10 Ways to Save Money Today

Off to Canada for a little swimming, cycling, and running this weekend. One loyal Pressing Pauser asked if I was going to tweet or blog the event. No plans to blog until returning next week. Tweeting is a good idea. Better start following me on twitter to see if I survive the day. Then again, the social media adverse can just wait to see if any new posts begin appearing here next week.

Now, back to regular programming. Miscellaneous ways we’ve recently reduced our overhead.

1A-1E are biggies because auto insurance is a recurring payment. 1A. Cancelled comprehensive and collision insurance on our 2006 car with 86,000 miles on it. 1B. Took an online driver safety course. 1C. Faxed daughter’s driver training completion certificate to insurance agent. 1D. Faxed academic transcripts for good grade discounts. 1E. Informed auto insurance agency that I’ve gone half time at work and therefore will be commuting only half as much.

2. Charge daughters for portion of cell phone service, Netflix streaming, and car use. Shrewd readers may protest this is less about “savings” and more about “redistribution”.

3. We’ve been eating out less. Maybe once a week at nice, moderately priced restaurants.

4A. Betrothed had to form a small business back in the day when she started teaching Spanish to elementaries in a before-school program. Biz license cost something like 25-30 dollars. Then we got a Costco business American Express card. Meaning a 4% discount on gas. 4B. Use the simple, free, and excellent “GasBuddy” app to find the cheapest gas around. Here’s the web-based version. We have two Costcos within ten miles and I was perplexed at why their prices varied by 14 cents recently until a friend informed me that they are committed to being the cheapest within a five mile radius.

5. Buy movie tickets in advance at Costco. Ocho dollares per. And NEVER buy popcorn, candy, or coke at the theatre. Scratch that. Never say never. Bought some very lightly buttered organic popcorn at the hippie theatre awhile back. Thought my wallet and ticker could handle that. Even went crazy and splurged on a coke for my date. Yes, of course that turned her on (even more than normal).

6. Except for Sunset magazine (promotion price was $10 or 12/year), we’ve let most of our subscriptions expire. Tend to read on-line periodicals and papers.

7. My running shoes cost $130, but I hunt for previous models (all that’s different is the color) on-line and can usually find them for 50% off. I recently bought six pairs for $65/per. No taxes and free shipping. I’m covered for a few years even in the case of economic apocalypse.

8. GalPal has a garden with beans, lettuce, and we have lots of wild strawbs around the yard. Haven’t taken the time to calculate the cost of seeds, soil, etc. Labor is free because she enjoys it.

9. I use a few coupons at the grocery store. Takes almond milk from sup expensive to just plain expensive. Used a Fred Meyer coup. yesterday. Two half gallons of Dreyers ice cream for $5. I had planned to wait til after Iron-person Canada to dive into those babies, but you know what they say about the best plans.

10. Decided not to buy the new Lebron James shoes even though I could probably slam dunk in them, catch the eye of an NBA general manager, and make a little more than I do teaching.

$315. At that price, I should be able to do a 360 degree dunk in them.

Winning Personal Finance 2

I’ve been successful for several reasons: 1) most importantly, my parents’ work ethic, saving habits, and frugality have been deeply imprinted in me; 2) second most important, I chose to marry someone who wants to live a similar lifestyle as me; 3) I’ve educated myself reading and studying lots of material; 4) I found Vanguard early on which has saved me a lot in investing costs; 5) I’ve come to enjoy managing money so I set aside a few hours every week to continue learning and make decisions; and 6) I almost always avoid impulse purchases.

What might one and two mean for you? When it comes to family history and partner, I’m a personal finance +/+. The gal pal and I have probably had as many financial arguments as the next couple, but they’ve ebbed in number and intensity over time, and ultimately, our personal financial values are very similar. What if you’re a personal finance -/+ or the dreaded -/-? While it’s impossible to completely undo a “losing personal finance” family history, financial counselors can help minimize the damage and your time and resources are probably best spent working with them on minimizing the effects of negative role modeling before turning to asset allocation, minimizing taxes, and the like. Similarly, if your partner and you aren’t in sync, financial/couples counseling is probably more important than technical financial advising. Proactively, the more premarital counseling focused on each person’s financial history, values, and goals, the better.

