new job/money saving tips?

paigectJuly 24, 2006

As many of you "old-timers" know, I'm an attorney in private practice and I tend to work long hours. As a single mom that has definitely taken a toll these past several years. I started looking for a government job about 5 months ago, and finally got a position with the state. It will be a straight 40 hour week and only a ten minute commute from my house, versus 60-80 hours and 45 minute commute that I have now. I honestly don't remember what it's like to work only 40 hours! I'll feel like I'm getting away with something.

So this is a huge improvement, except for the pay cut. It's a very, very big paycut (about 35%), and I was just making it before. I have some hope of getting a significant raise in 6 months. If I don't I will probably have to sell the house and get an apartment for awhile until my income increases. I can hang on for six months at this rate, but no more than that.

Before now I have not really had time to focus on saving money because I was always so busy with my long work hours. So I'm asking for your best money-saving tips. I will be starting the coupon-cutting, going back to basic cable, and using cell phones for emergencies only. I am going to change the land line in the house over to Vonage or something similar. I have to keep high speed internet for my son's dyslexia computer program, so that's an expense I can't reduce.

I'm very worried about energy costs but I've already gotten a new oil burner and done everything I can do to winterize. I'm only using air conditioners in the bedrooms, and only there when necessary. I've become a fanatic about turning lights off when we leave the room.

What are your best money-saving techniques? Thanks for all suggestions!

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Good for you Paige to go for a saner schedule. I've always believed one of the secrets to happiness is a ten minute commute!

I quit my crazy-making job for something simpler a couple years ago and have found it easy to spend less because I have more time. I spend much less now.

One key is to get very clear about where all the money is going. You can keep a little notebook log or go with something like Quicken or MSMoney. If you really watch every dollar, you will see where there may be some more wiggle room.

A second key is to reframe your money thinking. I recommend highly the book 'Your Money or Your Life'. A very compelling method of translating cost from dollars to hours of your time. You want those shoes? Would you hand over 3 free hours of your life to salaried hours? Interesting process that makes you very conscious of spending choices.

As for specific money saving tips, check out the Tightwad Gazette info in the net, also the Household Finances Forum has some helpful threads. Coupons are OK only for basic cleaning, paper and health supplies you'd buy anyway. Most are useless; don't even bother with coupons for the latest processed junk food.

For other grocery savings:
-Join a food coop.
-Find and use a farmer's market. Learn to cook seasonal fresh produce.
-Read Sunday grocery ads and purchase meats and fish on special. Stock up on staples when the price is right.
-Learn to make a couple good bean based or egg based meals.
-Stop buying processed foods/snacks and soda. Stay on the perimeter of the grocery.
-Make your lunch (use up leftovers). Pass on coffees, soda and vending machines.

Household Savings:
-Change out lightbulbs for compact florescents wherever you can stomach the color.
-Switch out your thermostat to a programable one.
-Use cloths instead of paper towels/napkins, dishes/cups instead of paper plates/cups.
-Use the library and stop buying books, magazines, music.
-Take advantage of free concerts, sport events, lectures, etc. Do a lot of free stuff instead of movies, eating out, etc.
-Get to know Goodwill and consignment shops. Great stuff. Forget retail - don't even go there.
-Get and use a bike for short trips (watch Craig's list for one if you don't have one).
-Learn to do basic home/car maintenance: oil changes, painting, etc.

Good luck with this huge change. You will probably soon become aware that much of your spending was a kind of I-work-too-hard-and-long-and-can't-bother-with-comparison-shopping-and-besides-I-deserve-this frenzy consumption. When life slows down to a calmer, more pleasant pace, the resulting contentment is invaluable. You will want and need way less stuff.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 11:51AM
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Well for us, the biggest 'adjustable' expense is restaurant meals, followed by my taste for expensive grocery items. Eating out less, cooking more 'from scratch' eating more vegetables, and eating less expensive cuts of meat could probably trim $5-7K per year from our family's budget.

Cable, phone and internet are biggies -- But it MAY be more cost-effective for you to lose your land phone line than to trim your cell phone usage. For many, you can get high-minute plans with free long distance for very little more than basic plans. Or switch to internet phone plans from your cable company if you use a cable modem for your internet service.

Have you carefully analyzed your annual expenses to see where the money's going? We use a credit card for almost everything (paid in full each month) and the annual summary is always enlightening... You can generally download monthly and/or annual statements into Excel for analysis. The 10-minute commute will probably save a lot on gas and auto expenses. Dressing more casually (dry-cleaning) and bringing a sack lunch for you and DS may also make a big difference.

