food and since he used to travel, was also used to just being able to go to restaurants whenever. Last year he went back to school and so I am sole breadwinner… but he didn’t want to give up the restaurant lifestyle… We are getting better but at one point we were probably well over $1000/month with combined groceries and eating out. NOT sustainable, and worse on one income. One trick we recently found is that we found a group of folks with similar-sized families and set up a “Freezer meal swap”. Each family cooks enough of one meal for each of the other families (usually 5-6 swappers each week). We meet up and then get 5-6 different meals. It’s fabulous. It probably costs about $40-60 per preparation which breaks down to each of those (generally healthy) family meals costing around $10. For our family that’s about 3-4 people, depending on how hungry the littles are. For a group of couples or smaller families, that cost could probably come down even further.

    And there’s always cloth diapers 😉 to save on that cost (especially if you plan to have any more kids) I probably spent a total of $1000-$1200 on diapers for both of my kids.

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