Thursday, September 25

Frugal expense-check

That's it.

I'm sick of personal finance blogs that give helpful hints about expenses to cut, like expensive coffee drinks or takeout lunches. I can't take it anymore.

It's not that I have anything against the various bloggers. They are simply talking to their main audience.

But I'm not in that audience.

So this list won't include "lattes" or other frivolous items that most frugal folks have already nixed. (In my case, coffee has never cluttered up my budget. But don't let too many people know. I might be tossed out of Seattle!)

Nope, these will be things that apply to even low-income folks or people already on a tight frugal budget.


Okay, we all know about how we should take more public transit to cut down on costs. If you can do this, great. Be sure to check if there's any kind of discount you can get. Student, elderly, disabled, or just check the cost benefit of a monthly pass.

But most of us probably can't make buses tenable. You have kids to take to activities, or you need to pick up groceries on the way home. Whatever the reason, you need your car.

So what can you do?

Fill up whenever the price dips down.

1. This may seem trifling, but if you buy as much as you can hold while the price is lower, you can avoid paying for as much gas when the price is high.

2. If you're really committed, you can get a gas can, to store extra at lower prices

Find cheaper gas

1. Okay, this sounds like a no-brainer but have you thought of all the ways to find it?

2. Try to fill up only where there are several stations. The more there are, the more competitors, the lower the gas price.

3. Sam's Club or Costco have cheaper gas. In a year, you can easily make up the $50 membership fee.

4. ARCO stations have cheaper gas prices -- but you have to pay in cash or deal with a 50 cent card fee.

Have you checked into the possibility of carpooling at your office?

1. Put up a note at work. It's a long shot, but you never know.

2. If you need a car to pick up your kids, ask around at the daycare or after-school program.

  • Maybe you can switch every-other-day with another parent.
  • Then you can take the bus some of the time.


Do you need cable?

1. There are a few dedicated individuals happy to live without TV. I am not one of them. Most of you probably aren't either.

2. Others are fine with simply the basic channels. With two people home all day, every day, Tim and I opt for satellite.

3. But Tim and I still have the second-lowest package available. It's under $50 a month, including local channels and 2 DVRs.

4. When one of us is pulling in more money, I've promised him we can get the next package up ($12/month) which offers G4.

Have you price-shopped?

1. Call up the competition. Get prices. Write them down.

2. Call up your current provider and haggle. Be sure to reference other prices.

  • While your subscription prices do help, all providers rely on advertisers. Advertisers are more eager when more subscribers exist. So your provider has an interest in keeping you.
  • When my $19.99/month cable modem reverted to the regular rate, I called Comcast and said I needed to cancel. The operator gave me 6 more months at $29.99.

Can you pare it down?

1. Some relatives of mine have been going through hard times. They cut their top-of-the-line package to a lower one -- but it still includes premium movie channels and lots of them.

2. If you're paying for premium channels, even if TV is your main form of entertainment, ask if you're getting your value.

3. If your library's movie catalog is too limited, consider one of the lower-cost plans from Netflix or Blockbuster. A premium channel is at least $12.99 and Netflix starts at $9.99


Are you getting your money's worth for subscription?

1. They sound great but do the math.
  • We have 3-at-a-time, unlimited in-store exchange
  • I checked our history, some months, we watched fewer than 4 movies total.
  • Most months, we traded in 5-10 movies.
  • Now that fall TV is on, we're switching to the 3-at-a-time, 5 exchanges ($15 less)

2. Hidden costs

  • If you're more than a week late returning in-store rentals, your card gets charged
  • If you carry a balance on your cards, that probably means double-cycle billing
  • So that $40, even after it gets taken off, will affect finance charges for 2 months
  • Then there's the $1.50 restocking fee. How many do you pay a month?

