9 Ways to Save on Garbage!

Save Money On Garbage ~ Our Cozy Den

Did you know that the average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash per day? For my family of 6, that would be 189 pounds every week! That’s crazy!!

Producing a lot of garbage is expensive, not to mention the fact that it just feels wasteful. I feel like a bad human being if we have a big pile of trash. It’s bad for the environment and my pocket. Here are some ways to save money on your garbage pile, and help the planet in the process!

1. Stop trash before it starts.

Buying things isn’t just expensive at the cash register. You also spend money transporting your purchase, disposing of the packaging, storing your stuff in your home (more stuff = more space needed to hold it), and eventually — throwing your purchase away. If you buy fewer items that you don’t need, then you will save a LOT more than just the amount on the price tag.

2. Buy used.

When you shop at thrift stores & yard sales, those items already have no packaging. You save a ton by buying used, and you also don’t have to get rid of all that trash to go along with it.

3. Buy in bulk.

I’ve mentioned before that we do most of our grocery shopping at GFS. When you buy in bulk, there is a lot less packaging, so there is less to throw away!

4. Cook from scratch.

We buy almost no groceries that are prepackaged or premade. Those things (in addition to being less healthy and more expensive) come with more trash! Cooking from raw ingredients: flour, eggs, spices, etc. — will result in less garbage.

5. Recycle.

We lived in Germany for 3 years, and one of my favorite things about being over there was that everyone recycled. They had to, it was the law! And it was color-coded to boot! {swoon!} This is what the trash cans looked like over there:

Save Money On Garbage ~ Our Cozy Den

In Germany, we could recycle almost all of our garbage. Only diapers and used tissues/napkins went in the regular trash. Back here in the U.S., we can’t recycle quite as much as we could in Germany, but we can still recycle quite a lot! We have a recycling station set up in our back room, where we have separate bins for: cardboard, glass, newspaper, plastic, & cans. And we have 2 in our kitchen for regular garbage and paper (my little arts-and-crafters go through a LOT of paper, so this made the most sense to have in the house. Also, it doesn’t stink.) We drive to the recycling center once or twice a month to take it all in, which costs us nothing.

6. Change the way you do holidays & birthdays.

Holidays and birthdays tend to be a big trash-producer for many families. Since we only do 3 small gifts per child, and I sewed reusable gift wrapping sacks, we don’t have much garbage from the holiday. For gifts from extended family, if you can convince them to spring for a membership to the zoo or a children’s museum, that’s another way to cut back on trash (and toys and clutter and room cleaning… it’s really win-win-win if the grandparents will go for it!) And there’s no rule that says you have to use disposable plates and cutlery when you have guests. Yes, it’s easier to just throw it away. But it’s not really that hard to throw it all in the dishwasher either, and it produces no trash that way.

7. Compost.

We started a compost bin this year, and I was surprised at how much we are able to put into it! All of our scraps from fruits and vegetables, banana peels, apple cores, egg shells, yard clippings… there’s just so much! It’s all going to turn into rich, fertile soil for my garden next year. And if you don’t garden, you could start a compost bin anyway and give the compost away to someone who does! (Or sell it! $$$)

8. Don’t use consumable things when you can use reusable things.

I haven’t purchased napkins, paper towels, or tissues in years. We just don’t go through them that often, because I can usually use a cleaning rag, a dish towel, a washcloth, a cloth napkin, or something else washable instead! We never use things like paper plates or plastic silverware. Even when we went on a camping trip, we took washable plates and I did dishes after each meal. I have a small stack of paper plates in my back room that have lasted for years that I use to take the occasional plate of cookies to the neighbor (and they were items I didn’t purchase, but were left at my house by some party or some guest at some point).

I do use a lot of ziploc bags for traveling and moving, but I never use them for daily tasks, like food storage or packing lunches. We use washable containers for those! When I do use them for travel & moving, I save them and use them over and over again. I’m still using a $1 box of bags that I bought from the dollar store in 2011.

9. Shop around for trash providers.

When we lived in Tennessee, we could drop off our garbage at one of the city’s trash places for free. That was nice! Here in Ohio, there is no free trash pickup, so we have to pay to have our garbage hauled away. I looked around for quite a bit, and the cheapest option I found was a 1-bag-per-week pickup for $6 a month. That’s pretty cheap for curbside pickup! It’s easy for us to stay under 1 bag a week, because we are diligent at following steps 1-8.


Envelope System Giveaway Winner!!!

