Updated on 10.18.07

Your Money or Your Life: 101 Sure Ways To Save Money (Part Two)

Trent Hamm

YMOYLThis is the eighteenth part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?

Today, let’s look at the rest of those 101 sure ways to save money, this time focusing on the groupings of tips starting at #50.

I find that the one thing that many people do that hurts their financial shape is shopping for groceries every day or two or three instead of compressing into weekly (or, even better, every two weeks) shopping trips. This means two things: first, in order to make it work, you have to plan out meals several days in advance, and second, in order to pull it off, you have to make a list of the ingredients for these meals, ensuring that you have to be focused in the store. What works even better is pulling out a grocery store flyer, looking for the produce that’s on sale, and using a few of those items to center meals around, use that info to develop the meal plan, then build your list. Another tip: avoid convenience foods and instead make everything from the most basic ingredients possible. This philosophy (and a love of making my own food) has pushed me to the point of making pizza dough and sauce from scratch when we have pizza.

I actually really enjoy camping vacations, and they’re extremely cheap. Most modern camping sites have most of the amenities you essentially need at a hotel (showers, sinks, etc.) for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. In fact, we went on a camping vacation when our son was about eight months old with no real problems – in fact, it was one of the most enjoyable vacations we ever had.

Entertaining and Dating
Remember that part about not putting up appearances for others? That comes through here. Basically, the book argues that the real reason you spend time socially with others is to enjoy their company, not to spend a bunch of money. The advice follows that logic – have potluck dinners or spend a day where you and another person (or couple) spends half the day doing a large task at one house and the other half on a task at the other house. You get some big tasks done and get to also spend the day being social. As for dating, why not just keep it simple and have simple meals at home and watch a film sometimes instead of going out and blowing big cash? After all, tip #83 says the nicest part of dating doesn’t cost money!

The best hobby is one that’s truly cost-effective. For me, I like to find hobbies that simultaneously enrich me and also cost less than a dollar per hour of enjoyment. Reading (thanks to the library) usually fulfills that goal, as does writing and often video games do as well as long as I focus on inexpensive games and play them thoroughly (and also enjoy free online ones, like my perennial favorite Desktop Tower Defense). Bad hobbies? Anything that sucks down money, like, for example, Magic: the Gathering or golf.

The advice here is simple: look at your life and ask yourself what scenario causes you to cash in your insurance. Now, could you (or your loved ones) do fine if you had less insurance coverage? For example, I don’t need as much life insurance as many guidelines suggest. Why? My wife is college-educated and has a very good job. I carry quite a bit solely to fully pay off our home and both of our children’s college educations if I were to pass away. Think of your insurance (homeowners, life, and auto) in terms of your actual life, not in terms of vague guidance.

Most of the advice here is covered well in the books The First National Bank of Dad and Make Your Kid A Millionaire, both of which I reviewed and liked. Your Money or Your Life is in favor of allowances and also setting examples on how to spend money for your children, both of which are pretty strong ideas.

I found their take on college to be interesting, though: they’re big advocates of not automatically sending a child to college and paying for it. Instead, look at the broader picture: some children are better served going to a trade school (electrical, plumbing, etc.) instead of college, and still others benefit from a few years in a volunteer program first.

The final section, on gifts, nails exactly how I feel about giving my children presents: fewer is better. That doesn’t mean go cheap on them – just give them one to three carefully selected, quality presents instead of a pile of junk. My memories of Christmas gifts are of the great, well-thought-out gifts my parents got me, not of the piles of stuff I didn’t really want or need. I also like the idea of exchanging “services” as gifts, something one of my wife’s aunts did brilliantly at a recent baby shower for our second child. In lieu of a gift, she offered to watch our children for a night and allow us to have a romantic evening together. Guess what our favorite gift from the shower was?

Tomorrow, we’ll finish up chapter six, “The American Dream – On A Shoestring,” focusing on the final piece of the chapter starting with “Save Money, Save the Planet.” This section appears on pages 213 through 218 in my paperback version of the book.

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  1. Jillian says:

    I usually find my hobbies are more of a waste of productive time than they are of money. I bought 3 tournament packs of Magic cards a couple of years ago when I first started playing and haven’t spent anything on it since, but I have wasted an awful lot of time playing it! (My best deck still wins 70% of the time, too :-D)

    As for grocery shopping, I try to only go once every two weeks, but in the meantime I’m running out of fresh food and starting to resort to the pre-packaged stuff… there’s definitely something to be said for having a big enough freezer to cook lots in advance!

