If you regularly run out of money before the month is over, it’s time to consider some economies. Here are concrete ideas to help stretch your money farther.
First, build an emergency fund—enough to cover three months expenses to start and building to six months. Then if an emergency strikes, you’ll have funds to cover it rather than withdrawing from a retirement account with the resultant penalty or having to use a credit card with a high interest. (As one wise man said, “Interest is something you earn, not something you pay.”)
Next, if you can’t afford to pay cash—or pay off your credit card each month—don’t buy it. If you have credit card debt, pay it off ASAP. At the very least find a credit card with a lower interest rate and transfer the balance. Call customer service and talk to a person. You can sometimes negotiate a better rate than is shown on websites. Investigate no-fee cards which offer cash-back rewards. Some offer gift cards worth more than the cash return you are due.
Stay healthy. Exercise, eat wisely and take care of yourself. Washing your hands can actually be a money saver if it keeps you from catching something that causes you to miss work, cough up a co-pay to visit your healthcare provider, or fork over for medications. You’ll even save money on tissues and throat lozenges!
Do it yourself. Cook more meals at home. Go vegetarian at least one night a week. Check YouTube for videos of home repairs from replacing a car’s headlight to fixing the washing machine. Paint your own bathroom. Choose clothes that don’t need dry cleaning. Mow your own lawn. Color your hair yourself. Use plastic bags and aluminum foil at least twice and you can buy them half as often.
Never buy retail. Watch for sales. Peruse eBay. Use on-line price comparison sites and check product reviews. Load apps on your smart phone to compare prices, download coupons, manage reward cards, and check out product reviews. Patronize thrift stores to find bargains, one-of-a-kind items, and help worthy organizations at the same time. Pre-select a major purchase like a lawnmower or fridge (after consulting Consumer Reports or other ratings), and then wait for a sale.
Always ask for a discount if you are a student, a senior, a teacher, or belong to another special group. Home Depot and Lowe’s, for example, offer 10 percent discounts to persons with a military ID card. Staples has a special program for teachers. Some businesses, especially restaurants and grocery stores, offer discounts on a certain day of the week. Visit GiftCardGranny.com to find the best prices for selling unwanted gift cards and for buying gift cards at attractive discounts.
Save electricity. The Good Housekeeping Institute estimates the annual cost for a single lightbulb (on for three hours a day and amortizing the bulb over its lifetime) at $8.21 for an incandescent, $2.05 for a compact fluorescent, but only $1.64 for an LED. Using a clothesline or drying rack is kinder to your clothes than a dryer and saves power at the same time. If you heat the oven for a pizza, bake some cookies with that same electricity.
“Vampire power is huge these days,” observes Charlottesville’s Better World Betty. That’s the wasted electricity used by “standby” items such as televisions and computers that draw current even when “off.” Other offenders are chargers for power tools or cell phones that suck energy even when they aren’t charging. The Department of Energy estimates that this vampire usage costs $100 or more each year in the average American household.
Forgo the fancy coffee for a cup of regular brew a couple times a week and only buy bottled water when the tap water is unsafe. Fill a reusable water bottle at home and take with you on outings. To see what a difference this can make, put the greenback you didn’t use to buy bottled water and the difference between the latte and regular coffee in an envelope in your pocket or purse. At the end of the week, put it in a big jar. At the end of the year you could easily have $500!
By Marilyn Pribus
In the past few months, Marilyn Pribus and her husband learned from on-line videos how to fix the failed you-left-the-headlight-on buzzer on her Honda by swapping the passenger and driver door plungers. They also saw how to repair a microwave that didn’t work because the door didn’t close tightly—with just a screwdriver and a paper clip. They figure they saved well over $100 with those two tasks.