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Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
I have a confession to make: I've fallen off of the personal finance wagon.
When I look at my posts from last summer, I see a young woman who had financial goals and plans, who had a system for tracking expenses, who made extra debt payments. I see someone in control of her finances.
How is it that now, with more money to my name, I'm so much less in control?
Over the past couple of months
- I haven't made a single extra debt repayment. My stated goal when I got started was to pay down my debt, and somehow that has just gotten completely lost in the course of my life.
- I haven't made a budget. This is probably part of the reason I haven't seen the money that should have gone to debt reduction. All the money comes in, all the money goes out. Any money I "save" with grocery coupons or by cutting my electric bill just seems to disappear into the cash flow.
- I haven't tracked my expenses. Not only haven't I budgeted for my monthly expenses, I really couldn't even tell you what they are. Have I cut my electric bill? I have no metric for comparison.
I'm sure there are many other ways in which I've lost control of my monthly finances, but I'm not even organized enough to know what they are. And yet . . . and yet. . . in a saner, more financially literate frame of mind, I set up a few idiot-proof systems for myself, so that despite all this, I'm better off than I was a year ago. I started investing in my 403(b) to the match, I set up and autodraft to a high interest savings account (for my summer emergency fund) and another autodraft to a mutual fund. I switched my student loan repayment plan from extended to standard. My money is doing what it needs to do.
But I'm not. I feel like I'm completely out of control when it comes to my finances. It's not a lack of money so much as a lack of a system. I want to get back to where I was last year, when I could discourse intelligently on interest rates, but I just feel so overwhelmed and behind that I don't know where to begin.
I thought I'd launch a short series of posts on how I use grocery coupons to my best advantage to reduce my budget. Without further adieu:
-If you have not already, set a weekly grocery budget. For now, set this at the level you have previously been spending. We’ll decrease it later.
-Tighten your belt a little bit. Aim to eliminate about $10 worth of luxuries from your budget for this week. This is not forever, it’s just to get you started and to free up some money for “investment purchases.” Consider eliminating one meal out, 2 convenience meals, or 2-3 meat meals to free up this $10. This $10 will be a strictly stockpiling budget. Do not dip into it for other things.
-Make a list of items that you buy every week or that you must have in your pantry. This will be your initial stockpile list.
- If you have time, do a quick pantry inventory.
-Clip coupons from your weekly newspaper for items that you always buy. If you must buy an item this week, use the coupon. If not, place the coupon in an envelope or file box to be used later.
Divide your grocery budget into 3 parts:
-Make a “need list” of items that you will definitely need this week and are out of. Try to keep this list as thin as possible.
-Read the circulars from your grocery store (in print or online). Make a list of sale items that are on your stockpile list. This is your “sale list.” If you have coupons for items on your sale list, pull them from your file immediately and use them. Buy these items, whether you need them this week or not. Remember you are *only* buying things that you regularly use. Don’t buy frozen pineapple if you’ve never used it before.
-Make a “luxury list” of things you’d like to have if you can afford them. Add these things to your grocery list only if they are within your budget.
And with your $10 stockpile budget:
-Now, choose the 2 best-priced items from your sale list (the deepest discounts), and spend your entire $10 stockpile budget on these items. This is your stockpile list. If canned corn is 50 cents and it’s on your stockpile list, you can buy 20 cans. This will save you money later, when you don’t have to buy it for 80 cents a can.
-While you’re in the store, make sure you keep track of how much you spend. You should notice if you’re being overcharged or if a coupon you used didn’t get taken off.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Yesterday was my birthday. I've been kind of low key about that. I'm not sure why. I've been having a rough time lately, and I think I just maybe wasn't ready to celebrate me.
Until my husband got home from work yesterday. He came home with flowers for me - pink alstromerias, the flowers we had at our wedding - which, while not frugal were exactly what I wanted. Then he took me out to dinner at the Outback, for which we had both a coupon and a gift card. We only bought entrees there, though, and water, and then came home and had cake (an ice cream cake from Coldstone bought with a gift card he had SNUCK OUT OF MY PURSE THE NIGHT BEFORE! I love it!) and champagne (a less frugal purchase, but here's how he did it smart: he bought a split, which was enough champagne for the two of us but not enough to languish in our refrigerator). Then I got my presents. Please don't laugh at me. He bought me a tin of tea, a bottle of wine, a pair of sweatpants, and two packs of socks! I was giddy with excitement. Especially after being scolded at Christmas for only asking for practical things, I was just overwhelmed with how perfectly the gifts matched what I really wanted. My totally unfrugal hubby really saw how happy it made me to be pampered the way I wanted to be, not in an excessive or extravagant way.
Then, the best part of my birthday, we lay on the couch for the rest of the evening and watched silly comedies on TV and didn't do a lick of work. I didn't write, didn't grade any essays, didn't check my email. I hadn't realized how much I really just needed a little bit of peace.
