Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Penny-Pinching Your Way to RWA

Tips from a Cheapskate

Registration for the 2009 RWA national conference began yesterday, and between the registration fee, transportation costs and a hotel room, it adds up to a significant amount.

Wouldn't it be nice if we all had one of these in the backyard? When you needed a new pair of shoes, you'd just pluck a few bills from a lower limb. And if it's like a regular tree, it'll grow new bills to replace them. Need a new car? Climb a little higher on the tree and cut off part of a branch. A house? Cut out the top and go shopping.

Sadly, they don’t exist. Remember the old John Houseman commercials where he talked about making money the old fashioned way? That's pretty much the way most of us have to do it.

These tips may be too late for you to raise the money for this year's conference, but start now and you can make it to Nashville in 2010. Here are some of my favorite ways to save money. Before you start, though, set some rules for which items are untouchable (i.e. your child’s piano lessons or the gym membership that keeps you fit).

1. Brown bag your lunch. The average restaurant lunch costs $10. That's about $2400 a year less the cost of the groceries to make your lunch at home.

2. Make your own coffee. A Starbucks tall latte runs about $3. If you have one every day, you've spent $1095 in a year.

3. Cook at home. Plan your weekly menu according to what the grocery store has on sale. Buy in bulk and buy generic when practical. Use coupons (and put what you save from them into a jar at home). Never shop on an empty stomach and always shop with a list. If possible, shop for groceries when you're in a hurry because you're less likely to linger over the cookie aisle. I can't give you a dollar figure because there are so many variables. But if lunch costs $10 in a restaurant, imagine what dinner for 4 costs?

4. Shop at off-price, discount and thrift stores. I have several formal gowns I've purchased over the last few years for the conference. The most I've ever spent was $45, and that dress doubled for both conference and my son's wedding. I found a $125 cocktail dress at a national chain discount store for $25. My favorite coat is a Land's End polartec that I bought about twelve years ago at a thrift store for $15 (at the time they were about $50 new). I think my best bargain ever was $20 jeans for $1 a pair, and I bought my son 7 pairs of them a year before he needed them. Or maybe it was the Nike shoes marked down to $5 a pair. I bought a pair in every size and just stored them in the top of #1 son's closet til he outgrew a pair and needed the next size.

5. Take a hard look at your cell phone service, your land line service and your cable/satellite TV. Decide if you really need or are using all the services you’re paying for. When we moved 4 years ago, we got satellite TV instead of cable and they gave us 3 months of all the premium channels for free. We enjoyed the movies and after the three months, we signed up for one of the packages. Then we realized they showed the same movies over and over again and we dropped the premium service. We still get a couple hundred channels and have plenty to watch. If we want to watch a new release, we either get it via Pay Per View or visit the movie rental place; the cost is about the same either way. We pop our own popcorn, drink our own sodas and pause the movie for potty breaks without missing the crucial climactic scene. ;-)

6. Sell your clutter. I made several hundred dollars at my last garage sale. Even if you don't want to mess with a sale, itemize what you need to get rid off, donate it to charity and take the tax deduction.

7. Avoid going out with high-roller friends because you'll be tempted to spend just like they do. There is a huge difference between the high cost of living and the cost of high living.

8. Analyze the expenses your credit card or checking account statement and look at where you spend the most money. Then try to avoid those stores. I'm bad about going to Walmart for a loaf of bread and coming out with $50 worth of stuff I don't really need. But oh, they had these cute placemats on sale or they had Christmas cards for 75% off. A sale is only a bargain if it's something you really need. The 75% off cards aren't really a good deal if you already have a dozen other boxes in the closet back home. It's very easy to bargain yourself right out of money.

9. Sign up for free rewards programs wherever you shop. I have one at the drugstore where I get my prescriptions filled. Last week they gave me a coupon worth $7.50 in free merchandise plus one worth $3 off my next prescription. The prescriptions are money I’d have spent anyway; the coupons are an added bonus. Lots of stores have programs like this.

10. And a final group of various and sundry tips: Comparison shop for big items, avoid impulse buying, use cloth cleaning rags and napkins instead of paper towels and napkins, cancel magazine, newspaper and other subscriptions that you don't read or use, turn down your thermostat, weatherize your house, change the furnace filters monthly, map out your errands to use less gasoline, bottle your own water, carpool and/or use public transportation when possible and plan ahead (like the $1 jeans and $5 shoes). Keep a list of gift-giving occasions in your purse and when you see the perfect birthday gift for your August-born sister on sale for 80% off after Christmas, go ahead and purchase it instead of waiting until the first of August and paying full price for something.

I realize you may not be able to do all these. You may not work outside the home, so brown bag lunch savings don't apply. Or like me, your area may not have public transportation and you have to drive. But I'd be willing to bet you could squeeze the cost of the national conference somewhere out of this list.

Got a tip I didn't mention? Share it with us please. One lucky commenter will win a book from my stash.

The Playfriends are participating in an online auction to aid a homeless teen and her mom. You can get more info about the auction here and see what we've donated here.


Lynn Raye Harris said...

Wow, great tips, PM! But I can't bottle my own water, sorry. I am waaaay too fussy for that -- I can (yes I can!) taste the difference between filtered and spring. I go to Costco or Publix and get their brand of spring water though. :) So maybe I'm saving a little bit.

My favorite tip for shopping for conference is to go to a discount store like Ross and invest in microfiber. Packs well, packs small, and very durable. (Not exactly a tip to get you to conference, but one to make it more affordable should you decide to go and need a wardrobe.)

