Saturday, November 18, 2006

Saving Money Tips - 2

Rent Movies instead of going to the movie theatre.
Or better yet, borrow movies from the library.

Buy the cheapest Laundry detergent you can find.
They all clean the same; they just smell different. I can get 100 loads of Vista for $4.48. You can't make detergent that cheap.

Use Dawn dishwashing detergent to pre-treat stains. Dawn works on most protein and grease stains if you treat before the stain is set (check for stains before drying). Use peroxide on blood stains.

If you use disposable cleaning products, like Swiffer, make your own cloths and wash them.
Used dryer sheets sewn to rectangles of flannel or fleece work on both the Swiffer sweeper and mop (sew velcro or elastic on the cloths for the mop).

Stock up on meat when it's on Sale, and reduce the amount used by a small amount in each meal.
You'll never notice the difference.

Buy your clothes when they are marked down.
Stores usually mark down their clothing when the seasons change. So, If you wait until spring to buy your winter clothes, they will always be on sale.

Read Miserly Moms - Miserly Tips.
She has hundreds of useful tips on her web site.

Keep the Heat inside this Winter.
Use foam weather-stripping to insulate around doors. Caulk gaps or small holes in walls, around door frames, and around windows. Use door sweeps or make draft dodgers. Make window quilts to keep cold air from coming through your windows.

Use fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent.
Although they cost more initially, compact fluorescents save money in the long run. They don't have to be changed nearly as often (sometimes lasting 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs). The fluorescents in my home have been working for over 1 year, and still going strong. When was the last time you had to change a lightbulb?

Add Insulation to your Attic.
It is one of the most cost-effective ways of making your home more comfortable, and the benefits last year round. Insulation also keeps your house cooler in the summer.

Buy Energy Star appliances, if you can.
You will be paying for the energy they use for a long time, so think of the cost of the appliance as just the down payment. Refrigerators last an average of 13 years; room air conditioners and clothes washers last about 11 years each; and dishwashers about 9 years. That's a lot of electric bills you can reduce.

Don't use a dishwasher.
Or if you do, let the dishes air dry. Most of the energy a dishwasher uses is to heat water, but using a heat cycle to dry the dishes wastes energy. If you don't have an "air dry" cycle, prop the door open after the rinse cycle to help them dry faster.

Top-Freezer model refrigerators are more energy efficient than side-by-side models.
And, features like water dispensers and ice makers use more energy.

Wash your dark clothes in cold water.
Most detergents work well in cold water, now-a-days.

Wash your whites in warm water and use 1/2 the recommended bleach.
It works just as well for us, and doesn't wear the clothing out as fast.

Clean the lint filter after every dryer load.
Reduced air circulation caused by a full lint filter makes the dryer work harder and run longer. If you clean the filter after each load, you won't forget to do it.

Use the cool down cycle on the dryer.
The clothes will finish drying with the residual heat inside the dryer. Over-drying clothes not only uses more energy (raises your electric bill), it also wears your clothes out faster (where do you think the lint comes from), and causes wrinkles.

Buy the cheapest dryer you can find.
Energy Star does not rate clothes dryers because there is very little difference in energy use between models.


Whatever you do to save money, SEND THAT MONEY TO YOUR SAVINGS ACCOUNT!

Your money savings strategies will do you no good if you are spending the savings. Set up a recurring Savings deposit right now, even if it's only $5 a month!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Chili

Obviously, I am not a "gor-may" cook, but these meals will fill your belly and go down easily.

Chili
Cornbread
Apple slices

  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 - 2 cans beans (Great Nothern, Pinto, Chili, whatever kind you like)
  • 2 cans tomato sauce
  • chili powder to taste

Boil ground beef in water for about 10 mins or until done. Drain. Break apart using a potato masher or fork. Add ground beef and all other ingredients to a large pot. Simmer. The longer this cooks, the more the spices blend, but this can be eaten once it has heated through (approx. 10 minutes).

Jiffy conbread mix (the kind you can get in small boxes at 3 for $1) is slightly sweet, easy to make, and goes great with chili. Follow direction on box.

