Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Speak Up!

When was the last time you got a special price for your internet or phone service? Or when did you get a discount on dinner out? It was probably the last time you spoke up and asked for it.

In this world of competition bordering on cut throat tactics, consumers often have the edge - if we just take it. Businesses want your business, so if you tell them you're looking for a great deal, they will often deal with you.

If you see a "hooker" ad (one that promises a low fee for a limited time, but requires a contract of three to four times that), and you're already a customer, call the company and ask if they would give you the same courtesy. Why not? They can't say anything but "no," and they might very well say yes. They want to keep you as a customer, even if it means cutting your price temporarily.

If you see an ad from a competitor promising a good deal, call up your company and tell them you're considering switching. (You ARE considering it, but you don't have to actually switch.)

If you're having a hard time paying the bill, tell them so. Tell them that you'd like to remain a customer but simply can't afford it. They will usually work a deal with you.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New traditions

Tonight, March 27, 2010, is "turn off the lights" night. For one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 your local time, turn off the lights. Sit in the dark or use candles, kerosene lamps or solar lighting and think about how much electricity the world is saving... and how much money you're saving.

More about this in the post I made last year:

Electric Traditions

Join us?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tiny Houses

Wow. Some headlines leave me underwhelmed, if you know what I mean. How about this one:
Average Size Of Single Family Homes In The U.S. Down To 2,343 Square Foot.

Oh, my. That's less than a thousand square foot per person - average. I am sincere.

Did you know that the average home in 1950 was 1100 to 1200 square feet AND the average household population was 3.37 and in 2003, the last year I could quickly find stats for, it was 2.37. I'm pretty sure the size of homes increased since then. Fewer people, bigger house.

What does that mean?

Maybe that we're more spoiled, spend more money, care less about the environment, need more privacy... or all of the above. It could be.

Enter: The tiny house. The small home. The little dwelling.

The history of a small home is long, as long as you'd like it. (Think "cave-man.") Castles and churches notwithstanding, most personal homes in the more distant past were quite small compared to today's buildings. Even large families lived in small dwellings. Today's 3,000, 4,000 and up square foot buildings are aptly called monsters for good reason. I don't mean to step on any toes, but I don't get it.

When I looked up "small house," I found references to homes under 2500 square feet. That's not so small, really. So I looked further and found references to homes under 1500 square feet. Getting closer... but it's still not so uncommon.

On down the list: Under 1,000 square feet. As a matter of fact, wow. Under 600 square feet.

You could use one of these small homes as a guest room, a home for an aging parent, a detached office (good tax break), or a special room for a hobby or craft.

Or you could live in one.

They're usually between the size of a pickup camper and a small mobile home, with a lot of built in comfort and convenience. They're cheap to buy and cheaper (and a lot of fun!) to design and build yourself, as this Tiny House Design blog shows.

Mortgages are a lot lower for this type of house. Maybe... just maybe, if everyone hadn't thought they deserved the biggest, fanciest house they could borrow money for, the housing bubble might not have burst quite so forcefully. Who knows?

All I know now is that if I were in the market for a house, I'd definitely be looking for a tiny one.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An irrational puzzle

Read Gary Foreman's blog entry titled "A Puzzle", and then you tell me...

I think "rational" is in the eye of the beholder. I sometimes spend more money than I need to, or really want to, but I can rationalize it away. For instance, I need to get my eyes checked and will need new glasses. I know there is an optometrist that only takes walk-ins, so I could go and maybe get right in, but maybe have to wait awhile. She's cheap but she's good and I could save money by going there.

What do I do? I go to an optometrist where I can set an appointment and be guaranteed to have that specific time. It costs almost 25% more. I can rationalize that by saying that I would probably waste time sitting in the cheaper optometrist's office, but in reality my time is not worth that much, especially if I'm not doing anything, anyway. I could read a book while I wait at the other optometrist's, or make lists or daydream or whatever... but no, I gotta pay through the nose, rush in, rush out and go home and read a book.

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

What do you do to save money?

So... I was asked, "What do you do to save money?"

Oh, my. Let me count the ways... no, I don't think I can. There are so many ways to save money that I don't think anyone could list them. Books and books have been written about them, web sites are filled with ideas, and now even "mainstream" media is touting their own advice, as generic and ho-hum as it might seem to those of us who have been doing this for awhile.

Where would you start to tell someone how you save money? I haven't figured it out yet, except to say something like, "Don't waste anything. Don't use more than you need. Turn it off, turn it down, turn it into something else."

Ideas, anyone?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Frugal storage

I don't know who discovered or named the law, but there is one that says however much stuff you own, it expands to fit the space you have, and then some. You can get rid of things, dump things, give away things, throw away things... and it just comes back.

The biggest problem is storing what we're not using at the moment, and that means anything from a yacht to a needle and thread.

Well... I don't have any solutions for yacht storage, sorry. But the needle and thread can be stored in a film canister.

Cardboard boxes are the common solution for storage, but where do you put the box after it's filled? You could cover it with contact paper, or paint it or wallpaper it or decoupage it and then you leave it out in plain sight. You can use it as a lamp table, a coffee table, a nightstand, or a footstool.

Besides boxes, cans - the kind we throw away - can store things. Many things don't need to be contained with a lid, so a plain steel ("tin") food can can be used. Before putting anything in it that you need to reach in for, use a pair of pliers to bend down any sharp edges and cover them with tape.

I was desperate for storage for my long knitting needles so I could find the size I wanted when I wanted it, so I covered a large oatmeal box with yarn wound around and around it and taped down at each end. It looks pretty good filled with those long knitting needles and I can easily see the sizes.

A large tub that cookies came in holds an assortment of hankies on my desk. Small glass jars with lids work as candy dishes, a large plastic spice container with holes in the lid holds baking soda for cleaning purposes, empty tissue boxes hold my hoard of plastic grocery bags.

And still there seems to be clutter...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring and Garage Sales

Are you looking forward to spring? I know... some of you already are in the midst of it, but not here! Not yet, anyway. I'm really ready to start the garden, spend a Saturday morning at the farmer's market or garage saling, or both!

I get a craving to go bargain shopping around this time of year and begin to haunt the second hand stores and dream of good garage sales. Classified ads and Craig's List are fair game, too, just for fun.

I found a site called "Tagsellit" that's pretty cool. It's a sort of online garage sale, where you can sell or buy things locally or anywhere you like, and find tag sales and events wherever you are.

To be honest, I was amazed. Yard sales in Alaska in March? California, I can see (oh, my, the listings for that state!)

The site is a boon for those who can't have a sale from their garage or yard for various reasons. If you live in an apartment, don't have time to run a garage sale or local laws make it difficult, here's your chance to do it anyway.

I got my bargain hunt fix here yesterday and I've bookmarked it for the next time, AND... I found a garage sale in my home town. It's not often that a site that covers the entire nation has anything relevant for a small town.