I'd also spend a bit of time looking into how your taxes will change. If you were considered self-employed, those self-employment taxes can be a big nut, with not much you can do to reduce them. Property taxes can also be big - especially where we are. So if you think your house may be over-assessed, that could be an area of savings. And increasing the deductables on your insurance policies can also make a big difference.

Good luck with your new job! And remember, it's only 40 hours per week if you actually leave work... The pay cut's a definite; the hours are up to you.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 12:06PM
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Great advice above. I can't add much but will reinforce the eating in vs out advice. Aside from eating out with friends occasionally, I bring my lunch to work every day. Leftovers are my first choice so I usually make sure to cook extra for dinner, then freeze leftovers in individual containers (label with date and name of dish). That way I don't get stuck eating the same leftovers three days in a row, I can pick from the previous meals.

We cut down eating dinner out to twice a month or so (from a previous 3 times a week on average) several years ago. Yes, I spend a lot more at the grocery store than I used to (and buy some convenience foods for those times when I just don't feel like cooking) but my overall food bill is so much lower than it used to be when restaurants were the main recipients instead of grocery stores.

Celticmoon mentioned the library and I'll just add that I now get all my movies from the library. I haven't been to blockbuster in over a year. I get on line, search the library catalog, select the movies I want, then put them on Hold. They transfer them to my local branch and email me when they're in (I can also check status of requests on line). I keep them for two weeks, can renew as long as someone else didn't put them on hold, and it's all FREE! Actually not free, I've already paid for it with my taxes so I'm getting something for my money that I've already paid.

Congrats on your new job! A 40 hour work week and 10 minute commute are worth their weight in gold so-to-speak. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 2:20PM
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IMHO, cold cereal is hugely expensive, esp. b/c it takes a lot to fill me up. Instead, I make the following which is plenty for my daughter and me:

In a soup-sized bowl with handle: Put a small handful of raisins or other smallish dried fruit of your choice. We use Trader Joe's Mixed Medley. Sprinkle with lots of cinnamon. Top with about 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats. We use Trader Joe's toasted oats because it has more body. Top with (Trader Joe's) canned spiced apples or other softish fruit. Slice 1/2 banana on top. Cover with milk to the top of the oatmeal. (I suppose you could use water, but I want to get in extra calcium.) Cook in the microwave. I use 40% power for seven minutes because I don't want the milk to boil over. The exact timing doesn't seem to be that critical. Stir, and put one helping into the second bowl. The banana melts, and its fructose replaces sugar. This tastes somewhat like an oatmeal cookie and really sticks to the ribs.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 2:56PM
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I guess this would count as "eating out," but don't forget about those specialty coffees many of us tend to pick up while we're out. It's amazing how much they can add up to! I try not to order iced coffee type drinks, especially, because they're the worst rip-off of all - mostly ice.

And be aware that in some cases the internet phone services can have annoyingly low quality. DH has one of them for a business line, and there's often an echo. I'm sure this depends on the company and location.

Also, assuming you pay off credit cards monthly, use those points that accumulate in various programs. With AMEX, you can redeem points for Home Depot gift cards that are always useful.

The peace-of-mind you have from a sane work schedule will pay you back in more ways than you can imagine. CONGRATS :)

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 3:22PM
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Good for you for choosing your life over the money!
As painful as this is going to be, you have to track every expense in order to learn where you money is going. Start using that debit card, if you can't keep up with reciepts for cash purchases.
Once you really see where the money is going, you can make some good savings decisions.
Does you new job require the same level of dress? Can you cut down on your drycleaning bill by wearing more washable clothing?
Do you pay for a service that you could (now that you have more time) do yourself and have the kids help (such as a housekeeper, lawn service?)
Are the kids participating in activities that are expensive and that they don't really love? What if some of those activities were replaced with family time, doing some of the free activities someone mentioned above?
Are you paying higher car insurance than you should be? Check around.
How about that house insurance - does a higher deductible make sense?
Take a look at your grocery bill. (Those Pepperidge Farm Snickerdoodles are to die for, but I'm more embarrassed by what I pay for them than the fact that have a million calories in each one.) Are you overbuying on perishables because you just won't have time to swing by the market again this week and then throwing out spoiled veggies, fruit, dairy? You will have more time now and while that extra trip to the market costs in gas, it may be a good tradeoff.
Is your car fuel efficient? Are your kids in carpools?
Do you take your lunch to work?
Ok, I've asked enough questions for one post! Although, I live pretty frugally, I'll admit, I could do better on some of the above.
Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 4:11PM
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Great tips everyone, thanks so much! I have glanced through and respond to everyone tonight.

