Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Five Easy Ways to Save Money

1. Visit the Farmer's Market or Farm Stand instead of the grocery store.

Going to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning used to be a regular errand. It got to where some of the vendors actually looked forward to our weekly trip and would comment if we weren't there. One vendor was a particular favorite. He sold vegetables, but he also sold seafood (the only one in the plaza who did). He was a crotchety old guy who actually looked like he was probably the one out on the lobster boat. I loved chatting with him every week, and his favorite topic was usually some customer who had balked at his prices, because, as he tells it, they always said something akin to, they could get the same thing at Shaw's around the corner. To which he would reply, "So, do it."

I was always sure to tell him that those customers were not getting the same thing at Shaw's - in spite of what they might believe. There's no comparing fresh picked and locally grown produce to the imported offerings at the grocery.

But here's the thing, while his customers may have been correct that they could get potatoes or lettuce or strawberries for less at the chain supermarket, they are incorrect in thinking they'll spend less money if they buy it from the store, because they won't leave the store with just the potatoes, lettuce and strawberries. In fact, the stores count on it. Every part of the store has been designed so that you will spend more money. The best way to save one's dollars, therefore, is to stay out of the stores.

Stopping at the grocery once a month for staples (flour, rice, oats, sugar, etc.) and buying everything else fresh at the Farmer's Market or farm stand can save quite a few dollars.

Money saving bonus: The bonus is that buying and eating fresh produce is much better for our health than processed food, which will, ultimately, save money on health care costs and medications.

2. Park at the far end of parking lots nearest the exit of the lot and walk to the store.

I know it doesn't sound like much, but consider that we pay for gasoline by the gallon. Gasoline usage is measured in miles per gallon (mpg). When we look at a particular car's gas mileage, the potential miles per gallon will be higher on the highway than in the city, and the reason is that in the city, where there are a lot of stop lights, there is a lot of idling for lights, and a lot of stopping and going. The fact is that sitting with one's car idling equals zero miles per gallon, and will, ultimately, cost a lot more money. So, driving into a parking lot, where the foot traffic is heavier and where there are more cars trying to get into and out of parking spaces means doing a lot of sitting and waiting with one's car idling. Parking closer to the exit means that one's car engine is burning gasoline for a shorter period of time.

It's a little thing, but as Amy Dacyzyn, author of The Tightwad Gazette asserts, the little things really do add up.

Money saving bonus: Many of us spend hundreds of dollars per year on health club memberships. Doing a little extra walking has been proven to have long-term health benefits, and so parking at the far end of the lot and walking actually have benefits beyond saving a few pennies in gasoline. There is also the added benefit of getting some exercise.

3. Barter, trade, or find it second-hand.

When I first moved to Maine and learned about the 10% discount card at Goodwill, I thought it was the most outrageous thing I'd ever heard. First, it's important to understand that thrift shopping, for me, was a cultural hurdle that I needed to get over, because where I came from, one didn't wear second-hand clothes. Even hand-me-downs were verboten. I don't know where that idea came from, except that shopping at the second-hand stores meant that one could not afford new stuff, and of course, new stuff is far superior to someone else's cast-offs. It was a pride issue, because, like many people, I was raised with the very suburban ideal that being poor was a weakness and a personal failing. We didn't shop second-hand, because that would mean that we were failures. Releasing that ridiculous cultural bias was the absolute best thing I ever did for myself, and the result has been a savings of hundreds of dollars per year on all sorts of things from clothes to household items.

In fact, recently, we were honored to be allowed to host a wedding reception here at our house for 40+ people. We cooked most of the food ourselves (including a roasted leg of lamb, which was quite good) and dinner was served on real plates with cloth napkins. We bought the plates and utensils at Goodwill, careful to find bundles that were either the day's color (indicating that it was half off) or that were priced so that each plate was no more than a quarter. We probably spent more on the plates than we would have for paper, but we can reuse the plates next time we have a party, and there was no garbage generated during that party. So, there was a very small environmental savings, as well.

Our culture is one that values second-hand items if they are labeled antique or vintage. Many of those kinds of items can be found for very little money, often less than the cost of buying it brand new, and further, many of those vintage and/or antique items are actually better quality than what's available in our increasingly disposable society.

It was tough to get over my cultural upbringing, but once I did, I found that thrift shopping can be a bit like treasure hunting, and I've found some wonderful things. I have an equal number of what was I thinking? items that were purchased during the honeymoon phase of my thrifting when I discovered how cheap everything was, and it took me a while to get the point of thrifting, which is not to clutter my home with a lot of cheap stuff, but to enrich my home with useful items that bring me joy.

Money-saving bonus: There have been times when we were looking for a specific item that we decided we didn't want or need to purchase new, but going to the thrift store can be a crap shoot, especially if we're looking for something specific. Sometimes we find it, and sometimes we don't. What happens, though, if we wait long enough, is that we either make up a substitute, usually creating what we need from things we have laying around the house, or we decide we didn't need it after all, which means that, because we didn't rush out to buy that thing we just really felt we needed, we've saved hundreds of dollars per year ... and succeeded in not adding more clutter to our home.

4. Turn off the television.

I read an article a few days ago ... I wish I'd earmarked it, but I didn't. It was something like 5 Habits of Rich People and went on to discuss several ways that people who are wealthy behave as compared to people who are not. One thing that rich people do not do is spend much time in front of the television. In the morning, before work, the article states, the rich person will rise early - well before heading to the office - and take some time for personal enrichment. On the list of To Dos in the morning was reading (usually financial pages or some such) and exercise. In the evening, rather than going home and sitting on the couch with a cold beer and reality TV for the next three hours until bed time, the rich person often volunteers for some community program.

