Friday, June 16, 2006

Paying less, without the effort

Saving money doesn't have to be hard work. In fact, the easier you make it, the more money you'll likely save.

For instance, almost every time I grocery shop, I like to look at the bottom of the receipt for two items:

--"Your total savings" (amount on that shopping trip I saved using coupons or buying on-sale items )

--***YEAR-TO-DATE SAVINGS*** (amount I've saved to that point in the year. I didn't add the asterisks and uppercase letters for emphasis; that's exactly how the text appears on the receipt.)

As of May 31, my family had saved $221.50 at the Stop & Shop, where we do smaller, weekly shopping trips for things like milk and produce. At the Acme, where we place larger grocery orders online every six to eight weeks and have them delivered to our door, we saved $105.91. Total we spent at both stores through the same time period: $1226.17. In all, we saved about 27% of our costs.

I am not a religious coupon cutter. And I don't tend to buy items that I or my family may not eat or use, just because they are on sale, or to see my "year-to-date savings" figure grow each trip. To me, the best way to save a few dollars is to buy or do the same things that I normally do--only, in doing so, find simple ways to pay less for them.

I spend an average of about 10-15 minutes a week clipping coupons from the Sunday paper. Usually I do it while watching TV or having a conversation with my wife, M. I tend to save between $5 and $20 per weekly shopping trip--to me, that's well worth the few minutes of time and the $38/six month-subscription cost of the paper itself. If I miss a week, I don't sweat it.

Applying for and receiving shopping cards from both Acme and Stop & Shop took about five minutes each and was free. I usually find that Stop & Shop reduces price for cardholders on more items we use than Acme.

I purchase most things using a credit card that earns reward points. I pay off the card balance every month, so I'm never charged a cent of interest. Next month, M and I will take the family to Disneyworld for a week. Points accumulated from purchases over the last year and a half will pay for my daughter's flight to Orlando from Seattle (about $400) and a rental car (about $300). So essentially I've saved $650 ($700 minus $50 for two years of membership fees to hold the card) for doing nothing differently than I would have done before.

To me, cutting costs is like dieting. If you go on a diet to lose weight, but eat food and portion sizes that are drastically smaller than what you eat normally, it's most likely a losing battle. Chances are good you'll regain the weight you lose at some point after you stop dieting and return to eating "normally."

If you hate the thought of clipping coupons, chances are good you always will. But that doesn't mean you can't find other easy ways to save a few dollars. Before throwing "junk mail" without a look in the trash, check it for discounts on services you may use in the next couple months, or restaurants you'd like to visit. Buy an Entertainment book and keep it in your car, so you won't forget to check it for a coupon at the fast-food place or popular museum you're heading into. And get a shopper's discount card from all the places you shop at more than once a month.

The point is to incorporate ways of saving money into your existing life as much as possible. Then it will be just as profitable, but won't seem quite so much like work.


Jimbo said...

You can really hit the trifecta at the supermarket when an item is on sale and you have a 75-cent coupon that is doubled. I also like when I can combine buy-one-get-one free offers with a coupon.

I also use coupons to try out new products. Sometimes these deals are irrestible.

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