Monday, March 5, 2012

Saving Right Now Series Part 1: Curb Spending Habits, Cut Costs

This post will highlight some of the ways I've used to monitor my spending, spend wisely, and cut costs on simple things in your living expenses.  It should be obvious that your non-living expenses will vary and some people are more willing to cut corners more than others. I'm simply providing options that you can take if you want to save on extra cash.

1. Set Up a Monthly Budget and Stick to It

A lot of college students, graduate students, and even those just getting in the work force can all benefit from determining what you expenses are on a monthly basis and set up a budget that you can stick to.  There's a lot of ways you can do this and there are options both online and within your home that you can use.  I'll mention two of them I've heard of (one that I use right now) that can be crucial in saving you money by cutting down on your unnecessary expenses.

Recognize Your Spending Habits:

Its really important to understand how and when you spend so that you know how to curtail them to what you need over what you may impulsively want. Do you browse ebay/amazon often and make purchases? Maybe cut your browsing to once a week so that you are less tempted to buy excessive goods. You could be saving that money for something even nicer in the future, or saving it for loans/retirement, or a weekend getaway. Whatever you want to save for set it as a goal and don't be thrown off the path because you find somewhat you might like. Sticking to a budget and knowing where your money is going will help you get past those urges to buy things.

Method 1: Envelope Budgeting

This might be an easy option for someone who doesn't have a lot of bills or other expenses that cannot readily be paid with cash.  While I'm not much of a cash-carrier myself (and I'll tell you why in another post), having the money visible at hand can really make you think, "Do I really need this?" The process is simple: get a number of envelopes labeled with expenses that you want to put on a budget, place cash in the envelopes according to the amount you want to set aside, spend the cash wisely (on whatever timeline suits you--monthly, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.), once you have exhausted the cash in the envelope for that expense, you have reached your budget and will not spend anymore.  This budget is really useful for unfixed, non-living expenses such as going out to dinner, going to the movies, going out on the weekends, etc.  Living expenses are typically fixed with the exception of something of the things I will discuss later.

Method 2: Online Budget Websites, Specifically is an online budgeting and personal finance website that has bank-grade security encryption. They partner with several banks (every major bank and even the little guys like my credit union!) to track your transactions, deposits, debt, and investments.  They also have a very simple way to set up a monthly budget regardless of what your expenses are. I personally use this site and love it. They also suggest ways you can cut costs, offer promotions on several banking/credit card/investment options that all culminate in a website that helps you stay financially smart.  You can even upload your student loans and set up a budget that will help you pay off your debt!  Personally I have 2 checking accounts, a savings account, a credit card, and an investment portfolio that I track using and I love it. I can't say enough good things about this website. They even have their own smartphone app! If you haven't heard of it then you definitely need to take a look into it.

2. Cut Back on Living Expenses

These suggestions can often be hard but it will undoubtedly save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year. Most people already do them but to make sure I've covered all the bases I will lay out all the options.

A. Lower Your Utility Bills

I know its often hard to remember to monitor your utility consumption but it could really help you out in the long run.  Most specifically there are easy ways to cut down on your electric bill as well as your water bills.  Those are typically the only utilities that most people have that are variable but staple living expenses that have to pay on a monthly basis.

