Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Making Your Money Buy Your Happiness

One of my over-riding beliefs about successfully saving money is that involves making choices.  Sometimes the choices can be difficult - but keeping your ultimate goal in mind can be helpful.  Minor sacrifices won't ultimately be so bothersome if they are viewed as a means of achieving the lifestyle you really want.

Two articles I came across today address this concept, albeit in different ways:

Spend Happier reports that various research study shows that all else being equal, you can probably achieve greater satisfaction just by spending your money in specific ways.  But since some of the studies are seemingly contradictory, it is important to think about what is most important to you individually.  One study shows that small, frequent luxuries (a latte, a salon manicure) can bring more joy overall than one single splurge.  But that is only true if you really love the daily indulgences more, because in other cases, saving up for something really special (the perfect dress) is worth more than spending the same amount on a whole host of cheaper clothing that you don't really love.  In most cases, a great vacation or other experience provides more lasting happiness than the same amount spent on possessions.  And giving your money away to those who need it even more than you do provides the most joy of all.

7 Money Rules to Live By  is all about recognizing that you can control your financial destiny.  You may not know what is going to wrong in the future, but if you anticipate that something will, and therefore set aside an emergency fund, it won't be so heart-breaking when you have a sudden home repair or other expense.  Similarly, as hard as it is to ask for a raise, put your own retirement ahead of your children's college expenses, and ensure that you have funds that are all yours (and not controlled by a partner), these are all ways to ensure that you get what you need money-wise.

Friday, March 2, 2012

365 Ways to Save - March

Here is the third installment of our 365 tightwad tips for ways to save money this year:

Food Shopping
61. Buy in season and on sale. Seasonal produce will be fresher and taste better. And since many seasonal products are featured sale items, you'll save money, too. Afraid you won't know what to cook if you aren't always purchasing your favorites? Just search online for recipes by ingredient or refer to cookbooks organized by main ingredient, like Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
62. Pay attention to when things go on sale so that in time you can plan for these sales: for example, turkeys and baking items are cheapest during the holidays when they are often priced as loss-leaders, and use your freezer to help you take advantage of these sales.
63. Don't spend more than you have to on organic foods. For example, for thick-skinned produce like avocados, bananas, melons and pineapples, the toxins from non-organic farming processes won't be a problem. And if you know who the producer is (i.e. you are buying locally), find out if they use organic practices even if they aren't certified organic. Above all, save your organic dollars for where they matter most like berries, grapes, meat, milk and eggs.
64. Make your own taco seasonings, croutons and bread crumbs rather than buying these convenience items at the store (click here for how to's).
65. To make the most of everything you buy, look for recipes like our Use What You Have Fritatta to use up leftovers and little bits of this and that in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
66. Get the frequent buyer card at all grocery stores you frequent regularly. Most of these cards will allow you to get weekly discounts automatically (no need to clip coupons from the weekly flyer!). As a bonus, you may also find that you'll get extra savings by registering your card at sites like Upromise.com.
67. Use your credit card to pay for your food shopping and receive extra frequent flyer rewards (the assumes you are enrolled in a reward program and that you pay off your balance every month).
68. Make a shopping list based on your meal plan and stick to it.  Don't go to the store hungry - you will definitely buy more if your stomach is rumbling.  And don't be tempted to buy loads of perishables just because they are on sale - lettuce that wilts at the back of your fridge is not really a bargain. The only exception to impulse purchases: if pantry staples are on sale, you should load up.
69. Check out online coupon sites for discounts on the brand-name items on your shopping list.
70. Buy food that is in its most natural - and most inexpensive - state. Prepared and packaged foods are always pricier. So opt for a whole chicken instead of chicken parts; for plain rice instead of seasoned rice (it's easy to add your own herbs and spices) and so forth.
71. But at the same time it is good to buy food in its most natural state, don't overlook frozen fruits and vegetables - they are often less expensive than the same item in the produce aisle when it is out-of-season (for example, you can save by buying frozen blueberries instead of fresh in January and they will taste just as great in muffins and pancakes and just as packed with nutrients).
72. Plan to substitute what you have on hand for specific (often more expensive) specialty items. For example, you don’t need to buy buttermilk just for one recipe – you can use milk mixed with a little lemon juice or vinegar instead. If you want a thicker consistency, you can use the same amount of plain or vanilla yogurt. Whatever you choose as a substitute, you aren't wasting the rest of a quart of buttermilk, if the recipe just calls for 1/2 cup.  To learn more about cooking substitutions, click here.

