Readers' Tips

Overcoming the Emotional Costs of Bankruptcy

Nothing about bankruptcy is easy or pleasant. It's a difficult thing to go through, but if there's no other reasonable solution, it can be a real lifesaver.

We had a combination of medical bills, phone bills, and credit card debt that had gotten too far out of hand to dig ourselves out of with our small, limited income. Our case was fairly straightforward, so we did it ourselves with the help of a local free legal aid bankruptcy assistance class and the Nolo Press book on bankruptcy (highly recommended). Of course, if you have a more complex case, it would be wise to consult a bankruptcy attorney.

The moment you file, which stops further creditor action, you can begin to live again as you did before the debt. Paying only your current bills leaves breathing room to save some "cushion" money without those crippling debt repayments hanging over your head.

It was a bit intimidating, but everything went smoothly. The trustee at our meeting asked if we'd used an attorney, because she was so impressed by how well our paperwork was prepared.

A few weeks after our meeting, we received the final letter from the court, stating that all of our dischargeable debts were discharged, and I just can't express the overwhelming sense of relief it brought. A heavy, oppressive weight was lifted off our shoulders.

I'm not proud of our debt. Much of it was, frankly, bad choices on our part. But, I do take a certain pride in how we took control of a difficult situation, digging in, doing the research and hard work to properly prepare and file the paperwork, courageously facing the court trustee at the meeting, and learning from the whole experience how to better manage our money and avoid future debt.

One thing the Nolo book explained, which helped with feelings of guilt, was the fact that forgiveness of debt has been a part of civilized societies since Biblical times, as a safety net to keep debtors from "falling on their own swords" out of despair. We're human and all make mistakes, and there's nothing wrong with seeking out perfectly legal help when we find ourselves over our heads.

It was a difficult, eye-opening journey, but we made it through. You can too if you make the decision that bankruptcy is your best option. Best wishes!
Anonymous in California

editor's note: Visit here for more on overcoming the emotional costs of bankruptcy.

We've Become Early Birds

My boyfriend and I like to eat out at nice restaurants, but we need to keep our spending down. Therefore, we use a couple of tricks to eat out for less. First, we try to catch the early bird specials. We actually enjoy sharing the restaurant with seniors! Next, we often order one full meal and one appetizer. With large portions, that's enough for both of us. Because we're eating early, we don't want dessert at the restaurant. Instead, we generally have something at home later in the evening.

Additional TDS Resource: An insider's guide to saving money at restaurants

The Label Detective

It pays to read labels. You'd think that every bottle of bleach would be the same, but that's not true. Read the labels, and you'll find that some brands are diluted more than others. The same thing is true for other products, especially cleaning products. Don't assume because both brands come in a 16-ounce bottle that you can simply compare the price. Read the label before you choose which one to put in your grocery cart!

Buy Like a Pro

For cleaning and personal care products, you'll save a lot of money if you buy where the pros do. Find a local janitorial supply for your cleaning products. They have concentrated cleaners at a fraction of the cost that are every bit as good as the advertised brands you find in the grocery store. The same thing is true of your beauty products. Find out where the stylists go for supplies and buy there. You'd be surprised how much you can save!

Cut Your Grocery Bill by 25%

It's been year since I started this. I bet that I've reduced my grocery bill by 25%, and I don't even have to bother with coupons. I simply watch for sales and stock up. My best friends are a good sale, my freezer, my pantry shelves, and the knowledge of how much of something my family uses. I still keep a price book although my daughter uses an app. Either way, we know when a sale is a bargain and how much we should buy to take us to the next time that item is on sale. Most things follow a sale pattern. You can see it if you watch prices for a few months. The other advantage is that I never have to make a last-minute trip to the store to have something to eat tonight. There's always something available in the freezer.

Additional TDS Resource: How to start a grocery price book

Telltale Trash

Once or twice a year, I make a point of checking out our trash. Sometimes what we're throwing out can lead us to savings. For instance, I noticed that there were a lot of paper towels in the trash, so I bought some cheap wash cloths that we keep in the kitchen. Another time I realized that a lot of leftovers were going bad in the fridge and getting thrown out. Therefore, I began to either freeze or have a specific plan on how leftovers would be used. Not sure what I'll find next time, but it's like finding dollar bills in my trashcan!

Handy Patch

We were on a camping trip when my son's bike tire started leaking. I didn't have a spare inner tube, so I got creative and covered the puncture with a 2" x 2" piece of duct tape. I made sure the tube was clean, so it stuck. Then I covered that patch with a larger 3" x 3" patch. I reassembled the tire and it's been holding air for nearly a year now. I had a similar problem with our above ground swimming pool this spring. There was a small hole below the water line. Once again, I cleaned the area well, cut a small duct tape patch, and applied it with a second larger patch on top. I put it on the inside of the lining, so the water forces the tape against the liner. It's worked fine all summer! They say you can fix anything with duct tape, but who knew it was true?

