Looking for additional ways to save money

While I Was Unemployed

by Beth Hering

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When I was laid-off from work in January of this year, my husband and I began to look for additional ways to save money. Given that we were already pretty good savers, it seemed like the task might be rather hard. However, we soon discovered there were quite a few things we could do beyond cutting coupons and buying things on sale.

One of our first acts was to take advantage of direct debit options offered by virtually every company that billed us monthly. By having the amount owed taken directly from our checking account, we eliminated about ten stamps a month, which is a sizable chunk of change over time, given the current postal rate. Added benefits included not having to write out bills and not having to worry about getting things mailed out during vacation. We even were able to stagger the due dates so that our account would not be hit too hard at any particular time of the month. Signing up can be done online or over the phone. Most places continued to send a statement for review, ridding us of the fear of the wrong amount being deducted.

Another postage-saving measure was exploring the various websites that offer free e-cards. We now make many trips to Hallmark.com instead of the store itself. You choose the card and add your own message; the recipient receives an e-mail with instructions on how to retrieve the card from the website. While we still find "snail mail" more appropriate for certain people and occasions, this greeting option has worked very well for birthdays of computer-savvy friends and family.

Also on the subject of computers, we discovered a way of making our online service cheaper without changing companies. Ask about paying for your service a year at a time. (If you decide to cancel, the company may charge the months of service used at the normal rate, subtracts this amount from your lump payment, and refunds the difference.) This option and others are available by typing in the keyword "billing."

One of our harder but ultimately better decisions was to get rid of cable television. We already were on the lowest plan, and it was costing nearly $50 per month. Scrutinizing our viewing habits revealed we rarely watched anything that was not available on free TV.

Our family also has come to realize the great video opportunities available at public libraries. We saw many new release movies for free from the library. Our library allows patrons to place free holds on items, meaning that it will save the book or DVD for you at the desk when it becomes available and notify you that it has arrived. It also will transport a desired item from a neighboring branch for pick up at your "home" library.

Another interesting way we came up with to contribute to our entertainment budget was credit card rewards. As we have always treated our credit card just as a convenient way to carry money we already had available to spend, we never paid much attention to offers because we figured companies were only concerned about attracting new customers with better rates. A television commercial, however, prompted us to investigate credit card rewards, which are money or gift certificates given to customers based on how much they purchased on the card. We found out our VISA did indeed have such a program. All you had to do was ask.

I'm happy to say that it appears I will be going back to work in a few weeks. These measures, however, will continue to be a part of our life. Being a smart saver is a job that never goes away.

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