Envelope System Giveaway Winner! ~ Our Cozy Den

Last week, Thrifty Zippers sponsored a giveaway to win an Envelope System Wallet! 

Envelope System Giveaway Winner! ~ Our Cozy Den

Isn’t it pretty?! I just love my wallet, and I loved seeing all of your comments about which wallets you loved as well!

Well, I’m happy to announce that a winner has been chosen!

Congratulations to…


Aliyana, I sent you an email with information on how to claim your prize.

As for the rest of you, I have a special surprise for you too!

If you didn’t win, and you’d like to order a wallet from Thrifty Zippers, you can use the coupon code cozyden15 and get 15% off your purchase!!! The coupon is good until June 30th, so don’t delay!

Thanks again to Thrifty Zippers for donating the prize for this giveaway. I wish you all many blessings in using the envelope system to keep more of your hard-earned cash!

How To Use The Envelope System (& WIN an Envelope System Wallet!!!)

How to Use the Envelope System (& WIN an envelope system wallet!) ~ Our Cozy Den

I’m a HUGE fan of the Envelope System. You may have heard of it – Dave Ramsey has been touting its benefits for years, and frugal housewives have been using it for decades. It can seem overwhelming at first, but here’s a quick tutorial on how to get started using it to save your family BIG money.

First, let’s talk about WHY.

To put things simply, people spend more when they swipe a card over using cash. It’s all about the way your brain registers the money as a tangible resource leaving your possession. When you swipe a card, it’s an abstract thing – you never see the money, or feel it in your hand. It doesn’t feel like you lost anything, only like you gained (your purchase). However, when you pay cash for an item, it is a real exchange of goods, one item for another, money for product. You feel it.

All this means that people spend more when using plastic over cash. They tend to go for upgrades, upsells, and add-ons. They grab extras in the checkout line. They spring for the warranty they might-but-probably-won’t need. McDonald’s figured this out when they started accepting credit cards: the average bill for people paying with a credit card is $7, versus $4.50 for those paying cash. (source)

Studies show that people spend an average of 12-20% more when using plastic. When you have cash in hand, what you have is what you have, and you CAN’T go over that amount. There’s no overdraft for cash. If you have too much on the belt, you put something back. You pay attention to prices as you shop, keeping a mental tally so you don’t go over. (By the way, this is great math practice for your kids — Connor keeps track of mine for me!)

In recent years, they have been trying to even further remove the customer from the payment process, by making it even faster and less tangible. With each upgrade, people spend even more. They have come out with keychains, bracelets, even phone apps that allow you to pay by only hovering your item near a payment device. It’s SO easy to be parted from your money.


  1.  First, you need to make a budget. I’m planning on an upcoming post about how to write a budget (WITH your spouse if you have one). You can also read about our budget here and here. Write out all of your bills and spending categories, and give each category a set amount each month. Give every dollar of your paycheck a place to go.
  2. Decide which categories are going to be cash-only. I recommend doing this for as many as you can. My cash categories are: groceries, miscellaneous (household items, office supplies, clothes, etc), fun money (eating out and activities), date night, and spending money, and gas. Gas used to be one where I would swipe the card (there are no impulse purchases at the gas pump), but recently we had a gas station open near us where it is 5¢/gallon cheaper if you pay cash, so we pay cash for that too now.
  3. Once you have it set up, get an envelope system wallet. It can be simple at first – a small accordion file or just some actual envelopes. Or you can buy a nicer one. See below to find out what I use, and enter the giveaway for a FREE Envelope System wallet!!
  4. When you go to the store, check how much money is in the envelope for that category, and don’t go over that amount. Also, never borrow from other envelopes.


  • When you are first beginning, take the credit and debit cards OUT of your wallet. You don’t want it to be accessible as a back-up plan. We need to cut the cord, here, and change is tough at first. But believe me, it’s worth it.
  • Reevaluate your envelopes each month. If you had too much or not enough money in a certain category, sit down with your spouse and make a plan to adjust the budget.
  • To use the envelope system with 2 spouses, you have several options:
    • you can have 1 set of envelopes, and whoever is going to make a purchase takes that to the store with them.
    • you can have 2 sets of envelopes, and split the money between the two, sharing when needed (within the same category, grocery money for grocery money).
    • you can have 1 person in charge of the spending, and the other spouse only carries their personal pocket money in their wallet (this is what we do).


I’ve been teaching Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University for a while now, and one of the common complaints with moving to an all-cash system is “What about shopping online!?”

There are two ways to deal with this, personally, I tend to use a combination of the two.

