Category Archives: Ways to Save

Trouble with money?

Many of us at one point or another have been a bit tight with money. It’s common. Living expenses are high and depending on where we live, living expenses can range even higher. Take NYC for example, the “Capital of the World”. The cost of a meal at an inexpensive restaurant for one person averages $15. A three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people averages $75. A regular cappuccino is $3.95. 1 pair of Levi’s 501 jeans averages $57. Renting a 1-bedroom apartment in the center of the city will cost you approximately $2,839.88 a month. Basic monthly utilities including electricity, heating water and garbage for a small apartment is $150.30 and Internet (6 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) is $49.18 .* Add to this the cost of childcare, transportation, preparing meals at home, entertainment, etc and it’s no wonder why we feel cash strapped.

What to do? The only thing we can do. Set up a budget to see where all our monthly expenses are going. On an excel spreadsheet, make a list of all the items you spend on monthly. For example, list your rental or mortgage costs, childcare costs such as babysitting and alimony, child support, clothes, movies, dining out, transportation, utilities, home costs such as curtains, bedspreads, furniture, TVs, kitchen gadgets, etc. Jot down everything you spend money on and by that I mean everything. Don’t leave anything out; otherwise you won’t see the complete picture. On the column next to this one write down your total income, subtract the expenses from your total income. What’s the difference? Do you have any money left or are you in a deficit? If you have some money left, great! Make sure some of this money is going towards saving for your emergency fund, retirement and college savings. If you are just scraping by, you need to whittle down your expenses. If you are spending more then you make, you have a lot more work to do.

That is the great thing about writing down everything you make and what you spend it on, you can see it. Seeing where your money actually goes every month makes you more receptive to your spending habits and much more aware of where your hard earned money is going.

Creating a budget sheet will help you cut down on unnecessary spending habits and help you save more. Of course, you can’t be a scrooge either. You can spend a little here and there on things that make you happy; this will promote your health and overall well-being but do it all moderately while also saving for a rainy day. Go ahead and try it.

*Cost of living expenses data obtained from www.numbeo.com

How To Change Last Year’s Spending Habits

For some people, changing spending habits can be as difficult as adjusting to the loss of a limb. In 1960, surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz believed that it took an amputee 21 days to get used to having a missing limb. So it is with forming habits. More recent studies indicate it could take anywhere from a few minutes to several months, depending on the new habits to be formed and how complex they are.

That’s why creating new spending habits after years of spending and saving the same way would likely fall into the latter category, requiring several months to change. It’s understandable that changing your spending habits will take a lot of discipline and repetition, but the reward you’ll receive at the finish line is well worth the struggle. To see your savings balance and retirement funds steadily rise from year to year is literally worth gold.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2011 was a year of heavy spending. The average spending per consumer rose 3.3% following a decline in 2010. There was an 8% rise in transportation and a 5.4% increase in spending on food and cash contributions, which included support for collegestudents, alimony, child support and charity donations. Health care spending rose by 4.9% while clothes and entertainment spending also increased. Changing spending habits won’t be easy, but with a bit of discipline and by changing your outlook about the money you make, you can make the change in 2013.


How to Avoid Falling Into Financial Pitfalls During the Holidays

Interview with Cecilia K. Holden, Business Operations Manager for Guardian Capital Advisors, LLC

 1.     What are some great ways to plan financially for the holidays?

  • Start by determining the maximum amount you are able to spend on all holiday expenses that fits reasonably within your financial budget. It is best to begin this process in January of each year so the added costs that come with the season are factored into your household annual budget. If you haven’t done so previously, start now and then take this into account in your 2013 budget forecasting.

 

  • Project everything you need to purchase during the holiday season, including but not limited to:

o    Presents;

o    Host(ess) gifts for any parties you will be attending

o    Clothing allowance for any new wardrobe items needed for parties you will attend

o    Holiday decorations

o    Entertaining you will be hosting or for which you will be sharing any expenses, including holiday meals

o    Travel expenses for any trips you will take during the season

o    Donations you will make or gifts you will purchase for needy families

  • Make an itemized list for each heading in the categories listed above and allocate per item the amount you intend to spend on each. Confirm that the sum of all of these items does not exceed the total amount budgeted.

 

  • To ensure your allocations are as close to actual as possible, look online for pricing prior to finalizing the list.

