How to be Cheap: On-line Savings

We all love the Internet, we all have the Internet, and most of us are paying for the Internet. Here’s how the Internet can save you money.

If you can “borrow” Internet from a neighbor who failed to secure their network, do it. It isn’t illegal or unethical as long as you don’t access their personal information. If an individual chooses not to secure their network, they’re sharing, so enjoy. If you can’t borrow, figure out if you can split with a neighbor. Internet service is expensive, but if you have a neighbor you trust and are able to pick up a wireless signal then why not split the cost?

The internet can save you lots of money on consumer goods. For example, the Cuyahoga Falls library has a database of movie titles you can download for free. And of course there are many free mp3s and podcasts of music, news, Bible teachings, radio programs, and much more. Keep up on pop culture without paying for cable by watching television shows and music videos on YouTube and other such sites.

The Internet is also good for “shopping around” without wasting gas money and time. Instead you can check stores’ web sites to price and compare an item you need. I do this before buying anything out of the ordinary, such as a gift or new appliance. The disadvantage is that usually stores that sell close-outs don’t have their inventory on-line. (That would be nearly impossible.) But if you’re planning to buy an item in a regular retail store comparing prices on-line is fast and free. I often compare prices at Walmart, Target, Kohls, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond online before making a purchase.

Another great way the Internet can save you money is through money-saving blogs, web sites, coupons, and emails. Check out the following sites:

Savebenjis.com: use this iphone app at the store or your home computer to read product reviews and find the best current price for a particular item. It will tell you the going rates at amazon, ebay, and many other sites and stores.
Slickdeals.net: every day this web site lists great deals, often available for purchase on the Internet. Some typical items include clothing, household items, and restaurant dining.
Woot.com: “One day, one deal” is their slogan. Sign up for their daily email, which sends one hot deal a day, from electronics to fast food, and everything in between.
Dealnews.com: features several great deals every day, from laptops to apparel. Includes items for purchase, sometimes with free shipping.
Craigslist.com: search your local area and use savebenjis.com to compare prices. Keep your eyes open for scams, and never meet someone alone in their home. Either take a friend or meet in a public place. Not only can find great deals on this site, but you avoid shipping costs by purchasing locally and picking up the item.
Ebay.com: a great place to buy and sell, but only if you know the going rate. Make sure you’re getting a better deal than retail or Craigslist, don’t bid above that, and remember to factor in shipping costs. Keep in mind that it can be hard to compete with snipers, who can use software to automatically re-bid every second!
Amazon.com: if you’re going to spend over $25 on new products, you get automatic free shipping. This is a great place if you want to buy gifts or otherwise don’t want used items. Their prices on new items are usually far cheaper than chain retail stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. And their used collection isn’t bad, but the prices rarely beat half.com.
Half.com: the best place to buy used books, whether you’re looking for college textbooks, light reading, or anything in between. Standard shipping is $3.99, but it’s still usually a better deal than anywhere else.
Entertainment.com: if you don’t want to buy the book, sign up for a free trial and choose free printable coupons for your area.
BetterWorld.com: shop more than two million new and used books at bargain prices. Their prices may not beat half.com, but shipping is free within the U.S. So do the math and find the best deal. Plus they donate a portion of their revenues to literacy causes.
RetailMeNot.com: search this web site to find “secret” coupon codes for online shopping. This site includes customer reviews about which coupons actually work, and under what conditions.
DSIREUsa.org: Some states or localities will offer a discount on energy-efficient appliance purchases. Check here to find out if you can save money on your next appliance. Discounts organized by state.
Gutenberg.org offers 2,000 classic titles for free download.
PlasticJungle.com: buy and sell unwanted gift cards on this web site for an average discount of 15%. The site verifies the balances to make sure buyers don’t get ripped off.

How to Be Cheap: Revolutionary Fashion

Be a fashion revolutionary, not a fashion icon! To do this, you must first forget the fashion falsehoods. Fashion sells the lie that you need new clothes every season, or even every year. This is not based in reality at all. I have clothes that have lasted since high school. Granted, they aren’t the most stylish (they weren’t back then, either). But if you buy quality basics, you should be able to wear them much longer than a season or even a year.

Fashion is really just another aspect of consumerism, but it’s particularly tempting as it’s so closely tied to identity, perhaps especially for females. In response to the air-brushed models and well-styled actresses flooding the media, we believe the lie that our looks determine our value. Soon we are slaves to our appearance. If we don’t have the right clothing, shoes, purse, jewelry, and make-up, we are unattractive and therefore worthless. If we say we don’t believe this, let’s live like it, too!

Fashion is sometimes beautiful, more often ridiculous.

To fight the fashion myths, wait until your clothes are really worn out or don’t fit, and then shop at thrift stores, clearance racks, and sales. You don’t need to be in style or have your clothes fit like they’re tailored. At the same time, don’t buy clothes that are obviously cheaply made. For example, many of the mall stores with teeny-bopper-type clothes have cheap prices but the clothes fall apart in less than a year. Find stores that sell quality items for less, but always consider whether you could do better at the thrift or second-hand store.

All the same principles apply for shoes, pursues, and other accessories. Why do you need five purses? Just get something basic that will match many outfits and seasons. Don’t buy into the myth that you need shoes and accessories to perfectly match every outfit. Who cares if the shade or style is a little off? We’re revolutionaries, not fashion icons!

While the fashion industry is quite artificial since no one needs new clothes each season, fashion itself can be an art form that reflects the beauty of God’s creation and His creative image stamped in us. So I’m not saying it’s wrong to match, or wear flattering clothing, or buy a new dress once in a while. It is harmful, denigrating, and enslaving to take our identity from what we wear and frivolously spend on clothes when there are better ways to use our money.

So what is a revolutionary to do?

Recognize the difference between want and need. Maybe you’d like a new pair of shoes to match a particular outfit, but if you’re like me and already own a dozen pairs, you probably don’t need them. Most likely you own something suitable, if not entirely fashionable. Learn to let go of the idea that you have to look red-carpet ready to go the grocery store, or even to a wedding.

