by Karen Kuebler
When we were forced to live on one income we quickly realized that there were two ways to increase our savings. We could either cut our expenses or find ways to increase our income.
* * *
Whoever said that "necessity is the mother of invention" certainly had that right! Our creativity blossomed when the need was there and we started to feel a little pain. Cutting expenses was immediately within our control, so we focused in this area first.
When we lived in Silicon Valley, one of our highest expenses was our utility bill. We lived in a California style home which was designed to display the view of the outdoors. It was horribly inefficient! In addition to having a flat top tar and gravel roof with zero insulation to speak of, much of the outer wall surface of the home was made of large single pane glass windows. The heating system was a radiant system with copper tubing running throughout the foundation. It took hours to heat up the home, and then everything escaped through the glass windows!
Even though it was 20 years ago, a typical winter heating bill was $300 to $400! We shut off the radiant heating and bought a fireplace insert wood burning stove. We felt like we were living out on the prairie as our indoor cats grew a coat of winter fur inside and we could all see our breath in the morning as we would talk around the breakfast table! It’s amazing our kids still speak to us. Actually, we all laugh about it now.
At first we bought wood, but then we asked the question, "What alternative could we use that would be cheaper?" My husband noticed that hundreds of pallets at work were being thrown away every month. He asked the person in charge if he would like to dispose of them on our driveway! They were actually happy to deliver the truckload of pallets to our house. Not only did it make a wonderful source of free firewood, but my husband salvaged the oak pallets and refinished pieces of wood for some carpentry projects around the house!
We cut down on many of our expenses by spending Saturdays going to yard sales. This also turned out to be a great family time together. Our children learned negotiation skills at a very young age. Areas that we particularly saved a lot of money were clothing, gifts, household furnishings, garden equipment, and tools. We were able to find clothes in great condition because children outgrow them so quickly. This especially works well for younger children who aren’t yet at the fashion conscious stage.
My husband and I often found clothing that was in like-new condition for us. Many people sell brand new games and toys that have been barely used. We kept a closet for gifts and always bought ahead and stored them. With yard sales, you do have to be patient. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the prince.
In addition, we found yard sales were a great source for making money. We looked for items that were extremely under-priced that we could resell either through an ad or by holding our own yard sales. We looked for items that needed repair or refinishing. If it was something my husband or I could repair, we found opportunities for making a lot of money.
We factored in the cost of running an ad when making our decision. There was a local circular that had a wide distribution which allowed people to run ads free for items up to $15. We discovered a few items that really sold well that were found in abundance at garage sales. I could usually pick up manual lawn mowers and children’s desks for $5 and resell them easily for $15. One ad could sell 5 of the same item! Even today yard sales offer a great opportunity for me to find items I can resell on Ebay. I continue to make money with this idea!
The "coup de grace" of money making opportunities occurred when my husband was helping to close down the facilities of the company where he had worked for 28 years. As they were closing the facilities, they auctioned and sold much of the office furniture and equipment.
One afternoon he was walking through the facilities taking inventory. Always one to see the opportunity in a situation, he noticed typewriters everywhere. There were some very old IBM electric typewriters, as well as more modern self-correcting Selectrics, and a few unusual pieces of equipment (which we couldn’t even identify!) We had sold a few typewriters through our buying and reselling from yard sales, and we knew there was a good market for them at that time.
My husband made an offer for the whole lot of typewriters and the company accepted it. We rented a U-Haul truck that night and when we finally went to sleep after midnight, our living room, garage, and den were totally covered in typewriters! It took us awhile, but we made megabucks on this one.
To summarize, these ideas may seem too bizarre to be applicable to you. After all, how often does one get to buy hundreds of typewriters? But the traits of creative savers are always there. If you practice these techniques, the different opportunities will always present themselves.
Here are 8 strategies used by creative savers:
1. Find opportunities to save or make money that would not be readily apparent to most people.
2. Develop and hone their negotiation skills.
3. Frequently look for alternative ways to do things in order to save money.
4. Ask lots of questions, such as "How can we get this cheaper?" "How can we make this last longer?" "How can we do without this particular item?" "What could we do instead?" "What creative way can we make this work?"
5. Capitalize on their skills.
6. Visualize the end result in solving the problem or seeing an opportunity.
7. Brainstorm to generate lots of ideas.
8. Approach a problem or question from different angles, rather than getting stuck into one way of viewing the situation.
Challenge yourself each day to see how many creative new ideas you can generate!
Learn to think "outside the box" and don’t allow yourself to be limited by preconceived notions. You’ll be surprised at how much fun and rewarding it can be!
* * *
Return to Budgeting Article Index
Copyright © 2001 by Karen Kuebler. All rights reserved.