I think the most difficult thing is going to be cutting back on activities and things for DS. He's not one of those totally overscheduled kids, so it's not about him taking a million lessons and/or sports. He pretty much only does archery and scouts. But his/our friends are always inviting him/us to exciting outings that I will now have to say "no" to, like day trips to NYC or Boston and such, or even going to see all the new and exciting movies. I know he can live without these things (and/or save for them himself) but it will be an adjustment, which can seem unsettling for kids. He's not spoiled by any means, as he already does lots of chores for which he gets no allowance. But I always paid for reasonable entertainment expenses and that will come to a halt for awhile. I guess he'll have to start earning money around the neighborhood washing cars or whatever.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 4:28PM
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Earning money around the neighborhood is way less difficult than you'd neighbor boys put out a little flyer advertising sweeping driveways (they're 8 and 6) and lo and behold, they've got regular gigs! Their mom even asked my DD to join in, because they didn't want to do it, they just wanted to send the flyer around LOL -- but they've got to live with the results of their actions, and their mom figured my DD would keep them on task :)

So seriously, older folks *love* to have younger folks help around. I know I'd love to give the money to an "enterprising young man" over a service. And who knows where it will lead, whom he'll meet, etc.

Cutting back on activities is difficult *if* you focus only on what you can't do. If you can go about finding things you *can* do instead, you'll find your time is completely full and maybe he can tell friends about it and take them to the things *he's* going to! We went to the coast on Saturday and attended a great free talk on fossils that entranced my daughter and all the kids in attendance, for two long hours--a *great* educator, IMO. I found out about it from the paper. The same presenter also gives expensive admission talks sometimes, but this one was sponsored by the state and was free. I consider it money saved :), and great education/exposure, and our friends are really interested to find out when he'll be speaking again. I found out from a friend that Apple computers has been doing free one-day media classes this summer. FREE. They do it every summer. Classes on podcasting, moviemaking, music, etc. I would bet where you are there are loads of great free opportunities; look in the paper with an eagle eye. They aren't promoted as obviously as the profit-making events, which makes it extra rewarding when you discover them :) Maybe your son will become the new source of cool unknown things to do.

We just decided not to buy mochas out of the house and we figure it will save enough to pay for a medically necessary gym membership for me. That's how much we were subsidizing the Starbucks shareholders.

I also drink a lot of protein drinks instead of breakfast, honestly, and sometimes (like today, when it's hot), instead of a dinner. I use protein and milk and ovaltine, or sometimes just make a smoothie with yogurt, fresh fruit, and protein powder (if you are interested, I'll tell you the names of the protein powders my daughter doesn't snub :)). Serving for serving, it's not expensive and it's *wonderful* nutrition.

There are also products now that can do a passable job of drycleaning at can have things *really* drycleaned much less often. I feel odd mentioning all these ideas like the above because I don't know what you're doing already in this regard.

And re stocking up when foods are on sale: OH yeah. I buy organic ground beef *only* when it's on sale, then put it in the freezer. Same with frozen organic fruit/vegs. Bread freezes/defrosts very well too, so when the good bagged bread (not the fresh baked paper bags, the plastic bags, but there are some that are organic) is on sale, stock up and freeze it. Saves a significant amount of money. If you don't have a real freezer (non defrosting), you can probably get one for pretty inexpensive or possibly free off craigslist or freecycle. You could even post a wanted post and see what happens...

and btw, this is probably a great thread for lots of people; I know I've learned from it already :)

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 9:10PM
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You all are great. Thanks so much. In reviewing all of your tips, I realized that we already live fairly frugally, with a couple of exceptions.

celtic, you gave some excellent tips. I already do some of those things, like not using disposables and having a programmable thermostat. I forgot about compact flourescents and will definitely start installing them. The local farmer's market is supposed to be great. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at the library thing but I will have to start making it a weekly habit.

Sweeby, food is one of my money "issues." First there is DS, who is incredibly picky since having stomach problems as a young child and eats way too much expensive snack food. Plus I also tend to have weird cravings that coincide with stomach fussiness, so I buy what sounds good to me at the time rather than what is on sale. And I'm a bit of an ingredient snob. I have major adjustments to make in this area. I have already cut way back on eating out and now we will pretty much never be able to do it. And you are so right - - it's only 40 hours if I leave after 40 hours. I tend to overwork.

lowspark, the lunch thing is another big expense for me. I really need to start cooking more full meals (even if I'm the only one who will eat them) and freezing leftovers. And that library/movie tip is great! I will definitely be checking that out.

kitchenobsessed, that breakfast recipe sounds yummy. DS would never go for it but I sure would.

goldgirl, I've already pretty much given up take-up coffee - - you're right, huge expense! I make sure I get up a little earlier to make some. And while Vonage does have issues, it's so much cheaper and I would have my cell as an emergency back-up.

gardenspice, my dry-cleaning bill isn't too bad since I use dryel as Flyleft was referring to. My clothing budget may actually increase because I was able to get away with pretty casual stuff in my office when I wasn't in court, but now I'll be in court more so I will need a couple of additional suits. I will check the local thrift stores or try to find a real bargain at TJ Maxx. At least it no longer has to be an expensive suit!

