Category Archives: Frugal

Think you can Eliminate Your Cable Bill?

In 2010, the residents of the city of Raleigh, NC, spent more than any other American city on cable and satellite TV to the tune of $1,033 a year. And that was an average. Did everyone get premium packages in Raleigh or what? The average American household that same year spent around $550. For some people, that’s a nice chunk of their income.

That brings up an important question: Is there a way to reduce or eliminate that sometimes overbearing expense? I think so, considering I’ve been without cable for a couple of years now. Here are a few ways that I’ve coped with not having cable in my home.

-        The Internet. The internet is quite a good alternative for cable. Between finding silly videos on YouTube, playing games on various websites, and using Hulu and station websites to watch my favorite shows, I’m highly entertained for much less a month. I also listen to baseball games on there for $20 a year, satisfying my sports fix as well! Do some research, and you can find some great alternatives online.

-        Netflix. Netflix and Blockbuster Online are both high-quality services that offer both movie rentals and online streaming. I don’t use the rental service, I only use online streaming, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Newer movies aren’t on there, but I’m not a huge movie watcher. So I’m satisfied watching all of the great options they have… seasons upon seasons of various TV shows make me quite happy.

-        Digital Converter Box. I have said I was going to invest in one of these for a really long time. I still haven’t, for one reason or another. It’s just like the old rabbit ears you used to be, but in a little box you hook up. You get like 5-7 channels, depending on what’s available where you live, and it’s only for the cost of the box (approximately $50).

-        Books. Some of you are going to look at this and say that you don’t like to read. I understand… but everyone does like a good story. If you prefer audiobooks over sitting down and reading a book, then join an audiobook club like Audible. For less than a month of cable, you can get tokens for 1-2 books a month that you can listen to. It’s TV for your ears!

-        Radio. One of the biggest reasons that I watched TV in college was to create background noise while I was studying or writing a paper. After college, I realized that that same thing could be accomplished by something that I could get for free… the radio. Whenever I do work or chores, I turn the radio on, and all it costs is the minute amount of electricity it takes to run it.

If you’ve ever considered dumping your cable, these are some solid options for you. It’s worked for me thus far, maybe you should consider it in order to save some big bucks. Have a great Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Revving Up for Black Friday

Okay, was anyone else really confused when they looked at the calendar this week and realized that Thanksgiving is next Thursday?  Yeah, I was a bit confused too. It’s earlier than it has been the past 3-4 years. Throws you off a bit, doesn’t it?

Anyway, this picture reminds you of what happens on Thanksgiving night (since a lot of stores are starting to open their doors at 10 PM on Thanksgiving Day) or on Black Friday morning, doesn’t it? In our country, Thanksgiving is often a kick-off to the craziest shopping weekend of the year.

But, along with great deals, we sometimes end up with stress, frustration, or a general feeling of “meh.” How can we make Black Friday a more enjoyable experience while still getting great deals? Here are some tips for your Black Friday expeditions.

1. Get the retailer’s ads early. Guess what? Most retailers have jumped on the boat and, instead of having to dig up spoiler ads, they’re printing them early! Target has been poking at me lately with teases of their Black Friday deals, and Amazon has all sorts of stuff ready to roll as well. So, just search online and you’ll be able to find exactly what you want. Just Google “Black Friday Sales” and a bunch of useful websites will be at your fingers in minutes. Then, make a list and check it twice.

2. Get a good night’s sleep. Before you go Black Friday shopping, take advantage of the tryptophan in the turkey that makes you sleepy and sleep. Many people in the stores are grumpy just because they haven’t gotten enough sleep. So, take a nap the day before and wake up early, or go to bed early. Yes, I know there’s football. But sleep, and you’ll feel much more awake when chasing those early morning sales.

3. Consider the sister movements to Black Friday: Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Is Black Friday a little too crazy for you? Then why don’t you consider the other things that happen the weekend after Thanksgiving? Small Business Saturday started a few years ago as an effort to push more people to buy from local businesses. And Cyber Monday was created by the companies who are primarily online (Amazon, eBay) for more shopping goodness. Some brick-and-mortar retailers are in on Cyber Monday too, offering deals you can’t get in stores.

4. Start earlier! It seems that we’re moving toward a trend that the two months before Christmas are meant for great deals. Now, obviously, it’s a little late for that now, but maybe next year you’ll want to consider starting to look at deals as early as mid-October. Yes, thinking about Christmas before Thanksgiving. I know. It’s crazy, but it’s the trend!

