Thoughts on Minimizing the Expense of Working

When you work away from home (or even if you work from home and are super busy), sometimes expenses can creep in that eat up whatever cash you’re earning, pulling that money away from what it’s meant to be spent on.

Expenses can creep in that eat up whatever cash you're earning when working. Here's help. Click To Tweet

I’m talking food, commuting, childcare, “stress-spending”, “treating yourself” and so forth. 

Being a passionate home-cook who loves to make things from scratch, this was the biggest challenge for me when I went back to working outside of the home part of the year….having dinner on the table at a reasonable hour while keeping the budget the same.

The Transition Back to Work Seasonally

For nearly 20 years, I was a stay at home mom. It sounds strange to say “was” because in many ways I still am. Most of the year, in fact, I am. But I have more freedom in this regard now that the kids are older, and life has changed for me. I wrote more about how the seasons change over in this post.

However, starting last year, I have been working a seasonal job (personalizing Christmas ornaments with acrylic paints and my calligraphy skills), for a few months leading up to Christmas each year. The goal of this has been to alleviate some huge needs without going into debt (reliable vehicles, home repairs, a furnace, to name a few).  We’re debt free by the grace of God, and we’d like to keep it that way.

It’s fun but it’s exhausting.

The Savings of Home Cooking (Even When You’re Not at Home to Cook)

I don’t know why, but I had never used a Crock Pot (aka Slow Cooker) much up until a few years ago. Maybe it’s because I was a homebody. Now my slow cooker is my best friend for saving money on home cooked meals even when I’m not at home to cook much.

I never used a Slow Cooker much up until recently. Now it's my best friend. Click To Tweet

Now, I’m not together enough to think up a meal and prepare it for the slow cooker before leaving for work. Not at all.

Instead, I’ve found that menu planning helps me save time, money, and sanity by helping me plan things out ahead of time. 

Menu planning saves time, money, + sanity by planning ahead so I don't have to think. Click To Tweet

In fact, while working, I find that the menu plan becomes even more important than it used to be back when I was menu planning while home most of the time. I don’t have too many brain cells left by the end of the day to be thinking too hard about things like meals. I need the menu plan to do my thinking for me.

Menu Planning by the Month

You can plan a menu by the week or even by the month. For me, planning by the month gives me bigger savings at the grocery store because of the general cycle of sales at the stores. If I know what I’m going to need in a couple of weeks, that won’t go bad, I can stock up.

Although in my other posts on getting started with menu planning, I emphasized starting with a list of foods your family loves to eat and working from there, I take a slightly different approach during the work season. I start with crock pot meals containing foods my family loves. I actually Pinterest-searched lower glycemic slow cooker meals, printed off the ones that looked good and tested them out over time until I had a core of meals we loved. You can find those on my Pinterest board for slow cooker meals. 

Menu Plans 4 Work Days: I start with crock pot meals containing foods my family loves. Click To Tweet

Prior to starting my season of Christmas work, I stocked up on the basics that are used in many of these meals (such as canned tomatoes, which I canned from my garden, or soup stock). I also stocked up my freezer with chicken breasts, stewing beef, and other meats we use.  I suppose that’s part of the benefit of only working 12 weeks out of the year.

Planning Out Snacks and Lunches

Additionally, to save on the temptation to eat pricey convenience foods on the go, I planned out and prepared some snack foods and lunches ahead of time for myself.  Again, there’s a Pinterest board full of great ideas I’ve archived for myself that you may also find helpful. 

For me, this is a little more difficult as most of the on the go food options are usually carb-heavy or require some prep work.

I’ve found some great recipes for low carb muffins and “granola” bars (kept in the freezer), and I’ve stocked up on some store-bought options when on sale.

For lunch, I usually roast a chicken breast or thigh the night before and enjoy it with a salad, or take advantage of leftovers. I try to plan out my own lunch options so that I don’t have to stand in the kitchen and think too hard before going to work. I also use some meal prep ideas that I’ve found online to make a week’s worth of lunches for the working members of the family to take along.

Sharing the Commute

Gas is another huge expense, and sadly we don’t live in an area where public transportation exists in any meaningful way. Commuting by bike or walking is also out of the question, both because of the heavy snow we’ll probably have by the end of the month and the distance across rural roads to work.

The solution for this expense has been to the first downgrade to a vehicle that is better on gas than our full-size van, especially now that my kids are all older and we rarely use the van for anything other than hauling plywood for home repair projects. It’s much nicer to have $20 fill a tank instead of $75.

The other solution has been to share the commute. Thankfully I have kids who all work in that same general direction, and with some schedule juggling, we are able to figure out who drives whom, and where to meet up after work. We don’t all work the exact same schedules, and so this usually results in me hanging out at Tim Hortons drinking coffee and working on blog post ideas and projects for an hour or so, instead of wasting the gas to go home only to come right back.

I’ve also found co-workers who are also moms working seasonally to save up for special needs in their lives. Many folks welcome the car-pooling opportunity on days when my kids don’t work anywhere close to the same schedule.

Shelving the Debit Card

My company offers a huge, generous employee discount on all of the pretty Christmas things we sell. Oh, the temptation! 

It’s been years since I updated my Christmas decor. I am a great lover of beautiful things and of Christmas, so this is both a great job for me to have and a real struggle not to want to buy everything around me.  A friend of mine who has shopped at Goodwill for years for clothes told me she is equally tempted while working at a nice clothing store that gives her a generous discount.

After my first splurge, I came up with a solution.

I take my debit card, and I leave it at home while I’m at work.

In fact, I don’t even take my wallet to work anymore, apart from my driver’s license (in my cell phone case).

I find I spend way less money when I have no means to spend it.

Juggling Childcare

My youngest is over 16 years old, so childcare isn’t much of an issue anymore in our family. Back when I was still working and my oldest was little, our solution for the expense of childcare was to juggle our schedules so that either my husband and I were always watching her.

This isn’t always an option, depending on your job, but it is one possible option.

For me, childcare expenses could have easily eaten up more than half of my paycheck back then, and I had a pretty decent job. And yet, that isn’t exactly something that you want to look for the lowest bidder on either. In the end, while the kids were little, it was cheaper to stay home than to deal with the expenses of working outside of the home.

Do You Have an Idea?

So, do you have an idea that has helped you keep as much of your paycheck as you can while working towards a goal? Share in the comments below.