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I guess I have always been surrounded by the “aura” of saving money. It started for me as a kid, simply because I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of extra money and I was the child of parents who grew up during the Great Depression. I am pretty sure that experience shaped my Mom and Dad’s philosophy about money and the importance of saving for a rainy day. The rainy days of the 1930’s were pretty rainy, so I get it.
Of course, my parents were also around for the post-war abundance and prosperity of the 1950’s and things got a lot better for them and for all Americans as the 20th century rolled on. But even with that, the art and skill of the “saving of money” (which really primarily fell on my Mom’s shoulders as the main shopper and budget keeper) was still upper-most in their minds. And yes, of course, since I was right there by their side, mine too. But despite the emphasis on the saving of money, it didn’t mean that we had to have no life!
The Challenge of Saving
Finding quick and painless ways for putting some money aside without giving up all of your “needs”—and just as important your “wants”—and not feeling deprived, cheap, and guilty in your life is one of the biggest challenges you face in your personal finances today.
I remember being around 8 years old or so and complaining to my mother about some toy that my friend Neal’s dad had bought him that was all the rage back in the 1950’s and asking why I couldn’t get one, too? Of course, it was a very expensive thing and Neal’s family had a lot of expensive stuff back then. They were much better off financially and even my 8-year-old brain could figure that one out! They were the first family to own a color TV on our street, so that was proof right there! But my mom took the time to explain to me about those wants and needs and that lesson has stayed with me—forever. I’m pretty happy now that it did.
Yes, I Am Saving Money, But I Am Not Dead
Cutting household expenses doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to trim everything, even your necessities. As long as I am still breathing, I will still want stuff that I want and spend money on things that I really shouldn’t be spending it on because I am not dead! But, I have to pat myself on the back (and hope I don’t dislocate my shoulder in the process) because I am way more often sensible and money saving than decadent and irresponsible about it and that’s the key.
It’s just a matter of figuring out what is really important and necessary and what is not. You can save money and still have a life. As Mom taught me to do, I think of it as a game, a challenge, and the most important thing is to figure out exactly where to start. So like any challenge or game, there are some rules. Here’s a quick list of three of them as I see it for you to consider.
The best place to save money is to look at your recurring expenses, the ones that repeat every week or month and not the temporary ones, so that your savings will be substantial and really add up in time.
Don’t ever try saving money on the most important things in your life like education, retirement funding, healthcare, and your safety, because the bucks you manage to save that way will come back to haunt you and can really make your life a true disaster if you do.
Find the right balance between cutting expenses and still maintaining a lifestyle you can enjoy. It may take some time to figure it all out, some real trial and error. The important part is to actually try and then learn from trying and not repeat mistakes. Repeating your mistakes means you are not learning anything.
Reducing Your Expenses
Remember Rule #1? A great first step towards this goal is to reassess your monthly expenses. Phone your contacts like the utility companies and check to see if you are getting the best rates that suit your needs and decide if all the services you are paying for like premium cable channels, telephone features, and service warranty contracts are really relevant to you. I just helped my mother-on-law save over $50 a month on her cable bill by eliminating services and channels that she literally was never using!
Be proactive like when you experience disruptions in your services and ask them for a refund! We had a loss of internet service recently and they only credited our bill after we asked for it!
Next, get some updated information on the best rates for car, health, and house/condo/apartment insurance plans. Car insurance rates should be shopped every year because they are very competitive! Make sure you are benefitting from the best offers and discounts, and see if you can get a more cost-effective payment plan and reimbursement limits.
Your Food Costs
To prevent your skepticism on this one, be sure from the very beginning that this section is not about eating less or purchasing cheap and unhealthy food to save money. Those are definitely unreliable solutions that you shouldn’t adopt if you don’t want them to interfere with your health and lifestyle. Instead, try planning your meals in advance, make shopping lists, and go to the grocery just once a week. Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients you need to prepare meals before you start.