In-theater movies

1. I've discussed before how to get cheap or free movies

2. Are you using all the rewards programs to their fullest? All these offer movie theater tickets and/or concessions:

  • MyPoints
  • Coke Rewards
  • Theater's own loyalty programs (I love AMC's)

3. Are you using every possible discount (student, senior, military, etc)?

4. Are you going to matinees whenever possible?


There are no-charge internet services

1. This is dial-up, of course.

2. Do a search.

Check into prices

1. Don't forget DSL often has equipment charges

2. It can also can involve charges for MSN

3. Be sure to figure these into the price.

4. Clearwire has a price-for-life guarantee

Do a search for "Comcast $19.99 6 months".

1. Sign up and then call to cancel, get the $29.99 offer for an extra 6 months

2. After that's up, use your spouse's or partner's (or relative's) name. Repeat $29.99 deal.

3. By the time you're done with that, you'll qualify for the $19.99 offer again.


I assume meal-planning based on sales goes without saying

As does stocking up when items are on sale

The simple fact is: The fewer trips to the grocery store, the less impulse buying you'll do

Always be sure to have plenty of storage containers

1. If not, food goes to waste.

2. Shop garage sales. I got five tupperware cylinders & lids free.

3. If you're afraid of forgetting about food, try a leftovers calendar

How much junk food are you buying?

1. The more candy, the bigger the bill. (I should follow my own advice on this one)

2. Aren't these generally impulse purchases?

3. Try to avoid special trips. You rarely leave with just one bag of candy.

4. Did you know most cravings are temporary? If you can stay busy for 30 minutes, most will go away.

How much soda are you buying?

1. I guess this technically falls under "junk food" but it's a huge expense at our house.

2. Tim goes through more than a 2 liter a day of Mt Dew. Yep, 2 liters.

3. We shop generic and sales as much as possible & load up at Wal-Mart when we're visiting his parents.

4. I really don't get this. I've never liked soda much. I just drink water. Why don't more people?

5. The route I take with Tim when his intake starts creeping up, one glass of water for each equivalent of soda.

6. If you don't like the water in your area, stop buying bottled water and get a filter. Much cheaper and more eco-friendly

Are you using preemptive solutions?

1. If you know you'll order pizza when there's nothing to eat, be sure the cupboards are stocked.

2. If you know you'll get takeout when you're too tired to cook, keep simple foods around, like soups, Easy Mac or the makings for a PBJ.

3. If sometimes you just crave pizza, keep some frozen ones around so you can't justify ordering from a store.

Spices don't have to be expensive

1. Dollar stores often have inexpensive (and perfectly good) spices

2. Drug stores (Walgreens and Rite-Aid, here) have $1 spices.

3. If it's a specialty spice, check places like Whole Foods or Top Food, where you can get it from bulk containers. This can often be cheaper than "Spice Islands" etc.

UPDATE: Apparently there's a whole article about this.

Finally (and strangely) aluminum foil has gotten quite pricey lately.

1. Like Tupperware, be sure to have plenty of foil and clear wrap

2. Stock up on sales.

3. Weird but true: You can find foil cheap (25-50 cents) at estate sales.


Beyond movies, a lot of times going out costs money.

1. Museums have entrance fees

2. Clubs have cover charges

3. Concerts cost money

4. Drinks with friends get pricey

I've mentioned some ways around social expenses you can't afford.

Always be aware of frugal programs

1. Most museums have a monthly free day

2. Try to meet up with friends during happy hour (there's often a late-night one, as well)

3. Make sure you know of any potential discounts for students/seniors/etc

4. Read through your local Entertainment Book and see if there are any 2-for-1 coupons for museums, entertainment, discounts, etc

5. Find out if local plays have a pay-what-you-can night (they almost all do)

6. If you know someone in a play/concert/club performance, ask if they have any discount passes left.

7. Check out student versions of theater and music. Most are quite good and very cheap.

8. Check out free performances, ala Shakespeare in the Park

9. Try to organize a group for an outing for a better rate

Cheap thrills

Games night

1. Great time

2. Time with friends for free

3. Chips, salsa and soda are about all you need to provide

Girls' night in

1. No shouting over music in a club

2. No cover charges

3. Cheaper drinks

4. Cheaper than going for mani/pedi

General expenses

Always complain if warranted

1. Don't scream or use expletives

2. Use a polite, controlled tone or volume (if you're writing or talking)

3. Point out the numerous people you can influence: coworkers, friends, family

Always flatter if warranted

1. Write an enthusiastic letter to the company, raving about a product you're happy with

2. You'll often get coupons or even small samples.

Want to try a new product? Check your fave freebie blogger for updates on available samples

Want magazines but don't want to pay?

