Thursday, August 9, 2012

25 Ways I Save Money

Hello. Should we just pretend it hasn't been five months since I posted? Good, let's do that then. I'm inspired to write because I was online yesterday looking for advice on getting my budget under control. I'm actually in a pretty good place, financially-speaking. Better than many people are in fact. God knows it wasn't always this way. In the past, I had some bad money habits (and two husbands who were even worse), and so I spent the majority of my adult life in serious debt and struggling each month to make the bills. Sometimes we didn't make it and then I had to deal with late penalties and bill collectors. And of course, the grinding worry that comes with never having enough money. Not fun.

Then Ely died, and I got some insurance money as a consolation prize. (If you're wondering if insurance money comes with a big steaming helping of survivor's guilt......the answer is yes. Yes, it does.) So right away, I was able to pay off all my debts except for the mortgage, and still have some left over. (No, we didn't have enough coverage. If you're married and reading this, go check your insurance right now and make sure that you have enough to pay off your house!)

Because Ely was the main provider for our family, my son and I also qualified for survivor's benefits through Social Security, which will continue for Logan until he is 18, and for me until he is 16 or until I remarry, whichever comes first. That income is thankfully enough to pay for all my fixed expenses, groceries, and gas, which is a very good thing because my part-time waitress income sure as hell wouldn't cover it. Without that safety net, I probably would have lost my home, so I will be forever grateful for it.

But what about all the rest? Theoretically, my waitress income is for all the "extras"--in other words, everything that's not bills, groceries or gas. That's a lot of stuff. (This doesn't include expenses for big-ticket items like vacations, laptops, my dental implants, school tuition, home improvements, etc. I'm using the ever-dwindling life insurance money for those kinds of things, which obviously can't be paid for with tips!) My problem at the moment is that what I'm spending for extras is starting to exceed what I'm bringing in. This past month, for the first time in almost a year, I had to move money over from my savings to cover everything and that's no bueno. Granted, I'm hardly working this summer, but even during the school year when I was working more shifts, I was spending everything I was making. Also no bueno. If I don't start saving again, eventually I'll be right back where I started: broke and in debt.

So in my internet travels yesterday, I found this inspiring (albeit 6 years old) blog roundup over at Frugal For Life asking bloggers to share 25 ways they save money. Well, I already do a lot right in that department, so I thought I'd list all the ways I do save before I list the things I need to start doing.

So without further ado, here are 25 things I already do to save money:

1. I use a cash back rewards Visa card for groceries and gas and pay it in full every month. There are a few caveats, but the first two months I used it I earned almost 30 bucks in free money right back into my checking account. Gotta like that!

2. Speaking of my checking account, I enrolled in Bank of America's Keep the Change program, which rounds up all my debit purchases to the next dollar and automatically deposits the difference into my linked savings account. The only requirement is that you have to have $25 automatically deposited from your checking into your savings each month. Easy peasy, and so worth it. (Although, if I'm dipping into my savings to pay my bills it kind of defeats the purpose!)

3. I refinanced my mortgage from 5.375 to 3.75 and went from a 30-year-term to a 15. This will save me tens of thousands over the life of the loan.

4. I buy generic and store brands for almost everything. I'm not brand loyal at all.

5. I replaced almost all of our lightbulbs with CFLs, which last a million times longer. (Just don't break any; you practically need a Hazmat suit to clean it up.)

6. I track all my income and expenses every single month. I literally write down every penny that comes in and goes out. This is how I know that I spent 900 bucks on groceries a couple months ago. (Ack!)

7. I also balance my checkbook to the penny the day the statement arrives, and have my checking account linked to my savings for overdraft protection.

8. I pay almost all my bills online to avoid using stamps and envelopes.

9. I got rid of my landline.

10. I don't have a data plan or internet on my phone. I can't even receive photos so don't send me any. (So far, I have managed to resist the siren song of the iPhone, although I'm due for a full upgrade in December.)

11. I got rid of some movie channels to reduce my cable bill, and every so often I call them and threaten to go the other guy unless they give me a better package. (But no, I'm not like some hardcore frugalistas who give up cable--or god forbid, their TV--altogether. Yeah, that's not happening.)

12. As soon as I paid off my car, I dropped collision coverage. I also have the highest possible deductible. Hey, I live in New Jersey; desperate times call for desperate measures.

13. I have a member discount card at my grocery store (Almost every grocery chain offers one and if you don't have one you're throwing money out the window).

14. I do use coupons but only for brands I would normally buy anyway. Like I said, I'm not really brand loyal, so I only use a few per trip.

15. I would never in a million years buy designer anything. I do the majority of my clothes shopping at Target or Kohl's (Kohl's bucks, woo hoo!).

16. I stopped buying microwave popcorn and now buy the old-fashioned kind and use an air-popper.

17. I buy almost no packaged snack foods, and no sweetened drinks. My kid gets plenty of that crap at his friends' houses, and water is free.

18. Speaking of which, no bottled water! Tap water tastes just fine to me.

19. If the temp drops below 85 in the summer, I turn off the air and open the windows. If the air is on, I keep the thermostat set at 75 during the day and close the shades in the afternoon to keep the sun from heating up the house.

20. I had an attic fan installed to suck out the heat and help the air conditioner work more efficiently.

21. I'm low-maintenance. I don't buy perfume, or fancy skin cream, makeup, or shampoo. I'm good with Dove, Cover Girl and Suave. I only get my hair cut about once every six months (if that), and I have never in my life had a manicure or pedicure.

22. I don't shop for recreation. I have one purse, one coat, fewer than five pairs of shoes, and my closet is half empty. I don't buy new anything until the old one wears out or falls apart.

23. I drive a tiny fuel-efficient car. So much easier to parallel park than my old gas-guzzling minivan!

24. I make home-cooked meals most nights and almost never get take-out. I can't remember the last time we ordered a pizza or got Chinese food (which we used to do a lot). And if we have leftovers, we eat them for lunch or dinner the next night. I love leftovers! No cooking, and no spending more money. Win-win.

25. I stopped buying expensive cleaners and switched to using vinegar and baking soda for almost everything.

So as you can see, I already do a lot of things right. But it's clearly not enough. Time to take frugality to the next level. In my next post, I'll write about all the things I still do wrong, and publicly admit my major addiction.