Friday, May 26, 2017

Cutting Expenses -- When You Think You Can't (Part III: Everyday Steps That Help)

     By now, if you've been reading this series, you've already figured out how much your current income and expenses are, and have taken some steps financially to help yourself. 

     One of the real places to save is through regular life -- small decisions that can really save money in the long run. Here are some that have helped us:

*Turn down your thermostat, or keep the air conditioning on only when you really need it. You'll save more this way than you think -- and you'll see the results directly on next months' bill.
      We save even more by not turning on the heat at all, until late in the fall...and turning it off in spring.  We use the electric fireplace or the woodstove, or cuddle under a blanket if it gets too chilly.

*Combine errands. As a kid, we went to town on Saturdays:  the post office, the bank, the grocery store, then the library -- with a stop at the ice cream parlor across the street! I didn't understand why The Mama wanted to do all this traipsing about at once -- but I do now. It saves gas, time and money.  To make it work best, though, you'll need to:

*Keep a list. What's almost out...or needed for next week's party? Write it down, or do what the Brick does -- keep it on the phone.
     This seems a little silly, until you have to trudge back to the grocery store because you forgot pancake syrup. Then it makes all the sense in the world.

*Fix your stuff, and keep it in good condition.  Sew on a button, stitch a hem, clean out the coffeepot or bathtub drain. You won't have to replace these items for years, or pay for expensive care. Youtube is full of videos on everything from trimming a tree to repairing your dishwasher.
      Often fix-it items are cyclical -- like turning your mattress twice a year, or polishing winter boots before storing them for the summer. For example: our waterpipes can clog from tree roots -- unless we pour a special cleaner down twice a year. What's cheaper -- buying the powder, or putting out for a plumber's house call? (Yet another reason to keep a list, by the way, to remind yourself.)

* Save your work clothes for work
. Did your mom ever announce, once you walked in the door from school: "Take those nice clothes off and change into play clothes." Jeans and a sweatshirt, once you get home, will be more comfortable -- save the nice pants and shirts for work or doing errands.
     Same for shoes; in fact, leaving them at the front door will protect your floors longer, and lessen the need to vacuum as frequently.  Wear slippers -- or just go barefoot, instead. Strengthens your feet.

*Hang clothes up -- or out. Dryers take a lot of energy, and have a bad tendency to fade and stress your clothes, particularly the dark-shaded ones. (Black dye still is not that long-lasting. How long do your black jeans last before fading?) Solve the problem by hanging clothes outside, or on a rack until dry. Do this often, and you won't need a humidifier, anymore. Your clothes, towels and bedding will last longer, which means you won't have to buy replacements as often, either.

*Buy the best you can afford -- used or not. A 100% wool sweater from a good brand, purchased at the thrift shop, will last years longer than that trendy rayon number you just picked up at Target. All sorts of goods, from refrigerators to oriental rugs, stay useful with little maintenance if they're good quality, to begin with. Do your homework -- be picky -- then buy.

*Compare prices -- and always keep an extra of the essentials on hand. Computer ink is expensive when you buy it at Office Depot, unless you've got a coupon or it's on sale. Buy the ink online, instead, and you'll save a bundle. But you must have enough to keep you from an emergency trip -- and you need to know which is the lowest price.
     This doesn't just apply to household goods. The Brick relies on GasBuddy to tell him where the cheapest gas is. And if that place also is connected with King Soopers or Safeway, we get an additional discount from our rewards card.  (See below) But we wouldn't know this if we didn't check.
     While you're at it:

*Even if you don't follow a budget for anything else, keep to one for presents and celebrations. Many are the parents who blow a couple hundred on a kid's birthday party, then worry about paying the gas bill next month. You can't do this anymore. You won't have to as much, frankly, if you compare prices, buy presents on sale or at discount, and stock up on party food and decorations when they're a great buy. Do this from the getgo, and you'll have even more money saved.

*Take advantage of Swagbucks. I do a lot of searches for my writing -- or my own curiosity. When I do, the Swagbucks program awards that with SBs. (I'll also go through them to rent hotel rooms, shop at Ebay, that sort of thing.)
     Once you earn enough Swagbucks, they can be exchanged for goods and gift cards. It may not seem like much, but the Brick and I earn the equivalent of $100-150 annually! We use ours for Amazon or store giftcards -- like Lowe's and Home Depot. (We're making a lot of visits to HD, lately.) The nice thing: they don't pester you, or sell your contact info.
      Go here to find out more. If you decide to sign up, then I get a bit of a bonus, too.

