...not to mention, getting ahead!
I wrote some posts earlier this year, about staying out of debt -- and ways to get yourself out if you were.
I promised myself that I'd share some of my secret weapons -- tricks I use over and over to keep our household budget balanced, with money stashed for the future. They're particularly important, now that my income has gone down some, and the Brick is officially retired. (Two weeks and running.)
Our income took a nosedive when he retired, but I am not griping -- he is feeling and acting so much better already. But his body decided to give him one more smackdown first...earlier this week, he started feeling much like he had when his liver shut down, and he spent a week in the hospital. I was frightened...shoot, he was frightened. With God's grace and a dose of antibiotic, though, he is starting to come out of it.
I am so grateful.
The lower income is not terrifying -- we've lived on less before. But it does mean that we have to carefully consider any expenses -- and I must pay attention to how much I'm spending for food, decorating...and the business. And that's where the secret weapons come in:
*A small side job, preferably a regular one. For me, it's piano lessons. I've had anywhere from 1-6 students, each paying up to $15 weekly. (Yes, I know. That's cheap for lessons -- I don't do it to make a lot of money. I do it to hopefully pass on the music.) Even if they cancel, due to sickness or traveling (we take off August and December, too), that's $30-45 weekly. It helps fill in gaps, pays for some extras, and gives me money for guilt-free presents for the Brick.
Even $10 extra every other week can add up. Possibilities:
Mowing yards or shoveling sidewalks
Babysitting (even if just filling in when the regular sitter is on vacation)
Ironing (my mom used to do this for extra money)
Selling meals or baked goods (or swapping them for what's needed)
Picking up/dropping off people from the airport
Dog-sitting or dogwalking (Daughter #1 pays for her college this way)
Church nursery (many churches are looking for people to fill, for MOPS especially)
Selling items you've picked up cheaply at library sales, garage sales and the thrift shop
Once you get a regular customer and do a good job, they'll help
spread the word. But there's also Craigslist and community clipboards.
We also sell eggs -- which pays for the chickies' feed and straw, plus some leftover.
I am flirting with the idea of going to our local pizza joint, and offering to work one day a week, plus filling in for vacations and sick days. I've noticed they have a fairly high turnover, and could probably use the help. Plus I'm hoping for free leftover pizza! Call it silly, but I have always wanted to work in a pizza place. (And, knowing me, write about it...can't help myself.)
Keep this money separate. Use part of it to help fund your savings, then stash the rest in a tin. (I use a sugarbowl, as a joke.) 'Found money' goes here, too. It will build up.
*Clearance sections. If you're not checking at the grocery store every time you stop in for milk, you're wasting prime opportunities to save. Grocery stores are not allowed to sell spoiled food -- if something tastes 'off,' then bring the label next time you stop in, and ask for your money back. My local King Soopers has marked-down areas in deli, meat, seafood, dairy...and canned/boxed foods plus produce. The local Safeway has a clearance area for freezer items, too.
Don't forget the floral section, either. I just bought a dozen roses for a dear friend who lost her father: $3.00. (One rose had accidentally snapped off in the bunch.) Sprouts has especially good deals on flowers -- they'll mark plants and bouquets down to 99 cents.
Best time to check: Wednesday night isn't bad, for 'old' sale items. I do best, though, late on Sunday evenings. More ideas here, too.
There's also the discount outlet store. Ours is 45 min. drive away, though, and only open on Fridays and Saturdays. However, it's not far from the drive to see Daughter #2 in Boulder. Guess what days I often choose to go visit her?
*Going 'tomorrow.' This is a new weapon that's been surprisingly effective. If I need something, I'll put it off until 'tomorrow,' when I can get it for a better price...or make a trip with several errands, instead of just one. The one exception: when your coupon or the sale is about to expire. (If your freezer is full, and it's an especially good price, odds are excellent that the item will not be in stock on the last day. Get a raincheck, instead -- and let the store 'keep' your item until you're ready for it.)
This also encourages you to adapt recipes (often with better results!) and see if you really need that item, after all. Often, you don't.
