Thursday, November 6, 2008

Madd Money: What's Helped Save You the Most Money?

Trent over at The Simple Dollar had an entry yesterday about describing the most concrete things that he has done to save money. I liked his answer, as it's one that I can totally relate to and agree with: use the public library instead of going to the book store and directly purchasing books and DVDs. For Trent, this was a concrete example that passed on some tremendous savings to him. He described an $80.00 per month book habit that was reduced to close to nothing (I can't say the service is 100% free because the public library is one of those things that our tax dollars pay for, so we do have a direct payment plan into access at our public library, we just don't know how much of it actually goes there :) ). While I do not have that big a habit, I most certainly had a love affair with book shopping at Barnes and Noble, with fits and starts and bank statements with the store's name emblazoned on it.

Over the last several months, I decided to give the public library a lot more of my reading and DVD viewing business, and the results have been tremendous. Our expenditures on books and DVDs has gone *way* down. Now granted, the library doesn't have every movie or every book I want to examine, but they sure do have a lot of them, and many times I get to see books or DVD's I'd otherwise never have considered. It's too early to say for sure how much we have saved, but judging from the lack of purchases from Barnes and Noble over the past few months, I would say we've probably "saved" at least $300 dollars.

That got me thinking more about Trent's article and trying to figure out concrete things that I have done to help me save money. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just some areas I personally have seen a difference in both changing my habits and being aware of what I am doing. In some cases, it has allowed me to apply money to different areas where I hadn’t before:

1. Clothing: I’ve made the decision to go with as much of a minimalist wardrobe as possible. Thus, I’ve tried my best to imagine living for two weeks out of a suitcase without option for doing laundry. Whatever can fit in that suitcase, that’s my wardrobe (and that includes two suits that normally don’t get used for anything else other than attending church and church service opportunities, but that’d enough to justify both of them). To this end, I try to pick items that have a classic quality to them and will be able to be worn for many years without retooling or restyling. Net result is that, each year, I spend no more than $500 total on clothing, and some years I spend even less. Also, I tend to look for items that, while not necessarily the cheapest, I have a good feeling will actually last me a long time.

2. Food: I almost never eat out while I am at work. I very nearly always take care of my own food, either from home or shopping in a store to have staple items available. Granted, there are the times the company springs for food, and I certainly take advantage of that (LOL!), but I make it a policy to shop as little as possible when I’m downtown. Also, I'm trying to really make a point of spending the least amount of money possible of food items that just I consume. Thus, when I go grocery shopping for items to make meals out of, I almost always buy generics, I but items in bulk , and I do my best to combine them and set them aside to be used when I need them. I'm also cutting down on meats and other expensive foods, and going with more vegetables and lover priced alternatives. I like to have a varied diet and want to have some fun with the food I eat, but I've realized I don't need to go overboard on expensive meats, as there are often good low priced alternatives.

3. Entertainment: I’ve definitely pared down this area considerably over the years. I used to be the first in line to grab up several video games that I know I’d love to play… problem is that, much of the time, I’d never get around to playing them. I have several games that are on my “to do” list, and have been there now for close to three years. I’ve heeded this attribute in myself, and I’ve decided to be *very* hardcore about the games I buy. Now, if there is no immediate time frame to play it, I don’t buy it, no mater how rare or unique I think the game might be. In general, if I’m not going to play it for a year, it’s likely to be a title I can pick up used at the local game store. Also, as one who loves video game strategy guides (more for the back story and the additional art galleries related to the titles rather than for the specific strategies offered), I’ve made it a point to also scale back here. I only buy the guide if, indeed, the game in question has enough additional artwork and back story items that I will, indeed go back to it again and again to enjoy those things. Otherwise, if I truly only want game hints, I use sites like GameFAQs to fill that need now. DVDs now mostly come courtesy of my public library.

4. Work and Commute:
I am overjoyed that I made the decision a number of years ago to work in San Francisco. While I still have commute expenses, they are considerably less than when I used to work in San Jose or Redwood City. My drive to my train station is 4 miles round trip, and on some days, that’s the only driving I do. Were I to live in an area with flatter terrain (my house happens to be near the top of a pretty substantial hill in my town  ), I’d totally consider commuting by bike to and from the train station. Perhaps that’s in my future one of these days, but I’ll need to get into better shape first (LOL!). the fact that I use the Bart Smart Card, which is attached directly to my company’s transportation Flexible Spending Account, also helps to insure that I have tax-free funds to help pay for the commuting.

5. “Keep Us Honest” Accounts: I’ve found that having set these up and sticking to them religiously to be a very valuable thing for us to do. Our ROTH IRA’s, my company’s 401K’s and our children’s 529 plans are all areas that we invest in each pay period, and we make it a point to keep to our agreed-to percentages. We have not automated this process yet, because we want to make sure that we are all clear on the fact that we are adding the amounts that we agree to and that we are comfortable with for these purposes. What’s great about these accounts is that, once the money is in there, we can’t get to it unless its for the defined purpose (college for the kids) or we reach the appropriate age for retirement fund distributions.

Some of these are actual concrete steps taken to help us save money and hang onto more than we spend. Some of these areas are actually more psychological and behavioral rather than just a list of tips to do to save money. Of course, may times, that’s exactly what we need to make the changes necessary. By making sure that we are aware of what we are doing, and are in the correct mind set to do what we want to do, but be open to ways where we can do what we want without having to pay a premium for the experience. So let me know… what are some of the things you have done, whether it be psychological or totally physically tangible, to help you save more of your money over time?

1 comment:

Beefche said...

Oh, dude, you are talking my subject now! Ever since I decided to get out of debt a few years ago, this has become my pet subject.

1. Use a budget, but budget "fun" money. I have a budget, but I set aside money each month to use however I want--without guilt.
2. Shop clearance/sale items only. If I want something badly, then I will simply watch the ads or look online. Sometimes the wait is a long time, but eventually, you'll find a deal on the desired item.
3. When I go out to eat, order water. Spending $2.00+ on a soda that isn't healthy and costs more than a 2 liter doesn't make sense.
4. Make sure that when I use a credit card, I use one that gives back to me (cashback or rewards) and that I am able to pay the balance each month. Don't pay interest because then you're actually paying money to someone else.
5. Set aside money for saving--no matter how small. And use a FDIC approved bank with a great interest rate. I started off saving $10/paycheck because most of my money went towards my debt. But, if an emergency came up, I had cash readily available to use. Also, make it automatic--my work allows me to put my money into 3 accounts. If your work doesn't do that, most banks can be set up to take money out of your account on a specific date.