Savings time!

No, I’m not talking about the impending change to our clocks that’s about to hit. I mean moolah; dough; coin of the realm. I’m talking saving big bucks, to help ease you and yours through this economic downturn. Just remember; when you see how much you’re saving, be sure to spend a little of it at TwoMorrows, okay?

First of all, with the economy in the crisis it’s in these days, everyone’s undoubtedly going to have to make some sacrifices of their own. We have in our family (both our publishing family, and our nuclear one). But the steps I’m going to suggest here aren’t those dire, severe changes; only you can examine your own personal situations and decide if it’s time for steps that’ll cause major upheaval. Instead, my goal here is to suggest some common sense, easy things you can do, right away, to immediately save you money on your monthly budget (and yield long-term savings), WITHOUT causing any real sacrifice, other than your time to implement them. These may be no-brainers to the more economically-minded of you out there, but even so, with all our busy schedules, I’ll bet few of us have taken the time to do this.

I saw the writing on the wall about the economy over a year ago, and in Summer 2007, implemented a lot of steps that have continued to pay off for us since then. But the first step: AUDIT! (Not anyone’s favorite word, for sure.) Trust me; this is an audit that’s a lot easier to take (and implement) than one from the Internal Revenue Service.

Simply put, you audit your expenses by making a list with two columns:

Column 1: “Expense” (list the name of EVERY ITEM OR SERVICE you spend money on that you can track, using your checkbook entries, credit card statements, and bank statements for the last three months)

Column 2: “Amount” (list how much you spend each month, on average, on that item)

The time-consuming part of this is going over your last three months’ statements and figuring out what you spend money on. If you’re like me, it’ll be a very enlightening process, when you see how it all adds up.

Then, it’s “tough decision time.” You’ve got to decide which of those items you really don’t need. There may be a few or many. There may be none. But be brutal, and if you’ve got a gym membership you never use, of if you’re paying for premium cable channels and you never have time to watch more than the news and a couple of sitcoms, circle them with a big red pen, and tomorrow, call and cancel them. Huge, immediate savings can be found right there.

Next, decide which of those items you simply must keep, and you can’t do anything to reduce how much you’re spending on them. Stuff like mortgages and car loans likely fall into this category, since without the hassle (and financial implications) of refinancing, you’re pretty much stuck with what you have. Hit those with a green or yellow highlighter pen, and leave them alone.

The rest of the items are all fair game, and with a little digging, I’ll bet you can find ways to substantially reduce how much you’re paying for them, and still keep them in your life. Here’s a few quick suggestions of things you can save on if you shop around:

1) Gym memberships (the local YMCA may be nicer, and cheaper, than many local gyms, and there’s no penalties for cancelling your membership)
2) Hair salons (unless you’re sold on your current stylist, there’s likely someone equally good that might be a little cheaper; ask a friend who has great hair who they see)
3) Health Insurance
4) Phone service (more on this later)
5) Car and homeowners insurance
6) Cable TV vs. satellite
7) Life Insurance
8 ) Pest control and lawn services (shop around if you can’t do-it-yourself)
9) Groceries
10) Eating out
11) Gasoline
12) Annual termite inspection for your home
13) Internet service
14) Shipping costs if you mail a lot of stuff

Over my next few posts, I’m going to start offering details on how we saved considerably on some of the larger expenses that we couldn’t get rid of. In all cases, we’re getting the same level of service or product, but just paying less each month for them.