Do you go crazy on Black Friday, trying to get those awesome sales before everyone else does? Or do you sit at home and enjoy the madness that ensues from your television or on the web? Share some thoughts and tips in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Chilling Out Cooling Costs

There’s been a bit of a heatwave here over the past few days. I’ve been in shorts and t-shirts, hiding in my room with my A/C unit cranked and a fan circulating the cool around my room. It’s quite a nice arrangement, really. Well, other than when I have friends over; they aren’t always the most comfortable temperature wise.

Today’s been the coolest day this week, thus far. Now, it’s only noon, so who knows if it’s going to stay that way. One of the biggest issues that people have with their budgets during the summer is those darn expensive cooling costs. I know my electric bill doubles in the summer because of it. So, what are some things that you should know when trying to save some cold cash on cooling costs? Here are a few thoughts.

Every degree you turn the thermostat up (if you have central air conditioning) can save 3% to 4%.There isn’t that huge of a difference between 69 degrees and 70 degrees, is there? If I had central air, I’d deal with the degree difference and save some cash in my pocket.

Now, that being said, I live in an apartment, and I don’t have central A/C. I just have a unit in my window in my bedroom. So, on those days that it’s not incredibly hot out, instead of turning the air conditioner on, I’ll open the window in my living room and the window in my bedroom and enjoy the cross-breeze that flows through. It keeps the house cool and it gives me some fresh air!

Energy efficient homes save a lot of money on their cooling costs in the summer, as well! Put in insulation; it keeps the cold in during the summer. Put in new windows, especially if your windows are letting in some heat. Do everything you can to up your energy efficiency, and you can save some cash on your cooling costs. And, as an aside, you get tax deductions for making your home more energy efficient as well! Sounds pretty good to me.

One of the really bad things about this past week is all the thunderstorms. It’s been absolutely humid, and the humidity can kill your cooling budget. The more humid it is, the hotter it feels. The hotter it feels, the more energy it takes to cool your home. Take cooler showers, cook with lids on your food, and consider getting a dehumidifier. Do everything you can to make sure your house isn’t incredibly humid. It’ll help you resist the temptation to crank your A/C too high if you aren’t feeling both hot and sticky.

What other hints do you have for chilling out your cooling costs? Do you just eat that in your budget, or do you try to make yourself as comfortable as possible for as little as possible? Share your tips and tricks in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you here next week.

 

4 Basic Bill-Busting Tips

I’m a penny pincher. I actually enjoy finding ways to save money in whatever way I can. One of my favorite ways to save? Reducing the cost of my bills. Today, we’re going to look at four ways to bust those bills and save some big bucks. In this economy, every penny counts, so honestly, whatever savings I can get, I’m totally taking. Here are 4 basic tips for busting those bills.

1. Baby, it’s cold outside. Not really. Finally, it’s getting to the point that it feels like summer in the Northeast, where I live. I’m considering finally putting that air conditioning unit in the window. But, for those days that it’s kind of chilly outside, why in the world would you waste electricity to keep the house at 68 degrees? Check the weather outside and adjust your temperature a little bit so you don’t waste precious dollars.

2. Use natural lighting. I have incredibly inexpensive electric. My first month living in this apartment, my electric bill was $13. It’s a little bit higher now that I have a computer that takes a lot of power to run, but generally my bill is not over $30. How did I do this? Well, because I take advantage of the sun. I open my blinds and use the sun to light my house. The only place I can’t do that is my bathroom, only because there are no windows in there. Oh well. Open those windows wide and let the sun light your home!

3. Pay for multiple months.  This is about everyone’s favorite bill: the car insurance bill. Did you know you can save hundreds of dollars a year just by lumping your insurance into 6 month increments? For example, I pay $300 every six months. If I didn’t do that, I would pay $400 in that six month period of time. That saves me $100 a year. Huge savings! Progressive (http://www.progressive.com) allows you to compare different car insurance companies to get your best cost, and if you fill out the quote sheet, you can see the huge difference between paying monthly and paying bi-annually.

4. Consider cutting the cable. I haven’t had cable in 2 years. I was never a huge TV watcher, I only used it for background noise. So, I got a radio and use that instead. First, that’s anywhere from $20 to $100 I’m saving a month by not using cable. I share a Netflix account with friends, and I use Hulu on my computer, so if I really want to watch something, I absolutely can! Why spend money on something that I can access in other ways and, often times, for much cheaper. Even though this may sound like a foreign concept to you, try it. Really, it could be a welcome change to your family. Another perk to this? My electric costs are even lower because I’m not running a TV all of the time. Sounds like a win-win to me!