When you do need something, shop around for a good price. Depending on the item, consider trying a thrift store or second-hand shop first. Most Goodwill and Salvation Army stores have dressing rooms, which is a big advantage because it’s a waste of money to buy something only to find out it doesn’t fit. And most thrift stores have “deal” days, like the Cuyahoga Falls Salvation Army has fifty percent all items on Wednesday. The Village Discount Outlet has different tag colors fifty percent off every day, and on Mondays one tag color is only fifty cents. Of course thrift shopping always involves the luck of the draw and takes more time. If possible, try to go early to get the best deals.

My favorite store

At the mall, avoid stores where clothing is inexpensive but cheaply made. I find that Express and Limited brands hold up well. Most of the clothes I’ve had since high school (I graduated seven years ago), are from these stores. So if you go to the mall, head to the clearance racks at the back of the store. If you’re looking for something in particular, keep in mind that the cheapest items are those just going out of season. So think ahead and then shop ahead (or behind) as appropriate. Kohl’s often has very good clearance, although I don’t fit into their misses sizes, and I find their juniors items to be less well-made. There are bargains to be had, so don’t give up hope. For example, I didn’t pay more than $10 for any of the jeans I own, and I bought them new at the mall.

If you’re small, try buying socks and shoes from the children’s section. I’ve found good particularly good deals on tennis shoes (half the price of the same adult shoes).

Buy men’s dress-casual clothes new, on clearance racks or sales. Men tend to hang onto their clothes longer than women, meaning that the thrift store collection is often missing buttons and full of sweat stains, food stains, rips, and holes. There are occasional deals to be had on unworn items, but generally I don’t find it worth an hour to find one such item. I usually get Neil’s shirts and dress pants on sale or clearance at Kohl’s.

Another good strategy is to borrow and get hand-me-downs from people less cheap than you. Here’s a dirty little secret: the cheap people need the not-so-frugal people to save money. Without them there would be no thrift stores, no hand-me-downs worth handing down, and no one’s closet to raid. My sisters and I share clothes sometimes, although less frequently now that we live further apart, and I welcome hand-me-downs, especially from my fashion designer sister! Always remember to take good care of other people’s clothes if they’re on loan, though. One of my sisters ruined a most fabulous find of mine, a light blue silk blouse I got on clearance at Banana Republic for $5. In trying to return it to me clean, she put it through both the washer and dryer. So be careful with other people’s stuff!

Once you’ve got your new or new-to-you rags, take care of them! This will make them last much longer. The best way to extend a garment’s lifespan is not wash it too frequently. Of course you’ll wash your undergarments and exercise gear often. But with jeans and sweaters, the more expensive items, don’t wash every time you wear. Unless you’ve spilled something on them, there’s really no need to wash after one or two wears. I wash one pair of jeans per week unless I spill something on them. My sister designed denim for Express and she agrees with this advice.

I barely believe in dry-cleaning. I’ve taken Neil’s suit to be dry-cleaned once in the five years he’s owned it. And I took a wool coat once, with a coupon of course! That’s the extent of my dry-cleaning experience. Instead of spending money at the cleaners, I avoid buying dry-clean only clothes. My husband is less careful about this and has gifted me with a number of dry-clean only garments like wool sweaters. He even managed to find a pair of exercise pants that aren’t supposed to be machine washed. Can you think of anything more impractical?

So what is a frugal wife to do with such items? It’s what I call “home dry cleaning.” First, wash items only when needed, like if there’s a stain or it’ stinky or sweaty. Next, most items can be cleaned in a gentle, cold water cycle in a washing machine. Just don’t put the item in the dryer—I shrunk more than one sweater that way. If the item will lose shape, lay it flat to dry; otherwise hang it up right away.

If the no-machine-wash item is extremely delicate, such as with beadwork or silk, wash it by hand when necessary. Use lukewarm water and just a dab of laundry detergent. Scrub stained areas or the armpits by gently rubbing the fabric against itself. Then wring it out and hang or lay flat to dry.

One of the big advantages of dry-cleaning is that your clothes come back pressed and ready to wear. But there’s
a way to avoid both dry-cleaning and ironing. I buy wrinkle-resistant dress clothes for Neil, and generally stay away from clothes that requiring ironing for me. Wrinkle-resistant fabric is very common in men’s dress clothes so it usually doesn’t cost more, especially when you’re shopping clearance and sales. Really resisting wrinkles takes some diligence with the laundry, though. You can’t let the clothes sit in the drier after the cycle is finished. It actually works best to take them out while they’re still slightly wet, or immediately after they’ve dried. Hang them immediately, squarely on the hangers, in a way that does not smash the clothes into each other. Using this method I only iron about once every three weeks because Neil still has some shirts that aren’t wrinkle-resistant. Using the method above makes ironing easier for all types of fabric.

To make bras last longer I wash them in a bra ball, also called a lingerie bag. It’s a little mesh bag that zips open so you can put small delicate items inside. I purchased one at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for $4 with a coupon, which is much cheaper than buying a new bra.

How to Be Cheap: Group Activities

In high school ministry we schedule at least one activity a week, but it’s hard to keep it up when most people are broke. So I came up with a list of inexpensive ministry activities (some of which could also serve as family, friend, or date activities). Some are free; others are cheap when everyone participates. These are not all my ideas, but ideas collected from people over the years. Have fun!

Lu’au: Make a playlist by borrowing Hawaii/tropical CDs from the library and/or downloading music. Ask people to dress in tropical/summer clothing. Have a hula hoop contest, a limbo contest, and search the Internet for other Hawaiian-themed games. Make desserts using pineapple and coconut. Ask people to pitch in for pineapple pizza ($5 for Pizza Hut’s Pizza Mia, plus 10% for your first on-line order).

Burning tongues party: Party like it’s Pentecost at this spicy-food themed party (invented by the Michalek home church). Ask everyone to bring a spicy dish, and have a few people bring something bland to cleanse the palate. It might be a good idea to have some Tums on hand as well. Make a playlist of songs that use the word “hot” (there’s more than enough of those).

Culinary contest: Ask everyone to bring their best gourmet creation. Provide plates, forks, and napkins and number the dishes. Have everyone sample the food and then vote on 1-3 favorites, then announce the winners. This activity allows for good conversation while people eat. It might be helpful to break dishes into categories like appetizers, entrees, and desserts. And you might judge on multiple aspects such as taste, presentation, originality, etc. if you want to get more involved.

