30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Decorating, Part 2

#18: Use the occasion of spring cleaning to redecorate for super cheap or even free.

I am grateful for today’s guest post by my mom!  See part one HERE.

I love to use the excuse of spring cleaning to redecorate one or two rooms. I usually do this by using what I already have! One of my favorite ways to gain inspiration is to look through magazines (my old ones, the library, or online) and find a color, some arrangement on a side table, or pillows piled a certain way on a bed to get me geared up. It works both ways, because then I’m anxious to get to my spring cleaning! As you clean, be sure to take everything out of the room and off the walls as well. That way you can take a fresh look at your room and have a clean palette to imagine some new groupings.

One principle that brings instant order and a quick change to a room is balance. Gather everything you have in pairs that would work for that particular room. Don’t be afraid to grab from other rooms as you look for lamps, candlesticks holders, pictures (with the same frame finish), pillows, end tables, chairs, etc. Find your focal point (fireplace, window, or sofa) and highlight it with some sort of pair. Match framed prints, end tables (matching or the same height), etc. with a pair of lamps or a pair of dining room chairs on either side. I’ve found that many people have split their pairs of lamps (or tables, or chairs) in two different rooms. Keep matched pairs and sets together to make more of an impact in one room.

Once you’ve done your cleaning, bring back your furniture and don’t be afraid to put it in different places. Check out yesterday’s post on how to arrange furniture for a conversation area. Look around your room for a chance to use the pairs you have gathered, then sit back and enjoy the new landscape.

Collectibles often fall into the same misuse category as those stray lamps—a small part of a collection here, a little more there—spread out all over a room, or the entire house. Grouping your collectibles together will do the most to showcase them. What constitutes a “collection”? Anything of which you have multiples: glass candlestick holders, figurines, tea cups, vases, silver, or old books, to name a few.  If you have a hutch displaying china, crystal or silver; group like items on the same shelf, with the tallest in the back. You will be surprised how your shelves come to life!  For an even more dramatic look, paint the back of your shelves in an accent color or line with wrapping paper in a pop of color. Don’t be afraid to put Grandma’s silver tea service out on a tray to be seen and enjoyed everyday. Spray paint a bunch of frames black and make a large grouping of prints on a large wall. Think outside the box of what you’ve been doing year after year. Spring is the season for new life and change.

They key is to muster some courage, find a color you like or things you love, and surround yourself with them. It doesn’t have to cost much, or anything, to get a fresh new look in one or two of your rooms. There’s no time like the present, so let’s start cleaning and get about refreshing our surroundings…for free!

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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Decorating, Part 1

#17 Use what you have to redecorate key areas of your home for FREE!

We have a fun treat today.  My mom, a wonderful interior decorator, has provided a fun list of ideas for things you can do to redecorate for free.  Enjoy!

  • Group a bunch of tea lights down the middle of your dining room table on pedestals for a formal centerpiece (no scented candles during a meal).
  • Change out silk flower arrangements by adding or removing flowers, especially with the seasons.
  • Stack bedroom pillows flat on top of each other largest to smallest, centered, instead of propped up.
  • Add a throw to the end of the bed, over the arm of a chair, couch, or on an ottoman.
  • Speaking of ottomans, use one or two as a coffee table with a tray on top for stability.
  • No ottoman? How about a large covered basket, a trunk, or a stack of old suitcases from the attic as an end table? (Screw the suitcases together.)
  • Rearrange furniture to pull it off the wall and make a conversation area, shaped in a U with the couch as an anchor and chairs on either side, facing each other.
  • Change out throw rugs from one room to another or turn them the opposite way or on an angle.
  • Recover accent pillows with left over fabric scraps…color block if necessary. Choose an accent color with pizazz to wake up your rooms.
  • Gather small tabletop picture frames from all over the house and put them on one table with family photos in them.
  • Rearrange bookshelves with all the books in size order and pulled to the front edge of the shelf.
  • Take all the magnets and notes off of your fridge…your kitchen will look amazingly different. I promise, this one works!
  • Clear your kitchen counters of anything you don’t use every day. You’ll love the “new” look.
  • Cut an old bedroom pillow in half and cover it to make two throw pillows.
  • If you have a willow tree, cut a vase full of 18″ budding branches and throw them in a vase.
  • Take your good china out of the cabinet and stack it on the mantle or as a centerpiece with a tea pot
  • Use plate hangers to hang plates on the wall in groupings by color.
  • Get out Grandma’s embroidered napkins or tea towels, starch them, and hang them over your guest towels in the bathroom.
  • Fresh fruit in a glass bowl is always nice in the kitchen.  Try lemons and limes.