  1. Buy gift cards for your favorite online stores at the grocery store. At Walmart and Kroger, you can get gift cards for dozens of online places. My favorite online store is amazon.com, and I can pick up a gift card when I do my grocery shopping, and pay cash for it. Sometimes, when Kroger has their 4x-fuel-points-on-gift-cards deal, you can pick up online gift cards, swipe your Kroger plus card, and save money on your gas too!
  2. Keep a paper envelope in your desk drawer. Every time you want to shop online, take cash OUT of your wallet and put it into the envelope in your desk drawer. Then use your debit card at the online store. This works because: a) it gets the cash into your hands, and you SEE it leaving your wallet; and b) you still can’t overspend. To spend it, it MUST be in your wallet. At the end of the month, take the cash in your desk drawer, and use it toward next month’s cash. *This option only works if you have a little cushion of extra money in your bank account. If money is tight and you don’t have a cushion, use option #1. 


I used Dave Ramsey’s paper envelopes that came with his FPU class for a while, until I found this AWESOME envelope system wallet from the Etsy store Thrifty Zippers. I’ve been using it for 2 and a half years now, and I LOVE it! It has 6 zippered envelope pouches for all of your cash, change, and/or receipts. It has plenty of pockets in the front and back for ID cards, debit cards, gift cards, discount cards, voter registration cards, insurance cards, and whatever else you carry around. It’s made of durable oil-cloth, which won’t rip or stain or get worn out. Mine still looks as new as the day I bought it!

Win an Envelope System Wallet ~ Our Cozy Den

I contacted Thrifty Zippers to find out if she would be willing to give one of these away to you guys, and she agreed! Take a look at the entry box below to enter for your chance to win a free wallet of your choice from Thrifty Zippers! Click here to be taken to rafflecopter.com to enter. Leave a blog post comment about which wallet from Thrifty Zippers is your favorite before you go!

{Giveaway Ended ~ Congratulations to our winner, Aliyana!}

Thanks for visiting, and I hope that using the Envelope System greatly blesses your family and your finances!

How to Save on Cell Phones

How to Save on Cell Phones ~ Our Cozy Den

When I posted last week about how we live on $650, I got TONS of questions about my budget. I’m going to go into each category a little further, and give you more info and tips on how to save in that area.

So today, let’s talk about cell phones. It’s a necessary tool in today’s world, isn’t it? It seems like everyone out and about is glued to their phone. And most of those people are paying huge cell phone bills for the pleasure.

Before we went to Europe, we lived in Tennessee, and we had AT&T for our cell phones. We had no data, no texting, and for our two lines we paid $75 after a military discount. Then we moved to Germany, and discovered the German way of doing things: prepaid. Almost nobody there has a contract, which is the norm in the US. I loved how easy and cheap it was! We just added new minutes whenever we needed them, and we paid under $20 a month for TWO phone lines!

When we were getting ready to move back to America, I knew there had to be a cheaper way than going back to the 2-year plans at all the big carriers. So I spent a few months doing research, finding the best possible plans for our family and our area.

How to Choose the Best Plan for You:

1. Figure out which major carriers have good service in your area. You don’t want to end up with a phone that won’t get service at your home or work. I think the best way to do this is by asking friends in the area. But you can also check maps like this to find out coverage areas.

2. Find out which prepaid companies use that major carrier’s network:

Prepaid Cell Phone Companies and their Major Carriers ~ Our Cozy Den

3. Decide how you use your phone. Do you need data? Do you talk much, or mostly text? Or maybe you just want one around for emergencies or for your elderly parent.

4. Find a plan that offers what you need, for the lowest price. No need to pay for the frills you won’t use!

Here are a few of my favorite deals:

Scenario: “I text. A lot.”
Plan: ChitChat Mobile’s Basic Plan
You Get: Unlimited Texting + 250 minutes of calling for $9.99.
Add data for $5, making your total $14.99

Scenario: “I just need a phone for emergencies.” 
Plan: T-Mobile pay-as-you-go plan
You Get: 30 minutes of talk or 30 text messages for $3

Scenario: “I only use my phone occasionally.” 
Plan: Selectel Wireless’ Value Plan
You Get: 300 minutes of talk + 300 texts + 15 mb of data for $15
Plan: PagePlus Cellular
You Get: 250 minutes of talk + 250 texts + 10 mb of data for $12

Scenario: “I use my phone a lot! Talk, text, data – I need it all.”
Plan: RedPocket Mobile’s Unlimited Everything Plan
You Get: unlimited talk, text, & data for $39.99

A few things to note:

  • Many of these plans will require you to get a new SIM card when you switch.
  • Some, but not all of them, will let you bring your existing phone number with you.
  • Some, but not all of them, will let you bring your own phone. Many require that you buy one of their phones, but they are usually lower-costing than most other companies if you needed a phone anyway.

