I know I said I wasn't going to offer financial advice here. I'm going to make one exception. If you have equity in your home, which I know is not an easy question to answer these days, take out a home equity line of credit. It is just that by the way, a line of credit. If you never use it, you owe nothing on it. If, heaven forbid, the financial roof falls in though, you can use that line of credit as a stop-gap to get you through rough patches. With the economy looking so uncertain these days, it's not a bad idea to have a little something to fall back on if need be.
One of the surest ways to save some money is to do home repair and improvement projects yourself. You don't have to be all that handy to paint a room or lay down a laminate floor. If you are uncertain where to start, ask someone in a home improvement store for advice or buy a how to guide. One way or another, if you can reduce the cost of this sort of work to the cost of materials only, you will be astounded at the savings.
Last year, we had fun re-doing my son's bedroom. He is an avid Mets fan so we decided to do our own version of Extreme Makeover Home Edition while he was away in camp for a week. For less than $1000, we laid down a new laminate floor, painted the room in Mets blue and orange colors and put in a new bunk style bed with a desk where the lower bunk was. We also installed crown mouldings and a new ceiling fixture. It came out beautifully and for a fraction of what a contractor would have charged us.
If you haven't quit smoking yet do it now for both your health and your wallet. It is easier than ever to break the habit thanks to a few medications your doctor can provide, to say nothing of the over the counter anti-smoking aids available. I know how hard it is to put down the smokes. For 15 years I was a terrible nicotine fiend. Thanks to a drug called Zyban, I haven't had a cigarette in almost 7 years now. And I didn't gain a lot of weight either.
The reason for this post here is the cost of the habit. Here in NYC, admittedly the smoke tax capital of the US, quitting put $3000/yr back in my pocket! That's like giving yourself a nice raise. (To say nothing about hopefully avoiding the cost of surgery, chemo & radiation).There is no downside to tossing the cigarettes. You'll feel better, breathe easier and save a fair amount of cash. Just do it.
If you haven't switched over to compact flourescent lights yet, do it. They last a long time and use a fraction of the power that incandescents use. They cost a little more up front (prices have come down lately though) but save in the long run. While you are at it, do what you can to insulate your home for the winter. Weather stripping is inexpensive and very effective at stopping heat loss. I have floor to ceiling drapes on many of my windows. (My mother-in-law is a seamstress. She made them in double thick fabric.) Those drapes do such a good job of stopping drafts that I have been able to lower my thermostat to 62 degrees and still stay comfortable. Finally, the old rules are still good. Turn out lights when you leave a room. Shut your computer and printer off at night. Don't waste power. Every little bit helps.
Riding mass transit makes more sense than ever these days. Between heavy traffic, expensive fuel and concern for the environment there is no down side to using busses and trains. Furthermore, if your employer participates in a transit check program, you can actually pay your fare out of your pre-tax income. That can significantly reduce your out of pocket costs even more.
Lately, if I don't have a coupon or an item isn't on sale, it doesn't get bought. The one exception to this rule that I will make concerns store brands. As a general rule, the store brand of groceries are significantly less expensive than the big name items. In the past, my experience with these items was at best mixed. The prices were good but the quality was spotty. Lately though, things have improved in that category. While there are still differences to be sure between say Cheerios and the store brand equivalent, the latter isn't bad at all now. At this point, I can honestly say that I haven't had any bad experiences with the store brand products that I have purchased in the last year or so. It is possible, of course, that different stores will use different suppliers so do your homework. At Stop n Shop, where I go, the stuff is good.
Yes clipping coupons seem bit old fashioned. And, it's true, it does take some time. That being said, however, you have to buy groceries anyway. Why not get the best deal that you can. Head over to hotcouponworld.com and start downloading the ones you need. The pile you see above produced a $15 savings one week. I'm not saying you will always do that well but everything adds up.
As an aside, make sure your supermarket accepts all coupons, not just the ones from a newspaper. I just found out that a big local chain here in NYC, Key Food, will not accept manufacturers coupons that are printed from the Internet. Needless to say, I won't be going there again.
A few years back, my nice old Fuji Finepix camera died. I wanted a good camera but my wallet said no. My solution, get a quality model from a few years ago. I found this Nikon on ebay for $60 shipped. It included a case, carrying strap and a memory card. It arrived in like new condition and has worked flawlessly. I got what I needed and didn't blow a wad of cash to do it. For what it's worth, there is a lot of older hardware out there that still works fine. Unless you really need all the bells and whistles, think about buying used and pocketing the difference.
Here's a neat way to potentially make a little money. Write about something you know well. If you start a free blog on either Blogger.com or Wordpress.com, you can run advertising via Adbrite or Google. When readers click on those ads, you make a little bit of money. I'm not suggesting that you will be able to quit your job (I wish!) but you can earn something if you try.
I collect watches as a hobby. Not surprisingly, I know a thing or two about the subject. A few years back, I set up a free blog on blogger.com. These days, I seem to average around 500 hits a day. Of that number, maybe 1% of my visitors click on an ad. That works out, for me at least, to a few hundred dollars a year. It isn't much admittedly, but its money I didn't have. Nothing wrong with that. It actually makes my hobby self supporting at this point. If you want to visit my watch website incidentally, click here.