Film festival: Ask individuals and/or cell groups to create a movie. Let people know far in advance, at least a month or two, so they can write, film, and edit their movie. People could dress up red carpet style. Serve popcorn and show each of the films. Allow the creators to introduce their movies. This could also be a contest if people voted on their favorite film. Or there could be an award given to each movie for a distinctive feature.

Dollar movie theater: Movies 10 in North Canton shows ten second-run films everyday for $1-2 dollars. These movies are shown right after they leave the main movie theaters so they’re not too out-dated. Also, the Linda Theater in Akron shows one second-run movie a week for $3. It’s neat because it’s at an old theater, but it isn’t in a great area. Both theaters have their showings listed on moviefone.com.

Bonfire: Bring some marshmallows and a camp chair and settle in for a good conversation around the fire. Initiate a discussion topic, such as one related to the CT or home church teaching.

Take a walk: This activity is better for smaller groups, families, or couples. When it’s nice out explore the neighborhood. It’s good exercise and a great chance to talk and enjoy nature.

Themed dance party: Choose a decade (70s, 80s) or a style (swing, salsa) and dress appropriately. Make a playlist and dance the night away!

Rock Star, Karaoke, or DDR: This of course is only cheap if someone already owns the games and system. Take turns watching and playing these interactive games.

Go to the park: Another small-group activity. Check out Google maps and find a park you’ve never been to, or visit an old favorite. If it’s not too far, take a walk to get there. Don’t forget a water bottle.

Make sundaes: Ask everyone to bring a different flavor of ice cream or type of topping, and have a couple people bring bowls and spoons. Assign a few people to serve the ice cream (and the toppings if there are kids). Then strike up a good convo while you eat.

Amazing Race: Create clues that will take different teams around town in search of their next clue. First to reach the final destination wins. Ask Ted Howell about the details because he knows how it’s done.

Scavenger Hunt: Create a list of odd objects to collect or pictures to take. Assign different point values based on difficulty. Break into teams and see who can gain the most points in a set period of time. Spending money (and stealing) are off-limits. Teams who arrive late either lose points or get disqualified. Joe Allie is the master of creating scavenger hunts.

Charades: You know how to play. But it’s extra fun when you play at a fast food restaurant.

Pictionary tournament: Get two whiteboards or chalkboards and break into two teams. If people are too loud, have the teams go one at a time and see if they can beat the timer, not the other player, for their point.

Board game night: Ask everyone to bring a board game and set up some card tables.

Cards: I don’t know how to play anything but War, Go Fish, and Speed, but other people do so get some Poker or Euchre or Blackjack going and have fun! With Chill we used to set up tables and do a casino night for the infamously unspendable “Chill Bucks.”

Road trip: Announce a road trip and travel to anywhere—it’s about the journey, not the destination. Head to a far-away restaurant or check out a meeting in Xenos Columbus.

Field Day Day: Remember field day at school? Plan various events like 50-yard dash, 100-yard dash, three-legged race, dizzy lizzy, tug-of-war, relays, etc.

Sports: Soccer, softball, volleyball, kickball, Frisbee soccer, or any other team torture (I mean sport) you can think up. But I think basketball and football are too rough for co-ed games.

Crafts: This is a girls’ small group or family activity. Make ornaments, gifts, jewelry, or a host of other items. Check the Internet for corny craft ideas.

White Elephant gift exchange: As Christmas approaches host a white elephant gift exchange. Everyone brings an object they already own but are willing to give away. Wrap the item up—the fancier, the better. Then have someone choose an item. The next person can choose the same item or a different one, and on until the last person has chosen their item. Then everyone opens them and laughs at the weird stuff people wrapped up. Play Christmas music and wear your Christmas sweater (see below).

Ugly Sweater Christmas party: (credit to Kay Homer) Everyone goes to the thrift store and buys a corny Christmas sweater and/or other Christmas apparel (earrings, turtlenecks, vests, etc.) and wears it to the party. Make a runway and have everyone model their sweater for a panel of judges. Award the winners with cheap candy canes.

Rockin’ on the River: Cover or tribute bands play downtown Cuyahoga Falls most Friday nights in the summer. Check the city calendar for these free concerts. Just beware of the concessions—that’s where they get you.

Local festivals: Look on-line for the dates of local festivals and go together as a group.

Talent Show: this is best for junior high group or younger. Hold a talent show where students can showcase their skills. Invite judges from other ministries and have them act like the American Idol judges, commenting on each act. Award everyone a prize.

$5 fashion show: Go to the thrift store or Gabriel Brother’s. Assign teams of five. Each person pitches in up to $5 to create a fashion-forward outfit. At a home where a “runway” has been prepared, each team chooses a model, dresses them, and does their hair and make-up. Put on some techno music and have the models walk for a panel of judges and audience. Give awards for the best outfit and best walk. Allow designers to explain their outfit before it goes on the runway.

Home coffee bar: For groups where hy[eractivity isn’t a problem, make some strong coffee, steam some milk, and use syrups and whipped cream to create your own mochas and lattes. Or get a blender and make frappaccinos in the summer. Check the Internet for recipes. Another great activity for good conversation.

Hiking: Check out the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and go on a group hike. Consider packing a picnic.

Swimming: Find a friend with a pool or a local lake (Munroe Falls is $4) and have fun in the sun.

Spa night/makeovers: With a girls small group, paint each others’ nails, give massages, do makeovers, and find recipes for face masks or foot baths.

Weight lifting: With a guys’ small group, get some barbells and find some space to lift and do push-ups, sit-ups, and whatever guys do to try to get buff.

Go to Walmart
: and be goofy (but not obnoxious). Challenge people to find the cheapest item. Try on a ridiculous outfit. Buy a Slurpie. Look at the fish. Play with the toys. Do a cartwheel. Marvel at the diversity created by American capitalist consumerism.

Bollywood night: With a girls’ small group, rent some Bollywood videos, buy some chutney (or popcorn), and enjoy the corniness and colors of India drama, song, and dance.

