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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Finances: Money Saving Tips

I talked a while back about how I'm trying to cut costs. This originally stemmed from gas prices rising. Gas prices weren't really what was killing me, it was the fact that the price of everything was rising, too. Even though gas prices have dropped significantly, the prices of everything else seem to have stayed the same (surprise, surprise).

Here are a few articles that I've bookmarked over the last week or so that I wanted to highlight. First, How Much Money Do You Spend on Food? is a good one. I think it's true that a lot of folks really don't know how much they spend on food. Being one half of a couple, I sometimes don't pay attention to what Todd is spending on going out to eat, or if he picks up a few things at the store, or the tab in a restaurant. Even just looking at what I spend alone, I rarely add up my food expenses (this is something that Mint.com would be handy for, though!). Even if you don't plan to cut back at all, wouldn't you at least like to know what you're spending? So, I'm working on keeping better track of this and watching my grocery receipts more carefully.

Money Saving Tip #1: Don't eat out. Or eat out very infrequently. While I've never kept good track of food expenses, I do know that I used to eat out every single day for lunch when I worked at previous employer. Even with Diettogo (which amounts to $14 per day for both breakfast and lunch), I don't spend as much as I did just on lunch each day at Previous Employer. Even for dinners, I've found that I prefer eating in, knowing what is in my food and how it was prepared, and not bothering with service and waiting and driving to who knows where to eat. That doesn't mean that we eat meatloaf and boiled chicken breasts every night, either. We often stop at Wegman's to get pre-made meat entrees that are cheaper than a restaurant, but still a treat and a notch above plain dinners. An excellent example is Wegman's salmon topped with crab meat. Tastes very good, is easy to make, comes in its own baking container, and at something like $14.99 per pound, it's not a bargain, but cheaper than eating out.

Another article: Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. I have to admit that when I was a direct sales person, I wasn't necessarily good at it because I had a lot of guilt for playing little tricks to try and get people to buy things. I knew some of my customers couldn't afford what they were buying, and I felt guilty all the time (a lot of them shouldn't have been eating what I was selling either, but that is a different topic).

I think it pays to really understand the tricks that stores play on us to try to get us to buy things. My personal favorite right now is that grocery stores are giving out coupons for dollars off your next trip, which gives you an incentive to return to the store again within a certain timeframe.

Money Saving Tip #2: If you visit a store that gives you those "save x dollars on your next purchase" coupons, if you can, go through self-checkout. Then, when it gives you those coupons as you check out, you can just scan them after they come out of the coupon machine. Or, if you know you'll be getting one, save some of your groceries to ring up as a second purchase in self checkout and scan them then.

From the article:

  • Spend less time in stores. Underhill writes, “The amount of time a shopper spends in a store (assuming he or she is shopping, not waiting in line) is perhaps the single most important factor in determining how much he or she will buy.” Do not browse. Shop with a purpose.
  • Don’t use a basket. Only use a basket (or shopping cart) if it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re dashing into the supermarket to pick up milk and bread, carry things in your hands. Baskets induce people to buy more.

I think that a lot of the time, I save money naturally because of two reasons: I hate malls, and there really isn't a decent mall within 20 miles of my house (because Westminster, Owings Mills and Hunt Valley all suck, the closest is Towson Town Center). When I lived and worked in Columbia, I did go to the mall more often and spent more as a result. This also creates problems because I don't buy clothes nearly often enough and my wardrobe is suffering as a result.

Don’t examine or handle things you don’t need. The more you interact with something, the more likely you are to buy it. “Virtually all unplanned purchases — and many planned ones, too — come as a result of the shopper seeing, touching, smelling, or tasting something that promises pleasure, if not total fulfillment.”
This was a biggie for my direct sales parties. That is why we passed the bottles and boxes of product around. You could look at them, touch them, smell them, and then we passed around samples so that you could taste them. And, trust me, sales were higher when we did that. Don't be fooled!
Make a list and stick to it. The majority of supermarket purchases are unplanned. Underhill writes: “In one supermarket study, we counted how many shoppers came armed with lists. Almost all of the women had them. Less than a quarter of the men did. Any wife who’s watching the family budget knows better than to send her to the supermarket unchaperoned.”
As much as I love having company while listening to "What's Love Got to Do With It" at Weis, I know that if Todd comes along, the bill will be higher, grocery list or not. This is because he isn't used to shopping off a list and doesn't share my frugal mindset and willingness to comprimise on brands. Not a bad thing, just different. However, if you want to save money, make a list and no matter how much you might want to, don't buy anything not on the list (this gets me out of the store faster also, which is good when you shop in a Bad Times store).

And another article: How Low Can You Go? This one talks about just using less. For example, do you need as much shampoo and toothpaste as the packaging would have you believe? Probably not. I've also found that some products just aren't necessary at all. For example:
  • Disinfectants. I really thought about it, and I treat my bathroom counter as if it is dirty, regardless of how often I clean it, and with what. I don't eat off of my bathroom counter. I don't even sit my toothbrush on it. So, why does it need disinfecting? I found that by using two microfiber towels to clean with, I get the bathroom counters and sinks spotless without buying cleaners. One towel is damp, which I use to wipe, then I follow up with a dry one to make things shine and sparkle. Drop them in the washer when I'm done, but hang dry them because dryer sheets make them not work so well.
  • Glass cleaner. Ditto with mirrors. The microfiber actually works better than windex. I use the same ones, but start with the mirrors since they're less dirty than the counters (usually).
  • Soap Scum removers. Baking soda works better.
  • Mildew removers. I haven't tried it yet, but I have a feeling that regular bleach would work the same as Tilex.
Something else I was thinking of was the wasted energy from cable boxes, televisions, DVD players, etc, that always use a little bit of power even when they're turned off (because they're waiting to see if you use a remote control to turn them on). I've thought about putting a power strip or some sort of switch on them to turn off the power to them when we're not using them to keep this from happening - especially in our spare bedroom and workout room where those things get used the least frequently. How much would that save? Who knows.

So, since money saving has become a little game for me, see what you think of my tips and articles. More later, I am sure.

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