 

  • Include a safety net in your budget to account for items that are unforeseen in the planning stages and possible increases due to inflation.

 

  • Should the amount that you plan to spend exceed the total amount budgeted, look to see where you may be able to make cutbacks or save in ways that will still accomplish the overall end goals. If not, you will need to also include in your future monthly expenses any financing charges that will be incurred as a result of putting things on credit cards, layaway and similar payments.

 

  • Before hitting the stores, shop online, scan ads in the newspaper and be on the lookout for coupons that come in the mail. This will provide you with baseline prices to work against before overpaying in the stores.

 

  • When shopping online, weigh the cost of shipping against the cost of gas and time spent to shop at store fronts.

 

  • Be sure to use the price match guarantee offered by many stores whenever possible. This may eliminate the need to go to the store with the lowest price.

 

  • Remember that many stores offer discounts such as AAA, student, military and senior citizen – especially since it is unlikely for cashiers to remind you at the registers. Do not hesitate to ask them if they offer any such discounts when you check out. When it comes to your finances, it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

  • To maximize your total annual budget, whenever possible, it is best to shop all year long in order to take advantage of the sales and end of season clearances. For example, if you know you will need new bows or tree lights next year, shop the day after Christmas in order to buy these items on clearance. Stock up on generic holiday-themed gifts at up to 90% off of the original price after Christmas – these will make great host and hostess gifts for next year.

2.     What are some of the biggest mistakes people make during the holidays?

  • Often people tend to overlook things that need to be on the list of items for which to budget. To avoid this, look at the time of year as a whole, and determine all of the things that factor into the season that are not in your typical monthly spending habits.

 

  • When shopping, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the holidays and pick up a few extra items along the way. When you make a list of items to purchase and the amounts allocated to each, it is critical that you stick to the list and the dollar amounts listed to avoid overspending.

 

  • People spend $10 in gas driving to a store to save $5 on an item. Again, do not forget to use the price match guarantee if it allows you to shop closer and still get the better price.

 

  • People get sucked in by the “Hoover maneuver” during the holiday season, and store clerks are rewarded to encourage you to pay more. It is incredibly easy to see an extra feature or a larger item and to take the attitude of “Oh well – what is an extra $50?” If you do this too often, before you know it, you are way over your allocated budget. Therefore, when looking at items on your list to purchase, do not even look at items that are not within the overall budgeted amount for that item unless you are willing to lower the allocated amount on a different item.

 

  • It is easy to get store credit cards and save an extra 15 percent or so while shopping. Taking advantage of these discounts can be a great way to save money, as long as you take caution against what opening a new card will do to your credit score. Too much credit can ding you on your credit scores, thus costing you if you go to refinance your home or purchase a new vehicle, for example.

 

  • It is easy to prolong the financial pains of paying now when you charge expenditures on a credit card. Do not forget that what you put on your credit card in December will be due in January. Otherwise, you will need to budget additionally for the interest charges that will be incurred if you are not able to pay the bill in full.

3.     Can you save yourself if you are already getting into trouble or is it too late?

  • If you find yourself getting deeper in the “red” during the holiday rush, do not give up. Oftentimes people will take the attitude of “Oh well – I am already in deep, so I may as well go all the way and forget my planned budget.”  That attitude will make you your own worst enemy. Stop while you are ahead, and establish a payment plan to get you back on track for the rest of the year.

 

  • Do not spend what you do not have. If someone is a close enough friend or relative to be considered gift worthy, they are also close enough to understand if you need to cut back this year. Be honest with yourself and with others, and do not spend money beyond your means!

 

Top reasons why we don’t save!

 

Photo Courtesy of Alan Cleaver

We all have excuses on why we don’t save enough. We have children, we want to go on a vacation, we just don’t have the time, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on and on till the break of dawn. Right? Well, the list goes on if we let it, but there are ways to sneak in savings.

Jonathan Stein, CEO of the investment site Betterment says, people regularly overspend and don’t save enough money to achieve the goals they have planned for the future. Whether their goal is to afford retirement, college tuition, or big-ticket purchases, saving with an eye towards future financial needs is key. In other words, “I live paycheck to paycheck. I save for short term things.”

“I have a savings account, isn’t that enough?”

