Tales from the Wallet: What’s the Best Change You’ve Made to Save More Money?

The Little Changes That Save MoneyWhat are some of the best changes that you’ve made to save more money? For some people it might be curbing your Starbucks habit; for others it might be something like learning about double coupon days. But I’d love to focus our discussion today on what you’ve CHANGED about your strategy (versus what you never did or what you’ve always done). (Pictured: Brahmin Croc Embossed Leather Continental Wallet, available for $155 at Nordstrom.)

For me, one of the biggest changes I’ve made in recent years was to start stocking up during sales at the drugstore and grocery store, instead of buying items only when I needed them. I first tried doing this when I was first out of college and writing articles on how to save money for Family Circle magazine — there were a ton of coupon tips that just did not work in NYC. (There are no double coupon days here, and you can’t even get that many coupons from the Sunday papers.) I just felt like my store bills were higher because I would buy stuff I didn’t need or didn’t use, and all for a $.30 “savings” because I had a coupon. Another friend of mine (who started her career working for Woman’s Day) spent hours making an elaborate spreadsheet with an average cost per count” for every single thing she bought — and I figured, if I can’t put hours into it, why even put a second into it?

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Ten years later, though, I found myself noticing store sales — like when CVS or the local grocery store would mark things down. Now I take a loop around the entire store whenever I can, and if things are on a “good” sale then I’ll stock up. My rules are that I have to know I’ll use it by the expiration date (usually because I’ve used that same brand forever, or because it’s something generic that I don’t care about) and I have to be able to store it somewhere (which can be tricky in a cramped NYC apartment). And I do keep a small spreadsheet of some of the best prices (usually broken down to a “per count” price) that I can refer to when standing in the store. I also try to take a loop around Cleveland drugstores when I get home because the prices are so much lower — I’ve come back to NYC with as many as ten packages of Glide floss because it was $2 cheaper in Cleveland. I also take advantage of Amazon’s “Subscribe and Save” program for a lot of things because — compared to NYC prices — it does tend to be substantial savings. Am I saving thousands of dollars? Probably not. But I’m sure I’m saving a few hundred every year, and every little bit helps.  (I’m at a point now where it hurts a bit to pay full price for something because I ran out and need it right then!)

Readers, what is the best CHANGE that you’ve made to save more money? Is there anything that you tried to change and decided to stop, either because it was too hard, you didn’t like the change, or because you weren’t saving money?

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  1. I started cold-brewing one large batch of iced coffee for the week the weekend prior. (I adapted this NY Times recipe to my own taste preferences: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/dining/276drex.html) It saves me time in my always-rushed mornings since I don’t have to stop for coffee on the way to work or get up early enough to brew it that morning — plus I save lots of money by doing this in bulk! I generally prefer iced coffee to hot, but I do sometimes warm up a cup of the stuff on mornings I feel differently. :)

    • I switched from shopping at large Grocery Stores to shopping at Aldi for 90% of my groceries. Where I used to spend upwards of $150-175 a week, now I spend $75, maybe $100 every two months. Unbelievable! They sell name brand products under the European label, and so they can sell it for half the price.

  2. Anne Shirley :

    I stopped driving to work. Public transit takes about 10 minutes longer, but I can read on the train. Gave my car to my parents and now borrow it occasionally. Monthly savings: $475. Parking was so expensive!

    • I did the same. I actually get there faster because my vanpool takes the HOV lane and knows secret routes for every traffic jam situation AND I save a ton of money.

  3. I only go to the supermarket once a month to stock up on soy milk, soup, pasta, etc. In between I only shop for fresh produce at small, independent stores (green grocer, butcher, etc). I find I spend a lot less on things like sweets, chips, (soft) drinks, and pre-prepared stuff: the more luxurious products that aren’t all that good for you.
    When I went to the supermarket every few days, I always bought extras I didn’t need, so I recon this saves quite some money. Doesn’t save much time though, since I still have to hit the stores every few days for perishables (lettuce, meat, etc).

