Two years ago, the budget in the Harris household had no wiggle room. Money was always tight for Dave and Kacy as they raised their seven children in Georgetown.
Through Facebook, Kacy Harris met others in the same predicament — how to stretch the household budget. After several months, she ended up cutting $200 from the monthly grocery bill and even taking a short vacation.
Harris is among the many local people who have discovered that using social media is a good way to keep in touch with friends — and a good place to find money-saving tips.
“It’s saved us a ton of money — from groceries to gifts,” she said of the Facebook group, Helpful Tidbits 411.
That group was started by Stephanie Tidwell of Danville last Christmas; its original name was Christmas 411, which focused on finding sales. However, the group became so popular that she broadened it and changed the name to Helpful Tidbits 411.
The women-only group is private; that is, membership is by invitation. The group is constantly growing, Tidwell said, and has about 90 members.
Helpful Tidbits shares recipes, nutritional facts, money-saving tips and other comments to help women run a frugal household.
“It starts out as advice, and turns into deals,” Harris said.
From Helpful Tidbits, another group branched off a couple of months ago called Motivated Mommas, which also is private. That group, which has about 15 members, is for women who want to lose weight, and helps the members track their exercise and food plans.
“It holds each other accountable,” said Kacy, who lost 4 pounds in two weeks.
Within that group, Tidwell started an online Bible study based on the book “Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food.” Tidwell, who has lost 5 pounds, started that group just last week.
Another offshoot of Helpful Tidbits is Frugal Moms, about 12-15 women who meet at each other’s homes every six weeks.
“It’s turned out to be the neatest group of women,” Harris said, adding that the women share tips based on their interests. For example, one woman shared ideas on how to make a car more fuel-efficient.
The group has been meeting since spring and covered gardening and canning tips at one meeting. For future meetings, they’ll make Christmas cards and inexpensive gifts.
The women, most of whom are Christian, want to start a Bible study group, too, Harris said.
One thing Harris learned was how to make her own laundry soap. With seven children from ages 18 months to 12 years (including two sets of twins), she does laundry every day in a high-efficiency washer and dryer.
She goes through two gallons of generic soap a month, costing $14 a gallon. Making her own soap costs 25 cents. So, she’s cut her laundry soap costs from $28 a month to 50 cents.
Harris also runs her dishwasher a couple times a day, and she’s looking for dishwasher soap recipes online.
Harris said families need to identify where they spend the most money. Laundry, for example, is a big-cost item for the Harris family.
She also advised families: “You can’t be loyal to a brand. Buy whatever is on sale.”
Another trouble spot is grocery bills. “We go through food like crazy,” Harris said.
Her bills could run as high as $1,100 a month, but she’s got it down to $900 a month during the school year, and could cut back even more.
The family goes through 10 cans of soup a month, for example, at $1.50 a can. However, it costs “next to nothing” to make cream of chicken soup with broth, and it’s healthier.
The children like granola bars, and Harris found a recipe for that.
Having a garden helps, as she makes zucchini bread and other dishes with vegetables.
Tidwell agreed that the kitchen is a good place to cut costs.
She and her husband, Gary, a teacher and coach at Danville High School, have three boys ages 9, 6 and 16 months.
Instead of feeding the boys Hamburger Helper, she gets on Helpful Tidbits and asks for suggestions of inexpensive and healthful recipes.
It used to be that spaghetti was the only dish she knew how to make. But the Facebook groups have opened up a new world and made a big difference in how and what she cooks.
“I’m learning so many different things,” she said.
Not only that, but the stay-at-home mom keeps her sanity through the Facebook groups.
“It’s been wonderful. My groups are my lifeline,” said Tidwell, a former teacher who also babysits a couple of days a week. “It’s a way to stay connected, but not be on the phone all day.”
Plus, she said, “The diversity (in the groups) has made it awesome — there are a lot of different backgrounds.”
Time vs. money
Harris also noted that people need to do what works for them. A person has to decide whether to spend time to save money (such as cutting coupons) or spend money to save time.
She’s going to try to make her own all-natural deodorant, but some people would rather spend the money than invest that time.
Besides Facebook, Harris finds deals online — such as a $300 Fender guitar for her husband’s birthday, which she got for $100.
Also, the family wasn’t going to take a vacation, but she found good deals online for Jellystone Park in Kentucky.
“I like the challenge,” she said. “What can you do with $400 for a family of nine?”
Dave works at Thyssen Krupp machining division, and Kacy also cleans houses.