Friday, November 14, 2008

Be Creative

Tip #27 - Be Creative When Trying To Save Money. There are the ways "everyone else" does things and there are the ways frugal people do things. It's easy to do things the way everyone else does - buy a new house, buy food at the store, send your kids to camp, have them take classes. And there are creative ways to do things in order to save money - buy a house that needs fixing up, make things yourself, create your own camp, or trade skills with friends for classes.

Being creative doesn't mean you need to be artistic or crafty. It really just means that you need to think of different ways to do things in order to save money. I gave a few examples but there are many more you or I could come up with.

1. Let's start with the first example of buying a new house. In the past few years everyone was buying a new house - usually the biggest house they could afford. Don't do it. Buy a house that needs some fixing up. Even if you are not handy - some houses just need cosmetic changes that any layperson can do - ripping down wallpaper or tearing up carpeting. If you've ever watched any of those home channels, you can get ideas for what people can do with little money to make a house look nice. You can often save a lot of money by buying a fixer-upper even just one that is outdated.

2. Buying food at the store. Easy enough and most people have to do it at least to some degree. But think about the things that can be made or grown. Food that can be made pretty simply at home include breads, waffles, pancakes, pizza, desserts, etc. These are all fairly simple. The more you make them, the more you will get better at it. Then you can expand into making other dishes. Food that can be grown pretty easily are tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, peas, and herbs. By just growing a few items in a vegetable garden, you can save money each year on your grocery bill. As you get better at it, you can try to grow even more vegetables and even fruits.

3. Sending your kids to camp. Most parents are looking for fun things for their kids to do in the summer. Camps are often on top of the list for many parents. There are general camps and specialty camps such as dance camps, sports camps, swim camps, and computer camps. Some of them are very pricy, while others are more reasonable. But all of them cost money. Did you ever think of doing a camp yourself? Pool together with a few other parents and take turns holding camp at your house? Or perhaps setting up a camp for a week or two to make some money? I'll explain how we did something similar in real life to avoid the cost of camp.

4. Teaching your children new things. We all want our kids to learn things that will teach them skills, allow them to have fun, and make them productive adults. Many of our children play soccer or softball, and take piano or dance, among many other activities. Of course each of these activities cost money. How about swapping skills with a friend? If you know how to sew or cook, maybe you can give sewing or cooking lessons to a friend's daughter while your friend's mom teaches you piano lessons. Or perhaps you can learn a skill such as piano or French and then teach it to your child. It's amazing what is available online for free. There is piano lessons at Piano Nanny. There are many books at the library teaching knitting or foreign languages. It won't work for soccer teams or softball but there are many skills you can learn for free.

In Real Life (IRL) - I don't consider myself creative as in crafty or good at art. I'm probably average. But I do like to use my imagination to do things cheaply. When I'm planning a party, I look for things we can use around the house rather than buy - plastic bowls instead of paper; paper we can turn into invitations instead of buying new, etc. If there is anything I am going to spend money on, I first think if there is an alternate and cheaper way to do it. I've talked about our house in other posts. Most of the houses in my neighborhood are from the 1950's and frankly a lot of people don't look here for that reason. They want a newer house. We loved the neighborhood so it didn't matter to us to have the latest gadgets in a home. And those things can always be changed anyway. When we got our 1953 house it had awful red walls in one room that surely turned off a lot of buyers. Hmmm...about $50 of primer and paint will cover that, we thought. The house only had 3 bedrooms but had the land to add on to, if necessary. It had an old, outdated 1950's kitchen. We bought the house for a good deal since no one else was interested. We painted the "red room" (after 7 years!). We turned a porch into a fourth bedroom when we needed the space for only $12,000. Moving to a house with 4 bedrooms would have cost us at least $50,000 more. And we made our kitchen a fun 1950's kitchen for $1,000. We bought black and white sticky tile for the floor, got a fun diner border for the walls, bought cute diner signs for the walls, vintage looking curtains for the windows, and displayed some of my grandmother's depression era bowls. A new kitchen remodel would have cost $25,000 or more.

2. Cooking creatively. I am an average cook and I like to bake. My daughter had her birthday last week. We had a party at home, cupcakes for school, and needed something for her actual birthdate for our family. I could have easily bought a cake at the market for the party, but I made cupcakes instead. I made cupcakes for her class and then when it came time for our birthday dinner at home, I thought she might be sick of cake. She agreed that she'd rather have brownies. Simple enough. By making sweets for all three events instead of buying at the grocery store, I saved at least $25. My favorite food to make to save money is croutons. We always have bread left over at the bottom of the package that doesn't get eaten. I save them in the freezer and make croutons out of them. Very simple - just melt butter and add parmesian cheese and garlic to the bread. Bake in the oven and voila - freshly made croutons. They're healthier than the boxed kind (have you ever seen the ingredients in croutons?) and they're quick and easy to make. Best of all, you use up bread that would have gotten tossed to the birds.

3. I created a summer camp with friends. When my daughter was 4 or 5, I was looking for fun things for her to do in the summer. Camps were expensive but I remember how much fun they were when I was a child. I decided to do an "at home" camp with friends. There were 8 of us the first year. We were all in a Mom's Club together and had known each other since our daughters were babies. For one day each week for 8 weeks, our girls went to camp. Each week one mom was in charge of the camp and one mom assisted. The person in charge came up with a theme and held camp at her home for three hours on a Monday. So each mom was in charge of one camp and assisted in one camp. The other weeks she was "off." It was great because each mom had different strengths and interests. One mom held a nature camp and had the girls look for birds in their backyard, learn about birds and did a bird craft. One mom held a cooking camp. We held a fun carnival camp. My daughter still talks about that fun camp and asks every summer if we can do it again. The following two years we did it on a smaller scale with just 5 moms. Last year we did it over just a week's time with each mom holding camp on a different day for one week since everyone was so busy. I know I spent less than $20 in materials and snacks for each camp I've held.

4. Taking classes. My girls like being in activities - dance, piano, Brownies, etc. To keep costs down, we have taken classes at the community center in our town. For dance there is a dance studio that is $55 per month for one class! Instead I found a woman who teaches dance out of her home for $25 per month. What a difference. Piano lessons are $35 per half hour at a local music school. I found a woman who teaches for $15 per half-hour. Of course none of these are too creative. But I do know people who have switched skills. My daughter's dance teacher gave lessons for free to someone's daughter who painted her dance studio. I know two women from my Mom's club who swapped talents. One mom taught the other mom's daughter piano while the second mom taught the first mom's daughter French. If you have skills in an area, you could easily teach them. You could even do something as simple as teaching baking. Many moms don't bake from scratch or have the time to teach their children. By being creative you can save or make money in this area.

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