December 30, 2010

Soooo, I’m about to walk into 2011 with nearly $9,000 less in annual expenses. And even though I’m happy about this development, it also makes me feel rather pathetic. Since when is $9k a big deal??! There was a time when saving or spending a few grand didn’t matter. But that was then. These days, cutting costs is the new getting ahead.

After my divorce in 2000, downsizing was the new getting ahead. The square footage of the houses that I’ve owned shrunk from 6,400 to 2,400  to 2,000. I drove out of my marriage in a silver Lexus, traded it in for a Suburu and currently own a Toyota. It’s been ages since I shopped at Saks; I’m a Kohl’s and Target girl now!

Walking into 2011, I can see that downsizing is no longer enough. The cash flow is more like a trickle. It’s steady, though. For that, I’m thankful. But to stretch my dollars, I’ve had to make a few new, strategic moves:

  • I just refinanced my fixed rate mortgage, saving me $239.56 every month. I was lucky to lock into an interest rate of 4.25 percent . My annual savings: $2,874.72.
  • My health insurance bill is down by $373 per month. Two of the colleges that I teach at offer health insurance. After some research, I discovered that they were providing the exact same monthly HMO plan at shockingly different costs: $796 at one school and $423 at the other.  Why? It’s a question of usage. The college with the higher charges has more employees who require more care. Annual savings: $4,476.
  • I’ll taking my all-day Friday painting classes for free. The tuition is $160 a month. But my teacher just asked me to be her class monitor, which means that I can attend at no cost if I: set up the easels, tables and lights; make sure students pay up at the start of each month; shush anyone who is chatting so that we can paint in peaceful silence. Annual savings: $1,600.

I want to enter 2011 feeling as financially secure as possible. Even though the nation is supposed to be in recovery mood, things still look pretty shaky to me. So looking forward to next year, my key words are “safe” and “stable.”

Here are a few more things I’m doing to save money:

  • I just got a new Blackberry for free. My daughter wanted the new, $200 Blackberry Bold for Christmas. Our Verizon account was eligible for a deal that got us the phone for $100 (after a $100 rebate). Not only that — we lucked into a two-for-one special that got us the second phone for free.
  • All my fitness classes are online. About two years ago, I discovered the joys of online exercise videos. Yes, I pay for them, but it amounts to nothing compared to the $20-per-session charge for live classes. I highly recommend, which, for $18 a month, lets me take unlimited yogo classes of all types on its gorgeous website. I also like the unlimited salsa lessons on BailaSociety and the $49.95 that I pay every three months to subscribe. Both sites offer free trials, if you’re interested.
  • We eat more vegetarian meals at home. It’s amazing how much money I’ve saved by shopping less often for meat. I hardly buy it at all anymore. At most, I purchase fish once a week. Going semi-vegetarian was a lifestyle decision rather than a financial issue. But it’s turned out to be a win-win situation on all fronts.
  • Tap water has become my beverage of choice at home. H2O is the best thing for my body and my complexion. It also happens to be free (I have a filter installed on the kitchen faucet). Even though my daughter and her friends love Trader Joe’s Organic Apple Grape Juice, water is their second choice at our house.

I hope  writing about my search for savings isn’t too boring. I just have a hunch that in 2011, the issue of trying to make money is going to be more of a concern than ever. Maybe I should just end this post by saying, happy holidays and….see you next year! xoxox.

P.S. — Don’t you just love the caption on the cartoon? It’s from The New Yorker, the only print magazine that I still subscribe to. I like getting it in the mail and ripping out cartoons that make me laugh. Of course, sometimes I read the articles and save them too.   ;-)

Update on Dec. 31: I just remembered something important I learned earlier this year. This lesson deals specifically with those darned fixed costs — like insurance and utility bills. The revelation was that it’s possible to reduce these too. Just call the company and ask customer service if there’s anything you can do to cut down on your bill.

When I asked my home insurance carrier that question, it knocked my annual bill down by a few hundred dollars. I was entitled to the discount for good behavior — there haven’t been any claims against my house or property.

And over the summer, I eliminated my $90 Cablevision cable TV bill by signing up for Verizon’s competing FIOS service. As the new player, Verizon is offering all kinds of package deals. Now, I get Verizon landline service, high speed Internet service and cable — all for a little over $100 per month. On a separate occasion, I called to to complain about my bill and I was given some kind of “courtesy discount.” It means that an additional $15 was taken off of my bill every month for a full year!