Monday, May 21, 2012

Keep the Change

Almost every time you buy something you will have some amount of change, especially in the form of coins. I see many people simply discard the change by putting it in the tip jar, leaving it on the counter, or simply not asking for it. I guess people just see it as a pain to carry around and not very valuable since they don't want to count out change to make a purchase. But in reality, change really adds up if you just hold on to it and find the right time to spend it.

I keep a small amount of change in my car, and when that fills up to much I keep the rest in a bag at my house. Every so often I use it to make a small purchase, like at a fast food restaurant or a few bucks of gas. When doing so I make sure not to use change at a peak time when making the cashier count it all out would hold the line up. Instead I use it when the line is short and it's convenient. A couple weeks ago I had enough quarters for $16 in gasoline, and just yesterday I got a $5 meal at Mcdonald's for my spare nickels and dimes.

One thing I do not recommend is using Coinstar machines. These machines will convert your change to dollars, but they take a hefty 10% cut of the money, which, in my opinion, is not worth the small amount of time I save when using them.

By holding onto your change and keeping it organized you will find that you can occasionally treat yourself to something without spending any "real" money, that is, the cash you actually count when looking at your wallet.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Going Out to Eat

Living on a budget doesn't mean eating every meal at home. Although cutting out restaurants altogether is financially the best option, there's no point in saving money if you don't reward yourself every once in a while. Doing so while still being financially responsible is the challenge.

When going out to eat the money you spend depends mainly on two things: where you go and what you get. Interestingly enough, I find that what I order impacts my bottom line more than where I go. For example, when I went to Olive Garden I got a nice pasta dish for $15 and decided to forgo a drink. At Applebee's I got Chicken Tenders and fries for $10 but got a $3 drink, making my tab only slightly less than when I went to Olive Garden. Smart ordering can save a few bucks every time you go out.

When I go out to eat I try to avoid ordering a soda. I figure I could spend $3 to enjoy a couple glasses of coke now, or buy a couple of 2 Liter bottles of coke at Safeway for the same price. Buying four drinks for your family will run you an extra $10-$15 a meal, so that's definitely something to keep in mind.

I also try to take advantage of deals, like 2 for $20 at Applebee's or I look for coupons for my local restaurants in the paper. If you can find dinner for two for around $20 you've found a pretty good deal. It's important that you don't blow the savings on an appetizer, drinks, or a dessert, because that's where the restaurants get the most money from you. If you really want a dessert Baskin Robins has $1 soft serve ice cream cones, or a decent size frozen yogurt from your local shop will only cost $2-$3, compared to the $6-$8 at a restaurant. Just because you got dinner there does not mean your dessert has to be there too.

Finally, pizza is a huge money saver when you get the right deal. I can get a $15 pizza for a few people at Skipolini's, or a similar pizza at Little Caesars for only $6. Also, Safeway pizzas tend to be around $5, and there are lower quality Totino's Party Pizza's that can feed two for about $1.50. I like the taste, although it isn't a great pizza.

The most important thing to remember is moderation. Unless you';re on a bare bones budget, going out to eat and spending $20 is not a big deal, just don't let it become a habit.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Dollar Store

Tacky, cheap, low quality; all these words may come to mind when thinking of your neighborhood dollar store. But to me, it's a place where I can find consistently great deals on items I need. While it's true that many things at the dollar store are low quality and cheaply made, this may be just what you need.

For example, beach toys at the dollar store may not last as long, but lets face it, we all lose plenty of toys at the beach. For me, the dollar store is the place I buy all my gum; $1 for 20 sticks, compared to $1.70 at Safeway for 15 sticks, and the gum is just as good. Other items I find to be good buys are beef jerky, 2.5 Liter bottles of soda, various bags of candy and other junk food, and some household cleaning products. Items I wouldn't recommend due to poor quality are candles (they don't smell like they should), medicine (could be expired), and anything you want to last a long time, as most toys from there tend to break fairly quickly.

Remember that the dollar store is not "just for poor people". Although I wouldn't buy someone else something from there, I find it to be a convenient way to pick up a few everyday items for a much better price.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Keep Yourself Accountable!

A few months ago I began noticing that it seemed like my money was simply disappearing. It seemed I would have $200 one day, and $190 the next, and I couldn't remember how I spent the missing $10. What I realized was that I needed to start tracking my purchases. For some this may mean saving receipts, but for me I just began writing down every purchase I made and its cost. What I soon learned amazed me. I was spending a significant amount of my income not on essentials like fuel, clothing, or groceries. I was spending at least $25 a WEEK on fast food or gas station food purchases! That $2 soda at Chevron and $3 burger at Burger King may seem like petty cash, but it adds up very fast! This $25 a week adds up to an extra $1200 a year in expenses.

Through the writing down of my purchases I learned my weakness, fast food, and I learned how to control my spending on it. Now I only buy food out twice a week, and I try to stay within a $10 limit, except on special occasions. Not only is this making my wallet a little fatter, it's making me a little skinnier.