Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Utilities Cost Savings

I. Comparison Shopping

When I was single, my roommate and I picked Comcast for our cable and internet service. Since Comcast has been the most widely known for the service at least in our area, we made the decision without comparing with other service providers.

We used to pay about $60 per month for our cable and high speed internet service provided by Comcast. However, when my roommate moved out three months before I got married, I started searching for something more affordable. And I found out a high speed internet service at $24 a month provided by AT & T! Since CJ and I decided to live without a TV, internet-only service was perfectly fine with us.

Before deciding your utility service providers, do your study and compare a few different providers.

II. Know What You Need and What Service You Are Paying For

C.J. and I don't own a TV. Therefore, we don't need cable service and were able to save a lot by having internet-only service. When I talk to people about this, many say that they didn't know they can buy internet service only without cable. As cellular phones are so widely used these days, a lot of families do not need landline phone services any more. Of course calling, waiting and talking on the phone with the customer service people can be pain on the butt, but the money you save by cutting that rarely-used landline serive is worth the pain.

III. Negotiate, Confront Overcharges and Mischarges

With AT & T , we were using their Express service which was supposed to be faster than their Basic service. However, due to some geographical reason, the speed for our internet was capped at 768kbps which was what Basic service gets. So, we went through the pain of getting on the phone, waiting forever to talk to someone, and reasoning with several customer service representatives in several different departments. They did lower our monthly charge by $10, which is saving us $120 a year!

About six month after we started using AT & T's internet service, we found out that for the same plan we have, AT & T lowered their monthly rate by $5. However, the change had not been reflected on our bills for two months. So we got on the phone again to confront and had the overcharges credited to our account and had them lower our monthly charge to the new rate.

IV. Paper Statement Vs. Online Statement

I always request paper statements for all my bills and think twice before I set up automatic payment. Yes, I'm not that green in that sense. However, with online statement and automatic payment options, people tend to be less careful about what they are paying for. By having a tangible bill in my hand, I find myself more alert since I get to go over line by line.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Family Car? American vs. Korean: Want vs. Need

This is a conversation that C.J. and I had right after when we got married:
(American = C.J., Korean = Hyuna)

American : Honey, why don't we use our savings to buy a used car? We can trade in my old Lexus.
Korean : Yeah, your car is too old - 140,000 mileages, broken sunroof, false check-engine light. Why not? We have the cash. Do you have any specific type of car in your mind?
American: I was thinking buying a family car.
Korean: A family car? What is that?
American: Oh, in AMERICA, we call a minivan a family car. You know, a car for a family with kids.
Korean: Hmm...

(At CarMax)

American: How about this? Ponda Udyssey?
Korean: Yeah, it looks like it's one of the most popular minivans.
American: How about that one? That's known to be very safe.
Korean: (thinking................) Honey?
American: Yes.
Korean: In Korea, most families live with a small or mid-size passenger car. When I was growing up in Korea, my family of five people lived with a small passenger car. It was only after I and my brother and sister left home that my parents bought a SUV so that they could travel more.
American: But it's not convenient...with kids, you need a family car, I mean, a minivan.
Korean: Is it a need or a want? It's not like we cannot raise kids without a minivan, is it? It might not be the most convenient or comfortable choice, but I'm sure we can live with a passenger car.
American: Honey, but this is AMERICA!
Korean: And? I don't want us to live to keep up with the Joneses. No! I don't care what people think of us. I would rather have a 6-month emergency savings and drive your old car than use that money to drive a fancy minivan.
American: You are right. Lexus is old but it's still running. And securing a 6-month emergency fund is the priority. Honey, thank you for keeping me real.

Our old junky Lexus is still alive - Thank God! It takes me to and from work, running only about 100 miles a week. With the current economic turmoil and job insecurity, we know we made the right choice.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Double Coupon!

I love coupons. People call me a Coupon-lady.

When I use coupons, I feel elated! When I use double-coupons, I feel victorious!

Last Friday, CJ & I bought a 10.3 oz Dawn dish soap using double coupons: one from Walgreen's weekly flyer, another from Sunday newspaper which we happen to receive for free. The dish soap was $1.99 originally, but we paid only 74 cents plus tax!

While we were planning our wedding, we saved over $3000 by using coupons and promotional codes. From the aisle runner to the bed, we made sure that we would not let the stores retail us.