How to Be Cheap: College Edition

Someone in my dorm had a theory that a college student could find enough free food to eat every meal for free. There is some truth to this overstatement. There is usually free food at least once a day somewhere on or near college campuses. You might have to sit through a play or lecture to get it, but you could always try to slip in at the end. Campus organizations know college students are broke and hungry, so they use food to lure students into their meetings. Which works out great as long as you can find those meetings. Keep your eyes and ears open. Look for signs on billboards, and listen in class for department goings-on. Then there are parties and dorm events, college fests, restaurant promos, and student coupons in the newspaper.

Kent State University also has a “food committee” that meets occasionally to evaluate the different food options students have. They also visit other campuses to try out their dining halls and on-campus restaurants. But the best part about the food committee is that if you put down $25 a semester, you get $25 every week to spend on campus food (in the form of a charged card). And all you have to do is fill out a review card for your meal. That covers lunch every week day, for only $25 a semester. What a deal! (I’m not sure how to join the food committee, and of course it’s pretty limited, but I’d be asking around the dining hall and residence life people if I were going to Kent).

Another good strategy is to get an job at a food place—whether it’s the dining hall, on-campus eateries, or near-campus cafeterias. When I worked at Starbucks we got a free drink and $5 for lunch at the Student Union eateries every day we worked. So that took care of lunches every day. Ask the student employees about the perks before you apply.

Your parents also assume you’re broke and hungry so they tend to invite you over for dinner and send you home with leftovers and groceries. (“I just happened to pick up two extra jars of peanut butter this week,” you mom says.) If your parents want to help you out, take it! Don’t be proud. But don’t be a beggar either: “Hey mom, what’s up with a haircut reimbursement?” I heard one college student ask. That’s just lame.

Speaking of haircuts, your best bet in college is to go with a hairstyle that doesn’t have to be trimmed often. This means long hair for girls, or very short hair for guys (unless they want to go long, too). For females, the longer your hair, the less often you have to get it cut. If you don’t have a short or angled style to maintain, you can go four to six months without a trim. That means you only have to pay twice a year. Keep your eyes open for sales or coupons for Best Cuts, Great Clips, and Famous Hair. Often their normal $10-12 prices will drop as cheap as $6.
For guys, get a cut you can trim yourself (like having no or very little hair), or do the hippie thing and let it grow. This last option is not recommended if you are interviewing for internships or jobs in a professional field, though.

For girls, the cheapest route is to not dye or highlight your hair at all. Often highlights and dying require maintenance, which sends you back to the salon again and again. There is drug store hair dye which is much cheaper, but make sure you know what you’re doing, or get an experienced friend to help. Of course, you’re still going to have roots showing soon enough and it still costs money, so the cheapest is not to dye at all.
What you really want to find is a friend who is going to cosmetology school. They will be happy to practice on you, but not experienced enough to charge you. Of course there’s some risk involved with this strategy, but “it’ll grow back” offers some reassurance.

These tips hold for graduates, too, although if you’re a career woman or just have a job where you need to look professional, you might not be able to sport the long-locked scholar look. I remember getting my hair cut at J.C. Penney the week before I started student teaching. “I want to look older, more professional,” I told the nineteen-year-old stylist. I was twenty, and about to teach seniors. She gave me an awful high-school-girl hair cut. I cried. And then I had to buy a curling iron in order to make it look like I wasn’t fifteen. By the time I was actually teaching I pretty much gave up and went with simple: straight down or pulled back everyday.

It’s also cheapest not to have a car, but very annoying for other people who have to drive you around. See the car entry for tips and tricks. The biggest rule is not to get a new car or any significant car payment, especially while you’re in college. I’ve seen college students kill themselves trying to pay for a shiny new Honda, when there are plenty of rusty ones to be had for what you spent on Taco Bell last year. It’s never a great idea to have a car payment, especially a large one, but in college it’s a relational death wish. Between studying and working to pay your car loan, you’ll have no free time. So beware!

How to Be Cheap: College Edition

Another way to go to college for free is to use the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO or PSO). Under this program the state pays for high school students to take college courses for free. And by free, I mean completely free. You don’t even have to pay for your own books (you get a full refund when you return them to the bookstore at the end of the semester).

Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. You just have to be a junior or senior, and you have to apply by a deadline. GPA and other requirements vary by university, but your high school guidance counselor will have information about PSO. Most high schools allow you to go part-time or full-time. So you can split your time between high school and college classes, or you can take all college courses and never even go to high school. Many of your college classes will also count toward your high school graduation requirements. Again, you just have to check with your school.

This program is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s great that it’s so flexible. One of my friends did PSO at a private university part-time her junior year and full-time her senior year. She entered her freshman year of college at that university with enough college credits for sophomore status. One of my sisters took just one PSO class—college algebra. She took it at a branch location of a state university, and was happy to have it out of the way before she started college.

The branch location is a good option if a big campus seems intimidating, too much of a hassle, or too expensive for commuting while in high school. If your heart’s set on going to private university, PSO could make it more affordable if you can graduate early or take less classes per semester. And it’s a good way to try out different courses and figure out what you want to major in if you’re not sure. Not paying for the class takes some pressure off in case you “don’t need it” for your major.

But if you’re already in college and paying for it, how can you get the most for your money?

I mentioned this before, but DO NOT pay full bookstore price for your textbooks unless you have to. Here are your other options.

1. Before the semester starts, get the required book lists for your classes from the bookstore. Many universities have these lists available on the bookstore web site. You can also email the professor for information about the required books.

2. Check the library. Using the on-line catalog, see if the books are at your library. If only older editions are available, reserve them in case you can’t find anything better. Often, older editions are still usable. Math and science books are most likely to be the exception, especially if the problems have changed. You don’t want to answer the wrong
questions for homework.

If your library doesn’t have it, try OhioLink. Your university library web site should have a button to search Ohio Link. It’s a system between all the universities in Ohio that gives any student access to the catalog and books of any library. So you will be able to see all the schools that have your books, and you can request for them to be sent to your university library. It’s an amazingly convenient system, because all you have to do it show up at the circulation desk after you get an email notice saying the book is waiting there for you. You don’t even have to go find it in the library.

You can now renew an OhioLink book for an entire semester. The only problem you might run into is if someone else requests the book while you have it. Then you can’t keep renewing it. In that case you can try to request another copy, return it late and eat the late fees (which are higher than for other library books, or copy the pages you need before returning it. Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle, but it’s worth saving $500 a semester on books!