 

Stay tuned for some more great ideas tomorrow!

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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Purchasing a Vehicle

#16 Purchase the best vehicle for your money.

Yesterday we discussed ways to save big buck on auto repair.  Vehicles get old, and there are times when the cost of the repair work far exceeds the value of the vehicle.  When this is the case, it may be time to purchase another vehicle.

Here are a few ways to save when purchasing a vehicle.

If purchasing a brand new vehicle, shop, compare, ask for a deal, stack every special and promotion possible, and, preferably, pay with cash.

It’s quite possible that the presence of cold, hard, cash–in hand–could bring down the cost of your vehicle considerably.  Make sure that you have done thorough research on both the vehicle and the dealership before you purchase.

It’s safe to say that $200 under invoice price is a pretty good deal.

–Consider buying a nice, used car

Sadly, new vehicles lose at least 10% of their value the minute you drive them off the lot, and a two-yr. old vehicle is worth only 80-85% of its original value.

–Know the estimated value of your make and model.

Excellent resource: Edmund’s Automobile Buyers Guide, AutoSite, Kelley Blue Book, CarPrice.com.

–Do your research!

Purchasing a used vehicle can present huge savings, but it does require a greater extent of research.  Totally worth it in the end, though!

Don’t just check the vehicle out on CarFax, use AutoCheck.  When we purchased our last car, we learned that CarFax does not tell you everything!  For instance, if the vehicle has sustained damage to the unibody, it will not show up on CarFax.  However, you’ll find every available piece of information on the vehicle at AutoCheck. AutoCheck tends to catch a whole lot more, in general, than CarFax.  Our family’s policy is that we will never purchase a used vehicle without running AutoCheck on it.

Get a FREE VIN Check from AutoCheck®.

AutoCheck® Vehicle History Reports from Experian Automotive.

–Ask family and friends

When you know you’re going to be in the market, start asking family and friends if they know of any vehicles available for sale.  You might be surprised with the number of options you could have!  You may also find that a reliable, well-cared-for vehicle of a family member or friend is actually available for sale!

–Check the local paper for estate sales.

Estate sales can be great resources when it comes to car hunting.

–Check Craigslist.com and online classified sites.

A few resources include: AutoTrader.com, Autoweb.com, Cars.com and StoneAge.comEdmund’s and Kelley Blue Book also have classifieds on their sites.

Don’t be afraid to “dicker”!

Dealerships expect this!  Don’t let them down! 🙂

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on decorating!

(Note: A few links in this post are my referral links. Read my disclosure policy here.)

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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Auto Repair

I’m excited to have my husband as a guest on Simply Frugal Living today!

#15 Save big bucks on auto repair.

First, do no harm.  Do not commit to a repair until you have a diagnosis and a quote.  Often, people will avoid dealerships thinking that the repair will cost more.  However, the dealership might have the same labor rate as a non-dealership auto repair shop.  Check the labor rate first!  The dealership sees your model vehicle every day and might be the best place to get a diagnosis.  However, dealer parts are almost always more expensive than aftermarket brands or re-manufactured parts available through many auto part retailers.  The best way to save big bucks on repairs (after you have a diagnosis) is to find the parts you need at a salvage yard and have an independent mechanic install them. Many salvage yards have brand new vehicles that have been wrecked and sell guaranteed parts from these vehicles for a fraction of the retail cost.  Check first to see if your mechanic is willing to accept customer supplied parts!

