Challenge #4 – Reduce One Expense

Cut expenses and save

Good morning, and happy Day 19!

Just a quick reminder that you still have time to participate in the mid-month weigh-in and be eligible to win a copy of the fabulous book The Prosperous Heart–Creating a Life of “Enough” by Julia Cameron. Just leave a comment on the Check In page by midnight MST tonight, and you’ll be automatically entered.

You’ll enjoy reading everyone’s progress and comments. You are all accomplishing so many amazing things this month! Thanks to Jamie, Lyn, Jessica, Annette, Sara, Susan T., Linda, Povy, Meg, Annie, Cindy, Carolyn, Margaret, Jan, Hilary, Nancy, Betty, Peggy, Steph and Colette for checking in and inspiring us all.

Now, let’s dive in to Challenge #4.

As you know, this year’s January Money Diet includes 5 extra challenges to help strengthen our relationship with money. Everyone who completes all five challenges will be entered in a special prize drawing at the end of the month.

In case you missed them, here are links to the first three challenges:

Challenge #1 – Give 31 things away.

Challenge #2 – Figure out your net worth.

Challenge #3 Do something to earn an extra $25 or more this month.

Are you ready for our next adventure?

Challenge #4 – Reduce At Least One Expense

Keeping our monthly overhead as low as possible is an important savings strategy. The expenses we pay month after month, year after year, can really add up. Companies love to commit us to long contracts and automatic monthly payments, so we need to be vigilant about evaluating our ongoing expenses.

Look at each of your regular monthly expenses and ask yourself whether you’re truly getting your money’s worth from your hard-earned dollars. Could you eliminate something and pocket the savings each month?

We Finally Cut the Cable Cord

I wish I would have done this a year ago, but we finally cancelled our Comcast cable this year. We were paying $60 a month for a very basic family package that included a couple favorite channels like Food Network and HGTV. But we rarely watched the shows when they aired. When I did turn on the TV, it was usually to watch national or local news.

I decided to try a digital antenna, which cost $22 on Amazon, to see how it worked before I made the big move to cancel cable. I set it up with one of our TVs and was amazed at the quality of the picture. I had to move the antenna twice to get all of the local channels clearly, but once I found the perfect spot it has worked great. A bonus is that the picture is high definition, without paying the extra cost that the cable company in our area charges for HD.

Then I called Comcast and began the process of cancelling. The rep tried very hard to offer us several other packages and options. The total time for the call was about 30 minutes. Next, I had to remove the box and all the cords, drive over to the Comcast store, and return them. That process went very smoothly and took less than an hour. Comcast even sent me a refund check for a few days’ service since I cancelled before the end of the billing period.

Once the cable was cancelled I signed up for Hulu, which streams current programming. We already had Netflix. Our total monthly cost for Netflix and Hulu is $22 per month.

We will save $456 this year by letting go of cable, and we feel like we have many more entertainment options than we did before.

Research Your Options

Do you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth with your cable or satellite TV bill? Break down your monthly bill and divide it by the number of shows you watch. Is it really worth it? Are you paying cable box rental fees for TVs in other rooms that you don’t watch?

Could you completely cut the cable cord? Here’s a review of best digital antennas by Tom’s Guide, and one of the top-rated models costs just $23.

Many of your favorite programs may be available online via the network’s website, and YouTube often features clips or full programs of popular shows. You might also be able to connect your laptop or mobile device to your TV and watch shows from your favorite networks right on the big screen. Tom’s Guide has straightforward advice about streaming video from common devices to your TV, either using a cord or doing so wirelessly.

Are you paying a monthly fee for a DVR? Make one yourself with a hard drive that interfaces with your TV signal. Here’s how.

A service like Sling TV, Netflix or Hulu might be a less expensive option for streaming entertainment.

We also sometimes borrow DVDs of movies and TV shows free from the library, or pay an occasional small fee to Redbox to watch a recent movie.

Telephone and Wireless Fees

By now you probably know many people who have cancelled their home telephone service, and simply use their mobile phone for calls. If you still have a land line, how many quality calls do you receive, and how many telemarketing calls do you receive? Can you still justify the cost?

Are you using all of the data you pay for on your wireless bill? Would it be cheaper to reduce the usage on your plan and pay the occasional overage fee if needed? Have you comparison-shopped recently to review carriers and plans?