    • Counter-intuitively, shopping at Whole Foods has saved me a bit in grocery money. I started going there because the produce was so much better. Because they don’t carry a lot of processed foods, I find I make fewer impulse buys. I also try harder to finish what I buy, because their prices are a bit higher on some things. Milk is cheaper, though.

    • Good for you! Recently I started doing my “main” shopping of the week at the farmers’ market, and then sticking exactly to my list of a few grocery store items to fill in the edges. Not sure yet how this is going to work when the weather gets cooler and the farmers’ market closes, but it seems to have stuck for the summer, at least. Any tips for a relative newbie to this approach?

      • I’ve found that regularly patronizing the same farmers helps. We buy from the same ones every week and they often throw in tons of free produce. Also, we are flexible in our meal plan and have enough recipes memorized so that if we see a great deal (last week we found heirloom tomatoes for $1 a pound) we can modify our meal plan for the week to take advantage of the deal.

      • I have a similar method that I also recently established (farmers market once a week for the “big haul”, another smaller grocery run during the week to tide me over). Not sure what I’m going to do when the market’s season is over… I’m sort of dreading it.

  4. Earlier in my student days, I had very little storage space, so I got into the habit of not buying routine household items in bulk, and kept it up even though my husband and I bought a house with plenty of storage space. Problem is, then I would run out of something and be so busy that I’d buy it somewhere close by and usually expensive, often making a stop just for that (and impulse buying a few other items along the way).

    Now I stock up on the staples we always use at Target or Costco once every month or two, and when I’m getting low in stock (like, when I *start* the last tube of toothpaste), it goes back on the list for the next trip. I always told myself that I was paying for the convenience of not making a trip out to Target, but really, I was paying for my own lack of planning on something that was entirely predictable.

  5. anon in tejas :

    thread jack.

    how do you all answer your phone?

    I have a secretary that answers for me, and she routes the calls that I want to take to me after announcing. I am a little flumoxed at how best to answer the phone. I used to answer: “Hi this is FIRST NAME.” However, this has really resulted in a lot of people then referring to me as FIRST NAME in all further communication. I refer to people as Ms. LAST NAME or Mr. LAST NAME and am somewhat required to do so. I feel that my standard phone answer is a little too casual for that communication expectation.

    Also, if this complicates things… my name is FIRST NAME LAST NAME-LAST NAME, which is ethnic, long and difficult to spell.


    • Motoko Kusanagi :

      I always answer with Hello This is Motoko Kusanagi. If I had a hyphenated last name, I’d still follow this format, eg Hello This is Motoko Kusanagi-Smith.

    • If I answer it directly, “Good morning/afternoon, this is First Name Last Name” If it transfers from my assistant, “This is First Name” I am careful to always use the honorarium with certain parties (Dr, Judge, Reverend, etc.) unless explicitly told not to. I don’t really care if people refer to me by my first name though and don’t expect it to be tit for tat. Do you want them to use your last name in verbal communication as well as written? If so, I would use first and last when answering the phone, signing emails, etc.

    • If a call is transferred from my secretary, I pick up the phone “Patti Smith”, no hello or hi or anything. If I pick up directly, it’s “Hello Patti Smith”. Easy-peasy!

    • TO lawyer :

      I answer the phone: First Name Last Name. I’m younger and I think I have a youngish sounding voice so I try to sound serious when I answer the phone in hopes that it makes me sound older/competent (i.e. I’m sick of people asking to speak to the lawyer on the file…)

    • In my job (as an attorney in the court system) I am required to refer to people by their last name only, and I expect attorneys to refer to me by my last name. In every interaction, be it the phone or in-person, I introduce myself or call myself “Ms. Jones.” Introducing myself or calling myself with both names, i.e. “Jane Jones,” resulted in a lot of people calling me by my first name only, and then I would have to correct them (I used to say, “Actually, everyone calls me Ms. Jones”), which was awkward. Introducing myself as “Ms. Jones” took quite a while to get used to. However, now that I’m used to it, I nearly always introduce myself to other professionals that way. For instance, if I am meeting a doctor (as a patient) for the first time, I introduce myself as Ms. Jones, since there is no reason for my doctor to call me “Jane” while I all my doctor “Dr. Smith.” I prefer it!

