Friday, January 16, 2009

Consider The Alternatives

Tip #54 - Consider The Alternatives. We are given so many choices these days. If you go to the store to buy cold medicine, there are about 15 different varieties to buy. If you want to buy soda, there are about 8 different choices just for one brand. Have you bought bread recently? There must be at least 10 varieties of that, too! We are making decisions all of the time for the simplest purchase. Would I like the white with a bit of wheat? The whole wheat? The light wheat? Do I want soda with 1 calorie with caffeine or soda with calories and no caffeine? Do I want to buy the non-drowsy medicine that will help my aches or one that will put me to sleep and help my stuffiness?

Our brains are now wired to put lots of thought into every purchase we buy. Why not put that wiring of our brains to our advantage and use it to save money? Let's consider each purchase we make as if it's cold medicine and consider the alternatives. Some alternatives will be great and will save you lots of money, while other alternatives will leave you wishing you didn't have to save money. But you won't know which are the good ones until you consider them. Here are some ideas:

--If you usually take a trip to the seashore every summer, why not consider a trip to the mountains with a lake?

--If you eat out pizza every Friday night, why not make the pizza yourself?

--If you usually drive to work by yourself, why not try doing a carpool or taking a bus?

--If you usually go the movies every Saturday night, why not consider renting one or even better trading with friends or borrowing from the library?

--If you usually set your thermostat at 70 in the winter, why not try lowering it to 68 and putting on a sweater and using warm blankets?

--If you usually join a swim club, why not consider going to a county pool?

--If you usually do a getaway to the Carribbean every winter to escape the cold, why not go to the Southern part of the US instead?

--If you usually buy your lunch at work, why not bring your meal?

--If you usually drive your kids to school, why not try walking them there instead?

--If you usually use expensive shampoo, why not try switching to a no-name brand?

--If you go on vacation every summer, why not try going in the fall or spring instead?

--If you use a towel only once after a shower, why not try using it twice?

--If you usually put your dog in a kennel, why not consider asking your neighbors to watch her instead?

These are just several areas I came up with where there are alternatives to consider when spending your money. Some of these you would probably never do to begin with, and others you would never consider doing the alternative. Everyone has to figure out for themselves what they are willing to do to cut down on spending. But remember, there are almost always alternatives out there. There are often cheaper ways of doing things. Before you spend money, think about how you can accomplish what you want to do using a cheaper method.

In Real Life (IRL) - I seem to always look for a cheap way to do things. I borrow books at the library instead of buying. I buy used clothes for my children instead of new, and I eat in rather than eat out. I try to get the most for the money I do spend. So anytime I make a purchase, I try to consider how I can get the same satisfaction for less money. If I can't get the same satisfaction, then I stick with my original plan. I'll give some examples of alternatives I have tried in an effort to save money. Some worked, while others did not.

--My husband loves the Outer Banks, which is a beach in North Carolina. Since he moved away from North Carolina when he married me, I figured the least I could do is keep him happy with occasional beach weekends in his favorite state. Last summer he said we should plan to take the kids and show them his favorite seashore. But when I looked at the prices -about $150 per night for a basic hotel - I told him it wasn't in our budget. But he threw it back at me that we visit my favorite beach resort with my family ever summer in New Jersey, the least we could do is visit his as well. And he had a point.
So I thought about it and remembered that my daughter's school has a two-day break in early November. And the North Carolina beaches usually still have pretty warm weather that time of year. So I check the prices for the same hotel in early November - $65 per night! Best of all, we could cancel the reservation up to the day of arrival, if the weather was bad. It turned out that it was in the low 60s and sunny for the whole weekend. We had a great trip for about 1/3 of the price of the summer. This was a great alternative!

--We keep our heat on 70 degrees in our house in the winter. Our house is old, so it heats unevenly - with some rooms being warm and toasty and others being quiet cold. But of course I had to try the alternative that every money-saving article suggests - lower the thermostat a degree or two to save on our heating bill. And I did it. And I hated it. Then I tried it a few weeks later and I hated it again. Then I tried the following year and I hated it a third time. I really just hate being cold. So to me, this alternative was a flop, but for some people, it's worth a try.

--When we go away, we used to put our dog in the kennel. It cost about $20 per night. Unfortunately, the kennel is closed on Sundays. And because we would often leave on Saturday and come back on Sunday, we would have to keep the dog in the kennel until Monday morning. So for a weekend trip we were paying about $40. Sometimes we would even have to put the dog in on Friday, since the kennel is quite a distance from our house and we often needed to get an early start on Saturday. Those times the cost was $60 for the weekend! We did this for about 5 years when my husband decided that our dog was getting too old for the kennel. So he asked our teenage neighbor if he'd like to earn $10 bucks a day walking our dog and feeding her. This boy and his sister and brother loved our dog because they didn't have one of their own. They are also very nice, responsible kids. The boy jumped at the chance, and we haven't looked back. Instead of paying $40 or $60 for a weekend trip, we pay $20. Plus the dog gets to stay in the comfort of our house, and our neighbor makes some nice side money. It's a win-win situation. This was a great alternative for us!

--I usually am happy with store-brand foods. I don't think I have very discriminating tastes. I can't tell the difference between low-fat and regular cream cheese or Philadelphia brand and the store brand. Although my mom swears the Philadelphia brand tastes much better. But I'm happy with the cheaper store brand cream cheese. So one day when I was out of ketchup and we needed some, I bought the store-brand in an effort to save money. And try as I might, I could not get used to the stuff. I realize now that I have a taste for Heinz ketchup and only Heinz ketchup. So, now I to stock up on Heinz when it goes on sale. Because I will just not buy any other brand even if it saves me money. Store-brand ketchup was not a good alternative for me.

--One last example. When I was single and living in an apartment in the suburbs, there was a free bus from the complex that drove us downtown where I worked. This was a great alternative to paying about $2 per trip on public transportation to get downtown. There were two problems with this bus - it got me downtown about an hour before I needed to be there and it dropped me off in the business district. And my office was not in the business district - it was about 10 blocks (or one Metro stop) away. I could have hopped on the Metro and spent $1.10 to travel that one stop. But instead I made the 10- or 15-minute walk every morning to save the money. After all, I had the time and I was young. This was a great alternative for me. I got free transportation to work - practically unheard of. Plus I got exercise and a close-up look at our nation's capital. I appreciate those days so much now because I don't work in the city anymore and I don't get downtown very often. I'm happy I did it back then when I had the opportunity and I saved money while I was at it!

So there you have it, money-saving alternatives that have saved us money and those that didn't work for us. What alternatives can you try to save money?

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