1. Do a trial offer ("no risk") and try to cancel in the first 30 days.

2. Most companies will offer you the rest of the year for $1. (Again, they need numbers.)

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Blogger LAVA said...

I pick up pennies I love the name of your blog.

Those are some great tips for the REAL world...since I am one of those who NOT do the latte thing.

These tips are easy to apply in the real world for those of us who are trying to save money.

One thing I noticed was that you did not mention using coupons. Even spending $2 on a Sunday paper gives you more than $2 in coupons. They are generally for the more expensive items, but every so often you get coupons for the cheaper stuff as well.

September 26, 2008 at 5:05 AM

Blogger Nancy said...

You cover very valid points - We subscribe to Net Flix - it's the easiest for us - and we are able to watch movies all the time which works for us - what people need to understand is that you take these suggestions and then you manipulate them to work for you - just like transportation - my husband and I carpool - he drops me off and then he drives to the barn (we have 8 horses) to feed in the AM and then to work since it is on his way. When I get off work, I use the company shuttle that takes me to our metro-link depot and I catch the train - (employee subsidizes the fee) and I take the train to the depot closest to our barn. A friend picks me up and we head to the barn to take care of the horses and then we drive home. If I have to make any stops there is a Walgreens, CVS, and a Target very close - I have to plan the Walmart trip and it is usually on the Weekend. We have saved over 300.00 in Gas doing this per month! We take our lunches - When I fix dinner at night - before I serve up our plates I fix our lunches for the next day. Cable - who needs it with CSI on through the week and net flix? We have never had cable or satellite. I'll be picking up the converter for HD this week. Another area that can be cut down on is shopping for clothing - try the second hand shops and the consignments - you will be surprised at what you can find. Thanks for the post - I'm going to re-read and see if there is anything that we can incorporate that we haven't already.

September 26, 2008 at 5:31 AM

Blogger Abby said...


You're right. I left out coupons!

Especially valid since, at least here in Seattle, you can often get temporary (say 6 months) offers for the paper just paying for Sunday -- but getting the whole week. So if the coupons make it worthwhile, very important!

Personally, I love the physical paper because I'm a crossword/sudoku addict and it's just not as much fun online.

September 26, 2008 at 11:50 AM

Blogger Abby said...


Sounds like you've found plenty of ways to adapt the hints. Good for you!

I love the way you've found to save gas. Complex but hey as long as it works for you!

Personally, Tim and I need cable. Well "need" is a strong word. But it's one of the items we've decided is worth the expense. A lot of our favorite shows are on it -- esp mid-season replacements ala Closer, Burn Notice, Monk, Psych, etc. But if you're more patient, you can always rent those through... Netflix!

But I do pine for the days of TiVo (it was about $10/month cheaper to switch to Dish, even before taking into account the $12/month TiVo fee). I'm waiting for the day they make all DVRs intuitive. I loved how TiVo found stuff for me. I saw all sorts of History and Discovery channel shows I'd otherwise have missed. One of the best parts of cable, actually. Sigh.

And now it would actually work since we'd have two DVRs. (Our TiVo went a little schizophrenic when Tim moved in... It was trying to reconcile a love of Biography, Discovery, History and Law & Order with wrestling shows... Suddenly, it tried to tape every sports program. No amount of "thumbs down" would retrain it. RIP, TiVo... RIP)

September 26, 2008 at 11:58 AM

Blogger Shevy said...

You said Tim drinks 2 litres or more of Mountain Dew every day.