      • Anonymous :

        Wow, really? That would come across to me as more than a little pretentious.

      • Yesterday I went to a new doctor and he introduced himself to me as Dan. I didn’t think any less of him.

        • Maybe I’m overly sensitive on this, so YMMV, but from observation in my field (medical/mental health) it seems like a) more women do this than men; b) there’s rarely negative consequences with patients; but c) there are subtle negative consequences with colleagues and administrators. If Dr. Anna Smith often introduces herself as “Anna” and Dr. Bob Jones always introduces himself as “Dr. Jones”, others are going to more often use those names (e.g., “Let’s bring in Anna and Dr. Jones on this meeting.”) One person being referred to by Firstname and another by Dr. Lastname creates an impression of differing status. Not exactly what I’m going for professionally. And I still think women have to work a little bit harder to get the same respect and authority men do, so I believe in using language that doesn’t undermine others’ sense of me as a professional.

          I make a definitive point of referring to all MD or PhD colleagues as Dr. So-and-so in any meetings or conversations with colleagues, and I expect the same. In private individual conversation, first names are fine — it’s more wanting to convey the public respect. And I certainly have a number of long-standing patients who refer to me by first name (or Dr. Firstname), and I’m fine with that. In fact,I think breaking down some of the differing status between doc and patient can really make people feel more comfortable and improve patient care… but that’s another story.

    • “Bluejay Lastname speaking.”

      I read in some career advice book (NGDGTCO?) that it’s more authoritative to answer with one’s full name rather than one’s first name. If I know who’s calling, then I just say “This is Bluejay.”

      • I do this. Otherwise, I feel like I’m saying too many words that the other person just won’t remember anyways.

    • lucy stone :

      I am technically supposed to answer my phone “Hello, this is Assistant City Attorney Lucy Stone” but that takes too long. We have caller ID so if I know the caller I’ll pick it up and greet them by name, otherwise I usually just say “Lucy Stone” or “Attorney Stone.”

    • “CompanyName, this is FirstName”. No one uses last names in my field or at my company.

    • Anonymous :

      I just say “first name last name” when I pick up my phone, unless I can see that it’s from someone I know well, in which case I say “This is first name.”

    • I usually answer “This is Firstname Lastname”

      Unless the call is from a friend rather than a client or attorney, in which case I’ll usually just say “hello”

    • I struggled with this when I recently changed jobs. I now work in the government sector, with a lot of military service members, and I wanted to keep as professional as possible. My title is “Special Investigator,” so if I were to answer the phone with my title (analogous Doctor or military rank), I’d have to stumble over “Special Investigator Lastname,” and risk sounding/feeling pretentious, not professional. I decided that I don’t care if people call me by my first name (although most of the time people have enough respect for my position that they don’t), so I answer with an appropriate time of day greeting and my first name: “Good morning, this is Trista.” FWIW, I only have contact with people one to three times, and then never contact them again. Half the time I feel like they don’t even know me long enough to know my name.

      If you expect to be referred to as Ms. Lastname-Lastname, then answer the phone with that, or drop the name all together and just go with a greeting. Find out who your secretary is transferring, and say “Hello, Ms. Smith, how are you today?” This implies a last-name relationship that the other party should stick to. If you are asked for your name, give the whole thing, even if it is a mouthful.