Happy birthday to me!
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
In honor of Earth Day, I thought I'd bring you a lost of some of the most important ways to save the planet, while saving money at the same time.
Buy less stuff
The things we buy, particularly the extraneous things, put a huge burden on our planet. From manufacturing to transportation to disposal, the impact of a single object can be enormous. Multiply that times the number of things that you've bought that you didn't want, and multiply that times the number of people who do the same thing, and you have a huge impact. Annie Leonard does a great job of explaining this in her video The Story of Stuff.
Think twice before buying something, particularly a uni-tasker or the next new gadget. This will save you money and ultimately make you happier by decreasing the amount of clutter that you have to clean and deal with.
Use less energy
Cut back on your household's use of energy. The main uses of energy for most people are transportation and temperature control, so those are great places to start. Keep an eye on your thermostat, drive a little bit less, and find other ways to save gas.
But the little things count too. Check for wasted energy in your house. Unplug chargers and appliances that use energy in standby. Turn off your computer at night instead of just letting it sleep. Replace your lights with compact fluorescents. Turn your refrigerator up a degree or two. Every little bit that you can do will help save the planet.
Throw less away
Reduce, reuse, recycle. In that order. The most important thing is to have less to dispose of in the first place: don't buy disposables, buy food with less packaging. In most cases, this will save you a ton of money too, since whole foods tend to cost less and be healthier than packaged food.
The next step is to reuse things. Buying things that can be reused is a great start, but try to make everything into something reusable. A mustard jar can make a candle, a ripped shirt can become dishrags, old greeting cards can be reused to make new ones.
Finally, recycle. Even if it takes a little more time, recycling saves energy, saves landfill space, and preserves resources, which makes it a great way to save the planet.
Eat less meat
The production of meat is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet. Becoming a vegetarian or a vegan is a great decision to save the planet, but even reducing meat can make a huge difference. And, since meat is one of the most expensive part of most people's grocery budget, this move should save you money as well.
We all want to save the planet. Hopefully, if everyone can do just a little bit, we can all work together to make that difference.
More ways to save the planet:
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Vinegar and Baking soda in the kitchen
More Small Changes
Monday, April 21, 2008
With Earth day approaching, and the media bombarding us with news of peak oil, global warming and the links between terrorism our dependence on foreign oil, everyone wants to know how to save gas. Many of the tips out there on how to save gas and improve mileage are either very basic or very complicated. I've attempted to compile a list here that should inspire you to get back to basics and hopefully give you a few new tricks to try.
1. Drive less. Walk, bike, carpool, or just stay home.
2. Combine errands. Cars are more efficient when they're not starting from cold. You can also plan your trip to pick things up on the way to save even more energy.
3. Turn off the AC. And, for highway driving, be tough and close the windows too.
4. Slow down.
5. Follow trucks
6. Drive a more efficient car. If you have two cars, choose the more efficient one for the majority of your driving.
7. Plan your trips to stick mostly to highways, avoid traffic and lights, and aim for optimum driving conditions. Sometimes a longer route is actually more efficient.
8. Keep your car well maintained.
9. Coast to red lights. You will be sittine next to the exact same person whether you accelerate or not. When you coast, you use the gas you already paid for, and may actually not have to stop at all thus saving even more.
10. Don't race. Accelerate slowly from a stop to save up to 5%.
11. Accelerate before you get to a hill, not as you are going up it.
12. Park at the high end of a parking lot and back into your space so that you can coast to the exit.
13. Leave enough space behind the car in front of you to avoid short stop and go driving.
Do you have any other great tips on how to save gas? Please leave a comment!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
When I talk to people about deals I got, or ways that I save money, one thing that people say to me all the time is "You only saved $5 by going to another store? That's not even worth the price of the gas." I don't know quite why it irks me so much. Perhaps it's the dismissiveness of my methods, even when the person has asked to hear them. Perhaps it's the tone of superiority which implies that I don't know what I'm doing. Or perhaps it's just the fact that they're generally wrong.
Even with current gas prices, $5 would be almost a gallon and a half of gas. In my car (and yes, I know this isn't all cars), a gallon and a half of gas would get me nearly 45 miles. Yes, I would agree, if I'm driving 45 miles out of my way, it's probably not worth my time. But the extra mile down the road to Target? I think it'll be okay.
Don't get me wrong, I realize that there are reasons other than money to want to conserve gas. If the person said to me "I'm trying to conserve as much gas as possible, so I don't drive that far," I'd be okay with that, even respect and appreciate the decision. If they said, "I'm short on time, and I don't think it's worth the extra shopping time," I'd totally understand. If they even said, "You know, I really don't want to do that," I'd be totally cool with the decision. But just don't cling so strongly to this mathematically ridiculous excuse.