Issue #90: Sneaky ways to save money without even noticing

plus Crispy Hexagons + a potato horse
Money
Dollar Scholar
Hi y’all —

Curly fries taught me how to save.

When I was a kid, my family ate dinner at Arby’s a lot. My brother Jonathan and I had a routine: After ringing the “great service” bell no fewer than 20 times, mixing all the fountain sodas together and generally behaving badly while my mom tried to order, we would meet at the table. Then we’d get down to business.

We were on a mission to find the curliest fry and, for some reason, save it. I’m not sure why (or what we intended to do with it), but I do know the search required a fair bit of dedication.

We had to be vigilant. We couldn’t afford to get distracted by our roast beef sandwiches. We had to keep a lookout for opportunities to find it; we had to check Mom’s plate as well as our own. We had to put it in a safe place away from the condiment splash zone. And, most importantly, we had to give up the short-term satisfaction of polishing off an entire Arby’s meal to achieve a long-term goal.

It was silly, but the curly fry hunt got me in the right mindset to save money. It taught me crucial lessons about cutting corners now for a future payoff. But as I transition from fries to finance, I need to revisit my strategy.

How can I save $100 more a month without sacrificing stuff I love?

I called Jody D’Agostini, an advisor with Equitable Advisors, to get some tips. She told me to first create a budget of my monthly expenses so I could find out my spending patterns — determine where my income is going so I can decide what behaviors I want to change. D’Agostini said I can do this with a tool like Mint, an Excel spreadsheet or “even a good notebook.”

“Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’re spending in whatever category,” she adds. “Perhaps it doesn’t mean that much to you, particularly if you want to reprioritize to be able to save more ... it’s kind of found money.”

Next, I can pivot into purely cost-cutting. D’Agostini and Luis Hernandez, assistant vice president and wealth advisor at Frost Bank, gave me a ton of great ideas that I’m going to list below.

 
I need more hoodies so to save money I’m going to get a boyfriend
Reduce housing costs. 

My biggest expense every month is housing (thanks, NYC), so it’s a natural starting place when looking for chances to save. D’Agostini suggested I take advantage of the unusually low mortgage rates and consider refinancing. If I’ve got an extra room, I may want to get a roommate who can split the rent with me.

Another way to save money is to swap out my light bulbs for energy-efficient ones. D’Agostini said it may be worth it to invest in LED lights or Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs). CFLs are 75% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, leading to a potential savings of $198 for the average household over the course of a year, according to investment research firm Zacks.

I should also remember to unplug appliances when I’m not using them so I don’t use — and pay for — any residual power.

Cook at home.

Hernandez said to evaluate how much money I’m spending on eating and ordering out and decide whether the experience I’m getting is truly worth the cost. Sometimes it is, but often meal-planning is the way to go. Reddit’s r/budgetfood community is full of cheap recipe ideas.

And BTW, when I’m grocery shopping for ingredients, I should always take a list instead of winging it.

“Come in with your list and go out with what you need rather than grabbing something you didn't need because it looked yummy on the way out,” D’Agostini says.

Shop smarter. 

Speaking of food, D’Agostini said to make sure I’m maximizing any credit card rewards — for example, if I buy groceries with my American Express Blue Cash Preferred, I get 6% cash back. That can add up over time, but I don’t want to get too swipe-happy: “Paying in cash can help, too,” she says, because it triggers “more of a psychological ‘Oh, that’s what it costs.’”

In addition to shopping at thrift stores and discount retailers like TJ Maxx or Ross, I should schedule big purchases around holiday sales. If I’m looking to buy a mattress or furniture, Presidents Day is probably best for bargains; for a laptop or TV, Black Friday may be the ticket.

D’Agostini suggested I shop in bulk and make a point of buying generic instead of brand-name products whenever possible. Although their names may be funny — I will never get over “Crispy Hexagons” and “Silly Circles” — generic items are often exactly the same as the official ones.

Trim existing bills.

It’s always smart to shop around for insurance. D’Agostini said to reassess my health care plan annually, taking note of what the co-pays are and whether my doctors are covered. Bundling my home and auto insurance may lead to savings, as well.

No matter the company, I should ask whether there’s a discount for going paperless and handling my account completely online. I can also call the customer service line and attempt to negotiate down my bill — or have someone do it for me.

Hernandez recommended I cancel any unused or forgotten subscriptions, too.
THE BOTTOM LINE
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)

There are tons of little ways to save that have never even occurred to me. They’re all incremental but should add up fast, leading to increased savings without a decreased quality of life.

As I’m doing all of this, I should also automate my savings. If I do that and pay close attention to my savings goals, I should land on the right track.

“If you're realizing some vision, if you're committing yourself toward something, it works a lot better,” D’Agostini says.

 


Don't Stop Me Now
via GIPHY
RECEIPT OF THE WEEK
Tiffany Haddish
via Instagram
Tiffany Haddish has no qualms about being an outfit repeater. The actress wore her famous $4,122 Alexander McQueen dress yet again for a People photoshoot, acknowledging that her cheapskate ways have spawned a long-running joke. “I don’t care what nobody say — that’s a down payment on a car, that’s a medical bill,” she told W a few years ago. “So, even though everyone says I shouldn’t wear the dress in public again, I’m wearing it.”
INTERNET GOLD
five things I'm loving online right now
1 Forget the consumer price index. Louisianans have a more crustacean-centric CPI: the crawfish price index , which helps viewers “find deals on those delicious mudbugs.” The CRAWDAQ is shaking.
2 It’s baseball season, and that means it’s weird-baseball-game-captions season.
3 I love this chart that displays the color of every cardigan Fred Rogers wore during every episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in chronological order. It sent me down the rabbit hole of reading about Rogers’ sweaters, some of which were knit by his mom and some of which were purchased from a Postal Service supplier and dyed in a $70 soup pot in a backyard. As a historian once said, "Mister Rogers’ style of comfort and warmth, of one-on-one conversation, is conveyed in that sweater.”
4 I recently learned about Potoooooooo, an 18th-century horse remembered not for his scores of race victories but for his ridiculous name. A stablehand was asked to write out the horse’s name as “Potatoes” after his birth, but misunderstood the request and instead wrote “Pot” followed by eight O’s. Incredible.
5 Zines and subscription boxes: the greatest crossover of all time?
401(K)9 CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Maple
via Beate Johnson
Meet Bodacious Brutus and Wreckn Gretchen, who are hanging out in the pool instead of paying for water paw-k tickets in order to save money.
G2G, craving curly fries.

See you next week.

Julia

P.S. Thank you all for the kind birthday wishes and e-cards last issue! I felt very loved. 

P.P.S. Do you know any sneaky smart ways to save money? What’s your favorite MLB team? Have you ever eaten a crawfish? LMK at julia.glum@money.com or @SuperJulia on Twitter.
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