When we were dating, we saved a few hundred dollars by using 'buy one, get one free' coupons from the Entertainment Book, which we used to buy at $20-$23. Dinners, musical shows, movies were taken care of at half price.
I. Thoughts on Sunday Paper

We do save some money by using the coupons in the Sunday paper, but I am not sure if it's worth paying for the paper to get the coupons. For the last 7 months, with coupons from Sunday paper, we've saved anywhere between 25 cents to $3 each week. If you have kids, the amount you save from Sunday paper might be much more.

II. Online Promotional Codes

Make it a habit to look for a promotional code before you check out from an online shopping. We rarely do online shopping these days. However, when we were planning our wedding, we made quite a few online purchases. For our bed, which is from Pottery Barn, before we checked out, we found a 20% off coupon from http://www.retailmenot.com/, and it saved us a couple hundred dollars. For gifts for the groomsmen and helpers, we used free shipping codes and 15%discount codes, which saved us a lot.

III. Have the Coupons Ready

"Know Thyself" - that's for me. I know I can be forgetful at times. Many coupons were wasted because either I went to the store without coupons or I just simply forgot using the one in my purse! Nowadays, I carry a small, 4" x 6" plastic bag in my purse, which has all the current coupons I clip. When I make a list for the next grocery shopping, I go through the coupons and write 'C' next to the items on the list which will be purchased with a coupon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's a Budget For?

One dollar here, one dollar there, and one dollar EVERYWHERE! This is what happens when you don't have a budget. At the end of the month, you just don't know where all the money is gone.

During our engagement, CJ and I wrote out a rough budget, but we did not follow through it during the first two months of our marriage. Only after we started attending the Crown Financial Ministry classes http://www.crown.org/, we started strictly adhering to the spending plan, and we cannot overstate the benefit of having a budget.

I. Know Where Your Money Goes

When we first got married, CJ and I had a rough draft of a budget which we had to write out during a finance workshop at a church during engagement. However, it turned out the budget was not very realistic as it was written when both of us were living without budget as singles.

To come up with a realistic budget this time, CJ and I started from the scratch. For two months, at the end of each day, we logged in all our spendings in a note, and kept all the receipts in an envelope.

II. Set a Budget

By the end of May, after two months of following our spendings, we were able to come up with a very realistic budget for each category: Income, Giving, Savings/Investment, Mortgage, Utility, Health, Food, Entertainment, Gas, Car maintenance, Bus, Clothing, School, Gift, Miscellaneous.
And this is when we started attending the 10-week long Crown Financial Ministry class at our home church. I believe the accountability we had with other attendants of the class gave us a strong motivation to stick to our budget.

III. Develop Your Own System

We continued our paper and pen system of logging in all our spendings daily, but we also created an Excel budget worksheet. Two or three times a week, whoever is in charge that month, that person will transpose the entries from the note to Excel table. The Excel table shows us how much we have spent for each category by a certain date of the month. It also shows if we are in surplus or deficit at a specific time of the month.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Food Cost Savings #3 - Reduce Waste

Once I set to become more conscious of my habits, I realized that a lot of food was going bad and eventually into the garbage can. Then I started doing research on how to reduce the waste.

I. Leftover Bread

For quite a while, not knowing what to do with bread which couldn't be used by the expiration date, I used to throw them into the freezer, and it often made me feel guilty. Not anymore! Now I use them to make casserole with sausage, chopped onion, eggs, and milk. Just mix them all together and put it in the oven for 45 minutes. Or bake them until they are completely dry and crusty, and turn them into bread crumbs using food blender.

II. Old Banana

I am not very fond of old, mushy bananas, so I try not to buy too much at once. However, once in a while, it just happens and I am at the crossroad of detesting the sight of it and of feeling guilty.
Now I use old bananas to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Adding banana makes the cookies chewy and sweet without much sugar.

III. Green Onions

You don't want to miss when green onions go on sale at $1 for five bunches, but it takes a genius to use all of them before they go bad. Wash them and drain water out, and then chop them to freeze in a ziploc. Just break off whatever amount you need for the dish!

IV. Don't Be Picky

I heard a wife complaining about her husband refusing to eat the same dish for more than one day. Well, be willing to eat the same dish for two or three dinners. Last week, we cooked stringbean stirfry with ground beef, which happened to be too much for one meal. Instead of throwing it into garbage or freezing it for the unknown date's dinner, we ate it the next day. With all the seasoning soaked deeper into the meat and stringbean overnight, it tasted better than the other day!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Food Cost Savings #2 - Outsmart retailers!

