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Archive for the ‘Saving money’ Category

We’ll be leaving on vacation in a few days for our annual “antique tractor” exhibit.  It’s like a car cruise, only it lasts four days.

We always get a hotel room for this setup.  It’s hot, in the woods, with no running water. But hotel rooms are expensive – about $60 per night.  We usually bring a tent along and sleep in the tent the first nights. It’s the best of both worlds – camping is free, but we also have access to a shower at least once a day.

We’ve been doing really well with our finances lately. We spend our money thoughtfully and frugally, and set aside at least 10 percent for retirement, plus extra payments on the mortgage and student loan.  We’ve been scrimping for 10 months now, with lots to show for our efforts.

I’ll make it clear: I’m tired of being frugal on vacations, and I do not want to sleep in a tent again. So I did the next best thing to free camping – I called the hotel and asked for a discount.  I explained that we already had reservations, and were considering adding a night or two to our stay. Could he give us a reduced rate on those extra nights?

I’ve never done this before, and my heart was pounding the entire time. Would the manager think I was cheap?  (Well, I am.)  Would he be stingy? (They usually are.)  But we both knew what he was thinking: We had already locked into the room for Friday and Saturday night. If we don’t sleep there on Thursday, the room will stay empty. Nobody rents a hotel room on Thursday night in this area.

After a long pause, he asked if 20 percent off would work – 20 percent off the entire weekend.  That would be wonderful, I said; book us for the third night.  I got the third night for just $24!  I did a little victory dance after I hung up the phone.

It never hurts to ask!

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We got our electric bill today.  I was very hesitant to open it…  we’ve had the AC in our bedroom turned on almost every night this month.  It’s been really muggy in Pennsylvania, with no relief from the heat and humidity at night.

We got a great surprise: The bill was only $4 higher than last month.  We used an average of 17 KWH per day, up from 15-16 KWH per day. I can live with that.

We have been making a real effort to reduce our energy consumption, and it’s starting to pay off.  We’ve been making one small change a month to see how it affects the electricity bill.

Yes, we used the AC for about 8 hours each day.  But we set the AC to 72 degrees, which was just cool enough to let us sleep. Cost this month: +$4

We’ve also started hanging our clothes up in the basement.  I still machine dry socks and underwear, mainly because my time is more valuable than hanging and matching a few dozen socks.  But we’ve been line drying jeans, towels, sheets and t-shirts.  Savings: $5

We’ve also been using the grill, which cuts out the electric oven and stove. We don’t have central air, but it sure is nice to not heat up the entire house with dinner. Unknown savings, but a nice, cool house.

Finally, we made one simple, silly change to our routine: We turned off the heated dry cycle on the dishwasher. I didn’t even realize this was an option when we moved in last year, because this is my first dishwasher. Duh!  We do the dishes every 2-3 days, so a family that runs the dishwasher more often could save even more. Savings: $10 per month.

We’ve now trimmed our electricity bill from $75-80 per month to $55-60. In my book, that $15-20 savings is well worth the minimal effort. We’re saving money and the planet at the same time!  I’ll admit that I no longer snowflake these savings – I just budget the $60 now, and have an extra $20 to put towards our retirement funds.

Other things we’ve tried, which made a much smaller difference: Switching to CFL bulbs, unplugging the TV and VCR when not in use (we don’t have cable, use them only for movies), and turning off the computer most nights. Together, these three changes may have saved us a dollar or two…  but these things do add up.

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FiveCentNickel recently discussed his biggest financial vice (eating out), and encouraged other bloggers to examine their own spending habits.

By far, our biggest vice is beverages. While we prepare meals in our own kitchen most nights, we’re both rather hooked on flavored beverages – soda, juice, iced tea, milk, coffee, you name it.  We probably spend nearly $10 per week, or $500 per year, on beverages alone.  The ocassional bottle of wine doesn’t help much, either.

But that’s not too horrible, you might add.  It’s only $10 per week – that’s less than the cost of a night out. Consider this: Our food budget is only $45 per week. We spend 22% of our budget on drinks. Yikes!   

I really wish we could drink tap water, but we have a sulfur problem and filters don’t completely remove the smell. We can cover the smell with drink mixes, yes, but I just can’t take any icy glass of water and chug it.  Shudder…  it’s like drinking raw eggs.

I have been making some progress.  We’re focusing on sales, and try to drink what’s on sale for the week. The Husband loves Mountain Dew, but will drink the generic brand of soda on occasion. We also stock up on drink mixes, and try to focus on “healthier” mixes that don’t have sugar as their main ingredient.

Finally, I’m experimenting with new water filters. We haven’t hit one yet that works completely, but I’m highly motivated. Aside from financial concerns, I’d love to brush my teeth in sulfur-free water.

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It’s been about two months since we planted our garden now, and things are coming along nicely. We’ve had fresh peas for awhile now.  The cherry tomatoes are full size and turning pink. 