What about your internet service? Have you checked out competitive plans and packages lately? I need to call our cable company and see how their price and speed compares to the service we have with our phone company. The last time I checked, I couldn’t justify the extra expense for higher speed but the market and pricing may have changed since then.

Other Ways to Save

Do you subscribe to newspapers and magazines? If you find you’re regularly recycling publications without reading them, perhaps it’s time to do your reading online or check out publications free from the library. Our library offers free downloads of digital magazines via Zinio.

Does your dog go to the groomer regularly? Learn how to do it yourself, and save both time and money.

Could you cut your own lawn and let the lawn service go? (What about eliminating your lawn altogether and replacing it with hardy clover, xeriscaping — or edible plants?)

If you belong to a gym, are you going often enough to justify the expense? (If you’re stuck with a long-term contract, you’re not alone. Check out this recent Washington Post article about how gyms count on attrition to stay profitable.) Could you ride your bike, run, walk or work out at home?

Spend an hour doing the math with your health insurance plan’s various offerings. The true cost for the convenience of that small $30 co-pay for doctor’s visits can often be quite expensive. If you’re healthy and generally only go to the doctor a couple of times a year, you might save hundreds of dollars by increasing the co-pay on doctor’s visits and prescriptions.

How About You?

Challenge #4 is to go through your regular monthly expenses with a ruthless eye, and find something to trim or cancel. We’d love to hear your experience in the Comments section of this page.

Hugs and happy saving,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Fix or Maintain Something You Already Own

Fix, Maintain and Polish Your Possessions | January Money Diet

 

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!”

Perhaps you’ve heard that old saying. People of our grandparents’ generation weren’t nearly the consumers that we are today. They grew up learning to take care of their possessions and make things last, a useful skill that can help stretch dollars today.

Let’s Fix, Polish or Maintain Something

We honor our possessions when we take good care of them. This quiet January is the perfect time to tackle a few maintenance tasks or make something shiny and new again.

This weekend I used a can of white paint I already had on hand to touch up some of the interior trim in the house that had gotten chipped. It’s amazing how much better it looks. I also sharpened the kitchen knives. These small, simple tasks are surprisingly satisfying.

This week, I plan to get out the shoe polish kit and make my scuffed brown boots look great again. I also want to sew a button back on my favorite sweater.

How About You?

Perhaps your garden tools could use a good cleaning and sharpening, or maybe you’re ready to delete old computer files, update all the programs, do a disc cleanup and make your machine zippy again. Perhaps your bike could use a good tune-up, or you feel like washing the windows or polishing the furniture.

Do you have something you can fix, polish or maintain this week? If you accomplish this task, we’d all love to hear what you did in the Comments section of this page. It’s been so inspiring to read your first-hand experiences with this money diet.

Keep up the good work, and you’ll hear from me again tomorrow with Challenge #4.

Hugs and gratitude,

The signature for Eliza Cross

The Easiest, Most Painless Way to Save Money and Time

“Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” – John 6:12b

Many of us can significantly reduce our monthly expenses without sacrificing one thing. The key is to eliminate wasting resources. When we stop wasting, we enjoy the same quality of life but we have more – more for ourselves, and more to share.

True Confession Time

I’m not proud of this list, but these are some of the things I’ve wasted:

Food – I’ve cooked too much, purchased too much, and forgotten about food. I’ve stored food improperly so it spoiled before we ate it. I feel so terrible when I waste food.

Time – I’ve wasted time on social media, watching mindless TV, and doing unproductive things like worrying or gossiping.

Money – I’ve wasted money on impulse buys, and purchasing things to impress others. I’ve bought things I didn’t really need.

Resources – I’ve left the lights on in an empty room, and let the water run needlessly. I’ve been careless and forgotten that the automatic sprinklers were running on during a rain storm. I’ve discarded things that someone else could have used.

Practical Strategies for Reducing Waste

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy, costing the average family between $1,365 and $2,275 each year.

On the positive side, using only what we need can be a wonderful way to stretch our money, honor the earth’s resources, and have more to share with those in need.

For inspiration, you might enjoy reading about a family who’s figured out how to cut waste at  Zero Waste Home.

Waste Less Food

* Cook the right amount for your family. If you regularly throw away uneaten portions, recalculate your favorite recipes. Better to eat every bite and occasionally give a family member an apple if he’s still hungry after a meal, than constantly discard leftovers.