Here’s a recent story from my own experience:  My air conditioning fan stopped working last summer.  I went to the dealer and got a diagnosis for a reasonable fee.  The repair would have cost $400.00 at the dealership.  I went to a salvage yard and purchased the part (a control head) for $50.00 and had it installed by another garage for $50.00.  I saved 75% on my repair.  Most reputable salvage yards have good return policies for parts that are defective.

With a little investigative curiosity, you can keep most of your money for the pump… because it’s much harder to save there….

Resources: Auto Parts Warehouse, CarParts.com

(Links in this post are my referral links. Read my disclosure policy here.)


30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Water Bill

#14: Reduce water usage.

I recently found out that, in our county, our sewer bill is directly related to our water usage.  Rather than charging for the amount of water that goes into the sewer, the sewage company’s charge is purely based on water usage.  This is a very frustrating policy, but it sure makes me want to be incredibly cautious about the amount of water we use.  Here are some of the most practical tips I have found to help restrict water usage:

 

Use Your Dishwasher

Contrary to popular belief, it takes more water to hand-wash dishes than it takes to wash them in the dishwasher.

 

Don’t Pre-Rinse Dishes

Scrape food from plates, and let your dishwasher do the rest.

 

Only Run the Dishwasher When Full

You’ll use the same amount of water whether you run a full load or a partial load.

 

Don’t Use the Disposal

Compost food waste or throw it in the trash. Both are water-free options.

 

Take Shorter Showers

Aim for a five-minute shower. With a low-flow showerhead you’ll use 12.5 gallons of water or less. Compare that to 37.5 gallons for a 15-minute shower, and the savings is pretty easy to see.

 

Shower Instead of Taking Baths

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it takes 35 gallons of water to fill the average bathtub. Switch to a five-minute shower with a low-flow showerhead, and you’ll save 22.5 gallons each time you scrub up!

 

Turn the Water Off While You Brush/ Shave

Less flow time equals less water used.

 

Place a Bottle in the Toilet Tank

Fill a bottle with water, and place it in the toilet tank. It’ll displace water, and cause the tank to fill with less water. Just how much water will this save? An amount equal to the size of the bottle that you placed in the tank. A 20 oz. bottle, for example, will save 20 oz. of water per flush.

 

Check Toilets for Leaks

According the National Sanitation Foundation, a leaky toilet can waste as much as 500 gallons of water each day! Place a dye tablet (free at home improvement stores) in the toilet tank, and watch to see if the dye seeps into the bowl. If it does, you have a leak that needs to be addressed.

 

Only Wash Full Loads

You’ll save water, and wear and tear on your machine.

 

Wear Clothes More than Once

Pants and outwear usually don’t get very dirty. Wear them twice before washing, and you’ll cut down on your water use and your housework. Now that’s hard to argue with!

 

Sweep Sidewalks Off Instead of Spraying

A little sweeping action can save a lot of water – as much as 80 gallons a year, according to wateruseitwisely.com.

 

Take Your Car to A Car Wash

You’ll eliminate 100 gallons (or more) of water from your water bill each time you take your car through an automatic wash.

These ideas come from the article, Save Money on your Water Bill.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on ways to reduce your auto repair bills!

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What Should I Wear?

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Live on April 13, 2011: Fath, Fashion, and Fabulous!

This webcast is going to be awesome! Don’t miss it at 2pm (Eastern time) today!  See what Focus on the Family has to say about it:

About the Webcast

Have you ever wished for a fashion fairy godmother who would not only grant you a makeover, but equip you to make your own fashion choices that fit, flatter and make you feel fabulous? On the next Your Family Live, Shari Braendel will teach women how to accept and appreciate the body God gave them, and how to always look their best.

You’ll discover: Your specific body type and color group; the exact pieces you’ll need in your closet to build your Spring/Summer wardrobes; anti-aging tricks with makeup and skincare techniques, as well as the 5 B’s of style and modesty. We’ll also feature the Dress For Your Body Type Fashion Show! No matter what day it is, or what the occasion may be, you’ll no longer scream, “I have nothing to wear!” after tuning in to this episode.