The biggest danger with OhioLink is if you lose a book. They charge like crazy even for a paperback novel. The fee for all lost books is $125! I was once accused of not returning an OhioLink book (which I most definitely did—I saw the employee take it out of the drop box which I thought was weird) and faced this $125 penalty. But I convinced the dean of the library that it was a mistake and she let me off. I wouldn’t count on getting that type of grace, though, especially if you really do lose the book. So keep close tabs on OhioLink books.

Social science and humanities books are more likely to be accessible this way. But you can always try the science library for math and science textbooks.

And here’s a secret: you can underline and highlight in library books. I did it all through college.

3. If the library doesn’t have what you want, try half.com. They have tons of used textbooks, with the ISBNs so you can be sure you’re getting what you want. Shipping is $4 per book, but if you’re saving 50% or so, it’s certainly worth it. Again, consider buying an older edition if that’s all you can find. You can always run it by your professor, but make sure they have good reasons if they really think you should buy the new one.

4. If half.com doesn’t deliver, see if Ebay, Amazon, Abebooks, or Alibris (all .coms) have better deals than the book store. It’ll only take you five minutes to search these sites, and you could save hundreds of dollars. They have new and used books, and shipping again runs around $4 per book (free on Amazon if you buy $25 worth of new books).
What if you order a book but it doesn’t come in before classes start? This gets a little complicated, but again, the savings were worth it. I would buy the book at the campus bookstore and check the return policy. I’d use it till my book arrived in the mail, or until the last day I could return it for full credit (usually a week or two).

5. Check off-campus bookstores. They’re not owned and operated by the university, so they often have better deals. Students on your campus may know which store is cheapest, so ask around. You can always call and check the price of a book if you don’t want to spend time going there. Buy used if you can, and find out about their buyback policies.

6. If all else fails, buy used at the campus bookstore and sell it back at the end of the semester unless you really think you’ll need it. Books closely related to your major are often worth keeping, especially if they contain some reference material you’ll need. Another option is to sell it on half.com. See what it’s going for and if you could get substantially more than the bookstore is paying. I never bothered with this, but then again, I never bought many books. They also run coupons sometimes so keep your eyes open for those.

Remember that the bookstore often won’t buy back those “old editions” that won’t be used next semester, so don’t be surprised when you can’t sell back your $100 biology book. Oh, well, that’s just college for you.

How to Be Cheap: College Edition

Here’s to all the “poor college students” out there.

I say “poor” because the American definition of poverty is so different from the rest of the world. There are people who are seriously impoverished in America, but even our ghettos are a place of great wealth compared to the slums of India. (Just see the film Slumdog Millionaire, with kids living in the city dump).

I’m not trying to make you poor college students feel guilty, but to point out that you have so much to be grateful for. Are you still covered by your parents’ health insurance? They are saving you $200-300 a month! Do they let you eat their food when you go home? Thank them! Do they ever give you a little cash or help out with an unexpected bill? Don’t count on this, but be very grateful if it happens.

Realize that your run-down college apartment that you share with too many people would look like a mansion to millions in this world. And your beater car is a luxury so many people wouldn’t even dream of owning. Just the opportunity to go to college is a an amazing advantage that you should be so thankful for. Consider yourself privileged. And go to class.

So now that you’re not so “poor” anymore, here’s how to make the most of the money you have.

The BEST way to save money in college is to get scholarships! This advice is important for both high school and college students. You can earn scholarships before and after you start college. In high school good grades are important and activities can be helpful, but the real clincher for many colleges is your standardized test scores. So take that ACT, SAT, and PSAT, and then take them again. Practice really helps, so start your junior year (earlier for the PSAT). The tests cost from $30-50 to take, but compared to the $50,000 or more you could earn, it’s a worthwhile investment.

So put some time into as well. When you register for the tests you should get a practice test booklet. Take the practice. Time yourself, and then score it. Determine your strengths and weaknesses, and then practice those some more. Get off Facebook for a minute and find on-online practice tools. Learn how to take the tests—how much time you have, whether you get points off for wrong answers, and what types of questions are on the test. What formulas are provided, and what will you have to know? Get a list of “SAT words” (I bet your English teacher has a list) make flashcards, and study them.

Scholarships are free money1

I earned $80,000 in one day of high school. It was the day I took the PSAT. I don’t say this to brag, but to communicate that it is worth studying and preparing for a standardized test if there’s even an outside chance that you could go to college for free, half price, or anything less than the astronomical amount college now costs. So maybe I actually spent a week earning that money, but don’t you think it was worth it?

If academics aren’t your strongest suit, look into other scholarships. There are many Internet databases with applications. Write some essays, fill out some forms, and get some letters of recommendation. It’s a hassle, but paying off $50,000 worth of college loans will be a much bigger pain in the butt down the road. Ask your guidance counselor for information and take advantage of every opportunity, including local scholarships. Even $500 can help you buy books. Check out www.finaid.org/scholarships/, www.collegenet.com/mach25/, www.fastweb.com/, and your high school guidance office.

I am not speaking from experience, but sports scholarships seems like a rip-off to me. You have to spend all hours practicing, traveling and competing. I don’t know how you could do that, study, and have a social life. Perhaps your whole social life revolves around the team. If your life is that sport, it would work for you. But if you don’t want that, I wouldn’t recommend pursuing sports scholarships. Music or art scholarships also require a ton of time, but if it’s related to your major then it would be worthwhile.

Here’s an obvious but often-ignored piece of advice: go to the school that offers the best financial aid package (within the region you want to go to school). The best package isn’t necessarily the highest dollar amount for scholarships or loans. Private schools offer big bucks in aid, but they charge even bigger bucks for tuition. But sometimes the more expensive school is the better deal. So do the math and figure out how much you’ll pay in the end, not just how much they’re offering you.

Of course, there are factors more important than money in choosing a school. If you want to live in Kent (perhaps for a ministry house), and Miami offers you the best package, it isn’t worth it. But if you want to live in Kent and Akron offers you a better package, the twenty minute commute is worth it to save thousands.

Most scholarships must be renewed every year. So never miss the renewal application deadline! A simple mistake like this will cost you thousands of dollars. Each year you should also investigate if you are eligible for new scholarships. This is especially important after your first and second semesters of college, when you may prove with your grades that you are worth some dough.

