Saving Money

As I walked out of the Lilburn International Farmer’s Market today with four full bags of groceries for $22, it struck me that I’ve been overpaying for groceries my whole life.

How to shop is a learned behavior, and my parents never took me to a farmer’s market. We went to premium chain grocery stores, and payed premium prices. I’ve been spending money on things without thinking about it for a long time. The way I bought everything all came down to doing what my parents did. But times are different now. The consumer has a lot more knowledge of competing retailers, and thus a lot more choice.  I thought I would pass on a few everyday (no financial advise!) tips for a more frugal lifestyle:

First off – the “Golden Rule”: Never pay full retail. Yup. There are simply too many competing products in every space, too many retailers, too many sales, and an abundance of used items to every pay top dollar.

Groceries: As I mentioned in my opening, find a local farmer’s market. There are probably plenty around you. If there aren’t brick and mortar stores, check with your city’s website to see if they have a market on the weekends. Buying local, and direct can saves lots of money, especially on produce. Eat less meat. Meat is expensive, and too much is unhealthy. Substitute expensive meat for cheaper, healthier options.

Dining Out: Skip dinners and go for lunches instead. The prices are usually one third to one half cheaper than their dinner counter parts. Usually the portion is reduced, but not by the same percentage as the cost. Reducing portions is healthier anyway, as restaurants have distorted what is a reasonable meal size. On the subject – skip drinks, appetizers and desserts at restaurants. There is usually a high markup for these items. If you go with someone, split an entree. Depending on the restaurant, this is usually more than enough for two people. If not, order an entree and a side.

Clothes: Try TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Khols. You still get new, name brand clothing, but for a fraction of the price. Shoes can be purchased at Payless, or other discount sellers. You may not find exactly what you want, but I think forcing you to expand your wardrobe diversity is a good thing. You might like the look of something you never considered. If you are buying for kids, try consignment sales. Lots of items are never used, since kids grow so fast.

Furniture: Craigslist! People get tired of perfectly good furniture all the time. Let others take the hit of the retail cost. You get to pick from thousands of items on websites like Craigslist for a fraction of the cost. My wife’s latest Craigslist trophies include a $2200 leather sectional couch for $400, and a $600 ottoman for $115. Half of our furniture at this point was acquired from Craigslist.

Utilities: After spending almost three years in New England, I have learned that it’s acceptable to open your windows. Save the AC for when its above 80, or excessively humid outside. Cut cable and pick up a streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu. You don’t need 300 channels if you only watch a handful of shows.

Transportation: While Atlanta’s options aren’t overly appealing, there are usually enough public transportation options to use for your commute. Outside of commuting, you and your spouse can get away with sharing a car on the weekends. Carpool with friends, or alternate weekends in which you get the car. You will not only save on the cost and maintenance of a second vehicle, but also gas, and insurance.

Books: Stop buying them! I’m not advocating that you stop reading of course, but rather check them out from your library. You are paying taxes to fund these municipal services, so leverage them. If you must read the latest best sellers, check what your friends have. When I finish a book I never lend it out – I give it away to whoever wants to read it next. Even e-readers have services that allow for lending digital copies.

Games: Lots of video games quickly depreciate in value. Within a few months of the launch date, the game may drop $15-20. Within six months the cost is probably half the launch day price. Within a year, the game usually ends up as part of a bargain sale. Forget the hype of playing the latest and greatest. Lots of online deals websites are heavily biased towards electronic items, including games. Keep an eye out!

Interestingly, we have less income now that my wife stays at home. We also have more expenditures now than we did when we made more income. We pay considerably more rent, own a new car, and yet we still manage to pay down our debts we accumulated when making the higher income. The trick is to shortcut everyday expenses, and prioritize your wants, and differentiate them from your needs. You aren’t entitled to have all the nice things your parents have. They are older than you and have been accumulating their possessions their entire lives. You are younger, so don’t make the comparison.

I wish someone had imparted this advice on me when I was younger, and I hope that these tips helps others to stretch the all-mighty dollar and live a little more comfortably.


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