What other bill busting tips do you have? Have you tried these before? How have they worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments and we’ll see you here next week!

Brr! How to take the Chill out of Heating Costs

Today, I’m sitting in my apartment with a robe and slippers on and watching the protective cover on my moped fly around. It’s really windy today! Finally, after a few months of what should have been winter, we finally actually have winter! This is a happy occasion for students… adults, not so much. We’re cold, and now we have to worry about heating costs.

Luckily, my heat is included in my monthly rent. But what if you don’t have that luxury? Today, we’re going to look at some things that you can do in order to take that chill out of your heating costs, whether you live in a 1 bedroom apartment like I do, or have a two story home.

First, make sure that everything in your home is up-to-date. Shingles on the roof, insulation in the walls, whatever it is that needs to be updated in order to keep the heat in and the cold out, do it. It may feel like a financial burden at first, but in the long run, it could save you more than you’re spending for it.

Another thing to consider when getting ready for the winter time cold is doing those extra things that can help keep heat in your home. Put down your storm windows, put that plastic covering over your windows, and put draft dodgers in front of your doors. Keep that cold out!

One bad habit that I have is the fact that I will adjust the heat up and down according to how cold it is. Don’t do that! If it warms up for a couple days, keep it at the heat you had it; the heater takes a lot more energy when trying to catch up quickly then it does to maintain a specific temperature. So, don’t follow my bad example; keep the heat at 68 or 70. It’s okay to turn it up and down 2 degrees, but 4 or 6 can increase those costs by 10 to 25 percent.

Another thing to watch out for is how open your house is. I have a four bedroom apartment where, if I have all of the doors open, it’s essentially a big open box. It’s hard to heat a big open box efficiently. So, I close some of my doors during the winter. It helps keep each individual part of the house warmer while using less energy.

If you own your home, look at the type of heat that you have and consider switching if you are able to. Some types (heating oil especially) are more expensive than others.

Finally, I always jokingly say that you can always put more clothes on. It’s cold, put a sweater on, use an extra blanket, wear slippers. You don’t necessarily have to use your heating for all of your warmth, use the other things that you already have in your home.

So, stay warm, it’s cold out there! Bundle up, enjoy the warmth of your home, and have a great weekend in this arctic chill!

 

Post-Holiday Sales you Just Can’t Miss!

Yesterday, I ventured out to Staples to get a keyboard that a friend had gotten me for Christmas and had sent to the store. Thankfully, Staples isn’t on the list of “top places to go” in my town before the holidays. I was there maybe 15 minutes tops. That wasn’t the case for the rest of the plaza that Staples is located in; Kohl’s, Target, Five Below, and Giant (our grocery store) had full parking lots. It took me longer to get in and out of the parking area than I did in the store.

The few days before and after Christmas are hectic. Stores are packed; the days before Christmas involve getting last minute gifts, while the days after are full of returns. Because of this, many retailers take advantage of the moment and put out some amazing sales. Hey, if people are going to be there anyway, why not take the time and get them to buy other stuff while they’re there, right? If you’re brave enough to fight the crowds, there’s a few things that you should go out and look for in the few days after Christmas.

- Holiday items. Many of the holiday decorations that I possess are from post-holiday sales. This isn’t only the case for Christmas; many retailers will greatly discount holiday and/or seasonal items after they occur. The Christmas tree that sites in my living room was only $10; the decorations on it came to a dollar total.

- Electronics. Did you not get the TV that you wanted? Well, check out your local electronics store and see if it’s on sale. Manufacturers of electronics usually put out new products during late January/early February. So, after Christmas is the best time to slash prices and get the old stock out of there.  Also, in the same token, video games usually get reduced by a lot after Christmas, even if they’re ones that came out just in time for the holiday season.

- Vehicles. Like electronics, the new models are brought out toward the end of the year. Clearing a car lot of old models has been difficult in recent years (the most difficult since Cash for Clunkers a few years ago), so end-of-year sales that fall right after the holidays have become popular. If you’re even thinking about getting a new car, after the holidays may be a great time to look.

- Getting fit. Manufacturers and retailers alike take advantage of New Year’s resolution-makers in this regard. Home gym equipment, fitness videos, gym memberships, and even simple things like dieting journals and pedometers can be found for big discounts.

These definitely aren’t the only things that are great to buy after the holidays roll around, but they’re definitely some of the most popular. Also consider looking at jewelry and candy (maybe get ready for Valentine’s Day early?), baby items, and winter clothing (especially coats). There’s probably a ton more that I’m missing, but at least this gives you a starting point. So brave the crowds and look for those great end-of-year deals. Happy Holidays!