Always fill out your FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You may qualify for federal grants, which is free money that you never have to pay back. And then you can also get federal loans which have lower interest rates. You don’t have to pay them back till after you graduate (or quit school, but don’t do that), and they have deferral options that other loans don’t. So if you’re going to need loans, these are the ones to get. Go to www.fafsa.ed.gov/

Another good option is a community college. These aren’t just for those without top grades or people pursuing two-year degrees. You can get your general education requirements out of the way for half the cost or less. If you want to be on a particular campus during the school year, consider taking a couple summer classes at Tri-C or Kent Stark. Again, you should determine whether the commute times are worth the money you’ll save. They very well may be.

Going to class isn't so bad.

The next best way to save money in college is to not flunk out! Don’t pay $5,000 a semester just to blow off class and party too much. If you just want to party, don’t waste that kind of money on tuition. College is a good investment, but only if you’re getting a useful degree. So go to class, pay attention, take notes, do the work, and study for tests. It’s not that complicated. If you need extra help, ask for it. You’re paying big bucks for every class session—around $25 for many state schools in Ohio, and much more if you’re at a private school. So waste not your tuition dollars, and want not a return on your investment (a degree).

If you have questions about standardized test scores, scholarships, grants, or other related topics, please post them in the comments.

Up next, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of everyday money-saving tips for college students.

How to Be Cheap: Spring Cleaning

It’s March now and spring is (hopefully) just around the corner. As the snow melts and the temperature rise past freezing, spring cleaning may be on people’s minds. But no one really likes cleaning, so why spend big bucks on it? Here’s how to clean on the cheap:

Doesn't cleaning look fun?

1. Buy choose-a-size towels (I like the ones at Aldi) but use them sparingly. Opt for sponges and rags whenever you can. But if you’re cleaning something particularly nasty, or a window or mirror, or wiping your hand after handling raw meat, then use as few towels as possible. It kills me to see people rip off three full-size squares just to dry their hands after rinsing them. If you consider paper towels a luxury item and try to make them last as long as possible, you will save money and paper.

I don’t recommend buying the cheapest paper towels possible because they aren’t as absorbent and you will end up using more to do the same job.

The same goes for toilet paper. This isn’t really a cleaning tip, but I think buying the cheap 4-pack of generic toilet paper is a rip-off because it doesn’t last. Same goes for the Sam’s Club box of POM. Instead I buy the Scott 12-pack of regular toilet paper. I don’t know such a long-lasting off-brand, so the name brand is worth it here. Don’t spring for the extra-soft variety or any other gimmicks. This is your butt we’re talking about. It really doesn’t matter what you wipe it with. You should just be grateful that the days the Sears-Roebuck catalog pages are over. I’ve converted die-hard soft-toilet paper fans to Scott, and they agree that while it isn’t cushy-soft, it isn’t rough either. And for those who like the feeling of rolling off a lot of sheets, you can do that with Scott and it won’t be gone by the next time you have to go.

Aren't you glad you don't have to wipe with this?

2. Keep your cleaning products basic. You don’t need a million different bottles for every type of surface in your home. I like to have glass cleaner, cleaner with bleach, Comet, wood cleaner, and some mold/mildew spray. The best place to buy these is the dollar store, where they are usually $1/bottle. For dish soap, generic doesn’t last nearly as long so I usually buy a large container of Dawn.

3. As I’ve discovered from recent research, I’m probably over-doing it even with those supplies. So here’s the real poor man’s way to clean:

You really don't need all this!

Baking soda (get a big box)
Bottle of bleach
White vinegar (distilled is better)
Liquid dishwashing soap
Tea tree oil (look at a pharmacy)
Spray bottles (save old ones from cleaning products and rinse them out)
Some rags and sponges

Here are the “recipes” for cleaning products made from these supplies:

Soft Scrub: Mix 1/8 of baking soda with just enough liquid detergent to make it look like frosting.. Cover a sponge with the mixture and use it to wash surfaces, especially bathtubs and tile. It also works as an oven cleaner, but first add a little bit of water. Then rub a layer of the mixture all over the inside of the oven. Let it sit overnight before scrubbing it off.

Windex: In one of the spray bottles, mix half a teaspoon of the liquid soap, three tablespoons of vinegar, and two cups of water. Shake it up and use it as you would Windex.

Pledge: Mix half a teaspoon of the tea tree oil and a quarter of a cup of vinegar together; polish furniture.

Glade: Regularly spray stinky spots (like the sink, garbage disposal, and trash can) with a mist of vinegar at night.

Tilex: Mix two teaspoons of tea tree oil and two cups of water in a spray bottle, shake it up, and spray it mold or mildew spots. Don’t rinse it off. It will smell strongly at first, but the smell will dissipate, as will the mold and mildew.

Spray Cleaner: Put ¼ to ½ cup bleach in a spray bottle and fill the rest with warm water. Shake and use as a general spray cleaner.

With the exception of the bleach, everything is non-toxic, which is a perk for those with small children.
Recipes from thesimpledollar.com.

4. For laundry, I use Astra from Aldi’s, which is $2 for 32 loads. The big boxes of powdered laundry detergent are also a good deal, but make more sense for my small family. I only use half a dryer sheet for each load I dry, which of course makes the box last twice as long. Again, purchase these at Aldi or a dollar store. My mom always did this and the clothes get just as a softened as if you use a whole sheet. If you’re at the laundry mat and drying several loads then use the whole sheet.

Get that Italian-apartment feel with a clothesline!

Now that I live in a house I’m hoping to get a clotheslines set up when it gets warmer. If you have kids, hanging clothes is a great task for them. I started pretty young, some time in elementary school. Kids like to be outside and it’s good for them to do something useful. But does Stow have any rules about no clotheslines?

Happy spring cleaning!

How to Be Cheap: Waste Not, Want Not

Waste not, want not. This phrase, first recorded in 1772, is valuable wisdom for those who wish to live frugally. Consider the original audience. In the 1770s you had to make the most of what you had, because you couldn’t just drive to Walmart and get more when you ran out. And even if you could have, you probably wouldn’t have the money to buy it.