  6. I found I was buying too many “good deals” on things that I didn’t really need or wouldn’t be able to use, like Groupons or clothes from online shopping since I was tempted by all the emails in my inbox. I setup a filter within Gmail to send all of the “Daily Deals” and shopping coupons to a folder within Gmail. I only go in there now when I’m intentionally looking for a coupon code for something I actually need to buy (example – back to school clothes for my son, went looking for my Lands End coupon codes). If there is a really good Groupon or deal for something I regularly use, my sister or one of my other friends let me know about it, but overall that way I’m not tempted by seeing so many deals every day reminding me to buy buy buy!

    Another change I made for my second pregnancy was to skip maternity clothes as long as possible and just buy 1 & 2 sizes up, mainly from a local secondhand store. It took me almost 2 years after my first to get back in my “regular” size and I wound up having to buy a lot of clothes in order to go back to work after my 6 week maternity leave when none of my regular clothes fit but I couldn’t bring myself to wear maternity clothes to work postpartum. My son is 10 months old now and I’m still wearing a lot of the 1 size up clothes for a lot less money than a maternity wardrobe plus a new 1 size up wardrobe. I am plus sized and carry wide plus don’t have to get dressed up for work at all, so YMMV.

    • Ditto on the emails. This may sound shocking but the best way I’ve saved money is by not buying stuff. Who would’ve thought? It started off as something I had to teach myself to save up for a huge trip and now it’s natural. I cannot be bothered to actually purchase something. I don’t browse in stores and I don’t browse online.

      I also let things run out/get destroyed before purchasing. Being allergic to everything has helped in the beauty/skincare spending. I have to update a few items in my wardrobe and thought of hunting for them makes me crawl under my desk.

      • totally agreed.

        Ignorance is bliss for my wallet. Once I unsubscribed to store email lists, daily deals, etc etc, I found myself browsing/finding items MUCH less often. (And I know I can count on you all, or an IRL friend, to alert me to Bloomie’s friends and family and such.)

        what was that old saying, make it do, wear it out, use it up or go without? Although I’m definitely less than “strict” about this with my work wardrobe, I definitely abide by it for household goods — I mend torn linens, wear ratty old sweatpants for housework, use old washcloths as cleaning rags, mush bars of soap together when they get so small that they’d otherwise get lost in the soap dish and dissolve, and spray the shower into my shampoo bottle to get that last wash out of it. I hate spending unnecessary money on “boring” things when I can use it for our down payment fund or a vacation!

        a change I’ve recently made is that now that we are student-loan FREE, we are pretending that portion of the paycheck still no longer exists. That’s $2500/month (plus bonuses) split between retirement, new house and newly established 529 plans for future kiddos. One of my biggest fears w/r/t Biglaw was the “golden handcuffs” so we are trying very hard to be used to living on an income that is 2/3 of what we actually bring home now. So far I’m feeling very good about resisting “ducking into jcrew just to see” and instead watching our various savings targets grow!

    • I do the same thing with the gmail filter – love it.

      • Same here. Gmail filters have prevented so many spur of the moment purchases… out of sight, out of mind!

    • I also do the email filter! I love it because I’m an addicted online shopper – just so much more convenient than shlepping around to stores all day on the weekends when I’d rather be outside or with friends enjoying my time. But having the dedicated email filter brings back a little of the “browsing” feeling to shopping which can often be lost when you’re shopping mainly online. Plus it narrows your focus to sales and deals.

      I also go rid of my car. I live in SF so I would have had to pay $218 (my monthly payment at the time I sold it), parking at my house ($280), parking at my work ($175), insurance (let’s just round to $100/mo), gas (I have no idea what that is now – $120/mo?) – so that’s $893 without even talking about maintenance, upkeep or annual reg fees. All told it’d probably even out to around $1000/mo in savings just by skipping out on that and using public transportation ($64/mo unlimited), taxis in emergencies and zipcar ($60/mo + hourly fees, gas and insurance included) when needed.

