Not too long ago, I was discussing TV shows with an acquaintance. At some point in the conversation, she mentioned her cable bill seemed kind of “high.”
“What, like a hundred bucks a month?” I inquired.
She thought for a moment and then dug around her desk. She handed over the current month’s bill and my jaw quite literally dropped when I saw it. Two hundred and five dollars.
“But what exactly are you paying for? Do you even watch all these channels?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “Mostly just whatever’s on ABC or Fox and stuff. But, I mean, it’s cable. How do you watch TV without cable?”
A couple of decades ago, that was a good question. Modern technology has raced ahead, however, and there are plenty of options for watching TV shows that don’t involve shelling out money to a cable company! Certainly, if you are okay with paying $200 or more a month for TV, I suppose you can keep on trucking, but for those of us who are looking to save on TV, there are options.
The most common option is using on-demand streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. These companies contract with the license holders of TV shows, past and current, and upload them to their websites. You pay $7-10 a month for access to those websites, and you can watch whatever they have uploaded, at your leisure, an unlimited amount of times. They may not have every single show you’d like to watch, and many currently airing shows only upload the past 5-10 episodes, so you might not be able to binge watch an entire series. However, paying $120 per year is far cheaper than paying that same amount—or more!—per month.
Before all broadcasting went digital, many people used “bunny ear” antennas to get basic cable channels on their TV for free. Those old bunny ears won’t work anymore, but the good news is that digital antennas are absolutely a thing. You can pick one up for about $40, plug it into your TV, and bam, you have all your local stations and the big broadcast stations like ABC, CBS, PBS, etc. $40 can be a bit much for some people as an upfront cost, but then again, you have no recurring monthly costs after that, and you can watch most current shows as they air.
How else do you save money on cable?
Debit and Credit cards are kind of amazing. You dump of bunch of tomatoes or whatever on a conveyor belt, a cashier shoves them in a bag for you, and you swipe your little piece of plastic through a machine, and bam. Your tomatoes are paid for, even though neither of you ever saw actual money used in the transaction.
The problem with this is that when you don’t see the money, it’s hard to realize you are spending it. Years ago when people used checks to pay for everything, you weren’t exchanging physical money, but you still had to write out a number on a check, pass it to the cashier, and then write down what you spent in your checkbook. Physically writing “$40.00” on a check and then “-$40.00” in your checkbook kind of made the loss of that $40 tangible. But with debit and credit cards, you glance at the number that is your total on a small screen for a moment, swipe the card, and that’s that. It can be hard to feel attached to that $40 when you don’t really get to visualize it. Many people end up spending more than they intend because of this.
Enter the envelope system of budgeting. It’s a type of budgeting recommended for people who need to feel attached to that money in order to rein in their spending. Say that after paying bills, rent, etc, you have $500 for the rest of that month. Figure out what you need that money for—say, $300 for groceries, $100 for new clothing or shoes, $100 for eating out/other incidentals. Withdraw $500 in sweet, sweet cash from an ATM. Bust out a few business-sized envelopes. Label each one “Groceries,” “Clothes,” etc, and put the amount you’ve budgeted into each one. Do not tell anyone you have $500 in cash lying around your home, but bring the appropriate envelope along when you go shopping. Perhaps you’ve mentally budgeted $80 for shoes. But at the store you see a pair marked down from $200 to only $120, and that’s more than you wanted to spend, but it’s such a good deal! With a debit card, it’s easy to mentally discount the extra $40 you didn’t budget and just buy them anyway, but with the envelope system, you have $100 in cash and that’s all. You cannot spend $120 on shoes! The envelope system doesn’t work for everyone, but it is a good option for many, many people who need to visualize what they spend.
Ok, look, I live in the coffee capital of the United States. I like me some coffee. There are a million different places to get coffee here and unfortunately the very best one which is my very favorite in the whole wide world is only a couple of blocks from our apartment, and also comes with a slightly more premium price than your run-of-the-mill Starbucks. Drip coffee is pretty cheap at any coffee shop, but let’s face it, you’re probably not going out just for drip coffee—you want your espresso! If you buy a $4 coffee once a weekday, that’s $20 a week. If your coffee is more expensive or you buy more than one a day, you’re looking at over a $100 a month in coffee money! How can we cut back on this without becoming caffeine deprived?
The obvious answer is to make coffee at home, and yeah, I know, that sounds boring. It is thrifty though! You don’t need to spend $200 on a fancy machine, a basic one will do. And it doesn’t have to be boring! Many grocery stores now sell containers of flavored syrups that you can use to whip up your own drink at home. You can now have that pumpkin mint mocha with strawberry whipped cream that has been your dream drink for years, even though everyone else thinks it sounds horrid. Even a can of storebought whipped cream to top off your drink costs less than one cup of coffee shop coffee, and it will top a dozen or more drinks!
