365 Ways to Live Cheap

For Hotel Rooms, Call the Local Branch and Negotiate (346/365)

Several years ago, Sarah and I visited the Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa with another couple. We decided to stay in a hotel there for two nights so we could stay up late with friends we hadn’t seen in a long while. Our friends had chosen a hotel online and booked a room, so we …

Explore Your Local Area (345/365)

Several years ago, I picked up one of those tourism guides for Iowa, similar to the ones that many states put out to attract travelers to their state. I live in central Iowa, of course, so everything mentioned in that guide was within three hours of my house. About four days and a lot of …

Pack Food and Beverages (344/365)

Whenever I leave my house and expect that the travel to my destination is going to take more than an hour or so, I pack snacks and beverages. It’s just part of my routine. Usually, I fill up a water bottle and add a bit of lemon juice to it, and I’ll look in the …

Stay Away from Tourist Traps (343/365)

In 2004, I had the professional opportunity to travel to Mexico multiple times in a short span. On those trips, I had a few chances to visit some of the sights of rural Mexico. One of the stops that really sticks in my mind is the opportunity to climb up a small Aztec pyramid at …

Consider All Forms of Transportation, Including Train and Bus (342/365)

A few months ago, I took a trip to Indianapolis. The first leg of the trip – a flight from Des Moines to Chicago – was uneventful, but it was the second leg that got interesting. I was scheduled to fly from Chicago to Indianapolis, but my flight was cancelled, as was the subsequent flight. …

Consider Camping (341/365)

When Sarah and I visited the Pacific Northwest for our first anniversary, we didn’t stay in a hotel for most of the vacation. We camped, using borrowed camping equipment, first on Mount Rainier and then in Olympia National Forest. When we went on our first vacation after having our first child, we didn’t stay in …

Be Flexible When You Plan Vacations (340/365)

During the last few years of my previous job, whenever Sarah and I began to plan a vacation, I would request time off in a block that was significantly larger than the length of the vacation we were planning. Sometimes, I’d wind up with several days off before the vacation. Other times, I’d wind up …

Do Your Own Travel Planning (339/365)

When Sarah and I were talking about our honeymoon in 2003, we were a little intimidated by setting up our travel plans. It was the first major trip either one of us had taken where we would be responsible for all of the planning, and it seemed like a ton of confusing work. So, we …

Plan Far in Advance (338/365)

After a few weeks of discussing bill paying strategies in this series, we’re going to shift gears and look at vacations during much of the month of December. Vacations? The kind of things that most people take in the summer? Why would we talk about them in December? Frankly, right now is about the latest …

Schedule Regular Bills To Be Paid Automatically (337/365)

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the big advantages of online bill pay is that you can schedule payments on many of your bills in advance so that you don’t have to worry about paying them on time. Online bill pay just fires them off for you at the correct time. Of course, that really …

Learn How to Use Online Bill Pay (336/365)

Online banking and online bill pay is one of the greatest technological innovations for personal finance in the last few decades. Online bill pay makes it much easier than before to pay one’s bills and, in many cases, makes the whole process automatic. Before online bill pay came along, paying bills meant addressing and stamping …

If You Know You’re Going to Be Late on a Bill, Call Them (335/365)

It seems so simple, yet it works so well. Sometimes a bill just falls through the cracks. We forget about paying it. We’re on a trip and don’t check our mail in time. A big unexpected insurance bill hits at the same time and we choose to pay the insurance bill first. A bill slides …

Pay Your Bills on a Weekly Cycle, Not a Monthly One (334/365)

When Sarah and I first graduated from college and entered the “real world,” we paid our bills on a monthly cycle. I would just collect all of our bills in a basket and pay them on the first of the month. It wasn’t long before I noticed that I was getting late fees on several …

Always Ask for Fees To Be Waived (333/365)

Companies love to tack fees onto your bill, no matter what service they’re providing. Why wouldn’t they? Fees are pretty much pure profit for them, and for most customers, fees are glanced at and forgotten. A couple monthly fees per customer times a million customers and you’re talking about a pretty nice chunk of change. …

Know What Every Fee Is on Every Bill (332/365)

This one’s simple: whenever you receive a bill in the mail that contains even one item that you can’t immediately explain, you’re probably losing money. There are two big reasons for this. One, the item on the bill might be misapplied to you. For example, you might have a surcharge on your bill that applies …

If You Have Large, Irregular Bills, Save for Them Automatically (331/365)

We have a small handful of large irregular bills that hit us throughout the year. Property taxes. Income taxes (they’re lots of fun for the self-employed). Homeowners insurance. Automotive insurance. Life insurance. Car registration. These aren’t monthly bills, but they still come in the mail pretty much like clockwork, and the amount of each bill …

Ask About Termination Fees (330/365)

Quite often, when people are locked into long-term contracts with their internet provider or cable/satellite provider or cell phone service provider, they consider themselves to be permanently “stuck” and unable to even consider switching until their contract runs out. I know that several of my relatives just shrugged their shoulders recently and dealt with a …

Leverage Competing Deals (329/365)

One of the best parts of living in a modern capitalist country is that, in many industries, lots of companies are competing for your business. They all want you as a customer and they’re quite willing to cut their profit margins down to little slivers in order to win you over, because a sliver of …

Ask for Introductory Deals, Even If You’re a Regular Customer (328/365)

Companies will sometimes offer astounding deals in an effort to acquire a new customer, because they know that once you’re a customer, the contract will keep you for a while and then inertia will often keep you for longer. Because of that, shopping around for a new provider for your cell phone service (or your …