If you like less beans, use 1 can.
If you like tomatoes, add 1 can - sliced, chopped, or whole - tomatoes.

Marzetti

Everyone wants Cheap Easy Meal recipes, so I thought I would throw out some ideas.

Marzetti
buttered Toast
Orange sections

  • 1/2 - 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 - 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 1 can Hunts or Del Monte Pasta Sauce

Boil ground beef in water until done (boiling the ground beef makes the texture softer and cooks it faster, especially if it's still frozen), approx 10 mins. Drain. Break apart with a potato masher or fork. Add pasta Sauce and put back on Low heat to simmer.

Boil elbow macaroni till tender. Drain. Add elbows to pasta and ground beef. Stir and heat through (10 mins).


Spreadsheets for Budgeting

I use spreadsheets to budget. I find spreadsheets to be easier and less time consuming than budgeting software.

I’ve tried both Microsoft Money and Quicken standard editions, and I didn’t like either one. For me, they were redundant and tedious to use.

I have to post daily in my check register to record debit card purchases, credit card payments, and checks. I don’t want to have to record all of these transaction all over again in Money or Quicken.

With a spreadsheet all I have to do is add up the categories of expenses and record them into into the spreadsheet.

Now, both software programs do have a feature that downloads your bank and credit card statements, but I always seem to have problems with these downloads. Either the bank or the software programs want a fee to download the statements, or the day I request a download, my statement hasn’t been cut yet and isn’t available.

Another issue I have with the budgeting software is that I want to record the transactions when they occur (how else are you going to remember to record them) not at the end of the month when my statements are available.

For example, when I use a credit card to pay my phone bill I need to deduct the payment from my check register and post the payment in my budget on that day, not at the end of the statement cycle (I use this card to pay my phone bill because I get 5% cash back on utility bills).

So, I would record the payment into my budget software so I wouldn’t forget it. Then when I downloaded my statement into the software, I would end up with double entries. Budgeting software is just not user friendly for me.

So, I use spreadsheets.

I have Microsoft Excel and I know how to code (or program) it to do mathematical formulas, but I don’t want to take the time to do it (are we seeing a pattern of laziness here?). This problem was solved for me when I found Moneyspot.org.

I was searching for a good budgeting, saving, debt reduction web site when I came across Moneyspot.org. This web site is a gem! Not only does Michael (owner, writer, editor, and all-round webmaster at Moneyspot.org) offer tons of excellent articles on all things financial; he also gives away FREE spreadsheets.

Michael’s spreadsheets are easy to use and you can modify them to suit your needs. Now, don’t go messing with the formula cells in the spreadsheets if you don’t know what you are doing, or you will end up with incorrect calculations. But, you can change the category names, tab names, dates, and of course the names of your bills.

Moneyspot.org offers several budgeting spreadsheets but I like the BMF (Balanced Money Formula) Spending Plan Spreadsheet the best. I prefer it because with the BMF Spreadsheet I can keep track of all of my finances in the same place.

The BMF Spreadsheet has separate tabs to record Income, Needs, Wants, and Savings. But, after using it for a few months, I modified it. I changed Needs to Expenses and Wants to Freedom Accounts. I left Savings as it was.

It suits me better this way because I have all my financial matters in one file, I have separate tabs for each section of my budget (Expenses, Freedom Accounts, and Savings), and I don't have to scroll to see anything (all working areas are above the page fold).

With these minor
changes (I just changed the names and labels of some things, I didn’t change any of the mathematical formulas), I had a Customized Spreadsheet that tracks all of my spending, savings, and debts, and I didn’t have to code a bit of it (Thanks again, Michael.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Create a Budget

The #1 Best way to pay off debt, increase your savings, and make your money work for you is to Create a Budget. You can't do anything with your money until you know how much money you have to work with. You can't know how much money there is to work with until you see where your money is going.

A budget is really not that hard. All you have to do is come up with some general categories that you spend money on and start listing how much money you spend on each one during each period. A period could be a day, a week, a month, even a year. It all depends on how often you spend money and how tight you want the reins to be on your money.