* Take leftovers to work the following day for lunch, and save money on meals out.

* Reinvent your leftovers in another meal (casserole, stir fry, soup) within a day or two.

* Freeze leftover meat, veggies, juices, milk, etc. for soups and stews. Do this within a day or two of cooking to preserve quality.

* Save and freeze the cooking water from vegetables, and use it as a flavor-enhancing base for soups and sauces. Spaghetti sauce freezes well, too.

* Be aware of small waste. Do you routinely throw away a third cup of coffee from the pot every day? Measure out exactly how much you need and experiment until you find the exact amount that eliminates waste.

* Save the carcass from a roast chicken or turkey and use it to make a batch of homemade stock.

* American restaurants are notorious for serving too-large portions. Don’t be shy about asking for a doggie bag at a restaurant. Or consider sharing a meal to eliminate food waste.

* If they’re too far gone, compost fruits and vegetables that are past their prime.

Conserve Resources

* Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.

*Repair drippy faucets and leaky toilets.

*Only run full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine.

*Check out these 100 water saving ideas.

*Try these energy saving ideas from Day 4.

Waste Less Time

As a self-employed writer, making the most of my time is a daily challenge.

Here’s my simple tip, which I read a long time ago and try to practice every weekday. At the beginning of the day, write down your Top Three — the three most important things you would feel really good accomplishing today. Then start with the one task on the list that makes you feel the most resistance.

If you get off track browsing Pinterest for donut recipes or watching funny dog videos (speaking for myself), just re-focus on those three things. Repeat tomorrow.

How About You?

Is yours a zero-waste home, or is this an area you want to work on? Do you have ideas to add to this list? If you’ve adopted any conservation strategies, will you share them with us in the Comments section of this page?

Here’s to wasting less, and sharing more in 2017.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

January Money Diet Halfway Point – Check In and Win

Check In with your progress | January Money Diet

 

We’re fifty percent in! Happy January 16th, my friends. You’ve officially crossed the halfway mark of January. For the next two weeks, we’ll stick together and encourage each other to finish the January Money Diet STRONG.

We can accomplish such good things with our money this month, if we all stick together and persevere.

The Prosperous Heart To keep your momentum going, I challenge you to do a mid-month “weigh in” and report your progress in the Comments section of this page. If you participate, you could win a copy of one of my favorite, most-thought provoking money books, The Prosperous Heart–Creating a Life of “Enough” by Julia Cameron. This book has dozens of exercises to help readers explore what true prosperity looks like. As you might guess from the title, author Julia Cameron suggests that having a truly rich life isn’t about making and hoarding more money.

To be automatically entered, just leave a comment on this page with your results so far in the January Money Diet. I’ll do a random drawing this Friday and choose a lucky winner for the book.

I’ll go first.

Our Family’s Progress

We’ve done well with sticking to the diet. A Starbucks gift card from my friend Sandy has given us several coffee and hot chocolate splurges.

The kitchen pantry and shelves are much more organized, and I’ve been cooking things we already had on hand. However, I really need to take inventory of the freezer. It’s jam-packed and I need to straighten it out and cook some of the food inside.

I’ve given away two bags of clothes and books this month–17 things. I need to give away 14 more things.

I figured our net worth on January 1. Because I track it monthly, we hit our goal for 2016. I set a new goal for 2017, which includes paying off my $4100 car loan.

We’ve been fairly obsessive about saving energy, turning off lights and keeping the heat down at night.

I’ve planned meals, and we’ve eaten well this month.

I will run an ad this week to sell a no-longer-needed pet habitat in the hopes of earning $25.

For the “nesting” challenge of creating a peaceful space, I’ve been working on my home office. It still needs a lot of attention.

It’s snowing here in Colorado today, and I think I’ll make a cup of tea this afternoon and sketch out some garden plans. I want to add a new raised bed to our urban homestead next summer, and it’ll be fun to think about what to plant.

But I haven’t begun the “finish a project” challenge of repairing the drywall hole in the ceiling.

How About You?

Confession is good for the soul. Check in, leave a comment, and let us know how you’re doing so far on the January Money Diet.

Have a wonderful MLK Day and stay strong! You’ll hear from me tomorrow with an easy, foolproof strategy for saving money — without sacrificing one bit.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Grateful thanks to Evelyn at Our Hybrid Lives for mentioning the January Money Diet in your excellent blog. If you’re blogging about the diet, let me know so I can link to your site. You can leave a comment below with a link to your blog, or e-mail me at elizagcross (at) gmail (dot) com.

