7 Tips on Saving Money

If ever there were a time for people to save money, it’s NOW. For 7 tips on how to save, start with the big items but, remember, the little items add up, too. (Save on water and electric; turn off appliances when not in use; buy replacement, compact-fluorescent-light bulbs throughout your home; carpool; replace old appliances with energy-efficient ones; insulate your home; make multiple errands in one run, etc. You’ve heard them all before; now you need to get the whole family involved actually doing it!)

Everyone needs to know where their money is going. Make a budget and then cut down expenses in every category by 10% or more. If you have a saver and a spender in the family, agree to give the saver the task of paying bills and balancing the checkbook. But, the spender must also be aware of monthly income and expenses. Don’t allow the less-responsible member to avoid the headaches of regular reality checks.

Lay out the facts-of-spending openly and discuss them together. (Details depend on the children’s ages, but they should be part of the let’s-work-together theme.) Everyone must be on the same page or budgeting won’t work, and the thriftier ones will feel cheated and will become resentful.

Motivate the whole family to save by offering monthly family rewards with the savings – like dinner out at a quality restaurant, a big screen TV, or an exciting day trip. Older children could work outside the home and contribute to the family’s monthly reward. Younger children could earn allowances to buy personal items on trips such as souvenirs or special treats.

1. Could you refinance your home for a lower mortgage rate? Or sell your existing larger home for a smaller one? Could you do without one of your cars?

Could someone (a very responsible driver) in the family use a motorcycle that gets up to 80 mpg.? Motorcycles cost less to maintain and, for good, mature drivers, registration and insurance fees are lower than for autos. Motorcycles with trunks and side-saddles can hold a few groceries, a backpack or a briefcase. They can do short runs very efficiently for people who work close to home or go to a local college. They also take up less storage/parking space.

2. Get rid of credit card debt and then get rid of the credit card. You know the high fees associated with borrowed money, but the oversized APR’s of some cards along with hidden and late fees make credit cards one of the biggest expenses in modern life. Go back to the old rule of pay as you go.

If you’re already stuck with some heavy monthly cc fees, pay off the one with the highest APR first, then use the extra money to pay off the next, etc. Once finished, destroy all cards. (Keep one for emergencies or smart purchases coming up later.)

3. Stop smoking. If you ever considered giving up an unhealthy and expensive habit, now’s the time. A 3-pack-a-day family could save more than $300/month that could definitely be put towards better use. Maybe you could put that towards the children’s education or a trip to Disney Land.

People with bad habits are not above being bribed. The smoker might reward himself/herself with a substitute special treat with that money perhaps a day at the spa or golf course. The non-smokers will be elated and will probably go along with the extra motivation idea to keep their loved ones healthier.

Besides possibly avoiding health problems like cancer, heart and breathing problems, the non smoker will feel better and smell better. Your home and car will be a cleaner, safer environment for your spouse, children and pets.

4. FOOD. This is a big budget item for most families. Unless you are a very good, conscientious budgeter, you may not realize how much money goes out monthly for food. Figure out an average and then take steps to lower your food bill.

By shopping with a weekly food plan, a thoughtful shopping list, some self-control and a plan for leftovers and proper storage, you can save big on food bills or, at least, eat a lot better for less. Always shop with a full belly and avoid the junk food aisles.

Tip # 1. Avoid eating out. Home cooking is still healthier than most restaurant food and may bring back family times that people remember from the olden days. A fresh-cooked roast or meatloaf, a simple egg omelet or toasted cheese sandwich (with fresh Deli or sliced cheese, not the prepackaged, processed stuff), a fresh salad with bits of meat or cheese, or a nice meal of spaghetti can fill everyone at less cost than fast foods and offer more satisfaction.

Tip # 2. Buy in bulk: all relatively non perishables like paper items, pet foods, canned goods, spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, tea and coffee, low-salt soups, and other items you use often. Join a warehouse like Sam’s club if the annual $35 membership fee is worth it to you. Keep the pantry full of healthy choices and your family will have to choose a healthy item over chips, cookies, candy and other junk foods if those are not available.

Tip # 3. Buy large quantities of perishable foods like meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables and divide them up with a friend or relative. Always watch for sales, use cents-off coupons or buy in-store sale items in bulk that you know you will use before they spoil.

