Stop Giving Away $200 or More Each Month!

We all know how the economy has zapped our wallets over the past decade. The percentage of those having to declare bankruptcy is on the rise. People are unsure how they can cut back any further than they already have. Families of all income levels have to cut corners in order to make ends meet, while others are merely living paycheck to paycheck. Higher cost of living, higher utilities, higher taxes, higher food prices, higher housing costs…the list goes on and on and on…

So what is the average family supposed to do in order to avoid losing it all? I’ve spent the past 10 years researching areas were I could cut down and maintain a decent budget. Here are tips on things I’ve found most helpful in my own battle with budgeting:

1) Groceries:

a) Have a plan before you go to the store and never go hungry. Make sure you eat a good meal prior; it will cut down on the spontaneous purchases that you truly do not need.

b) Plan your weekly meals and list what you will need for each meal. Knowing what you will need and what you are going to make early on prevents items being forgotten or things being purchased that aren’t needed for the week’s meals adding to the food bill.

c) Go to the store ONCE per week or per payday. When we make those “I have to run to the store real quick” trips, we tend to buy more then what we went to the store to buy to begin with! Some people claim they like buying 1 – 3 nights’ worth of groceries at a time, saying the food is “fresher”. This isn’t true, unless you are purchasing produce (and depending on the store you frequent, not even then). The ONLY thing shopping like that accomplishes is driving up your grocery bill anywhere from 25%-50%! Cut OUT those between payday trips!!

d) Use coupons! Believe it or not, the little here and there with coupons can add up to significant savings! Especially when you go to a store that offers “double coupons”. Sources of coupons: Sunday paper, shopping flyers in mail, online sources like local newspaper’s online websites, are a few examples of where to look.

e) Read circulars (in mail/local paper) to find out what’s on sale that you need and where–plan shopping accordingly. Go over your list of planned meals and compare to items on special. Plan your travel route in a circle so you do not waste gas traveling all over in different directions. If you are driving across town to save 50 cents – you are spending more than that on gas alone to get there and back. Chose wisely.

f) STOP “status” shopping. Going to the higher-end stores because of the “status” feel is crazy! Save your money for other things. Go to a store that at least offers the MVP (or whatever stores offer “membership” cards that do allow some savings), ask the cashiers at the stores you frequent if they offer something along those lines. You want to keep your shopping to more “warehouse” type stores. Places like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, Costco’s or Super Wal-mart for example, buy in bulk passing the savings on to the customer. I’ve found the best meat prices to be in clubs. Many claim those stores have too much per package for their needs so they end up missing the savings found there. Buy in bulk and break the packages down to serving sizes suitable for your family and then freeze! Meats are too expensive to buy for “convenience packaging”. Invest in a box of freezer bags and break things up! This one alone can save you $60+ per month.

g) Kids’ lunches (or yours for that matter) that are being made with those cute little single size things they sell – like little packages of chips or Lunchables ™ – are running your bill up even higher, check “per unit” pricing the next time you go shopping. The difference is amazing. STOP convenience-package buying. Again, it’s much cheaper to buy the bigger bag of chips and put some in baggies for lunches…make your own sandwiches or take leftovers! Cutsie things like Lunchables™ end up costing you quite a bit more then just making your own lunch. You can make your little one’s lunches special by using various shaped glasses to cut the sandwiches into funky shapes. Small kids love things like that so it makes their packed lunches even better! Instead of those pricey cookies you buy – buy the mixes and make your own cookies!! This is saving you about $40+ per month!

h) STOP going on those daily lunches with co-workers! Plan your meals with leftovers in mind, using the leftovers for lunches the next day or for another night’s dinner. For example, for leftover chicken, make chicken salad and use for sandwiches that week. Soups and stews can be used for 2+ nights for dinners…I’m not sure when this happened or why, but people now seem to be allergic to having leftovers! If anyone jokes you for “brown-bagging it” simply remind them that they are spending an average of $8+ per day in lunches x 5 = $40 per week/$160 per month (and even more if eating at nicer places). These figures do not include any tip that may be required in the sit-down restaurants. If THEY can afford to toss away $160+ per month on nothing but lunch – let THEM do so. YOU have better things to spend your money on and you will have something to show for yours other than an expanding waistline.

2) Utilities:

a) Electricity:

1) Turn off all TVs and computers when not in use. Video game sources not only need to be shut down, they need to be UNPLUGGED! Video game consoles are power vampires and continue drawing a lot of power even when turned off! Xboxes and PS3’s are the very worst power vampires. This is a fact few are aware of but many are finally figuring out. Also unplug any appliances/electronics (toasters, can openers, spare TVs) that are not used often or don’t need to keep a clock running. Try this for 1 month and see what difference it can make!