Suggestions to lower your energy bill:
  • REDUCE/TURN OFF YOUR Air Conditioning/Heat! This will nearly cut your energy bill in half for some people. If it really is too frigid, try and put the thermostat to below 70 degrees (or better yet throw on some cozy sweatpants or blanket and keep it off).  If its too hot, you will save more money using a large fan wherever you are in the house than trying to cool down the entire place.
  • Use CFL light bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs are significantly lower wattage than their incandescent counterparts and most electric companies will actually send you a box of them for free. It will save you $50-$70 a year per light bulb exchanged--great savings.
  • Cut off all lights/unplug appliances at bedtime and when you leave your residence. This is a no-brainer and honestly not a hard thing to do. These appliances are power-suckers that still eat at your electric bill while off. Its very convenient to get a power strip/surge protector where you just have to flip the switch if you have multiple appliances in one place.
  • Reduce your refrigerator's cooling settings. Unless you plan to stock up for longer than 2 weeks with perishables or have a full refrigerator all the time, this is just a waste of cooling the empty spaces in your refrigerator.
Suggestions to lower your water bill:
  • Only run your dishwasher/washer once a week (or when full). A lot of (hot) water and electricity is wasted through these appliances which can add up. Maximize on dishes/clothes loads or just be periodic so that you won't do them in excess of what you need.
  • Take shorter showers. Sorry ladies, these make up a great portion of your water bill.  Cutting your showers to less than 5 minutes can save you a great deal.
B. Negotiate Your Monthly Subscriptions/Major Purchases

Call your internet/cable provider and ask them if there are any promotional offers you might be eligible for or even mention that you are thinking about switching to another provider. More often than not they can offer you free upgrades or a discount price on what you currently have, saving you $20-$50 or more a month.  You may even want to mention that you are a AAA or USAA (or other benefits program) that could make you eligible for promotions.  I personally have a discount on my cell phone plan/purchases with Verizon because my family works at the local hospital.  Don't hestitate to ask for offers/discounts in department stores either. It shows that you are willing to go the extra mile and salespersons are typically going to extend something if its available to keep you coming back for return business. It can't hurt to ask and all they can say is no!

C. Cut the Cord (Get Rid of Cable)

Get rid of cable/satellite and enter the age of internet TV.  Most major shows can be viewed from their network websites the day after or on  Go in with a friend on a Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, or Netflix account and always be able to enjoy your favorite series and movies. There are also other websites that will stream your favorite episodes (most places you can just google "watch [insert tv series] online" and the first few hits will have what you're looking for).  I know that most of you sports fans don't mind DVR'ing or watching TV series online the day after its aired but detest no live sports. Well I'm here to tell you live sports without cable is possible!You can watch your ESPN games/Sportscenter from If you're on a college campus this service is free. If not, you can typically enter in cable/satellite information from a friend/family member and have access to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN3. For local sports and national TV networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX), I highly suggest investing in a $20 HDTV antenna from (cheapest, high quality electronics website I've ever found) and enjoy free over-the-air HD quality tv shows and sports games.  By using these methods which honestly aren't that complicated, I've been able to enjoy all the HDTV entertainment I could ask for via a HDMI cable from my PC to my HDTV, saving me $30-$50 a month by "cutting the cord."

D. Be a Smart Grocery Shopper

Save hundreds of dollars a year by following the steps I've mentioned on my previous post, "Grocery Couponing 101," and watch your budget have extra breathing room for savings on food. If you eat more groceries and eat out less, your wallet (and usually your body) will be thanking you.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Coupon Inserts For 2/26

For those of you wondering what you could benefit from by subscribing to a Sunday newspaper, here are the coupons available in most local newspapers:

(Taken from Southern Savers)

Pepsico Moments to Save 2/26

$1/2 Brisk jugs (exp 3/17)
$1.50/3 Cheetos or Fritos, 8 oz + (exp 3/17)
$1/3 Crush product, 2 L (exp 3/17)
.75/2 Doritos product, 11 oz + (exp 3/17)
$5 off Hasbro Monopoly Electric Banking Edition (exp 3/17)
$5 off Hasbro Scrabble Flash, Simon Flash, or Yahtzee Flash (exp 3/17)
.75/2 Lay’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips, 8.5 oz + (exp 3/17)
$2/2 Pepsi mini can, 7.5 oz, 8 pk. (exp 3/17)
$1/3 Quaker cereal 12-28 oz or instant oatmeal (exp 3/17)
.55/1 Ruffles, 9 oz + (exp 3/17)
B5G1 SoBe product, 20 oz + (exp 3/17)
$2/2 Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist (exp 3/17)
$2/2 Starbucks Frappuccino or Double Shot, 4 pk. (exp 3/17)
.75/2 Sunchips product, 7 oz + (exp 3/17)
$1 off Tostitos Dip 15 oz+ wyb Tortilla Chips 9 oz+ (exp 3/17)
$1/2 Tropicana products, 59 oz (exp 3/17)