So, let's come up with some categories. Everyone buys Food, so that is one category. You can call it Groceries, Dining, Food, etc. Use whatever category titles you feel comfortable with. This is a list of common categories. You can use these or make up your own.

You can use budgeting software, spreadsheets, or just a pencil and paper to keep track of your budget. It doesn't matter what you use. The point isn't to be fancy. Just make it user friendly.

I started out using Money, then I switched to Quicken. But, both of them were just too much trouble for me. I didn't want to deal with all the details. I wanted to just enter figures and be done with it.

Now, I use a budget spreadsheet. I didn't even have to code the spreadsheet because I found a great one for FREE at MoneySpot.org. It's called a Spending Plan Spreadsheet and it's coded for Microsoft Excel.

If you don't have Excel and don't want to buy it (who would?), there is a FREE software suite called OpenOffice. It works great (I use it even though I have Excel) and it's compatible with Excel. That means it works just fine with the spreadsheet from Moneyspot.org, and most other spreadsheets you might have.

OK, you have your budget. Now, all you need to do is save all your receipts. I know, I know, it's a pain, but it's just a habit to get into. It's not hard. It's just something you need to get used to doing. Just stuff the receipts into a bag each day (be sure you don't accidently throw this bag away!)

Once you have all your receipts for the budget period (a day, a week, a month, a year), sit down and separate them into categories. Remember your categories? Food, Rent, etc. After you've separated them, add up each category and write it (or type it) into your budget.

Now, look into your checkbook register for any expense you didn't have a receipt for and add these to your budget (like the electric or water bill). Don't forget any credit card charges you didn't get a receipt for, record those too.

After keeping track of where your money is going for a few periods, you will probably decide that too much of your money is going to some of the categories (maybe food or entertainment).

This is when you get to tell your money where you want it to go. Write another column in your budget or use the spreadsheet columns to fill in where and how much money you want to go into each category.

That's it!

That's as hard as it gets. It's not so bad, huh?! The great thing is that once you see where your money is going, you can decide if that's really where you want it to go.

Make Your Own Baby Wipes

If you buy Baby diaper wipes, you can save money by making your own.

Homemade Diaper Wipes Recipe

  • 1 roll of high-quality paper towels, washcloths, or homemade rags

  • 2 Cups water (boiled for 10 mins then cooled)
  • 1 TBS baby shampoo
  • 2 TBS baby oil


Pour liquid ingredients into a measuring cup or a bowl, and stir.

Pour over homemade rags that were placed in an empty diaper wipe container or tupperware-type container (old, hemmed t-shirt material works great for this).

If you use paper towels, cut the roll in half to make them smaller and pull the cardboard center out. Pull the paper towels out from the center.

Rags or washcloths are much better for this (and cheaper if you use what you already have), but they either have to be washed or you will need a large stash of rags to replace what you throw away.

I had trouble with the paper towels tearing after awhile, and unless you already have one of the cylindrical containers, it's difficult to find something that the paper towels will fit into. But some people prefer paper towels.

Make Your Own Face Cleansing Pads

Do you buy those Face cleansing pads? If you do, you can save money by making your own.

Homemade Facial Wipes Recipe

  • cotton rounds

  • 2 Cups water (boiled for 10 mins then cooled)
  • 1 TBS shampoo
  • 1 TBS white Vinegar
  • 1 TBS rubbing Alcohol


Add liquid ingedients to bowl or measuring cup and stir.

I buy 200 cotton rounds at the Dollar store for $1.

Boiling the water first keeps bacteria from growing, so it won't "turn" or go bad.

You can use whatever kind of shampoo that you use to wash your hair. I've not used the 2 in 1 shampoos with added conditioner for this recipe. I think it might make your face oily. If you have dry skin, this might be a benefit.

Use the empty face pads container you already have or use a rubbermaid-type container with a lid to store these.

Just add the cotton rounds to the container and pour liquid ingredients over cotton rounds (you may have some left over depending on the size container you are using. Just save it for next time).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I'm Cheap

That's right, I'm cheap. I could try to dress it up. I could try to make it sound better, more appealing, softer. I could call myself economical, thrifty, canny, prudent, careful, wise, commonsensical, levelheaded, balanced, prudent, circumspect or any of a number of other words. But why bother? Cheap fits me just as well.