 

30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Natural Gas Bill

#13: Cut back on your natural gas bill.

Here are a few tips that have helped our family reduce our natural gas bill.

  • Make sure you are getting the best rate. If you have competing natural gas companies in your area, do a price comparison to make sure you are getting the best possible rate.  Be sure to take budget plans, fixed vs. flexible rates, service contracts, etc. into consideration.
  • A good portion of your natural gas bill goes to heating water.  Monitor your hot water usage by doing the following:
    • Shorten your showers and save hundreds of gallons of hot water over the course of a year.
    • Wash laundry in cold or warm water.
    • Always run full loads in your washing machine and dishwasher.
  • Miscellaneous tips:
    • Lower your water heater’s temperature to 120°, and switch to “vacation” when you are away.
    • Don’t adjust your thermostat setting more than 10°. This will prevent the system from overworking and thus increasing your bill.
    • Don’t block heating registers and air returns. Rearrange furniture or shorten draperies if needed.
    • Cover bare floors.
    • Dress warmly: use layers.
    • Open curtains and shades to let in sunshine.
    • If you have a gas stove, heat water for tea in the microwave.

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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Electric Bill

#12: Make a goal of cutting your electric bill by at least 25%.

Today I will share some of the things our family has done to cut our electric bill.   You can read a comprehensive list of ideas in my Cutting Utility Costs page, but today I will just share the things we have done–with success–to cut our electric bill.

  • Find the places where air can sneak into your home, then make repairs to plug the leaks by
    caulking, weather-stripping, and using plastic covers.
  • Hold off on the air conditioner as long as possible as we head into warmer weather.  Keep the windows open!
  • Draw blinds, shades, or drapes to block the sunlight during the hottest part of the day, especially on south- and west-facing windows.
  • Set the heating thermostat as low as comfort permits. Each degree above 680 F can add 3
    percent to the amount of energy needed for heating.
  • Close heating vents and radiator valves in unused rooms. Make sure that drapes, plants, or furniture do not block registers for supply or return air.
  • Allow hot foods or liquids to cool off before placing them in the refrigerator. The cooling-off period should not hurt the taste of the food and will reduce the load on the refrigerator.
  • Plan ahead and remove all ingredients for each meal at one time. Each time the door of a refrigerator or freezer is opened, its compressor has to run a bit longer to replace the cold air that spills out.
  • Expand your family’s menus to include stews and other single-dish meals that can be prepared in a slow cooker. Such meals require far less energy than those calling for the simultaneous use of the oven plus two or three surface units.
  • Develop the habit of “lids-on” cooking. Tightly fitted lids help keep heat within pots and pans, permitting the use of lower temperature settings and shorter cooking times.
  • Begin cooking on highest heat until liquid begins to boil. Then lower the heat control setting and allow food to simmer until fully cooked.
  • Use your microwave oven whenever possible. Microwave ovens draw less than half the power of their conventional counterparts and cook for a much shorter period of time. For example, an item that needs to be cooked in a full-sized oven at 3500 F for one hour will take only 15 minutes to cook in a microwave on the “high” setting.
  • Rather than using the oven for preparing small quantities of food, consider cooking in small portable electric appliances such as a frying pan, grill, or toaster oven. On average, these use only about one-third of the electric power of an oven broiler.
  • Using a microwave oven can reduce your energy used for cooking by more than 50 percent.
  • Letting the water run while shaving or when washing dishes by hand is needless waste. Avoid this by using sink stoppers and dishpans.
  • Encourage  family members to take showers rather than baths. The average person will use about half as much hot water in a shower as in a bath.
  • Lowering you r water heater temperature setting from 1400 F to 1200 F can reduce your water heating energy bill by more than 10 percent.
  • Provide “task” lighting (over desks, tool benches, craft tables, etc.) so that work and leisure activities can be done without illuminating entire rooms.
  • Some compact fluorescent bulbs can be used with dimmer switches. Check the package to make sure they can be used with dimmers. Where possible, consider using dimmable compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Set the wash temperature selector to cold or warm and the rinse temperature to cold as often as possible. Sort laundry and schedule washes so that a complete job can be done with a few cycles of the machine carrying its full capacity rather than a greater number of cycles with light loads.
  • Avoid over-drying. This not only represents a waste of energy but harms fabrics as well.
  • Many dryers have settings that allow an automated moisture sensor to reduce the drying time. Dryers with automated moisture sensors may have a buzzer or other sound system to let you know when clothes are dry. Use the sound system to minimize drying time.
  • Overall, dishwashers use less water than washing dishes by hand. For a full load of dishes in the dishwasher, washing the same dishes by hand would typically use at least 6 more gallons of hot water.
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® label when purchasing a new dishwasher. New criteria went into effect on January 1, 2007, which made ENERGY STAR® units more than 35 percent more efficient than baseline units.
  • Many dishwashers have an option for “air drying” or “heated drying.” The “air drying” setting will use less energy.
  • Unplug any battery chargers or power adapters when electronics are fully charged or disconnected from the charger.
  • Computer screen savers may save screens, but they do not save energy. Make sure that the screen saver does not deactivate your computer’s sleep mode. You can set the computer to operate the screen saver, then go into the sleep mode.
From the booklet, 100 Ways to Improve Your Electric Bill by FirstEngery.