For years I drank 2 litres of Coca Cola per day, usually with a large chocolate bar. I finally stopped more than 10 years ago and tried to start drinking bottled water but, no matter how hard I try, I can't drink more than a couple of cups per day.

I gave up other forms of caffeine at the same time, switching to decaf coffee and tea as well. It was tough, I had migraines and no energy at all for a while, but I've managed not to go back. The key has been not *ever* having Coke. (Man, it sounds like drugs, doesn't it? I swear it's just as addictive, just socially acceptable.)

The thing is, it's very common for people with ADD/ADHD to use caffeine to self-medicate and I'll bet that's what he's doing. (Caffeine often seems to help people with these issues to focus better.)

If he doesn't drink the pop, what's he like?

September 26, 2008 at 6:00 PM

Blogger Abby said...


I kind of thought it might be tied to ADD, so thanks for the confirmation. We're actually ordering some books about ADD and coping and such. Should be interesting.

As for pop, I promised very early on in our relationship that I wouldn't force him to give up his Mt Dew. That said, it would make me feel better if he drank a little less.

But on the frugal front, he really doesn't drink much water. His taste run to other (even pricier) drinks: Gatorade (it took me forever to convince him you don't need Gatorade unless you've been puking or exercising in severe heat) and fruit juices etc. He loves limeade, which we can get for a buck as concentrate. He never bothers to make it -- but for the $2-3 savings of concentrate versus pre-bottled stuff, I'll mix it up for him happily.

Still, overall, most of the things he likes to drink aren't terribly healthy. So my only concern is when his intake starts getting close to one and a half bottles a day. That's 3 liters of Mt Dew. Yeesh. Can't be good for him. Though at least we don't have to worry about cavities...

September 26, 2008 at 6:06 PM

Blogger David said...

Storing gas is dangerous and hardly worth the trouble.
Concentrate on major expenses. Like insurance - so shop around.

September 27, 2008 at 5:05 PM

Blogger Rachel said...

I agree with Shevy that it is an addiction -- DH and I had a terrible time giving up soda, and even though we're not keeping it in the house, it's like a relapse every time we have one out, like when we went camping last weekend.

I'm still trying to figure out why our DISH bill is more pricey -- is it different in different areas? We have the 100 channels, the lowest they advertise (I know they have at least one lower), which is $32.99 plus one DVR plus locals and taxes and it's $64.01 per month! Ah well.

September 27, 2008 at 6:23 PM

Blogger Abby said...


Maybe DISH is different in different areas. We have the 150 channel package, plus locals ($5) plus two DVRs ($5) and two months' worth of cable, after taxes, is $93.85.

Maybe I got in on an especially good deal. But I would call them if I were you. Especially if you're not on a contract anymore.


I think it would depend where you storing the gas -- certainly you shouldn't store it in your house.

But yes, you should definitely call around on insurance. Most people pay too much. If your car is older, you shouldn't have comprehensive insurance. You want to make sure your personal injury amount is high enough, though, since hospitaliation and/or doctors' bills gets pricey fast. There's a good article on it by Liz Pulliam Weston.

September 27, 2008 at 7:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now these are ideas worth hearing about. Some of them I knew about and some of them are new to me so thanks. On the topic of spices, the dollar stores have the common ones for even less. I've gotten chili powder and red pepper for 50 cents for a pretty good sized bottle.

September 28, 2008 at 2:14 PM

Blogger Pop said...

My mother always saved plastic bags (which you mention). She washed them and hung them out to dry. Drove us kids crazy because surely the neighbors could see! She also saved aluminum foil. Washed it, folded it and used it over and over. Always bought things on sale. Had a storage building full of items purchased on sale. My parents' frugal ways for years and years have paid off. It's the little things like you mention here that pay off in the long run.

September 29, 2008 at 12:58 PM

Blogger Single Mom, Single Money said...

I LOVE your tips!! Who can afford Starbucks - I sure can't. I work at a school and I TOTALLY pick up change off the schoolyard.

October 4, 2008 at 5:19 PM


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