Saturday, November 15, 2008

How to Save Lots of Money

Donald Blowhard has a post up soliciting money-saving advice. I intended to put this in the comments, but it ballooned so much I thought I'd save them the space. (They pay for their service, I don't.)

For the record, I have done all of these, so I know they work.

We had to tighten our belts during the first Bush depression, so here's what we did, and it saved hundreds a month:

- Go down to basic cable. If you live where you can get TV over the air, get one of those new digital antennas. TV can be free or close to it. If you like those HBO or Showtime series, see the next bullet.
- Use the library as your source of movies, music, and books. You have to have a little patience, but you eventually get to read, see and hear what you'd like. A lot of libraries now have a netflix-like list where you can put holds on things you want. Only buy the "I will listen/read/watch this over 4 times" items. And even then, buy them used or on sale. (And for aspiring writers who are worried about income, libraries buy books.)
- Check your phone bill. There's a lot of fat on there.
- If you have kids, introduce them to the classics. Most libraries have Star Trek, Bewitched, M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, and even Gilligan's Island on DVD. You, yourself, will be surprised at how good they still are. Your kids will now have a new cultural touchstone (besides all things Disney) and will get the jokes of their older co-workers when they go to work.
- Oh, and a lot of networks are now streaming whole TV shows online.
- Share. Movies, books, music, videotapes, etc. Most folks have gotten out of this habit because we've all encountered the twit who returned our Barry Manilow Live CD scratched beyond repair. Just note the abusers and don't share with them. Most folks are conscientious.
- On that same note, start up a book/DVD/whatever swap at work (for things you can give away). The rule is take a book, leave a book. Or DVD. Or tape. Etc.
- If you are having anything delivered, stop it. Even if it was a deal at first, do the math and compare to the grocery store.
- If you get a newspaper delivered, call them and ask for a better deal. They always have them ready for folks like you.
- Call your credit card and ask for a better rate. Half the time, you'll get one. (Of course, don't use credit cards at all if you can. But these days, that's like saying "don't drive.")
- Use the dry cleaner for dry clean things only. Don't buy dry clean things in the first place. (We always have done this, but some of our friends didn't. They were shocked at the savings. Btw, half our culdesac lost their jobs in the first Bush bust.)
- Generics/store brands. You prolly know this, but most store brands are made by the exact same folks who make the branded stuff on the shelf right next to them. Frinstance, at my store, there's the store brand of canned dinner rolls for 59 cents right next to the Pillsbury version which is $1.49. (When you consider flour, yeast, and effort, 59 cents is cheaper than you can make them from scratch.) Our generic soda pop is made by RC cola, for another example. The one generic thing I've discovered that's never quite right is - of all things - corn chips. Buy the brand you like for those.
- Potatoes and rice are great meal fillers. Try Basmati rice; it's awesome. Potatoes are so malleable, you literally could not make every potato dish there is inside of a year if you tried. And, it worked for the Irish.
- A crock pot can save or upgrade nearly any piece of meat.
- There's another wonder pot out there, too. Check out Ebert's complete guide. If you've never had rice prepared in a vessel that's designed to cook it, prepare to be amazed. Btw, this pot cooks everything, not just rice.
- Got veggies in the crisper that are near their stale date, or some meat that's still OK, but won't be in a couple days? It's time to make soup! When we bake a chicken, we save all the pan drippings as stock. If you haven't done that, two bullion cubes, or one can of store-bought stock will do. (But don't skip the stock, it makes or breaks soup.) You take two carrots, two stalks of celery, half a cabbage (or a whole small one), onion (to taste) and sauté them in virgin olive oil (or butter, or mixture of the two), and throw them in the stock. Add 2 tbls. salt (or less, if you're one of those - but at least 1 tbls.), a pinch of thyme, a bay leaf, and from there add whatever else you like: chicken, pork, corn, tomatoes, etc. Be cautious with beef, though. Sometimes you've got to do a beef stock instead, particularly if the beef was cooked for another meal. 1 heaping teaspoon of beef "Better than Bullion" will do the trick (instead of chicken stock). Also, avoid putting in rice unless you know how; it can just blitzkrieg a soup. Bring to a boil for a good 20 minutes, then reduce to simmer, and simmer 2 to 4 hours. Freeze leftovers in lunch-sized containers.
- Other way cheap meals you've forgotten about: tuna casserole, meatloaf, and spaghetti with meatballs (hamburger, basil, oregano, a couple crackers, roll into balls and fry; then drop into sauce).
- Accelerate gently, leadfoot. (I still fail at this one, but am working on it.)
- And never buy a new car. Ever. That's the ONE place where trickle-down works. Let the wealthy status hogs lower the price of a car for you.
