I’ve said before that I’m not big into resolutions. I am, however, big into goal-setting. With a new (secular) year upon us, it’s time for DH and I to sit down and set some goals for our family’s finances.
The big sit-down is on the schedule for later this week, but I have no doubt that when we meet, a top priority is going to be putting aside more money for retirement. Ultimately, our aim is to save 15% of our income toward our golden years. We fell woefully short in 2010, hovering somewhere around 5%.
Too little income, too many expenses. We saved something – so that’s good. But I know we can do better.
Part of the doing better equation is obviously an income issue, which we plan to work on this year. But I also believe that there is fat to be trimmed. (My husband is probably having a coronary as he reads this, “Fat! Fat?? Where, Mara? Where is there fat? I don’t even have cable!”)
Call me frugal, call me cheap, but hey, I see fat. So in the spirit of trimmin’ it, I am kicking off a Ways I Save series here at KOAB. Today I have five places that I think we can fine-tune (that sounds better than fat-trim, right?) in 2011.
1. Use timers for our lights / plata / crockpot on Shabbat. I jumped online and ran a quick day-by-day comparison of our electrical usage. Guess what? We spend twice as much on Saturday as we do any other day of the week. The cost of one mechanical timer is less than the gap between the average Shabbat and the average Tuesday. Based on our current stats, I expect timer usage to save us a minimum of $15 – $20/month. In my book, $240 a year is “real money”, so I’m thrilled!
2. Set our programmable thermostat 3 degrees cooler in the winter. A programmable thermostat is a great money saver, because it automates what so many of us would forget to do on our own. We had our thermostat installed for free by the local electric company. I love it – and I especially love that I can control it remotely. If we go on vacation and forget to adjust the temp down (or up, in the summer), we just jump online and take care of it. How cool is that?
We had been setting our winter time temp to 69 during the day and 62 at night, but we recently lowered it to 66 during the day and 60 at night. I have been surprising comfortable at the lower temperatures — in fact, I might even bump it down to 65. I will track my savings and report back after the first quarter is over, but I’m optimistic that this will save us as much as $27/month. According to energysavers.gov, you can expect to save 1% for each degree that you lower your thermostat, if the setback period is at least eight hours long. Even if this ends up being a short winter, that’s more than $100 of savings!
3. Pay bills online. This is something we already are doing – and I plan to get the few remaining paper bills online within the next month. Wondering how it saves us money? Well, first of all, I don’t have to pay $.42 to send in the check. So take that times about, oh, 15, and I’ve got a tidy little coin purse of savings. Plus — and this is the real bonus — I never have to worry about late fees, since most of our online bill paying is automated. Our mortgage, utilities, and Internet are all set to debit automatically from our checking account. It’s a pleasure not to have to worry about getting dinged with “stupid tax.”
4. Downgrade one of our cell phones to a prepaid plan. About a month ago, I misplaced my phone (I am notoriously bad with phones – probably a good thing I didn’t get that iPhone!) I am sick about this, but I think it’s time to face facts that the phone is actually gone. Rather than replace it with the terms of our current contract, I’m thinking about downgrading our plan — so just my husband has the minutes — and getting myself a prepaid phone from Walmart. Not having the cell for the last month has been intensely freeing, but for emergencies, I know I need a mobile device. Thoughts? I have no idea how much this will save, but I plan to do the math and get back to you guys.
5. Earn Amazon gift cards with Swagbucks. I know, I know, I’m like a broken record. But Swagbucks has saved us so much money over the last year and a half! From birthday and Chanukah presents to diapers and wipes, our Amazon gift cards add up to real savings on our monthly expenses. I have to tell you, though, that I am a little tempted to save up my points and go for that $300 Apple gift card. There’s nothing wrong with my faithful MacBook right now, but earlier this year, I had a hard-drive disaster, which motivated me to start saving for the next Mac-top. I figure I’ve got a while to go, but a $300 gift card would sure make the purchase more palatable.
Stay tuned for five more ways I save…. coming soon. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about ways you trim your budgets — even and especially when it seems like there is nothing left to cut.