Ultimate Penny Pinching Guide Part Three: Entertainment

Hi there income streamers! The ultimate penny pinching guide is back, and this week we’re tackling a common target of budget cutters: entertainment. Unlike many financial independence bloggers, I really believe entertainment is an essential component of any happy lifestyle, and I don’t think someone should feel guilty on spending money on methods of entertainment that are constructive and fulfilling. These entertainment methods can be solo or in groups, and I think alone time as well as socialisation are important parts of any healthy schedule. With that, let’s dive in on ways to entertain yourself on a budget:

1. Consider a free, social option first

If you’re simply bored, it can be a lot more fun to fill that free time with one of these activities rather than spending money!

2. Stay in rather than going out

A $300 Xbox may not seem like a frugal financial decision, but if it stops you from going out and dropping $50 at a bar it will pay for itself in no time.

3. Buy unwanted gift cards for your toys

Like I said, Raise.com is a great resource for buying up unwanted gift cards at a discount and saving on what you planned to buy already. I always do a quick search on their site before buying games or other playthings.

4. Be sure to check for age specific discounts!

Movie theatres, restaurants and event venues often have discounts for high school students, college students, seniors, and more. Always be sure to check out their discounts before buying a ticket.

5. Use the library!

First of all, no one needs to buy a book. You pay taxes toward a library, so go ahead and use it! If you really need the material long term you can always take notes. But even for non-readers, libraries hold a ton of entertainment value. Many of them carry DVDs, CDs, and games, and these materials can often be accessed online. Check your local libraries website to score some free fun.

6. Try free online games

I’m in the process of compiling a big list of free games, but the first ones to come to mind include incremental games like Venture Capitalist and Cookie Clicker, and some MMPOGs like Clash of Clans and a multitude of phone and tablet apps. If you’re itching to game, definitely give a free game a try before dropping money on something else.

7. NEVER shop for entertainment

I’ve often heard my friends talk about going shopping as if it were some activity in itself. That’s ridiculous! Why would I spend my money, purchased with a sacrifice of my limited time on this Earth, needlessly as a source of entertainment? If the value of a “shopping experience” comes from trying on new clothes, you could do a quarterly clothing swap with friends or check out a thrift store. Those experiences tend to have much more genuine and wholesome fun involved, anyways.

8. Pregame.

This one’s pretty self explanatory. I see the social value of going out to a bar or club and drinking some there, but if the goal is to get smashed, you can do most of the legwork at home and save in the process.

9. Brew your own beer!

Microbrewing has gone from strange hobby to thriving industry in America and with pre-assembled kits it’s never been easier to save money and learn a valuable skill by brewing at home. Just be careful to follow directions and keep things safe for consumption.

Well, those are the tips I have for now. With all the activities I listed a week ago as well as these extra strategies for shaving cost off entertainment, I’m sure we can all enjoy ourselves on our journey to financial independence. Do any of you have more tips? Do you disagree with what I’ve got to say on lifestyle balance? Let me know in the comments!

For more fun and frugality check out @StevesStreams on Twitter!


Ultimate Penny Pinching Guide Part Two – Transportation

Hello income streamers! Today I’ll be presenting part two in the Ultimate Penny Pinching Guide. Part one, on food, can be found here. Part two tackles transportation!

Transportation is necessary for all of us to function as members of society – but whether that means leaving the house only to purchase necessities, or driving to work every day and taking road trips every weekend, is entirely up to you. Either way, there’s plenty of options for saving on transportation when you do have to get places:

1. Skip the car whenever possible

Taking walks or biking places are some of the lost joys in the modern world. When you choose to walk or bike somewhere, it becomes a deliberate and conscious action and gives you quiet time to think as you travel, contributing to a calm and meditative experience. Second, it’s healthier for you, and burns fat. According to the National Household Survey, 60% of Americans choose to take the car on a trip of a mile or less. That’s a 15 minute walk! I understand that sometimes we have to hurry places, but I’m sure we could all leave the house a little earlier and burn some fat while saving some money for those trips.

If you’re afraid to spend the money on a bike, you can begin with baby-steps of just walking those short trips. I’m sure you’ll soon realise how much more enjoyable life is on the sidewalks. And if you need financial reassurance, the average American drives 13,476 miles. If you purchased a top-of-the-line, excessively expensive bike at $2500 you’d still only have to convert a third of your driving trips to bicycle to recoup the cost in about a year,* and that’s not even accounting for health and environmental benefits. That seems doable to me, and if you search on Craigslist I’m sure you could find an option around $700.

2. If you drive often enough to make paying for a car less expensive than Uber or public transit, purchase a used one.

There is never a reason to buy a car new. Used cars in the 4-6 year age range show the same amount of mechanical issues as new cars, and yet cost far less. The only reason to buy new is pride. For me personally, I’d rather put the 5-10k difference into a retirement account and take pride in reaching financial independence earlier.