  7. Refinancing the mortgage. (Sometimes it’s the big things, you know?)

    • karenpadi :

      This. Although I used a re-fi in a really backwards way. I re-fi’ed from a 30-year to a 15-year. Lower interest rate but I pay $500 more per month for my house. I sleep better at night knowing that I am growing equity faster and won’t be in debt until I retire.

      My savings goals stayed the same so I’ve pruned $500 from my random expenses every month to up my savings. I didn’t think it was possible (especially because I didn’t cut things like my housekeeper, trainer, or massage therapy) but it’s working!

    • I agree with you about the big things. Since I started looking at coupons, or CVS extra bucks, etc. I find that I actually spend more money there than I used to before. It has helped to make a few big changes instead (paying myself first, pretending I still have a car payment), etc.

  8. anon in tejas :

    here’s a short list of the major things that we do as a couple:

    — carpool to work with partner. saves on time (carpool lane), gas, and parking costs.
    — cut out netflix (we bought a blue ray player and use a lot of amazon instant instead)
    — refied our mortgage (through cost co with really good closing costs)
    — changed our car insurance/home insurance to go through costco. huge huge huge savings here
    — buy all our meats and cheese in bulk (and stock on other staples)
    — meal plan for our meals

    here’s a list of what I do as an individual
    — take my lunch 4 days a week. eat out 1 time a week. I’ll make exceptions for business lunches, networking, etc. But this is the goal I shoot for. If I do all 5 in the office, I’ll reward myself with something small
    — sbux only once a week. I have a Tuesday habit. I am not in Court, and in the office all day long. I will walk and get starbucks to break up the day.
    — yoga only through groupons. I consider it a luxury expense, so I only use it when I can get a good deal.

  9. When gas prices first hit $4/gal. a few years ago, my husband and I started car pooling to work. At first I felt trapped downtown, but I realized that I could go get my husband’s car if I ever needed it during the day. We also grew to really like that daily time together in the car. So even when gas went down, we continued to car pool.

  10. After my start date was deferred late in my 3L year, I became compulsively frugal and it has stuck even though I now work in biglaw. Here are some things my family does:
    -no cable, we watch tv on the web
    -cook all food at home, from scratch if possible (e.g., buy dry beans and cook in the pressure cooker, make bread and pizza dough) (we like to cook, so this isn’t unpleasant) (but we do go out to fancy restaurants to celebrate special occasions)
    -grow herbs and some vegetables
    -plan meals around food that is in the fridge and needs to be used before going bad
    -learn which grocery stores/farmers markets have the best prices for items we buy frequently
    -don’t use heat or A/C (only possible because I live in an area with a temperate climate)
    -learned to wash most of my “dry clean” clothes myself
    -joined the library and stopped buying books
    -use public transportation
    -adopt a hair style that requires less frequent maintenance while still looking professional and appropriate (so I go to the salon 2 to 3 times per year rather than every 6-8 weeks as my previous hairstyle required)
    -do my own nails, with occasional (2-3 times per year) visit to the nail salon when I feel like they are too out of control for me to handle
    -right-sized insurance policies to eliminate unnecessary coverage (e.g., when we recently moved we learned that our renters policy provides moving insurance so we avoided spending $800 for separate moving insurance)
    -use the free gym in my office building
    -gave up caffeine
    -try to combine vacations with business trips (e.g., I tagged along with my husband to a conference in Europe, so his airfare and the hotel were paid for and we only had to pay for my airfare.)
    -buy used when possible and resell when you are done (we’ve broken even on baby hardware this way, while getting some really nice stuff, like a Bob stroller for $125 and a PB crib for $100)
    -paid off student loans (because where else was I going to get a 7.9% return on the money?)

    My weakness remains beauty products. I’ve tried to transition to drug store brands, but I ones that everyone else seems to like don’t work for me.

    • a passion for fashion :

      Interesting re the beauty products. In july of this year, I committed to NOT buying ANY beauty products and hair products that i could not get from the drug store/target, for a whole year. So far so good. I had tons of stuff already that i am using up and when it si gone, ill make a trip to target to get some new stuff.