You don’t need to completely deprive yourself of fancy coffee, either—even if you go out for coffee twice a week, you’re only spending $8 per week instead of $20. Also, grab your travel mug on your way out the door—many coffee shops will knock off ten cents or more if you bring your reusable mug along. Be sure to sign up for any rewards or punch cards as well. If you are buying coffee there somewhat regularly, you might as well have each purchase count towards a free coffee! Coffee is amazing, and you certainly can remain caffeinated in the mornings while saving money at the same time!
Couponing isn’t just about saving money. As you’ve probably seen on TV and online there are definitely somw crazy couponers out there. Don’t be one of them! Some unethical couponers have gone as far to make the 6 o’clock news. It’s important for those of us that follow the rules to teach the “newbies” so that we can all be couponing for years to come. What is ethical couponing?
An ethical couponer will…
1. Never copy a coupon. Photocopying a coupon is fraud. This especially goes for coupons that you print from the internet. It would be pretty easy to use them over and over in a store, but it’s wrong.
2. Follow the directions of the coupon. If it said buy 4 and you buy 2 and get away with it, that’s wrong. Even though the coupon may scan, don’t buy the smaller/cheaper size.
3. Throw away or donate your expired coupons. Did you know you can send your coupons to the Overseas Coupon Program and they will send them overseas? Yep! Our military can use coupons for much longer than we can.
4. Use coupon “peelies” immediately. You see those stickers on items in the store that say save now. They really do want you to do it NOW. Don’t save them for later.
5. Don’t clear shelves. Personally I think it’s a poor coupon practice to go and buy 50 things of shampoo. Even if you can, you are keeping other people from sharing in the loot.
What do you do to stay ethical? Have you seen some unethical couponing? Tell us about it.
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Yesterday I went to the post office VERY unprepared and ended up spending the operating budget of a small country on shipping. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but I really spent more than I should have/could have.
Here are some things I should have done had I been prepared and not in such a rush.
1. Get your packages ready to go today! The longer your wait, the more likely you will be to pay extra to get your presents where they are going before Christmas.
2. Prepare them at home with your own boxes. I literally just left my house last minute, went to the post office with unwrapped presents and spent a fortune on the cutesy packaging they had there. It was entirely unnecessary. Use boxes from home, wrap your boxes in brown paper and leave the cutesy packages for someone else.
3. Use the USPS over UPS and FEDEX. I compared one year and the savings were huge when I used the post office over the other shipping companies. It’s nothing personal against the other companies, but if you want to save money, the USPS is the way to go!
4. Take advantage of flat rate boxes. You can stuff as much as you can into these boxes and save compared to what it would have cost to ship them individually.
5. Use bubble wrap, not newspaper. Your postage is calculated by weight and newspaper weighs more than bubblewrap.
6. Ship by the 20th. This the the last day recommended by most postal service companies if you want your packages to their destination by Christmas and not pay extra.
7. Think about shopping online. I have a lot of family that lives far away. So instead of shopping at my local stores and then paying extra for shipping, I buy from places like Amazon, get free shipping and save money.
Have you sent your packages out yet?
It’s true that Christmas is the largest spending season of the year. Most of us are out and about a few times a week buying presents. And I bet most of you have your children in tow. It’s the perfect time for your children to begin learning to budget for when their time comes to start buying presents.
Here are two things my children will observe from my Christmas shopping that will make them better shoppers.
1. Always go with a list. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grocery list for Christmas dinner or lists of what I am buying for whom. You will save money by making a list and sticking to it. Impulse buying is a horrible habit and by not doing it, you teach your children self control.
2. Always use cash. Even if you are a person that pays their credit cards off every month, your children may not see you write that check, but they did see you swipe the card. Kids have a way of thinking that credit cards are free money. If you are going to use them, make sure you explain exactly what they are and how they work. Most of us use debit cards nowadays, so make sure you explain to your kids that this comes right out of your bank account where the cash comes from.
There are other ways for you to teach them about saving money at Christmas.
1. Give them a budget to buy presents with. If it’s $20, give it to them, help them make a list and turn them loose to buy whatever they want within their budget. If they want something out of their budget or that will keep them from buying for another person on their list, use it as a teaching moment and show them what they should do instead.
2. Teach them how to give as free as possible. From the beginning of their lives, teach them that gifts don’t have to be expensive, big or fancy. Show them you can make things at home and even cook treats to give to people. Not only does it teach them to be thrifty, it teaches them to get involved and think about what they are giving even more.
3. Teach them giving. A good life-long habit is giving and will teach your children to be thankful for what they have. When you give them money or they earn money for Christmas, ask them to take a portion of that to give away or to buy a present for someone less fortunate.
What are some ways you teach your children to save money at Christmas?