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We all know the saying that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. Well, I keep hearing (and sometimes saying) that times are tough, and I figured it was time to “tighten the belt a little”. Due to a confluence of events, I find myself looking for ways to save a little more and spend a little less (just like the good old days), so I’m writing this article as much for me as I am for you!
First, offering full disclosure, the confluence of events… My wife and I were blessed with our second son on May 10, 2007; while certainly a blessing, he also adds to our cost of living. I left my JOB in December 2007. Right before that, times were good, so I bought a big new house and a big new truck. Despite a large down payment, the house still carries a large monthly mortgage. The real estate market is doing worse than the economy as a whole, and the combined value of my real estate holdings has decreased greatly (meaning smaller paydays if/when I sell any of my existing properties in this real estate market). Last but not least, I recently purchased two fixer upper single family homes, and we are trying to finish one while doing the initial repairs on the other… So the “account cushion” I have been keeping on hand is tied up. in the purchase and repairs of those two houses.
Second, with that out of the way, some painless ways to save more and spend less… If you haven’t shopped around for your auto insurance in the past 1-2 years, now is a good time. I’m not saying settle for a low quality insurer, or for less than adequate insurance, but I am saying to keep your insurer honest by making sure you get your money’s worth. Many people are surprised that the same two insurance companies, offering the same insurance coverage, two years apart, can completely fail in their rates…I have personally experienced it. Also, if applicable, you can shop around for other insurance policies, such as life, health, disability, etc. You can save money without any sacrifice! Do you have a cell phone plan that makes the most sense for your usage (I know someone personally who should be on an unlimited plan who is continually spending a fortune on overage minutes – WHY?)?
If your electric bill is high, Lakeland Electric does FREE energy audits. You may know about some things you don’t want to do right now, like upgrading to more energy-efficient appliances, but there may also be some cheap, easy ways to reduce your electric bill significantly that you haven’t thought of. If you have a sprinkler, is it turned off during heavy rain? Are you heating and cooling your home reasonably (for example, I heat to about 73 degrees in the winter, and cool to about 77 degrees in the summer; 4-5 degree swings shouldn’t result in any real discomfort, and if a larger spread doesn’t bother your family, even better)? How about giving yourself financial control? Are all your investments, evaluated individually, performing well, and do they make sense? Do you know what you are invested in, and how and why it should make you profits? Likewise, if you borrow, do your loans make sense?
Could they be better structured, have better rates, etc.? Especially if you are carrying a balance on a high interest credit card, is there any way you can reduce it? I know I am constantly bombarded with zero interest for X amount of months credit cards that could help. For example, when I have a loan I plan to pay off in full in the next year or two, I get a zero interest for eighteen months credit card, pay off the loan with it, and now my entire payment pays off the principal instead. of part going to interest. Are you one of those people who pays bills late for whatever reason and gets hit with late fees, penalties, higher interest rates, etc.? Find out what it takes to get and stay current, and the savings alone will help keep you there. If you tend to spend more when you use a credit card instead of cash (which most people do), ditch the credit cards. If, on the other hand, you have a high level of self-discipline, then use no fee, high rewards credit cards, charge all your normal expenses, pay the bill in full every month and collect rewards (I do this and my business earns my wife and I nice meals out ).
In fact, since I’m rehabbing two houses, I’ve redeemed over $200 in Discover rewards in the past month. If applicable, improve your credit scores so that any future loan becomes cheaper and cheaper (better rates, lower fees). When it comes to tax time, are you getting all the deductions you’re entitled to? Many people purposely do not take income tax deductions they are entitled to because they think it might cause an audit; little sidebar here – as long as you don’t do anything ‘wrong’, the audit will probably hurt less than the money you throw away (in the rare event that you do get audited)! Here’s one that I found saving me a lot of money recently… When I see something in a store that I ‘must have’, I wait and research it online later. Two advantages – first the desire to spend often disappears, thus cutting out the expenses altogether, and second, I find almost everything I research I can buy cheaper online than what I would have paid in the store (yes, even including shipping . and manipulation).
