When I was asked to be a guest blogger for CDH Designs “Money Saving Mondays,” I immediately thought of all the big things people can do to put themselves in better financial places. And all of those things are great, but can be intimidating for many people—myself included.
A dear friend of mine recently moved out of her parents’ house and into her very first apartment. We were both going grocery shopping on Monday, so I asked if she wanted to go together. I didn’t realize it at first, but this is the first time she’s ever had to do regular grocery shopping for herself.
My friend is about to embark on a new chapter in life, and I started thinking about the most important things I could tell her as she sets out. I wish I could tell my past self these things, but my time machine is broken at the moment.
- Use coupons at the store, but beware of pitfalls. Only clip coupons for items you would have purchased anyway. Buying four bottles of hot sauce just because you have a coupon doesn’t save money if you have no need for that much hot sauce. Don’t forget, coupons can be used at places other than grocery stores too—like WalMart, Target, and Kmart. Also, if you’re newspaper averse, many stores have online coupons that can be loaded to your club/bonus card and automatically apply when you swipe it at the register. Just make sure you remember what deals you loaded onto the card. If you don’t need an item immediately, watch the store circular to see if it goes on sale. Double savings!
- Speaking of cards, make sure you have one for each of the local stores in your area. You might shop at Giant most often, but once in a while you may have to stop in at Weis or vice versa. My friend’s groceries would have been almost $80 without the card, but we watched that number drop to $60 as we scanned the card and coupons. That’s $20 in one visit! Other types of stores have loyalty programs as well. For example, some gas stations give a per-gallon discount if you swipe your customer card first.
- Don’t be afraid to buy the store brand. Many times, the store brand is cheaper than the name brand, even if you have a coupon for the name brand. Price shop in-store.
- Buying items online? Before you check out, do a Google search for online coupon codes. You’d be surprised how many free shipping offers you can find on RetailMeNot.com and other websites like it. You can also sign up for online coupon services, but I haven’t ventured into that realm much—yet.
- In a previous post, Cherie posted the recently popular table showing how much money you would save if you put $1 in an account the first week, $2 the second week, $3 the third, etc. It’s a great theory, but for someone like me, it doesn’t work. First, because I have to remember to deposit the money, and second because once I get to $10 I’d rather keep that cash in my wallet. Money is like many other things: Out of sight, out of mind. If you take that same chart with its final balance of $1,378 and divide that equally over the year, that’s $26.50 a week. If you want to end your year with that $1,378, the best thing you can do for yourself, if you’re like me, is to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account for $26.50 a week, and you’ll never forget to make the deposit. You’ll also never decide to spend that money on lunch for you and a friend. Plus, when you start with a consistent amount, your up-front dollars earn more interest than with the stacking plan.
- Don’t touch the savings account unless you are in an extreme emergency, which leads me to
- Learn the true difference between needs and wants. Ask yourself, with every purchase, “Can I live without this?” Bread and milk? You need those. Four bags of gummy bears? Probably not. Underwear and a pair of jeans? Yes. Sky-high Italian leather pumps in purple, leopard, AND black? YE—I mean, no. (Hey, we all have our weaknesses.)
- Know when to treat yourself. Saving money is a great thing, but when you keep your spending to necessities, it can make you feel like you’re not part of the rest of the world. In some debt-eliminating strategies and specific circumstances, that’s the way you have to go, but for most of us, it’s ok to go out to dinner for birthdays, celebrate your perfect bowling score, or spend some time at the salon. But you can’t do those things every week and expect to save a ton of money.
- Keep a household budget and balance your checkbook. How do you know what you can afford if you don’t know what you have? Designating funds for fixed costs like groceries, gas, utilities and loan payments will help you stay on track, and keeping accurate tabs on your bank account can save you money in overdraft fees and inaccurate charges, not to mention the peace of mind you will have knowing exactly where you stand financially.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may find setting up a budget or balancing your checkbook intimidating, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get there.
Kim Bingaman is the owner of A Place for Everything Home and Business Solutions, a company founded to help people succeed by staying organized at home and at work. She specializes in home organization and personal finance, as well as business consulting and management. She can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 717-953-2359. Find the business on Facebook at A Place for Everything Home and Business Solutions.