*Movies, books and other entertainments:  rent them, buy them at discount -- or get them free.  That's what Redbox and the library are for. Our library has a used book-and-movie room that often has an excellent assortment. So does the local thrift shop. (We live in the one of the highest-income counties in the country -- and what gets donated is often higher-quality than what's available at Walmart and other discount places.) I use these for our pleasure, but give them as presents, as well. (Check first to make sure they're in usable condition.)
      If you really want new, unused items, check places like Amazon and Or wait for Target's or others' Black Friday promotions.

DVDs and books...perfect for weekends, especially snowy or rainy ones

*Same for plays, movies, concerts and such. Groupons and other specials are out there!  I can't tell you how many big-time Denver theatre productions show up on Travelzoo or Groupon... why in the world are you paying full price for them?  On their websites, these places often offer early specials or, toward the end of the run, last-minute discounts. Free events happen more than you think, too.
     For movies, wait until they hit the discount theatre (our favorites are the Elvis Cinemas here in the Denver area), go to the early show, or rent it when it hits the library or Redbox. Movies seem to move through this process much faster nowadays. Or:

*Don't pay for cable. Why should you, when Netflix, Hulu and other offerings are out there, at much cheaper prices? You can even time this -- sign up for a trial free period when you've got extra packages to send (Amazon Prime), or the holiday specials are out. (Just be sure to cancel in time -- put it on your calendar or, er, list.)
     You can also find movies, sports events and television series online for free. (In fact, we just watched Passengers and John Wick: Chapter 2 in the past few nights, thanks to the Brick.) Some channels, like AMC, actually offer episodes free for a limited time.
       It may take some searching, but websites like are out there, and usable for seeing series episodes and such. (Warning: these sometimes include spam -- you should have good firewalls on your computer, anyways, to protect your computer.) 

*Use coupons, but only when you really like the place: restaurant, grocery store, clothing or whatever. This isn't depriving yourself of everything you like -- it's saving on what you prefer.
       Check promotions, too. For example: Outback has free Bloomin' Onions on Monday when the race car driver it sponsors does well. If you're planning on going there, anyways, and  you're fond of these crunchy guys, why not go on Monday, instead of the weekend?
*Join rewards clubs, when you like the place. It often gives you a nice discount -- like a free birthday burger at Red Robin (or a free burger, after you buy 10), or a free grocery item at King Soopers/Kroger's or Safeway. (Check on Fridays.)  These places will offer discounts and freebies to members that they don't normally mention to others. Why not take advantage of them?

*Buy gift cards -- but only when they include something extra. Usually it comes in the form of a 10-20% discount, a free movie ticket, drink or other item.
     The best time used to be at Christmas -- but I've seen promotions lately for Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day, as well. Only buy gift cards for the places you really like, so will often use.
      Gift cards make welcome presents -- and cost much less to send than a package. (We often pick restaurants, which lets people feel they're splurging when redeeming the card.) They don't have to be expensive, either -- a $10 giftcard will buy a nice lunch at fast food or casual place for a college student or Uncle Fred.

*Give something away.  So many others are in worse circumstances than you -- and me. Why not help? Sure, you can give a donation. (And I would recommend that for other countries besides our relatively-prosperous U.S...and for organizations, like the Mennonite Central Committee, that pull out very little for their own expenses.)
     But it comes to much more than that. Your neighbor or Aunt Sadie could use a ride to the grocery store, and some company. (A cookie, from the pack you just opened, and a cup of tea or coffee won't cost much at all.) The boy down the street wishes someone would notice his new (or new-to-him) bicycle. Take some flowers (purchased at discount, or picked from your garden) to the neighbor down the street. Spend a little time writing a note to someone you love -- or someone who's helped you. Or volunteer at a pet adoption center, Habitat for Humanity, or senior care home.  They're not going to ask -- you have to step up and do these things yourself. 
       Not only does your time, attention and money help others -- it helps you in the long run, too, by reminding what's really important.

It's what responsible adults do. And so you are.

Part I is here.

Part II (Money) is here.

Part IV (Food) is here.

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