2) Turn off all lights in rooms you are not currently using.

3) Close doors (and a/c – heat vents) in rooms not used. This saves on the amount of time the unit has to be on to maintain a set temperature in the house.

4) Change over to an a/c or heating control panel that allows you to program it to different temperatures at different times of day (lower at bedtime or during day when no one in the house). If you have one already but haven’t set it to do so–DO IT! The savings can be measurable.

5) Check your insulation and weather stripping around doors and windows each season to make sure you don’t need to replace them. Windows and doors with poor seals cause your heat or a/c units to run constantly in order to compensate for the hot/cold air seeping into the home. This not only runs up your bill, it wears on the units themselves and can cause them to freeze up – costing you a house call by your favorite repair person!

6) Never do laundry or dishes until you have full loads. This not only saves electricity but in water usage as well. Better yet, do your dishes by hand or have your kids do them as a chore.

7) Set your water heater unit to a lower, more energy-efficient level of 120 degrees. This not only saves in energy, it prolongs the life of your water heater by slowing down build up of minerals in the tank. Refer to for more energy saving tips.

8) Use the cold water cycle for more of your clothes washing–either the full load for colors or whites that are not very soiled, or at least for the rinse cycle.

9) Try to save all chores using major amounts of electricity, such as laundry, for OFF PEAK hours (after 8pm). You are billed at a cheaper rate.

b) Phone:

1) Renegotiate your contract with your telephone provider. With “Magic Jack”, “Vonage” and cellular phones out now, your landline provider should be more than willing to renegotiate your monthly bill. For example, I was able to take my “Verizon” landline from over $75 per month down to $40…including UNLIMITED FREE long distance! If they refuse to offer you the bargains they are offering only for “new customers”, then DROP your service for a few days and re-open the account – explain you can do this to the rep. when you speak with them. Either they can cooperate and have a satisfied customer, or you can dump your service and re-apply another time to get the bargains…or WORSE – NEVER use them again and go for the alternatives. Be sure to check details of the other options first. I tried the “Magic Jack” for a while and though VERY cheap, it does not support a fax machine and you must have internet with the computer on 24/7 in order for it to work.

The calls often have poor quality and break up.

2) If you have both a landline and a cell phone, check into how much more it would cost to upgrade your cell to unlimited use verses your monthly landline bill. If you can – drop the landline entirely. Keep in mind cell phones do not accept collect calls nor can you run a fax machine.

c) Water:

1) As stated previously, never do partial loads of dishes or laundry unless you absolutely have no other choice.

2) Repair defective toilets and faucets that run or drip. They sell repair kits in hardware departments or home repair stores. In the majority of cases, it is a simple fix of a new gasket or washer – no repair person 

3) Make sure your kids turn OFF the water completely after showers, brushing teeth, washing hands, etc. If this is difficult to do – replace the washers/seals in the handles.

4) If you have a pool and have to fill it, make sure you notify your water company because they will not charge you the “sanitation” part to “sanitize and recycle” the water. Every little bit helps!

d) Cable: 
This one is simple. We all understand cable is no longer a luxury, per say, but for many of us it’s replaced going outside the home for entertainment. Who can afford $60+ for a family of 4 just to go see a movie? There is no such thing as “affordable family outings” any longer. Cable has replaced that for many of us.

1) CANCEL your paid movie channels! These are often so repetitive that we end up seeing nothing but the same movies in different times for a month at a time. WHY? It’s such a waste of money. Instead, order NETFLIX at $9 per month..$12 if you opt for the blue ray option (first month trial period is free). You will wonder why you didn’t do this sooner! You have in excess of 100 movies in over 10 categories to choose from, totaling approximately 17,000 titles. The movies you cannot watch instantly – they will mail to you and you will receive them in 1 day. Keep them for as long as you need and return. Once returned in their pre-paid envelope (it comes in), they then forward the next movie on your list. You can use Netflix via computer or thru your gaming device (wii, xbox or ps3). You must have internet in order to use that way, but it’s so worth it! I’ve saved $30+ per month by doing this. If you don’t have or don’t want internet, you can order the DVDs to be mailed to you instead.

e) Gas (car):

1) Plan your errands wisely. Instead of running here and there several days per week, pick 1 day to run all errands and plot a course that takes you in a circle. Everything is done in 1 day plus gas usage at a minimum by planning your routes better.

2) NEVER “price hunt” for gasoline. I know so many who will drive 10 miles to save 3 cents! Where is the logic in that? You blow that much in gas getting there and back! If you happen to be in the area already – wonderful, if not – either wait until you will be or get bargains closer to home.

3) If you have a friend who has errands on one side of town and only a few things on your side (or visa versa) divide and help each other out! What is closer to you – you handle…what is closer to them – they handle. Then meet in the middle for a nice cup of coffee with the money you saved in gas – not to mention in time. 

