With the cost of almost everything rising, Huntley’s Kathy Wendhack has used a few tricks to save a few bucks.
The 64-year-old retired accountant has learned to stretch meals out for days, slow down in the middle lane to save on gas, and use senior discounts and rewards programs to see movies for free at the cinema, complete with free nachos and popcorn and refillable sodas.
Wendhack, who took early retirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is currently taking care of her husband, Kurt Wendhack, and their mother, JoAnne Pieroni. Living on a steady income in a home she recently bought in the Del Webb Sun City community, like many McHenry County families, she feels the rising costs of almost every basic necessities needed to live.
“I was renting and then buying my house last year and everything was going fine, then all of a sudden it crashed,” Wendhack said.
Consumer prices rose by 8.6% year-on-year, the federal government reported in May.
Persistent inflation was fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, clogged global supply chains, labor shortages and a rising demand for all kinds of services and products, prompting the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates and the president to propose a federal gas tax holiday, according to the Associated Press reported.
High gas prices and the cost of a hotel mean Teresa Hawkins, who is retired and lives in McHenry, will not be attending a family reunion in Bloomington this year as she missed the first time her family got together since COVID-19 .
She’s also found other smaller, creative ways to save money.
Before heading to the grocery store, Hawkins looks in the freezer to see what’s left, plans her meals for the week, checks for sales, and always buys private label. She often buys items just before their expiration date when they are 40% off. She will either cook these items the same day or repackage and freeze them to ensure they are safe to eat later.
Hawkins, who says she was raised by parents who lived during the Great Depression and passed down many lessons about saving money, uses a six-piece muffin tin when making meatloaf, which gives her six mini-meatloafs instead of one large one.
She also uses a countertop air fryer to make larger batches, which she then divides and freezes for another day. When she makes a whole pot roast, she slices it up and freezes individual portions in bags.
Another trick Hawkins has found to save money is to order groceries online and pick them up at the curb.
“If you’re going to be curbside driving all the time, you’re not buying on impulse,” Hawkins said. “While [COVID-19]I haven’t gone to a store in months. But when I did [I] See cookies in the bakery, candy bars in the register. These are not the things you order when you place a curbside order. You don’t get all the extras if you place a curbside order, and I lost weight for not buying a bunch of crap.
Nicole Davis, a single mother of three, ages 17, 15 and 11, also appreciates the cost savings of ordering groceries online.
The 41-year-old McHenry woman adds items to her online shopping cart when she notices items are needed and places an order on a specific day each week. When the food is gone, their kids know they have to wait until the day comes to order again.
“It cuts down on the extra spending on groceries,” said Davis, who took a second job when she noticed a gap of about $1,200 between income and expenses. “I try very hard to limit my children’s mealtimes.”
Jennifer Rooney, a consumer education teacher at Woodstock North High School who works with students on budgeting skills, said she tries to help students build positive attitudes about money management, a “hugely important” skill, especially today.
“Knowing exactly how much money you have and tracking spending is critical so you can make informed spending decisions,” Rooney said. “With a good budgeting system, it’s easier to identify discretionary spending that can potentially be reduced.”
Spending that should be cut when needed are cable, cell phone plans, entertainment, luxury items and dining out, Rooney said.
When Huntley’s Wendhack happens to find that she has “a few bucks more,” she and her husband or daughter dine out, but they go where she has a coupon or where the restaurant has an app that offers upfront savings and rebates accumulate future savings.
Last week, she and her daughter ate at a fast food restaurant, and because she was tracking and earning points, they each got a free drink. She said she follows restaurants that offer discounts and points systems.
Gone are the days of buying groceries, cleaning products, toiletries and other items from well-known brands. She only buys what is currently on offer and what is currently needed. However, what she won’t give up is her favorite coffee.
“We’re content with what we have, and I’ve gotten very inventive with food,” Wendhack said.
For example, she had friends over one night and made tacos for everyone. The next night, she used the leftover veggies, shredded the taco shells, added some nuts, and created a salad.
Hawkins said she might dine out twice a month, but the day she realized it was $25 to visit a cheap chain restaurant for a hamburger, fries, and a soda “was a wake-up call.”
“For $25, I could buy enough food to cook five or six meals for myself,” Hawkins said.
She no longer runs her daily Starbucks or buys the more expensive shampoo for colored hair. She’s given up her favorite diet soda unless she can find it on sale in favor of less expensive iced tea or flavored sparkling water. But she won’t give up is real butter. She buys in bulk and freezes them.
To conserve fuel, Hawkins plans and combines errands and never goes out for just one cause. For example, she usually shops for groceries on the weekends, but recently had a doctor’s appointment in Crystal Lake, so she waited until that day to shop.
Wendhack said she also schedules her errands and buys gas at stations connected to major department stores, where it tends to be cheaper.
Hawkins said she’s never lived like this before, especially when she was working full-time and raising children.
“I worked a lot of overtime,” she said of her 39-year career with Chicago and the North Western Railway. “I just stopped everywhere on the way home and got what I needed.”