Spring Cleaning Bibliophiles

March 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

My husband and I have a little bit of a book problem. We both love reading and we both love buying books. It’s a good problem to have but it can also be an expensive one, especially when you’re paying movers.

Yesterday as the first of our Spring Cleaning Savings initiatives, we went through our books and pulled out the ones we don’t really care for or need and took them to the Boulder Bookstore. They have a great used book program where they re-sell books for 50% of the cover price. If they buy your books they either give you 30% of that in cash or 40% in store credit. They’ll take care of donating what they don’t buy for you. We took in 2 of our 6 bags of books yesterday and they bought 17 of them for $65 in store credit. That is a lot more than you’d get in a yard sale or on eBay with a lot less hassle. My next step will be unwanted furniture on Craigslist.

I’ve always enjoyed a little retail therapy but this week has been a good lesson in making the most of what you have. It feels good to assess what you have and do a little spring cleaning. I still have $8 of the $55 left from my spare change food experiment. I did fail one night when my friends were in town. They’re thinking of moving here so we wanted to show them around a bit. I plan to make up for it a couple days this week. I still have lots of food to get through in the pantry.

All in all, it looks like this week will add up to about $5000 in savings this year. Not a bad week.

savings through taxes?

March 11, 2011 § 2 Comments

It’s fairly easy to call up AT&T & the cable company to figure out how to save money. Taxes, on the other hand, are a complicated endeavor to try to figure out on your own. Unfortunately, for most of us they are our biggest expense.

In the past, when my income was much more straightforward and simple I’ve used TurboTax, typically getting a decent return. Last year I started using a tax accountant and the savings were significant. I think it’s vital to have someone who understands the system to help you figure out how to save. Last year I learned that many of my technology purchases and entertainment purchases were business write-offs because I work in advertising. Cha ching!

This is the first year I’ve been a freelancer, so I’m learning the ins & outs of small business savings.  I want to save every penny I can because I never know when the work will be coming in. I found a number of great small business tips online and will use these when preparing my info for our accountant:

1) organization – getting receipts together for business expenses from lunches to equipment
2) self employment tax break – this year there is a payroll tax break that trims 2 percentage points off of the employee portion of the tax.
3) maximize home-office deductions – I can write off a portion of our rent, utilities, insurance, etc by working from home
4) deduct health insurance costs (doesn’t count for me as I’m on husband’s insurance)
5) travel & mileage – last year I was traveling to and from the Denver airport each week, will be interesting to see how much that cost
6) IRA – something I need to look into this year.
7) hire family – hmmm. not sure about that one.

I won’t know how much I’ve saved until I submit all of my tax info and expenses, but I hope in staying on top of what’s going on a little bit, I’ll be in a better position to save money. If anyone knows of any good resources to check out, please send them along!

lower monthly bills: ask and you shall receive

March 9, 2011 § 4 Comments

“Drop it like it’s hot” was what my AT&T rep, Steven, said he was going to do to my monthly wireless bill. You have to love both the enthusiasm and the lower monthly bill I’ll be enjoying.

I’m the kind of person who will sign up for something, usually taking advantage of a special of some sort and then not really pay attention from that point on, dutifully paying my bills each month. This week I decided to look into my main monthly bills and see how I could cut costs. A few hours later it looks like I’ll be saving us around $2700 a year! The only thing we’re giving up is HBO. Hopefully by Boardwalk Empire time they’ll have worked out something with iTunes.