  2. Nadine says:

    I buy groceries once a week in order to have fresh fruits and vegetables. It is essential to have a grocery list. It always saves money to have a plan and keeps me out of the grocery store thoughout the week. Keeping shopping to a minimum is the real money saver!

  3. Money Socket says:

    I find vacations very rewarding, and its more rewarding when you find some place special right in your area. This summer I went to Monterey CA, beautiful place just 2 hours from San Francisco. My girlfriend and I drove up there, stayed one night and headed back. It had the whole “vacation” feel without the expensive air fare, long lines, luggage and rip off shops.

    I think if you can avoid air fare, you’re in pretty good shape when it comes to vacations. Another good way to save some cash is to plan large group vacations, rent a vacation home and split the costs. I’m going to Lake Tahoe for some skiing during the winter, and lodging will cost us about $85 a person for 3 nights! Talk about a deal compared to hotels.

  4. lorax says:

    Insurance: This is a tough one. If you don’t have enough health insurance coverage, you might die needlessly, for want of money. Certainly, hospitals will stabilize you, but they can decide not to treat your cancer. Yes, I know people who had this happen to them. Moving to Massachusetts is one option.

    I can’t help but wonder if Joe Dominguez had this happen to him – but I don’t know the specifics, so it’s only speculation.

  5. ClickerTrainer says:

    I don’t know, golf might be expensive, but it is also good exercise. You are meeting two life needs with one activity, and that seems like a good value. You can play the munis at twilight for about $12 around here, they let you wear jeans and a t-shirt, and you can carry your bag for an extra workout.

    Disclosure: I do not play golf. I’m just sayin’…

  6. joanE says:

    we took our kids on an expensive houseboat vacation once when we had a little windfall. we saved most of it and did one of those once in a lifetime things. our kids never forgot how great it was. they still talk abt it and they’re grown up with families of their own.

  7. Tom says:

    I completely agree that a college education is not for every child, and I’d argue that some of the wealthiest people on the planet did NOT finish college, but rather, learned good financial basics and started a business of their own.

    I had a friend in college who dropped out during his sophomore year, took the rest of the money he was going to spend towards college (his parents agreed to think wholeheartedly!) and he used that money to buy a small 4 unit apartment building right on the edge of campus. By the time I graduated from college he owned two apartment buildings and spent most of his days sleeping until noon!

    As for trade school, I also agree. Mechanics, electricians, plumbers all make very decent livings and many of those jobs and trade certifications require much less expensive training than a college degree requires…


  8. Lu says:

    Great ones! I TOTALLY agree with the first one. If you don’t go to the store, you don’t buy anything! That’s why we only grocery shop 2 times a month! Less things that I can go, well, we ran out of that, or that would be yummy…. Nix the temptation!

  9. Eileen says:

    Regarding life insurance, and whether the spouse has or could get a good job. I believe it is very important to keep in mind that the lose of a spouse, particularily a young spouse in a family with young children, would most likely be emotionally very devestating. It might be very difficult for the surviving parent to devote the time and energy they had previously given to a job. Children may need extra attention. The loss of a stay at home Mom who may not have had a “paycheck” means that Dad now has to hire child care or cannot work the overtime he used to because the kids need him. This is a very sensitive issue which really needs to be looked at from all angles, not just the numerical ones.

  10. Ariella says:

    The best hobby is one that’s truly cost-effective.

    Come on, give me a break. I like to read a lot, and take walks outside, both of which are fairly frugal activities. But I guess I must not be as “committed” as some people are, because I’m not going to give up activities that I enjoy simply because they are not frugal enough. I may cut down on them, or try to get the materials at a lower cost, but trying to find a hobby that is essentially a hobby because it’s cheap defeats the purpose of having a hobby.

    I knit, which can be expensive, and I also SCUBA dive, which is also expensive. I love them both, I have enough money to do them both, and I save sufficiently. I guess I think your attitude is really uncompromising and doesn’t recognize that there is a grey area out there.

  11. Eileen says:

    I have to agree with Ariella about hobbies. I refuse to chose my hobbies based on their frugaility. The “best” hobbies are the ones that re-energize you and make you feel good about yourself and your skills, which means you’ll likely do better at life overall. Yes I’ll grant that it is foolish to let your hobby run you into debt, or to chose your hobby over paying your rent. My hobbies (mostly craftwork) are not the cheapest. But then again Trent, I never spend a dime in William Sonoma.

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