5 Ways I Save

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.


  1. Love this post, thanks! Just wanted to mention that according to some opinions putting the crockpot/plata on a timer on Shabbat is problematic, just learned this last Thursday. So whoever is contemplating using the timer should probably consult with their rabbi…

    • The problematic issue with the crock pot/plata would be setting the timer to turn it on while food is inside (it would render the food unusable for Shabbat). Shutting it off with a timer would not be a problem halachikly and be no different the shutting off the light with the timer. I’m presuming from the context of saving money that the post is operating under, the suggestion is to set the timer to turn off the crockpot and plata at the time one would want to start lunch thereby saving money on paying to power it for the remainder of Shabbat. The discussion for the plata would remain on the issue of a timer set to turn the plata on in the morning when there is no food on it yet and subsequently putting food on it (food which is permitted to be returned to a blech of course…). That question is one to which you should ask your local Rabbi.

  2. I have only had a prepaid phone since we moved back from Israel. If its from tracfone make sure before you get more mins you search online for a code to get extra mins. And buy the codes online, I think its cheaper.

  3. We have a pre-paid phone for my dad for in case of emergency situations, I think its thru T-Mobil. He pays $100/year for a set amount of minutes (100? I can’t remember how many) and if we buy another $100 of minutes before a year is up (he watches the calendar very closely), the un-used minute roll over. So he’s got hundreds and hundreds of minutes and peace of mind. And it’s cheaper than adding him to our family plan of cell phone service.

    Looking forward to hearing which deal you go with, we may need to change if you find a better one =)

  4. About 2 years ago I got rid of my cell phone plan (the cheapest one I could find was $39 a month for 400 minutes a month, but with taxes it ended up being closer to $50 a month.) I’m a SAHM so I really didn’t need the minutes and we have a land line at home with flat rate long distance. For 3 months I went without a cell phone and didn’t mind at all. My husband was VERY bothered with it. I was pregnant with our second and had a 2 year old and my husband didn’t like me being on the road with no cell phone. So I bought a $29 t-mobile phone at WalMart. I also bought a single $100 minutes card. This got me 1000 minutes that expire in a year. But it also made it so that any other minutes that I bought in the future would be 10 cents a min. I use about $200-$300 in cell phone minutes a year now. Well, even at $300 a year ($25 a month) it is still a significant savings over a plan.

    This year I am trying to use only $100 worth of minutes a year ($8.33 a month). But I’ll be happy if I keep it to $200.

    • Thanks, Danna. That’s helpful. The one thing I worry about is that I’d end up talking just b/c I had the phone with me… which is the danger of going with this plan, at $.10 a minute!

  5. I do not do New Year’s Resolutions per say but I love getting my finances in order, so your post is challenging me to take on Points 1 and 2. After talking about it ad infinitum we did recently reduce our cable plan and realized a $35/month savings. That is nice incentive to take the next steps.

    So next I will dig the timers out of the garage for the Shabbat lights and look into the programmable thermostat. We too have reduced our temps in the house this winter to 66F while we are awake. I think we were able to do this since we just dropped a load of $ on new furnace that balances the temps evenly through out our house.

  6. We also have a prepaid phone. It saves sooo much money. We use Tracfone and spend under $10/month for each (DH and both have one). I never run out of minutes, and they roll over when you renew.

    I have met so many people in the frum world who have not saved a cent for retirement. It’s a little scary. Most of these people are stretched thin with tuition, weddings and supporting learning children. I hope there is someone able to support them in their old age.

    • Thanks, Rivka, for the Tracfone tip. I am putting them on my list of companies to check out. (Got to do our 4th quarter payroll first… so probably later this month.)

  7. So I took the plunge and signed up for Swag Bucks since we buy a ton of stuff from Amazon. I use Chrome as my browser so couldn’t download the toolbar but I did change my default search option. Mara- do you really like SB’s search and more importantly, find it useful? I’m playing around with it and I find it to be far inferior to Google. The first set of links that come up are from sponsors and have absolutely nothing to do with what I’m looking for but just a phrase or a segment of a word that I entered into the search. Even using quotation marks doesn’t help much. Do you just learn to get used to it? Is it really worth it?