One thing I did was sign up for an AirMiles credit card that awarded bonus miles after a certain amount of spending (paid off monthly, of course). I now have enough to get a free flight to conference; from here, it's about a $250 savings. Since conference is in Nashville in 2010, there will be no flight. But for the following year, I'll start maximizing my miles again.

Conference is worth the expense, IMO. If you plan a little, you can make it. And you probably won't regret it. The inspiration and networking is priceless. :)

Lynn Raye Harris said...

ARE priceless. Yes, I iz author.

Jane said...

It's so worth it to buy the Sunday paper for the coupons alone. I learned that you don't need to buy any fancy cleaners for your home. You can use vinegar to clean practically anything and it can be used to unclog your drain.

Angel said...

Love these, PM! Because of the seasonal nature of my husband's business, I have to start way in advance if I plan to go to the next year's conference. Thus, I started saving for Washington in July of last year. I now have enough to pay for my fee and air fair, with the rest of the year to save for room and food. Luckily, most sight seeing in Washington is free. :)

My other suggestion? Buy your conference duds when winter clothes go on sale. That's how I get all of my dress pants. They aren't as available in the summer, but I'll need them in that air conditioned meeting rooms. I can usually get them for over 50% off when the clearance sales hit, which is really good if I then have to have them hemmed.


PM's Mother said...

You forgot Dollar Tree! You can save on numerous items that you need like garbage bags,etc. Their greeting cards are only 2 for $1.00and they are appropriate and/or cute.

Just for the heck of it I jotted down how much I saved at the grocery store by using coupons last year (the store where I shop doubles and sometimes triples the value up to 99 cents) --I saved $137.44.

You are your mother's daughter -- cheap to the core! I prefer to call it thrifty or frugal.

Katherine Bone said...

These are great tips, PM! I appreciate you passing them on.

Saving ahead of time is hard for me, since I'm always saving for cheerleading first. After this year, however, I'll be able to save for conference without a problem. I start saving for the National Championship in June (its in Feb. and costs about $2,000 for 2), then I immediately start saving for camp/camp clothes ($600) to be paid for by April and May. After Feb., I won't have to do any of that any more. Although I'll have 2 kids in college. ;)

Wish I'd signed up for AirMiles credit. How do I do that?

Christine said...

I am paying myself to be the maid. So far, I think I have enough and more for the registration of the conference. I probably will drive up there and spend the night in a hotel near Roanoke. I will stay at the conference for the actual days, but I have people I can visit there as well (free hotel LOL). The drive is not bad. I have done it 3 times now.

I have got to get registered. As soon as I finish my final MS edits (yeah! almost done!!), I am doing that and I am sending in my PRO application.

Sherry Werth said...

Thanks PM for all the helpful tips. I've started brown bagging and refilling my water bottles and it really does add up. And with all the cold weather lately it's really nice not to have to go out to pick up lunch.

PM's mom, I love the Dollar Tree! I bought my weekly and monthly planners there. Nothing fancy or flashy but it has everything in it I need. And the best part was they were about $18 cheaper than the one I was going to buy. : D

Playground Monitor said...

I may have to change my mom's screen name to "Dollar Tree Maven." LOL!

Not everything is cheaper. I remember something I bought there for $1, then saw at Walmart for 75 cents and at Old Time Pottery for 69 cents.

But I do love those 2 for $1 greeting cards.

Andrea Laurence AKA Smarty Pants said...

I follow a lot of the same rules, PM. Conference clothes come from Ross (yay microfiber) and formals are usually from the after-prom sale. Something about getting a ball gown for $25 makes my heart sing. Unfortunately, the $100 shoes I get to go with it usually negates that... :(

I have a Pur water filter and a 32 ounce tumbler that I use to drink during the day. I don't like throwing away all those bottles. Not eco-friendly. Also, I know drinking 2 of those gets in my total water for the day.

Eating out sucks up a ton of my money, but I've found buying groceries, especially fresh things that will spoil if you don't use them, can be really pricey, too.

Playground Monitor said...

"...I've found buying groceries, especially fresh things that will spoil if you don't use them, can be really pricey, too."

This is true, says she who just threw away an old bell pepper she forgot was in the back of the crisper.

I also work from home, so I can clock out at 4 PM and cook dinner.

Your mileage may vary with any of the ten tips. But I do love Ross.

Kira Sinclair - AKA Instigator said...

Great tips, PM!! I have to remind myself of the small things sometimes. I don't really need that starbucks...


P.S. If anyone finds one of those money trees let me know ;-D

Anonymous said...

Great tips PM. I get Sunday's paper for the coupons. Cut what I need, then look through the sales papers, who has what on sale & if I can you one of the coupons I just cut out. I have a index box that I keep mine in, and it's so dinged up from use over the past 15 - 20 years. Also, Big Lots is a great place to find bargains. I also ebay or amazon books & stuff. I also get a lot of the books I read either from the library or 1/2 book store (sorry don't mean to cut into your profits) but I live alone and I am always watching my spending.

Angel said...

Robertsonreads--I love Big Lots too! It's like Dollar Tree, only on a bigger scale. I find all kinds of discounted stuff there, especially for the kids.


Anonymous said...

read the library books and magaazines


Anonymous said...

any winner

Anonymous said...

Excellent tips on saving for RWA National, and I've discovered your blog! I've linked it to an article about RWA National on Stringing Beads.

Are any of you attending National this year?