Stein says, “People don’t take enough investment risk with their savings to achieve their goals. Instead of investing in stocks and bonds, they park their money in a savings account, which has its own risk: not keeping up with inflation.” He says that under-investing is what happens when people fail to see the huge opportunity cost of parking money in savings.

Sometimes we’re just too darn busy!

This one’s a biggie. When we fail to maintain our accounts, we lose. “People tend to slack off after they’ve set up their accounts, says Stein, “That’s like joining a gym and then never going to work out – you get little benefit.”  It’s important to stick to rebalancing, contribution and diversification routines, or, if you’re subject to slacking, like most of us, chose a service that does these important things automatically for you he says.

Ways to overcome bad habits

How much can you contribute?

Stein advises savers to decide how much money they need to contribute regularly to meet their goals. “Work backwards from where you want to end up and understand that you’ll need to be patient with yourself and the markets.”

Maximize risk

Another strategy he suggests is to maximize the risk we’re taking with our savings, given of course our limits for risk tolerance because as he puts it, what may seem like playing it safe could actually be ruining our chances of ever hitting our financial goals.

Extreme Ways to Save on Gas

The national average of gas prices are going up, up, up! According to the Fuel Gauge Report produced by AAA, last year the average cost for a gallon of regular gas around this same time was $2.776, currently the price is $3.542, that’s a 27% increase.

According to Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor with Edmunds.com, of all the states California and Hawaii have the highest gas prices  “The west coast always pays higher gas,” he says, “Hawaii’s is high because of shipping costs, there are no refineries in Hawaii so shipping costs are added to the price of gas thus making it higher than average. California has taxes and a lot of additives put in for environmental reasons.”

                 12 Month Average for Self-Serve Regular

 

Source: AAA 

Not surprisingly, in order to save on gas and stretch their fuel economy, some consumers are going to extremes.

Fill up your tank in the morning

Reed has heard of some out of the ordinary steps people are taking to save on gas. ”Some people fill up on gas early in the morning because that’s the time when the temperature is colder and when the temps are low, the liquid gas has more density.”

He explains that drivers get more energy out of the gallon of gas because it has a greater volume in the morning then later in the day when it’s warmer. While this concept is true in theory, some argue that the temperature in the tanks underneath the ground where the gas is stored doesn’t vary much to make a big difference. 

“Magic” additives and driving on white lines

“People think they can find “magic” additives,” says Reed. He explains that some folks have even resorted to using acetone as a gas additive. “I wouldn’t recommend this but some people add this additive to their tank claiming it can boost their fuel economy.”

Hypermilers, drivers who push the limit on fuel economy drive with one of the tires on the white line dividing the highway to the breakdown lane says Reed.  Supposedly, this allows less rolling resistance and gets them a better mileage gauge.

Why not use fryer oil?

Restaurant owner Carolyn Redendo says she’s had some customers who have approached her to obtain the restaurants used fryer oil. “They have converted their car so that it can take the fryer oil as gas. As a restaurant owner it usually is a cost to get rid of it, this way it is taken free of charge from us. The hardest part is just coordinating pick up times.”

These are indeed extreme ways to save on gas and some can be quite dangerous, so please don’t try to copy them. Instead follow these safe and harmless tips.

Consumer savings expert Andrea Worach offers a few.

  • Always travel with cash. Gas stations advertise the price per pump for cash-paying customers since it’s usually 10 cents cheaper than the price you pay with a credit card. Many plastic paying drivers are unaware that the price they are paying is higher.

 

  • Drive a little slower. Speeds exceeding 40 mph forces your car to burn fuel at a faster rate because it needs more energy to overcome forceful wind resistance. For highway motorists, driving less than 40 mph is not really an option so keep your speedometer at 60 mph or under. Going any faster will burn right through your gas.

 

  • Smart phones have tons of “smart” apps to help you save money especially when it comes to finding the least expensive gas in your area. GasBuddy shows you a list of surrounding gas stations based on your location and their respective prices per gallon. CheapGas navigates you to the least expensive gas station on your route so you can easily find that cheaper pump that may be half mile off the exit ramp without getting lost. Other apps to test drive are FuelFinder and Carticipate which helps you find like minded neighbors seeking to share rides. 

 

  • Test out electronics or fuel efficient hybrid cars. Electronic cars go up to 80 miles before they need to be recharged which is great for local driving needs. There’s no better time than now to switch to a car that will cost you less on fuel than now as prices skyrocket at the pump.