In my book “Frugillionaire,” I offer 500 tips on living a frugal, yet fabulous, life. Tip #485 is “Lower your expectations.”
It may seem odd advice in our “shoot for the stars,” “fake it ‘til you make it” society. But expectations are a powerful psychological influence over our spending; and they can, indeed, spell the difference between financial security and crushing debt.
Expectations play a particularly important role in the milestones we share with our significant other: like becoming engaged, getting married, and buying our first house. High expectations surrounding these events can be a recipe for frustration, debt, and divorce. Temper them, however, and you’ll experience the same amount of happiness — at significantly less expense.
Let’s start with the engagement. You’ve met Mr. Right, and you’re starry-eyed and love-struck. Any day now, he could drop to one knee and pop the question. The problem occurs when you have certain expectations of the rock he’ll put on your finger. Pressure to produce a 1-carat stone, or spend two months’ salary, may very well result in a fiancé with depleted savings — or worse yet, massive credit card debt. Not the best way to start off your financial relationship together!
If, on the other hand, you remove the burden of expectation — by making it clear, for example, that the size of the diamond means little to you — you’ll be rewarded with a significantly richer partner.
Fast forward to the wedding. Your expectations for this day have been building since you were a little girl — they may involve a country club venue, elegant ice sculptures, and a guest list in the hundreds. But is it really worth being princess for a day, if it means taking on debt of royal proportions? Consider instead if all you expected was a simple ceremony with friends and family. You and your groom would instantly “save” tens of thousands of dollars, and start your lives on solid financial footing.
Finally, let’s consider the biggest financial transaction of your life: buying a house. Expectations here can make or break you financially. If you envision yourself throwing dinner parties in a 4000-square-foot McMansion, anything less may feel like a disappointment — leading you, perhaps, to take on risky loans and live paycheck-to-paycheck. But if you want nothing more than a roof over your head, you’d be equally delighted with a modest bungalow. In the latter case, you’d not only have a warm place to sleep; you’d sleep much easier, knowing you can comfortably make your payments, and put money in the bank.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big — just channel those lofty aspirations towards personal, civic, or spiritual development. When it comes to consumer-driven life events — particularly the major ones you share with your partner — lowering your expectations can put you on the path to marital, and financial, bliss.
Looking for a little extra dough to pay your bills, or pay down debt? Consider liquidating some of your unused, or unloved, possessions.
Here are some easy ways to gain some space in your home, and cash in your wallet:
* Have a yard sale. Increase the traffic (and fun) by inviting neighbors to join you.
* Sell through Craigslist.com. Online classifieds are a great way to sell furniture, lawn and garden equipment, computers, and electronics.
* Sell through Ebay.com. If you have more valuable or unique cast-offs, online auctions may yield the best price.
* Sell through Amazon.com. Sell your used books, CDs, DVDs, and other items through the retail giant’s Marketplace program.
* Sell through a consignment shop. Consignment shops are a great outlet for gently-used, brand name clothing.
Property taxes are a significant part of a homeowner’s monthly budget. Challenge your assessment, and you may be able to save hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars each year.
To be successful, you’ll have to show that your home has been overvalued. Take the time to research public property records. If comparable houses in your neighborhood have lower assessments, you have a strong case.
You may also be able to use a falling housing market to your advantage. Enlist the help of a real estate agent to prove that market values in your area have declined in recent months.
Finally, check if the assessor has made any errors in evaluating your property. If they’ve overstated the square footage, or number of bedrooms or bathrooms, you may qualify for a rate reduction.
For further insight into the appeals process, and advice on how to proceed, check out the following articles:
How to Reduce Your Property Taxes | BusinessWeek.com
Challenge Your Property Tax Assessment | The Motley Fool
How to Fight Your Ballooning Property Tax | MSN Money
The next time something breaks around the house, consider repairing it yourself. You don’t have to be an experienced contractor to tackle some of the most common problems—all you need are some basic tools and a little instruction.
Attending workshops at your local hardware store or home improvement center is a great way to learn the fundamentals, and become familiar with handling tools. Alternatively, you can pick up a basic home repair book like the Black & Decker Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair.
You’ll also find plenty of project-specific instructions (including video tutorials!) on the internet.
Here are some common DIY repairs that can save you some serious cash:
Fixing a Leaky Faucet | This Old House
Unclogging a Drain | DoItYourself.com
How to Replace Broken Window Glass | Ron Hazleton’s HouseCalls
How to Repair Concrete Cracks | DIY Network
How to Repair a Leaking Toilet | Reader’s Digest
A reader recently wrote in to ask me if it’s more frugal to take baths or showers.
Well, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we use about 70 gallons of water for a full bath, versus 10-25 gallons for a five-minute shower.
The answer seems obvious, but let me repeat the most important part of that sentence: a five-minute shower. Double or triple that, and you’re straying into bath territory in terms of water use. Stay in the shower 20 minutes, and it may have been better to have a good soak.
Given that few of us have clocks on our bathroom walls, how can we keep our showers short?
1. Use a kitchen timer.
2. Play a single song on a CD player or iPod, and try to finish before it’s over.
3. Focus on the task at hand: wash, shampoo, and rinse.
4. Save extra rituals like shaving, and brushing your teeth, for when the water isn’t running.
5. If you’re going for your black belt in frugality, try a Navy shower. Turn on the water briefly to wet your body, then turn it off while you soap up and scrub. Turn it on again only to rinse.