Smart Source 2/26

$1 off Air Wick Flip & Fresh (exp 3/25)
$2 off Air Wick Freshmatic starter kit or gadget only pk. (exp 3/25)
Free Air Wick Double Fresh Warmer Unit wyb Scented Oil twin refill, (exp 3/25)
$2 off Allegra or Allegra-D, 12hr or 24hr or any Children’s Allegra (exp 3/17)
$4 off Allegra 30 ct. or Allegra-D 12hr 20 or 30 ct. or 24hr 10 or 15 ct. (exp 3/17)
$6 off Allegra 45 ct. or 70 ct. (exp 3/17)
$1 off Almond Accents bag (exp 5/30)
$1 off Aveeno product, excl trial and 2.5 oz sizes (exp 4/15)
$2/2 Aveeno products, excl trial and 2.5 oz sizes (exp 4/15)
$1/2 Band-Aid products, excl trial sizes (exp 4/15)
$1 off Barber Foods product (exp 4/14)
$4 off Bausch+Lomb Soothe Dry Eye product (exp 4/30)
$1 off belVita breakfast biscuits (exp 4/30)
.40/2 Chex Mix 4.5 oz+ or 100 calorie snack (exp 4/21)
$1 off Clairol Professional liquicolor, permanente, or  demi-permanant (exp 3/31)
$2 off Clairol haircolor product, excl trial sizes (exp 3/31)
$3 off Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Color Blend Foam, excl trial sizes (exp 3/31)
.75/1 Colgate adult or kids man. toothbrush, excl Plus & Extra Clean (exp 3/17)
.75/1 Colgate toothpaste, 4 oz+ (exp 3/17)
$1 off Cottonelle toilet paper (Raley’s, BelAir, Nob Hill Foods coupon) (exp 3/31)
.35/1 Cuties bag, 3 lb (exp 3/26)
.55/1 Cuties box, 5 lb (exp 3/26)
$1 off Dulcolax product (exp 5/31)
$3/2 Ensure product, 4 pk. (exp 4/22)
.50/2 Fiber One 90 calorie chewy bars or brownies (exp 4/21)
.50/2 Fiber One chewy bars, 90 chewy bars or brownies (exp 4/21)
$1.25 off Gas-X product (exp 4/14)
.50/1 General Mills Select Treat bars or Milk ‘n Cereal Bars (exp 4/21)
$2 off Gevalia coffee bag, 12 oz+ (exp 4/9)
$3/2 Glucerna products (exp 4/22)
$1/3 Hershey’s Cadbury or Reese’s Eggs, multipk., 4.8 oz+ (exp 3/24)
$2/3 Hershey’s Kisses, Reeses, Bliss, Minis, Cadbury, Whopper (exp 3/24)
.55/1 Kraft Philadelphia cooking creme (exp 3/31)
.75/1 Kraft MilkBite milk and granola bars, 5 ct. (exp 3/31)
.75/1 Kraft Philadelphia Indulgence spreads, 8 oz (exp 3/31)
$1 off Kraft Fresh Take cheese & breadcrumb mix (exp 3/31)
$1 off Mio or Mio Energy (exp 4/30)
$1 off Nature Made product (exp 3/31)
$3/2 Nature Made products (exp 3/31)
.50/1 Nature Valley protein chewy bars, 5 ct.+ (exp 4/21)
$1 off Neosporin product, excl trial sizes (exp 4/15)
$3/2 Pantene products, excl trial sizes (exp 3/31)
.75/2 Prego sauces (exp 4/15)
$1/4 Progresso soup cans (exp 4/21)
$1 off Purell Advanced hand sanitizer, 8 oz+ (exp 5/26)
$1/3 Purell products (exp 5/26)
$1 off Purina Busy (exp 5/26)
$1/2 Purina Beggin’ packages, 6 oz or smaller (exp 5/26)
$2 off Purina Beggin’ packages, 25 oz+ (exp 5/26)
$2 off Purina One dry dog food or One Beyond dry dog or cat food (exp 4/6)
B2G1 Purina One dog food cans, max $1.79 (exp 4/6)
.75/1 Schick Hydro shave gel (exp 4/8)
$2 off Schick Hydro razor (exp 4/8)
$2 off Shick Hydro refill (exp 4/8)
$4 off Schick Hydro Power Select (exp 4/8)
$4 off Schick Hydro Silk razor or refill (exp 4/8)
$1 off Snapple tea or juice, 16 oz, 6 pk. (exp 3/31)
$1 off Snyder’s flavored pretzel pieces or pretzel sandwiches, 8 oz+ (exp 4/30)
$1 off Splenda sweetener (exp 3/24)
$1 off Star olive oil, 16 oz (473 mL)+ (exp 4/30)
$2/2 Star products (exp 4/30)
$5 gift card wyb 12 pk. + Scott bath tissue AND (2) SC Johnson items: Scrubbing Bubbles, Fantastik, Windex or Pledge (Target coupon) (exp 4/28)
$5 gift card wyb 6 pk. Kleenex AND (2) SC Johnson items: Scrubbing Bubbles, Fantastik, Windex or Pledge (Target coupon) (exp 4/28)
$5 gift card wyb 8 pk.+ Viva giant roll paper towels AND (2) SC Johnson items: Scrubbing Bubbles, Fantastik, Windex or Pledge (Target coupon) (exp 4/28)
.75/3 Totino’s Crisp Crust Party Pizza (exp 5/29)
$1 off Viva towels (Raley’s Bel Air, or Nob Hill Foods coupon), 10 pk. (exp 3/31)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saving Right Now Series Introduction: Earn Money by Saving