What We Use:

These are the plans that Byron and I use for our cell phones.

Byron uses PagePlus cellular‘s $80/year plan. That comes out to $6.67/month. He has a balance of minutes/texts, and when that runs out, he needs to top it off. But this last year, $80 more than covered his occasional phone usage. He mostly uses his phone for calling me from the grocery store. He uses my phone (with its unlimited-ness) to call people for long conversations.

I use RedPocket Mobile’s Unlimited Everything Plan. I get all the talk, text, and data I need for $39.99 flat. There are no fees or taxes on top of that, I pay exactly $39.99 a month. I use my phone a lot, for calling, texting, apps, internet, so this one really gives me great service for my buck.


So now it’s time to get out your cell phone bill. Take a look at your usage. Read your contract. Do some math: “If I cancel right now and it costs me $200, but I’ll save $450 over staying in my contract, then it’s worth it.” (Also, check this out to find out if there’s a way to get out of your contract.)

You can go to this link to browse all the different prepaid plans available and find one that you like. I’m happy to help answer questions or hear your stories, and I hope this helps you all save some money on your cell phone bills!

How to Save on Cell Phones ~ Our Cozy Den

If you like it then you’d better put a Pin on it! 

How We Live On $650 a month

How We Live On $650 a month ~ Our Cozy Den

We have 6 people in our family – including 4 crazy kids! And we manage to live on $650 a month. This is how we do it!

Groceries = $250/month

I am very careful with my meal planning. I buy in bulk, cook from scratch, and we do not buy pre-packaged or convenience foods. We do get WIC vouchers, which probably adds about $50 worth of free groceries to our haul. I do one week a month where I cook from the pantry, and we don’t get groceries at all. I stretch the meat in my recipes to make it go farther (stay tuned for an upcoming blog series on this!). I check store ads to I can price-match and get the best deal, especially on meat and produce. I also buy a lot of groceries at GFS, which emails me great coupons to add to the savings.

Utilities = $170/month

Our electric bill averages $60, natural gas (heat) is $60, and water is $50. I work hard to make our home energy efficient. I teach the children to be cautious in their use of utilities. (They have to do push-ups if they leave the room with the light on!) These are my tips for saving money on electricity and water. We have all of our utilities on budget-billing plans, so that we pay the same bill every month. It keeps us from having high bills in the winter! We do not currently have an air-conditioner, which also saves us money in the summer.

Insurance = $100/month

We have insurance through the military-supportive company USAA. They have great rates, and $100 gives us excellent coverage on both our van and our home.

Cell phones = $40/month

I have a prepaid plan through the company Red Pocket. With under $40/month, I get unlimited texting and calling, and more than enough data. My husband also has a prepaid phone, which he tops up once a year for $80 (averages out to $6.67/month). It’s not included in our monthly budget because it is so minimal and he only pays it once a year. Read all about how to save on cell phones here, and finding a plan that works for you.

Vehicle Fuel = $30/month

My husband doesn’t work, but he does currently attend seminary. We bought a home close enough to his school and our church so that we would walk, saving us a lot of money in gas. We walk every time we have the opportunity! We only own one vehicle, and we practice something called hypermiling when we drive it to save even further. When we do fill up, we use a website and app called Gas Buddy to find the cheapest gas in our area.

Internet = $40/month

I shopped around to find the lowest rate at the speeds we wanted. We watch all of our TV on the computer, as well as my using it for work, blogging, school, etc. $40 seems a reasonable price for the service we get!

Miscellaneous = $20/month

We do our best to be content with what we have. If we “need” something, we wait a little while to decide if it’s really a need, or if it’s something we can live without. Usually the things that end up in this category are new shoes for the kids (purchased on clearance for $2 or less) or printer ink or things like that.

So that is all of our expenses, and if you add them up you will see that they equal $650. We do actually make more than that, but not by much. I can’t say exactly how much, because it changes from month to month — but I would say on average about $1000/month. The rest of our income goes to several areas: giving back to our church, supporting friends’ mission trips, our Compassion kids. We also save a lot for our kids, retirement, vacations, and investing. And we use some for fun – eating out, going on date nights, field trips, and other fun stuff! But all of those things can be stopped or put on hold if our income ever were to drop or stop, and we could live on our bare minimum of $650 if we needed to.