If you eat a lot from WORK, can you save money by packing a lunch more often? Something I blame my family for quite often – we throw away perfectly good leftovers when we eat out or prepare something more appetizing. Three solutions quickly come to mind – one, eat the leftovers; two, freeze the leftovers for later; three, prepare smaller meals. If you have the time and inclination (I don’t), plant a garden. Do you make sure to bargain shop and take advantage of sales on things you know you’ll use anyway? And, on the opposite side of the coin, avoid buying junk you don’t need at all just because it was on sale!
Do you clip coupons, actively look for sale prices, etc.? Although I think exercise is great, and I actively exercise myself, if you are one of those people who have an expensive gym membership, and only go to the gym twice a year, get rid of it. Here’s a fun, easy way to save some dough – my wife takes my kids to the library almost every week, and not only do they get all the books they can read for free, they even get a bunch of kids’ movies on DVD! With the popularity of cell phones today, I know many people who have gotten rid of their landline because it was a waste of money. Last and certainly not least, the old adage, Pay Yourself First! – If you pay yourself last, you will never do that. If you pay yourself first, you’ll never miss it.’ These are all things that, with just a little upfront work, can help you save more and spend less without any sacrifice to your lifestyle. Next, on to the things that might hurt a little…
Third, ways to save more and spend less, where the terminology ‘no pain, no gain’ applies… These you will feel a little more. Depending on how bad you want to achieve your goals, how bad your financial situation is, your time constraints, etc., let’s start with the extreme – can you work more hours, get a second job, start a part-time business (even if temporarily to get over the hump)? Maybe a stay-at-home husband can take some work from home? In this economy many stay at home parents look after extra children for friends or family, allowing one family to make extra money (babysitting) and allowing the other to save extra money (cheaper than daycare). Maybe private school or home schooling needs to be replaced by public school, even if only temporarily when times are tough? It’s not for everyone, but I know one couple who happily rented out an extra room in their home for a long time.
Consider a smaller, cheaper, more fuel-efficient car, now or the next time you shop for a car (yes, as mentioned before, I failed miserably in this category). While on the subject of vehicles, most of you are probably already combining many tasks into fewer trips and avoiding unnecessary driving these days. Are you taking advantage of the free entertainment at home? Brainstorm with your family about all the fun, free or cheap things you can think of to do at home, and then implement the favorites and save on the cost of travel and entertainment.
Most Americans can save some money by eating less, and personally I know when I cut back on soda and drink more water, my body and my wallet both appreciate it. If you routinely drink coffee at Starbucks, or drink alcohol at bars/restaurants, aside from the moral issues, let me kill you now for what you spend on a drink! Oh! And I won’t even get started on cigarettes/tobacco. Lastly, here’s the thing everyone hates to do – create a budget! First and foremost, spend like you normally do, and track every penny for at least a few months… and find out where your money is really going. If you can bring yourself to do it, keep tracking expenses for an entire year, so you’re sure to include once or twice a year expenses like vacations, birthdays, insurance, taxes, etc. Nine times out of ten, it will be. let some expenses be shockingly high, and you will know where to look to stop the bleeding.
This article is just to whet your appetite, but if you got some useful tips from it, and or you want more of the same, search the internet for some money saving sights… I know I found some when i was was looking for information on personal finance not too long ago, and I saw some good tips, as well as some that I would never recommend… I’ll share a few, because it can be good for a laugh… Reduce showers to one time. week (save on hot water, shampoo, soap, and probably a date, for those of you who are single!). Train your pets to use the toilet. Go around early on garbage day and collect what you need from what others throw away (I guess they say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – LOL). Become a vegetarian – it’s a cheaper lifestyle (I know meat can be expensive, but that seems extreme to a meat and potatoes guy like me!). Anyway, enough of the extreme!!! Best wishes to all, and hopefully I’ll see you…on the other side of the rainbow (you know where the pot of gold is)!
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