February 9, 2015

8 Ways to Save Money

I'm not super comfortable talking openly about money with most people. It's something that is just too easy to pass judgement on. I learned this 11 years ago when Mark and I went through bankruptcy after our relocation to Washington state.

But life around my house has changed quite a bit over the last 12 months, and part of those changes involve money. This is due mostly to my husband's chronic health conditions and his working less and less (and eventually not at all) ,which in turn has an impact on our budget.

I mean, obviously.

And I have found that some people are curious about how we make ends meet. Because of my hesitation to discuss personal money matters, I could simply say it's none of anyone's business. It really isn't, after all. However, I have been tweaking what we do and don't spend money on -- because I've absolutely had to -- and I thought perhaps what I've done could be of help to someone else.

(I say *I* have done this because in my marriage it is me who manages the money.)

Fortunately, Mark's part-time job working for Home Depot wasn't our only source of income. He and I are both legally disabled and receive Social Security Disability Insurance. Except when Mark was working full-time (back in California), SSDI has always been the bulk of our income. We receive this because we've both worked. Our children receive some too (because their parents are disabled).

The first hit our income took was because someone at social security thought they needed to cut our kids' amounts in half. We appealed this and it was eventually reversed back to the way it was. In the meantime (because everything with SS takes months to work out), we had to figure out how we were going to manage, which is when I started making the following changes.

1. I reapplied for free school lunches. If you have a particularly low income, this is so helpful. Families can do this anytime during the school year, not only at the beginning. So if you experience a loss of income in March, like we did, your child(ren) might be able to benefit from the free or reduced price lunch program for the rest of the year. Actually, when your kids get free or reduced lunches at school, they can also get free breakfast. My kids are able to do this, so our grocery bill is lower (at least during the school year).

2. We dumped our Comcast bundle. No home phone, no cable and switched Internet provider. I defy anyone to tell me they think they're getting a good deal from Comcast. Perhaps one of their intro offers seems good, but when it ends and your bill jumps to $250 a month, you'll think otherwise. Especially in this day and age when we don't really need landlines, there are plenty of other (cheaper) ways to watch TV and movies, and high-speed Internet can be had for just $40 a month.

We got cable back last August for football season (from Frontier, who is our Internet provider now), and I honestly still preferred to use Hulu and Netflix a majority of the time. No, you don't get the instant gratification of watching things live, but I am absolutely spoiled by not having to endure all of the commercials and sound bites. When football season ended, I asked Mark if he wanted to keep the cable, but he admitted he didn't care either, so it's cancelled.

3.  We looked into a different form of car insurance. My husband was still driving up until September, so last spring we contacted Progressive and they sent us this little device you connect to your car's computer for a month to see if you qualify for a "pay as you drive" type of auto insurance. I know Progressive calls theirs 'Snapshot". I would think other carriers have something similar, but I honestly didn't check.

The idea is that if you don't drive very much, you might be able to save money. We thought because we stayed pretty close to home a majority of the time, Mark might qualify. They do take other things into consideration too, though, so it didn't work out for us, but I still think it's worth trying in the interest of saving money.

Since this particular approach didn't work for us, we became more aware of being as efficient as possible where driving around was concerned, in order to save on gas.

4. I looked into the possibility of lowering our mortgage. We qualified for a home loan modification through the government's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). More specifically, because we have an FHA loan, we got the FHA-HAMP.

There are a lot of hoops to jump through, a lot of paperwork to send back and forth and have notarized, but seeing it through lowered our mortgage payments by $262 a month. Well worth it!

5. Waste not, want not. Simple, old-fashioned idea, but I really believe in it. Save leftovers, squeeze every last drop of toothpaste out of the tube...that kind of thing. Also, look around and take stock of what you already have. It's probably a lot.

6. Thrift stores. Suck up your pride and give second-hand a chance. Especially for kids clothes. I mean, you KNOW how fast they can grow!

7. Sales and clearance. Even before our income changed I was never one to pay full price for anything I didn't absolutely have to. I've never assumed "well, that's just what it costs, right?" No. Do beware, though. You must also check for value. Sometimes something is on sale, but its more expensive (in price) counterpart is actually a better value. You may have to weigh what's more important to you in that moment.

8. Local buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook. I cannot remember who suggested this to me, but it is really kind of a cool thing. I found a couple for my area, and was just able to sell my daughter's bed frame to a local mom who needed it for her little girl. I would describe them as online garage sales.

I'm not including this as part of my list because it's very unique to our situation, but we have ended up selling our car (because Mark just shouldn't drive anymore), and I put that money towards some outstanding bills.

I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to save money, like clipping coupons. I didn't mention every idea here because some things are, I think, common sense. Or, like clipping coupons, is not actually something I do.

These are things that help us. Maybe the ideas can help you too, if you need them.

Is there something you do to save money I really should know about? Tell me!

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