Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Remembered the Coupon I Got Last Year!

Last year when I went to the eye doctor, I read on my receipt about an opportunity to get $20 off of my next purchase if I completed a survey about my experience there. I took the survey and got the coupon. It said it didn't have an expiration date, so I saved it.

I only go to the eye doctor once a year. A year is a long time to keep a coupon. It can also be hard to remember to take it with you after 12 whole months! But I marked it on my calendar, and I remembered to use the coupon. So, I just saved $20. Yippee!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Penny Pinching: Using the Water Saver Line

I have been mindful of my water consumption over the past year as a means of being kind to the environment but also to save money. I have put a half gallon jug of water in each of our toilet tanks to keep at least a little bit of water from going down the drain with each flush. I use water from the dehumidifier to refill the toilet tank after flushing. I also use leftover water in drinking glasses to water the plants.

Our shower water takes a while to heat up. So, another way we save water is to let the water run into a bucket until it is warm enough in which to shower. It's a 10 quart bucket. Depending on a variety of factors (i.e. whether the hot water has been used recently and therefore more quickly ready to go), it may only collect a half gallon or so. Other times the bucket may be completely full by the time the water is at a comfortable temperature. I use that water to refill the toilet tank after flushing too.

We rent a townhouse built in the early 1980s. We aren't in a position to make energy and water saving upgrades that a homeowner could. So, I look for other ways to save. In the case of our toilets, they aren't the new water-efficient models. But I've noticed there are two different fill lines in the toilet tank: the regular one (up at the top) and a lower one marked "water saver line." I couldn't figure out how to make it automatically use the saver line. So, I turned to Google.

I found a great video on with a representative from the City of Santa Barbara's Water Resource Department explaining how to adjust the toilet tank's float to use the water saver line. I made the adjustments on our toilets earlier. It was easy!

So just when I thought I was stretching our water use as much as realistically possible, I found yet another way to save a little more. The adjustment I made today alone should save us about $40 to $50 per year. Again, not huge...but there's no point literally flushing that much down money down the toilet!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Penny Pinching: Slaying the Energy Vampires

One way we have been pinching our pennies a little tighter is by reducing some of the "vampire energy." We have 4 power strips in different parts of the house that we use for electronics that use energy even when they are turned off.

We have one power strip for the computer. The monitor and printer are also plugged into it. If we aren't going to be using the computer for an hour or more, we turn the whole thing off and then flip the power strip to off. If I'm planning to come back to the computer in a short period of time, I'll put it in standby mode.

We have a stereo upstairs and one downstairs. We don't actually use either one very often, so they get power strips too and stay off the majority of the time.

And we also have a power strip for the TV, cable box, and modem. That one we have off unless we are watching TV, are on the Internet, or will be back to use one of those things in a short period of time. So, it goes off at night when we head to bed and stays off all day while we are at work. Because all three of those things have lights/clocks on them that stay on when they are "off," I know for sure they are energy vampires.

I'm not 100% sure how much we are saving on an annual basis with this tip, but based on Good Magazine's chart, it looks like it may be in the ballpark of $100. That's not huge, but I'll take it. Otherwise, it's like tossing a Benjamin right out the window. And who would do that? The only effort it takes is to remember to turn the power strips on and off.

Oh yes, there is the cost of the getting power strips if you don't already have them. Well, the good news is that you can get basic ones for free after rebate at various stores. I think I may have only paid full price for one of our power strips years ago. I got one of the others at Staples free after rebate one year on Black Friday. I've seen them advertised for the same deal periodically throughout the rest of the year too. I got the other two power strips free after rebate at Rite Aid.

Good news if you need a power strip now: the week of Sunday, November 23, Rite Aid has them free after rebate! (Don't forget to shop early if you want one because they sell out of their rebate deals quickly.)

Finally, this is not only a way to save money, but it's saving energy which is environmentally friendly too!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is It Possible to Pinch Our Pennies Even Tighter?

As you know from reading this blog, I'm a regular saver. I'm always trying to stretch my dollars just a little bit further. I used to love watching the bars on my net worth chart in my financial software program creep higher each month. I felt a sense of accomplishment -- like my penny-pinching was paying off. Now, of course, my net worth chart seems to be plummeting nearly every day. Ugh.

I rationalize that the accounts that are tanking are nearly all for retirement, and we don't need that money for decades. All will be well. However, as this economic problem drags on and seems to get bigger daily, I get a little more concerned about the short term (meaning, our jobs).

