Thursday, September 2, 2010

Little Changes...Big Savings

I love food. French fries especially. When they're a little over cooked and just a bit crispy, there's nothing better in this whole world. If you put them in front of me, regardless of whether or not I'm hungry, I'll eat them. It's bad. When I was really little, I'm told my Granddaddy went through the drive-thru at McD's 3x because I just kept devouring my fries. Obviously I've struggled with this addiction my whole life.

But that's not my point. My point is...fasting. Whoa! Where did that come from? Stay with me. I recently read/skimmed two books by Jeff Yeager, aka the Ultimate Cheapskate. Many principals in money books are the same - live below your means, be content with what you have, yada, yada - all very good money philosophies to adhere to. But I came away from The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door with two brand new things I didn't know before. And I'm going to just tell you what they are in case you don't want to read the whole books. (They're not for sensitive readers - he occasionally sprinkles his writing with PG-13 humor/language. Just wanted to give fair warning. Okay, moving on.)

1. The wonders of This website is a gem. You can go there and search for local restaurants in your hometown. And buy gift certificates. You can pay $4 for a $10 card or $10 for a $25 card. Who knew? Obviously not me. Here's the catch - when you use it you have to spend a minimum amount and can only use one gift cert per visit. For instance if you buy 2 $10 gift cards to Schooners in Roanoke for $4/each, to use the gift cert you have to spend a minimum of $20 for your meal and you can only use one of the $10 gift certificates. Follow? Don't try ordering on "separate checks" either - they're too smart for that. Also note - sometimes this website runs bizarre specials. This week I got 80% off my entire purchase. Basically it cost $4.40 for $55 worth of gift cards. That's not a typo.

2. Frugal Fasting. Jeff Yeager came up with this concept and it basically means that you don't spend ANY money for 1 week. Don't go to the grocery store - eat the frozen waffles in the freezer. Don't rent a movie, watch the telly, or better yet, play a board candlelight...except I probably shouldn't because I would get eaten alive by killer mosquitoes. Don't go shopping, don't whip through the drive-thru, don't succumb to the vending machine. Just for one week. When I was in school and had a really tough class I hated, my dad would say, "You can do anything for 3 months." As graduation got closer he would say, "You can do anything for one month." The final 2 weeks of school and exams it changed slightly to, "You can stand on your head for two weeks." I think the point was, anything is do-able if you know it's temporary. If you can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

I'm going to take this concept and break it down into baby steps. Like giving up that one thing that you KNOW will save you money for just one week. Here are some ideas:

a: Eating out for lunch. I know everyone preaches against this and it gets old. And I know Chick-fil-a is way better than PB&J, but remember, it's only for a week. I absolutely hate packing lunches, but I do it anyway. It helps to pre-package your own snacks. Example: Buy saltines and make your own peanut butter crackers - put 3 or 4 or 5 (or whatever) in a baggie and make enough bags for the week. Makes life a whole lot easier come Wednesday and Thursday when you're losing your will-power to stay the course. You can make baggies for the week for all your snacky-type foods - pretzels, cheese-it's, even fruit. Still think it's a pain in the bottom? Buy bread, sandwich meat, and whatever else and put it in the fridge at work. Make your lunches at lunchtime. That's easy, right? Especially for just one little week.

b: Eating out for dinner. Why are you harping on this?! What is so wrong with eating out?!! Aaahhh!!! Nothing, actually. It's not a sin or anything. It's just one of the easiest ways to save money. That's why every blog and money-help book beats this topic to death. "But I have to eat out, I can't cook." said in a whiny, annoying voice. Friend, let me help you. Night 1 - frozen pizza. Even the expensive frozen pizza is cheaper than eating out. Night 2 - hot dogs (grilled on the George Foreman), tater tots (made in the toaster oven - Napoleon Dynamite would be so proud), and green beans. Night 3 - spaghetti and sauce from a jar. Did you even know this would be this easy? Night 4 - BLT, chips and fruit. Night 5 - breakfast foods, aka frozen waffles or cereal or oatmeal... Night 6 - Please tell me you have leftovers from at least one of these nights. Night 7 - Now what kind of teacher would I be if I gave you all the answers? Surely you can think of one measly little low-maintenance meal. I know you have it in you. And there you go - one week without eating out. Just call me Rachel Ray or Gordon Ramsey or some other famous chef. And look how much you saved!!!

c. A daily habit. Maybe it's Starbucks - and if it is, there is no judgement here. I understand. Starbucks is happiness in the form of a tall, grande, and/or venti caffeine-filled treat. Maybe it's a daily Red Bull or a Coca-Cola Classic. Confession: That's mine. I have a Coke every day. Nothing wrong with that. But it's something I don't need, I could easily save money by not drinking it and may save on dental bills in the long run if I can give up the one-a-day habit. What's your one-a-day? Vending machine? $1 tea from Hardees? Dunkin Donuts? Have a substitute so you're not completely going cold turkey. For instance I'll try making tea at home, taking it to work, and drinking that instead. Not nearly as fabulous, but better than nothing.

d. Cigarettes/alcohol. My dad has said he wishes he smoked or drank so he could give it up and save all that money. That's all I'll say.

And if you fall off or on the bandwagon - whatever that phrase is - it's ok. This isn't school. You're not being graded. Try again next week. Example: I started Wednesday on my one week without Coke. But I had some Friday. What could I do? It was 94 degrees, I was walking the annual Hillsville Flea Market and it was thrust at me. And it was good :) But I'm starting over today, and have been good. So far. Or if you give it a shot and find it's too hard, give up (it's not worth being miserable over) and pick something else.

Giving up something for one week won't save that much money, so what's the point? The point is maybe you'll find that living without that one thing for one week wasn't that bad and maybe it can grow into 2 weeks. And maybe you'll be energized by the extra dollars not leaving your bank account and want to make it permanent. Or at least less frequent. Good luck :)

"Are you crying? There's no crying! There's no crying in baseball!" ~ A League of Their Own

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