4 Tips for a Financially Freeing End of the Year

It’s that time of year again! Holidays really stress everyone out. Today, I’m stressed out. I have friends coming to town, my house is a mess, baking needs to happen (my sister is currently in the kitchen doing some of it). I have a dinner tonight and Tuesday night. I have an event I’m hosting tomorrow. It’s just a really crazy month for so many people.

Why should finances add to your stress? We’re going to share 4 tips that can save your end of year budget from crashing and burning like so many other people deal with every year. Here are a few things that you can do to make your end of year a little less stressful for everyone in your family.

1. Stick to your budget and reevaluate for next year. Stick to it! If you have a budget set, you need to try and get to the finish line. Don’t overspend on gifts and groceries because you’re caught up in the moment. Also, take the month of December to sit back and reevaluate your budget for next year. Were you saving enough? Did any of your bills increase or decrease? Are you struggling financially, and if so, what can you eliminate to make your burden a little lighter? It’s never a bad thing to reevaluate, even if your conclusion is that your budget is fine as-is.

2. Get your stuff together for your taxes. I know, you aren’t required to get your W-2′s until January, but what about everything else? Charitable contribution receipts, medical bills that weren’t covered by medical insurance, home office expenses. If you have everything together, it’ll make the whole process easier when your W-2′s finally do come.

3. Cut expenses for holiday travel. It’s too late to buy tickets super early (my usual tip for travel), but it’s almost to the point where you may get the last-minute discounts, if you can find somewhere that has extra seats. Don’t check a bag if you don’t have to; many airlines have increased the cost of checking bags. Don’t eat on the premises unless you’re stuck for a long time. Gas prices have been going down and it’s starting to get cheaper to drive than fly to some places; calculate that before you go.

4. Be creative. If you’re struggling for cash, be creative in all of your end-of-year endeavors. I write letters to the teenagers I work with because there’s too many to get gifts for. Having a New Year’s Party? Make your own favors, get creative with inexpensive appetizers. Utilize free movies you may have access to via your TV or computer. Or, just stay at your house and play games!

The end of the year should be a fun and exciting time for everyone involved. You shouldn’t be stressing in any way, but hopefully, these tips help you out so that your finances are one less thing to worry about. Have a great weekend!

Stopping that Holiday Stress

It’s the holidays, and  that means big dinners, family gatherings, gift exchanges, and piles of cookies and other sweet treats. Sadly, for many, it’s also been proven to be the most stressful time of the year. Not only on your emotions, but also on your wallet. Want to prevent some of the strain on both? Check out these tips.

If you’re hosting a meal:

- Set a budget and stick to it. We all like to go all out for the holidays, especially when it comes to our families. But, the economy is still pretty rough. Set a budget; say that you want to spend no more than a certain dollar amount on dinner and stick to it! Coupons and grocery store fliers can help you in making this number a reality.

- Consider hosting a potluck. If you’re hosting the meal, anything goes. If the price may be a little heavy on you, consider asking each of your guests (or, if they’re all different families, set it by family) to bring a side dish or two. Some families have a specific person who always brings dessert, year in and year out. If that will help you from getting stressed and going broke, do it! Everyone else probably appreciates that you’re the one sacrificing a clean house to the holiday festivities.

- Or, just go out to dinner. More and more restaurants are open on Thanksgiving day, to allow for people to eliminate their stress totally and come in for a nice meal prepared by someone else. If your family is willing to change tradition a bit, maybe this is a great option for you.

If you’re buying gifts:

- Consider setting a dollar limit.  Like with making a meal, set a budget for your holiday shopping. My grandmother used to spend $100 per grandchild every year; I have no idea how she afforded that, but she set that number and stuck to it. Whether you set the dollar limit per person or for your overall holiday shopping plans, set that limit and stick to it. 

- Utilize Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.  The best deals happen on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Also, many stores announce their sales way ahead of time; do a search on Google and you will find countless websites that have already done all of the work for you. You simply have to search for the item you seek and see if there’s a sale on it. Also, make sure to stick it out to Cyber Monday; electronics and other big ticket items can be delivered right to your doorstep for significantly less than what you may have spent ahead of time. 

- Organize a gift exchange.  Most of the kids in my family are now adults, and the topic of a Secret Santa-style gift exchange  has come up. No one’s really willing to budge, but, it’s a thought that has come up. Instead of having to buy for everyone, the gift exchange would make it so each of us only had to buy for one person, making each of our Christmas burdens significantly cheaper. If your family is in a similar boat, why don’t you consider doing this too?