We'd be okay for a few months if one of us lost our job. Survival -- paying the monthly bills -- is a slight concern, but it's not overwhelming at this point. But what is irritating is the thought of not being able to saving...of having to use our savings for every day expenses and not for the big dreams and goals we have. I have a great plan all mapped out. However, if the income part of that plan is pulled out in a significant way, it will completely fall apart. After all, we aren't financially independent.

So, over the next few posts I'll tell you about how I'm trying to turn our usual savings up a notch. It's nothing super drastic at this point. But I firmly believe the little things count. They add up to be big savings. We are fortunate in the fact that things are clipping along as usual. Actually, we both recently got raises! But I don't think we should take that for granted. We are staying pretty serious about saving...however, we are also still spending (goodness knows, the economy needs us to spend!). Stay tuned to find out where and how I'm tightening the belt a little more.

If you are doing the same, let me know. I'm always looking for new ideas!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

I Would Spend an Extra $100 Bucks

I was reading Clever Dude's blog today and saw a guest post by Donnie Gamble entitled What Would You Do with an Extra $100 Bucks? He is suggesting that you should invest it wisely - save it. What would you do with it?

I know what I'd do with "found money" - put it in our Travel Fund. I guess that is saving for the short term, albeit "very" short term. (We are usually going on a trip at least every 6 months if not sooner.) In fact, we're putting our "extra" income (i.e. Craig's List and yard sale profits, credit card cash-back rewards, etc.) in the travel budget now.

So, why do we do spend it on travel rather than save it for the long term or put it towards paying down debt? Well, our budget is set up so that we are plowing quite a bit towards long term savings goals as well as retirement of debt. But we still want to do fun stuff -- but that means we have to come up with extra cash.

We do have a small amount ($100 per month) in the budget for travel expenses, but the two of us won't get too far on $1200 for the year. Mind you, that money is supposed to cover everything from transportation (gas for the car, airline tickets, etc.) and food to attractions and lodging. Even using a travel budget and a lot of cost saving measures, one of our long weekends for a marathon can run (no pun intended!) several hundred dollars to more than $1000, if we are flying.

So, we use extra money to fund traveling, which we love to do. It makes us work harder to find those bonus dollars. It also helps us keep our main savings goals as the priorities with much larger amounts budgeted for them than for travel. So, I don't find putting found money towards fun stuff to be frivolous at all.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Upselling to Craig's List Customers

A major tenet of sales is upselling. That's when you try to get someone to upgrade or add additional purchases to what they were already intending to buy. I've tried it with some of my sales on Craig's List, and it's worked!

As we've been working on organizing our new "married" home, Michael and I have had to part with a fair amount of excess stuff. Some of it has gone to Goodwill or Freecycle. We've sold some of it at yard sales. And I'm trying to sell other things on Craig's List.

On Craig's List, I've put a keyword at the bottom of all of the postings for like items. Rather than telling the reader to search for that keyword, I've made a hyperlink. Let me give you an example...

We have 30 hardback and paperback novels to sell. I sorted them by author and made a separate post for each group. For the ones where we only had one or two by a particular writer, I grouped all of them together to make a posting for "assorted authors." I priced each book individually and then by lot (post) at a slightly reduced rate. So, three hardbacks by David Baldacci are $2.00 each or $5.00 for all three. Three hardbacks by John Grisham are priced the same but are listed in a different posting. Individual listings make it easy for someone looking for books by one particular author.

At the bottom of each posting I listed a keyword like "Books2008." Then, I do a search on Craig's List for that keyword. I use that URL and make a hyperlink in my posting. So, in each ad I end with "Click here to see the other books we have for sale." It makes it super easy for shoppers to find all of the similar items I have for sale. If they are interested in David Baldacci books, maybe they'd consider buying our other ones by John Grisham too. Maybe finding several items that interest them will make it worth their while to contact us and make the purchase.

When someone contacts me about buying an item we have for sale on Craig's List, I like to include the links to other like items that we have for sale in my email response to them. They may have already seen them online, but I want to make sure they have an opportunity to consider buying anything and everything that we have for sale. Also, if they come to my house to make the purchase, I will set out other items that we have for sale that might interest a buyer. If they see the things in person, they may be more likely to buy them.

These upselling techniques have worked. Just yesterday I sold 18 of our books. I initially had 25 of the 30 books posted on Craig's List. Someone emailed, interested in buying 13 of them. A few days ago, we set up a time to meet on Saturday afternoon at a Metro station. In the meantime, Michael gave me 5 more books to sell. So, on Thurday I emailed the buyer and sent her the link to additional books we were offering. She decided that she'd like to have those too. So, instead of getting rid of 13 books for $18, we freed our house of 18 books and added $22 to our Travel Fund (where we put all of our Craig's List proceeds)!