I wanted to add one more thing – back when we had a mortgage and our house wasn’t paid in full, we still had extremely low expenses. Our budget was closer to $1200 instead of $650, but we still had bare minimum expenses in most areas so that we could save-save-SAVE! (At the time we were making about $4,000 a month and saving well over half of it.) That’s part of how we got to where we are, and in the position that we could pay cash for a house.

I have more upcoming posts on saving money, especially in these areas! Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any future updates (top left side of this page)!

Now, a little something funny to end your reading, which I found humorous and appropriate. Sometimes you DO just need six hunnit and fiddy dollars!

650 funny

Save money on gas

The single greatest thing that we have done to save gas is called hypermiling. It’s a relatively new concept, but one that is gaining in popularity. It basically means, increasing the expected miles-per-gallon of your vehicle by altering your driving habits. It can be done in any vehicle, not just hybrids or compact cars. In fact, we drive a minivan and get much better than expected fuel efficiency.

There are many steps to hypermiling, but the basic concept is:

  • avoid the brake pedal like the plague. When you hit the brake, you’re basically wasting all the gas you used to get up to that speed. Instead, coast up to stop lights, and stop hitting the gas pedal much sooner.
  • put the car in neutral, or better yet, shut it off when you are not accelerating. I always shut the engine off when I am stopped at a stoplight. Why waste gas to sit still? (*please note* shutting your vehicle off when it is still moving is dangerous. I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m just warning you that it’s dangerous.)
  • Always go the speed limit, and don’t go over 55 mph if you can avoid it. Where I live, the speed limit is 70 on the highway, and I still go 57 (that is about where my vehicle starts rapidly losing mpgs). Yes, I am the slowest person on the highway. No, I’m not holding up traffic. I stay in the right lane, and everybody comfortably passes me. I allow myself a few extra minutes to get places, but it takes all the stress and road rage away from being in a rush all the time.
  • When you are accelerating, don’t floor it. I try not to accelerate using more than 2,000 rpms (that’s that other dial next to the speedometer that nobody looks at). One tip I’ve heard: Imagine there’s an egg under the gas pedal and you’re trying not to break it.
  • Keep your tires inflated to their maximum safe psi. This increases your fuel economy. But don’t overinflate or you’ll end up with a blowout.

There are a ton more tips on hypermiling, and it can often double your vehicle’s expected mpgs. You can read more about it at www.hypermiling.com. Here is also a video that is very informative:

This is a great way to save money. The estimated MPGs for my 2008 Nissan Quest is 16 city / 24 highway. Before we were hypermiling, it was actually closer to 14 city / 21 highway. This, I believe, is because most “estimated” stats are skewed. However, since we started hypermiling in June of 2008, our van now gets 24 mpg city / and up to 38 on the highway. This, of course depends on a lot of factors: terrain, traffic, weather, how many kids/strollers I am hauling.

But most importantly, hypermiling saves my sanity. It erases the stress I used to feel while on the road, because I’m no longer that person that’s in a big hurry to get somewhere.

Saving water

I don’t do quite as many things here as I do to save electricity, but here are a few of my favorite tips:

  • install low-flow showerheads (I got these for free from Energy Right. They sent me a gift pack when I did an online home energy audit.)
  • put a half gallon (the whole jug) of water in your toilet tanks to use less water with each flush. I’ve also heard of people using a brick; it does the same thing.
  • when I wash dishes in the dishwasher, I use the water saver option.
  • when I wash dishes in the sink, I only put 1-2″ in the bottom of the sink. I rarely need more than that.
  • when you are running the water in the bathroom waiting for it to heat up, put a pitcher under the faucet to catch the “wasted” water. Then use that to water plants / fill the dog bowl / rinse off something dirty.
  • the obvious, don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth.
  • don’t water your lawn. Even when we had a drought a few years back and all the yards were brown except the 4 or 5 families who watered it every day, it’s always seemed like such a waste to me.
  • set a timer outside your shower. It’s so easy to lose track of time in there.
  • bathe your kids together, or one right after another and use the same water. They’re usually not dirty enough to make it matter.
  • whenever you turn on the water, think about how much you need to get that job done. I used to rinse dishes with the water going full blast, but then one day it dawned on me that I only needed a trickle. Now I make a conscious effort to think about it every time I use the faucet.

I’m sure there are many more ways to save water. I’d love to hear your tips!