Plugging Money Leaks

Our bathroom faucet drips all day if you don’t turn the faucet hard enough. I learned that the hard way, noticing the dripping only after a whole weekend away. Sigh. My only thoughts as I twisted the handle as hard as I could, were about all the money I’d let drip down the drain.

I’ll bet I’m not alone, though. How many parts of your budget are you letting drip away, into places where the money disappears? While that’s bad news, we can look at this from a “glass half full” point of view: there are plenty of money leaks that we can plug to gain a quick shot of much-needed cash. Even if you feel like things are going well, wouldn’t it be fantastic to have some extra money to save for retirement, a new house, your art, or even to gift to your favorite charity?

Here are five areas that you can attack today to add more money to your pocket book:

1)    Cut wasted home entertainment options. A friend of mine just purchased a Roku box. Another switched to Apple TV. What are these things? Both of these products and their competitors attach to your television and let you watch “channels” from internet providers like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Crackle, and many others (Roku has over 200 channels to choose from!). By dropping the cable cord, she was able to save $75 per month and still choose from plenty of entertainment options.

How to start:

–       Make a list of entertainment you pay for (cable, HBO, XMSirius Radio, Netflix) and decide which are important and which you can live without.

–       Call each provider you’re cutting.

–       Don’t let them talk you into “free/cheaper for a few more months” options.

–       Call each provider you’ve decided to keep and ask for discounts. You’ll be surprised how many you receive.

–       Explore internet television options carefully before purchasing. Depending on whether you’re a Mac or Windows household, you might prefer one competitor over another.

2)    Purchase a smart thermostat, better insulation and other energy efficient tools. As artists, we’re comfortable living on the cutting edge. But sadly, when it comes to money issues, many creatives lag behind. Insulation isn’t novel, but if you lay more insulation in your crawlspaces, you could save hundred of dollars a year on your energy bill. You’ll be the coolest energy-saver around if you invest in The Nest thermostat. This thermostat tracks you and automatically manages the temperature of your house. No more leaving home and realizing that you’ve air conditioned your houseplants for eight hours while you were away. The Nest will detect your patterns and save you money and energy. Even better? You can control the Nest from your smartphone. These are only a couple examples. How many more ways could you save on your utility bills?

How to start:

–       Read about energy efficient homes at websites such as this Department of Energy page for good money-saving ideas.

–       Because energy-efficient thermostats such as The Nest don’t work in every house, read reviews detailing which homes work best with each product before buying.

–       Before adding insulation or other appliances, find a qualified whole-house energy auditor to perform an inspection. You’ll learn many effective ways to save money on your utility bills. Start with your local utility company to find auditors in your area.

3)    Create a weekly meal plan. In my family, we’re running 100 miles an hour, so there were too many nights we were tired and decided against cooking. Now I know how easy it is to plan ahead each week and create a meal plan. That helps me attack hectic days ahead of time using my slow cooker, premade meals, and by planning “leftover days.” For many families, this task alone saves them hundreds of dollars a month. Once you’ve purchased food and have a menu in writing you’ll avoid those late afternoon and evening “let’s just eat out” budget-buster moments.

How to start:

–       Start small if you’ve never prepped a meal plan. If you create elaborate meals, you’re less likely to cook at home.

–       Watch for specials at the store, but don’t go overboard. Buy staples like soups, mixes and cereals when they’re on sale.

–       While vegetables are healthier than prepared foods, don’t go crazy here either. You should only buy vegetables for meals that you’ll know you’ll eat in the next few days so you don’t end up throwing out lots of rotten food.

–       If you like technology, find a good meal planning app to help you save time planning.

–       Still pressed for time? Plan your meals with family or friends so that someone else prepares meals each day.

4)    Carpool or telecommute. That meeting of your mastermind group or writing club can be costly after you factor in gas, snacks and forgotten supplies. Instead, see how may of these you can reschedule into teleconferences. If you really need to meet face-to-face, find other participants who might be willing to share a ride.

How to start:

–       I’m often surprised when someone tells me they’ve never used Skype before. If both parties use computers, Skype is completely free and it’s still inexpensive if you have to call someone on their phone. Try it out a few times with friends or relatives to get the hang of it. You’ll be teaching others within days.

–       Ask participants in the group where they live. Not only will you seem open and friendly, but you’ll get a feeling whether someone else may want to share a ride or whether others would be open to a web conference.

5)    Create board game nights, movie nights, and social potluck dinners instead of entertainment on the town. Dinner and a movie can be costly no matter where you live. Taking two people to dinner can quickly run over $50 and when you add in a movie, you’re over $75. If one person brings a boardgame and everyone at the party chips in for dinner, you can cut this cost to less than $20.

How to start:

–       If you haven’t played board games recently, you’re in for a treat. Board games have changed a ton in the last 15 years, with Trivial Pursuit replaced by fun party games such as Wits and Wagers, Things!, Telestrations and Say Anything. Old “strategy” staples like Monopoly and Risk don’t hold a candle to newer options such as Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan. Check out (a huge database of board games) to see which games might be good for your next party.

–       Ask your friends if they’d like to come over for a potluck party. You’ll be surprised how open they’ll be to this low-cost suggestion.

–       Want to make the night special? If you know a friend who’ll play guitar for free or less than your movie night cost, surprise your guests with entertainment an hour after everyone arrives. Your potluck dinner will go from a nice gathering to a night to remember in no time….and without breaking your limited budget!