What about reasons three, four, and five? How much time do you set aside each week to educate yourself about saving, investing, minimizing taxes, and related personal finance topics, not counting paying bills and balancing your check book? Put differently, how much time do you spend thinking about the forest that is you or your family’s financial well-being? My guess is, on a weekly basis, the average person spends very little time thinking about where they’ve been, where they are, and how to reduce expenses. Quiz. What was your net worth, assets minus debits, on 12/31/09? Will you recalculate it at the end of this month and then every quarter? If my assumption is right, is it any surprise that so many people are unsatisfied with their personal financial situation?

Reason six leads to tip five or experiment one, don’t buy anything that hasn’t been on your “To Buy” list for at least a week. Personal example. Three plus years ago I bought eight pairs of $120 running shoes for $60 a piece. Running shoe companies “update” their shoes regularly, every year or so. As far as I can tell, “updating” shoes means “we changed the colors”. If you’re savvy, you can pick up the “old” model at half price. When the big box of eight shoes arrived, it blew the daughters away. “Dad, you saved $480!” “Tru dat.” Fast forward, I’m halfway (250 miles) through pair eight so I’ve started to shop for a similar deal. No luck until last week. I found my Mizuno Wave Creations, model 10, for $65. Model 11, $135. Only two sizes were available, one was mine. Darn if the website would only let me buy two pairs, so I called them. They said they’d investigate and get back to me. Long story short, they found a third pair and all three are in transit. Normal cost for three pairs at $135 and 8.5% taxes, $439.42. After thanking the salesperson I said, “I saw something on-line about a Costco or Triple A discount.” “Yes, what’s your Triple A number?” Cost went from $201.50 ($6.00 shipping) to $181.50. Let’s see you do that on your fancy pants iPhone with the barcode application.

Now my $9,000 loss is a mere $8,742.08.

Winning Personal Finance 1

Everyone is hocking financial advice so how does one decide whose to follow? For example, why on earth should anyone pay any attention to the personal financial advice I offer below? What makes one advisor more credible than another, credentials, their popularity, their marketing savvy, something else? Credentials are nice in that they create a floor with respect to technical knowledge, but they don’t tell you much about the person’s ethics, integrity, or track record. Ultimately all credentials tell you is they succeeded in passing exams.

If I was looking for a financial advisor I’d look for someone that managed their own money well and emphasized saving, investing simply, and had other values that jived with my own. But how do you know if someone manages their own money well when we’re loathe to talk about our personal finances?

Tip one. Ask anyone wanting to manage your money to prove that they’ve managed theirs well. That will probably reduce the pool from which to choose in at least half. Take me for example, I have managed my family’s money well, but for privacy reasons, I won’t provide details except to say that for every ten financial decisions I make, I tend to make seven or eight good ones. Were I in the biz, I would completely understand if that lack of specificity caused potential clients to walk away.

Tip two. Ask any potential financial advisor about some of the mistakes he or she has made and what they learned from them. Last year I made a $9,000 mistake. I repeat, last year I made a $9,000 mistake. It was a brutal, self-inflicted wound that took time to shake. My goal is not to be perfect, but to consistently make more good decisions than bad. Look for a humble advisor who acknowledges complexity and doesn’t over promise. That will probably reduce the pool of potential advisors by at least another half.

Tip three. Even if you find a financial advisor that meets all of those criteria, don’t decide to work with him/her without first looking at yourself in a mirror and repeating several times, “No one will ever care about my financial well-being as much as me.”

Tip four. Never accept any financial advice passively. Instead educate yourself and recognize that no one will ever care about your personal financial well-being as much as you. More specifically, become your own financial advisor. That’s the best financial advice I’ll ever offer. Become your own financial advisor.

Well, the best advice until Part Two.