Other Consumer tips: Buying bagged produce is usually cheaper than by the pound, but make sure you can use the quantity before it spoils. Time is money – slice and dice your own carrots, celery, lettuce and cheese – rather than pay for the prepackaged convenience items. Compare unit prices and expiration dates. Don’t be fooled by sneaky signs that make you think something is on sale, which aren’t: many companies pay for product pictures in flyer ads or place their products on store end-caps to make people assume items are on sale when they’re not.

Buying on-sale items your family doesn’t eat is false savings; it won’t happen and you’ll simply throw them out to make space later. Out of sight is out of mind: Store food in air-tight, see-through plastic or glass containers or mark them clearly so the family will be reminded to use them up quickly.

Tip # 4. Buy a freezer and keep it stocked with goods like flash-frozen vegetables, meats, fish, canned juices, pizzas, breads, and firm cheeses like mozzarella. Wrap measured amounts (1 portion steak; 4 pork chops; 1 6-lb. beef roast) with freezer paper. Mark the items carefully with the correct product, the total weight or number, and date purchased. Rotate your stock and use before the expiration dates.

Tip # 5. Plant a garden. Once you pay $1 for a tomato, potato or small bag of carrots, you could become motivated to grow your own food. Children will often eat what they help to grow, also. Foods can’t get any fresher and you know what pesticides were used or not when you grow your own. A fresh tomato or strawberry tastes better than store bought, too.

If you live close to a farm, fresh-produce stand or farmer’s market, you can take advantage of others’ labor and still have the freshest products available. Eat quickly after purchase to take full advantage of your healthy choices.

5. Don’t overlook second-hand stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Your money will help hire people who sell products like clothing (many gently-used with brand-names), coats, bedding and fabrics, books, puzzles, children’s toys, bikes, luggage, glassware, kitchenware, ladies’ handbags, appliances, household goods and furniture.

Most stores clean and test-check their products – like appliances, vacuums, and lamps – to make sure they work before sale and many also allow a 10-day return or exchange policy.

Watch newspaper ads for yard sales and household auctions in upper class neighborhoods. Presently, many people are getting rid of quality goods in exchange for quick cash. Their need-for-cash can be your long-term gain. Always remember to shop for what you need and will use. Don’t get caught up in impulse buys you will regret later: then the system backfires; it becomes good-bye, money instead of a good buy, period.

6. One of the best investments I’ve ever made (for over 25 years) is an ongoing subscription to the monthly Consumer Reports magazine for $26 per year. It is published by the independent, nonprofit Consumer’s Union, based in Yonkers, NY.

CR lists the best products lab tested for consumers for the best prices every month. From computers and software programs to TVs, from refrigerators and stoves to washers and dryers, from detergents and shampoos to cereals and house paint, from cars and motor scooters to garden and outdoor equipment, this magazine can prevent you from making a major purchasing mistake.

One medium-priced item will save you the cost of the magazine, and some libraries keep Consumer Reports in their magazine section. The April issue offers an annual car guide, which can save you thousands of dollars on a new purchase. CR also lists monthly recalls of unsafe consumer items. For a small monthly fee, you can also gain access to CR online (www.ConsumerReports.org) for the latest best buys.

7. Check out items online. Many online stores offer free shipping to stay competitive. This is to your shopping advantage. You can save time, money, gas, and much frustration by shopping online and avoiding impulse buys in crowded, overly-enticing stores. Look for known store names and compare prices. If they offer a consumer-feedback service related to store purchases, check them out before buying.

Look for the “s” after the http in your browser to recognize sites where it’s secure to use credit cards. Watch for logos like the BBB or Good Housekeeping seal for further confirmation of a safe site.

This is when you could use a credit card to make a smart, money-saving, disciplined purchase of a necessary item. If it’s a rather expensive purchase, you could split the bill into two parts: pay 1/2 in cash upfront, and pay the remainder before the due date. If it’s on sale and you’re saving shipping costs and you REALLY need it, this is the time to use credit sensibly.

But the smartest people, the old-fashioned savers, follow the money-wise saying, Be in debt to no man. That is still the best advice today.