As I was weeding today, I thought about the role gardening is playing in many people’s budgets this year. With the price of food skyrocketing, many families are growing their own food to save a bit of money.  We have enjoyed gardening for several years, but this is the first summer we are growing food to replace groceries.  (Up until this year, we grew veggies in his parents’ backyard. We didn’t buy groceries back then!)

To make your own frugal garden pay off, consider the following:

– How much does this food cost?  I would estimate that we harvest about $2.50 (five storebought cans) worth of peas from a $.99 package of seeds. It takes a lot of shelled peas to make one serving! On the other hand, store-bought peppers cost about $1 each. We can harvest 4-6 nice peppers from a $1 plant. The same goes for tomatoes – nothing beats the taste or price of a fresh, homegrown tomato.

– Does your family enjoy this food? Our neighbors gave us eggplant seedlings. Generous, but I doubt the husband and I will eat all that eggplant.  We took the plants to be neighborly, and I’m looking forward to trying a few recipes. But we wouldn’t waste space or money on plants we don’t already enjoy.

– Do you have time for gardening? Plants need water, weeding and prompt harvesting. If you can’t dedicate a few hours each week, don’t disappoint yourself by starting a garden. It’s a great way to get exercise and save money, but the effort is pointless if your plants don’t survive to harvest time. 

Best of luck with your garden, and happy weeding!

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I was reading through my auto insurance policy today, thanks to a thought-provoking post by Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.  The theory is that auto insurance prices take a dramatic plunge when you reach age 25, and I was estimating how much of a difference this 10-20% discount would make.  (It’s about $10-$20 per month – happy birthday to us!)

Then I read the line, “comprehensive coverage – $500 deductible.” I paused, thinking I must be confusing “comprehensive” with another term. But when I looked it up, I saw that comprehensive covers thinks such as broken windshields, or a deer running into your car. 

We have older model cars, each with a Kelly Blue Book value of less than $2,000.  WHY do we have comprehensive coverage?  I thought our insurance agent had simply mirrored my old auto plan from before we got married, but it appears that he helpfully added a few perks. Those perks are costing us a few hundred dollars a year…

I am feeling pretty foolish for having paid for the policy. I did read the forms before I signed them, but we bought our new insurance a week after the wedding and three weeks after buying our first home. I was a bit overwhelmed, to say the least.  But ignorance can be expensive!

We really like our insurance agent – he’s helped both of our families through auto claims, and we really trust him. I’m sure he was doing what he thought best for a young couple. Needless to say, I will be sitting down with him in two months, when our policy comes up for renewal, and examining our contract more closely.

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I am fascinated by snowflakes.

No, I’m not talking about snow and blizzards. (Although I do love snow!)  I’m referring to financial snowflakes.

I first heard about snowflake’s from PaidTwice’s snowflake primer here. But I’ll do my best to explain it as well.

Snowflaking is a spin on the popular snowballing method, where you take any extra income each month and pay down debt. (I’m simplifying things here, because snowballing doesn’t really apply to us.)

The principle for snowflaking is simple: Each snowball is made of snowflakes, or small amounts of extra cash. 

But small amounts of money can add up quickly. Take any money you can find, no matter how small, and apply it to debt. Saved $2 by buying something on sale?  Snowflake the savings, and add it to your debt payment. Found a quarter on the ground?  Snowflake it.

This would be great for us, if we used cash.

We don’t have much of a cash system in our house.  We budget x dollars for food, gas, ect. Everything goes on the credit card, we track how much is spent, and the card gets paid off each month. When the budgeted money is gone, we put the credit cards away.

But now that we’ve been working with a budget for a few months, something strange and wonderful has been happening. Each month, we spend a bit less. There’s always a few dollars leftover in each budget. I’ve been rolling that money into the next month’s budget, but it’s starting to add up.

Today, I vow to USE my snowflakes to better our financial picture!  I’m thinking we should send 75% to the mortgage, 25% into student loans. (Check out my goals for reasoning.)

We’ll sit down and finish our budget tonight. Check back tomorrow and see how many snowflakes we found!

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We’re trying to cut costs. When you only spend $200 a month on food, every dollar counts.

So WHY have we been going out to eat every Friday?

It’s simple: We go to a friend’s house, and they want to go out. Instead of saying “Gee, maybe we should try cooking tonight. We’re watching our money,” we get out the wallet and fork over some cash.

No more. I’m proud to announce that I just got off the phone with the friends. We had a heart to heart about money, and I explained that those $15 take-out bills were really hurting our bottom line.

I never would have expected her response. “Yeah, we’ve been meaning to cut back, too. It just hasn’t happened.”

Well, it’s about to happen!  🙂  We decided on the phone to make pizza at their house. She’ll supply the dough and sauce, and we’re in charge of the toppings.  I’ve already got a family-size pack of cheese and pepperoni, so this meal will cost me $0.

I might just role that $15 into the snowflake funds…

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