So, eliminate the stress of the holidays and enjoy it as you should! Have a great weekend!


How Do I Save on Bills That I Can’t Just Eliminate?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility of eliminating your cable bill. It’s not a radical idea; it’s something that’s become a lot more feasible in past years. But what about those bills you can’t eliminate? What can you do to save on electric, phone, water and everything else that you may not be able to totally get rid of? Today we’re going to look at a few of those and talk about different ways that you may be able to reduce their impact on your budget.

Electric: Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you the common sense answers, but I do want you to know a couple things you may not have known could save you.

-        Shop around. In some states, like my home state of PA, you’re allowed to find who provides your electric. Your company stays the same, but they have various providers. Shop around, you could save a few cents.

-        Utilize the sun. I don’t turn the lights on when the sun’s out, except in my bathroom because there’s not any windows in there. The sun is there, why waste your precious electricity if there’s natural light? It’s better for you too. It also helps keep your house warm.

-        Prevent latent electricity usage. Electricity is used when items are plugged in, even if they aren’t being used. Unplug things that you don’t use often, or if you’re going away for vacation.

               Water:  I, thankfully, don’t pay for my water, but here are a couple things you can do to lessen your water and sewer bills if you’d wish to.

-        Enviromentally-friendly toilets. If you own your home, the low-flow toilets are a great idea. They use less water when you flush!

-        Fix leaks. Leaks totally kill your water bill. Calling a plumber to fix it is cheaper than letting it linger.

-        Take shorter showers. I grew up with a well. I learned how to take a 10 minute shower. It’s not as hard as it looks.

               Phone: Most homes today don’t have a house phone because so many people have cell phones. But in case you do, I’m sharing some ways to save on both your house phone bill and cell phone bill.

-        Consider a house phone. I use my house phone for a few purposes, and since it’s bundled with my internet, it costs me like $10 a month. This has helped me reduce my cell phone bill, first cause I can use it

-        If you have both a house and cell phone, drop long distance on your house phone. Your cell phone already has a certain amount of anyone, anywhere minutes. Why waste the money on long distance on your house phone?

-        Consider VoIP clients. My best friend and I don’t have the same cell phone provider, so if we can, we chat on Skype instead. Skype’s free if you aren’t using it for actual phone calls, but you can also consider it for phone calls for a small fee.

So, there you have it. Some easy ways for you to reduce necessary monthly bills. Until Thursday, have a great week!

Couponing isn’t Just for Crazies

The other day, the mother of a family that I babysit for was excited to tell me that they had gotten these bags of tortilla chips for $1.50 each. What a deal, considering I’m quite the fan of tortilla chips and salsa if I can find them for a good price. I asked her how she did it, and she explained that her latest thing has been couponing and finding good deals.

Now before you think “oh, she’s one of those crazy couponers that you see on TV.” She’s totally not, she holds her PhD and is a Professor at the university I graduated from. And you too, can be an entirely normal person and benefit from the wonderful discounts that a little extra time can help you find. Here’s a couple tips for couponing effectively.

  1. Utilize your store’s flyers and bonus cards. I love my local food store. It’s less than 2 miles from my house, they send me their flyers and I have a bonus card. Not only do I get great discounts, I accumulate points to get discounts on my gas too! And with how much gas costs nowadays, I need that.
  2. Shop around. You shop around for a car, you shop around for a computer… why don’t you shop around for groceries. Now, I understand if you live in a small town with only one grocery store, there’s no point in driving a half an hour to a different one to save 10 cents. But if you live in an area with several stores, like I do, find where your staples are cheapest, and take a grocery tour instead of just a grocery trip.
  3. Buy before the sell-by date. I got a half pound steak the other day for 2 bucks… it was originally 6. How did I get such a steal? Well, first, I had a coupon for 5% off my next purchase of $20 or more, but I also got it the day before the sell-by date. Bread and meat go for cheap at this point; if you’re worried about it going back, just freeze it! The sell-by date is also usually a freeze-by date.
  4. Use the web. The internet has tons of websites for coupons and to compare deals. Why run between stores if you can get all the information that you need online. Always check with an anti-virus before downloading any programs that you may need to get in order to print your coupons, but most are reliable and safe. You can also get some pretty good deals for groceries on Amazon and other sites that offer online grocery shopping. Yes, it may feel like the lazy way to do things, but with Amazon’s free shipping for most orders over $25, you may be saving yourself both money and time.

Your food budget doesn’t have to break the bank. Follow these tips and know that couponing isn’t just for crazies… it’s a great way to find awesome deals! Have a great Labor Day weekend!