The Tangential Thinker

Times are tough. Money is tight. Every time I look online I see list after list of cost-cutting tips, tips like quit the gym and cancel your cable service. Suze Orman tells people to give up Starbucks and abandon their cell phones. (That’s like telling me a good weight-loss tip will make my arm fall off.) So are there actually things that you can do to save money without impacting creature comforts? I have come up with my own list of the 10 most effective, and least painful, tips for successfully saving money.

Bundle. If you have not combined phone, cable and Internet, you are paying way too much for those services. Plus, you’ll get only one bill every month. Another cost-cutting tactic is to reduce the channels to which you subscribe, but every time I try to do that the nice guy at the cable company lets me in on some special deal they’re running where I can get 5,000 channels for almost the same price I’m currently paying. I end up forking over an additional $15 a month more for Brazilian MTV.

Bundle up. I don’t know about you, but my gas bill is obscene. I mean it. It’s profane. So I am putting my foot down and lowering my thermostat from 72° to 65°. I am also turning the heat off on days when it’s hovering in the 50s. I find that the house stays surprisingly warm. Little Cranky, Whiny and Punch like watching American Idol while snuggling under a big down comforter, as it is. The ‘experts’ would expand on this point by saying add insulation and air seal your house, but hey, that sounds like a lot of work.

Declare a moratorium on gift giving. For birthdays and Christmas, things have gotten out of control. My kids have had birthday parties where they don’t even open all the presents. I have literally hidden gifts in the coat closet to put under the Christmas tree later in the year! Call siblings and in-laws and declare the next holiday ‘gift-free’ or pick one name out of a hat and do it secret Santa-style. If you think this violates my rule of ‘least painful’ ways to cut costs, you are wrong. It is a blessing. There will be no clutter, and the best part for the kids? No thank-you notes. Also, the gifts they do get really mean something.

Credit Cards. Pay them. Also, request a lower interest rate or move your debt to a 0%APR card. And always use a cash back/rewards card. Or in the words of Steve Martin: Don’t buy things you can’t afford.

Insurance. Pay your insurance annually. Companies charge more for monthly installments (plus the transaction costs are higher and the paperwork is a pain). Increase your deductible and make sure submitting a claim isn’t hurting you in the long run by increasing your rate.

Health. This has to be my favorite cost-cutting measure: Wash your hands. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you should wash your hands every time you eat, cook, handle food, use the bathroom or, in my case, touch a human Petri dish like my kids. Avoiding colds and flu can save hundreds of dollars in medical bills, insurance premiums and over-the-counter medications, which, btw, should always be generic.

Be energy efficient. Replace incandescent bulbs with those weird curlicue bulbs. They are noticeably dimmer but they last for freaking ever and they use much less energy. Turn off everything when you are not using it. That includes lights, TVs and computers. And unplug chargers when not in use.

Car. Drive it a year longer. Buy tires from Sam’s Club. (Also, join Sam’s Club.) Keep your tires properly inflated and your air filter clean. The nice men at MacDonald’s Amoco (and almost any gas station) will be happy to check both of those for you. If you are idling for more than five minutes, like in carpool line, turn off the engine. It saves gas and is better for the environment.

Groceries. This one’s the “duh!” suggestion, but I swear it used to be once-in-a-blue-moon that I ever compared prices. Guess what? Those giant bright yellow stickers on certain items at Schnucks and Dierbergs mean something is on special. Buy those items. Make a list before you go shopping. Buy cleaning items in bulk. Don’t use paper towels; use cloth. One week a month live out of your pantry or freezer. You know that can of lentils that has been sitting in there since 1992? Use it.

Don’t drink and don’t go out. Hah, gotcha! I joke, of course. My last tip is: cut back on landscaping services, and if you have any sort of a green thumb, start a vegetable and herb garden. This has tended to backfire on me in years past (plant mint in a pot unless you want it to be your primary groundcover), but I may give it another shot. The rabbits seem to enjoy my efforts. 

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