Coupons, deals, and loyalty discount cards will also help you maximize your savings and get a few free items each time. If you have one nearby, try shopping at discount stores—their display and appearance may not be exquisite, but you get important discounts on all the items. Another important piece of advice is to buy bulk during sales periods and store your food for longer periods in a freezer or pantry.
Here are a couple of instant savings tips that pay off for anyone looking to save on their food expenses. Try investing in a water filter instead of buying bottled water each time. If you go through just one case of bottled water a week, you are probably spending $150 a year on it and that is about a gazillion times more than it will cost from tap water through a filtered system!
Shop for seasonal items to save like on summer produce—fresh and local, too! You can also put aside a few bucks if you learn how to can fruits and veggies. If you are keen on gardening and you have some space available, plant your own herbs and vegetables to enjoy seasonal products almost for free!
Smart Shopping Habits
Just being a better shopper and understanding some of the basics about it will save you money. This isn’t difficult, but you do have to think about it more than just a little. Here are the tried and true basics you need to know, the smart shopping habits that always save you money!
Last minute purchases rarely bring big economies along and that’s why planning ahead of buying definitely pays off in savings.
There is a best time to buy for most products. For example, mid-fall is generally a good time for shopping, because that’s the period when large stores have to empty their stocks in order to make room for Christmas merchandise.
Don’t make impulse buys. Those unplanned expenses really add up. That’s when you must figure out it if what you’re buying is really a need or a want and plan ahead. Patience is also important, too, because waiting a few more days before buying a costly item means you will have more time to think about it even if it may seem like a bargain.
Learn where and how to find coupons and codes whenever you shop—especially online. Some online shopping sites, like Rakuten (formerly Ebates), even provide you with the option of earning cash back on every purchase!
Shop garage sales, consignment shops, and thrift stores, or even try swapping instead of buying! Studies reveal that an average family can save up to $600 a year by swapping things like children’s clothes and toys! Have some friends and neighbors over your place and have a swapping party every season!
Having Fun and Still Saving Money…Can You Really Do It?
The best things in life are free—ok, I know that, but there are also a few not-so-free but yet great things too and you can get them on the cheap if you try!
Look for coupon deals and offers for fun things to do right near your home area! Perhaps a special offer at the water park or weekly discounts on dance classes, but look around and keep posted! Check out local ads and find good sports or theater performances organized by your community’s library or college! They are usually low cost or free and super, too.
Why not go see the movies in the morning? You may save up to 75% off the regular price tickets and you get the same popcorn! Hey, if you are an AARP member, you can sign up for Movies for Grownups and see great new movies for free every month or so at your local theater.
Find local offers of free tours or enjoy some outdoor time by taking a hike, riding a bike, or simply going to a special place to watch the sunset. All of those are free fun!
What about organizing a game night instead of an evening out? It is far less expensive, you don’t have to make reservations and get in line for tickets, and besides, for a funny twist, you can always add silly bets on household chores. Every once in a while, a potluck party with the neighbors will cheer you all up on a really low budget!
The big one, spending some good quality time with your family is always great and totally free! When was the last time you pulled out your photo albums and your family videos? And very, very important—bring back home birthday parties!
I don’t want to sound too old fashioned here, but saving money and enjoying life are not mutually exclusive! We are pretty hung up on spending money these days and equating spending with the experience so much that if we don’t see fireworks of something loud and glitzy we just may not think that it has value and will be memorable. That’s simply not true and also very cost “ineffective”. Sure, sometimes the glitzy sparkles are really cool, but so are beautiful sunsets and homemade apple pies if you get my drift. And the latter won’t cause credit card bills or jeopardize your financial future in any way either!
Do you feel like saving money is putting a real crimp in your style? Is saving a dirty word in a time where you feel like you may be entitled to spend and enjoy every opportunity that comes along? Do you equate saving money with having no life? Do you justify spending hundreds of dollars on concert tickets along with dinner and drinks just because you have a credit card or the cash today and risk your tomorrows because of it?