Monday, January 30, 2012

Forever Frugal

The Wall Street Journal had an article some months ago about how many people who changed their shopping habits when the recession first hit are maintaining their frugal ways.  Some of this is because the economy still hasn't improved, and so people are continuing to cut back.  Some of it is because people have found that saving money in small consistent ways makes sense -- and doing otherwise is a waste of hard-earned dollars.  Here are the most commonly cited changes:
  • Buying generic or house/private-label brands of both grocery items and health & beauty products.
  • Scouring sales.
  • Clipping coupons.
  • Shopping at dollar stores and bulk food stores.
  • Shopping with a list - and sticking to it, no matter what temptations the store offers.
  • Driving less.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cleaning Products

One of the best ways to save money is to buy quality products and then work diligently to maintain them.  Here are some products for cleaning around the house:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Tasty But Cheap Fritatta Recipe

One of the best ways to save money on your food bill is to buy what's on sale.  It also helps to use up all your leftovers, letting nothing go to waste.  That's why I like this recipe from Better Homes & Garden -- because it is so flexible, you can use whatever you have on hand or whatever is cheapest at the store.  The only real expense is the eggs -- but since a dozen is less than a pound of almost any other kind of protein (except beans), you are still saving.

The Anything Frittata

8 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon dried herbs (such as basil, oregano, or Italian seasoning), crushed, or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or dried thyme, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons butter, margarine, or vegetable oil
3/4 cup cut-up vegetables (such as chopped sweet pepper, chopped onion, chopped carrot, sliced mushrooms, chopped zucchini or yellow summer squash, chopped potato, corn, cut green beans, broccoli florets, and/or chopped, seeded tomato)
3/4 cup chopped cooked meat (such as ham, chicken, beef, pork, or turkey) or crumbled, crisp-cooked bacon or turkey bacon
Salt
Black pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheese (such as cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, Parmesan, mozzarella, or Havarti)

1. Preheat broiler. In a bowl whisk together eggs, milk, herbs, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; set aside.
2. In a large broiler proof skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Add vegetables; cook and stir for about 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in cooked meat; cook and stir for another 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through. Season mixture with additional salt and black pepper.
3. Pour egg mixture over the vegetable-meat mixture in the skillet. Cook over medium heat. As the egg mixture sets, run a spatula around edge of skillet, lifting egg mixture so uncooked portion flows underneath. Continue cooking and lifting edges until egg mixture is almost set (surface with be moist). Reduce heat as necessary to prevent overcooking. Sprinkle with cheese.
4. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 1 to 3 minutes or until top is set and cheese is melted.

Makes 4 servings.

Friday, January 13, 2012

365 Ways to Save - January

If your New Year's Resolution was to save money in 2012, you are in luck!  We have developed a list of 365 ways to cut back in ways both big and small.  Choose one to implement every day and you'll be well on the way to having more money in the bank.

Getting Started
1. Take some time to figure out where you are financially.  Tally up what you own and what you owe and consider what your overall financial goals are -- both short term and long term.  Remind yourself that financial planning is all about choices.  If you know where you are headed, it is easier to make the daily decisions throughout the year that will get you there.  (The first few slides of Redbook's "30-Day Money Cleanse" provide a good example.)
2. Review all of your spending for the past year via a detailed look at your checking account statements and your annual credit card statements will help and identify the biggest categories of spending since these may be where the biggest savings are.
3. If you haven't refinanced your mortgage recently, now may be a good time to do it to reduce your monthly payment.  Before you take the plunge, factor in closing costs and other associated payments to make sure that your overall savings will be worth the considerable work it now takes to close on a mortgage.
4. As you review the spending categories, ask yourself if the amounts you are spending on each are in line with your values and goals.  For example, if you love to travel but can't find the funds to do so, but meanwhile are spending $75 a week on a Saturday night out, maybe you'll want to shift that annual cost of $3900 toward one really great vacation.
5. Take time now to review the itemized detail of each monthly bill.  You may find that your needs have changed and that some features - perhaps call waiting or an unlisted phone number on your phone bill - are no longer warranted.  And you may find that by changing plans - perhaps rolling your phone, Internet and cable services together; or moving to unlimited cellphone minutes - you can save money every month.  Sites like Billshrink.com can be useful in this review.