Over the next few posts, I will be giving out advice on several ways in which you can start saving money right now. You can do anything you want with what you save, but I highly suggest that you be financially smart and find something practical or profitable that you can do with your excess money. 

Philosophy: This series reiterates that you will earn more money simply by cutting back on spending!  
Its one of the oldest and truest sayings: "A penny saved is a penny earned." As a graduate student straight out of college, its one of the issues I have the worst issues with.  College/graduate students are always pushed for money but more importantly for convenience.  We often sacrifice what little money we have for increased convenience.  But our double-edged sword is that we live on a tight budget (well tighter than those with steady and/or disposable income).  If we can be smarter with our spending without inconveniencing ourselves, it does a great service to us as well as others who want to put money away. I will show you suggestions of things I have personally done as well as other options you might want to look in to. Next are a few things I will cover in my series:

1. Curb your poor spending habits. I will show you various options that are simple yet effective in showing how much money you are wasting on unnecessary things, ways to monitor your living expenses, setting up an easy budget to manage and adjust, and how to set up monetary goals for yourself.

2. Cut Costs on Living Expenses. Personally, a lot of my living expenses are fixed (rent, water/electricity) but only to an extent. I will show you ways in which I have cut costs on utilities and other living expenses that might be beneficial to you.

3. Earn Money on Your Spending.  There are many rewards programs that can help you save money whether its on gas, groceries, or online shopping. I'll do my best to show you the best ones, as well as the one's I use.

4. Smarter Saving Options (Short Term). Many people settle for sub-par benefits from checking or savings accounts. Let me show you some smarter options that could earn you interest on the money you need to use or save for the short term.

5. Assessing your Retirement Goals (or Long Term Saving Goals). Depending on where you are on your journey through life, long term goals will be different. As a grad student, I'm already looking at options to save while in school to help me once I graduate and have to start paying back those burdensome student loans. Others may be currently in the workforce and looking at ways to put money away til their golden years. What's great is you can actually do both if you're smart with your money. I'll show you what I'm doing and planning to do and provide options for whether you are looking to start saving money early for retirement (highly advised) or looking to save up for that vacation trip, house, or whatever you're seeking.