Always Ask for a Discount
73. There are very few situations where you can't politely ask for some savings.  For example, when you are shopping for clothes, inspect them carefully and ask for a small discount (5-10% will usually do it) if the merchandise is excessively wrinkled or otherwise shopworn.  You can ask for more (20-25%) if the damage will require dry cleaning or sewing repairs.
74. In smaller stores (not chain stores), ask for a discount if you are buying a large number of items at one time (e.g. shopping for multiple children) or if one item is particularly pricey.  I once fell in love with a pair of very expensive jeans.  I truly could not afford them and reluctantly told the shop owner that.  She very kindly asked me what I could afford and sold me the jeans for that price.  This was truly unexpected generosity -- but never would have happened if I hadn't been honest.
75. Not only should you pay attention to changes in prices when stores offer price protection, but you should hold them to their customer service standards.  For example, recently I had to return to a sporting goods store because a clerk had left the security tag on a shirt I had purchased for my son. While I was waiting for the store manager to remove the tag, I mentioned that the clerk's mistake had resulted in a real inconvenience for me: not only did I have to go out of my way to make a return trip to the store, but the tag had set off the alarms at another store which was embarrassing. And so the manager agreed to a $5 refund - the same as a 17% discount on the shirt.
76. Ask for discounts on services as well as merchandise.  We got a $25 discount from the garage where we park our car just for asking if they could do better on the price.  We also received a discount from our children's orthodontist when we discovered two of our children would need braces.
77. Negotiating for lower prices works especially if you are a regular customer - so be sure to ask for discounts at the retailers and service providers you patronize the most.
78. Consider the situation from the opposite side of the table.  Does the retailer have to pay bank fees to the bank if you use a credit card?  Then offer to pay cash and share the savings.  Is your contractor concerned about waiting until the end of the job to be paid?  Perhaps if you accelerate the payment schedule, he'll do the job for less.
79.  You can even ask for a break from your local government, by asking that your property be reassessed if your taxes have recently increased.

Spring Cleaning
80. One of the best ways to save money is to buy quality products and then work diligently to maintain them.  Click here for a list of some of the best products for cleaning around the house.  Using them will help to make sure that everything you own stays in top condition.
81. We also love products that can be used in a variety of ways. Not only do you save money by buying fewer items, but many of these basics are less expensive than their specialized alternatives.  For example, not only does baking soda leaven quick breads and other baked goods, but it is a great cleanser.  Use it to freshen your fridge and freezer; to open a slow-running drain (in combination with white vinegar); to deodorize a whole host of items, including smelly shoes, rugs, upholstery and your garbage disposal; to clean appliances, counters, sinks, pots and pans and other items scratch-free (just sprinkle some on a moist sponge) and to brighten and whiten laundry by adding a cup to each load.
82. Toothpaste (the old-fashioned white paste, not the newer gels) also has multiple uses.  It removes white rings from wooden furniture; cleans chrome and silver (including jewelry and flatware); makes scratched dvds playable again; and even smooths the surface of your steam iron.
83. At least once a year, be sure to vacuum the dust of the coils of your refrigerator.  You might have to refer to the owner's manual to find them, but this extra work will be worth it: removing the dust makes the fridge work more efficiently, which not only saves on your electric bill, but will keep your fridge in top working order so it won't have to be replaced as quickly.
84. You don’t need to spend lots of money on fancy sprays, potpourris, or plug-ins to keep your home smelling nice. Boil a pot of water with your choice of cinnamon sticks, lemon peels, or vanilla extract and the aroma will spread throughout the house.
85. Fabric softener sheets also good for wiping down TV screens and computer monitors (use them for this purpose after they’ve dried a load of laundry – or two).
86. Use turkey baster or rubber bulb ear syringe in place of can of compressed air to blow dust from key board and other delicate or tough-to-clean places.
87. Instead of buying pricey furniture scratch cover, fill in dents and dings with colored wax from your crayon collection or with shoe polish.  (Not sure of which color will match best? Better to start lighter and move darker).  You can also break the meaty part of a walnut, Brazil nut or pecan in half and rub it over the scratched spot.

Want to see more of our 365 ways to save? Check out the list of tightwad tips from January and February.