Of course, you’ll also want to install a low-flow showerhead if you haven’t already.
Since showers account for roughly two-thirds of water heating costs, shortening them will save money on your energy as well as your water bill.
When it’s time to replace your old refrigerator or dishwasher, regard it as a wonderful opportunity to slash your utility bills. It’s your chance to choose an energy- or water-efficient model, and keep more money in your pocket each month!
But how can you tell where a washing machine, for example, stands on the scale of efficiency? Fortunately, the government has made such evaluation easy with its ENERGY STAR program, a joint effort between the U. S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
There’s no need to measure gallons or kilowatts, or calculate how effectively a spin cycle removes water—it’s all been done for you! Simply look for the EnergyGuide label: it estimates how much energy the appliance uses, how that compares to similar products, and approximately how much you’ll pay to operate it each year.
Top performers earn the ENERGY STAR. These appliances use 10-50% less energy and water than standard models. They may carry a slightly higher price tag, but the savings on your utility bills will usually quickly make up the difference.
The ENERGY STAR program extends far beyond common household appliances—look for the label on air conditioners, boilers, furnaces, computers, home electronics, power adapters, light fixtures and more. There’s even an ENERGY STAR label for new homes!
If you perform regular maintenance on your home and appliances, you can avoid costly repair bills down the road!
Here are ten ways to keep your home in tip-top shape:
1. Inspect your HVAC filter monthly, and replace if necessary
2. Clean your clothes dryer vent regularly
3. Vacuum the coils of your refrigerator twice a year
4. Remove debris from gutters and downspouts
5. Inspect your roof, and replace damaged shingles before a leak occurs
6. Have your chimney inspected and cleaned yearly
7. Check and replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
8. Clean the filter on your range hood
9. Have your furnace inspected by a professional before heating season
10. Clean lime and soap scum from shower heads and faucets
Schedule these tasks on your calendar, so you’ll remember to tackle them at the appropriate time. It’s much less expensive to address small problems before they become BIG ones—and even better when you can avoid them altogether with a little preventative maintenance!
As the weather gets cooler, it’s time to think about plugging the air leaks in your home.
How do you find them? Light a candle and slowly walk along the walls of your home. Be particularly vigilant around windows, doors, and electrical outlets. Drafts of outside air will cause the flame to flicker—and show you exactly where you need to concentrate your weatherproofing efforts!
Use caulk or weather stripping to seal around windows and doors, and fill in any cracks or holes you find. Stop the drafts that come through electrical outlets with foam gaskets—you’ll find them at your local hardware store.
If you have older, inefficient windows, you’ll need a little extra insulation in the winter—try using heavy curtains, blankets, or plastic film to keep the cold air out. And don’t forget about the bottoms of doors: use draft dodgers and sweeps to plug the gap.
For more detailed information and instructions, see the following sites:
BobVila.com – Caulk and Weatherstripping
The Money Pit – Sealing Drafts
YouTube.com – How to Install Foam Gaskets Under Light Switch Plates
YouTube.com – How To Insulate Your Windows With Plastic
DIY Network – How to Install a Door Sweep
When it comes to weatherproofing, a little effort can make a big difference in your comfort and utility bills. Stop those chilly drafts, and you’ll have a cozier home and a fatter wallet!
How would you like to slash two utility bills with one simple device? It’s easy: install a low-flow showerhead.
Traditional showerheads use 5 to 8 gallons of water per minute—that’s a lot of water (and money) going down the drain!
Low-flow showerheads, on the other hand, use only 2.5 gallons of water or less. Therefore, installing one will save you several gallons of water each minute of your shower. Depending on the number of members in your household (and their showering habits), that can really add up!
Here’s the bonus: not only will you save on your water bill, you’ll also save on energy. Since hardly anyone likes a cold shower, you’re likely using quite a bit of gas or electricity to heat the water. When you use a low-flow showerhead, there’ll be less water to heat—meaning lower energy bills as well!
Low-flow showerheads are inexpensive, and readily available at your local hardware store or home improvement center. They’re also easy to install (no advanced plumbing skills required!).
See the following sites for detailed instructions and video tutorials:
Install Low Flow Showerhead Video | Sierra Club Green Home
Installing Low-Flow Showerheads (Tips.Net)
How To Install A Low Flow Showerhead
White vinegar is an all-natural, inexpensive, household-cleaning workhorse. It kills germs and bacteria, and it’s safe for the environment.
Use it as a substitute for pricey commercial cleansers, and you can keep your house sparkling—without cleaning out your bank account.
Here are 10 money-saving ways to use white vinegar in your home:
1. Use undiluted to clean sinks and countertops
2. Use undiluted to remove dirt and grease from your stovetop
3. Use a spray bottle with equal parts vinegar and water to remove mildew and soap scum from tubs and tiles
4. Use a spray bottle with equal parts vinegar and water to clean windows and glass surfaces
5. Mix half a cup of vinegar with a gallon of water to clean hardwood and laminate floors
6. Deodorize your drain by pouring in a cup of vinegar, waiting half an hour, then running the water
7. Use undiluted to remove stains and rings from your toilet bowl
8. Add half a cup to your laundry as a fabric softener
9. Use vinegar to treat stains on clothing before laundering
10. Disinfect sponges by soaking in a bowl of vinegar overnight