Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Some Practical Money Tips and Tricks

One of my goals during my "spring cleaning" is to finetune the budget chunks I'm in charge of, so I thought I'd share some of our family's tips and tricks for living within our means.

In my "series" on budgeting these past few weeks (check out the "Polishing Your Finances" category in the list on the right), I've talked about a couple of wonderful books (our featured resource--Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover and Randy Alcorn's Money, Possessions, and Eternity), mentioned grocery savings possibilities, and talked about lowering your heat bill (and other utilities costs) using what you already have. Here are some more practical tips and tricks. Stay tuned for an inspiring story tomorrow.

  • Use your internet resources to help you budget: Did you know you can check all the prices at places like Sam's Club online? What a great tool to help figure out a potentially large expenditure before even entering the store! You can also do some serious price-checking/comparing between stores using their online sites. My dad just did this for a camera purchase over the holidays. It's especially helpful for larger electronics products because you can compare features, prices, service plans, and the like.

  • Practice delayed gratification (otherwise known as old-fashioned self control).

  • Use set-price-per-month programs. Our utilities are averaged out over the course of the year; we pay one price per month. This is extremely helpful since our bills would be considerably higher in January/February and July/August otherwise (due to heat and air). We also use services like Netflix, paying one price for our entertainment.*

  • Use your tax dollars: make use of free/reduced-cost local services that your tax dollars help fund! This includes city parks, libraries, and the like.

  • Associate with other like-minded people: find friends who enjoy doing low cost activities together or who understand when you need to say, "We need to wait until next month before spending more money."

  • Evaluate your time/money cost-benefit ratio: a purchase like Quicken or Turbo Tax might be worth the initial investment if it will really help you in the long run.

  • Try to make do with what you have for a while before automatically buying new software (even something like Quicken or Turbo Tax!). Determine whether you really need the new system or whether you simply want the added inspiration to procrastinate a bit further.

  • Don't pay the tardiness tax!!!! When you get a rebate form, fill it out and send it in THAT DAY. Pay your bills on time. Don't delay making a return until after the store's specified allowed time. Register for events you know you will attend when the early-bird specials are still in effect. So often, when we put off something we know we will do/need to do/want to do, then we end up paying more in the long run!

  • Save on shipping costs from online merchants by thinking ahead. Sure, you might only need another $3 purchase to meet Amazon's $25 free shipping limit, but will you only spend that $3 more? Of course not; in your browsing, you'll see a book you've been wanting to read and it's "only" $9 instead of the MSRP of $14. What a bargain, right? Wrong. Make use of places like Amazon's offer to keep your wish list on hand. Then, next time you only need a small purchase to meet a free shipping requirement, you'll already have a list of needed items or possible birthday presents for someone.  
  • Buy season passes if you will use them. Season passes will just cost you more money if you are only going to be in that place once. If you don't know that you will use the pass, don't buy it! On the other hand, if there's a place you know you would like to go frequently, it may help to buy the pass. A zoo is a good example: there are often seasonal attractions and the kids never seem to get tired of it. So, there's a good chance you'll use your zoo pass if you're near a decent one and have young children. That big theme park 45 minutes away? Maybe not.
*We highly, highly recommend Netflix; because of Netflix in large part, we've been able to avoid getting a new digital TV or Cable/Dish. We had a high speed internet connection because of my husband's work, bought a TV tuner for the computer, and invested in a nice monitor (much cheaper than a new TV). Now, we can "stream" movies, documentaries, and TV shows from Netflix, watch our DVD's that come in the mail from them, and even watch live TV with our Beyond TV program--it works like Tevo, so we can watch our favorite shows whenever. This way, we only watch what we want/prefer, and our out-of-pocket cost per month is $15. We NEVER run out of things to watch.

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