First, let me define what I mean when I say I'm cheap. Cheap, for me, means I won't spend a pile of money for "quality" items that I don't expect to last very long. I won't spend more money for pretty packaging. I won't spend more for something that has a particular label on it. I won't spend any money for things that advertisers try to convince me I need in order to be more popular, cool, or more loved (those are just lies anyway).

I won't go to Sears to buy something that I can get at Walmart. I won't use coupons to buy a brand name something that I can buy cheaper in a store brand. Of the few brand name items that I do buy, I get them at the Dollar store where they are cheaper, not at a grocery or drug store.


I won't go to a restaurant to eat. I think eating at restaurants is one of the worst ways of spending your money. You have nothing to show for it. Nothing. The satisfaction of a full belly doesn't even last 1 day. You have to eat again within a few hours of dropping $40, $60 or $100 on one meal. How crazy is that?

For clarity's sake, I will say that I don't expect much of anything to last very long. Food is an extreme example of this, but most of the things that we buy fall into the category of money spent on items that won't last long.

Don't agree with me? Then tell me how long you expect these things to last:

  • Clothes - 1 year or less? Even if you buy good quality clothes that could survive the washer and dryer for more than 1 year, what are the chances that you will get a stain of some sort on them? What about the fashion or style, will this dictate how long you will wear something?

    How about your kids clothes - 6 months or less? Isn't that why we have to buy new summer and winter clothes every year? They either grow out of them, ruin them, or peer pressure says they are out of style.

  • Furniture - 5 years or less? Now, 5 years sounds like a long time. It sounds like a good investment, right? Not when you've paid $1500 or more just for a sofa. That's $300 a year I'd have to add to my budget just to replace a sofa after 5 years. I don't know about you, but I'd rather save that $300 for something that adds more value to my life than a sofa.

    If you've got kids, or just like to eat or drink while you're sitting on the furniture, it won't last 5 years. Some stains just won't come out.

  • Home Decor - 2 years or less? If you care about decorating your home, you are being influenced by advertisers. Now, that's not a slam. All of us have some area that we are interested in, and we follow the trends just to see what's out there. But, if you are being influenced by advertisers, you will feel more pressure to change your decor with the trends.


I could go on and on, but you get the point. You can listen to the advertisers and plunk down a big chunk of money to buy "quality" products that "last."

Or, you can be cheap like me, and realize that most of what you buy isn't going to last long enough to make it worth paying that "quality" price tag to get it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Frugal Extremes - What are Your Priorities?

I have Goals. Because I have goals, I have priorities. Some things are more important to me than others. For example, I'd rather save money for a down payment on a house in the country than be warm in my current house.

Now, that might seem extreme to some of you, but to me it's a simple choice. There are only a few categories in the budget that I have any real control over, and propane is one of mine.

I allot a certain amount of money in the budget for propane each year and that's all I buy. And, I still challenge myself not to use it all. The fact that
my fingers are cold as I write this doesn't matter to me. I have my Goal in mind.

Personal Expenses is another category that I have some control over. I can't decide not to buy soap and shampoo, but I can decide how much to spend on these necessities. So, instead of buying cheap, watery shampoo I buy Tresemme or Pantene.

That last sentence may have surprised you. It would have surprised me had I read it on another site last year. Back then all I bought was store brands of shampoo. But, I've since learned that we use much more cheap shampoo than we do Tresemme or Pantene and it doesn't work nearly as well.

With shampoo it isn't the cleansing aspect that is different, they all clean your hair just as well. It's the conditioning and body aspects that make a difference. For example, I have fine, thin hair. When I use a store brand shampoo my hair flies all over the place like it's been attacked with a blown-up balloon. But, when I use Tresemme my hair has body without static.

Would I spend more just to have more body or an absence of static in my hair? No, like I said, I have plans for my money. But, when the cost-analysis showed me that it comes out just as cheap (or close to it) as the store brand shampoo, I changed brands. And shampoo is on the shopping list much less frequently.