1) Insurance premiums. If you are paying over $600 a year in homeowner’s insurance you are paying too much! That is, unless you have a mansion! Go over your policy with your agent and find out WHY it is so much – chances are they are valuing what you have inside way too high and/or you have a $0 deductible. Getting it knocked down to a more sensible rate can save $100+ per month. If you have a good driving record and aren’t driving a Mercedes – go over your auto insurance as well. If it seems high, odds are there may be claims listed under your name by mistake or your deductibles are very low! I had this happen to us once. Our NEW insurance agent was kind enough to inform us there were over 14 claims listed under our policy that did not belong to us! The names nor cars matched us nor anyone we knew!!! This “clerical error” on the part of our old insurance company caused us to have to pay hundreds more over the years than we shouldn’t have had to!!! ALWAYS QUESTION!

One thing to remember…EVERYTHING is NEGOTIABLE if they want to keep your business!

2) Going out in general 
If you do decide to take in that movie you just cannot wait to see, purchase just the tickets at the theater and skip the drinks and snacks (you don’t really need them anyway); or carry a big purse and bring some or your own! With tickets being as high as $10 in some areas and just a medium drink being $5 or more – who can afford to buy all of the other goodies? Go to Wal-mart and buy those same big boxes of various candy they charge over $5 at the theater for $1 or less. You don’t have to advertise to the entire theater you brought your own. I am of the opinion that if they truly wanted you to purchase from them, they wouldn’t charge such insane prices!

If you go out for dinner, keep the appetizers to a minimum (as well as cocktails). Instead, have maybe 1 cocktail before dinner — if you are into that sort of thing, I’m not much of a drinker myself…especially when the kids are around. Make a pan of brownies, banana pudding, cake, etc. and have coffee with dessert at home after. I enjoy this part myself, it’s like extending the family outing – you get home and everyone gets comfy. Pop on a Netflix movie and have family movie night with dessert!

3) There are places you can go for family fun that are absolutely free. Check your local parks and recreation offices or local visitor centers. We love going on nature walks along the Great Dismal Swamp here in my area–lovely view and always plenty of wildlife to snap pictures of. We are also blessed in having the beach very close by for long walks and nice views.

4) Buying business clothing or even play clothes: Try searching in your area for “Consignment Shops”. These are very different from “Thrift Shops” in that their items are high-end and excellent quality. In fact, I’ve found many treasures with the price tags still on, things never worn! For example, I found an Armani jacket – reg. $300 – for $65!!!! The best time to find these bargains are just prior to season changes and Christmas. That’s when most go through their things to make room. You can still look like a million without having to spend a million! A bit of altering if needed — a trip to the dry cleaners and voila, perfect fit – looks brand new…at a fraction of the price!

5) If you enjoy entertaining friends and family at home, make it “pot luck”. With grocery expenses up, this method allows you to entertain more people more frequently without having to take a second mortgage out on your house.

6) Babysitting: Barter services with other parents. You watch their children for a night out and they in turn watch yours for you to go out. $0 spent on babysitters.

7) I’m a firm believer in bartering. Not just with babysitting, but with anything else you can! No one is good at everything, but we each have our strengths and can trade friends, neighbors, family those services for things they are stronger in. For example, that neighbor who always has their kids’ computers crashing. They know nothing about computers but are mechanical geniuses with cars. Trade your services in repairing computers for their services in giving you a tune-up. Of course any parts or supplies needed would be paid for unless one is offering something of higher value. It’s a win-win situation that costs $0. This is how people used to do things years ago and made for tighter relationships/communities. “It takes a village…”

8) This is a VERY IMPORTANT tip: NEVER keep beyond $20 in cash or you will end up spending it all without realizing where it went. Use a debit card instead. This way you have a good record of where you spend the most and how often.

9) Have a coin jar: Put your change in a jar at the end of every day. Once a year add it up and see what mini-vacation or family outing you can splurge on with that little nestegg.

Check to see if your bank offers a “rounding up savings account” for every debit/check, they round it up and put the change in a savings for you.

Now you have a great start on saving cash! Try as many of these tips as you can for a couple of months, then compare to your old methods. You will be stunned at the amount you save! You can add more of them over time or as they come up to continue to see even more savings.

I can also help you save money if you own a small business and are tired of watching advertising prices get higher and higher. Contact me at the email listed below and in subject line enter – How does having a VA save me money?

Stop giving away $200 or more per month! I can show you how to save money by using my simple budgeting steps I use in my own household. Not only can I help you save money at home, but if you are a small business looking to expand without spending a fortune, email me at the address below with subject line: How can a VA save me money and valuable time at the office and at home.

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