Tips from a Cheapskate
Registration for the 2009 RWA national conference began yesterday, and between the registration fee, transportation costs and a hotel room, it adds up to a significant amount.
Wouldn't it be nice if we all had one of these in the backyard? When you needed a new pair of shoes, you'd just pluck a few bills from a lower limb. And if it's like a regular tree, it'll grow new bills to replace them. Need a new car? Climb a little higher on the tree and cut off part of a branch. A house? Cut out the top and go shopping.
Sadly, they don’t exist. Remember the old John Houseman commercials where he talked about making money the old fashioned way? That's pretty much the way most of us have to do it.
These tips may be too late for you to raise the money for this year's conference, but start now and you can make it to Nashville in 2010. Here are some of my favorite ways to save money. Before you start, though, set some rules for which items are untouchable (i.e. your child’s piano lessons or the gym membership that keeps you fit).
1. Brown bag your lunch. The average restaurant lunch costs $10. That's about $2400 a year less the cost of the groceries to make your lunch at home.
2. Make your own coffee. A Starbucks tall latte runs about $3. If you have one every day, you've spent $1095 in a year.
3. Cook at home. Plan your weekly menu according to what the grocery store has on sale. Buy in bulk and buy generic when practical. Use coupons (and put what you save from them into a jar at home). Never shop on an empty stomach and always shop with a list. If possible, shop for groceries when you're in a hurry because you're less likely to linger over the cookie aisle. I can't give you a dollar figure because there are so many variables. But if lunch costs $10 in a restaurant, imagine what dinner for 4 costs?
4. Shop at off-price, discount and thrift stores. I have several formal gowns I've purchased over the last few years for the conference. The most I've ever spent was $45, and that dress doubled for both conference and my son's wedding. I found a $125 cocktail dress at a national chain discount store for $25. My favorite coat is a Land's End polartec that I bought about twelve years ago at a thrift store for $15 (at the time they were about $50 new). I think my best bargain ever was $20 jeans for $1 a pair, and I bought my son 7 pairs of them a year before he needed them. Or maybe it was the Nike shoes marked down to $5 a pair. I bought a pair in every size and just stored them in the top of #1 son's closet til he outgrew a pair and needed the next size.
5. Take a hard look at your cell phone service, your land line service and your cable/satellite TV. Decide if you really need or are using all the services you’re paying for. When we moved 4 years ago, we got satellite TV instead of cable and they gave us 3 months of all the premium channels for free. We enjoyed the movies and after the three months, we signed up for one of the packages. Then we realized they showed the same movies over and over again and we dropped the premium service. We still get a couple hundred channels and have plenty to watch. If we want to watch a new release, we either get it via Pay Per View or visit the movie rental place; the cost is about the same either way. We pop our own popcorn, drink our own sodas and pause the movie for potty breaks without missing the crucial climactic scene. ;-)
6. Sell your clutter. I made several hundred dollars at my last garage sale. Even if you don't want to mess with a sale, itemize what you need to get rid off, donate it to charity and take the tax deduction.
7. Avoid going out with high-roller friends because you'll be tempted to spend just like they do. There is a huge difference between the high cost of living and the cost of high living.
8. Analyze the expenses your credit card or checking account statement and look at where you spend the most money. Then try to avoid those stores. I'm bad about going to Walmart for a loaf of bread and coming out with $50 worth of stuff I don't really need. But oh, they had these cute placemats on sale or they had Christmas cards for 75% off. A sale is only a bargain if it's something you really need. The 75% off cards aren't really a good deal if you already have a dozen other boxes in the closet back home. It's very easy to bargain yourself right out of money.
9. Sign up for free rewards programs wherever you shop. I have one at the drugstore where I get my prescriptions filled. Last week they gave me a coupon worth $7.50 in free merchandise plus one worth $3 off my next prescription. The prescriptions are money I’d have spent anyway; the coupons are an added bonus. Lots of stores have programs like this.
10. And a final group of various and sundry tips: Comparison shop for big items, avoid impulse buying, use cloth cleaning rags and napkins instead of paper towels and napkins, cancel magazine, newspaper and other subscriptions that you don't read or use, turn down your thermostat, weatherize your house, change the furnace filters monthly, map out your errands to use less gasoline, bottle your own water, carpool and/or use public transportation when possible and plan ahead (like the $1 jeans and $5 shoes). Keep a list of gift-giving occasions in your purse and when you see the perfect birthday gift for your August-born sister on sale for 80% off after Christmas, go ahead and purchase it instead of waiting until the first of August and paying full price for something.
I realize you may not be able to do all these. You may not work outside the home, so brown bag lunch savings don't apply. Or like me, your area may not have public transportation and you have to drive. But I'd be willing to bet you could squeeze the cost of the national conference somewhere out of this list.
Got a tip I didn't mention? Share it with us please. One lucky commenter will win a book from my stash.
The Playfriends are participating in an online auction to aid a homeless teen and her mom. You can get more info about the auction here and see what we've donated here.