- If you're gonna do fast food, go with the dollar menu. Hint, anything you add outside of condiments, they're gonna charge you for, so only subtract (no pickles!), don't add cheese and such. We were able to literally halve our outlay on fast food. (And be honest, who doesn't get it at least once a week?)
- If any meat is 1/2 off or BOGO, binge and freeze. (But, freeze it correctly. The extra pennies on freezer storage stuff will pay itself back.)
- Compare "organic" to the other produce. Sometimes one is cheaper than the other, and unless you've got some sort of chemical sensitivity, there really isn't much difference in taste and quality, save for the tomatoes.
- Rethink what you typically order at restaurants, or for home delivery. Look over the menu for the ala carte stuff and the appetizers. Often, when you get a "meal" you're only getting a scoop of rice or a limp veggie for the bump. If you ala carte it, or get an appetizer and share, you can cut a few bucks. (And, of course, the caveat is don't go out to eat so much.)
- If you do go out to eat, avoid the chains like Chilis, Applebees, Fridays, Black-eyed Pea, etc. Really have a look at what they're charging you $12 a plate for. Usually local mom and pop eateries are better deals. With better food.
- Split entrees. Those $12 plates are usually more than you should eat, anyway. Who cares if the waiter/waitress sneers at you? They're only thinking of their tip, and they'll have a different job in a year or so anyway. You're merely helping them along on their journey.
- If you have kids, go to consignment/second-hand stores. That's another amount you'll half. (Wash them well, first, of course.)
- Also, if you have kids, unless you're afraid of being called a commie or socialist, if you have friends and neighbors with kids, arrange trades with them when junior outgrows a set of clothes. You may not always like their taste, but more often than not you'll get stuff that's fine. Make sure you give back what you don't use. Don't bother with any reasons "why" when you give them back, just say (sincerely), "Thanks." Any "reasons", like "They don't fit", will immediately smell like BS. Even if they ask things like, "Oh, are they OK?" (or anything that indicates they're prepping to be insulted), just pipe, "Of course not! And thanks again!"
- Buy clothes off-season. When winter hits, go check the leftover shorts and swimsuits. (Or fall wear, depending on the store's lag time.) That's why you have drawers and closets.
- Though it's the only way they make money, don't buy popcorn, candy or a drink at the movie theatre. Sneak it in if you have to have something. During winter, you can get 4 beers in your jacket sleeves. (Cans, folks. If you shred your forearms and leak beer, glass and blood all over the theatre floor, you'll just be part of someone's Christmas stories.)
- Turn lights off. 3/4 of the houses around us look like they're signaling the mother ship every night. Conversely, we've had neighbors wonder if we're ever home at night, because we only have on one or two lights at any given time, and always in the room we're in.
- Hunt for household energy vampires and pull the plug (or flip the switch if they truly turn off). Yes, those few seconds of warm-up time are lost forever, but it may mean $10 to $20 more a month.
- DON'T live with a house temperature you don't like. Life is too short. If you like the house at 70 degrees, please, do so. The money you save for living at 68 degrees doesn't not begin to equate with the discomfort you'll have every day.
- However, if everyone is gone during the day, have one of those programmable thermostats installed. ($100 - $200 last I checked.) Dropping the house to 65 degrees from 9 to 4 can really save a dime or two. (And even midnight to 4 am, if you don't mind a cold house whilst you're asleep.)
- Shower/bathe every other day. Yes, like most, you'll still have to wash your hair, but that's a lot less water and heat than a whole cleanse. You won't be stinky, I promise. And it's better for your skin. Keep in mind that back during WWII, it was typical for folks to bathe once a week. (Colorado sells most of its water to California, so Coloradoans pay for water like it was bottled water. Our monthly water bill is never less than $100. This trick alone saved a Benjamin.)
- If you have an indulgence you don't want to live without, just budget for it. You find room to pay for a phone and such. You'll find room for your morning latte. The trick is to give up something else that's not all that much to you anymore. Say the bran muffin. Oatmeal is better for you anyway.
- When you encounter a deal on something (nonperishable) you WILL use, but have enough for the moment, buy anyway. I'm always burning CDs of music, so when I find a stack of 100 for $12, I snag it.
- Don't pay for software. Once you have the box, you can now literally get ALL the software you might need for free. If you don't want to venture into Linux (and I don't recommend it for the easily frustrated, and those who don't have a buddy to help), most boxes come with the OS anyway. So, search for what you need. Open Office really is as good as MS Office anymore. The only software that you might have to pop for is CD/DVD burning software (Nero is the best), but only if it didn't come with the PC in the first place. Most freeware burners make too many Christmas ornaments (failed burns) to make them worth it.