    • I think that there is little doubt that SB is inferior to Google. But it’s often just a question of what you are looking for. If I know that I just want to plug something in and have it direct me to the right website, SB works just fine and you adjust pretty quickly. But for detailed research, you are better off with Google…

      That being said, I must admit that since I tried Bing a week weeks ago when prompted by the KOAB boss herself, I have found that to be an even more useful search engine than Google and it also allows you to amass rewards points.


    • Elanit – I definitely find it worth it. Also, there are ways to earn additional points – surveys, printing coupons, special codes, etc. You also earn points when people sign up under you as a referrer – obviously this has been huge for me since starting the blog (thank y’all!). But even before then, I was getting a $5 gift card on average every 4-6 weeks – doesn’t sound like much, maybe, but I wasn’t doing ANYTHING but what I’d normally be doing.

      As for the search, I guess I have gotten used to it, as it really doesn’t bother me. I find that I have to scroll down to about the 4th or 5th entry, as you said. And maybe 1 out of 50 searches, I find that I will run it again on Google. But I probably do at least 100 searches a day (no exaggeration) – so I think that’s pretty good. HTH. I’d give it a shot and see if you find it worth it.

  8. In response to Rivka H… As children of elders who have not saved a cent for retirement, I have vowed never to do this to my children. If it means a smaller wedding/B.Mitzvah, living below our means and not keeping up with the Goldsteins, it is are responsibility not to burden our children financially. It is a lot of work to ‘suck it up’ and constantly be looking at ways to save and leverage for retirement, but I figure I am paying myself first and the reward will pass to my grown children some day.

  9. Another vote for prepaid phones from me – $100 for a year and the phone was free. I can’t believe I waited so long to chuck my monthly plan! I only work part-time from home, though, so it may not work for everyone. My husband the heroic commuter still has a monthly plan. I use at&t because most people I talk to use it and there are some benefits for in-calling even on the prepaid (though I can’t remember what they are now).

    I am thoroughly impressed by your thermostat self-control. I am embarrassed to mention my current thermostat setting. On the other hand, we almost never turn on the a/c.

    I highly recommend Tiger Direct if you’re in the market for a new computer. Both of ours died suddenly within two months of one another and we got excellent laptops (not tiny netbooks) for under $500 a piece.

  10. We also got a prepaid phone. FYI, you can get an AT&T GoPhone for super-cheap (as low as $6) and you can choose the “minutes” plan for a flat 10 cents a minute with no per-day charge (they lowered this recently). $25 on the phone won’t expire for 3 months, and adding on more to your balance makes the remainder roll over.

  11. This is a great frugal post. We are currently having the perfect weather in South Florida…no need for heat and no need for the A/C…gotta love it!

    I would like to invite you to link up at the Fantastic Frugal Fridays. It is a great place to meet fellow frugal folks, and you can win free ad space too…

  12. I was wondering, in terms of using a timer on the crock-pot/plata, what are you doing with the food, especially in the crock-pot? Aren’t you worried about spoiling? One of the reasons I’m willing to leave meat that’s in my pot over shabbat out is because I know that the heat is preventing the food from spoiling.

    • Jackie – if I use the timer on my crockpot, it’s for something that I am serving for dinner on Friday night and then finishing/putting away the leftovers. So, I’ll set the timer to go off at say an hour after I think we’ll be done with dinner. If I’m making cholent, obviously I am leaving it on the whole time. Although, I guess I could set it to go off around 3 p.m. on Shabbat, once I was finished serving and had taken the crock out of the pot. Does that make sense?

  13. When our cell phone contract was up, we considered doing the pay as you go option but it did not seem like it would save us that much per month. We signed up on the family plan with our oldest son who was already on TMobile. My husband and I both have a nice phone, 400 mins each per month, unlimited on weekends and nights, unlimited texting for $35.00 per month. Our old cell phone bill was over $80 per month. You might consider signing up on the friends and family plan. I just deposit the money in his account each month and we save money.

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