Friday, December 5, 2008

Money-saving tips that don't suck

Who'd of thunk it that I would be able to offer financial advice? Me -- the one who racked up tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt in her 20s? Well, I recently finished paying off a $30,000 home equity consolidation loan and have now officially paid off my very-dragged-out bachelor's degree plus my 2001 car and some credit card debt.

With the state of the economy, not to mention the state of the newspaper business, my husband and I are buckling down.

Here are some ways I've been saving:

1. Why pay for a gym membership when the area community center has a free workout room with new equipment and a locker room? It's not a huge workout room, but it has all the basics. Your tax dollars pay for these community centers, and they have lots to offer, so take advantage.

2. Use the library. Yes, I forgot all about the library. I probably have enough novels stacked up to last me two years, but I've been borrowing craft-related books and saving money.

3. Shop thrift stores. I've always been turned off by used clothes, but I sifted through and picked up only nice brands. I got a beautiful, well-made Ann Taylor skirt for $5.99. I draw the line at used shoes, though.

4. Eat at home. This is a hard one for me. I like to grab lunch out on the way to work, although I usually get something really cheap like a 6" Subway sandwich. I've been grocery shopping and cooking. It takes a little advance planning, but it saves.

5. Pick a grocery store and take advantage of its frequent shopper program. I like Smith's. It's close and brand new. It also has a little organic section. I know some people will see the frequent shopper card as a bit "big brother," but it keeps track of what I like to buy and then sends me relevant coupons. It also sent me a $6 off coupon for my entire purchase.

6. Only buy what you need and NO JUNK! In other words, don't use coupons just to use coupons and end up buying stuff you didn't want in the first place. Don't spend money on cookies and junk food. It's hard to balance healthful eating and spending wisely, but it's better to skip the cookies and spend more on leaner ground beef.

7. Shop frequently. If you live close to a grocery store, you may want to shop more often and buy a little at a time. This works best for me because I mostly feed just myself. My husband and I rarely have meals together due to our schedules, so we just sort of fend for ourselves. We often prefer different foods, so if I buy too much, it might go bad. Likewise, my freezer is a disorganized pit, so I try to just buy fresh meats as I need them so I don't forget what's in there. It also means I'm buying just what I need and wasting less.

8. Cut out all the little extras. It's easy to see something for $6 or $7 and think it's no big deal, but those things all add up.

9. Rethink entertainment. Things like movies may be out. We pay for satellite TV and movie channels and will continue to do so, but that means I won't be spending money renting movies or using Netflicks. I'll just have to watch what's offered on HBO. Maybe some people would rather use Netflicks and eliminate cable.

10. Fix stuff. My dress boots were making a lot of noise recently. I looked at the heels and they were worn to metal nubs. The toes were also shot. In the past, I would have chucked them and bought new ones, but who has $100 or more bucks for new boots right now? I don't, so I took them to a shoe repair and got new heels and toes for $20. They look brand new. I used to be really wasteful and buy a new watch when my battery died, figuring I was tired of it anyway, but now I will be replacing the battery instead.

11. Ask your workplace (if you still have one) if there are any discounts available. If you don't have the option of a free workout area (see #1), many bigger companies have deals with gyms. I get a 17% discount on my monthly bill through Verizon thanks to work, and also discounts on accessories and phones.

12. Take advantage of rebates. And don't forget to mail them in. You can really get great deals, but they are betting that lots of people won't bother/remember to mail them in. Walgreens has a monthly rebate program. Grab a pamphlet when you walk in and see what's entirely free. Usually they will have 1-6 items that are completely free after rebate. Sometimes they aren't any good to me, like this month's bald-man head wipeys, but sometimes they're great. And FREE! If you live with somebody and dine with them frequently, and Entertainment Book can be a great value with all those buy 1, get 1 deals.

13. (adding as I think of things) Like to read? Use to trade books. You give away your old ones and request new ones. Recycles and saves money.

I must admit that younger generations are quite wasteful, but I'm changing my ways right now, and it doesn't really have to hurt!

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