Follow me through this series and see what savings you can make to free up extra money in your budgets. Please feel free to comment with any suggestions or experiences you've had!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Grocery Couponing 101

This is how I do my grocery shopping in so that I maximize savings as well along with necessity so that every time you go shopping you being cost-effective (and most importantly, not starving).

Step 1: Subscribe to a local Sunday newspaper.

This is crucial to obtaining the most manufacturer coupons and maximize savings before even comparing the savings from grocery store sales.

There are many forums that will show you the best Sunday papers in you area that offer coupon inserts. The major ones are Red Plum, P&G, and SmartSource.  I literally just google'd my location + Sunday coupon and select "Discussions" under search options and found the best option for newspapers that service my area to obtain coupons.  After you select a paper, you may want to see if there is promotional offer going on. For those of you in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area--News and Observer is your best bet. You can subscribe online to get regular Sunday deliveries for $1 (50% off retail price) using promo code SC13". For those of you in other locations, once you find a suitable newspaper, do a quick google search to see if there's any discounts you might be eligible for. You will save significantly on your grocery shopping if you can get your hands on Sunday newspaper inserts.

Step 2: Keep coupon inserts organized (preferably by date).

Sites like will show you the best groceries to purchase with coupons in any given week, but they categorize the coupons used by coupon insert origin and date. If you can make a binder or a folder and have your coupon inserts formed by date, it will not take you long to go through them when you make your shopping list. These websites monitor expiration dates for your coupons so they will help you manage when you should take advantage of the savings.  This makes life much easier and couponing more of a hobby (low time commitment) and less like work. This is where I may lose some of you guys because you may feel too lazy to keep up with this (honestly this takes all of 5 minutes of your time).

Step 3 (optional): Subscribe to posts.

Southern Savers posts daily and can give you the opportunity to grab printable coupons from various website sources for free. This is an optional step, but can help you optimize your savings and what items you buy. I only suggest doing this because manufacturer's release printable coupons for short periods of time even though the coupon expiration dates are much later.

Step 4: On the day of shopping (or day before), create your shopping list and get your deals!

Maximize your savings by checking the Southern Savers weekly specials posts that include coupon matches. Click on the printable links to get the printable coupons (this is where you might notice that some of those printables have expired). This website easily lets you check boxes on items you like and create a coupon savings shopping list (see my prior post with shopping lists I personally used!).

Other steps: Repeat printable coupons daily, differential between grocery stores, DON'T GET CRAZY!

Printable coupons are often limited to once daily printing, you can print more the following day and use it again to buy more of that item at a discounted price. Also Southern Savers offers other grocery stores in your area with sales and you can compare your discount savings across grocery stores. And finally, don't let your friends think you need to be on Extreme Couponing! Practical people understand that sometimes you can't always buy everything on a discount. Buy things you need and want, and definitely don't go hungry or eat unhealthy just because its cheaper! Its nice when you can save but it's not always simple, practical, fun, etc.

Do these steps and save lots of cash on groceries you would purchase normally! Happy shopping!

For next time: Saving Right Now Series! I will begin my advice ways you can start saving money right now!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Update: Grocery Shopping--Saved More Than I Thought

I just realized a huge error in my savings calculations. I was using the VIC savings amount on the receipt instead of the Coupons tendered amount, which is the amount saved from VIC savings and coupons combined.  Corrections shown below:

% saved = 100 - 100(amount spent/(amount spent + coupons tendered amount))

Week 1: Total Spent: $53.64, Coupons Tendered: $62.48. Savings = 53.8%

Week 2: Total Spent $83.58, Coupons Tendered $67.60. Savings = 44.7%

So I in fact did save more money in the first week without double coupons regardless....but the savings were nearly 15% more than what I calculated in the first post. Glad I wasn't a math/stats major.

For next time: Since we're on the topic of couponing, I'll post a small, painless, quick tutorial on how to start your own couponing!