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Breaking the Bank

September 13, 2010 | by Mordechai Schmutter

My tips for saving money -- budget less.

In these trying economic times, you’re probably looking for ways to manage your household finances. Personally, the way I handle my finances is as follows: I try not to think about them. Once in a while, my wife gets it into her head that we have to sit down and come up with a budget. “We have to make a budget,” she says. “Uh huh,” I say. Then I don’t mention anything about it for a while, and hope she forgets.

Where on EARTH does all of my money go?

And my philosophy is true, to some extent. What happens when you try to think about saving money? You open up a magazine and read a whole list of tips on, let’s say, saving money on your heating bill. And then, following this advice, you buy new windows and drapes and re-insulate your home and buy a big wool hat for your hot water heater. And then your first credit card bill comes, and you realize that you spent more money that first month trying to save money than you did all of the other months when you were spending money. So the next month, instead of sitting back and enjoying the lower heating bill, you feel guilty about how much you spent, and you read another article that says that you can save money on gas for your car if you replaced all of the parts except for the Green bumper sticker. And so on.

But I’m starting to get the idea, based on the fact that you’ve made it this far into the article, that you are the type of person who does want to think about finances. So here’s some advice:

The first step in managing your household finances is to think about where all of your money goes. The way to do this is to sit down at the kitchen table, put your head in your hands, and say, “Where on EARTH does all of my money go?” You should probably make a list. When you’re done with that, you can make yourself feel better by making a list of all of your income. Your income is any money that you make at your job that both the government and your kids’ school see when they look at your tax return, so good luck getting any of that for yourself. You’re better off focusing on your solid assets, as follows:

-Pennies underneath furniture: $65.00

-Actual market value of furniture if you ever decided to sell it at a garage sale: $9.00

-Letters informing you that you may already have won a million dollars: 6

Once you have your two lists, compare the totals. If your income is greater than your expenses, great! But if your expenses are greater, then maybe you should start looking at your day to day expenses for things to cut out, such as newspaper subscriptions.

No, wait, scratch that. You should definitely buy newspapers. Lots of them. At least five or six copies of each. There are so many different uses for newspapers that reading the news is just a side benefit.

Okay, so most of the uses involve wrapping things. For instance, people use them to wrap pots before Shabbos, shelves before Pesach, all of their worldly belongings before they move -- some people even use them to wrap presents, because nothing says: “Look! I bought your present at the dollar store!” like wrapping it in, say, the Help Wanted section. Or a wedding gift in the Mazel Tov section. Or a housewarming gift in the Real Estate section. Also, if you stack your unread newspapers near the front door, you can use them as furniture.

Another way you can keep your budget down is by keeping on top of your food costs. For starters, you can clip coupons. My wife and I clip coupons, which we put in a little folder in our dining room, and we save no money at all, because sadly we don’t take our dining room with us when we go shopping. Also, it’s not always worth holding up a grocery line until you find your coupon. When we were growing up, the average coupon would save us, say, $1 on a $2 item. Nowadays that same item is $4, and the coupon saves us 75 cents when we buy six.

And then there’s utility bills. Most experts say that you can reduce your electric bill by keeping your refrigerator full, so that the foods keep each other cold. If you have no food in the fridge, you can fill it with random-sized bottles of water. That way, when someone comes to your house, you can offer them a drink. “Here, sit down on these old newspapers. Can I offer you some water?”

The problem is that if you’re like most people, you’re going to look at your expenses list and say that there’s nothing to cut down. So the key is to have a friend or neighbor look over the list for you, and you can look over his.

He’ll say: “What? You buy paper plates? They come off more expensive in the long run!”

And you’ll say, “You use regular dishes? Do you also prewash them before you put them in the dishwasher? Once you’re prewashing them, why bother putting them in the dishwasher? How much more water would it take to just wash them completely the first time?”

And he’ll say: “I can’t believe you have a cleaning lady! She comes over once a week and… What? Helps you throw out your paper plates?”

So then you’ll get upset and not talk to each other anymore, and you won’t have to invite each other to parties or exchange gifts, which, if nothing else, will save you money on newspapers. And then you’ll be able to save your hard-earned money for other things, such as putting up a fence.

There. Aren’t you glad you thought about your finances?

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