At Home
6.Turn down the heat and put on a sweater: for each degree lower, you'll save about 5% of your heating costs.
7.The savings are even greater if you take off an extra layer and turn up the thermostat in the summer.
8. Shave additional dollars off your heating and cooling bill by regularly cleaning the filters.
9. Save electricity by turning off lights every time you leave a room and unplugging your charger as soon as your phone, e-reader, etc. is charged.
10. Set your washing machine to the cold cycle for every load this year and save on your hot water bill.
11. Get out of the shower one minute faster every morning and save even more hot water.
12. Washing dishes in the dishwasher (assuming it is full) actually uses less water than running the water by hand. 
13. Save even more by not rinsing them before you put the dishes in the dishwasher -- today's machines don't require that step.
14. Still running the faucet while you brush your teeth?  Stop that habit today - you could be using almost 3,000 extra gallons of water if you don't!

Bill Paying
15. Pay your regularly occurring bills online and/or set up automatic deductions from your checking account (or credit card to earn extra miles or points -- as long as you pay the balance every month).  Not only will you avoid late fees and improve your credit, but if you no longer have to mail 10 checks every month, you'll save more than $50 in postage this year.
16. Always scan your bills for charges that don't belong there -- not only, say, long distance phone calls you didn't make, but also the so-called "grey charges" that show up on your credit card because you didn't opt-out of, say, the identity-protection program when you got a new card.
17. Consolidate all the phones (cell and land line) onto one provider and save. 
18. Do the same with all your insurance plans. 
19. And review the programs annually to see if switching (or threatening to switch) can save you even more.

Sale Shopping
20.  Don't be tempted by those 75% off signs: we have all experienced times when discounts make bad things look good.  But if you wouldn't buy that orange sweater at full price, then don't buy it just because it is on sale.  It is really only a bargain if it something you really want and will really use.  Be especially careful when shopping for items marked "final sale" as they cannot be returned.
21. Follow your favorite stores on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for their email list to be sure you have access to the best deals, sales, and coupons.
22. Sign-up for their snail-mail list too, in case they prefer to send offers that way.
23. Know the sales cycle and plan to buy when prices will be at their lowest.  For example, most grocery items go on sale every 12 weeks or so.  Other items, like clothing and home goods are seasonal.
24. Use coupons - clip them from newspapers and magazines and check out sites like couponmom.com for printable coupons plus tips and tricks for using them to save the most possible

Online Savings
25. Visit price comparison sites like pricegrabber and nextag to make sure you get the lowest price.  Be sure to factor in shipping and tax costs.
26. Sign up for programs like Upromise and ebates which refund a portion of each sale from specific retailers the site with which the site has partnership agreements.
27. Always search for online coupons which can provide free shipping or a percentage off before you hit the "buy" button.

Membership Rewards
28. Sign up for free frequent buyer programs, be they from grocers, drugstores, hotels or airlines.  Retailers often give you a percentage back once you reach a predetermined level of spending.  Their cards may also automatically provide you with coupon savings.  Travel companies typically give you points that can be used for upgrades or freebies.
29. Take stock of frequent flyer miles and credit card reward points on an annual basis, checking to make sure you use them before they expire.
30. Can't use your travel miles or points on flights or hotels because of blackouts or other complications?  Look into other options: transfer them to another program, use them to buy merchandise, or convert them to magazine subscriptions for yourself or to give as gifts.

Building Your Nest Egg
31. Putting money aside isn't easy when you are on a tight budget.  But automatically having even as little as $10 deposited directly into a interest-bearing savings account every week will make a difference over the long run.  Think about it as a gift to yourself that will pay off big over time.

That's it for January's tips.  Look for 29 more Top Tightwad Tips next month.