Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The three Rs are not just eco-friendly; they are also wallet-friendly! Doing with less -- whether it is a smaller house (that is less expensive to buy, to heat, and to air condition) with a smaller lawn (that requires less water, fertilizer, and gas for the mower) or fewer possessions in general so that you don't have to invest in expensive storage solutions -- will always help you save money. (Note: I live in Manhattan, where tiny apartments are the norm, and the number of people who buy so much stuff that they must pay for off-site storage facilities to house it all is staggering.) Similarly, reusing what you already have, even if it must be slightly repurposed for another use (e.g. dying old shoes to match a new outfit) is a good way to pinch pennies. And what family isn't familiar with the classic money-saving recycling technique of handing down clothes from an older sibling to a younger one?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cherish What You Have

By taking care of your possessions, always keeping them in tip-top shape, you will ensure that they last longer and need to be replaced less often, saving you lots of money. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Regularly clean and polish your shoes to keep them looking new longer.
  • Spray a water-repellent seal on winter footwear to protect it from excess precipitation (test in an inconspicuous place first).
  • Take shoes to a cobbler when they begin to look worn - new soles can dramatically extend the life of your shoes.
  • You might also have your cobbler add heel and toe taps to new shoes to prevent wear-and-tear from the start.
  • At home, don't just throw them on the closet floor - store them in shoe boxes or in protective dust bags. 
  • And use gel strips and inserts on hot spots to prevent blisters -- these work especially well on shoes you wear sockless.
  • Tailor your clothes for a perfect fit -- when you look your best in what you already have, you'll be less interested in shopping for new things.
  • Always pamper your clothing: fold sweaters rather than hanging them; use padded, never wire hangers; don't overcrowd your closet (clothes need room to breathe); treat stains as soon as you see them (I like the Shout brand of stain remover for really tough stains, or see the recipe below); repair pilling; replace buttons, repair hems, sew holes; use products like cedar blocks and herb packets to keep pests away from out-of-season clothing.
  • Remember that the chemicals in the dry cleaning process can weaken fabric, so limit your trips to the cleaner (if you wear that cashmere sweater over a t-shirt, chances are it doesn't need to be washed after each wearing). You can also hand-wash (delicately, and with a special detergent like Woolite) items that say "dry clean" (only those that say "dry clean only" really can't be laundered at home).
  • Make sure you follow all regular maintenance tasks on your car according to the manufacturer's recommendations: a hundred dollars early on can save thousands over the life of the car.
  • Also, be sure to use the recommended gas - high octane may cost more but if it helps the engine run more smoothly, it is worth it.
  • Your house is likely to be your largest financial investment, so treat it as such. Don't let little problems become big ones.
For more tips on keeping shoes and clothing in tip-top shape, see Redbook's article on Cleaning Out Your Closet and Ladies Home Journal's piece on Making Your Wardrobe Last Longer.

Stain remover recipe (from The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn): Add one cup each of powdered Cascade and Clorox II to five gallons of very hot water. Soak stained garments overnight, then launder as usual. Note: for best results, don't use on delicate fabrics or clothing that is not color-fast.

For really tough stains (think ink pen explosion in your pocket) soak the article of clothing overnight in a solution made with two-parts milk and one part white vinegar.  Then launder as usual.

Incidentally, some folks have found that white vinegar keeps the colors of most clothes (except red and dark denim) from running in the washing machine.  It is cheaper than the new "Color Catcher" product and saves money by helping you run few loads overall, since you don't have to sort by color.
You can also brush a little liquid bleach (using a Q-tip, or the special bleach product that comes with a brush) on the soiled area. Rinse the garment thoroughly immediately after the stain disappears, and then launder as usual.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

Whether you clip coupons from the paper, get them online (for use with other websites or at the store), or swap with friends, not using coupons is like throwing money away! Here are some ideas to make sure you save as much money as possible:

  1. Save coupons only for the products you regularly use - you are not really saving money if you buy expensive packaged goods or toiletries just because of a 75 cents off deal.
  2. Whenever you shop online, do a search for the name of the retailer and coupon or discount (e.g. "Old Navy coupon" or "Old Navy discount") to see if there are currently special offers like free shipping that you can use.  Or use online search engines like that do the work for you.
  3. Sign up for grocery store and drugstore frequent shopper cards to make sure you automatically receive the best price they are currently offering. As a special bonus, many of these programs offer money back when you reach a certain spending level (e.g. for every $100 you spend, you get $5 back).
  4. The inserts in Sunday's paper aren't the only source of coupons. The Internet is full of discounts for shopping online and offline. Check out these sites:,,,,,,,,,,,