In September when I had some leftover wedding decorations to sell, a bride-to-be came to make a $5 purchase. When I invited her to make the purchase, I had all of our items setting out on the dining room table. The display actually looked quite nice. I told her that everything was for sale. I gave her suggestions on how she could use the items. It worked! Instead of spending $5, she spent $18.

Upselling and being a friendly, helpful salesperson will bring more cash in for your unwanted stuff just like they would in a retail store.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Free Tomatoes from Del Monte

If you are one of the first 50,000 people to respond to this offer on Del Monte's website (in the bottom right corner), you'll receive a coupon in the mail for a free can of Del Monte No Salt Added Diced Tomatoes! I just requested mine this evening, and it said they'll mail the coupon to me 4 to 6 weeks after the offer ends (April 30, 2009). As a consolation prize, they will give you a 50-cents-off coupon if they've given away all of the coupons for the free can.

Of course, there is a catch. You do have to sign up for Del Monte's monthly e-newsletter called The Dish. Actually, I found out about the offer through that newsletter because I was already receiving it.

I do try to at least scan all of those marketing newsletters that fill my inbox. They do often have news about special offers, coupons, freebies, etc. But I learned several years ago to have e-newsletters sent to an email account separate from my regular email. I actually check that email box as often as I do my regular email, but at least the messages are separated. It keeps my virtual mail more organized. And if I don't have the time or desire to read my "junk" mail, I can just quickly delete everything in that inbox.

If you haven't already set up a special email account to use whenever you register for something that requires an email address, do it now. Do it before you take advantage of this Del Monte offer. Get a free email account from Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, etc. Then, you can take advantage of special offers from companies like Del Monte without filling your regular inbox with spam.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

What Social Security Means to You

I just got my latest statement from Social Security in the mail yesterday. Commissioner Michael J. Astrue wrote the cover article entitled What Social Security Means to You. In a nutshell for me, the answer seems to be"not much" unless something changes.

My full retirement age is 67 years old. That is in 2043. However, Commissioner Astrue wrote in his letter that, "Without changes, by 2041 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted and there will be enough money to pay only about 78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits."

I'm not 100% sure what that means. "Exhausted" sounds like it will be out of money, but "78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits" sounds like I just won't get the full amount the statement is telling me that I'm eligible to receive when I'm 67.

Actually, inside the statement it has an asterisk by my estimated retirement benefit amount. Down below, it says, "Your estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2041, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 78 percent of scheduled benefits." That makes it sound like I could get something. But I'm still missing the full benefit by 2 years!

Either way, I'm not counting on it. I think of any money I will collect from Social Security at retirement as my bonus money. I've never been in a job that has paid a bonus, so that will be really nice -- to be retired and receive a bonus!

Commissioner Astrue also wrote in the statement that, "Social Security is the largest source of income for most elderly Americans today, but Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also will need other savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire." I believe that, and I'm acting on it -- socking away as much as we can for retirement.

It is frustrating when I think of all of the things I want/need to do with my money. There's just not enough to make everything happen perfectly...and that's for a relatively simple life. But there's one thing I know for sure: I want to be able to retire and live comfortably during retirement. So, I'll keep saving for it.

In the meantime, I'm off to the grocery store and Target now with my list of sale items and coupons. I'm continue to pinch my pennies pretty hard in order to stretch them further. I want to meet as many of my financial goals as possible...with lots of effort, hopefully I will.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

You've Gotta Love Free Underwear

Over the past couple of years Victoria's Secret has been sending Michael a coupon for a pair of their VS cotton panties. Thankfully (for many reasons!) he always passes them on to me. I've gotten 3 pairs of underwear so far, which is a retail value of $22.50. No purchase is necessary to get the free undies either. They are truly free.

Michael has no idea why he gets these coupons because he's never purchased anything from Victoria's Secret. They don't have him on their catalogue mailing list -- just for coupons. I think I've gotten one of those coupons over the past 6 or 7 years, and I've even purchased things from VS. It seems like they should send me more coupons. That's okay; I still benefit from the ones he gets.

Since we've gotten married, Michael has moved to where I had been living with my sister. He did a change of address with the post office, but I didn't think junk mail followed you. Well, a free underwear coupon really isn't junk, but I would think in the eyes of the USPS it might be. But good news Victoria's Secret found out his new address! Michael got another free panty coupon in the mail yesterday! I'll be heading to the store soon so they don't run out of my size before I get my pair.

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