5 Money-Saving Tips That Improved Our Finances—and Our Marriage

Nearly all marriages come with financial challenges. Big or small, money issues are going to come up and it can be stressful. Whenever we are feeling strapped, my husband and I tend to, well, overreact, and try to completely overhaul our finances. We’ve been known to try to save thousands of dollars in a week or spend zero money for an entire month. It’s the financial equivalent of a crash diet and therefore it never works.

I thought it might be smart to talk to an expert to find some actually doable, sustainable ways for us to save money. So I called Bruce Tynan, a financial planner for Decker Retirement Planning, to ask him what will actually work to help us cut back on our spending. With his insights, we tried something different: small, manageable changes that could make a dent in our finances without sending us into a splurge cycle. After a month of putting these five tactics to work, we have found that not only did they have a positive effect on our bank account, they had a positive effect on our marriage, too.

1. We set a grocery limit.

How in the hell is our grocery store bill $127 for just two people? Perhaps it’s because I think it’s perfectly acceptable to spend $3 on a single serving of Greek yogurt with a name that I cannot pronounce or eat frozen quinoa “burgers” that are placed in the “healthy” frozen food section of the store. Times have changed.

When my husband and I were newlyweds, our weekly grocery limit was $30 and consisted of a solid rotation featuring Totino’s pizza, generic tuna helper and spaghetti with canned meat sauce. As our incomes grew, so did our spending habits, and our weekly grocery bill has gotten out of control.

Tynan says that because a grocery bill is not a fixed expense—like a car payment or internet—it can be drastically reduced. He suggested creating a meal plan before going to the store and buying only for those specific meals. In addition, he says, “I prefer to buy my groceries online. This way I know exactly what my total bill will be before I buy.”

I took Tynan’s advice and plan for the week, and even kicked it up a notch by looking at my grocery store’s online sale items in order to plan our meals. A sale on shrimp and tortillas? Seafood tacos. A rotisserie chicken? How luxurious with discounted couscous. I loved the variety it provided to my always-the-same meals. I skipped ordering online, made sure not to go to the grocery store hangry, and stuck to my list. The result? Our weekly bill has yet to exceed $75 and once dipped to a record-low $42.

2. We now walk…everywhere.

As I type this, my thighs are chafed. It’s summertime in New Orleans and I’ve spent a month walking nearly everywhere I’ve needed to go. But I feel so rich! Walking and biking is my jam, but since the introduction of Uber, I’ve admittedly become lazy and often reliant on the convenient transportation app. I peeked at last month’s bill and we’d spent $145 on Lyft and Uber. I vowed to walk if the destination is within 3 miles and I can get there safely.

Tynan says, “Aside from walking, public transportation is the next best alternative. Buses and light rails are a perfect way for getting around in any urban area,” and while I shouldn’t have to have that fact pointed out to me, it took someone else saying it to make us actually go, Oh, right, we can use public transportation. We took his advice and—in addition to using our two legs—we hopped on the city bus four times in a month and took one romantic streetcar ride. The former provided much-needed air conditioning and I could read my book or we could chat without distractions. Bonus: Nate didn’t get road rage. But my favorite was the walking, which was also like a completely free built-in date. We’d often choose a far-away restaurant, grab a go-cup of wine (legal in NOLA), and take the extra long stroll as a pre- and post-dinner activity. Not only did it save us cash, but it was a nice chance to catch up, and we got exercise, too.

3. We started staying in on the weekend.

This is the worst for me because, frankly, it’s boring. Once Friday rolls around, I feel that I’ve earned a night out for the hard work I’ve done all week. But lately, we’ve created a bad habit of going out Friday night, then again on Saturday—and often Sunday for brunch. Our weekend fun was getting ridiculously expensive, so we vowed to stay in one night per weekend.

Soon enough, we learned that staying in doesn’t mean that we can’t have fun or celebrate the week’s end. One Friday, we had a drink on our porch and then cooked dinner together. Not surprisingly, this proved to be a lovely evening. On another non-going-out night, we put together a puzzle and watched a movie. One Friday was spent playing Trivial Pursuit and eating frozen pizza and drinking wine. When we got the itch to go out, we walked to the movie theater, used our Movie Pass (the genius monthly movie subscription) and then stopped at the grocery store to split a po’boy and a bottle of wine for a late lunch, tallying a $20 date. The point: It wasn’t like our normal evenings of reading or binge-watching TV, so it felt like a date night, but we didn’t drop a fortune.

4. We travel more thriftily.

We travel often, yet we continue to treat every trip like a special vacation: spendy dinners, once-in-a-lifetime activities, and fancy hotels. Tynan suggested booking a rental home, instead of a hotel, to save a lot of money. For an assignment along the Florida Coast, I rented an Airbnb. And he was right: During this trip—over a holiday weekend—it saved us loads of money. We could cook breakfast in “our house” and sip a bottle of store-bought wine on the balcony after dinner. My favorite part: sitting on the porch in our pj's and watching the sunrise. Yes, I missed being in a full-service hotel, but it was a nice treat to feel as if we lived like locals—plus it saved enough money to tuck away toward a future trip.

5. We’re using cash, like in the olden days.

I haven’t used checks in about five years, and I rarely carry cash—especially now that everyone I know has Venmo. We don’t even have an actual bank in the city we’ve relocated to and it’s not a big deal. But Tynan says one of his biggest tips is to use cash. “I know what you are thinking: Who uses cash anymore?” he said to me. “Hear me out: When you set aside cash for social activities, it becomes harder to overspend. Once the money is gone, that’s it—it’s gone. Plan your nightlife around your budget, and not your budget around your nightlife.”

Per his advice, we withdrew a set amount and doled it out into envelopes, each one marked for a specific discretionary use, like restaurants or tennis. And while we did fail at this often by using our credit cards, it made using the cash fun—like an excuse to go on a date for coffee. The envelopes felt like permission to do something for us—even if it was already within our budget.

Anne Roderique-Jones is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in Vogue, Marie Claire, Southern Living, Town & Country, and Condé Nast Traveler. Twitter: @AnnieMarie_ Instagram: @AnnieMarie_