Now open up your ‘fridge and venture to ask yourself how much old or rotting food it contains. Think about how much you throw away because you forget to use it, or don’t feel like eating leftovers. I’m sure your parents pulled the whole starving Ethiopian card innumerable times during your childhood. And it’s true. But try this one out instead: perhaps you can’t buy something you want or give more generously because you throw out $100s of dollars worth of food and other products.

This is a small tragedy.<

It really bothers me to waste things, and it bothers me even more when other people waste things. Which is not to say I never waste anything, but I certainly try to avoid it. Perhaps it’s just a pet peeve, or maybe it’s an extension of my cheapness. But it’s not a bad idea to develop a healthy aversion to waste.

So here are my tips on how not to waste, and hopefully not wanting will follow.

1. Keep stock of what you have. Don’t buy so much that you can’t keep track of it, particularly with perishable food. Buying similar items each week makes this easier. For example, I always bag one bunch of bananas and one bag of fruit. I know how much I have, and we eat about the same amount each day. This way we don’t let it go to waste.

It is hard to predict how quickly bananas will ripen. But you can always freeze them when they get too brown to eat. Next time you want to make banana bread or a smoothie, you’re ready to go. Here’s my favorite banana bread recipe. It’s also good with oatmeal or chocolate chips added:

The Best Banana Bread: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/The-Best-Banana-Bread/Detail.aspx

2. Along these lines, learn how to use ingredients in a variety of recipes, and plan your menu accordinly. If you buy a big bag of potatoes, you’d better know how to use them before they go bad, especially if you’re single or don’t have kids. You don’t have to eat potatoes every night, but plan for three meals a week using them. And make them three different ways so you won’t get sick of them and not want to eat them.

If you buy a special fresh ingredient like herbs, scallions, or vegetables, make sure you have planned several recipes using them (if you won’t use it up in one recipe). For example, if you buy cilantro for Mexican food, consider making Thai as well.

3. Learn how to re-invent leftovers. What do you do with all the chicken breast from the whole chicken you cooked? Shred it and make barbeque chicken sandwiches or maybe enchiladas. Turn your leftover mashed potatoes into delicious gnocci. Make your extra spaghetti noodles into Thai Peanut Butter noodles. If your eggs are almost experied, make a quiche. (See Part 5 for recipes). Or go on Allrecipes.com and use the “Ingredient Search” to find recipes you can make with what you already have.

4. Freeze what you don’t use. If you just can’t bring yourself to finish that dish of lasagna, give it to me. Just kidding. Actually, you should freeze it in an airtight container. Then you’ll have a convenient meal later on which you can grab instead of prepackaged groceries or fast food. You didn’t waste it, and you weren’t lacking something to eat later on. See, now this waste not, want not phrase is starting to make sense.

I wish this was my freezer!

This sounds so simple, but the only tricky part is you have to remember to do this before the food goes bad. As a general rule, if you haven’t finished it four days after making it, you should freeze it. It’ll probably be bad after a week passes, so get it taken care of well before that. Four days still gives you plenty of time to enjoy the leftovers.

5. Learn how to cook for two. Our four. Or however big your family is. Figure out how much they generally eat, how much you want to have leftover, and make that much. Then you won’t have mysterious containers of food rotting in your fridge all the time. Allrecipes.com allows you to scale your recipe for smaller or bigger quantities. I usually cook four servings, because Neil will eat 1.5 servings at dinner, I’ll eat one, and that leaves him 1.5 more for lunch. Sometimes the lunch gets the shaft but then you can make up for it with sides and snacks.

6. Neil has a trick to make his pop last. I usually buy one 2-liter a week for $1. So he gets his beloved pop and we spend less than $5 a month on it. But to keep it from going flat, he treats it with special care. He screws the cap on as tightly as possible. I can’t get it off, but that’s how he keeps me from drinking his pop. Kidding again. But it keeps it carbonated. And he feels good when he has to open something because I’m not strong enough. Also, he tries not to jostle the bottle (and commands me to do the same). And he says to pour it like a beer, down the side of a glass held at an angle. So that’s how to not get flat pop that you’ll want to waste.

7. If you have something you can’t use or don’t want, try to find someone who can use it. While we’re on corny axioms, I’ll point out that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. When it comes to food, you can usually find someone to feed your unwanted leftovers to, as long as they aren’t actually spoiled. This is why I’m always force-feeding people bakery; I like making it but don’t want to it, so I must find others who will waste not, want not for me.

8. Don’t waste energy either. Now that I’m writing Ted’s newsletter I can’t help but mention a few ways to save: Turn off the lights when you’re not using them. Put your computer in sleep mode. Use natural light from windows. Using caulk and weather strips to seal the heat in your home. These may be obvious but many of us find it more convenient to waste than to convserve. But you end up paying for it in your utility bills.

9. Reject the “throw-away” mentality prevalent in our culture. Water bottles, grocery bags, Ziploc bags, Gladware, and many other “disposable” products can (and should) be used more than once. Just rinse out your water bottles, wipe out sandwich crumbs, and wash your Aldi’s brand gladware and set them to dry. You won’t die.

Also, if you need more plastic containers, don’t buy them. Instead, save containers from sour cream, cottage cheese, and other products you’re already buying. Then wash it out thoroughly and you’ve get “free” Tupperware. Now that’s something worth throwing a party about.

How to Live and Travel Cheap

How to Live and Travel Cheap

1. Live in a basement. Neil and I are going to take our cheapness to the next level this Saturday by moving into the Michaleks’ basement. We’re not doing it exclusively for financial reasons, but it will be nice to save some money on rent, which is infamously equivalent to “putting money down the drain.” But as we saw, buying a house isn’t necessarily as great of an investment as you might have thought, either. So what’s a young couple to do? Rent a room.

Our apartment rent has increased by $124 since we moved in three years ago. What a rip-off! To be fair, $50 of that was due to our month-to-month lease. But even that option increase $20 since last year. Meanwhile, the quality of our living space is getting worse with wear and tear. We love our apartment, it’s location, and the freedom it offers, but I think living with the Michaleks will be sweet!