3. Consider more costs than the sticker price when shopping for a car

It’s worth considering all the costs involved with a car when comparing prices. Does one car get significantly better mileage? Does one car require fewer repairs? Will one car cost less to insure? If you track your yearly mileage, you could calculate how much the difference in gas consumption will cost you, and see if one car may be surprisingly cheaper although it’s more expensive at the outset.

For me, if I were to purchase a car, I’ve found that a 4-6 year old Prius or Volt would do very well in my measures of gas consumption, repairs and current price. A 2012 Prius would cost me 12k, which probably means I could pay in cash. I’m sure I could get a better deal if I was willing to go back farther in model year, but I’m not interested in buying a car right now given that I’m able to bike or use public transit to get where I want at the moment.

4. Buy in cash

This one’s always seemed simple to me. Who spends more than they have on something like a car? I understand taking out debt for a house, and for an education, given that they’re both necessities and that, with houses at least, its hard to cut costs to a point where saving up and paying in cash makes sense. But with a car, it’d be pretty straightforward to save up 10-15k and purchase a nice, usable car with no more than 50k miles on it. I’d much rather have that and skip paying interest than overspend and get a fancy car with features I don’t need so I can impress people I don’t care about, all while pushing my financial goals further away.

5. Where applicable, skip out on your car’s insurance

So, if you are following logical advice and have decided to become a financial Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, the worst damage you could ever pay for your own car would be totaling it: 10-15k. Ideally, you’ve already saved up to purchase this car’s price once before, so it’d make sense to avoid paying insurance companies to save for you and instead save up about 1.5 times the car’s purchase price and put it in an easily withdrawn fund, like a bond or stock index fund. Insurance companies have to make a profit, so clearly, you must be wasting SOME money on the premium that you pay, when compared to what you would be saving if you socked the money away yourself. And if you can put the money to work and invest it while you wait for disaster to strike, you can end up with too LARGE an insurance fund and actually get to withdraw some money and sock it away towards retirement.

This option isn’t legal in every state, as some states require you to carry insurance. Also, you should definitely purchase insurance for damaging other people’s cars – there are idiot drivers who made idiot purchases on expensive cars all over the place, and it’s not worth it to try and pay for their repairs. But, given that your car is a depreciating asset, you can save a lot if you pay yourself a monthly premium and park it in a fund that makes money rather than letting some company squeeze a profit out of you for not saving up for damages.

6. Carpool!

Carpooling whenever possible allows you to share travel expenses while also giving you a great chance to socialise and bond with coworkers and friends. Carpooling is an absolute must if you drive to work daily, and is also a great way to save the environment!

Some states also offer tax incentives and special highway lanes for carpools. Google around to see if you can gain from this!

7. Work on your own car

In the day of YouTube and public libraries, there is no such thing as “I don’t know how to” – only “I’m too lazy to learn how.” There are countless guides online for every kind of repair, and in the long run investing in repair tools will absolutely save you money on mechanic trips. Many of the tools can also be used for home repairs, and your friends may even ask you to repair their cars for a little cash too!

8. Buy gas gift cards

Last post, I mentioned that you can purchase unwanted gift cards on Raise.com and other sites to save on buying food. The great news is that you can do the same for gas chains!

9. Plan parking ahead of time

Parking can be a hefty hidden expense in a day out – use the site SpotHero to find cheap and free parking near your destination. It may involve a little bit of a walk, but like I already mentioned, walking is a great chance to appreciate your surroundings while you slow down and think.

10. For consistent public transit use, use monthly passes

This one is pretty straightforward. Bust out a calculator, estimate how much you spend on individual transit tickets per month, and see if a monthly pass could save you money.

Those are all the tips I have for now folks. Do you have any ideas on how to save on transportation? Am I wrong about anything? Do you think anyone ever has a reasonable excuse for a 50k car? Let me know in the comments!

* This estimate uses the IRS’s official cost estimate of 55 cents per mile driven. That figure accounts for gas, depreciation, and insurance. 13,476*.55/3 = $2470.

For more money-saving tips and tricks, check out @StevesStreams on Twitter! 

Ultimate Penny Pinching Guide Part One – Food!

And now, for the series of posts you’ve all been waiting for – the Ultimate Penny Pinching Guide! I will be posting daily on general categories of spending that I bet us income streamers can spend less on – freeing up more capital for more income streams!

Today’s category is food. The interesting thing about food is that it is possibly the most flexible area of non-luxury spending. Everybody has top eat, but eating can me one bowl of ramen a day (which is RIDICULOUSLY unhealthy and won’t even save you money in the long run) or you could chow down on caviar and lobster every night. As such, it’s a great place to begin this series as I firmly believe very reader can gleam at least one money-saving strategy.

