Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.
Take coupons, for instance. There are as many ways to deal with coupons as there are people who clip them. I’ve tried many different methods over the years before finally settling on patterns that work well for me.
Be CentsAble by Chrissy Pate and Kristin McKee fits right in line with this idea. It’s a nice little collection of frugality and money saving tips. Some of the ideas are ones I’m familiar with. Others are rather new to me. Still others are new angles on old ideas. They’re all written in a friendly tone that makes the book enjoyable to read.
Everything You Didn’t Know About Coupons
Couponing is one of those things that tends to reward you for the time you put into it. If you spend a lot of time checking coupons and store flyers, you can save a lot of money – but is that money worth the time? It’s because of that dichotomy that I often look for “bang for the buck” coupon strategies, and this book certainly offers a good one. What they suggest is taking complete flyers from your Sunday newspaper and filing them in a binder with clear plastic sheets – the whole flyer in a single page, with the date written on it on a piece of masking tape. Then, when you’ve got your grocery list made, go to a couponing site and look up the items you’ve got on your list – they suggest Hot Coupon World – and see which flyers have coupons for those items. That way, you can just jump right to the correct flyer for the coupon you need. This is a very good method, in my opinion.
Store Types, Store Incentive Programs, and How to Use Both Effectively
The idea in this chapter is that you should be “filtering” the stores you shop at based not only on price, but on other factors such as a customer rewards program, coupon “doubling,” strong flyer sales, and other factors. I live in an area where coupon “doubling” is nonexistent, so I mostly base my shopping on flyers and regular prices on the shelves.
The Art of Stockpiling
It’s not efficient to stockpile everything you buy. It is efficient and cost-effective to buy in bulk and stockpile things that you use frequently, such as oft-used household items and the components of meals that your family eats often. For example, for my family, we’ll often stockpile elbow macaroni, spaghetti, cans of diced tomatoes, and so on. If we see a bulk sale on it, we’ll buy a lot.
Planning, Planning, Planning, and Planning to Plan
Another effective technique for cutting your shopping budget is to plan ahead via shopping lists. Never enter a store without a shopping list, and invest some time in constructing a sensible one utilizing sales and store flyers to get what you need. My process largely matches the one in the book, as it involves checking store flyers for sales, making a grocery list that matches the on-sale items, then checking for coupons on the items on my list.
Shopping Tips and Tricks
The section on shopping closes with a mixed bag of specific tactics for shopping, including knowing the ins and outs of a store’s rain check policy and, perhaps even more important, being conscious of impulse buying. Many areas of a grocery store (or any store, for that matter) are set up to encourage impulse buying – the checkout lanes, the junk food areas, the end caps, and so on. Avoid them if you can and be conscious of the tactics when you can’t.
Trimming the Excess from Your Food Budget
Food is expensive, but there are many ways to reduce the cost of it. Look for substitutes for expensive meals and ingredients. Eat out less. Make your own prepackaged meals instead of just buying them at the store. Simply learn to cook well at home, starting with simple things.
Cleaning Up Your Budget
Here, the focus is on cleaning products and how many of the most common ones people use can be easily replaced with homemade solutions. Most of these homemade solutions tend to revolve around baking soda or vinegar. Why? They work. We use baking soda and vinegar for a lot of household cleaning tasks around here.
The focus in this chapter is on a number of household projects – replacing light bulbs with CFLs (or LEDs, because those are going to be a much better solution in the very near future if they’re not already), installing a programmable thermostat, air sealing your home – that will directly reduce your utility bills. Most of these projects are “one-offs,” which means that you do them once and your utility bill drops. They also recommend saving your utility bills starting now so that you can chart the progress and see how much you’re saving.
Budget Breakdowns and How to Avoid Them
Many families find it very difficult to stick to budgets, often because those budgets are based on unrealistic expectations. Pate and McKee suggest breaking down the budget into small bits and focusing on the problematic parts. Where is your money leaking? Don’t worry about the whole ship. Instead, focus on the biggest leaks and make sure that those areas are well under control. Once you fix those, the whole boat becomes more sturdy.
Discovering the Art of Resale
Here, Pate and McKee look at clothes shopping and (strongly) encourage people to think about secondhand clothes first. This is certainly a key component of our clothes shopping, as we’ll often look at places like consignment shops and Goodwill stores for secondhand clothing before shelling out for new things. It’s often amazing what you’ll find at such places in terms of quality for the price if you simply take the time to look.
Buying New at Rock Bottom
The key is patience, really. Don’t buy stuff just because you want it or think you might have a use for it. Identify stuff you’re actually looking for that isn’t completely urgent, then wait. Watch for the big sales and the big opportunities and pick the items up then. I waited for years on a blender, for example, before finding the right one at the right price. The authors offer a lot of other suggestions, such as competitor price matching, in order to find the right price on the right item.
How do you entertain everyone without blowing your budget to smithereens? Most of the advice in this chapter centers around finding discounts on activities like water parks and museums, such as buying an Entertainment book. Our strategy mostly revolves around recognizing what it is we enjoy about those activities. Why do we go to a water park? To splash around in water and have fun with each other. A back yard sprinkler takes care of the vast majority of that for a penny or two (plus it waters the yard). Save the special events for special occasions.
The biggest tool for saving on travel is flexibility. The more flexible you can be with your travel plans, the more money you’ll save. Be willing to fly standby. Try to schedule the trip when the costs are low, particularly by flying on low cost days of the week (not Friday or Monday, mostly). Travel in unusual parts of the year, like October. You’ll save money if you plan this way.
Is Be CentsAble Worth Reading?
There are a lot of solid frugal ideas packed into this book. Some of them are familiar to anyone who’s ever had to rub their nickels together, while some are quite creative and useful.
The book is written in a readable and fun tone, making frugality seem like an enjoyable challenge or an adventure rather than drudgery. This really helps with topics like coupon organization.
If you’re already very frugal, you might not find too much in this book that helps. If you’re just starting your frugal journey, though, this one is a book worth your time.