I. Take Advantage Of Sales
People call me a coupon-lady or a bargain-hunter. Whenever I get to use coupons or find grocery items on huge sale, I can't help becoming so excited. Several months ago, I found a great website which lets you know all the sales going on at local grocery stores. It's http://www.mygrocerydeals.com/.
I registered several grocery stores in my neighborhoods: Dominick's, Jewel-Osco, Trader Joe's, Garden Fresh Market, and Walgreen. I check the website regularly to see if the items on my next grocery shopping list are on sale. Two weeks ago, all kinds of Brownberry bread were on sale for buy one get one free, and since we pack PBJ as snack everyday we bought four and put them into a good use!

II. Get To Know Different Stores In Your Neighborhood
Have you noticed tomato is over $2 and at major grocery stores such as CostCo, Dominick's and Jewel-Osco? Two months ago, I found the same kind of tomato at $0.78 at two of the smaller local produce markets! How about apples? It's $1.59 or more per pound at major stores, but I bought Fuji apples and juicy Cutland apples at $0.99 per pound at a local ethnic grocery store! Spanish onions were $0.69 per pound at one store, but it was $0.29 at another store! In general, I found fruits and vegetables are cheaper at smaller local produce markets.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Food Cost Savings #1 - Limit the number of trips & Pack lunch

When we first got married early this year, the food cost for the first two months came out close to $450 a month. After taking a close look into our grocery shopping habits, cooking habits, and eating habits, we realized how wasteful we had been!

Going out to stores three or four times a week, cooking too much or too little, letting food go bad and eventually into the garbage, not knowing what's in the freezer, buying lunch everyday... So we set out to strip ourselves of bad habits and replace them with new, good habits.

I. Set A Budget
First of all, we set our monthly food budget at $200-$250, which means, each day, we have $6.60-$8.30 to spend for food for both of us. Once we set our food budget, we logged in all spendings on food on our paper spending log and kept track of it using spreadsheet. In this way, at a specific time of a month, we know how much we have left to be spent for food for the month and can stay within the budget at the next grocery shopping. Since we started implementing this budget in June, our food cost has stayed consistently at around average $250 a month, and according to my husband, we are still eating like a royal family!

II. Limit Trips To Grocery Stores
One of the very first habits we changed was limiting grocery shopping to three or four times a month. As we used to run out to stores whenever we need a little thing here and there, this was not an easy change to tackle. We now go to CostCo every two weeks for daily staples such as milk, bread, egg, pasta, and meat. We also go to smaller local stores once or twice a month for fresh vegetables and fruits. This means we have to plan for the next two weeks' meals beforehand, and it turned out this saves us from a lot of headache of daily meal planning and those hectic last minute trips to stores.

III. Pack Lunch
Another major step we took was packing lunch. We have been packing our lunch & snack & drink everyday since June, and this means we are saving at least $10 each day, which is more than $2500 a year! What are we packing for lunch? Pasta with sausage or meatballs, fried rice, and stirfry dishes are our favorite lunch menu. For snacks, we throw in PBJ, banana, apple, homemade cookies, or nuts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

TAPO In Real

I am passionate about living debt-free. I don't know exactly how I became so interested in saving and financial stewardship. However, I have to credit most of my frugal habits and finance-savviness to my parents.

When I turned five, my parents made me start keeping track of my "income" and "expenditure". I and my siblings were regularly given allowance money which we could use however we wanted except that there were two rules we had to stick to. First, we had to give God 10% of our allowance money. Second, we had to log in all the incomings and outgoings, which we had to show my parents in order to receive next month's allowance money.

From buying furniture or major clothing items to using a toothpaste, there is so much wisdom I have learned from my parents. And over the almost 10 years since I left my parents' home in Korea, as I was forced to make many big and small financial decisions on my own, I had to teach myself of many aspects of the bigger picture of money management.

What I will share on this blog did not come without numerous failures and mistakes, but I have to say that I am glad 'I tried, failed and learned' rather than 'I did not try, did not fail, and did not learn'.

Now I want to share and help those who have the same passion for living debt-free!

I thank my husband CJ for encouraging me to make this blog come to life finally.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


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