Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Simple Strategies for Saving Money

Simple Strategies for Saving Money
by Virginia Knowles

Before I get started on this article, I want to let you know that I have already written posts on Saving Money on Groceries and Saving Money on Health Care Costs, so I won’t be covering those topics here. This is not fancy stuff, either -- just some basic tips on saving money every day. Feel free to add your own ideas by pressing the comment button below the article. You can find more great tips at Thrifty Times and 66 Ways to Save Money.

Be content.
  • The most important key to saving money is to be grateful for what God has already graciously provided! (See Philippians 4:11-19.)
  • Contentment often means making do with what you have, rather than running out to buy the latest and greatest to keep up with the Joneses. Ask yourself, "Do I really need this?"
  • Don't start expensive “pamper me” habits that will be hard to break later, like continually stopping by Starbucks or even Wendy’s.
  • You can enjoy the simple things in life, like a picnic in the park once in a while instead of having an expensive date night every week.
  • It might help to avoid watching much commercial television or subscribing to magazines which promote a materialistic lifestyle. Speaking of TV, we have never had cable! That's a big monthly saving right there!
  • Here is a little story for you: One year, a few days before Christmas, I was in Sam’s Club buying bulk foods. As usual, I was also drawn to the book aisle, where I ogled over the beautiful sale-priced Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia. I really wanted to get it (who knows if it would be there the next time?) but I had already blown the budget for children's gifts and home school. I needed to honor my husband’s wishes, so the purchase would have to wait. A few hours later, my neighbor Marie knocked on the door and handed me a wrapped Christmas present for the children. You know what it was! God provided! This sort of thing has happened so many times that it’s like a game to see God’s hand at work in meeting our needs. God is good!

Take stewardship seriously.

  • This is another key, long before you get ready to shop. We have the responsibility of prudently caring for what God has already graciously provided for us.
  • The more you take care of your possessions, the longer they will last, and the more you will be able to enjoy them. My husband and I hunted around at used furniture stores for an affordable recliner chair for our bedroom, but finally decided to just clean and fix up one we already had. A screw driver and a can of upholstery cleaner were all that was needed to make it presentable. Now that’s a good deal!
  • Organize your home to avoid replacing lost items, because if you can’t find it, you can’t use it, and you may have to buy another one.
  • Conserve your resources! Save gas by grouping your errands or car pooling. Turn off lights when you aren't in a room. Use ceiling fans to cut your cooling bill. Take shorter showers. Hang laundry out on the clothes line occasionally. Use a little less detergent in your washer, and do a full load. Teach your kids to be "energy police"! Set your printer to fast draft mode to save ink. Reuse the back side of paper.

Keep a budget.

  • Even if your spouse keeps track of the finances, be sure to stay involved with the budgeting process and your cash flow. Try to be united and “on the same page” with money issues. While my husband is mostly in charge of the finances, we have frequent "budget committee meetings" -- always starting with a kiss!
  • We use Quicken software on our computer during our frequent “budget committee meetings.” This enables us to keep track of our budget as we go, and cut back in areas that seem to be getting out of control.
  • Plan all big purchases together! It is extremely rare for either of us to spend more than $50 on an item unless we have talked about it first. We avoid spending more than about $200 on anything unless we’ve had a few days to think about it.
  • Most states have a buyer’s remorse law that allows you to be released from a contract within 3 days if you have second thoughts. We have used this more than once! It's so easy to get sucked into a slick sales presentation.
Stay out of debt.
  • The first step here is to have the intense motivation to do this! Paying interest is a huge waste of money! Learn to save up for almost everything – even cars -- until you have enough to pay cash.
  • Check out the Financial Peace University! The teacher, Dave Ramsey, talks about having the same intensity about getting out of debt as a gazelle trying to escape a cheetah. We are enrolled in the DVD version of the class at our church, and one week we had to move out of our regular room because of a water leak. It turns out that a squirrel had somehow gotten stuck in one of the thick plastic PVC water pipes above the ceiling, and had been so desparate to get out that it had chewed all the way through it! That's the kind of motivation we need to get out of debt and stay that way.
  • I'm thankful to have a husband who has made staying out of debt a priority all throughout our marriage. Earlier this year, we even refinanced our house to shorten our mortgage from the remaining 15 years down to 10. Yay! We thought of refacing our kitchen cabinets this year, but when we found out the price, we looked at each other and shook our heads. It wasn't worth taking on monthly payments for several years!

Shop around!

  • Don’t be in a hurry to buy, even when you know what you want. If you take your time, you can usually find the best deal or you will even find that you didn't need it in the interim.
  • Let your family and friends know about your upcoming major purchases so they can keep an eye out for great deals.
  • Be sure to compare prices on the Internet. Most major retailers list their products and prices on their web sites so you can let your fingers do the walking, even if you are going to go in to the store to make the actual purchase.
  • Know when to buy certain items. We love the back to school sales when we can get school supplies for dirt cheap! That's the time to stock up! I always buy the same brand of capris pants at Walmart, so whenever they go on sale at the end of the season, I buy a few new pairs.
  • If the product is deficient, don't be afraid to take it back and ask for a refund. Stores want to keep you happy to keep your business.