Plan Your Garden During the January Money Diet

Plan your garden during the January Money Diet

This time of year, I love to start thinking about seeds and plants and getting my hands in the dirt.

Do you enjoy daydreaming about your future garden, too? The month of January is the perfect time to begin making plans and sketching out ideas for your ideal plot, especially if you’re on a money diet.

In the Day #3 post  (“Let’s Eat Really Great Food“), I enjoyed reading comments from a number of you who grow your own food and preserve it so you can enjoy it all year. What a wonderful way to eat well and save money. We do this on a small scale, growing and freezing produce like tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, basil for pesto, and pumpkins. I’d love to try cultivating some new fruits and veggies this year.

Grow a Garden in Any Space

If you live in an apartment, you might be able to choose plants that thrive in your climate and can be grown in containers. Our friend Jerry grows cherry tomatoes year ’round from a pot in a sunny window in his downtown Denver apartment.

Do you have access to a roof or balcony? The Kitchn posted an informative article on rooftop gardening.

If you have a small yard or garden plot, you may enjoy the “Square Foot Gardening” method to maximize your yield from a small space.

If you have a typical yard, you might be inspired by the Urban Homestead website. This family grows 3 tons of food on 1/10th of an acre!

If you don’t have a yard but long to really dig in the dirt, you might check out the community gardens in your area. The American Community Gardening Association has a nifty interactive map to help you find one near you.

Time to Daydream

It’s always fun to peruse the new seed catalogs and online offerings each year to see what new varieties have been introduced. These are some of my favorite seed companies:

The site MicroEcoFarming.com has a wealth of information about growing your own food — including tips for how to sell what you grow as an extra revenue source.

You might also enjoy the Happy Simple Gardening Pinterest board, where I collect low-labor ideas for growing good food and flowers, along with whimsical posts and photos from others who have created imaginative landscapes.

How About You?

Would you like to start planning your garden? Check out some gardening sites, sketch out ideas, and make a list of the seed varieties you want to plant this year. If you don’t have a garden, daydream about what you’d like to grow someday. Leave a comment on this page if you participate in this challenge.

We’d especially love to hear about any edible varieties you’ve grown successfully in the past. If you have favorite gardening sites and sources, we’d love to hear about those, too.

Enjoy the weekend, and you’ll hear from me again on Monday.

Happy daydreaming,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Congratulations to Deborah, who won a copy of the book “Your Money or Your Life” for completing Challenge #2 and figuring her net worth. Watch for more giveaways this month.

The Easiest Way to Set Your Money Goals

Explore your financial dream | January Money Diet

It’s Day #12 of the January Money Diet, and perhaps you’re experiencing the wonder and joy of a checking account balance that holds steady.

I’ve been doing this challenge for eight years, and I still get excited by this realization:  If I don’t spend it, it will still be there!

The greater truth then becomes:  If I am mindful and thoughtful, then I — a regular, working person — can do something extraordinary with money.

I could be like Oseola McCarty, who worked her whole life cleaning other people’s clothes and homes and saved $150,000, which she used to finance scholarships for needy students to the University of Southern Mississippi.

Taking Time to Dream

When I worked for the publishing company, we held a 2-day retreat every autumn for the managers. Away from the daily demands of the company, we could devote some time to really consider our collective hopes and goals, and make plans for the future.

Sometimes we all need a little self-imposed quiet time to reflect and think. I encourage you to set aside some time and explore your hopes and dreams. What are your goals for your money? When you think of financial freedom, what comes to mind? What extraordinary thing would you like to do with your money?

My goals used to be heavily focused on getting out of debt, which was a dark cloud hanging over me. The relief and freedom I felt when I made the last credit card payment was unbelievable. If this is your dream, too, I encourage you to stick with it.

Today my dreams and goals include saving for the future and giving.

Also:  having fun. FUN is my one-word resolution for 2017.

How About You?

Your challenge today, if you choose to accept it, is to sit in a quiet place and think about your Big Picture financial goals. Where would you like to be at the end of 2017? How about in five years, and in ten years?

If you feel like sharing, we’d love to hear about your money dreams and goals in the comments section of this page.

Here’s to big dreams and good things in the year ahead,

The signature for Eliza Cross