So, how does this save the average person money? Well, in a lot of ways. First, television commercials are designed to make us want. They appeal to our emotions in ways that are hard to ignore, making us feel like we are inadequate of we don't have A, B or C product, or that we are depriving our children the key to their eternal happiness, or whatever the emotion the commercials evoke. Make no mistake, advertisers are professionals in psychological manipulation. It's their job to get you to want whatever it is they're selling, and they are completely unscrupulous in the actions they will take to make you believe that what they have is what you need.

In addition, this article makes some good points about, not just commercials, but about the television shows themselves. Using the example of the popular sitcom Friends. In the show, the twenty-somethings, who are minimally employed (a waitress and a sous-chef) are somehow able to afford a sprawling loft apartment in New York City. Certainly, if they can have it, why can't we? When we start down that road of thinking, the result is our spending money we don't, and won't ever, have to maintain a lifestyle that's not even real.

The best way to avoid the temptation is to not expose oneself to it.

Money saving bonus: When people talk about the money savings options related to televisions, most of the time the advice is centered around cost savings from not having cable television, and not paying a cable bill will certainly save dollars, but what very few people ever consider is the cost involved in operating the television to begin with. We talk a lot about saving electricity by changing light bulbs or by using power strips, but what about by not turning on ... indeed, not even having ... that energy-sucking television? It uses electricity, which costs money, and by not having a television set, one actually does save money on one's electric bill.

At least, that was our experience when we gave away the television set and DVD player and switched to watching movies or whatever (commercial-free) stuff on our lap top computers - which use an nth of the electricity needed to power the television set, the DVR box, the DVD player, and whatever other peripherals are required.

If that's not enough, remember that rich people don't watch TV. They're out there doing stuff instead of being brainwashed into spending more money.

5. When it comes to heating and cooling, think small ... no smaller.

The last couple of days here in S. Maine have been in the 70s and a bit cool. No one was complaining, though, because the week before, it was in the 90s with heat indexes up over 100°, and really, for most of the people who live here, anything over 85° causes bodies to melt. I know, all of you folks down south (which is everything beyond the Pisquaticus bridge in Kittery ;)), are laughing at us up here, which is okay, because when it snows a 1/2" and your schools and businesses close, we're laughing at you ;). Just kidding ... not really. Up here, during our recent heat wave, the Grid operator here in New England cautioned people not to crank up the AC in response to the increased temperatures, which I'm sure is pretty much what happens down south when there's a cold snap and people crank up their furnaces (which in many modern suburban homes is electric). The grid has a hard time when there are spikes in usage, and in fact, I recall from my days living in the suburbs of Alabama that schools and businesses closed one year because there was a snowstorm (ha!), and the grid couldn't handle the power surge.

The problem is that we are trying very hard to heat or cool all of it - the whole house, and that's a mistake. We need to start small, and probably a lot of people are pretty certain I'm going to say something about space heating or cooling, but I'm not. By small, I mean start with our bodies. If we can keep our bodies warm or cool, the air temperature isn't as much of an issue.

Warming techniques include: drinking warm beverages, wearing layers of clothes, and keeping hands and feet covered in heat-holding and moisture-wicking fabrics (like wool).

Cooling techniques include: drinking cool beverages, wearing loose-fitting breathable fabrics like cotton and linen, wearing frozen rice packs around our necks, and frequently soaking our hands and feet in cool water.

Keeping the thermostat at 80° in the summer and at 60° in the winter would result in a huge cost savings.

Money saving bonus: It's no mistake that both the warming techniques and the cooling techniques begin with drinking something. The best way to regulate our body temperature is to be sure that we are well hydrated, and there are other health benefits to staying well hydrated. Improving our health while also staying cooler or warmer means we can decrease the cost of expensive medical treatments and pharmaceuticals.

And that's a huge bonus!

Saving money isn't hard, and, as Amy Dacyzyn, famed author of The Tightwad Gazette and self-proclaimed frugal zealot, asserts, being frugal shouldn't be something we do just to weather the bad times. If we're frugal and thoughtful with our money all of the time, especially when we have plenty, then, if we hit hard financial times, it won't feel like a struggle - it will be just how we do things.


  1. I've been a Dacyzyn disciple for years. She is so good at stretching every dollar until it squeals, and living thrifty and living green are so intertwined, it's hard to do one without the other.
    My version of parking at the edge of the parking lot, is parking at the edge of our compact, regional town where the free parking ends, and walking in. As you say, exercise and saving money, great combination.
    I love your solution for the wedding catering. I bet you had fun collecting the crockery. Was there a colour theme? I only buy crockery in white or blue, which means that wherever I get it from, it all ties together on the table.
    And I'm sitting here typing in Tasmania, on a midwinter morning, wearing my coat at the kitchen table, waiting for the sun to break through the fog and warm up the kitchen. Clearly we are kindred spirits!

  2. Hi, Jo,

    Nope, I didn't have a color scheme, and we ended up with the craziest mix of plate colors, silverware patterns, table cloths and napkins ever assembled in one place. But it was so much fun, and I loved every minute of it.

    Kindred spirits ... :) I like that.

  3. I'm happy to say we're doing all that! The tv is still something we use, having no laptops. Not too comfortable sitting at a desk in the kitchen. Another way (I'll blog about this soon) is to review your insurance once in a while. I use 2 very expensive medications that I could only get 1 month at a time due to the high co-pay. My insurance allows for 3 month refills at a time. Recently they changed it to a 1 month co-pay for 3 months worth of meds, a HUGE savings! They didn't allow this before for these 2 particular meds. Glad I called to ask. They never tell you about these changes :(

    I did find this article, sounds similar to what you mentioned-