Do business with folks you can trust.
  • We've all been ripped off at one time or another. I distinctly remember a guy who did a shoddy job painting the outside of our house, then skipped town without even finishing a job. We weren't the only folks he scammed. Check your Better Business Bureau, or ask for recommendations from friends.
  • We've been taking our cars to by repaired by Dan Roldan at Advantage Auto for over ten years because he is always honest and reasonably priced. He also checks out any used cars we are thinking of buying and gives us his opinion of what repairs they might need. We know we can trust him, and we're happy to recommend him to others.
  • Check your receipts! Even if somone isn't trying to cheat you, they may have made a mistake, or maybe the computer didn't have the price in correctly. Especially check phone bills and credit card statements for transactions that you didn't authorize.
  • You should also check your credit report on-line periodically. You are allowed to do this for free once a year from each of the three major agencies, so you can effectively do this every four months.

Get what you NEED.
  • Avoid impulse shopping by writing down your plan before you even pull out of your driveway or log onto the web. It’s fun to find bargains, but just remember not to buy something you won’t really use and love! It won’t be such a good deal if it gathers dust in your closet until your next yard sale.
  • When you do buy, choose items which are versatile enough for many purposes and seasons, rather than just the whim of the moment.

Don't bankroll your teenagers.
  • Our older teens have learned to be pretty thrifty because they have to buy their own stuff: clothes, makeup, restaurant food, gifts for friends, gas, activities, etc. They also have to pay their own share of their cell phones and car insurance. This teaches them to work hard and pinch their pennies, and it saves us money, too!
  • We do pitch in for clothes once in a while, though, as well as pay for their food when we are eating out as a family.

Buy it used.
  • I love used bookstores, consignment stores, thrift stores, and yard sales. I also frequently order used books from Amazon and eBay.
  • Many of our friends swear by Craig’s List for buying and selling!
  • Used doesn’t necessarily mean trashy; there are many upscale used sources, such as a Goodwill “boutique” store. Pawn shops can be an economical source, too.
  • Used toys are often a good deal. Sixteen years ago, I bought a large set of used wooden building blocks at a consignment sale, and we're still using them every day, though I have added to the set as our family has grown. Legos are really expensive new, but folks are always selling them at yard sales or giving them away. We do a good bit of birthday shopping at yard sales, especially for preschoolers who don't know the difference. I could have spent $15 for a princess costume at Walmart, but I bought it for 50 cents from a yard sale! I also got a small folder table and chair for $1 each. You can see the table on my blog post about Melody's birthday.
  • Used furniture stores are a great way to get what you need, especially if you know some basic repair techniques, like using a touch up stick of wood stain to fix scratches.
  • If you don't see what you need at a used store, ask the manager to let you know when it comes in.
Do it yourself.
  • Yes, you can! Whether it is cutting your own children’s hair, repairing clothing or furniture (or even cars), making greetings cards and gifts, decorating your home, or even entertaining your children, you can probably do it more creatively and for less money.
  • Kids love to make cards! Why buy them new?
  • Make sure you have basic sewing supplies and household tools on hand.
  • If you feel nervous about doing something new that otherwise interests you, ask a friend to teach you or enroll in a local class. You can also find “how to” information very easily on the Internet, especially at

Get a discount.

  • It doesn’t hurt to ask! Many businesses are willing to give a discount, especially if you are a frequent customer or if you are just plain nice!
  • We get 20% educator discounts to local bookstores as part of our membership in our state’s home school association.
  • Our local YMCA grants scholarships based on income and family size, too.
  • Check out for on-line coupons for your favorite businesses.
  • You can get especially good discounts from people who are trying to get rid of stuff they aren’t using.

Remember that free is good!
  • Some of the best things in life don’t cost any money.
  • You can get a lot of books from your public library. If they don’t have what you want, request it on interlibrary loan.
  • See if you can borrow a seldom used item from a friend -- and be just as willing to lend your own possessions. You may want to keep a list of what you lent to whom, so you can figure out where it is when you need it again. If it is home school curriculum you are looking for, consider swapping with a friend, such as borrowing her Biology book and lending her your Geometry one for a year. We used to borrow cradles when our older children were babies, and when we finally bought a bassinette for our tenth baby, we lent it out to several people when we were done with it.
  • Accept hand-me-down clothes from friends and family. We get bags of stuff every year from people who know we've got a bunch of kids. We take what we need and pass along the rest. Recycling clothes like this just makes sense!
  • Check to see if your local attractions have a free day. For local residents, the Orlando Museum of Art is free on Thursday afternoons and Leu Gardens is free on Monday mornings. A local church has offered free admission for home school students to the Russian ballet / Kiev symphony production of Romeo and Juliet, and we're all passing along the information to others by e-mail.
  • Ask friends to help with big projects or barter your skills. For example, a friend could help lay sod in your yard in exchange for you helping them paint bedrooms in their house. Or you can trade babysitting services if it is a family you really trust and your kids get along with each other.
  • Don’t be ashamed to pick up something useable from someone’s curb if you know it is “free for the taking” and not just something that happens to be sitting there. Walking around the neighborhood early in the morning is how I found my favorite recliner chair, a great book case, and a desk!
  • Free is good!

Whatever your expenses are, you can put your stewardship, diligence, wisdom, and creativity to work! Grandma always said, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without!”

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