For bath soap, I use Caress. I've found that I spend more money on
cheap soap plus body lotion (trying to put some moisture back into my dry, itchy 40+ year old skin) than I do when I buy Caress. So, I save time, money, and my itchy skin when I buy a better bath soap.

Hair cutting is another item in the Personal Expense category that I have control over. I haven't paid to have my hair cut in over 2 years. I cut my own hair. It's not that hard to learn, especially if you have long hair and just really need your hair trimmed every few months.

I cut my daughter's hair too. She wasn't happy about it, at first. She wanted to go to a "Hair Salon" and watch in a big mirror as some person
gossiped with their work-mates while snipping away at her hair (and charged us to wash her already clean hair just to add to the bill). They usually cut it too short, too.

But she has long hair and just needs a trim. Once she understood that I wasn't going to pay $15 - $20 every 8 weeks just to have her hair trimmed, she got used to the idea. Now, she asks me to cut it, and I cut it a little at a time to make sure it isn't too short.

Other ways I save money that might seem extreme are:

  • I wash snap bags and re-use them
  • I save aluminum foil if it hasn't actually touched food, just the bowl
  • I wash our cars at home - with a bucket - I don't use the hose except to wet and rinse
  • I use bath water to wash the dogs or water my plants and garden
  • I use less detergent per load of clothes than is recommended - washes just as well
  • I add one capful of fabric softener to a 32 oz spray bottle, add (boiled, then cooled) water, and spray just the wrinkle-prone clothes - works great
  • I make my own hot chocolate mix and use less than is recommeded per serving
  • I don't buy paper napkins or paper towels, I make them from old flannel shirts (just cut into rectangles or squares and hem)

Some of these methods of saving money may seem extreme to you, but to me, they are simple choices. When you have Goals, you set Priorities, and that just means you make choices based on what is most important to you.

I'd much rather be extremely frugal in the small details of my life than do without the things that are most important to me.

What are Your Priorities? Do you use Frugal Extremes to reach your Goals?


Monday, November 13, 2006

Frugal vs Organized

I am frugal by nature. I like to save money more than I like to spend it. I live by the mantra: Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make do, or Do without. I don't like to throw out anything I might be able to use. I'd rather recycle or repurpose than spend money to buy something new.

I also despise clutter. Cutter makes me feel clogged up and bogged down. I can't seem to think clearly when there are piles of things laying around. I can't stand having the junk drawer, spare bedroom, and shed full of things that "I might be able to use someday." I like to be organized, and keeping everything organized is nearly impossible when there are mounds of "someday useful" things everywhere.

Is it possible to be both frugal AND clutter-free? I used to hear this issue argued in the back of my head all the time (It's like listening to children bicker). Since I'm frugal, my natural inclination is to save things that haven't been worn out, but being a clutter-hater I want to throw out, or give away, anything I'm not currently using.

So, what do I do? I decided to throw out or give away anything that is inexpensive and easy to replace, or that I don't really like anyway.

This list includes things like (this is an actual list of things that I had stored):

  • Old lamps that I don't like the style of
  • An old BBQ grill that is usable only if I use wire or a metal tab to hold one corner of the grill up
  • Cookware that has lost part of it's teflon or has a loose handle
  • Very old sunblock
  • Books, books, and more books (they weren't sellable and I can't re-read books)
  • Old clothes that didn't fit and I couldn't cut into rags (slips, bras, underwear, dress lining, etc)
  • Stereo/CD player that was nearly new but didn't work (water damage)
  • Crafts that I made that didn't sell (orange rag rug, letter pillow A, crocheted wash cloths)
  • An old Grab It swiffer-type dust mop that has a wobbly handle

After removing these things from my spaces, I felt much better. I could think again, and I didn't feel bogged down in details. I still save things that I'm sure I will use, but I use a rule to determine what will be saved. If I know I will use it within a year I store it. If I don't like the item or I can replace it inexpensively (when I actually need it), it goes away.

Now my clutter has been pared down to a minimum and I'm still true to my frugal nature. Looks like you can be both frugal and clutter-free.