Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Small Changes that Save Big Money

Does anyone else ever feel like money just vanishes out of your bank account when you aren't looking?  The hubby and I have always been really good about saving money, and we have also always tried to reduce our spending.  But a recent look at our bank statement opened our eyes to a few more ways we can tighten the belt even further.

The following is a list of common money-wasting areas for most of us, and ways to stop the leak.  Some of these might not apply to you, but I have a feeling many will.  Even if you just choose a few of these areas to change, your pocket change will grow!

The Things We Eat
We waste so much food in this country.  We buy more food than we can eat, and throw it out because it goes bad.  And we often let pretty packaging, marketing, and branding convince us to buy name brand instead of generic.  Not to mention paying a premium for convenience in the way of individual packaging or premade/processed foods.

What to do instead:
  • Meal Plan:  Before you hit the grocery store, sit down and plan out the meals for your family for at least a week (I do two weeks at a time).  Write a list!!!  Include breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and desserts on your meal plan.  Yes, it takes time.  But if you're thorough, you'll only need to go to the store once in that time period, which will prevent those trips in for "one thing" that end up costing us because we leave with a basketful.  Not a good list maker?  Use my method of grocery list cards so that you're list for your meals is already written for you each week.
  • Buy Generic:  For most items, the generic version of an item is a significant savings...well past the value of the brand name plus a coupon.  While couponing is another way to save money, especially if you can shop in a store that doubles and/or price matches, it is time consuming and a little intimidating if you're not proficient at it.  Plus, many times a good coupon encourages you to buy something off of your list...something that might get wasted...something you probably don't need...something that is probably cheaper full-priced in the generic brand.  Be smart when couponing...compare price per unit, and only buy the item if you would've bought it without the coupon to entice you!
  • Buy Bulk:  Some things are better bought in huge quantities, such as paper products, soap, cleaning products, etc.  You know, stuff that doesn't spoil if it sits on the shelf for awhile.  And items that you have to buy multiple packages of on your regular trips...for us, it's granola bars, canned soups & broths, juice, school snacks, cereal...you get the picture.  Buy those items in bulk at wholesale clubs like Sam's or Costco.  Beware...the first few trips to stock up on basic items is going to give you a coronary.  But, when you don't have to buy those items on your regular grocery shopping trips, you'll see significant savings.  
  • Stop Buying Convenience:  Now, I'm a mom, so please understand that I realize what a jerk-o-potamus I just sounded like.  But seriously.  Why buy the little individual packs of goldfish for $5 when you can buy the huge box that is twice the quantity for $4 and just make your own individual servings with a little snack container?  Yes, it takes more time and effort, but you will save money!  Don't forget those kid drinks...find a few little reusable bottles and stop paying a fortune for juice boxes!  I love the Sistema brand bottles because they're the perfect size...their whole line of lunch containers is so child-friendly, I highly recommend them, too.  Also, consider not buying premade snacks and meals.  Again, more time and effort, but cooking from scratch is so much healthier anyway, and you'll save a fortune by not paying for the convenience.  If you want to start small, trade out only a meal or two a week.  Mommy Hates Cooking is one of my favorite places for quick, easy recipes, and she even has money-saving links to coupons on her site!
  • For crying out loud, STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER:  Invest in a nice filtered water bottle or two, and use the tap water you're paying for already.  Not only will you not be wasting money, but you'll be keeping all of that plastic out of our landfills. 
  • Eat at Home or Take Your Lunch:  This is probably the biggest siphon of money from your pockets...eating out.  Not only that, but you're likely not getting the healthiest meals or portions at restaurants.  In fact, that's almost a guarantee.  If you cook and eat at home, you are in control of what ingredients you're eating.  And what would cost you $10-15 per person at a restaurant will cost you $1-3 each instead.  
  • Make Your Own Coffee:  Coffee makers have timers, you know.  So if you're like me and are practically comatose before 9am, you can set that puppy to start brewing your cup 'o joe when your alarm goes off by prepping the night before.  Or, you could be one of those cool kids with a Keurig...and save even more by buying a reusable filter cup so you don't have to splurge on the Kcups.  
The Fees/Bills We Pay
So much money is thrown into the trash every month in interest on balances we carry on cards, or by paying for things we don't even use.