*Stocking up on things you use over and over...IF they're at a great price. Canned soup, chicken feed, toilet paper and frozen pizza all fall into this category. (This is where the extra money you earned from that occasional job comes into play.)
*Want to see the latest movie? Here's where 'tomorrow' plays in. Go to the discount show...or wait until it hits the dollar movie theater. (Or look for a good Groupon deal.) Watch it on video...borrowed from the library. Or if you really want your own copy, buy it on Amazon, or at Wal-Mart's or Tar-jay's Black Friday sales.
*Buy high quality only if you're going to use it regularly Otherwise, dollar store stuff works just fine. (I do buy classier items, like paper napkins, at discount places like Tuesday Morning.)
This applies to clothing (especially sweaters and boots), tools, things like that. And, if possible:
*Buy your high quality items on sale...or used. If there's a good sale, that's great. (Especially after-season items...summer clothes and beach gear are on deep discount right now.) But if you buy high-end items used, odds are good that any potential problems have already been repaired. All you're out is the 'new car' smell -- and often you've saved a LOT. If you can use that item over a period of years, you'll save even more.
Do your research. (We bought our Subaru Outback this way -- for such a steal that the local dealer kept trying to buy it from us.) Find the brands, makes and models with the best reputations, then look for them at:
*Thrift shops or Craigslist spots in high-income areas: one of your best weapons. These people have money to burn -- or spend like they do. Let them break in that cashmere sweater or portable sander...then you swoop in and generously take it off their hands. (If it's Craigslist, never pay first. ALWAYS dicker; you can pay full price later on, if you must.) I'm not the only one who feels this way, btw.
*Borrowing --and lending -- with people you can trust. Good friends and family members are tops on this list, but we also swap dog-sitting and checking-on-the-house duties with neighbors. Reciprocating is important here. So are sharing items you've gotten a bargain on -- like the boxes of peaches we just got on our trip to the Western Slope. (One of our neighbors never returns a dish without including cookies or a loaf of bread in it. Another just stopped by, with a bouquet of lilies and a "Happy Fall" note -- now, that's the kind of thank-you I like!)
*Do it yourself. Berries, deer meat, greens...all make regular appearances in our kitchen. No, we do not live on a country estate -- Home Depot's roof is just down the hill from our place. But we do have a backyard with a chicken coop in one corner, and a garden in the other. (If you live in the city, grow your spinach and rosemary in a pot on your windowsill.)
Make your own repairs, sew on your own buttons...and if something is beyond your capability, swap with someone who knows how. (And loves cheesecake, or needs his dog walked.) If you don't know anyone like that, ask your friend at work...or your neighbor...or somebody at church. You'll find just the person you need --with not that much effort.
*Never miss a chance to research and plan ahead. Thinking about going to see your mom in the near future? You should be looking NOW for good plane tickets. (Frontier and others have had some interesting $29-plus offers lately.)
Planning on turkey for Thanksgiving? Forecasters are saying that since turkey flocks have been hard-hit with sickness lately, turkey prices will be going up 20% -- or more. If you're getting one, you might want to buy it now. (Or think about serving ham, instead -- hogs are overstocked, according to the same forecasters.)
You'll find the best vacation pricing this way -- the best sales on computers to cars -- and have what you need (and can afford) for gifts, home decorating and future plans -- IF you think ahead. (I kind of enjoy this, too...it's like seeing the floor already tiled or the living room painted, or taking a vacation even before you hop on the train.)
*Unclutter -- then repurpose. I have been cleaning off shelves lately...and finding everything from dozens of shipping envelopes (my staffer thought we were out) to a pair of heavy wool hunting socks, still in their original packaging. (Those will go in Keith's Christmas pile.) Extra items can be donated, and the cost taken off your taxes. Other items can be stripped down -- a high-end silk blouse, for example, often gives you a yard or so of fabric, plus quality buttons to reuse. In the Desperate Old Days, people would buy damaged wool sweaters, unravel them, and re-knit or crochet into gloves and scarves. If that mohair sweater is too small, why couldn't you, too?
And the best weapon of all?
*Be willing to adapt. Sometimes that change out of necessity ends up being the best thing that could happen to you.