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18 Spending Strategies to Help You
Live Within Your Budget

By Scott Houser
© Sound Mind Investing

[This is part two of an article on 18 money-saving tips prepared by my friend, financial planner Scott Houser (aka "king of the bargain hunters"). — AP]

Negotiate. I am a great believer in negotiating price. Some time ago I was interested in buying a particular charcoal grill. After the salesman explained all the features to me, I asked him the simple question, "Is that price the best you can give?" I ended up saving 10%. I am not always a good negotiator when it comes to talking terms with salesmen. But I have found that the simple principle, "you have not because you ask not," really holds true. I do not negotiate hard; I simply ask if that is their best price.

Matching price policy. Most of the retailers in our geographical area have a policy of matching or beating any advertised price. In the course of a year we will take advantage of this policy several times. Recently, our local hardware store was more than happy to match prices of a discount store when I provided a copy of the store's ad. I've never had anyone "look down on me" for shopping price; in fact, most have been very appreciative of my patronage.

Have a garage sale. We usually have an annual garage sale to help us get rid of the stuff we normally would just keep accumulating. Frankly, it is unbelievable what people will buy in garage sales. We enjoy having them. Often we have free Christian tracts and books available. We have never had a bad experience with a garage sale. And we've never made less than $200. We typically join in with our neighbors, and it is a great time to get to know them better as well.

Coupons. Coupons can save you a great deal of money every week. It takes some work to clip them, but it's well worth the trouble. Why not make coupon clipping a family affair? Coupons can also benefit a family when eating out. Civic or nonprofit organizations often put together books containing coupons such as two-for-one restaurant offers or 10% off your purchase at various stores. We have one in each car plus one at home. If we are unexpectedly away from home at mealtime we are not forced to pay full price—we just pull the book out of the glove compartment and use a coupon.

Avoid recreational shopping. I have spent enough time in financial counseling sessions to know that people are not rational when they make purchasing decisions. Recreational shopping will cause you to buy items that you normally wouldn't buy. Shopping is like any other temptation. Don't put yourself in circumstances that will cater to your potential weaknesses. If you're going shopping, know exactly what you're going for, make a list, and don't deviate from it.

Libraries. Rather than buy books, our family is a faithful user of our neighborhood library. It's not unusual for us to have fifteen to twenty books from the library in our house at one time. Libraries today loan books, have story hours, provide meeting rooms, and are a great environment for your children to spend time in. Besides saving money, libraries are a great way to instill in your children the love of reading, which will benefit them throughout their lives.

Repair vs. replacement. When we were preparing for the arrival of our fifth baby, as I looked at our crib my first thought was that it was rusty, beat up and just not suitable for our precious new baby. After a few hours of painting and the purchase of a new mattress cover, it almost looked better than when we bought it. The point is, don't be quick to think that you need a new item. Perhaps the old one can be repaired. Reupholstering furniture is another way to save. Often a reupholstered piece is better than new because the reupholsterer has repaired and reinforced structural components and probably used better materials than when it was originally purchased.

Haircuts. People I know send their five-year-old to a stylist for a $15 haircut, and in our opinion, that money could be put to better use. So, every few weeks my wife has a haircutting night. If your family adopts this policy, my advice is to be one of the first to have Mom cut your hair. Usually, by the time the last one in line gets to the chair, Mom is tired and a little less careful, but hey, no system is perfect!

Create your own money-saving tips. Most people do not have an income problem but a spending problem. I trust these tips have been helpful and will spur you into some creative thinking on how you can save money in your own situation. What works for me may not work for you, but all of us can save money in certain areas, not sacrifice that much time, and perhaps even improve our quality of life.

On a final note, don't try to squeeze every penny out of every dollar and make saving money into some kind of "second religion." Our family tries to be good stewards in order to provide us with more freedom—the freedom to be flexible in our budget, the freedom to give more, and the freedom to be spontaneous in our spending without being destructive to our overall financial plan. Balance is the key. End

Scott Houser is a Certified Financial Planner who has counseled hundreds of individuals on all facets of the financial planning and investment management process. As a long-time partner in Ronald Blue & Co., Scott played a key role in helping establish the company as a nationally-recognized financial advisory firm.
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