It is fitting that one of my financial "aha" moments came about because of a wallet.
When I lost my adored embossed bubblegum pink leather wallet from the designer Karen Cullen I was momentarily depressed because I couldn't justify, with my reduced circumstances,
a reason to repurchase it. So I reluctantly shifted gears and went to T.J. Maxx where I found an orange leather substitute for $16.00.
In a few days, I found a way to like my orange wallet, appreciating the fact that its design allowed openings not only for my driver's license but a family picture I saw every time I flipped it open. Sure enough, three weeks later, my wallet was found and returned. But guess what? I still really like the orange wallet.
The lesson learned here is that there are many painless financial slimmers all around us. For the same reason I hate the word "diet" is why I wince at the words "can't afford." Makes me feel like I'm starving or deprived. However, a financial slimmer seems positive which is why I now look at life through that prism, especially since the years of living dangerously have been radically replaced with the year of living frugally.
There also is a surge of victory every time I find a replacement for something I paid more for in the past. This is "The New Normal" and since necessity is the mother of invention, revel in your resourcefulness and share your financial slimmers with us.
Here are 10 of mine.
1) When at the grocery store buy generic. It saves you a fortune -- as much as ten cents to a $1 on each item ranging from cereals, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, household cleaners to club sodas. You can also have similar savings on items at the pharmacy ranging from aspirin to mouthwash. The difference between Tylenol and the generic brand was $4. However, there are certain items where the quality brand is worth it and those companies deserve your business. While America's Choice frozen vegetables are worth it, their pie crusts taste like dust while Pillsbury reigns supreme. (Although I've tried, I can't seem to master the pie crusts at home). Nestle's chocolate chip cookie dough is another example as is Paul Newman's Limeade, which also benefits charities.
2) Another money slimmer is buying in bulk at places like Costco once a month. This is where my friends have loaded up on items like detergent, paper towels and dog food. However, buy only what you need and an amount you will use. Too many overbuy. If like me you are also doing triple duty as soccer mom, career mom and gymnastics mom, another solution is using the delivery services like Stop n' Shop. They charge a little extra for delivery but drop off all the bulk items so you save time and costs of transportation and lugging all the groceries to your house.
3) I used to buy several bunches of fresh flowers every week. I'm from the school of Andrew Weill who says that part of the 8 essential things for a healthy life -- along with broccoli, soy, garlic and blueberries -- is fresh flowers. They are rejuvenating and elevate your mood as well as add a cheerful burst of color in your house. I now use bud vases for flowers vs. vases. Don't have one? I've also substituted long stem glasses for bud vases that I bought another time at Pier One for $1. To be more inventive, I've also used cuttings from colorful bushes in the backyard to add to the floral mix -- and it's free.
4) When you use the washing machine, use the cold cycle. Makes no difference on whether the clothes are clean and saves a whopping 50 percent of energy costs. Also since as much as 60 gallons of water is used for each cycle, make sure that the washing machine is full. Ditto for the dishwasher.
5) According to Kiplinger's, appliances that include a clock or operate by a remote, as well as chargers, are sucking electricity even when you're not using them. Of the total energy used to run home electronics, 40% is consumed when the appliances are turned off. The obvious way to pull the plug on so-called energy vampires is to do just that -- pull the plug. Or buy a device to do it for you, such as a Smart Power Strip ($31 to $44, at www.smarthomeusa.com), which will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are off, and pay for itself within a few months. By the way, an unused toaster uses 1000 watts per hour compared to a laptop that uses 75 for the same period of time. When I read that I was amazed.
6) Consolidate electronic costs in your family. We were paying for my mother's cell phone but now I put her on a family plan. I'm embarrassed to admit but I wasn't paying attention to our cable costs either. There were hidden costs that I questioned and got removed. With my stepdaughters now out of the house, I also removed the cable boxes which is a savings of $6 a month. When they visit, they can watch TV in my son's room or the den.
7) Use fruit for displays. I now put green apples in red bowls and add a few green leaves from outside as a garnish. It's pretty and also useful. After a few days, I use the fruit for apple crisps.
8) Renegotiate with your credit card company. The companies know President Obama is on their case and can no longer take the position that the company won't budge. Or have someone do it for you since there are some reputable companies that help with your debt consolidation.
9) I love scented candles because candles, flowers and music create an inviting ambiance to soothe the nerves and restore the spirits. Often the cheaper candles smell awful. However, Pier One's Aspen Flower is as good as any high-end brand. Another well priced brand is Archipelago and the candles last for months.
10) Make weekly menus. I should have done this years ago. Since we're eating at home for almost every meal, I plan each dish and as a result never buy extra food. According to one study, people buy between $10-$40 extra by not planning menus. Also, wasted food adds up. I bought an $8 pair of pants on sale at the Gap for my son last week which is the equivalent of salad and a few vegetables that rotted in the fridge after a few days. The amount of food that is wasted is a money zapper. Be vigilant and creative. Weekly dishes -- spinach pie, meat loaf and roast chicken -- also make good leftovers. Planning menus is far more organized and efficient and I feel virtuous knowing I'm not being wasteful anymore and can use the savings for other necessities as well.
Now tell us what are your financial slimmers. We are all in this together and can help each other out with examples of resourcefulness.
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