    • I think we must come from the same family :)

      I do a lot of the same things:
      -Bring my lunch to work daily (for the cost of 5 lunches at $7-8 a pop, I can buy groceries for lunch and dinner for a week and a half!)
      -Buy staples in the largest bulk size I can fit in my apartment (so, not quite Costco size… someday)
      -Buy produce in season (still working on this one, as sometimes I just really want __ veggie or fruit)
      -Do my own nails, eyebrows, etc.
      -Borrow ebooks from the library instead of buying them (usually requires waiting a few weeks for bestsellers, but that’s not the end of the world)
      -Don’t run heat or A/C unless absolutely necessary (mostly the former for fear of pipes freezing… never run at night)
      -Buy drugstore goods during sales (and stock up on face wash, lotion, etc. during trips home – everything is so much cheaper outside big cities!)

    • “gave up caffeine” – O.


      How do you live?

      • It sucked a lot at first. Honestly, Diet Coke was harder than coffee. Now, I don’t even miss it, though I will use it in dire situations (e.g., midnight filings). I start my day with a workout and that gives me a good energy boost.

  11. *Automated 15% our our joint income right into savings account so we don’t even see it.

    *DH and I both get fixed percentage of our take-home paychecks (after 401K, insurance, taxes, HSA contributions) as “allowance.” I’m newly married and was afraid that I would miss the freedom to splurge on an item without judgment. However, I was splurging a lot, and realized that i didn’t have much to show for it! It makes me feel better about myself, actually! I love clothing, so don’t do as many lunches, for example because I don’t want to use all my allowance!

    *buy generic. Store brand groceries are identical in quality, in my experience! Meijer, Kroger, and Target brands are pretty great.

    *I refuse to pay retail–i need at least a 30% coupon to buy something marked at full price. (AT, Banana, Talbots are always having some 30 or 40% off sale–on the days that they’re not, I just refuse to buy!)

    *click through Upromise and use upromise credit card when making online purchases. 5-10% of purchase goes back to Sallie Mae student loans, and there’s pretty much always a code for shipping. Drugstore.com for essentials is pretty great.

  12. Library books! I’m addicted. In NYC, the NYPL recently redesigned their web interface and they have an iphone (and prob android too) app. It’s really good and easy to use, so whenever I see or think of a book I want to read, I immediately request it from the NYPL. So it keeps track of my reading list, and sends me an email when the book is ready for pickup at my local library a few blocks away. I’ve gotten lots of new releases with only a few weeks’ wait, both hardback and Kindle formats. Sometimes the wait is longer, but it’s a random treat to have forgotten all about a book I wanted to read and then get an email from the library telling me to come pick it up!

    • I *so* need to start going to the library. As previously disclosed on this site, I have a book ownership problem (i.e. I need to own *all* the books). Prior to university, I used to go to the library all the time. I need to revert to that habit. It would save me a ton of money. At the moment, I am ashamed to say, I don’t even have a current library card.

      • Backgrounder :

        THIS is me. I have a Kindle-book-buying problem. Especially when the CPL has many of the titles I musthavenow

    • downstream :

      me and you are two peas in one pod. LOVE the NYPL and LOVE their new website and android app

    • My local library has a great app, too. They’ve also added a lot of neat stuff to their website. I can keep a reading list online, pay my fines (boo) and renew books, and even better, get email alerts 3 days before my book is due so I stop incurring fines. And the main branch is 2 blocks from my office.

  13. My husband and I both set very aggressive savings goals and we take the money out as soon as we get our paychecks and move it to a separate savings account. Our goal was more than twice what we had been saving before, which seemed nearly impossible. But once we made the commitment to take it out of our accounts, our spending adjusted pretty quickly. Not having the money in our checking accounts means not spending it!

