Tag Archives: frugality

The New Frontier of Coupons

Have you ever watched the TLC show Extreme Couponing? I haven’t. It’s not because I don’t like to use coupons now and then, I like a Groupon as much as the next person, but I’m not the type who sits at home on Sunday clipping coupons out of all the junk mail I receive. I may flip through the supermarket ads to see what’s on sale, but spending more than 2 minutes on it just isn’t for me.

Lately, I’ve noticed that couponing is going through a revolution. Gone are the days when you had to dumpster dive through your local trash bins in search for discarded circulars! Gone are the days when you had to spend money on a newspaper subscription just to get the coupons on Sunday. Gone are the days of scissors and papercuts just to save 50 cents on a can of tuna. And, you’ve got technology to thank for this new frontier.

Printable Coupons

There are an endless number of ways to find printable coupons. One of the simplest is simply Googling the name of the product you want a discount on and the word “coupon.” This can also work really well if you’re making a trip to a big store like Staples. I once scored a printable $50 coupon and used it to score a great deal on a camera. This option works best if you’re looking for coupons on specific items. If you’re looking for printable coupons in general, then you’ve got to add these bookmarks to your browser:

There are literally dozens – probably hundreds, even thousands – of additional sites that offer printable coupons online; these are just the two I visit frequently. In some cases, you’ll be prompted to enter your local zip code, but here’s the clincher: you don’t always have to enter your zip code. For example, a few months ago, a friend told me that by entering an out-of-state zip code (I believe it was Utah), I could snag a coupon for $0.75 off milk – and who doesn’t buy a gallon of milk every now and then?

Online Coupons

Closely related to printable coupons, you can find online coupons at many of the same sites. Red Plum, for example, lets you not only print out coupons from its website, but also lets you upload them to your store loyalty card. Instead of printing out the coupon, clipping it, and taking it to the store, you simply check a box next to the desired coupons and – voila! – you’ll automatically see the discount on your next shopping trip to that grocery store.

Another site I like for online coupons is Saving Star. To use this site, you do have to register for a free account, but once you do, you’ll be able to connect your store loyalty cards (Saving Star is associated with dozens of grocery store chains nationwide) to your Saving Star profile. All you have to do is select your ecoupons. You won’t notice any discount on your in-store receipt; instead, Saving Star keeps track of which ecoupons you use, and gives you the option to cash out once you reach $5 in savings.

Then there are the online coupons offered by grocery stores themselves. I have a friend who lives out east who swears by the eVic programat a chain called Harris Teeter. This free program lets members upload online coupons onto their store loyalty card, then gives them the credit at checkout.

Mobile Coupons

You can’t talk about free coupons without talking about mobile coupons. Similar to online coupons, mobile coupons allow you to avoid the whole printing and clipping process altogether.

Cellfire is probably the most widely known; however, there are tons of other sites that ado the same thing. When you sign up for a free account or download the app, you gain access to the sites’ bank of coupons. Instead of printing them out or uploading them to your store loyalty card, you can download them to your phone. That way, when you go to the store, the clerk at checkout simply scans the barcode.

Readers, do you use any of these sites to get coupons? Are there others you like even better?

All Work And No Play Makes Budgeting Miserable

It’s arguably the most famous quote from one of America’s most popular horror movies. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” uttered Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, in the 1980 thriller “The Shining.”

Turns out, all work and no play makes me a very dull person, too.

I’m not talking about the writing process – which slowly drove Nicholson’s character insane – but the budgeting process. Years of meticulously tracking, recording and weighing the use of every dime earned, budgeting can start to feel like monotonous, tedious work. “A penny saved is a penny earned,” goes one of Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted epigrams, published in Poor Richard’s Almanack. But save too many of those pennies, and you’re liable to follow Jack Torrance’s lead and go crazy.

Saving Money Is Hard Work

If you’re a hard-core money manager, you know that living on a budget is hard work. It means allocating the funds for your day to day needs, weighing the pros and cons of potential budget busters and preparing for potential financial disasters. No matter how you track your spending, you know keeping tabs on your daily, monthly and yearly expenses requires restraint and foresight, with the ability to prioritize your needs over your wants.

The Budgeting “Needs”

The first step in setting up a budget on which you can live – successfully – in the long-term is to separate your “must haves” from your “like to haves.” The items that fall into this category vary from person to person. My friend, Michelle, swears by her iPhone with unlimited monthly data plan; her boyfriend thinks it’s unnecessary, sticking to a base service plan – just talk, no texting or Internet – on his antique of a cell phone. My basic list of “needs” includes:

  • Shelter – Depending on your situation, this could be rent or a mortgage payment. No, a second mortgage on a vacation home in the Maldives does not count.
  • Food – As in your grocery bills, not your Starbucks habit or penchant for a bottle of wine at dinner.
  • Utilities – We’re talking electricity bills, heating bills, water bills. Some of you might consider Internet costs, cable service, and cell phone plans a necessity too.
  • Transportation – This could be gas, loan payments, and maintenance on your car; or, if you’re a city dweller, it may mean a monthly budget for public transportation or parking costs.
  • Insurance – Be it home insurance, car insurance, or medical insurance, these premiums can seem unnecessary, especially if you never find yourself needing the services they cover. Trust me, they need to be a priority.

