Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Staying Warm---and Affording It!

Staying warm is costing more than ever this year! If you’re finding it difficult to part with hundreds of dollars each month, try some (or all!) of the tips below.

1. Turn down the thermostat. Obvious enough, right? We keep our thermostat set to 65 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night. While we aren’t shivering around the house, we also aren’t wearing shorts and a t-shirt. This is the temperature that we’ve adapted to.

2. Seal leaking windows and doors. A couple tubes of caulk go a long way in getting rid of window drafts. There are weather-stripping kits that you can purchase for doors and larger gaps around windows. The cost of these kits is minimal, compared to the amount you’ll save on your heating bill.

3. Bundle up. If you’ve reduced the temperature in your home and feel that it’s uncomfortably cold, add an extra layer of clothing. By layering a long-sleeved t-shirt under your clothes or adding a sweater over your existing clothes, you’ll stay toasty. Add extra socks or slippers and you won’t even notice that your home is five degrees cooler than you’re used to.

4. Keep your heating vents clear. Large pieces of furniture can block the flow of heat coming into a room. My children are also known for putting gloves and hats in front of our vents and leaving them there, blocking the heat to their bedroom.

5. Close off rooms you aren’t using. If you have a spare bedroom or office that you’re not using, by closing the door to that room, you’re keeping the heated air in the areas of the house that you are using, which causes your furnace to run less often.

6. Turn down the temperature on your water heater. We have lowered ours to 115 degrees without noticing a difference. Plus, this lower temperature will prevent small children from getting scalded.

7. Put plastic sheeting over windows. For years we lived in an older home with drafty windows. We purchased rolls of plastic and covered our windows, shrinking it with a hair dryer until it fit tightly against the panes.

8. Wash your clothes in cold water. I’ve been doing this for years with two little boys and my clothes get just as clean as they do in hot water. Also, air dry your laundry. I have a clothesline that I use constantly in the summer. In the winter, I hang clothes in my laundry room and use a foldable clothes drying rack (purchased at a yard sale for $2).

9. Keep your furnace filter clean. Dirty filters reduce the efficiency of your heating system. During winter months, change your filter every month.

10. Take shorter showers. As tempting as it is, standing under that hot water is adding charges onto your gas bill. Get in and get out and curl up with some hot cocoa instead.

11. Drink warm beverages such as coffee, tea, or hot cocoa. They warm you up as you enjoy them and also keep your hands warm!

12. Bake more than one dish at a time. While your casserole is baking, mix up some cookie dough to bake. By only heating your oven once, you’re saving money.

13. Also, after you’re done baking, leave the oven door open to take advantage of the extra heat.

14. Block drafty doors by placing a rolled up towel in front of them.

15. Insulate hot water pipes with foam insulation wraps. Wrapping your water heater with an insulated blanket will also help avoid heat loss.

16. Keep storm windows and doors, as well as an attached garage door, closed as much as possible to prevent heat from escaping.

17. Add insulation to your attic and also basement walls to keep heat inside your home.

18. Avoid going in and out of your house repeatedly. Allowing dogs and children to make frequent trips in and out lets cold air in and warm air out.

19. Make sure your thermostat is a programmable model. This allows you to pre-set the temperature in your home for different times of the day (warmer during the day, cooler at night and very cool while you’re away for a long period of time).

20. Take cover! While watching TV or reading a book, cover up with a blanket and stay toasty warm.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ten Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store

1. Make a list of things you need--and stick to it! Only write down things that you need to purchase, preferably those items which are on sale and that you have a coupon for. On your list, make a star next to the items you have coupons for so that you don't forget to use them. Which leads us to... 2. Use coupons. Once you're over your initial fear of handing someone a coupon (Will this person think I'm cheap, Will this person think I'm poor---what the heck! This person will think you're a smart shopper. And you should not care what anyone thinks.) you'll be searching for coupons everywhere. Save even more by shopping at stores that double your coupons, or combine a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon. See my previous post for more tips on the art of couponing. 3. Keep your shopping simple. Plan inexpensive meals, such as spaghetti, tuna noodle casserole, stir-fry, chili, soups, homemade pizza, tacos, etc. These meals don't require you to purchase fancy ingredients that typically cost more. 4. Set a time limit for shopping. It has been proven that the longer you're in a store, the more you spend. While I've never done an official study, personal experience tells me that I continue putting junk in the cart for as long as I am in a store. Get in, get what you need, and get out fast!
5. Try store brands. Not all store brands are the same as their name-brand competition, however, so this will take some experimentation. Many stores have a satisfaction guarantee on their store label products and will refund your money if you aren't happy with your purchase.

