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10 Tips for Pinching Pennies

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Marco Montenegro Photography

When times get lean, I have a few tips for us all to follow:

1. Take advantage of the 99 Cents Store or the Dollar Tree.  The 99 Cents Store has groceries, toiletries, paper goods, and party supplies.  The brands and items change regularly, but I usually find many things on my list there.  The Dollar Tree has basic home supplies, party supplies, paper goods, cleaning supplies, and toys.  Count the items in your cart, and you know how much you will pay! When my niece and nephew want to go shopping for toys, my family members often make a trip to the Dollar Tree.  The kids each get to pick two toys, and everyone is happy.

2. Be aware of the stores you go to out of habit.  I naturally head to Target when I need basics for the home, but Target is more expensive than Wal Mart or Big Lots.  Yes, Target is prettier and cleaner, but the basic products at Wal Mart or Big Lots are just as good, and half the price!

3. Make coffee at home!  Coffee is expensive everywhere, but I go to a low-cost grocery store and get the store brand of coffee for $4.99.  This gets me a can of coffee that lasts about 2 weeks.  I buy coffee filters, creamer, sugar, and travel paper cups with lids at the 99 Cents Store.

4. Share your food.  When I’m making a salad, I use slices of fruits and vegetables.  With some lettuce as a base, I can stretch one pear, a few strawberries, two celery stalks, and one red bell pepper across many servings.  At a fast food restaurant, buy one drink and share it.  At the movies, share any snacks or drinks, rather than buying those for each person.

5. Do inexpensive or free date nights.  We go to the $2 movie theater, or to a free concert in the park.  Sometimes just going for a walk in a beautiful place is as good as going to a movie.

6. Limit your driving.  Gas is one of the biggest expenses in most households right now.  I think about our commutes, and I try to estimate how many miles we’ll be driving, and thus how many gallons we will need to get us through the week.  If I can get my errands done in one trip at a store close to home, I’m happy.

7. Practice a policy of $1 lunches.  I like to get Budget Gourmet frozen entrees, or I drive through a fast food restaurant like Del Taco or Taco Bell, where I can get two tacos or a burrito for less than $1.  Leftovers are great, too.

8. Look for printable decorations online before buying them.  My husband loved the decorations I made for Valentine’s Day, and I didn’t spend a dime.  Try Family Fun, Free Printables, Everything Etsy, or DLTK’s.  There are many sites, though, so do a google search!

9. Love your space.  We often spend money to go places we love.  When times are tough, though, find a place in your home to love, and have a relaxing time.  Marco bought a record player at Big Lots a few months ago, and I love to cut flowers out of my back yard for the table, have a cup of tea or glass of wine, and listen to some old records from our collection.

10. Invite people over.  Ask them to bring something, and have dinner at your place.  This is how we end up with wine in our wine fridge (which was a wedding gift), even though I rarely think to buy any wine.

Keeping Track of the Money

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One cannot live on bank alerts alone.  You will need a budget, if you don’t have one already.  I got married in 2008, with little regard to how our spending and credit histories would meld together.

In 2009, I decided I needed a budget.  Here is my first attempt with Excel.  You can see that I put all the bills on one side, and the months along the top.  I still use this format, and I have refined it to fit our bills and spending patterns.  Sorry for the poor quality; this is a photo of my computer screen:





Here is the bottom of the same page.  This is important!  You must put totals.  It’s easy to do on Excel.**  Keep a running total of general spending, and any other categories you want to track.  At the very bottom, I have the program subtract our spending from our income.  Too often, this number is in parentheses, which means it’s a negative number, and we owe money to the next month:

**How to make totals on Excel:     1. Click on the fx at the top of the page.    2. In the pop-up window, choose SUM.    3. Type in which cells you want to sum.  You can do them individually, or you can do a whole section of the column by putting a colon between the first and last cells, such as B31:B37.




I check my bank account and budget every day, or almost every day.  I look at which payments have gone through, and which ones are pending.  If a payment is pending, I change the cell’s color to yellow.  If a payment has posted to the bank account, I change it to green.  The yellow color is a reminder that the money is already spent, and it keeps me from feeling too rich when I look at the account.

Some things are worth the money!

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In the “Dollars and Sense” category, I will be talking about financial wisdom.  I will advise against frivolous purchases.  However, some things are worth it.  One of the most important things we can spend our money on is travel.  Like almost everyone, I love to travel.  I feel that our lives are more full when we see the world.  I have traveled with friends, family, my husband, and my co-workers.  Each experience was meaningful and exciting, and I am grateful for the times I have spent in different locales.

I am a lucky girl, and I know that.  Not everyone has a job that will send them abroad for free.  I get to travel internationally with high school students, and explore new parts of the world with them.  It’s work, because high school students must be watched like a hawk, but it’s wonderful.

I sometimes decry my past excursions to Europe, because I would sign up for a new credit card and put the flight on the card.  My husband tells me to be grateful for my life experiences, and he’s right.  I would not know how wonderful London, Edinburgh, Paris, Florence, and Munich are if I had been more wise in my younger years.  So travel unabashedly!  But avoid the credit card, if you can.

Marco’s Dream

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My husband and I both work outside the home.  We hope to change that someday.  Marco is building a photography business on the side, and I couldn’t be more proud of all the work he puts into it.  Here is an example of his work.  We were at a wedding for a friend, and someone else took this picture of us, which he edited:

Marco took this picture of me, which he also edited:

He’s good!

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