Any other caveats and thoughts are welcome.

Update: The Opinionated Homeschooler has offered some more great tips (and some adjustments to mine). The only one that wouldn't work for me is "not driving." Our city is NOT laid out for cyclists even a little bit. Someone from LA must've designed our city, methinks.


Sya said...

Some of this I don't even do or have (what TV?) so it's sort of a no-brainer since I don't even have to change my habits.

On restaurants: 90% of the time, I only go when someone else (like a school organization) is paying. And I almost never finish my food (the portions are always too big). Instead, I have them doggie-bag it and I have a free lunch at the same time!

On the shower/bathe thing: It might not save on the water necessarily, but you can save on electricity if you turn your water heater off when you're not using any water.

Software: My dad keeps not so subtly hinting that I should get the newest version of MS Office, but I keep nixing the idea (especially since I have to pay for it). I've been using Open Office for a couple of months now and I think the only barrier, really, is getting yourself familiar with the layout.

Whisky Prajer said...

Curious, and not a little depressing, to see how many of these tips I already adhere to. On your final point, I think any user who becomes comfortable with Open Office has already nailed the trickiest Linux app available. I've been a Linux user for the last two years, and there isn't an application out there that has caused me more frustration. It is not an intuitive app; it is logical. Programmers do alright by it, but the rest of us climb a steep learning curve.

Not that I'm complaining. I'm still a loyal Ubuntu user.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I'll have to do the homeschool edition of this and link to your post.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Re: Driving

One of the best things about Austin is that it has been kept intentionally compact--right now we have a building boom of high-density, high-income condos downtown, which is doing great things for the economy and infrastructure.

Tale: Once, back in the '80's, the City Fathers decided we should have a few big old ring roads, so we could be just like Houston, and who wouldn't want to be? Over strenuous opposition from the neighborhoods, they started "Loop 1" (cause there was going to be Loop 2, maybe even Loop 3). To kick it off, they build the first section of big ring road highway right through a historic middle-class black neighborhood, ruining it. The outcry ended the project for a while. While the north-south chunk of highway sat there, the City insisted on calling it "Loop 1," while the citizens resolutely called it "the MoPac" (after the Missouri-Pacific railway the N-S stretch was built along). To this day, 20 years after the City caved (we now carefully elect City Council Members who believe in smart growth and get no such stupid ideas as ring road highways in their heads), and the highway has been extended further north and south to make it actually useful, the signs still say "Loop 1" while everybody calls it "MoPac." To the great confusion of tourists.

Anyway, if things get really tough, our economy here is still good, and wouldn't you love to be able to bike and bus everywhere? I get the impression you'd fit right in.

Anonymous said...

I ride my bike to work almost every day. I live in San Diego's northern 'burbs, an area that has incredibly bike-friendly roads, and bike-friendly weather. When I moved here I got a place just 10 miles from work, deliberately planning a reasonably short commute. And I'm lucky to work in an office that has a shower in the men's restroom, so I can clean up after I get here.

Doing my part to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil . . . .

Not A Bikehole

Yahmdallah said...

Heh. Thanks "not a bikehole."

For new readers, "bikehole" is my term for bicyclists in Boulder, as they don't obey any traffic rules and have a sense of entitlement that would make a welfare queen blush.