Long, long ago, in a time my children would annoyingly call the “olden days”, moms lived in a world without grocery pickup, smart phones, or meal subscription services. There was no Netflix, Pinterest, or Amazon Prime, and social media wasn’t even a twinkle in Marky Z’s eye. Glasses were getting smaller, high-waisted mom jeans were out in full force, Aunt Becky wasn’t a criminal, and I was rocking stick on earrings like it was 1994. Because it was.
A lot has changed since then, but a lot has stayed the same, not the least of which is that moms are still moms, and many of us are still trying to stretch our money as far as it can go. We have a lot more tools at our disposal these days, but there are also a lot more things to distract us and it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed. One of my go-to moves when that overwhelm starts to hit is to look back at life and motherhood the way it was before the internet and social media, and the things our moms did to survive, and here’s a bombshell for you: most of them still apply.
So today I’m sharing some real-life 90s mom tips on how to save money. I learned these just by paying attention to the dopest 90s mom I’ve ever known: my mom.
1. Buy in bulk.
Planted indelibly in my memory is the image of my mom carefully spooning the contents of a large jar of mustard into the squirty mustard bottle to refill it. This is how she always bought mustard. Was it more of a pain in the glutes to have to transfer the mustard? Could she have just bought a new squirty bottle every time? Yes to all! But a little sacrifice is worth it if you can save a little money. Plus, she ate a lot of mustard. Don’t be afraid to buy in bulk for the items you use a lot of or things with a long shelf life, as long as you’re saving money doing it.
2. Snacks don’t have to be fancy
It is a scientifically proven fact that kids are hungriest right before dinner. If you’re a mom you know the struggle. It’s also a fact that snacks the way we moms typically do them these days are pretty freaking expensive. Most of us fill our fridges and pantries with cheese sticks, applesauce pouches, yogurt tubes, granola bars, fruit, crackers, etc.
The staple snack in my house growing up? Mom would spread some margarine on a slice of sandwich bread, sprinkle it with sugar, fold it in half, and send us on our way. You can bellow nutritional information at me all you want, but it kept my belly full until dinner time, and I still have the standard-issue number of toes. Mom didn’t have money to spend on snack foods. And I still crave one of those little sandwiches sometimes. Don’t go broke giving your kids snacks. Get a little creative with what you have on hand and make it work.
3. Use it up.
No bottle or container in our house ever got thrown away without every last bit of good getting drained, scraped, or squeezed out of it. I remember once trying to be helpful by throwing out a block of cheese that had some mold on it. My mom almost died of horror when she found out, and you better believe she took it out of the trash, cut the mold off, and put it back in the fridge. Lesson learned. You don’t throw money in the trash can.
4. Save your coins.
My mom had this little blue crock she would put her coins in when her change pocket in her purse filled up. She added to it until it reached the top, then she would roll the coins up and take them off somewhere. To be honest, I have no idea what she used that money for. But it’s money that wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t been diligent about saving her coins instead of spending them. And I know they were just coins. What’s a few quarters here and there, right? But imagine how many areas of your life could be improved if you practiced saving. Even just a little. Sure they were a few little coins, but they taught me a big lesson.
5. Homemade gifts are what’s up.
The most memorable Christmas I have as a small child is one where my parents were really broke and couldn’t afford gifts. My dad made me a crib for my dolls and my mom sewed some clothes and a diaper bag for them. I’m sure these gifts cost them hardly anything more than time, but they were so full of love; they’re still some of my favorite gifts to think about, and some of the very few I remember all these years later. (Life hack: If you make someone a homemade gift and they don’t like or appreciate it, it’s their problem, not yours.)
6. Buy generic
I’m not lying when I say this right here has probably saved me thousands of dollars over the years. Sitting on the shelf right next to your favorite name brand product is the same one in a different bottle with a store brand label. It’s very often the exact same thing, just with a different label. Sometimes you’re paying twice the price just for different packaging. My mom almost never bought name brand products without a coupon when I was growing up. Do I buy name brands on occasion? Of course. But it’s still mostly generic for this girl.
7. Learn to say no.
We got told no all the time. Constantly. There were a lot of things we didn’t or couldn’t do because of money. And you know? We’re all fine. Nothing and no one should manipulate you to the point that you’re buying things you can’t afford, possibly going into debt for them. Not your kids or their school, not family tradition or cultural standards. Not your self-manufactured guilt. Live your life the way you need to. Find what’s best for you and your family and everyone else will just have to learn to deal with it. And if they can’t….
“Bye, Felicia.” – my mom (probably), 1994