What to do instead:
  • Pay off Credit Cards/Debt:  I am aware of how difficult this is.  My hubby and I spent almost a decade accomplishing this particular feat.  Every spare penny went towards paying off debt.  But I can tell you, nothing is quite as satisfying as saying goodbye to monthly interest and becoming cash-only people.  We still have a card, but it is a low-interest card that we pay off IN FULL every month (therefore, NO INTEREST), and earn cash back rewards with it.  As we paid off each debt, we began applying the money that we were putting towards each bill monthly to the next debt we wished to be rid of.  And so on and so forth until it was all gone.  We'd already been living without that expendable income, so it didn't take away from anything.  Once the credit cards were gone, we split all of that money between a growing savings account and our mortgage principal.  By adding to our principal every month, we're on target to pay off our mortgage in less than half of the loan term.  Again, I want to say that this has not been easy.  It has taken loads of discipline and sacrifice, but we have never regretted it.
  • Avoid Unnecessary Fees:  Don't use ATMs that are out of your network.  Why pay $3-5 to get your own money?  That is insanity!  And pay your bills on time to avoid late fees and penalties.  Get organized...get a calendar or another organizing tool to help you if you need to, but don't throw money into the trash on late fees just because you forgot to pay a bill.  If you're going to be late because you can't make your payment, call and see if you can get an extension...it doesn't hurt to ask.
  • Cut Expenses for Things You Don't Use:  Be real.  Do you read the newspaper every day?  Do you need five magazine subscriptions on basically the same subject?  Do you watch all 50 million channels to which you subscribe?  Do those Netflix envelopes sit in the stack of mail all month, not getting watched?  Are you in the gym regularly that you're paying for monthly?  Really track your usage of all of those little things you pay for each month.  Can you eliminate some things totally?  Can you cut back to the more basic cable packages?  Can you exercise at home instead of paying to go to the gym?  Also, did you know that the public library has a giant collection of music and movies that you can borrow FOR FREE?  Books, too...and e-books.  
  • Buy Used:  This pretty much goes for everything, but if you at least buy some stuff used, you can afford to buy new when it's a non-negotiable....like underwear.  Cars are one of the biggest losses when bought new...unless you plan to drive it for 15-20 years.  Buying a car that's only a year or two old, then keeping it for 10 years, will save you a fortune!  Don't forget appliances and other big home remodeling items such as cabinetry.  And what about that closet full of clothes?  And those shelves full of knick knacks?  Go to thrift stores and garage sales!  First of all, it's fun, but you'll find things you've never seen before, and paying $1 for a pair of jeans instead of $60+ should make your heart sing.  
  • Shipping:  When ordering online, if you don't need the item immediately, go with the most economical shipping.  Sometimes opting for the slower shipping can save you over half!
  • Memberships:  If your family frequents the zoo or another such place that offers memberships, consider whether buying a membership would save you money in the long run.  Be realistic about how many times you visit per year, and whether other discounts associated with the membership will also save you money (sometimes a membership is reciprocal at other attractions, too!).  Check with your local bowling alleys, theaters, stores, etc. to see if there are clubs or programs you can join that will save you money if you frequently use them.   Beware of store credit cards, though...while they may be enticing with their giant up-front discounts, they often carry enormous interest rates, and you usually spend more with them than if you just pay cash.  If you get one, never carry a balance...if it is possible, pay off the balance in the store immediately after your purchase with cash...most stores are offering this option now.
  • Find FREE Entertainment: There's this really big thing called "Outside."  You should check it out sometime.
  • Do for Yourself:  Can you paint your own fingernails?  Could you cut your kids' hair (especially boys with shaved heads!)?  Can you wash your own car in your driveway?  Mow your own lawn?  Paint your own house?  Trade babysitting with a friend?  There are so, so many services that we pay for all of the time that in all honesty we could do for ourselves.  Granted, some things are worth the splurge, and some things are just easier to delegate.  But really contemplate whether every one of those hired out services is totally necessary! 
Not Being Efficient
So much of our money is wasted via inefficiency.  Second or third trips to the grocery store.  Leaving the television on while no one is watching.  Not coordinating certain household tasks to save electricity.  Not taking advantage of simple household improvements that will save electricity.  Not consolidating trips into town, thereby wasting gasoline.

What to do instead:
  • Seek Out Energy Saving Methods for Your Home:  Could you use better insulation in the attic to keep the heat/cold from escaping out of your roof?  Do your doors and windows leak air through gaps that could be sealed?  Would a UV film on your windows help keep out the heat during summer?  How about using drapes to keep the cold/heat from escaping?  Plant shrubs or trees around your home for insulation and shade, too.  Do you need every light in the house on..?  Do you unplug chargers and electronics when they're not in use?  Could you coordinate the laundry and dishwasher so that the water heater only has to refill and reheat once?  How about taking the laundry out of the dryer promptly so you don't have to run it longer than necessary?  And not using the dryer as an iron...oh my goodness, so much wasted electricity!  Also, check and change your air filter often to maximize the efficiency of your HVAC system.  Close off vents to closets or rooms that never get used if possible.  Get a programmable thermostat and use it to coordinate the comfiest temps for when you're actually home to enjoy it.  Don't open the fridge door a million times.  Coordinate cooking to maximize the oven (if you're using the oven for dinner, could you bake a dessert immediately thereafter to keep from having to reheat the oven later?).  Get more efficient light bulbs...they're a splurge, but the LED ones last forever and use almost no energy!  You could always replace one at a time.  Turn off the television if you're not deliberately watching it....HUGE energy sucker!   
  • Keep a List of Errands:  Coordinating trips will not only keep you from wasting gas, but will also save you time.  And money.  Keeping a list will keep you on track and will help you to not forget anything.

Well, now that I've written a novel, I'd love to know if any of this sounds helpful to you!  Do you have a money-saving method that you'd like to share?  Comment below!  

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