While gas prices have dropped a bit from the mid $4 range, I'm not quite ready to start singing 'happy days are here again' just yet. I have little doubt that if we drop our guard with respect to fuel efficiency, we're going to get hammered again. One sure fire way to get a few more miles out of a tank of gas is to stop punching the pedal. I went to the trouble of measuring my mileage, one tank driving normally and the next purposely driving at the speed limit. I also made it a point to coast whenever I could and to accelerate smoothly without hitting the gas hard. The result, a 3mpg improvement in fuel economy. The irony was, it didn't take me any more time to get where I was going one way or another. The ebb and flow of traffic apparently has a much greater effect on arrival times than the speed that I drive. A done deal.
One fairly big expense that many of us are saddled with these days is the cost of cellphones. It isn't really the price of the phone that is the problem though. It's those monthly bills for the wireless service. They can really add up quickly. Even if you have an inexpensive monthly plan you can easily shell out $360.00/yr. Add in text messages and a data plan and the price can quickly top $800.00 or more. And this, of course, assumes that you don't go over your alotted minutes. Now if you are a heavy cellphone user, this trick won't work for you. If, however, you use you cellphone for maybe one 2 minute call every day or two or a few text messages a week, there is a way to save a bundle.
The answer is to go pre-paid. T-Mobile, for instance, has a deal where by you pay $100.00 for 1000 minutes (or text messages at 20 cents/message) that lasts for a full year. There is no contract either so you can back out at any time. For someone who views a cellphone as something for occasional or emergency use only, that works pretty well. It's great for kids too because there are no unpleasant surprises about over charges. Now one of the turn-offs for some folks to going pre-paid has been that the phones that are offered are generally pretty simple models. (If you are ok with a basic phone, you can stop reading now.) The bells and whistles that you get on the fancier phones are usually absent. You can get all that stuff though if you do your homework. As long as you are using a pre-paid GSM service (T-Mobile or AT&T), any UNLOCKED GSM cellphone will work fine. (You can get just the pre-paid SIM card from a T-Mobile store I believe. That way you can avoid paying for a phone you aren't planning to use.)
Go on ebay and take a look at new or refurbished smartphones. Remember, as long as it is an unlocked GSM model, your pre-paid GSM SIM card will work in it. I use a Treo 750 smartphone that I got for a fraction of the price that Palm charges and with the pre-paid plan, no monthly bills either. I don't have full-time wireless Internet access (more on this in a bit) but AT&T does offer a pre-paid Internet plan I believe (but I find the price a bit steep).
I do periodically like to use my phone to check e-mail and a few websites. My frugal solution here is to use WiFi. This is the same short range Internet connection that many of us have in our homes. It is also commonly available these days, for free mind you, in public libraries, hotels, highway rest stops & coffee shops. Some smartphones have built-in WiFi capability and others can have it added inexpensively with a WiFi card (it sounds more complicated than it is really).
The bottom line, for me at least, is that I went from paying $740/year for my old phone service to $100/year. Even factoring in the price of the Treo, I'm still ahead by over 500.00, and that's just for first year. Now that the Treo is paid for, next year my total cost for a cellphone will be just $100. Not bad at all.
No, doing the laundry and ironing isn't fun. There is sort of a zen to it though. You'll save a nice chunk of change too. Figure $1 per shirt and $1.50 per pair of pants, at the minimum, if you use a commercial laundry service. For my family, that works out to 10 pairs of pants and at least 5 button-down shirts per week, sometimes more. That's at least $1000/yr. And I've been doing this myself for almost 20 years now.
Incidentally, if you are going to do the ironing, set aside one hour a week (I do our ironing on Sunday morning). Also, the job is really no big deal if you have a very good iron. Get a Rowenta Professional (pictured above). Rowenta's irons are the only ones I have encountered lately that really make a lot of heat and steam. The sole plate is good and heavy too. They work so well in fact that you can do both sides of a pair of pant legs with one pass on one side. That saves a lot of time. They cost a bit more than the low end models but they are really worth the money.
If you wash your own car by hand twice a month instead of using a car wash, you will not only save $240/yr (assuming an average of about $10 per wash) but the car will be cleaner too. You will be amazed at how much filth a drive through car wash will miss. Wax it yourself too by the way. A hand wax job will look much better than the drive-through hot wax does. You get a workout too (and lets face it, most of us need one). It only takes about an hour from start to finish, less if you skip the wax.
Incidentally, use Turtle Wax bug and tar remover after you wash the car. The stuff works great. Really gets that ground-in gunk off the paint.
Like a lot of folks, I am both amazed and angered at how expensive electricity has become. A big component of those high power bills is the cost of air conditioning in the summer. This year, we decided to move a cot and a mattress into our bedroom and have the kids sleep in the same room with us. Instead of running three air conditioners, one little 5000btu unit did the job. That worked out to about a $100/month reduction in our electric bills for the summer months. Not bad really.
I've been bringing my lunch to work for 17 years now so this isn't really in response to this crummy economy. That being said, the fridge in my office's lunchroom is pretty crowded lately. When you realize that you can bring a week's worth of sandwiches or leftovers for the price of eating out once, this one is no brainer. Figure about $7/day for lunch and you save about $112 a month. That's like giving youself a nice little raise, just for some sandwiches or what not.
If you are like me, you have been slowly grinding your teeth every time you go to a supermarket, gas up your car or check the balance in your bank account. As this wonderful economy of ours continues going wherever its going, I realized that I was making a number of adjustments to my lifestyle in an effort to slow the bleeding a bit. After a while, I figured it would be worth writing some of this stuff down. Some of the suggestions I'll post here are obvious, others took a while to figure out. Here goes...