  14. 2/3 attorney :

    Wow – I picked up the featured wallet (I use it as a wristlet, it even fits my phone) on a whim at a consignment store a few weeks ago for $25. I just thought it was pretty, I had no idea it retailed for that much! So, yay, surprise savings!

    • Awesome find. Love this wallet, and would love it harder if it had the crest of Slytherin on it.

      • +1. I always find myself associating the distinctive color combos with the HP houses…

  15. long term lurker :

    I have some food staples like certain soups I like, and things in the pantry like tomato sauce, but I learned for two busy people its best to buy just what you need for the meal in terms of meat and produce. I used to try to buy i.e. 4 chicken breasts and freeze 2, but H and I are too lazy to thaw things out and they end up mired in the freezer, wasted. Ditto freezing leftovers… we just don’t eat them. For some buying food in bulk and cooking ahead will work, but it doesn’t for us. I buy just what we need and we eat it and don’t waste. The trick is to make the money-saving tips work for your particular life.

    • I laughed when I read this — I spent the first two+ years my H and I lived together trying to get him to eat leftovers, since we were both so busy. Didn’t work, period, and we used to wind up throwing out very sad-looking leftovers as result. What does work for us, though, is chopping/prepping all vegetables and fresh food right away after grocery shopping. It’s much quicker and easier to cook after work if all the ingredients are ready to go. No leftovers, but only one big prep session each week.

    • This. I tend to stock up on dry goods (pasta, rice, qinoa), but I usually buy meat and produce every other day. Otherwise, perfectly good food would go to wate. I drive past three grocery stores between work, gym and home, so it’s not really much extra hassle.

      I direct deposit part of my paycheck straight to a saving account with limited monthly transactions and automate 401k and investment contributions.

      I avoid going to Target, Wal-mart and big box stores like the plague. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of one of those for under $50.

  16. karenpadi :

    Get a second estimate for work done around the house! Seriously. I’m planning to do some electrical work on the house. Electrician: $5100. General Contractor: $1250. Same work. Same out-of-pocket expenses.

    Build relationships with “regular” service providers and provide referrals for them (e.g., hair stylist, massage therapist, gym membership/trainer, housekeeper, gardener, car mechanic, etc). It doesn’t save money directly but, at least in my area, being a regular does eventually result in being “grandfathered” in when they have to raise their prices.

    Shop more at fewer businesses and get their credit card. For example, I decided to shop more at Target, including getting my groceries there. With the Target card, I get 5% cash back. It’s a pain because there isn’t a huge produce section in Target but I buy everything I can there and go to the farmers markets or another grocery store for the rest. I also just signed up for the Nordstrom card with my personal stylist (yay! love love love her). She helps me schedule my shopping on sale days and triple points days to maximize my credit card rewards. Plus, with the Nordie’s card, I get $100 or $200 in free alterations every year.

    Right now, I am trying to focus on buying fewer, but higher quality and well chosen, items that will last. Take my furniture. It’s all first-apartment-after-law-school quality, 4 moves in 4 years, and living with 2 clawed cats. Instead of trying to find furniture on my own, I’m thinking of having an Ethan Allen in-home consultant help me chose items. I’ll pay more but I have a feeling I’ll be happier with my selections and the furniture will last longer.

    Biggest money saver: firing the expensive personal trainer who wasn’t helping me with my goals and couldn’t work with my schedule. Started 100 push-ups Monday and starting Couch to 5k next week in my (free!) office gym.

    • My husband is an electrical contractor and I think you may want to rethink those “savings”, get a third estimate or at least some referrals from the general contractor on previous people he’s done electrical for. My husband is often called in to fix work a general contractor did – sometimes its just done sloppily, but sometimes its downright dangerous. Make sure your general contractor will be getting the appropriate permits, and compare the two estimates carefully to see what corners are being cut between the two jobs, or what is/isn’t included. It is true that there are some electricians out there who charge an outrageous amount for nothing special and there are definitely honest general contractors as well, but I would be really wary about what the difference is between those two jobs for such a big price difference.