Granite Counter-Tops

Here's an easy and cheap way to clean granite counter-tops. Take an old spray bottle and fill it with rubbing alcohol. Keep it by your sink and give it a spray anytime you want to clean your counter-top. Wipe with a paper towel.

Additional TDS Resource: 7 homemade cleanser recipes

Older Car Safety

If your car is more than a few years old, your headlight lenses have probably gotten cloudy, which means you're not seeing as well as you should when driving at night. You can buy a lens cleaning kit, or you can do it yourself. A wet towel and some baking soda is all you need. Sprinkle the baking powder onto the wet hand towel and rub the headlight cover. Avoid the surrounding metal. The baking soda will gently scrub the lens and make it clear again!

Additional TDS Resource: Visit our library section on "Cutting Maintenance Costs"

First Apartment Furniture

After watching for furniture sales, we found some great furniture on Craigslist. We looked for estate sales. What we found wasn't the exact style we wanted, but it was well-made and very inexpensive. They nearly gave us the bedroom set. We spent more buying beer for the friends that helped us move it than we did on the set! It's retro, and that's good by us. By the time we're tired of it in a few years, we'll have saved money to buy something really nice.

Additional TDS Resource: More on furnishing a first apartment

Finding a Good Mechanic

I was new in town. My old Honda Civic needed a new timing belt, but I didn't want to pay dealer prices to have it replaced. How could a find a good reputable mechanic? I stopped at a couple of used car lots and asked who they used. Three of them told me about the same shop, so that's where I went!

Shut Up and Listen

If you're shopping for a big ticket item (like a fridge or washer/dryer combo), don't talk too much. Let the salesperson know that you're looking for a bargain and tell them any specific needs that you have. Then say as little as possible. Most people hate silence, especially salespeople. They'll start by asking questions about what you want and how you'll use it. If you give them short answers, they'll feel that they need to keep the conversation going. Sometimes they'll walk away, but often they'll mention that they could throw in free delivery or some other perk.

Additional TDS Resource: How to win a price negotiation

Dog Food Savings

Don't throw out your leftovers. Feed them to your pet. After I did a little research on what types of food dogs needed to be healthy, I started chopping up some of our leftover beef roast, turkey, and chicken breasts. To that, I added some broth (chicken or beef) and diced veggies. If I want more bulk, I add some oatmeal. I still feed her some bought dog food, but not nearly as much as she used to get.

Additional TDS Resource: More on homemade dog food

401k Required Minimum Distributions

In the article on MRD from a 401K, I was surprised that a DIRECT charitable contribution from your account to a church or other recognized charity was not mentioned. It is good to do. It can fulfill part of or your entire required distribution amount, and if it goes directly, it is NOT considered income to you to pay taxes on at the end of the year. Check with your accountant or tax person, but it is a real plus. It has worked for us the past two years and the tax law is supposed to stay in effect until they change it.

Additional TDS Resource: The importance of taxes and RMDs on your retirement accounts

Why I Love Older Cars

Most of us know that a car loses about 30% of its value in the first year or so. Until I bought a three-year-old car and then drove it for 10 years, I didn't have any idea how much I'd save. After the first two years, I had all the payments done. Because the car was less expensive than a new one, I could afford to pay it off quicker. I kept setting aside my payment amount in the third year. That allowed me to increase my deductibles, which lowered my insurance rates. I didn't want to deal with repair bills, so I bought an extended warranty. I could have gotten by without it. When it got to be about seven years old, I dropped my collision insurance. I've saved enough that when I buy another three-year-old replacement, I'll be able to pay cash for it! No more car payments for me!

Additional TDS Resource: Visit our library section on "Buying Used Cars"

Be a Volunteer

Does your town have any festivals? If they do, you should volunteer! Whether it's an art festival, BBQ cook-off or early American festival, if you volunteer, you'll probably get free admission, free food, and an event t-shirt. The work is usually easy and fun. I've served drinks, taken tickets, and handed out fliers. Sometimes I even get a chance to talk with performers that others can't get to.

Additional TDS Resource: How volunteering can save you money

Furnishing a Student Apartment?

Here's a great idea if you're furnishing a student apartment. Most home centers are selling their outdoor furniture at sale prices now that summer's nearly over. Nothing says that you can't use patio furniture in your apartment living room! If you move out of the apartment next spring, you can take it home for your parent's patio! Everyone wins!

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