Given companies expend so much energy trying to get you to spend your money, it’s hard to imagine you can just call them up and someone will willingly, happily help you cut your monthly expenses with them. That’s exactly what happened with AT&T, Comcast and Xcel energy.

paying for what you use: With AT&T both mine and my husband’s usage has been quite a bit lower since moving to CO so we were paying for a lot of minutes, messages and data we don’t use. I even found out I had forgotten to turn off my intl data plan from last Fall when I was still traveling (oops!). Steven once again came to my rescue and refunded 3 months of it. $900/year savings. I also looked into my husband’s contract and figured out how to save another $480/year.

taking advantage of new specials/programs: When I called Comcast I found out I could keep everything I had (other than HBO) and qualified for their Double Play offer. Chassidy also offered to discount my HDR box by $15/month, for a savings of $900/year. It’s worth checking in with service providers from time to time to see if there are new specials to take advantage of. I did have to agree to a 12 month contract but it cut my bill in half. Done.

unexpected benefits: Thank you environmental activists of Boulder. When I called my energy company, Xcel, they told me about their SmartGridCity program, which Boulder is the first city to test. It’s all centered around greater understanding of when and how we use energy and rewards customers for energy usage during off-peak hours. It equips customers with lots of data around when and how they’re using energy so they can better understand how to use it more efficiently. It looks like I’ll be able to cut our energy bill in half by signing up and it won’t really affect our lifestyle all that much.

Next up will be the insurance companies! They might be a little tougher but we’ll see.

cleaning house

March 8, 2011 § 5 Comments

My Mom will tell you that cleaning was never my strong suit as a kid.  When I was working full time I was more than happy to pay someone else to take care of our place. I didn’t want to spend my precious free time cleaning.  Now that I work from home I find that I am much more willing to clean a bit here and there vs waiting for the cleaner to come. It’s actually kind of foreignly enjoyable to me. I crunched the numbers and we can save about $2,000/year by cleaning ourselves. That trumps my spare change exercise from yesterday.

I also took stock of the cleaning supplies we use throughout the year. Isn’t there some saying about the best marketers being the most susceptible to marketing or something like that? I have totally fallen for the marketing ploy to get people to buy a separate cleaning product for just about every surface of your house. I’m also embarrassed to say that I never really switched over from the more traditional products which are both expensive and fairly toxic.

I found a number of helpful tips on cleaning alternatives that have the benefit of being much better for you and for the environment at a fraction of the cost. Just using vinegar alone as an all purpose cleaner I can eliminate 5 different products I typically buy, plus I can use it as a fabric softener which saves me another $25/year. Normally I would be put off by the smell but apparently it goes away as it dries and deodorizes. Lemon juice acts as a natural bleaching agent & when mixed with olive oil is a natural alternative to cleaning wood surfaces. Many of these natural alternatives were what people used back in the day before we went and complicated things. My budget, my body & the environment will be happy with these changes.

If anyone has any other good “old school” cleaning methods or savings tips they want to share, pass them along.

spare change and leftovers

March 7, 2011 § 8 Comments

I’ve always been a lot better at spending money than saving money. I’m not necessarily irresponsible with money; I just like to enjoy myself. Given I’m not working as much as I typically do (ahem, not making the same dough) and next week I have a very special week in store, I’ve decided to assess where I can cut back this week. I’m hoping people will have lots of tips to send me of their own that could be of help.

I’ve never felt like saving money was all that fun, so I decided to start the week off with a game for myself. I rounded up all of the spare change in the house which came to $55.27. I’m also doing an inventory of the food we have in the fridge & pantry (i.e. bulk Costco remnants). This week I will have to feed us on $55.27 and the food around the house. That may not seem like such a big deal, but my husband and I usually spend quite a bit more between eating out a couple nights a week, takeout and groceries (some of which we never end up using). Oh, and we’re having house guests on Thurs night and I’ll be feeding them dinner too. I will post the recipes as I go. The only cheat will be that my husband will be on his own for lunch.

As I was reading about savings, it was interesting to learn that piggy banks are becoming “extinct” because children are now investing early by opening jr accounts.

For a little fun trivia, piggy banks go back centuries. Pictured is an Indonesian piggy bank from the 15th century. Money boxes supposedly date back to the 2nd century B.C. In Middle English “pygg” referred to clay used to make common household objects including money jars. “pygg jars” evolved to “pig banks” in the 18th century. There’s also the theory that in Germany and other cultures pigs were symbols of good luck or good fortune, hence the piggy bank.

If anyone has savings tips, pass them along!

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