My family will happily eat Great Value canned vegetables, Frosted Fruit Spins and Spaghetti Hoops, but I insist on buying name brands of certain items. Laundry detergent and cleaning supplies in my house are always name-brand. I can usually get these items inexpensively using coupons and purchasing them on sale for slightly more than the store brands.

6. Eat before you shop. You'll be less tempted to make impulse buys when your tummy isn't growling and nothing sounds appetizing. You will also be better able to stick to your list!

7. Shop alone or be willing to speak up to your spouse or kids about sticking to the list. Even a toddler can understand this concept. When they were smaller, I always let my kids "borrow" a toy from the toy department while I shopped and then we put it back before we checked out. This kept them entertained and they didn't learn the bad habit of asking for things throughout the store.

8. Make your own "convenience foods." I'm not suggesting that you learn how to make cheese or churn your own butter. Buy orange juice concentrate and mix it with your very own tap water for half the price of prepared juice. Make your own cookie dough, roll it into balls and freeze it until you're ready to bake it. Buy cheese in bricks and slice or shred it yourself. Learn how to make pizza dough or bread in a bread maker. Make soup in a crock pot or on the stove top. These things are relatively easy and can save quite a bit.

9. Avoid the deli counter. I love deli salads and all of the overpriced meats that can be had at the deli counter, don't get me wrong. But, it's a rip-off. Make your own pasta salad (cooked spiral pasta, a bottle of Italian salad dressing, and your favorite veggies). Buy meat when it's on special---at my local grocery store (Meijer) all of the cut deli meat and cheeses are half-price after 8pm. Stock up and freeze it for future use.

10. Re-evaluate before checking out. Poke around your cart to see if there is at least one item you can live without. Maybe it is something you were undecided about or maybe it is that bag of chips you tossed in. Whatever you choose, by taking something out, you're saving money. Hand that item or items to the cashier and he or she will gladly put it back for you.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Marvelous World of Coupons

I love coupons. I am thrilled when I open my mail and discover a coupon for a free container of Coffeemate or $2 off a jug of Tide. Sunday mornings after church, it's so gratifying to sit down with a pile of coupons and the sale flier for Meijer and unveil all of the great deals I will get that week. I wasn't always a coupon expert, but after eleven years of dedicated coupon usage, I have mastered the art of saving money by using coupons.
I get most of my coupons from the Sunday paper that my father-in-law saves for me. The inserts contain coupons for just about everything from Spaghetti-Os to laundry detergent. Coupons can also be found inside dog food bags, on the backs of cereal boxes, and on the front of products in the store (they usually say "Save $.55 NOW"). When the cashier hands you your receipt, there are often coupons with it called Catalina coupons. Catalina coupons often are for "$2 off your next purchase," which are wonderful because you can use them to buy anything in the store.
I have recently begun collecting coupons from online sources. By signing up for free stuff and coupons, I have had tons of coupons mailed to me. I Google "free stuff," and am overwhelmed with offers. I also visit a web site called Meijer Mealbox that contains store coupons ( Store coupons are great because you can combine them with manufacturer's coupons for extra savings. Walgreen's sale ads and in-store coupon books are another place to find store coupons. I have gotten free bottles of shampoo, deodorant, and Glade air fresheners this way.
After clipping the coupons for things that I typically buy, I file them in an index card file. This file contained tabbed dividers, which I labeled with categories such as: Breakfast Food, Pantry Items, Frozen Foods, Beverages, Snacks, Laundry, Cleaning, Paper Products, Shampoo/Soap, Deodorant/Razors, Make-Up/Medicine, Pet Products, Meat/Dairy, and THIS WEEK.
I then take the store flyers for stores that I frequent and make a list of things that are on sale that I plan to buy. I like Meijer because they double manufacturer's coupons up to $.55 (making $.50 coupons really $1 off). Then, I match up the coupons to the items on my list, marking each with a star and how many I will buy. If a coupon reads "Save $1 on Two," then I want to be sure that I remember to buy two of that product. (I am careful when using coupons that read "Save $.55 on Three" because the savings are then only around $0.18) I then take the coupons that I plan to use and file them in my coupon box under the THIS WEEK tab.
Not only do I use coupons at the grocery store. I use them where ever I shop: auto repairs, hair cuts, restaurants, clothing stores, etc. I save my family thousands of dollars each year by combining coupons with sale prices and store coupons with manufacturer's coupons whenever possible.