I’d make one very important addition to this list of basic “needs”: building your emergency fund and investment portfolio. It’s standard protocol to build your emergency fund to cover at least six months of your basic expenses – the items outlined above. It’s also standard to sock away ten percent of your income for retirement – a concept akin to tithing yourself- but that assumes you started saving early and plan to retire after Social Security kicks in. Wait until you’re 35 to start building your retirement fund and you’ll have to save nearly a quarter of your income if you want to retire at 65. Saving for the future shouldn’t be a want – it’s a need.

The Budgeting “Wants”

There’s an old personal finance adage that you shouldn’t spend more than one percent of a windfall on splurges. But what about budgeting for your every day splurges – the things that make life a little more enjoyable? Part of budgeting includes learning how to have fun with money.

This is where the “all work and no play” rule comes in. If your family’s budget only allows for the “needs” – with flexibility for building your investment portfolio – you’re liable to snap. Take a lesson from my friend, Jameson, who vowed to save every bit of discretionary income for a period of three years. Two years in, he’d squirreled away nearly $60,000… which he subsequently blew on a Porsche. Did I mention Jameson lives in upstate New York, where the snow and ice preclude him from driving the Porsche nine months out of the year?

Budgeting In Some Wiggle Room

Liz Weston from MSN Money suggests budgeting for your wants, allowing you to be both fun and frugal. According to her formula, half of your post-tax income should go to pay for your needs– she puts investments, debt repayment and savings into another column, garnering 20 percent of your adjusted income.

That extra 30 percent? Liz suggests having a little fun with it, and I agree: although 30 percent of your adjusted income might be a little high. After all, if you’re earning $51,000 a year – the median household income from 2006-2010 – you’re bringing home nearly $37,000 after taxes; you don’t really need to put a full $12,000 of that toward your “fun money” fund.

Slash that number in half – 15 percent of your adjusted gross income, or, for the average American household, roughly $6,000 a year – and you’ve got a more realistic number. What could you do with $6,000 in discretionary income every year?

Probably more than you think.

Do you include wiggle room in the budgeting process? How much do “fun money” do you allot on a monthly basis?

Reducing The Expenses That Matter

The following is a guest post from Wayne at Young Family Finance. He writes to help young families tackle financial challenges, like how to have Cheap Romantic Dates.

Have you ever been annoyed by someone telling you that you should reduce your expenses? I’m not sure if you are like me or not, but I think the idea of reducing every possible expense is a bit overrated. Too many people tell me that I could be saving money if I just stopped to calculate how much I spend. While I do believe it is important to live within my means, I also believe in moderation.

In my opinion, extreme frugality is a waste of my time. The popular ‘latte factor’ (understanding how the small daily costs can add up over time) is great for individuals who have a spending problem. For someone who already has his spending in check, I ask myself a different question: is the savings worth my time and hassle. I want to focus on the big items – the things that will save me the most money with least amount of sacrifice.

Why You Should ‘Sweat the Big Stuff’

I bet you have heard a million ways that you can save money. Stop doing this or start considering this option. It gets old, doesn’t it? Even though saving money can get old sometimes, I have to admit that if it were to save me a huge chunk of cash with little sacrifice on my part, I am sure it would keep my attention. In fact, it does!

After being inundated by the suggestion to increase my deductible in order to save money, I looked at the savings. I currently have a low deductible and so I figured I could save quite a bit of money based on the popularity of this suggestion. When it came down to it, in my particular situation, if I increased my deductibles significantly ($100 to $500 on comprehensive), I would save a total of $12 every six months. Yes, a total of $2 per month. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t excite me in the least. Instead, I felt like I wasted my time just for considering this option.

Instead of focusing on the small things, I think it is better to focus on the big stuff. The expenses that can really add up. For example, one of my most popular suggestions to young families is to dine at home instead of going out to eat. This may be a huge sacrifice to some, but it can save you a lot of money! Some people eat out 10-20 meals per month, if not more. If you average $10 per meal, that’s a total of $100-200 per month for one person. While this may take a little more of adjustment, talking about a larger impact on my finances makes me more motivated. To make it even sweater of a deal, my wife and I make two big meals on the weekend and eat leftovers throughout the week. There’s no easier way to save money and time than eating leftovers. Less than 3 minutes to have a cheap, healthy dinner for two prepared in the microwave? That’s what I’m talking about!

Other Big Item Expenses

While dining at home is one of my favorite ‘big ticket’ expenses, there are many others that are well worth your consideration:

Daycare: The cost of daycare can lead some families to consider being a single income family because it is so expensive. Finding an affordable option when it comes to daycare is well worth your time.

Cars: Choosing between a new and used car, or even the type of car that you drive can be a huge money saver. A choice between a SUV and smaller car can result in thousands of dollars in savings.

Housing: Choosing to live in a smaller home or apartment can keep tens of thousands of dollars in your pocket. Before you convince yourself that you “need” the house of your dreams, consider how much money you could save if you went for an older or smaller home.