Your Money: When to Spend

With all the talk about saving money and cutting back, you may find yourself thinking that spending more than the bare minimum is never a good thing. However, that’s not the case. There are many instances when spending a little — or even a lot — more makes the most sense.

When it comes to certain items, durability trumps cost. As such, when you’re shopping for something you plan on getting a lot of use out of — a car, furniture, clothes, etc. — shop by quality level, not by price tag. While spending a lot does not necessarily mean you’ll be getting the best quality, it’s not often that you’ll find the cheapest item to be, either. Do your research to determine which item will give you the most bang for your buck. Even if it’s not cheap now, it may still save you money in the long run: you won’t need to replace it as often, it will require less maintenance, and you’ll spend less time dealing with hassles. Of course if you only plan on using something a few times, by all means go cheap! And if you’re able to find a great deal on a high-quality item, don’t let a low price tag deter you.

I’m all about shopping around for the best deals. And it can be very tempting to go to a million different stores because each one has the best deal on something. But keep in mind not only the cost of your time, but also the cost of gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. It doesn’t make sense to go across town to save a little if you’re eating up the difference in gas! Weigh the pros and cons and determine what is truly the most cost effective option. You may end up spending a little more up front but saving more in the long run.

Perhaps most important of all — at least in my humble opinion — is the memory factor. Material items come and go, and any money spent on them will go as well. But memories last a lifetime, and money spent on them will, too. When it comes to experiences, vacations, events, etc., consider spending a little more. You don’t have to go all out to make great memories, but you don’t want your memories to be tainted by the fact that you were too cheap to do anything, either. Think about what you’ll really remember, and let that be your guide. The result can be the best use of your money yet.

Your Money: Building Your Savings

Having a savings account can serve many uses. It can offer a cushion by way of emergency savings. It can help you put money aside for periodic but irregular bills, such as heating oil. Or it can help you save up for an expected future expense, such as a vacation, new car, or new appliance.

If you’re like me, you probably find that money disappears way too quickly. Between bills and everyday expenses, there just doesn’t seem to be enough. So how can you have any hopes of putting some aside for long-term saving?

If money is tight, it’s not easy. But there are some steps you can take to make it a little easier. Here are some tips that can help get you started:

  • Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account into a savings account. When it’s automatic, you have no choice but to put that money aside. Just make sure to record it in your checkbook so you don’t forget about it and overdraw your account!
  • Instead of paying with a debit or credit card, pay cash. And only pay with bills. Whenever you get change, put it aside in a piggy bank. You’d be surprised how quickly change can add up.
  • Some banks will let you set up your accounts so whenever you make a payment, the bank automatically rounds up and withdraws the whole dollar amount. The difference between the actual payment and the withdrawal amount goes into a savings account.
  • When you go grocery shopping, pay with a debit card and get cash back. But instead of spending that cash, put it aside. It doesn’t have to be a lot to add up quickly.
  • Set a budget for purchases such as groceries or clothes. Then, do your best to spend well under the budget. Put the difference in a savings account.

There are countless other ways to save money, and the most important part is to find something that works for you. Trial and error can help you. And you may find that you have to dip into your savings periodically if money is especially tight. Keep your eye on the long-term goal, and don’t beat yourself up over short-term setbacks. It will get easier, and saving will become second nature over time.

Your Money: Get What’s Coming to You

There is a lot of unclaimed money out there, whether it’s bank accounts that people forgot about or insurance claims that were never made or money not taken advantage of for a number of other reasons. The amounts are staggering. And if you think about it, there may be money that’s owed to you that you’ve forgotten about or never thought about claiming. Whether you’re struggling with money or not, don’t let those unclaimed funds slip through your fingers. You deserve that money!

A number of years ago I had a health savings account. Time passed, and I stopped making deposits. Eventually the bank I had the account with closed the account due to inactivity. The money that was in there (about $100) ended up getting sent to my stat’s unclaimed funds division. I eventually remembered about it and claimed the money that was rightfully mine, though the state took a cut for the trouble I put them through. If you have any accounts that may have slipped into inactivity, check with your bank or your state to see if there are funds that are owed you.

Another personal example: I had pet insurance for our dog, Oliver. The way the insurance works, I had to submit claims to get money owed me. If I didn’t make the claims, the insurance didn’t know about the expenses, and I would have paid 100% out of pocket unnecessarily. The same can be said for some health insurances. If you paid for something out of pocket that should have been covered by your insurance, submit a claim form and get that money back. Even if you have to pay a deductible or copay, getting something back is better than nothing. Just think how happy you’ll be to get that check in the mail!

Sometimes a little research can reap huge benefits. Spend some time thinking about what you should be paying and what you’ve already paid. Check out your state’s unclaimed funds division to see if your name happens to be on there (be sure to check for your spouse’s name, too!). If necessary, review your insurance policies to make sure you’ve taken advantage of everything the policies offer. There may be things that are covered that you didn’t think were. Why¬† miss out?

A few other ideas:

  • Check with your employer’s human resources department to see if there are any benefits you’re not taking advantage of. (For example: employer match and profit sharing on 401(k) accounts, continuing education funds, etc.)
  • Hire an accountant to do your income taxes to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the deductions you qualify for. Along the same lines, if you make any donations, make sure you get receipts so you can deduct them at the end of the year.
  • Download apps such as ibotta and Checkout 51 that offer rebates on groceries and other purchases, and you can get cash back for purchases you’re making anyway!