Of course, this option probably isn’t viable for those with children or parents living with them. But perhaps the empty-nesters should give it some thought. And this is only option for those with friends kind and brave enough to let you live with them. The Michaleks are gracious beyond reason—they’re clearing out both of their downstairs rooms for us! And they’re courageous to invite us in while they figure out their new life as a family of three. But this leads me to the next suggestion about how to be cheap.

2. Have someone live in your basement (or rent a room). It’s a great way to offset some of the cost of your mortgage while serving someone else and having sweet fellowship right in your home. The Hughes have had three different people stay in their basement. Now they’re quite grateful for Mark’s seemingly quirky suggestion to move in with them. And they’re not the only ones who have tried “communal” living after marriage. We’ll be the second couple to stay with the Michaleks, and the Avdeevs also rented their spare basement bedroom.

So think about it. Is there someone who could use a cheap place to stay, and maybe a better living situation as well? Could you use a couple hundred bucks to go toward your mortgage payment? (Of course you could!) Does your house floor plan allow privacy in at least one extra room, or is there a way you could put up a wall or finish a room to make this possible? Recruit someone who wants to move in and have them help you make the necessary improvements.

3. Pay for everything with a credit card. No doubt that sounds like the worst financial advice you’ve ever heard. But you have to follow these conditions:
1. Use a credit card with a points program.
2. Always pay off the balance each month. This means you’ll never pay interest, but also that you should never buy something you don’t have the money to pay for right away.
3. Pay for as many of your expenses as possible with that one card. You want to rack up the points if you’re going to spend that money anyway.
4. Actually redeem the points. Let them pay for your vacation, new ipod, or Calphalon pots and pans.

Hawaii, here we come!

This is how “cheapies” like us are flying to Hawaii in two weeks (sorry Joe, I had to mention it). We got a free plane ticket, and I carefully watched the flight prices for months until we could score a great deal on the second ticket. We also have a free place to stay which will save a ton. So I guess having friends in warm places is also key to being cheap.

I must repeat: do not pay interest on your credit card! That is the opposite of being cheap. If you are paying interest, you’re effectively paying for people like us to go to Hawaii. Now doesn’t that suck?

How to Be Cheap: Car Talk

Neil has a strategy for owning vehicles. Here it is:

1. Perhaps this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Never buy a brand-new car. This is one of the worst investments you could make, comparable to buying stock snap bracelets. Instead buy a fairly new car, two or three years old. There are people crazy enough to get a new car every couple years, so find them or their dealer and buy their “old” car. They’ve already taken the huge financial hit of losing thousands of dollars by driving the car out of the dealership. In the first second that you own a new car you lose a ton of money. But if you can find a fairly new car, much of that loss has already been suffered. And you didn’t have to suffer it.

Just because your Barbie had a Corvette doesn't mean you need one.

If you go this route you can hopefully avoid a car payment by saving up for this purchase. You’ll need some serious dough, but shop around and make sure you take someone who knows about cars with you to look at it. Luckily Neil fits this description. If you can’t avoid the car payment, go for the shorter loan and pay it off faster than you have to.

You want to have one reliable car if possible. Reliable car is an oxymoron because any car can break anytime—even a brand-new one. But of course the risk increases with age, so get something fairly new. When Neil’s station wagon died we only had one car for a month while he shopped around for an inexpensive vehicle. But at least we had my trusty Focus to get around in. I would drop him off at work in the morning and then use the car during the day. You don’t want two beaters because they could both go at the same time and then you’re screwed.

2. For a married couple, your second car should be an inexpensive one, which probably means older. It might be a beater, but remember, you have your more reliable car in case this one breaks. This strategy works much better if you know how to fix cars, or know someone who knows how to fix cars. Mechanical labor isn’t cheap and you can save a ton by doing the work yourself. Remember, this is Neil’s strategy and it works because he can fix a lot of common car problems.

Not a hot car, but a hot deal!

You don’t want one car payment, but you really don’t want two. And you probably don’t need two. So drop your pride and get an old ride. Neil insists on driving the junkie car because he drives less than me and he’d rather be the one to break down. I appreciate this, and I also appreciate that he doesn’t take his identity from driving some hot-rod. Some of the high school kids even seem to look up to him for driving modest wheels, because it demonstrates his simple lifestyle and non-worldly values.

3. Get regular oil changes. I always have my eyes open for sales or coupons on oil changes. Then when I need one I know where to go. Although Wal-mart is cheap, I don’t recommend going there because their auto department is awful (at least the one near us). Sometimes they won’t even acknowledge you for twenty minutes, and you still might have an hour and a half wait ahead of you. Speedy Monro and Firestone often have good specials or coupons. Make an appointment, wherever you go. The ten-minute places are fast, of course, but you pay almost double for the convenience. It’s not worth it to me—it wasn’t even when I was working 60+ hours a week. There’s always something you can read or study for an hour, so slow down for once and save yourself $20.

Keep up on oil changes.

Keep up on oil changes.

I hear doing an oil change yourself costs about $15. With a coupon you should get out for around $20. So if you want to save $5 and freeze your husband, go ahead. But during Ohio winters saving $5 every couple of months doesn’t seem worth it.

4. Drive it till it dies or becomes too much of a money pit due to repairs. At some point your good car will probably become your junk car. I hope the Focus has several years before it makes this transition. I’m also hoping the Shadow makes it at least a year. But for the price we paid, we already got our money’s worth in the six months we owned it.

Neil was told me about someone at work whose “car died.” He went out and bought a new one that day. But his car didn’t die at all. One of the accessories just broke. I used to think if your car was broken, you couldn’t drive it. Of course it depends on the problem, but it generally isn’t all-or-nothing as I once thought. Neil has kept cars going long past their prime, including the infamous swamped station wagon, which my parents gave him for free instead of junking it. Once he replaced the carpet and fixed some of the electrical problems, he actually considered it a nice car for some time. It was by far the newest car he’d ever owned.

Ken Rockwell has a different strategy to car-buying. He advises you buy something nice (used) that will hold its value, like a Mercedes. They don’t depreciate much so you can sell it years later for close to the price you paid. Then you basically drove it for free, excluding repairs and gas. But you need some capital to get this plan off the ground, because if you’re paying interest on a loan it certainly isn’t free. Ken’s clever saying, “I can’t afford to drive a Ford,” sounds nice, but Neil’s plan is more realistic for most of us.