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4 tips for making the most of your money

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life

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piggy.jpgFor years now — decades, really — I’ve challenged myself to make the most of my money. The ability to stretch a dollar or pinch a penny can mean the difference between feeling like we “have” and feeling like we “have not” when it comes to things like groceries and birthday presents for preschoolers’ parties; being the breadwinner makes the process easier in some instances (I know exactly how much money is coming in and going out) and harder in others (I know exactly how much money is coming in and going on).

I’ve found that, for my family, the most straight-forward and simple money-saving tricks work but, at some point, “just spend less money” or “cut out the things you don’t use” isn’t helpful advice. How do you spend less money when you’re spending it on essentials, like childcare when you work full time? What if you can’t cut out cable because you need to have high-speed internet access for your job?

Here are a few of the tips and techniques that work for my family:

Keep using credit cards. Most get-out-of-debt experts urge you to cut up your credit cards, which is fine if you’re stuck in a deficit-spending rut. But if you choose a credit card with some sort of bonus — cash back, points, frequent flyer miles — and you pay the bill in full each month, you’re getting more for your money than just the stuff you had to buy anyway. Paying my youngest kids’ daycare tuition with my frequent-flier-mile credit card usually garners us enough frequent flier miles to bring my stepkids up for an extra visit or two.

Get an enormous freezer and buy in bulk. We have a large family — five kids, ranging in age from 18 to 5 years old, though we’re rarely all together for months at a time any more. Still, having a chest freezer in the basement means that I can take advantage of sales on otherwise expensive things (like meat) that my family likes to eat. Making meals ahead of time and freezing them saves time (and my sanity) as well; when I’m too busy to prep food and everyone is starvatious, we can heat and eat something from our own frozen restaurant instead of spending money on fast food.

Clip only certain coupons. Yes, I absolutely do clip coupons — I have since I was a cash-strapped college student. But I only clip coupons for things I’m buying anyway. So, cheese sticks for my preschooler’s lunch box, yes; day-glo macaroni and cheese and frozen dinners, no. My favorite frugal score was a buy-one-get-one-free sale on deodorant coupled with high-value coupons and a store that had filled its shelves with “twin packs”; it brought the price down from $4.99 per stick to 99 cents each. Still gives me a bit of a thrill, to tell you the truth.

Weigh your pre-tax options. Any time your employer offers you the chance to put money aside (dependent-care or medical spending accounts, for instance) or pay for something (like your health-care premiums) on a pre-tax basis, look into it. It can lower your taxable income, for one thing and, for another, you may end up paying less out-of-pocket in the long run. Think of it this way: If you’re in the 28-percent tax bracket, you have to earn about $139 in order to spend $100 in post-tax dollars. Wouldn’t you rather put that “extra” $39 to good use? (Note: of course, this only works if you spend enough to empty the account before it expires.)

How do you make the most of your money?

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