The only services I pay for are from neighborhood kids - - dog walking at $3/day for the middle of the day and lawn mowing at $10/pop. Both are excellent bargains, but I think I will let me dog tough it out until we get home and try to get our lawmower fixed. DS is old enough to mow now.

The car is as fuel efficient as it's going to get, because I can't afford a new one by any stretch. I have a Maxima with no car payment. Insurance is high-deductible with no collision. Homeowners is where it needs to be.

Fly, I'm lucky because our neighborhood is tailor-made for working kids. My ds knows everyone on our street/block and there are some older folk who could use help with one thing or another. Once he learns to mow he can take on a couple of lawns. I will make him responsible for the maintenance of the lawn mower. Then there's raking in the fall and snow shoveling in winter. Plenty to do all year long, if he gets motivated.

And my biggest expenditure, of course, is stuff for my house and garden. No more buying thirty test samples (or more) of paint. Time to get real! As for my garden, I honestly don't know what I'll do. Certain things you just need, like mulch and annuals (well sort of need) and such. Sigh. Maybe I'll pick up a few neighborhood jobs!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 11:01PM
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You don't need annuals! There's such a growing awareness that perennials, including grasses, are just as beautiful, but maybe in a less overtly showy way...

I've been planting only perennials, e.g. grasses, or self-seeding annuals (like four o'clocks) for a few years now and I have more plants than I can use! I also have so many starts from woody perennials like lonicera fragrantissima, lilacs, clerodendrum...along with what was here before, like daylilies, peonies, and sedum that's trying to take over the entire lot...I trade lots of plants with folks on a local split-off list from freecycle.

I also have gotten mulch and river rock for free from craigslist. Folks will be relandscaping and don't want to take out the old stuff themselves; I've gotten plenty of fairly new mulch (like if someone did a home to sell it and the new owners are relandscaping), just so you know. I don't buy much fertilizer anymore, either; just use our composted kitchen waste (including coffee grounds and eggshells) and horse manure I take for free from craigslist. I'm having real trouble with the idea of buying things for the garden anymore. This is the nursery state, and I love to support local businesses, but first things first, and our domestic economy is even more local than the local economy :)

Wish I could send you some plants, but look on craigslist and freecycle, definitely. You can even post "wanted" for plants on those places and people like me with overgrown woody and herbaceous perennials/shrubs will be *glad* to help you out!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 12:17AM
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Well as you know this is the scenario we have been facing for the past 10 months. Like you predict, 6 months was our comfort zone. We hoped for a raise at 6 months and it didn't happen. He's now looking for another job.

I'd suggest getting the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy. She also has a sequel called Frugal Families. Both books are excellent and gives tips on saving money in all aspects of life.

We've cut so much and we're at the point that the only way out is to make more money. So I started my pet sitting business (starting slow, but I made $700 last month - that's $700 we didn't have before), and he is looking for a better-paying job. I'm also an avid seller on ebay. I mostly sell the kids outgrown clothes and toys and during an active month (30-40 auctions), I can make $300-$400.

BTW, I too don't buy annuals. They're high maintenance and then they die. Go for the hardy stuff that will last for years, and buy baby baby plants. (Cheap) They will grow. I also found that the less flowers I have, the less bees my yard attracts. That's a good thing in my book.

Here is a link that might be useful: Miserly Moms website

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 4:45AM
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BTW - I have a friend that swears by The Grocery Game. It's a website you join and they actually use one of the concepts from Miserly Moms. Jonni McCoy teaches in her book how to match up Sunday coupons with store coupons or sales to get items for next to nothing or even free. Say you have a coupon for 50 cents off a bottle of ketchup. The store will double that, giving you a dollar off. Well, that week in Ralphs that same brand of ketchup is on sale for $1.19, regularly $1.99. So if you use the coupon that particular week, you've paid only 19 cents for the ketchup.

The Grocery Game keeps track of each store's coupons and sales for you, and matches them up with the coupons you have. It will tell you which store to go to which week, and what to buy to get maximum savings. For instance it will give you a specialized list for Ralphs sale items that match your coupons. (such as that ketchup)

Here is a link that might be useful: The Grocery Game

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 4:51AM
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Any possibility child support can be adjusted?
Or not a fight worth picking?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 11:34AM
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