      • karenpadi :

        Thanks! Both contractors said that the city doesn’t issue permits for this type of work–I am not a fan of unpermitted work. The general was referred to me by a friend who is pretty well connected in the home construction community–her ex-husband is a big house builder in the area and her ex-boyfriend is part of a family that owns the largest apartment complexes in the area. The same friend also referred me to my amazing housekeeper.

        • Good to hear you’ve found someone reputable & cheaper! I just get wary whenever I hear someone talk about the great deal they are getting from a general contractor or handyman – my husband has lost out on several jobs to the cheaper bidder, only to be called up later and be asked to fix something that the cheap person installed. I hope for the general public’s sake that this is an isolated slimy contracotr or two, but you never know. PSA for the day to the hive – you can always call your local building department yourself and ask if the work you are hiring someone to do requires a permit and inspection. You can also ask for a contracotrs license number and call the licensing board to make sure they are current or if their license is lapsed or suspended.

  17. Three things worked well for me when my husband and I were saving first for our house, and now for all of the *fun* projects that go along with a house:

    1. Setting up targeted savings accounts with ING and automatic transfers that happen right after payday.

    2. Keeping a list of everthing we buy every month, down to the penny. Basically every morning, I retype every transaction that shows up on our checking account and two credit cards into a spread sheet and keep a tally on how much we have spent so far and how much we have left that month. It takes about 5 minutes every morning, but keeps me honest about what I’m buying, how much it costs and whether it will leave us with enough for the rest of the month. I know I’m buying too many extra items when I go a few days without adding the new entries.

    3. Amazon Wish List. Before I buy anything non-essential I add it to the list and let it sit there for at least a few days. Way more often than not I end up changing my mind, finding something better, or forgetting about whatever it is I thought I wanted. This is especially true with cloths. If I had already bought it, I would be more likely to keep it even though it wasn’t perfect; getting some distance helps me consider it more critically, and I end up buying only the stuff I really love.

  18. Switching from Quicken to YNAB. It’s paid for itself a hundred times over. Additionally, changing my mindset and only buying things when I have saved enough to pay cash – clothes, cars, renovations, vacations – it feels wonderful to have “earned” a big purchase. (Did get a mortgage to buy a house though!)

    • Sugar Magnolia :


      • You Need A Budget. It’s a $60 download (though you can try it free for a month or so first). Agree that it’s been super helpful. I can’t convince my partner to actually follow the YNAB philosophy, but simply having a breakdown of where we spend our money has resulting in us cutting down on unecessary expenses without even trying. I try to update it once a week – takes less than 15 minutes once you’ve done it for a few months (and have all your categories set up) and it is super helpful for setting future financial goals (like savings or fun trips).

  19. Posting…to follow this thread for ideas.

  20. Yikes. I’m thinking some of my habits need an overhaul. As mamabear says, you usually have to choose 2 out of the 3: time, money or sanity. In the past few years, time and sanity have won, often.

    With pregnancy and postpartum weight gains and losses, I’ve spent a lot of money on clothes with not much to show for it. What’s helped is cutting down on online shopping by setting up a filter so all shopping emails automatically go into a folder. If I don’t see it in my inbox, I’m less likely to click on it and get sucked into a sale for stuff I don’t need.

    Is anyone else terrible at using coupons? I take the time to clip them, and then they get put away in an envelope that inevitably isn’t with me when I need it.

    • karenpadi :

      I agree: it usually is 2 of the 3: time, money, or sanity. My personal take: there are two types of problems: those that can be solved with time and those that can be solved with money (I guess I made sanity non-negotiable).

      I solve more problems with money than with time. I mostly regret it when I try to solve a problem with time but end up solving it with money because I screwed it up (e.g., taxes). I hardly regret the instances where I solved a problem using money when I could have invested a little time instead (e.g., having my mechanic change my car tires and battery when I could have gone to a cheaper battery or tire store).