Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Finding money

Okay, it's time to put politics behind me and get back on track. I wanted to write a post about some tips and techniques that have helped us "find" money. Part of Dave's plan is tracking every expense, really looking at what you need, and finding every extra penny you can to throw at your debt. Here are a few of the things we've done over the past year:

1. Clear out junk- Have a garage sale! This was a great way to get rid of a lot of clutter and things we didn't need. In all, we made about $500 (and got rid of a lot of dust collectors). We've also listed stuff on e-bay and plan on doing a lot more of that. If neither of those work for you, try Craigslist.
2. Track your expenses - This sounds stupid, but by tracking every penny we've not only found money we were blowing on senseless stuff, but it's also made us more aware and accountable for what we are spending. Don't get me wrong. We still splurge on some things - like Gymboree on e-bay - but it's not nearly as bad as when we were just watching the final balance instead of the items putting us there. I strongly suggest taking time each week to update your budget and review expenses with your spouse. Not only does it improve communication, it helps keep you accountable for what you are spending.
3. Buy other people's junk - With a little looking around, planning, and web-surfing you can save a lot by buying gently used items. I've saved a fortune on clothes by shopping e-bay and the consignment shop. I also found a lot of Christmas gifts at garage sales. You can often find things that have barely even been used or are still in the packages.
4. Look for bargains - I'm not a professional coupon clipper like Coupon Mom, but there are a lot of sites that can help along the way. I do get the Sunday paper and watch the ads closely. I can often save $50-$250, or even more, on our grocery bill each month by shopping the sale ads and using coupons. I also visit sites like, Baby Cheapskate and follow their links to find better bargains or things I may have missed. Also, don't forget about rain checks. Just because they are out of what you are looking for doesn't mean you can't get a good deal. You can usually get them right at the counter and are worth the extra time.
5. Know your prices - The only way to know when you are getting a good deal is to know what you pay for items you use on a regular basis. Some suggest you actually keep a log or diary of the cost of items. For me, I've just found that over time I get used to knowing what I pay.
6. Shop bulk - Not all items are cheaper at the big warehouse store, but many are. I've found I can save a TON on diapers, meat, cheese, frozen foods, etc. On months we have a little 'extra' money, I put some of our budget toward stocking up. Which brings me to the next item...
7. Get a deep freezer - We've put ours to great use. Did you know you can freeze milk? Cheese? Almost every thing can be stored in the freezer. This really allows us to watch the ads and buy when things are cheapest.
8. Be honest - Ask yourself the hard questions - Do I really need that? How can I find that cheaper? For instance, Tim traded in his morning cup of Starbucks (even though it was the cheap house brew) for home-brewed coffee. He can buy Starbucks grounds for $6.99 a pound and stretch it a lot further. Oh, and yes, coffee freezes very well.
9. Reward yourself - This is my favorite! We use National City for all our banking. They have a great FREE rewards system. You get 2 points for every dollar you spend on your debit card. All you have to do is chose "credit" when you check out and you get the points. You also get bonus points for paying bills on-line and using other services. We've probably earned $300 or so this year just by doing our regular banking. We're taking advantage of this for gifts. We actually just received $100 gift card to Toys-r-us for the kids and a $25 card to Home Depot for my father-in-law's birthday.
10. Going back to work - This was probably the hardest. We originally started budgeting so that we could prove that we could make it on one income, or find a way to do it. After Addison was born, we took another look at the issue of me working. I got lucky that there was a good opportunity, but I'm so glad I decided to take it. The extra money has been a great relief to increased grocery budget and has really allowed us to attack debt the way we were hoping. By working a couple days a week, we're going to be able to get out of debt sooner. Dave talks about this a lot. It's a short term sacrifice, but picking up extra hours, taking a second job, delivering pizzas, what ever it takes is worth it in the end. At least for us it will be.

We haven't been as good as we could be. We still have a really high grocery bill. We still have a satellite package for our t.v. that is probably more than we need. We still even eat out quite a bit (mostly lunches, though). But in all, we're far better than we were. Every little bit helps.

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