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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Cosmetics

I am excited to be able to share a guest post with you today by my friend, Amy. She and her husband, Steve, lead Financial Peace University at Northway Christian Community in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. She is a “frugal friend” and has an awesome tip to share today!
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Andria,

I wanted to share a fun website that you might enjoy!  I LOVE cosmetics and am always looking for ways to find good products that are affordable.  My problem was that I was always buying things, using them for a little while then deciding that I didn’t really like them and my money was down the drain.  Another girlfriend of mine suggested I read product reviews at:  www.beautypedia.com

This is an awesome website.  It used to be available only if you paid the subscription fee, but now it’s free!  The lady who does the reviews, Paula Begoun, is a consumer expert and has been on Oprah, CNN and The Dr. Oz Show.  What I love is that you can search by product (example-eyeshadow) and she will give her recommendations at each price point.  Often if you read the more detailed review of a product you will find that the drugstore brand product offers just as good if not better results than the more expensive department store lines.  This has saved me so much money!!!!  Now I don’t waste time and money just trying products randomly.  I thoroughly research them on her blog and then make my purchases.

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30 Ways to Cut the Cost of Living: Groceries

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Day 9

#11: Make a goal of saving 30% on your grocery bill. (Just plan to start there…you’ll soon be saving much more than that each week!)

When my husband and I first took a look at our monthly expenses (remember the Monthly Expense List assignment from Day One?), I knew that groceries were a negotiable expense, because I was pretty sure that I could be spending less than I was at the time.  But I wasn’t sure how because I was shopping at Aldi, barely ever buying name-brand products, and skimping in every way I could imagine.  But, as I listened to other moms talk about how they were seeing huge savings with coupons, I knew I needed to check into it more.

I started reading and researching and talking to my money savvy friends, and before I knew it I was off to the grocery store for a trial run.  I marched in with my nine coupons and walked out with nine items, having spent only $4 for what should have cost about $16.  Boy, was I excited!  That was the beginning, and I haven’t stopped since.  It’s a bit of a thrill to see the pre-coupons total on the register, and then to see that total go down–down–down as they ring up your coupons.

Well, saving at the grocery store is much more than a thrill for us, it’s a necessity, and I am happy to say that we have been able to consistently cut our grocery expenses from about $400 to $200 per month without sacrificing in the least.  In fact, I have more in my pantry now than I ever did before.  I tell you all about how to do it in my Couponing 101 post.  If you haven’t read it yet, take a look at it today! You might also be helped by checking out the other pages in my Start Here section (like Grocery costs: what you can expect to spend on specific grocery items when combining sale prices with coupons.)

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