Without further ado – let the saving begin!

1. Eating out should be a luxury, not a necessity

I’m not going to begin this post by telling you all to swear off restaurants – that’d be silly, and a good steak can be one of the finest joys in life. However, the average American definitely takes these joys to excess – spending $3008 annually on restaurant food, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. If we could lower that spending down to one nice dinner out a week, or about $1300 annually, investing that $1700 saved would lead to $26832 in inflation adjusted savings every decade, and we’d probably be a lot healthier too!

2. When you do eat out, make it count

The above calculations presume you’re going to spend $25 on your meal – which is quite the nice steak for one person! To really get the most bang for your buck, it’d make sense to switch up restaurants every week and shop around. I’ve found that local, Mom and Pop restaurants can serve meals costing $10 that out-do the Five Star ones in my area. Furthermore, if you’re eating out at national chain, chances are you can most likely buy a gift card to that restaurant at a discounted rate – sites such as Raise allow people with unwanted gift cards to sell them to people like you!

3. You are bringing lunch to work, aren’t you?

Like I said, one $25 meal out a week could lead to enormous savings in the long run – but I’m really hoping you’re not squandering that $25 on a Subway meal at work every day! Preparing your lunch the night before can allow you to have far nicer meals for much cheaper – and consciously picking out what you’ll eat will likely help you make healthier choices, too.

4. Take advantage of free food!

Free food offers abound thanks to company promotions, and so long as you don’t make it a habit to visit the restaurants that offer them, it could allow you to score some free meals and stretch your food budget a little farther. Check if the restaurants you visit have email clubs, as these often come with welcome meals or birthday meals. Second, check out TubularJohnny’s website freefoodguy.com. A lot of his tips help me out when I’m craving a treat but don’t want to break the bank, and there’s something satisfying about hunting around for a good free meal and striking upon one.

5. Coupon!

Now that we’ve cut out the easy fat in our food budget – eating out – it’s time to see what we can shave off the grocery budget. The first step to saving money on groceries has always been and will always be couponing. A good place to start is your local newspaper, but if you would like to shop around from the comfort of your computer, there’s plenty of options:

Couponing sites like the Krazy Coupon Lady, Passion for Savings, Hip2Save, and SheSaved present deals in an engaging blog format, while RetailMeNot and MoneySavingMom allow you to search by product and store for specific coupons in their database. Browser add-ons like Honey can programmatically search for coupons when you’re shopping online.

6. Earn money back for your shopping

Making money to shop is a great way to reimburse your grocery purchases, and there’s a million ways to do it. The most well-known is mystery shopping, where companies will pay for your products in exchange for you buying them and reporting on your shopping and usage experience with the product. However, I have found few food-related offers in this area.

The other option for this is using phone apps that pay you back for sharing information about your experience with a product. Cashback apps like Ibotta will reimburse you for purchasing advertised products, while receipt scanning apps like ReceiptHog will pay you for sending a photo of your receipt, which allows them to gather information on which products are frequently bought together.

7. Shop for nutritional value per dollar

Lastly, a simple approach to saving money on food could be “Buy ramen in bulk and suck it up,” but study after study shows that ramen leads to metabolic and cardiac issues, which will be VERY expensive to treat (and also painful and dangerous, evidently). Instead, savers should look to buy foods with some of the best nutrition to price ratios. Rice, beans, lentils, lettuce, potatoes, water, and bananas all provide much more nutrients than pre-processed foods and sugary drinks and tend to be a fraction of the cost. Add in a few spices and you could prepare nice East Asian revolving around rice and lentils, or traditional Irish ones to enjoy those nice ‘tatoes. If you MUST have meat in there, which tends to be a very expensive food compared to its protein and vitamin content, fish and white meats are at least less expensive per gram of protein – and are less likely to lead to cardiac issues and various types of cancer.

8. Use a reusable water bottle

Alright, guys. I tend to be pretty gentle with my suggestions on this site – “Consider purchasing…”, “Try out…”, “Look at…” are my go-to lead offs. But I’m going to be blunt with this one.

Buy. A damn. Reusable bottle.

Bottled water costs 2000 times as much as tap water per milliliter. Bottled water is murdering our environment needlessly. And reusable bottles are super, super cheap. This would be a great place to invest that Amazon money you’re making from the phone and laptop earning I talked about a few days ago – it’ll definitely save you money in the long run, and prevent me from punching you in the face for using bottled water.

Phew! Do you have any other methods for saving money on food? How are you going to use these savings? Am I being too aggressive about the bottle thing?

(But really. Please get a reusable bottle).

That’s it for now, and look forward to a guide on saving money on transportation tomorrow. As always, stay earning streamers!

For more wonderful works of monetary magic check out @StevesStreams on Twitter

Part Two can be found here!